Today is the celebration of the Feast of St. Januarius, lovingly known in Italy as St. Gennaro. Januarius was an Italian bishop and martyr who died around the year 305. Not much is known about him other than what has been passed down in tradition, which tells us that the bishop of Benevento died under the Christian persecution of Diocletian along with six companions. After being thrown to wild beasts, who did not attack them, the Christians were beheaded.
The accounts and lives of the martyrs always serve to build up the Church. As Tertullian’s saying famously states, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." We recall the accounts of martyrs throughout the ages such as Felicity and Perpetua, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Maximilian Kolbe, Blessed Miguel Pro, Blessed Richard Henkes, S.A.C., and most of the Apostles themselves. How diverse and rich is the witness of the martyrs and saints! In each generation, the martyrs demonstrate heroic faith in a culture of opposition that culminated in the sacrifice of their very lives.
In the case of St. Januarius, his witness continues in a special way today as a result of his relics. Not only is his witness of martyrdom powerful, so is the miracle associated with his blood. After Janurius’ beheading, a woman named Eusebia collected the bishop’s blood in a vial. This was brought to Naples and has been venerated for centuries. Most extraordinarily, for the past recorded 400 years starting in 1389, the dried vial of Januarius’ blood liquefies typically on three dates a year: “in the spring during celebrations of the feast of the transfer of the saint’s relics to Naples; Sept. 19, his feast day; and Dec. 16, the local feast commemorating the averting of a threatened eruption of Mount Vesuvius through the intervention of the saint.”
Most recently, his blood half-liquefied on a date outside of the normal dates with a visit from Pope Francis in March of 2015. In his typical humble fashion, Pope Francis responded to the applause from the crowd saying, “The bishop said the blood is half liquefied. It means the saint loves us halfway; we must all convert a bit more, so that he would love us more.” Through his words, Pope Francis reminds us that the purpose of miracles is to draw us closer to Christ and to increase our faith. Jesus performed miracles not for spectacle, but for healing and conversion.
The miracles of holy men and women continue to this day and serve the same purpose: to inspire profound faith in the ongoing work of God that causes us to strengthen our love of Him in word, action, and service. May they inspire our own faith and lead us closer to the One who modelled perfect martyrdom in charity—Jesus Christ—whose martyrdom we commemorate at every celebration of the Eucharist. Nourished by his Body and Blood, may we emerge from our parishes strengthened to answer persecution with love, hatred with forgiveness, apathy with zeal, ignorance with truth, and selfishness with compassion. In doing so, we will be everyday martyrs—literally, witnesses—proclaiming the Gospel with our lives.
St. Januarius, pray for us.
This year, the Church experienced the collision of a feast day and a day of fasting on March 25. For some, the day was approached with awkwardness, “This is both a Marian Feast Day and the Day of the Cross?” But, as Holy Mother Church exercises her wisdom, She encouraged the faithful to first enter into the solemn day of Good Friday on March 25th, while today, April 4th, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation.
The “stacking” of these Holy Days happens irregularly in the Church’s history, and we will never experience them again in our lifetime (unless you live to 2157). Because of the moving of the Feast of the Annunciation, we continue to have the opportunity to soak up all the graces we can from the two days, to ponder the beauty and similarities of the day of feast and the day of fast.
“Hail full of Grace!” (Luke 1:28)
“Hail King of the Jews” (Mark 15:18)
In Scripture, the word “hail” is synonymous with a naming, a giving of a title. As Mary is given the title “Full of Grace,” our Lord is given the title “King of the Jews.” These titles are given to reveal their deeper identity—Mary, as the Mother of Christ; Jesus, as the Savior of all.
Just as Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:28), we too must ask ourselves this question. What does it mean to venerate Mary the Mother of God and Jesus Christ? What do these titles and these identities mean to us as Catholics living in the world today?
