Saint Benedict the Moor: Patron Saint of African Americans

One of the greatest elements of the Catholic faith is its ability to reach so many people from so many walks of life. The Catholic faith has been spread throughout the world, with Christ’s message being shared in hundreds of countries both near and far. The Church welcomes everyone no matter their race, ethnicity, or nationality. In fact, the Church celebrates these differences! Saint Benedict the Moor is a perfect example of how the Catholic Church is an all-encompassing family. Born to two African slaves, St. Benedict embraced the Catholic church and became one of the Church’s finest teachers. Keep reading to learn more about this remarkable saint!

 

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St. Benedict was born in 1526 in Italy. His parents, Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri were two African slaves that were brought to Italy (exact location is not known, but most likely near Sicily) and given new Italian names. After arriving in Italy, St. Benedict’s parents both converted to Catholicism and had their son, Benedict. Due to his parents’ “loyal service” St. Benedict was born free from slavery, but this didn’t mean his life was easy. Being a peasant, St. Benedict did not attend school, and instead spent his time working as a shepherd in his youth. Much of what he earned he gave to the poor. As he grew older, St. Benedict began to face some persecution for the color of his skin. Instead of becoming angry or upset, St. Benedict was known for being patient and dignified when these instances occurred. In fact, this humble response led to the leader of Monte Pellegrino, a group of hermits that followed the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, to reach out to St. Benedict to ask if he’d join the order. St. Benedict accepted, leaving behind all of his earthly possessions and joining the order as a cook. When he was only 28 years old, Benedict became the leader of the order, due to his superior knowledge of scripture and his leadership skills.

In 1564 Pope Pius IV decreed that all independent religious groups must be affiliated with a religious order. After this decree, Benedict joined the Order of Friars Minor where he was assigned to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary Jesus, where he again started as a cook. Over the years St. Benedict increased his rank, advancing to Master of Novices to eventually becoming Guardian of the Community, one of the major leadership roles. This was quite an accomplishment for St. Benedict, who remained to be a layperson due to his inability to read. (At the time, it was required that priests and religious figures be able to read and write). During his time as Guardian, St. Benedict encouraged and developed a more structured and strict Franciscan rule of life. St. Benedict was very well respected due to his very involved understanding of theology and scripture. He was seen as very wise and was often sought after for advice and console, as well as healing the sick and suffering. Later in life, St. Benedict returned to working in the kitchen, as cooking was something he greatly enjoyed.

 

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St. Benedict passed away when he was 65 years old. He passed away on the exact date and time he predicted, further proving his higher connection to Christ. His death drew attention from across the continent, and King Phillip of Spain constructed a tomb to hold St. Benedict’s remains in the friary church. In 1743 St. Benedict was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV, and he was eventually canonized by Pope Pius VII. During the beatification, it was discovered that St. Benedict’s body was incorrupt. Today St. Benedict’s legacy lives on as he is the Patron saint of African Americans, and provides a source of strength for those facing racial prejudice.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

St. Francis of Assisi: From Sinner to Saint

In case you missed it, this Wednesday was October 4th—St. Francis of Assisi’s feast day! Let’s take a closer look at one of the world’s best known saints. Not only is St. Francis well-known, but he is also an extremely respected saint, and is even represented by Pope Francis, who took the saint’s name upon his installation as Pope in 2013. So what makes St. Francis so notable? Keep reading to find out!

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Born in 1181 in Assisi, Italy, St. Francis was born into a life of luxury. His father was fairly wealthy from dealing in the cloth trade, and his mother was considered extremely beautiful. St. Francis’ family was certainly one of high social standing, which led to St. Francis being spoiled in his younger years. As he grew up, St. Francis lived the life of a sinner, being known as a rebellious teenager who was self-obsessed and prone to drinking and partying. Instead of following into his father’s footsteps as a cloth merchant, St. Francis instead dreamed of becoming a knight and fighting in epic battles. So when the war between Assisi and Perugia began in 1202, Francis immediately enlisted, thinking that his fantasies of becoming a knight would come to fruition. However, due to his complete lack of experience, St. Francis was quickly captured by enemy soldiers. Francis spent nearly a year as a prisoner in the enemy camp. While some might consider this the lowest point in St. Francis’ life, it is actually one of the most profound periods in his life.

