21 December, Wednesday – Wooed by God

Dec 21 – Memorial for St. Peter Canisius, priest, doctor of the Church

Peter (1521–1597) was the son of Jacob Canisius, a wealthy burgomeister, and Ægidia van Houweningen, who died shortly after Peter’s birth. He was educated in Cologne, Germany, where he studied art, civil law, and theology. He received a master’s degree by age 19. His closest friends at university were monks and clerics.

He joined the Jesuits on May 8, 1543 after attending a retreat conducted by Bl. Peter Faber. He taught at the University of Cologne, and helped found the first Jesuit house in the city. He was ordained in 1546. He was theologian of Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, Bishop of Augsburg in 1547.

He travelled and worked with St. Ignatius of Loyola who was his spiritual director in Rome, Italy. He taught rhetoric in Messina, Sicily in 1548, preaching in Italian and Latin. He was doctor of theology in 1549. He began teaching theology and preaching at Ingolstadt, Germany in 1549, and was rector of the university the following year.

In 1552 he began teaching theology, and preaching in the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna, Austria. He was the royal court confessor even as he continued to work in hospitals and prisons. During Lent in 1553 he travelled to preach in abandoned parishes in Lower Austria.

During Mass one day, he received a vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and ever after offered his work to the Sacred Heart. He led the Counter-Reformation in Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland, and his work led to the return of Catholicism to Germany. His catechism went through 200 editions during his lifetime, and was translated into 12 languages. In some places catechisms were referred to as “Canisi”.

He attended the Diets of Augsburg (1555), Ratisbon (1556, 1557), and founded Jesuit colleges in Ingolstadt, Prague, Dilingen, and Fribourg. Everywhere he worked he became a noted preacher, and often worked with children, teaching them and hearing their confessions.

He represented Pope Paul IV at the imperial Diet of Pieternow. He addressed the Council of Trent on the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He recommended St. Stanislaus Kostka for reception as a Jesuit. He was court preacher to Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria.

While in Fribourg, Switzerland, he received a message from the city’s patron saint, Nicholas of Myra, that he should stop travelling. Canisius spent the rest of his life there. He taught, preached, edited books, and worked to support the Catholic press and printers in many cities. His advice was sought by St. Francis de Sales, and by his friend St. Charles Borromeo. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Song of Songs 2:8-14

I hear my Beloved.
See how he comes
leaping on the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My Beloved is like a gazelle,
like a young stag.

See where he stands
behind our wall.
He looks in at the window,
he peers through the lattice.

My Beloved lifts up his voice,
he says to me,
‘Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
For see, winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth.
The season of glad songs has come,
the cooing of the turtledove is heard
in our land.
The fig tree is forming its first figs
and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.
Come then, my love,
my lovely one, come.
My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock,
in the coverts of the cliff,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful.’

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Luke 1:39-45

Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

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‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come… for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.’

How many of us have been spoken to so gently before? Close your eyes for a moment as this writer asks us to picture:

See where he stands

Behind our wall.

He looks in at the window,

He peers through the lattice.

My initial response was to question: why this detail? But as I rested my gaze, not on ‘Why’ but ‘Who’, that I began to appreciate the tenderness of this moment. Some of us think of God as all-powerful, strong, and fearsome. Yet here is an image of a lover ‘like a young stag’, bounding over mountains with an unbridled joyful natural force – who pauses just before your house and does not barge in. Despite all that energy, the young stag chooses to wait with gentle invitation. Not too close that you would feel overwhelmed. Not too far that his gaze is uncertain. It is you whom He longingly and lovingly peers at through the window lattice.

Our Advent season of waiting promises us that this dream of love will come. The flutter-hope in our hearts will be answered. And the voice with which our Beloved calls to us will speak infinitely deeper to our souls than the passing pleasures of life’s material things.

I had the opportunity to witness to joy over Gaudate Sunday in this freezing Boston winter. My husband and I attended a Christmas concert put up by the Daughters of St Paul. It was a beautiful evening with their sweet voices and actions animating classic Christmas carols. I teared several times as I was moved deeply by their joy, unique talents, and beautiful personalities.

One sister was goofy; another had heaps of dancing grooves in her; some were gifted soloists or musicians, and others who completed the music with the fullness of their harmonies. God’s love flowed from these amazing women who had given their lives to Him and their mission of evangelizing Christ through books and media.

The night spoke to me at a far deeper level that I have only slowly come to unpack. I once considered if religious life was a path God was calling me to. I had recognized His voice from the window. I was filled with a mix of courage and confusion then. It took time and prayer to discern His loving words to me.

The knowledge that God calls us to life-giving choices in order to bring us to the fullness of life only melted into the sea of understanding in my heart this Christmas concert, when I saw the joy reflecting from the sisters’ radiant faces. One sister in particular, seemed to be the mirror to my soul. I recognised my own laughter in her eyes.

I understood, and I rested in peace and trust in my Beloved who continues to woo me from behind the windows; the mountains, valleys, and depths of trenches. He calls to my soul from everywhere and all the time. And every moment that His gaze rests upon me, He is filled with joy.

Perhaps, this is the sheer joy in the meeting between Jesus in Mary and John in Elizabeth. Our souls are made for so much love that only God can meet. In every station or vocation of our lives, we can experience a consummation of deep joy when our souls respond to the call of our Beloved. It is His Love that genuinely desires and pursues, patiently waits, honours, and dignifies us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you sent a vulnerable baby Jesus to earth to woo us from our hiding places. Help us to draw back our curtains and unlatch the door to receive You who has loved us with an everlasting love. 

Thanksgiving: I thank God for the gift of recognition. By this grace, we are able to perceive what our souls already know.

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