10 May: Feast of Saint Damien of Molokai. Joseph de Veuser, who took the religious name Damien, was born into a large Belgian farming family in 1840. During his youth he felt called to become a Catholic missionary. He joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. His superiors planned to send Damien’s brother, a member of the same congregation, to Hawaii. But he became sick, and Damien arranged to take his place. Brother Damien arrived in Honolulu in 1864 and was ordained a priest the same year. Nine years later, Father Damien responded to his bishop’s call for priests to serve on the leper colony of Molokai. The island was a wasteland, where quarantined lepers faced hopeless conditions and extreme deprivation. Father Damien volunteered to go. Upon arrival, he found the colony in disarray. Anarchy reigned; patients were not cared for; every kind of immorality was on display. There was no law or order. Fr. Damien provided leadership. Where other missionaries had kept lepers at arms’ length, Fr. Damien instead immersed himself in their life and showed God’s love. He had them come together to build houses, schools and eventually the parish church, St. Philomena. The church still stands today. The sick were cared for and the dead buried. Order and routine made the colony livable. Fr. Damien personally provided much of the care the people needed. Fr. Damien’s work helped to raise the lepers up from their physical sufferings, while also making them aware of their worth as beloved children of God. Although he could not take away suffering, he could change its meaning as a redemptive path toward eternal life. Fr. Damien was supposed to be replaced by another volunteer. However, he grew attached to the people and his work. He asked permission to permanently stay at the colony to serve. His request was granted. Fr. Damien drew strength from Eucharistic adoration and the celebration of the Mass, but longed for another priest so that he could receive the sacrament of confession. In December 1884, Fr. Damien lost all feeling in his feet. It was an early, but unmistakable sign that he had contracted leprosy. He continued his work, despite the illness slowing taking over his body. He often spent time in the presence of the Eucharist: “It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength we need in our isolation,” he wrote. The disease eventually robbed him of his eyesight, speech and mobility. In the end, priests of his congregation arrived to administer last sacraments to the dying priest. Father Damien died during Holy Week, on April 15, 1889, after spending sixteen years working on the colony. He was beatified in 1995 and canonized in 2009. He is the patron saint of people with leprosy.
(His feast day is an unusual date selection. It is customary for a saint’s feast to be the date that he enters into eternal life. However, April 15 often falls during Lent when the church does not celebrate optional memorials. Thus, May 10 was picked: it marks the day on which Damien performed a particular act of supreme charity and selflessness that would ultimately lead to his canonization. May 10 was the date in 1873 that he first stepped onto the island of Molokai.)
Ideas for celebrating this feast at home:
(sources: Catholicnewsagency.com, CatholicCulture.org, Hawaiiancatholicherald.com)
11 April: Divine Mercy Sunday. In the 1930’s Christ appeared to Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Sister of Mercy in Poland. Our Lord asked her to paint an image from the vision she saw. The image was of Jesus with a red and blue ray coming out of his heart (symbolizing water and blood). Christ told Faustina, “I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it.” St. Faustina was told to sign the Image “Jesus, I trust in you!” In 1934, a painting of the image was completed. In 2000, Saint Pope John Paul II proclaimed the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. Along with the image, Jesus also gave Saint Faustina a prayer called The Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Chaplet is prayed using the rosary. Those who pray the chaplet receive abundant graces and promises of mercy from Our Lord. Sister Faustina was canonized a saint on April 30, 2000. To celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at home: pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Attend confession the week of Divine Mercy (read about the special graces received with it here.) Find Divine Mercy craft ideas here. Enjoy Divine Mercy “Sundaes” with ice cream and toppings (see idea here). Eat a polish meal (kielbasa, pierogies, etc.) in honor of St. Faustina and St. JPII (who was a great advocate of this devotion).
12 April: Feast of Saint Zeno. This little-known saint was born in the fourth century in Africa. He founded the first church in the city of Verona, Italy. Zeno was a bishop there for ten years. He baptized many, won converts back from Arianism, lived a life of poverty, trained priests, and set up a convent. Tradition says he fished in the Adige River. Saint Zeno is the patron of fishermen and is invoked to help infants speak and walk. To celebrate Saint Zeno at home: definitely enjoy a fish dinner! Treat your children to “Swedish fish” candy for dessert and tell them about this saint who loved to fish and fought to share the Gospel in a pagan world. Because Zeno spent much of his life in Italy, you could also enjoy an Italian dinner. Another fun way to celebrate the life of Saint Zeno would be to go on a family fishing expedition.