While captured, St. Francis began to receive visions from Christ who told St. Francis to change his ways and heal the church, which at the time was rather corrupt. When St. Francis was finally released, he wasn’t the same man he was before. He began to spend most of his time in prayer and eventually he took a complete vow of poverty and devoted his life entirely to Christ. He began to preach around Assisi, and soon had 12 loyal followers. Sounds familiar right?

Now, this drastic change in Francis turned a few heads, especially those of his mother and father. As St. Francis’ fame grew to a global scale, his ties with his family were weakened. This tension grew until one day Francis stole some of his father’s cloth to pay for church expenses. His father was obviously upset, and the local bishop demanded that St. Francis return the money he bartered for the cloth. St. Francis returned the money, along with his clothing to his father and then stated “God is my only true Father.” That instance marked St. Francis’ last communicate with his parents.

After cutting of his connection with his parents, St. Francis left Assisi and began to travel from city to city preaching God’s word. During the height of his preaching, he was visiting over 5 cities a day! He was so passionate about his preaching that he even began spreading the word of God to animals on his travels, which many found extremely odd at the time. Little did he know that this would lead to his eventual patronage! Francis was a very powerful leader, gathering thousands of followers that would later be known as Franciscan Friars.

In 1224, St. Francis received the stigmata of Christ, making him the first saint to receive the holy wounds. About a year later, as St. Francis’ health declined, he returned to Assisi. By that time, people were already aware of his approaching sainthood, so Francis was guarded by the knights of Assisi to ensure that people did not try to steal relics or disturb him during his final days. St. Francis died the night of October 3, 1226 still bearing the stigmata of Christ. Just two years later, he was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. His legacy lives on in countless recorded miracles and his story shows us all how we are all called to leave behind comfort and convenience for a life dedicated to Christ, and how it’s never too late to turn from sin and turn toward Christ.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha: The Church’s first Native American Saint

When one thinks of sainthood and the saints that have gone before us, we often call to mind images of perfect Catholics: baptized at birth, growing up at their local church, becoming missionaries, etc. In some cases, these perceptions are very true. But what’s more interesting is the fact that a majority of saints were actually converts—people who came to discover the faith later in life, or after the intercession of another saint or religious figure. Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was one such saint. Born in 1656, St. Kateri was a member of the Mohawk clan and lived in the village of Ossernenon (northern New York state). At a young age, St. Kateri’s family contracted small pox, resulting in the deaths of both her parents and siblings. St. Kateri herself was not left unscathed, as she would carry smallpox scars with her until her death. This was often a source of embarrassment growing up, and St. Kateri would often hide her face behind a blanket or cloth to cover the numerous scars.

 

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After the death of her family, St. Kateri was adopted by her uncle, who was the chief of the Mohawk clan, and his wife. St. Kateri was described as a very patient and kind person, who was also a very skilled worker who contributed greatly to the clan. When St. Kateri reached the appropriate age, her aunt and uncle arranged marriages with several of the clan’s members, but each time St. Kateri refused. As she approached adulthood, St. Kateri befriended a local priest who instructed her on the Catechism, and at the age of 19 she converted to Catholicism, taking a vow of chastity and pledging to marry Christ alone. She was baptized under the name Catherine, for St. Catherine of Sienna. (Kateri is actually the Mohawk version of Catherine) The conversation upset her clan in several ways– not only was she still refusing to marry, but she was converting to a faith that many of the clan considered to be a product of sorcery. After this negative response from her clan, St. Kateri decided to move to a native Christian community in Montréal, Canada.

 

From there St. Kateri completely devoted her life to Christ. She would often partake in self-mortification, often in the form of fasting or burning herself. It was also rumored that she slept with thorns on her sleeping mat. She prayed often for the conversion of her Mohawk tribe, and prayed to Jesus and Mary consistently. Sadly, St. Kateri’s self-mortification led to her pre-mature death at the age of 24. After her death, it’s said that her facial scars disappeared, and that she appeared to three of her closest friends over the three days following her death. Since her death in 1680, St. Kateri has been credited with several miracles, including healing a boy with small pox in the 18th century, and the healing of a priest and nun shortly after. Once news of St. Kateri’s miracles circulated, people began gathering dirt from around her grave and wearing it in bags around their necks. One woman is known for saying that the relic saved her and her husband from disease. This continued for hundreds of years, but the miracle that would finally solidify St. Kateri’s sainthood took place in 2006 in Washington state. A young boy was suffering from an aggressive strand of flesh-eating bacteria. The boy’s parents had prayed to St. Kateri, and even enlisted the help of their friends and family to offer up intentions. One day, Sister Kateri Mitchell, a Catholic nun, came to visit the young boy and placed a bone fragment of St. Kateri on his skin. The next day the bacteria stopped spreading the boy began to recover.

