|The Basilica of St Josaphat|
Today is the memorial of St Josaphat Kuncevyc. He was born around 1580 in Lithuania. He died a martyr, on 12 November 1623, in Russia, when leaders of a schismatic group in the Church had him killed, with the stroke of an axe and a bullet. They had him killed precisely because of his tireless and faithful work towards bringing about unity to the Church.
One of the favourite pious exercises of St Josaphat was to make a poklony (i.e. a reverence, in which the head touches the ground) with the ejaculation: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.” Never eating meat, he fasted much, wore a hair-shirt and an angular chain, slept on the bare floor, and chastised his body until the blood flowed.
St Josaphat’s life was distinguished by his extraordinary zeal. He preached and heard confessions, not only in church but also in fields, prisons, hospitals, and even while he was travelling. His zeal, kindness and love for the poor won many people to the Catholic Faith. He led an exemplary religious life and never abated his zeal for self-mortification and prayer.
In 1628, Pope Urban VIII initiated a commission into the cause of Josaphat following reports of numerous miracles. At that time, although five years had passed since his death, his body remained incorrupt. He was beatified in 1643 and canonised in 1867.
When I think about the many groups within our Church today, who seem so intent on defying the Pope, the successor of Peter, I get extremely sad. Have we forgotten about people like St Josaphat, who actually died because of his tireless efforts to try and bring about unity in the Church?
There is no doubt that we have people in the Church who, despite the potential cost to the unity of the Church, remain selfishly focussed on ensuring that their personal agenda is promoted or that the Church succumbs to their personal sentiments. We need not look far to find examples. Here are some, but I am sure you can think of many more:
~ Calls for the ordination of women
~ Calls to stop implementation of the new Roman Missal
~ Calls to permit gay marriage
~ Calls to renounce the teachings of Humanae Vitae
Pope Pius XI wrote, in his encyclical “Ecclesiam Dei”, on 12 November 1923, the feast of St Josaphat, that, “The Church of God, by a wondrous act of Divine Providence, was so fashioned as to become in the fullness of time an immense family which embraces all men. The Church possesses-a fact known to all-as one of its visible marks, impressed on it by God, that of a worldwide unity. Christ, Our Lord, not only entrusted to His Apostles and, to them alone, the mission which He had received from His Father when he said: "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations;" He also wished the College of Apostles to possess perfect unity, a unity based on a twofold and well-knit bond, one bond internal, that of the self same faith and charity which is "poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost"; the other external, that of the rule of one of the Apostles over all the others, for He conferred upon Peter a primacy over the Apostles as a perpetual principle and visible foundation for the Church's unity. At the close of His mortal life, he impressed upon the Apostles in the strongest possible terms the supreme need of this unity.”
I believe that we need to re-learn the need for total loyalty to, and unity with, the successor of Peter. We need to regain an absolute, uncompromising, childlike faith in our Lord Jesus. We need to believe again the words of our Lord, with all our heart, when he said: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Our Lord Jesus “can neither deceive nor be deceived” and we must therefore trust implicitly and unreservedly.
There is no doubt that, because the Church is comprised of so many unique and wonderful people, there will always be differences. That is exactly why it is so important that we should always, when in doubt, or even if we are not in doubt, succumb to the Pope, the successor of Peter, and trust God to do the rest. Remember always the words of St Ambrose, which I love so much:
“Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eternal”
Where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is life eternal.