Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Apr 30, 2023

The Good Shepherd – Here and Now

The Good Shepherd – Here and Now

Shepherd with dog and sheep

It’s Good Shepherd Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

I didn’t have a lot of experience with sheep or the role of shepherds when I was growing up. We lived in town and more cattle were raised in our area than sheep. Farmers in the area surrounding us raised wheat and other grains. Some raised grass for seed. There were orchards too. When I was in high school, some folks began planting grape vines as well, realizing that the climate was much like that in areas of Germany famous for fine wines. But we didn’t see a lot of sheep.

My first real introduction to the realities of raising sheep came on a trip to southern Idaho to visit friends there. We drove through a great treeless area with high mountains that looked somewhat like piles of sand that God might have stacked up in a sandbox while playing during the time of creation. As we came down from the pass into the valley, there was a large flock of sheep grazing in the scrub lands there. The shepherd had his wagon and lived in it as he traveled with the sheep and protected them. His dogs were busy monitoring the movements of the flock, so none of the sheep wandered off and all were safe from predators. It was a very solitary life and he seemed very happy in his work.

More recently, a couple members of my family have raised sheep and other ruminants. It takes a lot of time and care to keep them healthy and to harvest and process the wool. It’s fun to visit and feed them, but I’m not planning to get any myself!

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd. A good shepherd knows the sheep and is recognized by his or her sheep. Though they don’t realize it, they depend on the shepherd for protection and for knowing where they should go and when. They travel together as a group. The sheep don’t always go in the same direction at the same time. Sometimes they try to wander away, to taste the grass just over there… The shepherd brings them back to the group, so they aren’t lost (or eaten by somebody else).

We are much like the sheep. We don’t always know what we should do or where we should go. We don’t always go in the same direction as the rest of our community, our flock. But we are stronger when we work together and help each other. Our Good Shepherd is there to guide us along the way, with a nudge here and an opportunity there. People come into our lives whom we might never have expected to meet and we learn from their journey through life as we share a time together.

On Good Shepherd Sunday, we traditionally pray for vocations. That used to mean vocations to priesthood or religious life. Today the concept has broadened. Deacons serve our community once again, as they did in the early church. Lay men and women fill various roles within the community. Beyond the bounds of our religious communities, we also recognize that each person has a calling in life. Some will be parents. Some will not. Some will be teachers, healers, students, explorers, engineers, scientists, anthropologists, software developers, and so forth. Each role we are called to live out in our lives is our individual vocation. All are called to serve. And so we pray not only for vocations to service in clerical and religious life, but also for vocations to the many roles we all play in our families and communities. In all of these, we follow our Lord, the Good Shepherd who knows and calls us each by name.

As we move through this week, let’s keep our eyes open to see our shepherd in the day-to-day events of our lives. He’s not always very obviously marching in front of the group of us, but we can be sure he’s there among us, keeping an eye out for danger and guiding us into good pastures with plenty to nourish us.

Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter – Good Shepherd Sunday


Read More

Posted by on Feb 6, 2022

With God It’s All Personal!

With God It’s All Personal!

“Nothing personal, but …” These few words so often come before a comment criticizing an action or an idea just expressed that it’s hard not to take them personally. “Nothing personal, but I just don’t see how anyone could (insert your pet peeve).” If I’ve just expressed even a willingness to consider the notion or action named in the pet peeve, I find it difficult not to take it personally when I hear those first words. How about you?

When I looked at the readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, it struck me that God doesn’t work this way. God speaks to each of us personally. With God everything is a part of a personal relationship. This includes waking up in the morning, our reactions to the events of our day, the gifts and challenges we experience along the way, and our going to sleep again at night. The entire day is part of God’s personal gift to each of us.

Isaiah lived in the time of King Uzziah. King Uzziah ruled over Israel for more than 50 years. He was a powerful ruler and military leader who, by the time of his death, had become overly proud and at least once even took the role of the high priest in offering sacrifice in the temple. King Uzziah died in 792 BCE.