“May it be done to me according to your will.” (Luke 1: 38)
“Not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Mary’s faith and trust in the Lord carries her to make the journey to a city of Judah to visit Elizabeth. This prayer then carries her to Bethlehem, to the journey to Jerusalem, to the raising of the Child Jesus, to the act of faith at Cana, and to the foot of the Cross. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, too, carries Him to make the journey to Calvary, to make the greatest Sacrifice for the sake of our sins. These prayers of trust in Nazareth at the Annunciation and in the Garden of Gethsemane both find their glory on Calvary.
When we are presented with moments to trust God, do we make that act of trusting surrender or do we run? Imagine if Mary operated out of fear and Jesus rejected His Cross. Let us pray to Our Lady and Her Son to increase in us faith and confidence to walk this journey on earth to our heavenly home.
“The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:34)
“Truly this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 15:39)
As the Angel of the Lord announces to Mary that the child within her womb will be the Son of God, the centurion at Calvary proclaims that Jesus is “truly… the Son of God.” Mary’s faith in the Lord brings others to the salvific realization that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah! Due to her faithfulness and receptivity to the Holy Spirit, she bears the Son, bringing Jesus, bringing Redemption, to the world. The Angel of the Lord comes to Mary to announce His Divinity. Let us sit with Mary and find Her Son through her receptive heart.
It makes sense that we encountered a bit of awkwardness at the clashing of the Annunciation and Good Friday, but these days reveal the paradox of the Christian Faith. We cannot have one without the other; in suffering comes joy. Let us cling to Mary’s motherly heart and ask her to show us the way to her Son.
As we venerate Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation, may Her faithfulness bring us to a deeper faithfulness in Her Son. As we celebrate the Annunciation, the conception of Jesus Christ, we remember the birth of Holy Mother Church through the flowing of Blood and Water from the side of Jesus on the cross. This demonstrates that Jesus is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. These stories, the Annunciation and Good Friday, are actually our own and show how our “yes” can be used by God to bring about the salvation of the world in unexpected ways. May Mary’s “yes” to God’s plan through the Angel Gabriel and Jesus’ “yes” to the will of the Father through the Cross be our joy throughout this Easter Season.
“Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world.” This line is chanted three times by the celebrant of the Good Friday service; after each time, a covered cross or crucifix is partially unveiled until after the third time when the full cross or crucifix is exposed. The faithful then are invited to reverence the cross, usually with a kiss.
For many, the most memorable part of the Good Friday liturgy is the reading of the Passion Narrative. We are once more transported back 2,000 years to relive the moment when “[God] gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). The moment that has always stood out to me is the Veneration of the Cross. To me, the simple act of embracing the Cross of Christ is one of the most beautiful things one can experience.
The Veneration of the Cross has been celebrated in Rome since the seventh century and in Jerusalem since the fifth. It has since become a universal practice in the Church. Many can recall the image of a priest, bishop, and even the pope humbling himself before what was once the symbol of oppression, seeing it instead as a symbol of hope and life.
When we embrace the cross and reverence it with a kiss, we in effect adore Christ himself, for the cross is the representation of Christ and his sacrifice. In that act, we then embrace the cross as our own and give ourselves fully to our Lord and Savior. Pope Benedict once remarked, “Entrusting ourselves to Christ, we lose nothing, we gain everything. In his hands our life acquires its true meaning.” Thus, when we embrace the cross, we accept that, through Christ’s sacrifice, we are saved and able to enter into eternal life. We also transform the cross from that instrument of death into the method by which we can now enter God’s heavenly kingdom.
As the phrase used in the Stations of the Cross states, “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you…because by your cross you redeemed the world.” In venerating the Cross of Christ, we make those words active in our own lives. We leave the church on Good Friday knowing that we have reaffirmed our faith in the Lord’s redeeming power. We join ourselves with those who were present at that first Good Friday and believed that the story of salvation did not end that day. In fact, it was only the beginning. And so, when the celebrant chants, “Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the salvation of the world,” let us, with all our heart respond, “Come, let us adore.”
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Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.