Meet Saint Emil and Saint Lillian—-Strangers No More

Emil and Lillian Peterson long gone but never forgotten

By Larry Peterson

My parents would have celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary on September 19, 2018.  They had made it to their 17th anniversary when Mom died. Dad lasted four years and then he was gone. For some unknown reason, their anniversary played inside my head…over and over.

I have Masses offered for both of them and other family members during the year. But it occurred to me I had never had a mass offered for my mother and father as a husband and wife. Let’s face it; as a kid you do not think of your parents as regular “people.” Rather, they are just mom and dad.  So, in honor of their Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, a Mass was offered just for them.

When I opened the Sunday church bulletin and saw their names, Emil & Lillian Peterson,  together as a couple, I could not believe how I reacted; I was standing in the church narthex with some friends and tears started flowing down my face. Shocked at my own reaction, I hurried outside hoping no one had noticed. I took a few deep breaths and regrouped. Whew!

There was one more thing I needed to do. I have written about many, many saints; some known and many unknown. But I had never tried to find St. Lillian or St. Emil. It was time to see if they even existed. What follows is a result of my quest.

There was a Saint Lillian. She lived in the ninth century in Muslim controlled Spain. It was a time when Catholics lived in constant fear of the Moors. They had no problem torturing and killing “infidels,” and Catholics were definitely “infidels.” Lillian was a Catholic layperson and had to practice her faith in secret.

History tells us the during the reign of the Caliph Abdurrahaman II, a great persecution took place. Lillian, her husband, Felix, and a man named Aurelius, were exposed as Catholics. Lillian and Felix along with Aurelius stepped forward and publicly admitted that they were, indeed, Catholic. They knew full well that death would come with their admission.

The Moors gave them four days to renounce their Christianity and to embrace Islam. After four days they all refused, remaining steadfast in their beliefs. They were all sentenced to death.  Saint Lillian, Saint Felix, and Saint Aurelius, died in Cordova, Spain circa 892. A.D. They were all named saints during the pre-congregation era.

Saint Lillian’s  feast day is on July 27th. She is the patroness of women named Lillian, Lily (my Mom’ nickname) and Elizabeth. We are supposed to pray to Saint Lillian to help strengthen our faith and to help us spread unconditional love to our neighbors. Ironically, in my novel, the Priest and The Peaches, the character of Elizabeth was fashioned after my mother, Lillian. That was never planned.

There also was a Saint Emil aka Emilian. Emil was a shepherd living in North Africa sometime around the year 250 A.D. He became a hermit and after a while was ordained a priest. He was a natural organizer and was able to develop a large group of followers. He became their Abbott and is called the first Spanish Benedictine.

During the latter part of the third century, the Roman Emperor, Decius, began a relentless persecution of the Christians. Emil was arrested and, after being weakened by constant torture, was released. He regained some strength and returned to preaching again. He was brought before the same judge that had ordered him tortured.  This time he was sentenced to death.

Before being executed by fire, Emil was once again subjected to various, inhumane tortures. When his captors realized Emil would never renounce his faith, he was burned alive.

Saint Emil & Saint Lillian, please pray for us.

copyright ©Larry Peterson 2018

On the Fifth Anniversary of her Passing: Remembering a future saint: Mother Antonia Brenner aka The “Prison Angel”

By Larry Peterson

Mother Antonia Brenner Praying with Prisoners in La Mesa prison

Mother Antonia Brenner Praying with Prisoners in La Mesa prison

This is a love story. No, it is not about romantic love. Rather, it is about the love of

Christ exploding in the soul of a woman who ran with her God-given gift and did her best to shower it upon some of the meanest and worst criminals in Mexico.

This is about Mother Antonia Brenner, who was born in Beverly Hills, CA, was married and divorced twice, had seven children and ultimately became known as the “Prison Angel” of La Mesa Prison, the worst and most dangerous prison in all of Mexico.  Mother Antonia died five years ago on October 17. On the anniversary of her passing, I just thought I would remember her with a few words.

Mary Clarke was born in Beverly Hills, Calif.on December 1, 1926. Her dad, Joe Clarke, was a successful businessman and Mary and her two siblings grew up surrounded with affluence and the glitz of the movie world. One thing was certain about Papa Joe. No matter how good life was for his family he made sure his kids were always taught to help the less fortunate. The desire to help others would blossom in Mary and was one day destined to explode. However, before the “explosion” Mary embarked on a circuitous life journey.