Isaiah tells the story of his call to prophecy by situating it in a specific time-period (Is 6:1-2a, 3-8). “In the year King Uzziah died…” The heavens opened and Isaiah saw the Lord seated on his throne, his garments filling the temple of the skies, and Seraphim guarding the entire temple. The angels cried out “Holy is the Lord of hosts, all the earth is filled with his glory!” At these words, the house shook and filled with smoke.

Shaking of the earth is a sign of the presence of the Lord – one of the physical manifestations that ancient peoples took as indicators of divine action in the world. Isaiah believed he was about to die – no one could see the face of the Lord and live. He cried out in fear, knowing that he was a person with human limitations and unworthy to see or speak to/for the Lord.

One of the seraphim cleansed Isaiah’s lips with an ember from the altar, purifying him to be in the Lord’s presence. When the Lord then asked, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah was ready and willing to volunteer. This was his call to serve as a prophet – a personal invitation from the Lord and a ready response to serve.

St. Paul also received a personal invitation to serve as an apostle of the Lord. Many people were disciples of Jesus. Many people shared their faith with family, friends, neighbors, and others. But not all were called apostles. Apostle means “one who is sent.” Very few of Jesus’ early followers were called apostles. There were the original twelve, one of whom betrayed him. There was one, Matthias, elected after the resurrection to replace Judas Iscariot. Mary Magdalene was known as the Apostle to the Apostles, because Jesus sent her on Easter morning with a message to the eleven remaining members of that close circle of the twelve followers. And then there was Paul, who became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Paul today reminds us of Jesus’ Resurrection and the promise of life for all of us that comes because of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. He speaks of the witnesses of the resurrection and reminds the people of Corinth that many of those witnesses are still alive. Then he speaks of his own calling to be an apostle.

Remember that Paul (then called Saul) was one of those who persecuted the Followers of the Way (Christians before they got that name). He was a Pharisee and a teacher of the Law. He wanted to root out this false teaching, to get rid of all who professed these beliefs. He was on his way to Damascus in Syria to arrest people there and return them to Jerusalem for trial and execution if they refused to renounce their faith in Jesus.

Along the way, he met the Risen Christ. It changed his life. A light flashed from the sky and a voice boomed out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul asked the one whose voice he heard, “Who are you, sir?” and was told, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” Jesus instructed him to continue on into the city and wait to be told what to do. Blind and disoriented, he did as he was told. In Damascus, a Christian leader named Ananais received instructions in a vision telling him to go to Saul to heal and teach him. (Acts 9:1-19)

Paul became one of the best known Apostles in history and we read from his letters during most of the year in our Sunday liturgies. Yet his call was personal. Jesus spoke personally to him. Saul/Paul responded to a personal invitation.

And then there was the call of the first of Jesus’ twelve closest friends, the ones who came to be called Apostles. (L5:1-11)

Simon was a fisherman in Capernaum. He worked nights, fishing in the Sea of Galilee. He and other fishermen were washing their nets and preparing to go home. They hadn’t caught anything all night. They were tired and discouraged. Then along came Jesus and their lives were changed.

Jesus was teaching and healing in Capernaum. A large crowd was pressing around him and he found himself at the shore. He asked Simon to take him on his boat out into the water a little ways, so he could teach without people pushing against him. He sat down in the boat and began to teach. When he finished, he asked Simon to take the boat out a bit more and drop the nets again.

Simon knew it was a fool’s errand. Fish didn’t bite during the day, nor did they swim in groups where they would get caught in nets. But he took the boat out a bit anyway and did as Jesus asked. To his surprise the net was filled to bursting with fish. There were so many they couldn’t load all of them into the boat. They had to call for help from other boats.