 

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Saint Kateri was officially canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict EVI, after being beatified by Pope John Paul II. She was the first Native American to be recognized as a saint, and she is considered the patron saint of ecology and the environment.

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Meaningful Music: COME AS YOU ARE by David Crowder

Waco, Texas seems to be the hub for influential Christians. If you’re a fan of HGTV, you probably are familiar with Chip and Joanna Gains who also hail from the southern state. However, the dynamic design duo aren’t the only people using their talents to spread God’s message. Studying at Baylor University in Waco, David Crowder realized that while Baylor was a Christian university, the majority of students did not attend church. Crowder took several steps to try and reverse the trend, including becoming a worship leader and writing—you guessed it—uplifting Christian songs. Crowder’s dedication to Christ at such a young age launched him into a career in the Christian music industry, where he remains to be a top-charting artist to this day. Let’s take a look at one of his most popular songs “Come as You Are.”

 

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David Crowder during live performance

 

“Come as You Are” is the ultimate anthem for anyone who is hurting emotionally or spiritually. Crowder sings about being at your lowest point and realizing that you need help:
Come out of sadness
From wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted
Let rescue begin
Come find your mercy
Oh sinner come kneel
As the first verse ends, Crowder reminds us of our temporary placement on Earth, and how we should focus on heavenly forces saying:

Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

By the time the chorus winds up, Crowder has taken all those who are listening into a complete state of surrender—encouraging everyone to “come home” to Christ:
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are
Crowder reminds us all that Christ is the only one who can relieve us from our sadness, our guilt, our shame. When things seem so hopeless and you have nowhere to go or no one else to turn to, God is there waiting with open arms to accept you. Even with your flaws, your mistakes, and your scars– God treasures you. It’s never too late to come back to Christ and let him work in your life. Take some time to listen to the full song—you might learn more about yourself and your relationship with Christ than you think!

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Check out the full song here!

 

Meaningful Music: NEED YOU NOW by Plumb

Debuting her first album “Plumb” in 1997, Tiffany Lee is no stranger to the Christian music scene. Having sold over 500,000 albums, and touring across the country, her music is well known by anyone who tunes into Christian radio. Her single “Need you now” is her most popular song to date, and for obvious reasons. The intensity and pure desperation portrayed in the song is an audible mirror—causing listeners to acknowledge their own reliance and dependence on God. Let’s take a closer look at this song that has remained at the top of the charts for over 5 years!

 

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Here’s a peak at the first verse:
Well, everybody’s got a story to tell
And everybody’s got a wound to be healed
I want to believe there’s beauty here
‘Cause oh, I get so tired of holding on
I can’t let go, I can’t move on
I want to believe there’s meaning here

This first verse does a great job of highlighting how unique each person is; we each have “a story to tell.” Even more so, we all have unique struggles, or problems that we must learn to bring to the Lord. Only he can “heal our wounds” as the song suggests. Lee sings about the hardship of finding the goodness in the struggle, meaning in the suffering. She talks about being too tired to hold on, but how she can’t let go—something that is all too relatable. Often when we find ourselves in stressful situations, we try desperately to find the solutions ourselves instead of passing our worries onto the Lord. Imagine how much time and worry we would save if we immediately cast our cares to God? As the chorus winds up, Lee reminds us how reliant we are on God, who is the ONLY one who can solve our problems.