Mary married at 18 and had three children. The first died shortly after birth. That marriage ended in divorce and then Mary married again. The wedding took place in Las Vegas and it was to a man named Carl Brenner. She and Carl had five children together but ultimately, that marriage also ended in divorce. Mary had somehow distanced herself from her strict Catholic upbringing. No matter, it seems that the Holy Spirit had his eye on Mary Clarke her entire life. It was time for Him to shower His grace on His daughter.

Mary became more and more involved in charity work and has her seven children got older she began to visit La Mesa Penitentiary to deliver donations such as food, medicine, and clothing to the prisoners. The plight of the prisoners at La Mesa began to impact her greatly and as time went by her growing compassion and love of neighbor would become focused on these people. They would become her specialty, her ministry, her purpose in life.

In 1977, after her kids were grown and her second divorce was final, Mary gave away her expensive belongings, moved out of her home in Ventura and headed to La Mesa. She had received permission to move there. Her new home was to be a 10′ by 10′ cell. She would live as any other inmate, sleeping in her concrete cell and having only cold water and prison food. The amenities in her room included a Crucifix on the wall, a Bible and Spanish dictionary nearby and a hard, prison bed. In the morning she lined up with the other prisoners for roll call. This was to be her home for the next thirty years.

The story of how this twice divorced woman and mother of seven kids from two marriages was accepted by the Catholic Church as a Sister and founder of a new order can be found at the links provided. Suffice it to say that as time went by Sister Antonia became “La Mama” (Mother Antonia) aka The Prison Angel,

“La Mama”. The Prison Angel

Mother Antoni© Brenner praying with prisoners.. courtesy eudistssisters.org

She walked freely among the drug traffickers, thieves, murderers, rapists, and others touching cheeks and offering prayers. Many of these people were among the most violent and desperate of men. Yet she happily walked with them and comforted and consoled them and held their heads between her hands as they were dying.

Mother Antonia Brenner truly saw the face of Christ in each and every prisoner she came in contact with. She loved them all. Why else would hardened criminals, some who had never loved or been loved,  call the diminutive woman who hailed from Beverly Hills, “La Mama”? They loved her in return.

I believe that one day Mother Antonia Brenner will be canonized a saint and inducted into the “Catholic Hall of Fame”. She was an example for each and every one of us showing us how to selflessly “love our neighbor” no matter who they might be.

N.B. Mother Antonia founded the order known as The Eudist Servants of the 11th Hour. The word, Eudist, is taken from St. John Eudes, a 17th-century priest, and founder of the Eudists Order and the Order of Our Lady of Charity. The 11th Hour indicates that the Eudists sisters accept women in life having a second calling. They must be at least 45 years-old to enter the order.

©Copyright Larry Peterson 2018

 

Alzheimer’s Disease—The Ultimate Enemy of the Lifelong Love Story

By Larry Peterson

If you and your spouse have lived within a marriage that has been filled with an unconditional, unselfish, love for each other, then you have been truly blessed. Giving of oneself to another “no matter what,” creates a connection that can never be broken, and it leaves behind a journey that has been sheathed with laughter, joy, comfort, and compassion powered by that love.

This was God’s plan, and many have embraced it and lived it and reaped the rewards of truly being ONE. Loving someone more than yourself can be a hard thing to do and many have tried but failed. But far more have tried and succeeded by emptying themselves for each other.

I have two dear friends, better yet I shall call them the BEST friends anyone could ever have. Their names are Mike and Roberta, and we met 35 years ago when our sons were playing youth baseball. Their friendship was unconditional, unquestioned, and given freely, without reservation. They were unhesitatingly there for my family and later, after my wife, Loretta had passed, for me.

As is the way of things time never waits for anyone and keeps moving forward.  Now Roberta looks at the dying person in the bed before her and realizes that part of herself is lying there too. Suddenly their lives together scroll before her. The courtship, the wedding, the birth of their child, the laughter, the good times and the bad, the crying, and so forth. This is when having God in your life is crucial. Hope springs eternal and therein lies the truth of the power of faith.

My friend, Mike, was raised in an orphanage in Philadelphia. Long ago, his mother dropped him off in front of the place on a snowy, Christmas Eve. She left him standing there with a note pinned to his jacket. He was four years old. When he turned eighteen, he was dismissed from the orphanage, given a few bucks, and offered “best wishes and God’s blessings.”

He walked away from that place and immediately joined the United States Marine Corp. From that day forward, Mike, who was a trucker, has walked, talked and looked like a Marine. Most of all he has loved his family and his country as completely as he could.