Simon realized Jesus had to be someone special. His fishing partners, James and John, were also there and had the same astonished reaction that he did. He fell down on his knees in front of Jesus and asked him to leave in peace – ordinary folks had no business dealing with the Lord or the Lord’s messengers! Instead, Jesus reassured him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Simon, James, and John took their boat back to the shore and left everything right there. They followed Jesus for the rest of his days, from Galilee all the way to Jerusalem. After the Resurrection, these three men, called by a personal invitation, continued as Apostles to the rest of their community and the world.

In each of these readings, we see the Lord personally calling an individual. In each case, the individual responded and followed in witness to what they had experienced and known of the Lord.

These calls of individuals have continued throughout history, even into our times. Sometimes we think they are only for the very holy or the remarkable, or the very brave, or…. But actually, they come to each one of us. Some are called to do great and very public things. Some are called to live what seem like very ordinary lives. For some the call is dramatic. For others the call comes gently and over time. But each of us is called. Each of us is known personally by our God. Each of us is deeply, deeply loved and cherished, just as we are, by our God. And each of us is called to share that love with our world.

Today let’s reflect on the call we have received from our God. When have we heard the voice of the Lord? When have we seen the Lord’s actions in our own lives or those of our family and friends? When have we known the consolation of the Lord’s presence in tough times? When have we heard the Lord’s chuckle as we realize once again that he has just been waiting for us to notice something important? When have we known the deep consolation of receiving forgiveness for times we’ve really messed up and done something wrong?

We are all called. It’s always personal with God. And it always involves our community and our world. God cares personally about each and every one of us. With God it’s all personal!

Read More

Posted by on Oct 3, 2016

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Finding God in All the Wrong People – A Look at the Emerging Church

Accidental Saints


Seeing the Underside and Seeing God: Nadia Bolz-Weber with Krista Tippett at the Wild Goose Festival from On Being on Vimeo.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran Minister who is described as “not your mother’s minister.” This is a marvelous interview with the woman who is the pastor or “pastorix” as she jokes of the House of  Sinners and Saints in Denver. Raised in the Church of Christ with no drinking, dancing, and no instruments in church Nadia has gone through many years of addiction and stand up comedy. In her Denver church,  she has incorporated the four part a capella singing of her childhood and focuses her preaches on the ongoing death and resurrection of Christians.

Before meeting her husband she had not found a Christianity with a care for the poor and a liturgy. Her getting clean and sober she describes as a “completely rude thing for God to do.” In Lutheranism she discovered a long articulation of belief that she “did not have to get rid of half her brain to accept.” She found an emphasis on God She doesn’t feel responsible for what her congregants believe but she feel responsible for what they hear and experience in the preaching and in the liturgy. they are anti excellence but pro participation. She calls her liturgy “high church and tent revival.”

For a fresh take on traditional Christianity in contemporary language enjoy this interview.


Read More

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

800px-Petersdom_von_Engelsburg_gesehen - public domainThe Synod of Bishops and Pope Francis have asked members of the Catholic community, from both the Western and Eastern churches, to read the draft document prepared at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October in Rome and to respond with comments and insights drawn from their own experience of the Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World.

Generally, members of the hierarchy do not consult ordinary members of the community regarding establishment of policies for dealing with pastoral issues such as how to help people prepare for marriage, how to support married couples in their life commitment, how to care for families that are wounded or broken apart, how to help members who are not heterosexual in their orientation, how and when to welcome children into the lives of a family, and how to pass on our faith within our families.

Nevertheless, all of us have some experience in this regard, since all have lived as members of a family. The bishops are asking us to share our experiences and the wisdom we have gained through the  practical challenges of living in families as people of faith.

The document prepared in October 2014 has been published. Each diocese has been asked to distribute the draft document and a questionnaire regarding the information included in the document. The dioceses are to collect responses, and prepare a summary of the thoughts of those who live with its geographic region.

The time frame is short. Responses are needed by the end of the first week of March so there will be enough time to summarize them and return them to Rome before the bishops assemble again in October 2015.

