As you observe Lent this year, take time to learn about and reflect on the lives of these saints whose feast days fall within the season.
March 3: St. Katharine Drexel
St. Katharine Drexel, belle of the ball and heiress of millions, asked the Pope for more missionaries… and he told her to become one! She left her life of privilege and founded a religious order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. She dedicated her life to becoming a servant of the poor and establishing schools for Native and African American children.
March 4: St. Casimir
Born in Krakow, Casimir was the son of Casimir IV, king of Poland and grand duke of Lithuania, and Elizabeth of Austria. Known for his refusal to take up arms, personal piety, generosity to the poor and devotion to the Blessed Mother, he rejected the idea of marrying in favor of voluntary chastity. During a visit to Lithuania, he fell ill, died from tuberculosis at the age of 25 and was buried in the cathedral in Vilnius. Canonized in 1521, he is the patron of Poland and Lithuania.
March 7: Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
One of the proofs of a really close friendship is when you can't say one person's name without thinking of the other. This shows up in history, with names like Lewis and Clark. It's in story books, with names like Hansel and Gretel, or Jack and Jill. When it comes to saints, there are many examples, but one of the most prominent duos is Perpetua and Felicity. Perpetua was a young Christian noblewoman and Felicity was a young Christian slave. The two were arrested for their belief in Christ, during the persecution of Emperor Septimius Severus: at this time, Perpetua was a new mother, and Felicity was eight months pregnant. Together, the two women helped each other through the heat, darkness and brutality of the guards in the prison. Two days before their scheduled death, Felicity gave birth to her daughter in the prison, and the child was adopted by a Christian woman. Perpetua and Felicity were sent out to face the arena together, and after being exposed to the beasts, were killed by having their throats cut. These last days of the women were recorded by Perpetua, whose diary became one of the most famous accounts in the early church of the suffering of the martyrs.
March 8: St. John of God
Taken from his Portuguese parents at age 8, John led an irregular life in Spain as a estate manager and soldier. His conversion at about 40 took such extreme forms that he sometimes was confined for lunacy. In 1538 he began the hospital work that brought him respect and renown. Thereafter he devoted himself to sheltering and caring for the needy, including prostitutes and vagabonds. After his death, his followers were organized into the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God.
March 9: St. Frances of Rome
This laywoman and foundress, born a Roman aristocrat, married Lorenzo Ponziano when she was thirteen; they had several children. In 1409, their palazzo was pillaged by Neapolitan soldiers and Lorenzo was exiled for five years, returning home a broken man. He died in 1436. Frances, known for her great charity during epidemics and civil war, organized a women's society dedicated to self-denial and good works. It became the Oblates of Tor de Specchi, which she directed for her last four years. She is the patron saint of motorists, perhaps because of the tradition that an angel lit the road before her with a lantern to keep her safe when she traveled. She was guarded for twenty-three years by an archangel visible only to her. Her last words were "The angel has finished his work. He is beckoning me to follow.
March 17: St. Patrick
St. Patrick, the apostle to Ireland, once wrote: "Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me." He was captured and sold into slavery in Ireland as a teenager. He escaped, but he dreamed Ireland's children were calling to him, and returned to Ireland as a missionary.
March 18: St. Cyril of Jerusalem
Cyril lived when the Arian heresy was roiling Christianity. Raised and educated in Jerusalem, he was ordained by St. Maximus and succeeded him as bishop of Jerusalem around 350. His episcopate lasted until his death, but he spent 16 years in exile, turned out by emperors influenced by the Arian bishop of Caesarea who claimed ecclesiastical jurisdiction over Jerusalem. The Council of Antioch sent St. Gregory of Nyssa to investigate Cyril and his diocese. He reported that Jerusalem was rife with factionalism and Arianism, but that Cyril was orthodox. He is famous for his extant "Catechetical Instructions," some of which consist almost entirely of carefully interwoven scriptural passages. Pope Leo XIII named him a doctor of the church in 1882.
