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Ordinary Time: August 29th

Memorial of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

Other Commemorations: St. Sabina, Martyr (RM); St. Mary of the Cross (Jeanne Jugan), Religious (RM)

MASS READINGS

August 29, 2008 (Readings on USCCB website)

COLLECT PRAYER

God our Father, you called John the Baptist to be the herald of your Son's birth and death. As he gave his life in witness to truth and justice, so may we strive to profess our faith in your Gospel. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The Church, having celebrated the earthly birthday of St. John the Baptist on June 24, today honors the anniversary of his martyrdom. Besides our Lord and our Lady, St. John the Baptist is the only one whose birth and death are thus celebrated. Today's Gospel relates the circumstances of his execution. He had the courage to blame Herod to his face for the scandal of his illegal union with his sister-in-law Herodias, whose husband was still alive. Herodias contrived to make Herod imprison him and took advantage of an unexpected oppportunity to obtain through her daughter Salome the beheading of the saint.

Before the reform of the General Roman Calendar today was also the commemoration of St. Sabina. The titular church of St. Sabina of the Aventine is a gem of Christian architecture. It owes its orign to the generosity of a Roman lady of the name of Sabina who gave to the Christian community the house that she possessed in this aristocratic quarter of Rome. The martyrologies also commemorate another St. Sabina who died in Umbria. The identity of name has caused confusion between the two women.


Martyrdom of John the Baptist
In addition to the feast of the nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24), the Church, since the fourth century, commemorates the martyrdom of Christ's precursor. According to the Roman Martyrology, this day marks "the second finding of his most venerable head." The body of the saint was buried in Samaria. In the year 362 pagans desecrated the grave and burned his remains. Only a small portion of his relics were able to be saved by monks and sent to St. Athanasius at Alexandria. The head of the saint is venerated at various places. That in the Church of St. Sylvester in Rome belongs to a martyr-priest John. Also in the Dominican church at Breslau the Baptist's head is honored.

—Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch

There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: "I am the truth"? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.

Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer.

Such was the quality and strength of the man who accepted the end of this present life by shedding his blood after the long imprisonment. He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men. He was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life and deserved to be called a bright and shining lamp by that Light itself, which is Christ.

To endure temporal agonies for the sake of the truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.

Since death was ever near at hand, such men considered it a blessing to embrace it and thus gain the reward of eternal life by acknowledging Christ's name. Hence the apostle Paul rightly says: "You have been granted the privilege not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake." He tells us why it is Christ's gift that his chosen ones should suffer for him: "The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us."

—Saint Bede the Venerable

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St. Sabina
According to legend, Sabina was born in Vindena, Umbria, and became the wife of a notable person having the name Valentine. She was converted to the faith by her maid Serapia, a Christian virgin. When Serapia died a martyr's death (her feast occurs on September 3 in the Roman Martyrology), Sabina gave her servant's holy body an honorable burial. On that account she was cast into prison by Emperor Hadrian and brought before the judge Elpidius. "Are you Sabina, illustrious by family and marriage?" he asked. "Yes, I am," came the reply, "but I thank my Savior Jesus Christ that through His servant Serapia He has freed me from the power of hell." Due to her contempt of the gods, she was condemned to death. Christians buried her body in the same grave as her teacher in the faith.

—Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace, Pius Parsch

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St. Mary of the Cross (Jeanne Jugan)
St Mary of the Cross (in the world: Jeanne Jugan) was born at Cancale, in Brittany, France, on 25 October 1792 in the turbulent period of the French Revolution. She was the sixth of eight children, four of whom died in infancy. Their fisherman father was lost at sea when Jeanne was only four. From her mother and the place of her birth, Jeanne inherited a lively, deep faith and a profound determination that could overcome any difficulty. The political climate and the family's financial plight prevented Jeanne from going to school. She learned to read and write from some ladies of the Third Order of St John Eudes who were numerous in the region.

In Jeanne's world children began working at an early age. She would pray her Rosary while tending the herd, on the high cliffs above the Bay of Cancale. The beautiful view uplifted her soul. At the age of 15 she left home and went to work in a wealthy family not far from Cancale. With her new employer, she went to the help of the needy.

In 1801 Napoleon Bonaparte restored religious freedom and a true spiritual awakening ensued. Numerous missions were preached and it was in this fervent atmosphere that the future Foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor heard the Lord's call.

When a young man asked for her hand in marriage she told him that God wanted her for himself, and was keeping her for a work as yet unknown. And as an immediate response she divided her clothes into two piles, leaving the prettiest to her sisters. She then left for Saint-Servan where for six years she worked as an assistant nurse. She enrolled in the Third Order of St John of Eudes. From that time her one desire was to "be as humble as Jesus".

Health problems obliged Jeanne to leave the hospital. She was taken in by a friend in the Third Order, Miss Lecoq, whom she would serve for 12 years until her death in 1835. In 1839, Jeanne was 47 years old and shared an apartment with two friends: Fanchon, 71, and Virginie Trédaniel, a 17-year-old orphan. In Saint-Servan at that time the economic situation was disastrous; 4,000 out of population of 10,000 were reduced to begging.

One winter evening in 1839, she came across a poor and blind old lady. Jeanne did not hesitate to give the lady her own bed. This was the initial spark that kindled a great blaze of charity. From that time, Jeanne was not to be deterred. In 1841 she rented a large room in which she welcomed 12 elderly people. In 1842, without money, she purchased a dilapidated convent where she soon provided 40 elderly persons with accommodation.

Encouraged by a St John of God brother, she begged for the poor in the streets and founded her institution on abandonment to Providence. In 1845 she won the Montyon Prize, awarded each year "to a poor French man or woman for outstandingly meritorious activity". She founded homes in 1846 in Rennes and in Dinan, in 1847 in Tours, and in 1850 in Angers. The Congregation spread throughout Europe, America, and Africa and shortly after her death, to Asia and Oceania.

It would seem that this fruitfulness was the result of a total and radical dispossession. In 1843, Jeanne had been re-elected Superior. Contrary to all expectations and solely on his own authority, Fr Le Pailleur, named as Superior instead Marie Jamet, who was 21 years old. In his action, Jeanne discerned God's will and supported the work, encouraging the younger sisters by her example.

In 1852, the Bishop of Rennes officially acknowledged the Congregation and appointed Fr Le Pailleur Superior General. His first act was to call Jeanne Jugan back definitively to the Motherhouse for a retirement that was to last 27 long years.

The younger sisters, ever increasing in number with the expansion of the Congregation, did not even realize that she was their Foundress. Jeanne, living in their midst, with her serenity and wisdom, transmitted a constant spirit of praise. "Love God very much; he is so good. Let us entrust ourselves to him".

She died peacefully on August 29, 1879. Her Congregation then numbered 2,400 Little Sisters in 177 homes on three continents. St. John Paul II beatified her on October 3, 1982.

—Excerpted from the Vatican Website

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