Please read the document carefully and respond to the questionnaire honestly and prayerfully, based on your own experience. Pope Francis and the bishops really want to know what the thinking of the People of God (the Church) is on these matters, because the Holy Spirit speaks through the everyday experiences of ordinary people.

Links to the document in several European languages are included in the sidebar to the right. For readers in other countries, check with your local diocese for the document in other languages.

Surveys for the Diocese of Monterey, California are available at the diocesan website.

Read More

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014

Vocation as a “Worthy Dream”

Vocation as a “Worthy Dream”


A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience is a remarkable book. John Neafsey argues that vocation is the seeking and finding of a “worthy dream” that makes all other possible options for spending one’s life pale in comparison. Social justice is a key component of vocation for all Christians since it flows from our call at Baptism and Confirmation to proclaim and make present the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s reign of peace and justice. Ordained ministry or a consecrated religious life might be that worthy dream for some. For others, the worthy dream will lead to a very different life path. All are calls to vocation.

Vocation Just for a Few?

Before and to some extent even after Vatican II, the notion of vocation was focused on ordained ministry or consecrated religious life. Vocation directors were and still are official recruiters for dioceses and religious orders. Today, when we hear of the “vocation crisis” or the shortage of “vocations”, the general reference is to the decline in the number of priests, brothers, and nuns.

While the concept of vocation continues to be applied more commonly to that of ordained or consecrated individuals, Neafsey demonstrates that Vatican II is gradually changing our understanding of what a vocation is. The concept of vocation as a sacred calling is developing today based on newly emerging understandings of human development, the Church itself, and our scriptural calling to live out the Good News. In particular, working toward social justice is a key component of any vocation and plays a primary role in deepening our relationship with God.

Vocation as a worthy dream for all

Neafsey’s notion of vocation as a worthy dream is radically different from the more static pre-Vatican II notion of becoming a priest or a consecrated religious. Limiting the concept of vocation to priests and religious is not optimal in a faith community in which all are seen as called and gifted: the community as presented in the Vatican II documents, particularly Gaudium et Spes (On the Church in the Modern World) and Lumen Gentium (On the Church). The worthy dream may indeed take one person on the path of servant leadership as a priest or deacon, but the worthy dream is the result of a perpetual vision quest and may lead another to a different path. This path of the servant leader is also the path of charity and of justice shared by all. It is our participation in the ministry of the Risen Christ.

Our lives in the Trinity are dynamic love encounters of each moment in chronological time (chronos) with God’s designated moment of divine action (kairos). Our calling to live fully in the Trinity is all about the agony and the ecstasy of falling, being, and remaining in love. Certainly, there is a close connection between our special gifts and talents or charisms and the Church as a structured community, since our gifts flow from the Holy Spirit. Working out our vocations is not necessarily free of conflict, doubt, and suffering. Yet we are called in Christ to the messiness of relationships with others in a relational God. We have only to read the letters of St. Paul to see that this is nothing new.

Yes, we need “vocations” as an institution, but in another sense “vocations” don’t exist. Spirit-filled, joyous people, however, do exist. By encouraging, nourishing, and loving each other, we are part of a larger cosmic focus of Divine Love that brings and holds everything in being. Dancing in that love is vocation. As an organization, all we have to do is to be open not to a job applicant but to someone on fire in Divine Love. Then we will be open to the Christ in our midst. Any other talk of vocation is merely a temptation to careerism, clericalism, or conceit.

Just as married love is a vision, a reality, a dream, and an ongoing quest, the same is true of the experience of hearing, hoping, believing, and the joyous union that is “vocation” in the more traditional sense. This notion of being in love with God and being called deeper may sound “non-traditional”. However, we have to look no further than the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church to realize how much the notion of the Church – the assembly of the faithful – as a modern industrial organization with job descriptions is a novel folly. It is certainly understandable due to our experience of government agencies and corporations that we might look at vocations as filling job positions. Unfortunately, we can lose sight of the sacred dimensions of the Church as a charismatic community incarnated into a human world and caught up in the divine spiral toward the Omega Point of fulfillment in Christ.