How many times have you heard me cry out
“God please take this?”
How many times have you given me strength to
Just keep breathing?
Oh I need you
God, I need you now 

This very raw and emotional chorus conveys so much—fear, anger, sadness, reliance, and even hope. Lee strips down her pride, and shows us all what it’s like to completely surrender to God’s will. “I need you” is repeated over and over again, not just in the chorus, but throughout the whole song, reinforcing the idea of God’s supreme yet merciful control. Take some time today to listen to the complete song, and after take some time reflect on what you can offer up to God.

Check out the full song here!

Post written by Katie Karpinski

 

Meaningful Music: ALIVE AGAIN by Matt Maher

It’s no secret that music has the ability to change and affect our mood. Whether it’s listening to a happy song to raise your spirits or playing a sentimental song to remember someone, the power of music in undeniable. Even more so, the type of music we surround ourselves with can have a huge impact. As followers of Christ, living in the world we do, we have the amazing opportunity to surround ourselves with music praising and worshiping God. Not only that, but there are literally THOUSANDS of Christian artists and bands just waiting to be discovered. If only there was a way to learn more about Christian music…

Wait—there is!
The Catholic Cemeteries Association will feature Christian songs on our blog with our new segment: Meaningful Music. Keep reading for this week’s song!

Alive Again- Matt Maher

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Matt Maher has been in the Christian music industry for nearly a decade. His uplifting and praise-filled songs reflect the joy of Christ’s love while still maintaining a healthy reverence, and his mixture of more classic and conservative songs with ones that reflect modern music trends make him popular across a wide variety of people. One of his most popular songs, Alive Again, is a true testimony to life-giving power Christ has—let’s take a closer look at some of the lyrics:

The song starts with Maher singing:

I woke up in darkness surrounded by silence
Oh where, where have I gone?
I woke to reality losing its grip on me
Oh where, where have I gone?

Maher reflects something all of us have felt at some point in our lives—lost, distant, alone. We are surrounded, in many ways, by a very secular culture. Because of this, it’s easy to lose ourselves to things other than Christ and Maher isn’t afraid to address this symbolic spiritual death. “Where have I gone?” is repeated, highlighting the desperation and confusion that we experience when our relationship with Christ is broken. However, Maher doesn’t hover on this too long before bringing up the healing power of Christ by saying;

‘Cause I can see the light before I see the sunrise

You called and You shouted
Broke through my deafness
Now I’m breathing in and breathing out
I’m alive again

You shattered my darkness
Washed away my blindness
Now I’m breathing in and breathing out
I’m alive again

Maher is able to communicate so much in these 9 lines. First, Maher reminds us that before we can “see the sun rise” we must first “see the light.” In other words, when we find ourselves in darkness, we must turn to Christ first, who is the eternal light of the world, before we can hope to pull ourselves out of the darkness of sin. Christ alone can help us break free from whatever is taking us away from God. As the chorus continues, Maher outlines how Christ continues to fight against the walls we put up between ourselves and God. He depicts Christ as a warrior of sorts, constantly fighting to free us and make us all “alive again.”

If you have time, listen to the full song. It is packed with the uplifting knowledge that Christ will not abandon us, even in our darkest times, and reminds us that Christ is here to fight for us and give us the chance of eternal life.

 

To listen to the full song, click the link below!

 

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

5 simple ways to grow closer to Christ

To say that we live in a busy world is an understatement. So many people find themselves caught in the constant sweep of responsibility and obligation, leaving little time for prayer, personal time, or even sleep! With all this hustle and bustle, it can be hard to find time to pray, or simply be present and allow Christ to enter into our lives. While it’s important to be responsible and take charge of your own life, it’s equally important to give Christ control of your life by growing closer to him and trusting him to direct you on the proper path. Here are 5 simple ways to grow closer to Christ that will help you live a more spiritual, peaceful, and blessed life.

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1. Wake up thankful

In today’s world, we are constantly surrounded by stressors. Be it work, school, health concerns, or personal problems—stress is not something one can ignore or simply wish away. It’s easy to focus on everything that’s going wrong in your life, and even easier to blame yourself, or others, or sometimes even God on why life may not be going your way. However, you must fight this impulse and instead of waking up and running through the list of tasks you have to get done that day, stop– take a breather– and say “thank you” to Christ for waking you up that day. Run through a list of things that you are grateful for each morning, and thank God for giving them to you. By starting your day thanking Christ, you carry Him with you throughout your day, knowing that He has already blessed you in countless ways.