Roberta, who was a florist, was one of three sisters and was also from Philadelphia. Her life looks like different chapters in a novel whose genre could be considered “urban legend melodrama.” She was one of three sisters and was abused as a child. She lost her first husband to diabetes when she was thirty-one years old. Her father, an alcoholic, was burned over 75% of his body and she cared for him until he recovered and could somewhat function on his own.

Then she turned to alcohol which ultimately led her to Alcoholics Anonymous. Mike was also attending AA, and that is where they met. He became her sponsor, and he was relentless in his quest to get her to stop drinking. She eventually did, and they got married. (Neither of them has had a drink in over 50 years).

A half-century of climbing and struggling down into the valleys and over the mountains of the journey called “life” has passed. They never wavered, stood tall, and together stared down and conquered all obstacles in their path. They raised a son who grew up to be the chief pilot for a well-known airline. Mike and Roberta are a living definition of the word, marriage.

One more challenge stands before them. The only problem is, this time only one of them can confront the challenge. And, upon completing that challenge, that person will be alone.

Mike has been attacked by the cruel demon known as Alzheimer’s disease.  It began erasing his memory some years ago, and it has relentlessly worked its evil 24/7. Today Mike is in a “memory care unit” inside a nursing home. He remembers nothing yet his face lights up and he smiles ear to ear when his dear Roberta walks into the room. He thinks she is his “mommy.” Except she is not.  He also has lost the ability to swallow and can no longer eat or drink.

His lover and best friend is now faced with the task of watching him leave her forever. She has asked Hospice to keep him pain-free and as comfortable as possible. The journey of the long goodbye has reached the last turn before arriving at the station. All that Roberta can do is embrace what was and know that his spirit will always be with her. Then she can take comfort in knowing that one day, holding hands, they will stand together again.

May God bless and have mercy on all Alzheimer’s victims and their families.

 

 

 

The Miracle of the Chest Lost at Sea—The Story of Our Lady of Bonaria

Our Lady of Bonaria & the Chest Lost at Sea
public domain

By Larry Peterson

There are numerous miracles that have taken place within the 800-year-old Mercedarian Order including that of St. Peter Armengol who gave himself over to the Muslims to save another. He was hanged from a tree only to be found alive six days later.  He told everyone that the Blessed Mother had held him up the entire time. When they took him down, he smelled like roses. Another was St. Raymond Nonnatus, the saint who was never born. (Click on his name for the fascinating story).

The other morning, I attended Mass which was offered by a friend of mine; he is a Mercedarian priest, and his name is Fr. Daniel Bowen.  After Mass, he, I and several others had breakfast together. During breakfast, Father Daniel began to tell a story. It was about Our Lady of Bonaria who became the Patroness of Sardinia. It was a story I had never heard.

Tradition says that on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1370, a ship sailing from Spain to Italy, was caught up in a terrible storm off the coast of Sardinia. The sailors were sure the boat was going to sink, so they began throwing cargo over the sides to lighten the load.

The last crate was unbelievably heavy, and the sailors could barely lift it. As soon as they managed to get it over the side and it hit the water, the storm stopped, the winds subsided, and the sea turned calm. They tried desperately to retrieve the crate, but it disappeared. Days later, and unknown to the sailors, the crate washed up on the shore of Sardinia at the foot of a hill called Bonaria.

There was a large crowd of people on the beach when the big wooden box floated onto the shore. They all hurried to see what it might be. Try as they may they could not open nor move it; it was too heavy. A child in the crowd cried out, “Call the Mercedarians. They will be able to open it.”

The nearby church and monastery had been under the care of the Mercedarians since 1335. The people hurried to the church and asked the friars to come with them to see the mysterious crate. When the friars arrived at the beach, they were able to lift the box without hardly any effort.

They then carried it to the church and in front of a large crowd of curious people opened it up without a bit of trouble. What they found inside the box amazed everyone there. It was a statue of Our Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child. In the Virgin’s left hand was a candle. The candle was lit.

Unknown to those present they had just witnessed the fulfillment of a prophecy. When the church was built in 1330, Father Carlo Catalan was the ambassador to the Argonese Court. During the dedication, he told the monks, “A Great Lady will come to live in this place. After her coming, the malaria infecting this area will disappear, and her image will be called the Virgin of Bonaria.”

The friars, recalling the words of the priest, named the statue “Our Lady of Good Air.” They named it this because of the winds that had blown the statue across the sea to them. Due to the miracle word spread quickly among the people.

To this day sailors invoke the Blessed Virgin as their protectress, and the devotion is practiced in many places around the world. The founder of Argentina, Pedro de Mendoza, named the capital of the country after Our Lady of Bonaria calling it Buenos Aires (Holy Mary of the Fair Winds).