The gift of a worthy dream will take many shapes and forms. To be of service to others in teaching, healthcare, music, the arts, exploring nanotechnology, or astrobiology can be a worthy dream, taking many twists and turns. The same is true in ministry. We present ourselves to the community and test whether our deepest gladness meets the deepest need. We test the spirits that may be affecting us in discernment, and follow the Spirit in the Mystical Body of Christ that is the Church.


For more of Neafsey’s insights on vocation, read this interview from Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation.

Read More

Posted by on Aug 26, 2012

A Refreshing Perspective on Respect, Love, and Obedience in Marriage

Today I’m giving this platform to the Rev. Mr. Patrick Conway, Deacon serving at Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos. Patrick is Pastoral Associate in our parish, married for well over 20 years, father of 5, and a fine musician. He brings a welcome perspective to the study of scriptures such as the reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) in which Paul addresses the relationship between husbands and wives. With Patrick’s permission, I share it with you.

Elbow Sunday 8-26-2012 Deacon Patrick Conway

Today is officially called the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. But unofficially it’s called “Elbow Sunday”. That’s because in Catholic churches all over the world today, during the Second Reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he says that wives must obey their husbands, husbands elbow their wives, and when he says that husbands must love their wives as Christ loves the Church, wives elbow their husbands right back!

Actually, this is a tradition that’s sort of gone by the wayside, because for decades now the Church has made that first paragraph about wives obeying their husbands optional, and most parishes don’t read it anymore, because most lectors, especially women, don’t want to read it, and most Catholics, especially women, don’t want to hear it, and most preachers don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole! But I, just back from vacation and feeling strong, relish the challenge! Either that, or fools rush in where angels fear to tread!

So, what about it? It says here in the Word of God that wives must submit to their husbands in everything. 12 years ago the second-largest group of Christians (after Catholics) in the United States, the Southern Baptists, included it in their Statement of Faith, and many evangelicals and other Christians also believe and teach that wives must submit to their husbands. So what does the largest Christian Church in the world, the Roman Catholic Church, say about this?

Nothing. If you look at all the current Church teachings on marriage – in the Catechism, Canon Law, teachings of John Paul II, Engaged Encounter, Marriage Encounter – you won’t find a word about it. So now hear this, wives (and husbands): the Catholic Church does not teach that wives must submit to their husbands. Wives, you get to give the final elbow!

Just has it has in the lectionary, the Church has basically dropped or at least de-emphasized that notion of inequality that is wrongfully implied in Paul’s letter. The Church takes the rest of the passage to come up with a wonderful understanding of marriage as an equal partnership in which both husband and wife submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Both husband and wife give one another the love of Christ, loving each other as Christ loves the Church.

It’s like a dance – one partner leads, the other follows. But it’s not always the man who leads. In some things the woman can lead better, and so she should, and her husband should follow. Other times, the wife should follow her husband’s lead. Mutual submission to one another, and always, to Christ. There is no place for domination in this relationship. Domination is a serious and destructive sin, whether it is done by a husband or a wife.

Paul says that the marriage relationship is like the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so it is. But, unlike our relationship with Christ, who is always the Christ to us, husbands and wives take turns being Christ to one another. Now, as a husband, I take very seriously my call to love my wife as Christ loves the Church, and that’s my prayer every day. But every day I see all the ways that I fail to do that, unlike Christ who never fails me. And I see that, regardless of my best efforts to be Christ to my wife, it is more often she who is Christ to me. The greatest incarnation of Christ in my life is, and has been, my wife, whose constant love, faithfulness, mercy, care and devotion never cease to amaze and humble me. She has given herself to me completely, just as Christ has given himself to me. She gives herself to me through Christ, and Christ gives himself to me through her.