16 April: Feast of Saint Bernadette Soubirous. Bernadette was born in Lourdes, France in 1844. Her family lived in extreme poverty and Bernadette suffered from illnesses most of her life. At age fourteen, the Virgin Mary appeared to her near a cave at Massabielle. This was the first of eighteen apparitions. Mary identified herself as “The Immaculate Conception.” When Bernadette told of these visions, many didn’t believe and demanded she be put in an asylum. Bernadette remained firm and shared Mary’s message of the need for prayer and penance. The vision told her to “drink of the water of the spring, wash in it, and eat the herb that grew there”. Bernadette obeyed and the next day the grotto was transformed from a muddy mess to clear flowing water. Bernadette insisted that “the Lady” asked for a chapel to be built there. Today, close to 5 million pilgrims visit Lourdes each year to pray and to drink the miraculous water. Countless miracles have come from the waters. When Bernadette was twenty-two, she chose to withdraw from the world to the convent of Saint-Gildard with the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. She stayed there until her death in 1879. The name “Bernadette” means “brave as a bear.” To celebrate this feast: pray a family rosary together! Use this day to revive your family’s devotion to the Blessed Mother. Give gummy bears as a treat to remind your children to be “brave as a bear” like Bernadette in sharing their faith. Watch one of the St. Bernadette movies on FORMED. Eat croissants for breakfast and prepare a French-themed dinner: perhaps a charcuterie board with cheeses and breads. Or, French onion soup and a chocolate soufflé dessert. Or, keep it crazy simple and enjoy “French” fries in memory of this humble French girl who became such an important saint.
27 December: Feast of the Holy Family. Little is known about the life of Jesus’s earthly family. The gospels tell of the early years, including the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the flight into Egypt, and the finding of Jesus in the temple. Pope Leo XIII promoted this feast day as a way to counter the breakdown of the family unit. The purpose was to present the Holy Family as the model for all Christian families, and for domestic life in general. Family life becomes sanctified when we live the life of the Church within our homes. This is called the “domestic church” or the “church in miniature.” St. John Chrysostom urged Christians to make each home a “family church,” thus sanctifying the family unit. A good way to do this is by making Christ the center of family and individual life. For example: read scripture regularly, pray together as a family, attend Mass, go to confession, teach children about virtues, learn about and imitate the lives of the saints, live liturgically (follow the church calendar at home), and so forth. It is important to note that we don’t become holy despite the busyness of family life, but in and through it. On this feast, may the virtuous example of the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire us to develop homes full of prayer, love, and holiness.
28 December: Feast of the Holy Innocents (‘Childermas’). On the fourth day in the octave of Christmas, the Church remembers the massacre of innocent children in Bethlehem as told in Matthew 2:16-18. King Herod had ordered the death of all male children aged two and under, in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus. “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” These children are considered martyrs, Saints of God, by the Church. This feast day is often seen as a day of merrymaking for children. It is custom to give the youngest child in the household the power to rule the day. From what to eat, where to go and what to do, the youngest is in charge. In Mexico, it is a day for children to play practical jokes and pranks on their elders. The Holy Innocents are special patrons of babies and small children, who can please the Christ Child by being obedient and helpful to parents, by sharing toys and loving siblings. This feast is an excellent time for parents to inaugurate the custom of blessing children. Sign a cross on your child’s forehead with the right thumb and say: “May God bless you, and may He be the Guardian of your heart and mind, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Ideas for celebrating at home:
- Plan a family dinner, having all members involved. Each person can cook or choose a favorite dish (depending on age). Make a table centerpiece by surrounding a Christ-Candle with smaller white candles representing the Holy Innocents. The number of small candles might be as many as there are children in the family. Each child is allowed to light one small candle from the flame of the Christ-Candle, signifying that just as he received life from Christ, he will live and (if need be) die for Christ just as the Holy Innocents did.
- Before or after dinner, do a whole family activity such as a game, movie or outing (hike, walk, bike ride, etc.) If you prefer to stay indoors try making popcorn balls, an activity that can get all hands involved from young to old.
- Pray together: the rosary, especially the Joyful mysteries, is an excellent family prayer.
- Prayer of Consecration of the Family to the Holy Family, Prayer of Parents for Their Children and Prayer to the Holy Family can be said on this feast day as a family.
- Purchase a holy family statue or icon for your home, if you don’t own one already.
- Read Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical On Christian Marriage. You can also check out the Vatican’s page of Papal documents on the Family.
“The first witnesses of Christ’s birth, the shepherds, found themselves not only before the Infant Jesus but also a small family: mother, father and newborn son. God had chosen to reveal himself by being born into a human family and the human family thus became an icon of God! …Indeed, the family is the best school at which to learn to live out those values which give dignity to the person and greatness to peoples. …The Holy Family of Nazareth is truly the “prototype” of every Christian family which, united in the Sacrament of Marriage and nourished by the Word and the Eucharist, is called to carry out the wonderful vocation and mission of being the living cell not only of society but also of the Church, a sign and instrument of unity for the entire human race. …May [the holy family] help Christian families to be, in every part of the world, living images of God’s love.” – Pope Benedict XVI