Tag Archives: history

All Saint’s Day: Never Forget that Our Christian Roots are Embedded in Judaism

All Saint’s Day                                         achristianpilgrim.com

by Larry Peterson

My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me how to be  Catholic. He is doing this by living in my mind via memories of his personal Christianity in action.  The Feast of All Saint’s Day flips a switch that turns on one of these memories. That is also when I began to embrace the fact that the vast majority of the first Catholics were born and raised Jewish .

I remember that Friday night long ago. We lived in the south Bronx in a five-story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four-room apartment and we never even considered that it was small and cramped. The neighborhood was the same for all families except for those living up on the upscale Grand Concourse. That’s where the “money” people lived in buildings with courtyards and sometimes the courtyards even had fish ponds in the middle.

It was still September and summer had not yet left. Back then no-one had air-conditioning and everyone kept their windows open praying for a breeze. The screaming started a little past midnight. It filled the back alleyway and floated unmercifully upward and into the open windows. Our apartment was directly above the window from where the screams were coming and on this night they seemed exceptionally close and  blood-curdling. Pop got up and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”

We watched as Pop left our apartment and headed down the stairs. We followed and quietly sat on the upper landing stretching our necks so our heads would make a right-angle turn to see down and around the landing below. We watched our father, who without hesitation, walked over to the apartment door and began banging on it with his fist.

This was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. Leo was the landlord and he owned the building. No one dared complain to the landlord about noise coming from his apartment even if it was about midnight screams that curled the hairs on your neck. But Pop was not going down to complain. He was going to see if he could help. He had this way about him and sometimes he was uncommonly instinctive.

The door opened and Leo poked his head out. Pop started talking to him and, incredibly, Leo just stood there listening. The man was short, maybe 5’2″, he had a droopy mustache that needed tending and his sagging shoulders said he was obviously worn out. He held a pipe off to the side of his head and his face seemed to be saying, “Please help me.”

Pop continued talking for a minute or so and suddenly Leo Rabinowitz, the “feared” Jewish landlord, buried his head in my father’s chest and began crying unashamedly. Danny and I were stunned. Then Pop, his arm around Leo’s shoulder, disappeared into Leo’s apartment.

We both went back into our apartment and lay there conjecturing away at all the possibilities that may have caused this unexpected union between a landlord and tenant, a Jewish man and a Catholic man, between two people who were neighbors but were not really except for location and who had nothing in common.

Within fifteen minutes Bobby, Johnny, and Carolyn had joined Danny and I in the conversation and by the time our five imaginations extrapolated each other’s ideas, we “knew”  that Leo Rabinowitz was a communist spy and he had somehow killed our father and disposed of his dismembered body in the coal furnace down in the basement.

As we plotted our course of action Pop came back into our apartment. It had been a few hours, or at least it seemed that way. Pop just walked through our bedroom and headed to the back room moving ever so slowly. When he paused by his workbench he sat on the stool, lowered his head into his upraised fingers, took in a deep breath and sighed. Then, ever so quietly, he pulled his beads from his pocket and started praying the rosary. None of us interrupted and I think we all just fell asleep.

We found out about those screams the next morning. Sophie was having nightmares all right, nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death with rifle butts by the Nazis, who also insisted that the boy’s mom and dad watch as they killed their sons. To this day I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like.

They were loving parents and were rendered helpless as godless people murdered their children, enjoying inflicting their heinous butchery on innocents. The ultimate torture distributed by the Nazis was allowing Leo and Sophie to watch. Sophie’s screams told that story night after night, year after year after year. How ghastly and cruel those memories had to be.

All Saint’s Day is celebrated on November 1. The gospel reading for the day is from Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes. When the priest reads them the switch will flip and I will go back to that Friday once again. It always happens. I hear #2,  “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”; then #5, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”; and #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

Pop lived all three of those Beatitudes that Friday night long ago. He mourned with his Jewish neighbors, he was merciful to them and he brought a sense of peace into their lives. My gift was being able to remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbors and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with other folks in the building and in the neighborhood.