But marriage is not just for the good of the married, or even for the children that may come from a marriage. Marriage is for everyone, that is, for the good of everyone. That is Paul’s greatest gift in his teaching about marriage, that marriage is a sacrament, a sign and symbol for the whole world of the relationship between Christ and the Church, between Christ and humanity. Marriage reveals that this relationship between Christ and humanity is not one of divine domination, but of tender, intimate love, like the tender, intimate love between a husband and wife. It is deeply personal.

Marriage is to remind each one of us of what is possible between us and Christ, a tender, intimate, profoundly personal relationship that is truly everlasting. And each one of us is called to this dance of love with Christ, with Christ who has first loved us and who has come down from heaven into our world to give us his love, to give us himself, and who seeks only our love in return.

That’s all he’s been trying to tell us in these Gospel readings these past few weeks, that he’s giving us himself, his whole self – flesh and blood, body and soul, humanity and divinity, and he’s just dying with passion for us to receive him.

May our response to him be like St. Peter’s: “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and love. We know that you’re the one for us.”

Reprinted with permission.

Read More

Posted by on Feb 5, 2010

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

A Community of Fishermen (and Women)

Going Fishing

The Sunday readings over the past few weeks have touched on the theme of being called. Called to speak on the Lord’s behalf as a prophet, called to preach the good news, called to teach, called to lead the people, and so forth. In years past and today, in all times and places, the Lord calls ordinary people to speak and act on his behalf.

The readings for this coming Sunday, the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, tell of the vision and call of Isaiah, the call of Paul to be an apostle and the call of Peter, James and John. Each of them responded in a similar manner when they realized Who was calling them. “Woe is me, I am doomed!” says Isaiah. “…I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God,” says Paul. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” says Peter.

However, the Lord does not leave. Instead, a seraphim takes an ember from the altar of the Lord and purifies the mouth of Isaiah. Paul comes to faith through a period of physical blindness, receiving care from those he had journeyed to persecute. Peter and his companions are comforted, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Each then responds with willing service. Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send?” and responds “Here I am. … send me.”  Paul tells us, “by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” Peter, James and John took their boats to the shore, left everything and followed Jesus.

Each of these ordinary people heard the Lord’s call in his own way and within his own everyday world. Their response is remembered today. Unfortunately, we often think that they were some sort of unusual people, extra holy or something – worthy to be called by God. But really, they were just ordinary people. When they heard God’s call, they answered “yes.” They hadn’t gone out of their way looking for God. They didn’t consider themselves particularly prepared or inclined to teach or preach or lead a community. Yet when the Lord asked them to do these things, they did them.

We too are called. We too have something the Lord needs and wants us to do. Each of us is to listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding our way and leading us into our worlds to share the good news, to remind others that God loves even those whose lives seem least worthwhile or important. We don’t know when or how it will happen that we will speak the Lord’s words to the person who needs to hear them. That’s OK. It doesn’t matter if we know. All we have to do is keep trusting the Holy Spirit to guide and then live as lovingly as we can.

A woman I’ve known since childhood has an approach that I often remember. She talks of “going fishing” when she finds herself in a position to share her experience of God’s love and care with others. Each of us is called to “go fishing” with the Lord. He’ll make us partners in his mission of fishing for men, women and children to build the kingdom of God together.

Read More

Posted by on Jun 21, 2008

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

St. Aloysius Gonzaga – June 21

St. Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591) is often portrayed as a weak dreamy sort of figure. Worse, he has been presented to young people as a patron and role model who rejected all of the fun, adventure, and rebellion of youth. The real story is far more compelling.

How St. Luigi Gonzaga became St. Aloysius in English is not clear. The Latin for Luigi would be Ludovicus. Alois would be the German equivalent.

The “spin” of 17th and 18th century writers on his life was more a pietist anti-intellectual critique of the secularist Enlightenment. To be impolitic, he comes across as some sort of bloodless, lily toting wimp with upward cast eyes. Although it is not uncommon for saints to be “martyred” posthumously and their lives used to advance a contemporary cause, the Renaissance Luigi Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione is more relevant to us as post-modern Christians.