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, on the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, visited the shrine and gave a canonical coronation to the famous statue. He also bestowed the  Golden Rose on the Shrine.

Pope Francis made a repeat Apostolic visit to Sardinia in September 2013.

Finally, it should be noted, the Mercedarians have staffed and continually cared for the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria for over 680 years.

Our Lady of Bonaria, pray for us.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2018

Motherhood—One of God’s greatest gifts is the Instinctive Love of a Mother for her Child…no Matter what their Age

 

even a grown man can be mommy’s “little boy”

public domain

By Larry Peterson

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”

Abraham Lincoln

What follows took place over a period of a few minutes.

The man presented an imposing figure. He was dressed in his Air Force uniform which had a crowd of ribbons on the left breast which covered his heart. He stood, paused and then stepped from his pew. Walking purposefully, he moved and strode up the four steps into the sanctuary. He walked over to the ambo, turned and looked out at the people now before him. He grabbed each side of the ambo, and each of his hands squeezed it tightly.

He turned his head left and peered downward. In the center aisle at the foot of the altar were the remains of his dad. The middle-aged man, a disciplined officer in the United States Air Force, shook his head, pursed his lips, and looked out at those before him and tried to speak. He did not succeed. Instead, what came from within him were soft, quiet sobs.

There was a woman sitting in the first row. Stepping from the pew she calmly walked up the sanctuary steps and over to the sobbing man. She sidled up to him and leaned into his side. Then ever so softly, she leaned her head against his shoulder. He turned and looked down at her. She turned and looked up at him. She extended her arm in back of him and rubbed his back. After several moments, she smiled at him and headed back to her pew.

It had been a spontaneous moment in time as the natural love of a mom for her child compelled her to rescue him. There was no thought about it. No, it was instinctive, a God-given trait that is instilled in mothers. It is a powerful love that only exists between a mother and her child. How powerful that love is that it can quickly calm a professional military officer who had lost his composure because of the death of his dad.

He had once again become a little boy. Mommy, ignoring the pain of her own personal heartache, instinctively knew it and went to him, embraced him and comforted him and made it “all better.” And therein lies the magnificence of one of God’s greatest gifts, the love of a mom for her child, no matter what their age. It is a beautiful thing.

 

The loveliest masterpiece of the heart of God is the love of a Mother.

-St. Therese of Lisieux

Copyright Larry Peterson 2018

A Saintly Journey—The Road to Sainthood is a Fascinating Journey into Human Holiness

How-to-become-a-Saint—-quinn-dombrowski-cc-by-sa-2-0

By Larry Peterson

On May 12, 2013, the Catholic Church canonized 802 saints. Blessed Antonio Primaldo and the other 799 soon-to-be  saints were living in the town of Otranto in the south of Italy. The year was 1480.

The Ottoman Turks had taken over the city and demanded these “infidels” convert to Islam. They refused and were all murdered. In addition to those 800 being elevated to sainthood, Blessed Maria Garcia Zavala of Mexico and Blessed Laura Montoya of Columbia were also canonized  on that same day.

The 802 newly canonized saints joined the roles of more than 10,000 saints who are venerated in the Catholic Church. How did over 10,000 people manage to be canonized? It may have to do with the fact that in the early years of Christianity many different communities honored or venerated hundreds of people whose stories were not backed by solid fact.

Some stories were made up. For example, St. George the Dragon Slayer, is from the third century. He is honored by both Muslims and Christians. Is the story fact or legend? In the French countryside St. Guinefort is venerated as the protector of babies. It seems that Guinefort saved a baby from a snakebite. The only problem was, Guinefort was a dog.

Interestingly, 52 of the first 55 popes became saints during Catholicism’s first 500 years. During the last one thousand years, only seven popes have attained sainthood, and that includes Pope St. John Paul II and Pope St. John XXIII.

The first saint formally canonized was St. Ulrich of Augsburg. He was canonized by Pope John XV in 993. During the 12th century, the church, realizing they needed an  orderly system, began to put a process in place.  Then, in 1243, Pope Gregory IX, proclaimed that only a pope had the authority to declare someone a saint. That process still exists to this day.

So, what is the actual process on the road to sainthood? We know this for sure, sainthood is not an easy honor to attain. There are five steps in the journey. The first step begins right in the neighborhood where the proposed saint lived and was known.

After a person has been dead for five years (this time frame may be waived by the Pope), friends and neighbors may get together and document all they can about that particular person. They would then present their evidence to the local bishop requesting he begin an investigation into the person’s holy and exemplary life.