My final lesson in all of this was when Pop told me to get out my missal and read the Roman Canon. I did and began reading., silently. “Out loud”, he said. I paused for a moment and looked at him. He said, “Just do it.”

I did until I got to the part that read, “whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary—, and blessed Joseph, her spouse—“, etc. “Okay, stop,” he said. “Tell me about all those people.”

“What about them?” I don’t understand.”

“Never ever forget that almost all of them were Jewish, including Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our roots are deeply embedded in Judaism. We Catholic/Christians and Jews are joined at the spiritual hip “in perpetuity”. Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz are our brother and sister too. Never forget that.”

I never did.

Forever Connected                                          http://www.cafepress.com

 

copyright©Larry Peterson 2014

St. Nonna—She Converted her Pagan Husband and raised three Children who became Saints

St. Nonna and her son St. Gregory the Theologian
by mike searle/CC BY Sa 2.0

By Larry Peterson

She was born in the year 305 AD in a place called Nazianus, Cappadocia, which today is present-day northern Turkey. At the time, the Roman Empire still ruled most of the world. St. Nonna was the daughter of Christians who were named Philotatos and Gorgonia. They raised their daughter in the ways of Jesus and the growing Catholic Church.

It is hard for us in the 21st-century to truly understand the mindset of those from more than 1500 years ago but suffice it to say, St. Nonna had been raised by parents who had instilled in their daughter a true sense of Christian identity. Her faith was about to be tested when she married.

St. Nonna entered into a marriage (most likely arranged) with Gregory of Arianzus, who was a wealthy landowner and had an estate nearby. The marriage caused great sadness for St. Nonna because her husband was a pagan and followed a sect called Hypsistyarii whose members venerated a supreme god and also observed select Jewish rituals. Oh yes, they also worshipped fire. St. Nonna immediately began praying fervently that her husband would turn to the One True God.

St. Nonna had three children and one of them, who became St. Gregory the Theologian, wrote that his mom “could not bear being half united to God, because he who was part of her remained apart from God. She wanted a spiritual union in addition to the bodily union. Day and night she turned to God with fasting and many tears, entreating Him to grant salvation to her husband.”

St. Nonna’s prayers were answered because, in due time, her husband had a vision while sleeping. St. Gregory wrote that “It seemed to my father,” wrote St. Gregory, “as though he was singing the following verse of David: ‘I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 121/122: 1). He had never done this before, though his wife had often offered her supplications and prayers for it.”

The dream was very strange to Gregory, but it brought a desire to him to go to church. When he told Nonna about this, she told him that the vision would bring him the greatest joy if it were fulfilled.

Gregory did, in fact, embrace the faith and traveled to the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, where he announced his conversion to Christ. Gregory was baptized and then ordained presbyter and then Bishop of Nazianos. When he was ordained a bishop, Nonna was made a deaconess. St. Nonna, with the same intensity and fervor she put into converting her husband and teaching her children the faith, became completely involved in performing works of charity.

St. Gregory the Theologian wrote of his mom, “She knew one thing to be truly noble: to be pious and to know from where we have come and where we are going; and that there is one innate and trusty wealth: to use one’s substance on God and on the poor, especially the impoverished kin.”

St. Gregory the Theologian wrote about his mom as being strong and vigorous and free from sickness. But in her later years, she did become quite ill, and everyone thought she was about to die. She could not eat, and no remedy could be found. But she began to recover after a strange dream.

She dreamt that her son, Gregory, had appeared to her carrying a basket of the whitest bread anyone had ever seen. He blessed the bread with the sign of the Cross and fed his mom. Miraculously, by the next day, she was stronger and almost like her old self. Was this a Eucharistic Miracle?  Many believe it was.

