Sts. Charles Lwanga and Companions
One of 22 Ugandan Catholic martyrs, Charles Lwanga was one of the young men serving in the court of King Mwanga II in present day Uganda during the 1880’s. Mwanga was a notoriously brutal ruler and pedophile who forced himself on the young men serving as pages and attendants. When the Catholic head page Joseph Mkasa confronted Mwanga over his murder of an Anglican missionary bishop and his companions, he was in turn murdered. The position of head page fell to Charles Lwanga, who requested and received baptism that same day. Charles continued to protect his charges from the violent advances of the king.
When the pages were questioned by the ruler and his court, any who were discovered to be catechumens or baptized Christians were forced to choose between agreeing to the king’s advances or death. Charles and his fellow Catholic pages, aged 13 to 30, were imprisoned; Charles encouraged and sustained them in their decision to remain chaste and hold fast to their faith.
After being marched almost 40 miles to an execution site at Namugongo, they were tortured for a week in an effort to force them to recant. None did. Finally, the young men were wrapped tightly in reed mats and thrown onto a pyre, including Mbaga, the son of the chief executioner. In all 22 Catholic and 23 Anglican young men suffered death during this period rather than give up their faith.
St. Anthony of Padua
Saint Anthony was born Fernando Martins in Lisbon, Portugal. At the age of 15, he decided to join the Augustinians in Lisbon, giving up a future of wealth and power to be a servant of God. Later, Fernando received permission to enter the Franciscan Order, where he took the religious name “Anthony.” His intention was to preach to the Moors in Africa, but when he became ill in Morocco, he was sent home to Italy. His ship was blown off course and landed in Sicily; Anthony went to a small hermitage in Tuscany to recover.
Sometime later, at a mass where no one was prepared to speak, Anthony’s superior asked him to deliver the homily. Hesitantly he accepted the task. His sermon was eloquent and insightful, and astounded those present, who expected an unprepared speech from this unknown friar. News of this reached Francis of Assisi, who recognized him as a great man of prayer and theology. Francis entrusted the studies of his friars to Anthony.
Anthony recorded many of his thoughts and insights in a book of the psalms. When a novice stole the book, Anthony prayed for the return of the missing book. Not only was the book returned, but the novice repented and returned to the order! Even today, he is asked to make intercession for the recovery of lost articles.
Once, when Anthony attempted to preach the Gospel to heretics who would not listen to him, he went out and preached his message to the fish, for the glory of God, the delight of the angels, and the easing of his own heart. When critics saw the fish begin to gather, they realized they should also listen to what Anthony had to say.
After he led the friars in northern Italy for three years, in the spring of 1231, Anthony withdrew to a friary at Camposampiero where he prayed and prepared for death. On June 13, he became very ill and asked to be taken back to Padua, where he died after receiving the last sacraments. He was canonized less than a year later and named a Doctor of the Church in 1946.
Birth of Saint John the Baptist
Besides Christ Himself, only two saints’ birthdays are commemorated liturgically: The Virgin Mary’s on September 8, exactly nine months after the Feast of her Immaculate Conception; and Saint John the Baptist’s on June 24, 6 months before Christmas. Jesus himself declared John to be the greatest among those born of women. John was the forerunner of the Messiah, declaring his coming in his public preaching around the river Jordan.
The Gospel of Saint Luke tells us that John was born through the intercession of God to his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, who were otherwise beyond the age for having children. Zechariah, a priest of the temple, was disbelieving of the Archangel Gabriel who proclaimed that Elizabeth would give birth to a boy they must name John. Zechariah was rendered speechless until the child’s birth. While Elizabeth was pregnant with John, she was visited by Mary, and, recognizing the presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb, John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb.
When John was finally born, Zechariah insisted that he be named John; when he did, his speech was finally restored. A beautiful proclamation poured forth from him in recognition of God’s impending intervention in the lives of the Jewish people. That proclamation, called the Benedictus, is still prayed today as a part of morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.
Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul
The great Saint Irenaeus in the late second century stated that Rome is “the greatest and most ancient Church, founded by the two glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul.” The Catholic Church is large and diversified, in terms of culture, but is one in terms of faith and belief. Rome has long been associated with the Church, in that it witnessed the martyrdom of two of its greatest saints, St. Peter and St. Paul.
Peter, the fisherman. Paul, the tentmaker. Peter, chosen by Christ to be the first pope. Paul, commissioned by Christ as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
The Church is founded upon a perfect God and two very different, great, and imperfect men whom God chose—Peter and Paul. Both men met their eternal reward in Rome, and both are buried there: Peter in the necropolis under the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica; and Paul, under the main altar of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. It’s fitting that the Church set aside a day to celebrate these two great saints together.