March 19: Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Silence is golden… St. Joseph, the model of humility, and one of the world's greatest saints, is often mentioned as being silent. This silence speaks volumes. In it, the Church realizes his faithfulness, his love and his acceptance of the Holy Will of God. St. Joseph was not a man of many words: he was a man of action. We have only one direct statement about his personality: in Matthew's Gospel, he is described as "a righteous man" (Matthew 1:19). His actions alone reveal everything else we know about him. He brings Mary and the Child she bears into his home when, in the sight of the world, he would be justified in divorcing her. He leads the expectant Mary into Bethlehem, and flees with her and her Child into Egypt. When it is safe, he returns with the two into Galilee. He does all of this, because God asks it of him. He never hesitates. Each time we read that the angel spoke to Joseph, the following sentence begins with the action St. Joseph took. "Joseph awoke," "Joseph rose," "He went." Each time he received a summons, his reaction was to follow the call immediately. Never once did he hesitate.
March 23: St. Toribio of Mogrovejo
Born in Spain, Toribio taught law at the University of Salamanca until 1574. In 1580, he was named Archbishop of Lima, Peru. He arrived in Lima in 1581 and spent over 25 years as a missionary in Peru. He traveled across the diocese visiting his people, worked on reforming the clergy, and wrote catechisms in native languages. Toribio also opened the first seminary in the Americas and encouraged Indigenous men to become priests.
March 25: Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
"Enriched from the first instant of her conception with the splendor of an entirely unique holiness, the virgin of Nazareth is hailed by the heralding angel, by divine command, as 'full of grace' (cf. Luke 1:28). To the heavenly messenger she replies: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word' (Luke 1:38). Thus the daughter of Adam, Mary, consenting to the word of God, became the Mother of Jesus. Committing herself wholeheartedly and impeded by no sin to God's saving will, she devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of Almighty God" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church/ LG, 56).
As Lent approaches each year, our minds turn to, “what will we do; what will we give up?” Instead of giving up, why not put something in … something that will take hold and stay with us for the rest of our lives – since Lent is about change/conversion. Remember that real penance is to live life well: to be the mercy and peace of God toward others. Perhaps one or two of these ideas will be helpful:
1. As you read/hear the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent, and reflect on the Spirit driving Jesus to the desert, what is the Spirit driving you, dragging you, to do this Lent? Lent is about God calling us, not us deciding … but what God wants of us.
2. Give something away every day (or once a week if every day is too challenging). It could be money, but it doesn’t have to be. A smile, a compliment or a helping hand, sometimes, is more appreciated, more necessary, and harder to give.
3. Forgive a long-held grudge. Forgiving someone else will bless you as much – if not more – than the person you forgive.
4. Become a more knowledgeable Catholic. Many Catholics wish they knew more about their faith. Do something about that. Search out adult faith formation opportunities at your parish, in your vicariate. Suggest to your parish/vicariate what would be helpful. Start a home discussion group; your parish will help you get started. Listen to tapes, read your parish bulletin or a good book; subscribe to Catholic magazines.
5. Pray for strangers. In addition to praying for your family/friends, cultivate the habit of praying for people in line at the grocery store, for mourners in a funeral procession, for ambulance passengers, for people in the news, for those beyond our borders, etc.
6. Complaining Fast. Try to refrain from all whining and complaining. See if this doesn’t help you become more aware of all the good things in your life.
7. Thank people who deserve it. Cultivate the habit of looking for opportunities to thank others: maintenance people who clean your workplace, garbage collectors who take away the trash, the mechanic who fixes your car; the numerous clerks in the stores. There are people running our city governments; there are dedicated parish staffs finding creative and compassionate ways to minister and meet today’s needs. In person or in writing, thank someone every day this Lent.
8. Buy an extra – to give away. The next time you get a cup of coffee on a crisp morning or a newspaper, buy an extra to give to someone.