The overall sketch of his life is a simple as it is dramatic. Luigi was the oldest son of Ferrante, the Marquis of Castiglione, and named for the founder of the Gonzaga family Luigi, Lord of Mantua (1328). He was a pious youth, despised the things of this world, joined the Jesuits, and died of the plague after contracting it from nursing its abandoned victims in the streets of Rome when he was barely 23.

The context of his life and his status as an imperial prince give us a fuller understanding of who he was. According to John Coulson, the editor of The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary:

It is impossible to estimate Aloysius’ (Luigi’s) career without some idea of his appalling heredity and environment. The Gonzaga tyrants rank with the Visconti, the Sforza, and the D’Este. They entered history about 1100; the first Gonzaga, lord of Mantua, was Luigi (1328), whose third marriage took place on the same day as his son’s and grandson’s: the three brides entered Mantua together in triumph. Already their cliff-like fortress was looming over the city. These despots displayed an amazing mixture of qualities. The Gonzaga clan survived one assassination after another and became allied to most of the reigning houses; but Luigi Gonzaga (141), grimly surnamed ‘The Turk,’ kept up three printing-presses and had for clients men like Platina, or Mantegna, who painted the scenery–now at Hampton Court–for the plays to which the Gonzaga were devoted. The French Parliament petitioned against the introduction of these plays into France–they were a ‘high school of adultery’–and no one would now dare paint the pictures with which some of the Gonzaga palaces were adorned. Yet these princes could care for agriculture, irrigation, checks on usury; and their insane debaucheries alternated with explosions of a genuine underlying faith. Their subjects, bled white by taxation, thrilled by their exotic pageantries, worshipped them till they broke into bloody but useless revolution.

The life of a Renaissance prince was far from any story book. St. Aloysius’ primary schooling was at the Medici Court in Florence. While he received the best academic training of the day, there was a bigger focus on swordsmanship, riding, and intrigue. He also spent significant time at the Spanish Court of King Philip II. His mother was a Valois and a relative of the Queen and his father had turned down a position of Master of the Horse in the English Court of Henry VIII in favor of Spain. At the time, the Spanish Empire was at its height of power and global dominance. Philip II also became king of Portugal as Philip I and ruled the Portuguese Empire as well.

As the oldest son, Luigi was trained to fulfill the duties of a prince and to prepare to succeed his father in the wealth, power, and literal back stabbing of the Gonzagas. As a child, though, he was appalled at what he saw and experienced, including the murder of close relatives. Fortunately, he came under the influence of St. Robert Bellarmine, who gave him his First Communion as a teenager. His rebellion was to reject it all and to enter the Church. His mother was not opposed to the idea, since it was not uncommon for powerful families to place prominent younger sons in key church positions that controlled considerable wealth and property. Luigi’s desire to join the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was another matter. It would mean that he would forgo any type of service that could make him a powerful or wealthy cleric. Ironically, it was a wealthy and powerful churchman – Luigi’s cousin Cardinal Scipione Gonzaga – who prevailed on Ferrante to permit his son to join the Jesuits.

However, even as a Jesuit scholastic (student for the priesthood), he was still a celebrity who received celebrity treatment by those outside the order. Luigi probably over-compensated for this and his spiritual director and personal mentor, St. Robert Bellarmine, told him to ease up on prayer and penance and live a more moderate life. If we look between the lines, fitting a Renaissance prince into a religious house was not the easiest task for Luigi or his fellow religious. In fact, St. Ignatius’ famous letter on obedience was motivated in part to try to redirect the religious enthusiasm of these men to the ultimate in penance – to do what you are told whether you like it or not.

One can only imagine what it was to see a Gonzaga nursing victims of the plague on the streets of Rome.