In her final years, St. Nonna had much sorrow in her life. Her youngest son, Caesarious, died in 368. The following year her daughter died. Her husband had died several years earlier. St. Nonna bore these losses stoically and completely submitted to the will of God.

St. Nonna was a devoted wife, mother and, most of all, devoted to God and the Church. She is the patroness of servants and parents who have had children pass away. She became a saint in the pre-congregation era which was prior to the 11th Century. After that, the Catholic Church established strict guidelines for a person to be canonized by establishing the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

St. Nonna of Nazianus. pray for us.

copyright ©Larry Peterson 2018

Servant of God; Father Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly (Kathanar)

Venerable Payyappilly Varghese Kathanar

By Larry Peterson

On April 14, 2018, Pope Francis met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He presented the cardinal with the names of eight Catholics who have attained the designation of Servants of God. This designation is awarded to those who have attained the first pedestal on their road to canonization. Among those named was Servant of God, Father Varghese Payyapilly Palakkappilly (yes, that is a definite tongue-twister so we will keep it at Father Varghese).

Cardinal Amato was authorized by the Holy Father to place those named worthy of receiving a promulgation of “the Heroic Virtues.” Pope Benedict XIV, 1740 to 1758, who is considered the defining authority on these virtues, wrote five volumes about them. They are still used in determining if a Servant of God meets the criteria of demonstrating ‘heroic virtue.’

A simple way to think of  ‘heroic virtue’  might be as a virtue that has become a second nature.  It becomes a habit of good behavior that can only be attained through the love of God and a closeness to Him, a closeness that most of us never reach. Heroic Virtue must be a part of those who would be advanced to the level of Venerable from Servant of God.

Father Varghese was born in India, in the province of Kerala, on August 8, 1876. He attended St. Albert’s School in Ernakulam which is on the southeast coast of India. From St. Albert’s he moved onto the Central Seminary in Sri Lank (formerly Ceylon) an island off the coast of India. From there he attended the Papal Seminary, also in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1907.

Father Verghase was assigned as a parish priest and served as such in various parishes from 1909 thru 1922. While serving at the parish in Arakuzha, he began St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School. His presence and efforts at the school and church helped reunite many estranged families and succeeded in making the church self-sufficient through land purchases.

Father Verghase also managed to acquire land for the construction of St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He remained there until 1929. It was reported that during Father Varghese’s tenure there, vocations to the priesthood exploded.

Father Verghases’s reputation as a kind and loving priest continued to grow. He became a member of the Diocesan Council and the Director of Apostolic Union as well as the Priests’ Provident Fund. People from all over came to him because they wanted his counsel to help them with their problems. He managed to bring many families back together using the wisdom he received from the Holy Spirit.

The simple priest was held in high esteem both by church officials and government officers. His empathy for the poor and suffering and his reputation spread far and wide after he helped many victims of the great flood of 1924. He even turned St. Mary’sHigh School into a shelter and delivered food himself by boat.

On March 19, 1927, Father Verghese founded the Sisters of the Destitute. His intention was to continue what he saw as Christ’s saving message among the poor. He found abandoned people, brought them to the shelter of the Home for the Aged and nursed them.

Today the Sisters of the Destitute, have over 1500 nuns and also include among its ranks doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers. They are located in Asia, Europe, Africa and across the United States.  The operate such institutions as homes for the sick and needy, health centers, libraries, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and cancer centers.

Payyappilly Palakkappilly Varghese Kathnar (that is Father Verghese’s full name) died from typhoid fever on October 5, 1929. He was buried at St. St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church in Kornthurthy, India. On August 25, 2009, Father Verghese was declared a Servant of God by the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar CatholicChurch.

When Pope Francis authorized Father Verghese as worthy of having “the heroic virtue” he (aswell as the seven others) were elevated to the rank of Venerable. A miracle attributed to Father Verghase is under review for Father Verghese and if validated, Venerable Verghase Payyappilly may become beatified.

Venerable Verghase Payyappilly, please pray for us.