2. Spend time in prayer EVERY DAY

This may seem self-explanatory– but sometimes with all the demands that come with life we forget to take a few moments and talk to God. Prayer doesn’t need to take hours, or be extremely complex. Prayer (in its most simple form) is thanking God for blessings, asking for forgiveness, and requesting prayers for yourself and others. In fact, Pope Francis has introduced the 5 finger method of prayer that helps structure prayer while also reminding you to pray each day. If you’re interested in reading more about the 5 finger approach to prayer– please check out our blog post Pope Francis’ Five Finger Prayer.

3. Read scripture

We’ve all read biographies of people we find interesting, or perhaps memoirs or autobiographies of famous people and their various adventures. Wouldn’t it be great if God had left us autobiography? NEWSFLASH– He did!! The Bible is God’s story; it shows us how He’s interacted with human kind since the beginning of time. By reading the Bible and diving into scripture, you can better understand Christ and follow the examples of the countless Biblical figures that came before us. If you don’t know where to begin, start by doing the daily Mass readings each morning. There are also several free apps available to Catholics such as Laudate and Catholic Bible that help you read the Bible and/or daily mass readings at your own pace.

4. Join a Bible study or other church group

Joining a local Bible study or prayer group can be very helpful in strengthening your relationship to Christ. Actively learning about and exploring your faith allows you to enter into a deeper relationship with Christ. Plus, surrounding yourself with other faithful people can increase your dedication to prayer and Christ.

5. Talk to Him when you’re bored

This might be the simplest thing you do all day- but there is so much power behind it. Christ is constantly trying to communicate with us, and encourages us to invite Him into every aspect of our lives. So, when you have a few moments, if you’re bored at work or on your drive home, or if you’re having a particularly bad day, don’t be afraid to take a few moments and have a quick talk with God. Your hands don’t need be folded, and your eyes don’t need to be closed. All you need is a prayerful mindset and the knowledge that God is always there to encourage you and listen.

 

Post written by Katie Karpinski

Pope Francis’ Five Finger Prayer

Don’t be embarrassed– it happens to the best of us. You can try as hard as you can, carve out time every day, and still find yourself forgetting to pray. Or sometimes, you remember to pray but you’re just not sure what to pray for or how to start. Well, luckily for all of us, our Holy Father Pope Francis has a quick trick for anyone needing some extra prayer inspiration or remembrance. Not only does this prayer method outline the basic elements of proper prayer, but it involves something you see everyday– your hand! Keep reading to learn about Pope Francis’ Five Finger Prayer.

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1. The Thumb

The thumb is the finger closest to you, so pray for your family and friends first. These are the people you see every day and interact with the most– they deserve your prayers and intentions. Try thinking of a friend who is struggling, or a family member who needs special intentions and offer up a prayer for them.

2. The Index Finger

This is the finger used to teach, discipline, and communicate. When you pray, take time to offer intentions for those who teach and inspire you– those who help you grow and learn as a person. Think of someone who has made a positive impact on your life, such as a teacher or supervisor and pray that they receive the knowledge and strength to continue teaching you and others.

3. The Third Finger

This is the tallest finger– remember to pray for the giants in society, such as those who lead our country, our Church, and our world. They need constant guidance and wisdom from the Lord to make right and just decisions. Pray for those that have authority over you. Remember that power implies responsibility and obligation which isn’t a simple feat. Think of a local politician, church leader, or authority figure and pray that they receive the knowledge, patience, and proper judgement that comes with their position.

4. The Ring Finger

This is the weakest finger, and it reminds us to pray for the weakest members of society. Be it those who are homeless, refugees, the dying, or the sick, remember to offer intentions for the marginalized groups in society. These are people often overlooked, so they are in desperate need of our prayers. Think of those people who don’t have the same blessings you do, and offer a prayer that they might receive blessings and grace from God.

And finally… 

5. The Pinky

As the smallest finger, let your pinky remind you to pray for yourself. After praying for the previous four groups, you can then pray for yourself with proper perspective. However, while your intentions may be different from other groups of people, don’t forget that every intention is worth bringing to God. No problem is too big or too small.  He wants to hear it all.

 

 

 

Information gathered from: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=3396

Post written by Katie Karpinski