There is a wonderful statue of St. Luigi outside St. Aloysius parish on the grounds of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington which shows a vital, caring, young man tending to a plague victim.

For some time when Gonzaga University was at the height of its fame as a basketball champion, there was a slogan which the University ran on national TV – Gonzaga: a Way of Life. The possibility of taking a brand like “Gonzaga” and making it stand for an impassioned life of faith inspired service is due to a young man caught up in grace. Isn’t that what we want for all young men and women?

Read More

Posted by on Sep 25, 2007

The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and Contemporary World

Saint of the Day: St. Elzear & Bl. Delphina – The Happy Couple

Today, an unconsummated marriage would probably not be considered advisable by the Church and mental health experts. St. Elzear and Blessed Delphina were a couple who were married and lived together chastely. They are saints because of their care of the poor and the suffering. This couple is also known for their conscientious exercise of their duties as members of the nobility. Interestingly, they were known and remembered as a happy couple.

Personally, I don’t think that I would have responded by taking a vow of chastity on my wedding night the way St. Elzear did when he found out the Delphina had already made one. We have a contemporary theology of marriage that stresses and endows love making and sex within marriage as sacramental.

Certainly the late Middle Ages (St. Elzear 1286 -1323, Bl. Delphina 1283- 1358) was not a “puritanical” time. In fact, Puritanism would not happen for another 200 years and would never take root in the Mediterranean.

St. Elzear was born at the family castle in Ansouis, Provence, in the south of France. At 23, he became lord of Ansouis and Count of Ariano in the Kingdom of Naples. The Count and Contessa became influential in the court of King Robert of Naples and Elzear was the tutor to the King’s son Charles. He was also the “justiciar” or head of law enforcement and justice for southern Abruzzi under King Robert. St. Elzear died on September 27, 1323 while on a diplomatic mission to Paris to arrange the marriage of Charles to Mary of Valois. Blessed Delphina would survive him for another 35 years and spend the time in continued acts of charity.

As nobles, producing children was a serious responsibility. Even when having children was precluded due to medical reasons, noblemen usually had some illegitimate sons at hand. William the Conqueror was one such son. Since the marriage of the Count and Contessa of Ariano (St. Elzear and Blessed Delphina) was so atypical by the standards of their day and ours, how do we relate to it?

Perhaps it was a marriage of convenience, in the sense that due to their social station they were obliged to marry but would have really preferred monastic vocations. Since their state in life was determined when they were young children of a noble family, they simply found a way around it.

Young children at the ages of 5 -7 were sent as oblates to monasteries and convents. Hildegard of Bingen and St. Thomas Aquinas are two examples. We also know, of course, that many people who found themselves in “enforced” monastic vocations would do their best to bend or break the rules.

Then as now, marriages – especially those among the rich and powerful -were not happy affairs. Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and her Church sanctioned marriages to King Louis VII of France and King Henry II of England demonstrates the far from Romantic character of such marriages. In fact, Eleanor of Aquitaine was a major promoter of the troubadour movement. The origins of what we today experience as romantic love originally began as songs of chaste love for the unattainable woman. As we know, the reality of courtly love was far from chaste, but it seemed to provide some fluidity in a tight social structure. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t cause feelings of betrayal and rejection resulting in duels, beatings, and death. The case of King Henry VIII in the early modern period (1491 -1547) provides a window onto the complexity of marriage in Europe in previous centuries.

The Count and Contessa feeding the poor, living as lay Franciscans, and in the case of St. Elzear healing lepers were definitely unusual for the time. What was probably most striking about them is that they were known as a happy couple. Their marriage – even if its lack of consummation might not adhere to the Church’s definition of one – was a partnership for a radical living of the Gospel.

In our own culture and time, can we say as much about our marriages and the joy, happiness and moral guidance they bring to others?

There are two slightly different accounts of these saints, with some inconsistencies. Please see Saint of the Day at and Catholic Online.

Read More