Nov 12 – Memorial for St. Josaphat, bishop, religious, martyr
John (1580-1623) had a father who was a municipal counsellor, and a mother who was known for her piety. He was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on 23 Nov 1595, in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome. He was trained as a merchant’s apprentice in Vilna, and was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter.
Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both and became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name Brother Josaphat. He was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.
His superior, Samuel, never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given to those who brought about and accepted the union of the churches. Learning of Samuel’s work and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his superiors. The archbishop of Kiev removed Samuel from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.
He was a famous preacher, worked to bring unity among the faithful and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He became Bishop of Vitebsk. Most religious, fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Bishop Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church and, by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example, Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. Never completely suitable to either side, Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat’s Orthodox actions. He became Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.
While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group supported by Cossacks set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spread the accusation that Josaphat had ‘gone Latin’ and that his followers would be forced to do the same, and place an usurper on the archbishop’s chair. Despite warnings, Josaphat went to Vitebsk, a hotbed of trouble, to try to correct the misunderstandings and settle disturbances. The army remained loyal to the king who remained loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.
Late in 1623, an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob assembled and forced his release. Mob mentality took over, and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His death was a shock to both sides of the dispute, brought some sanity and a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.
“You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” – St. Josaphat
- Patron Saint Index
3 Jn 5-8
“But when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?“
I once had a friend share that he had stopped going to church. Coming from a non-Catholic denomination, I was surprised because I assumed there would be a strong community spirit urging everyone to stay in prayer. Yet in my discussion with him, I realised that he was feeling exhausted and tired from the demands which the church community made of him. He had to lead worship on Sunday and was a cell group leader. This required a tremendous amount of effort on his part, which he was unable to provide because he was busy with commitment at work. My response to him was adapted to the tune of a familiar song from ‘The Sound of Music’:
Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you leave, you begin with I don’t care
What you need is to read the Word of God, the Word of God
My singing wasn’t exactly to the standard of Julie Andrews, but it did strike a chord with my friend. I could sense that he began to lose his faith. To live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity”, abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church. (CCC 162) He was quite amazed that I defied the stereotypical Catholic who did not know his Bible, but I did share with my friend that the Bible has been my source of spiritual nourishment. The word of God has allowed me to persevere in my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in times of trials and tribulations. There are days where I do not know the purpose of the events happening in my life but I turn to the word of God, who nourishes me and consoles me during this difficult period of time.
The first reading reminds us that we need to show love to all who spread the word of God by drawing upon the wisdom of the Bible. As we approach the end of Ordinary Time, it may be good for us to wipe the dust off our Bibles and savour the word of God in our lives. And nothing beats a printed copy because it allows us to continue our reflection without distractions, which are often present in our electronic devices.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
Prayer: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who counsel the doubtful.