9. Meet a neighbor. If you don’t know your neighbors (or haven’t talked to them for a long time), take them a plate of cookies.
10. The Present Moment. Remind yourself of God’s presence with you, by taking a few moments several times a day, to repeat: God is near, God is here. God is supporting me at each and every moment of my life.
11. Send an anonymous gift to someone you know who needs a pick me-up.
12. Write a letter to the editor about a peace and justice issue.
13. Read and reflect on the Scripture readings the night before you participate in the weekend liturgy.
14. If you were told that you would die next week, whom would you most like to seek forgiveness from? Write a letter, an e-mail, or phone and ask pardon for the distance between you – even if it is his or her fault.
15. Choose one of the Gospels. Read through it, writing down all of the questions that Jesus asks. Which of these questions is Jesus particularly asking you at this time in your life? How are you answering?
16. Enthusiasm means “one with the energy of God.” Who in your life can you count on to reflect back to you this essential spiritual quality? Have you thanked them lately?
18. Volunteer your time with the aged, widowed, homebound.
19. Enjoy yourself in a way that costs nothing. Thomas Merton once remarked that we should enjoy watching the rain fall before someone figures out a way to charge us for it. What can you – and your family/friends do to enjoy each other and life – that requires no money?
20. Reflect on the daily Scripture readings. These websites might be helpful:
22. Consider who might be the last person you would leave any materials or resources to if you were to die today. Then spend at least ten minutes in prayer for that person.
23. Pass it on. Recall one person, now deceased, who was instrumental in your early formation. Choose one specific way you can pass on to another the gift that person gave to you.
24. Realize the wonderfulness of living. Emily in Our Town says, “Oh Earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?” At the end of each day, write down in your journal the wonder of the ordinary in your day. Thank God.
25. Send a complimentary letter to a legislator or government employee.
26. Volunteer at a nursing home, soup kitchen, hospital, or with a hospice organization.
27. Responsorial Psalms. Often we pay attention to the three Scripture readings at Sunday liturgy, but give little notice to the Psalm Response which we sing. Listen to them with more interest during this Lent. Is there one which particularly strikes you? Perhaps the refrain might become your mantra or prayer for the Lenten or Easter season.
28. Rejoice in the good fortune of someone else. Express your happiness in a note or with a call.
29. Give your place in the supermarket line to a mother with restless little kids.
30. Make a List of When It all Worked out Well. Think of when you worried, when things looked disastrous. But make a list of when things word out well. Give thanks to God.
31. Reflect or journal on these questions: What do I find in my life today that I can love
about my spouse
about my children
about my friends
about my job
about my God
about my church
about myself about my life
32. Do one specific thing to help create a Christian environment at your job or place of business.
33. Consider your vocabulary. Decide to remove at least one disparaging term or impolite word each week during Lent. Place a compassionate, graceful or at least neutral word on your tongue when you are tempted to use the term you are removing.
34. Take up the serious study of one timely issue such as poverty, world hunger, violence, etc.
35. Enjoy life. Ecclesiastes 8:15 says, “So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink and enjoy themselves.” Rev. Thomas Keating, O.C.S. O. in The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation (Paulist Press, 1999), says, “Every human pleasure is meant to be a stepping stone to knowing God better or to discovering some new aspect of God.” Slow down and take time to enjoy life today.
36. Become involved in a parish activity that ministers to others.
37. Incorporate moments of silence into your daily routine – moments of silence for prayer: a silent moment at your desk before beginning work, while sitting at a park bench during lunch, in your car before starting the drive home, after the evening news.
38. Find out what you can do to support the work of community organizations that are providing food, shelter, and legal and financial assistance to homeless people, immigrants, and refugees. Don’t overlook the groups that are responding to international crises.
39. Volunteer an hour of your time, or contribute an hour’s salary, to a group or organization that is seeking to make peace in the local community or in the world.
40. Send Easter cards to people with whom you usually do not correspond – especially the lonely, widowed, homebound, and grieving.