If the bishop feels the evidence is worthy of the cause moving forward, he may appoint a “postulator” to represent the cause. If, after further investigation, they  feel the cause is worthy, they forward it to Rome.  Now the evidence  goes before the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. At this point in the process, the person receives the title, “Servant of God.”

The Congregation for the Causes consists of nine theologians who thoroughly review all the documentation that has been presented to them. The person’s writings are examined, and all aspects of their life are picked apart. Nothing can go against the teachings of the Church.

The Congregation even has a “devil’s advocate” who raises questions and objections about the candidate. The Congregation must be sure before moving forward. If they decide the candidate has been a person of “heroic virtue,” they are declared “Venerable,” and their cause moves on towards the next step; Beatification.

Except in the cases of martyrdom, Beatification requires one miracle. The candidate’s character and holiness have already been established, but having a miracle attributed to someone can take centuries. If a person has been killed for their faith, they have been martyred “In Odium Fidei” which means, “In hatred of the faith.”

This death is honored with Beatification and the title Blessed is bestowed on the person. Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered while saying Mass in France in 2016, is an example of someone experiencing this type of death.

Another death is called, in defensum castitatis” meaning, in defense of purity.” This too warrants Beatification and the person is given the title of Blessed. Two young Catholic heroines who died in this manner are St. Maria Goretti and Blessed Pierina Morosini.

Pope Francis recently introduced a new road to sainthood. It honors those who sacrificed their lives for others. (The Mercedarians are known for this). This is called “Maiorem hac delectionem (nemo habet)” which means; “Greater love than this (no man hath).”

Lastly, there is Canonization. At this point, we are waiting for one more miracle. Upon that happening it is given to the Pope who makes the final decision. It is then a person is declared a saint.

To all you saints (and those in the queue) above, please pray for us all.

copyright©Larry Peterson 2018

St. Vincent de Paul; His Feast Day is Sept. 27—Some facts about his life you may not know

St. Vincent de Paul                 Wikipedia commons

Larry Peterson

I have been a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society for twenty-five years. At present I am not active but being part of this organization has allowed me to interact and work with the least and most marginalized of God’s people. My affiliation with the society has allowed me to experience some of the most uplifting moments of my life.

Those who reached out to us were always in dire straits. They had no food, had been evicted, could not pay for life-saving medication, had no water, had no gas or electricity among other necessities of life. There were even those who had no shoes.  Somehow, we always managed to help anyone who came to us. If we did not have the capabilities, we were able to forward them to a place that could.

I mention those things because it all goes back to the example and inspiration displayed by one man; St. Vincent de Paul. On his feast day of September 27, here are a few things you may not have known about this great saint.

  • The first one is; St. Vincent did NOT found the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It was named in his honor by Frederick Ozanam, the 20-year-old student who modeled the society after St. Vincent’s works and teachings. The highlighted link will give you Frederick’s story.

 

  • Vincent de Paul was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. Desperate for money Vincent was notified of an inheritance he had received from an elderly woman who knew him. He had made the journey to Bourdeaux to claim the estate. Disappointed that the inheritance was mostly needed to satisfy a debt, Vincent headed back to Toulouse. The ship he had taken was attacked by pirates and most of the crew was killed or wounded, including the captain. Vincent and the other passengers were taken into chains and sold into slavery and taken to Tunis. Vincent remained a slave for two years before escaping with another and making it back to France.

 

  • Vincent could have been a “community organizer.”  Upon returning to France he was working in a church in the country. The area was so poor many people actually died from starvation. Vincent was horrified and began contacting old friends, many of whom were wealthy, asking for help. He formed groups and they went from house to house seeking clothing, food, and furniture. They were so successful that word spread and other parishes asked to be taught how to organize such efforts. Vincent’s organizational skills began being emulated all over France.

 

  • Vincent de Paul was the founder of a religious order called The Vincentians. Under Vincent’s rule, those who entered ministry pledged to devote their lives to the spiritual and material needs of the poor. Later on Vincent, along with Louise de Marillac, founded the Sisters of Charity. The work started by Vincent de Paul expanded to opening hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the mentally ill. His work also included serving prisoners and slaves.

 

Vincent de Paul died on September 27, 1660. He was canonized a saint on August 13, 1729 by Pope Benedict XIII.

“It is not sufficient for me to love God if I do not love my neighbor. I belong to God and to the poor.” –St. Vincent de Paul”

St. Vincent de Paul, please pray for us.

 

                              copyright Larry Peterson2018