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St Peter Canisius
Doctor of the Church (entered heaven this day in 1597)
You put up a good façade, but I can still detect the disappointment and frustration (uncles can read between the lines). If the Advent retreat you spent so much time organizing and planning was “rather sparsely attended”, as you put it, your feelings of disappointment are understandable. We all want our events to be successful. But there’s something deeper going on here, and I think you should reflect on it.
It’s about an old phrase called “purity of intention.” It refers the motivation behind all we do for Christ and the Church. The upshot is simple: if we are truly working for his glory, and not for recognition or personal achievement or to prove how great we are, then “failures” take on a whole new light. Knowing that God is pleased simply because we are doing our best relieves the pressure that comes from our egoism, and even when things don’t go smashingly well, we trust that God will make good of them. It’s all about putting God in the center, not self. And it’s a lesson that today’s saint learned better than most.
He has been called the second Apostle of Germany (St Boniface was the first, you’ll remember). He grew up in Holland, and showed intellectual prowess at a young age. He also discerned a vocation to the priesthood at a young age, and joined the budding Jesuit order when he was barely 20. As soon as he was ordained, he was sent as a theological consultant to the Council of Trent. Then to Rome to spend some time working at the side of St Ignatius of Loyola, and then began his long career as a founder of schools and colleges, first in Sicily, and then – for most of his lifetime – in what was then Germany and the Austrian Empire. Dozens of colleges and universities trace their origins to his work, and whole cities (e.g. Freiberg, Vienna, Ingolstadt) owe their continuing presence of Catholicism to his indefatigable preaching and instruction in the aftermath of the Protestant rebellion. For a time, he served as Jesuit Provincial for the entire region. It is estimated that he covered 6000 miles on foot and horseback during just two of those years as Provincial. Even when his health began to fail him, he continued his evangelizing efforts by adding to his already impressive roster of instructional and doctrinal books (his three Catechisms were reprinted two hundred times and translated into 15 languages during his own lifetime). In short, this great apostle filled every waking hour with fervent activity and tranquil love, winning countless souls for the Kingdom of Christ.
But the source of his zeal was not himself. And here is where I think you have some material for reflection and prayer. Listen to how he explains the origin of his apostolate, referring to an experience he had in prayer before going to Germany, and then try to follow in his footsteps:
“It was as if you opened to me the heart in your most sacred body. I seemed to see it directly before my eyes. You told me to drink from this fountain, inviting me, that is, to draw the waters of my salvation from your wellsprings, my Savior. I was most eager that streams of faith, hope, and love should flow into me from that source. I was thirsting for poverty, chastity, obedience. I asked to be made wholly clean by you, to be clothed by you, to be made resplendent by you.
“So, after daring to approach your most loving heart, and to plunge my thirst into it, I received a promise from you of a garment made of three parts: these were to cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. They were peace, love, and perseverance. Protected by this garment of salvation, I was confident that I would lack nothing but all would succeed and give you glory.”
Your loving uncle,