Quote/s of the Day – 20 January – The Memorial of St Pope Fabian (c 200 – c 250) and St Sebastian (Died c 288) – Martyrs for Christ
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? …No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Long live Christ the King!” “Viva Cristo Rey!”
Blessed Miguel Pro, Martyr (1891-1927) (Last words addressed to his executioners)
“From the very beginning of the life of the Church, Christians have always believed that the blood of martyrs is a seed for Christians, as Tertullian said. Today too, in a dramatic way, the blood of a great number of Christian martyrs continues to be shed on the field of the world,with the certain hope that will bear fruit in a rich harvest of holiness, justice, reconciliation and love of God. But we must remember that one is not born a martyr.
Archbishop Romero remarked, ‘We must be willing to die for our faith, even if the Lord does not grant us this honour. … Giving life does not only mean being assassinated; giving life, having the spirit of martyrdom, means offering it in silence, in prayer, in the honest fulfilment of one’s duty; in this silence of everyday life, giving life a little at a time.’”
Saint of the Day – 20 January – St Pope Fabian (c 200 – c 250) Martyr, Peacemaker, Evangeliser, Confessor, Administrator and Reformer, Apostle of Charity – the Bishop of Rome from 10 January 236 to his death in 250, succeeding Anterus. He is famous for the miraculous nature of his election, in which a dove is said to have descended on his head to mark him as the Holy Spirit’s unexpected choice to become the next pope. He was succeeded by Cornelius.
According to the Liber Pontificalis, Fabian was a noble Roman by birth and his father’s name was Fabius. Nothing more is known about his background. The legend concerning the circumstances of his election is preserved by the fourth-century writer Eusebius of Caesarea (Church History, VI. 29).
After the short reign of Pope Anterus, Fabian had come to Rome from the countryside when the new papal election began. “Although present,” says Eusebius, Fabian “was in the mind of none.” While the names of several illustrious and noble churchmen were being considered over the course of thirteen days, a dove suddenly descended upon the head of Fabian. To the assembled electors, this strange sight recalled the gospel scene of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at the time of his baptism by John the Baptist. The congregation took this as a sign that he was marked out for this dignity and Fabian was at once proclaimed bishop by acclamation.
During Fabian’s reign of 14 years, there was a lull in the storm of persecution which had resulted in the exile of both Anterus’ predecessor Pontian and the antipope (and later saint) Hippolytus. Fabian had enough influence at court to effect the return of the bodies of both of these martyrs from Sardinia, where they had died at hard labour in the mines. The report that he baptised the emperor Philip the Arab and his son, however, is probably a legend, although he did seem to enjoy some connections at court, since the bodies of Pontian and Hippolytus could not have been exhumed without the emperor’s approval.
According to the sixth-century historian Gregory of Tours, Fabian sent out the “apostles to the Gauls” to Christianise Gaul in A.D. 245. Fabian sent seven bishops from Rome to Gaul to preach the Gospel. He also condemned Privatus, the originator of a new heresy in Africa.
The Liber Pontificalis says that Fabian divided the Christian communities of Rome into seven districts, each supervised by a deacon. Eusebius (VI §43) adds that he appointed seven subdeacons to help collect the acta of the martyrs—the reports of the court proceedings on the occasion of their trials. There is also a tradition that he instituted the four minor clerical orders – porter, lector, exorcist and acolyte.
His deeds are thus described in the Liber Pontificalis: “He divided the regiones into deaconships and made seven sub-deaconships which seven secretaries oversaw, so that they brought together the deeds of the martyrs faithfully made whole and he brought forth many works in the cemeteries.”
The Liberian Catalogue of the popes also reports that Fabian initiated considerable work on the catacombs, where honoured Christians were buried and where he also caused the body of Pope Pontian to be entombed at the catacomb of Saint Callixtus.
With the advent of Emperor Decius, the Roman government’s tolerant policy toward Christianity temporarily ended. Decius ordered leading Christians to demonstrate their loyalty to Rome by offering incense to the cult images of deities which represented the Roman state. This was unacceptable to many Christians, who, while no longer holding most of the laws of the Old Testament to apply to them, took the commandment against idolatry with deadly seriousness. Fabian was thus one of the earliest victims of Decius, dying as a martyr on 20 January 250, at the beginning of the Decian persecution, probably in prison rather than by execution.
Fabian was buried in the catacomb of Callixtus in Rome. The Greek inscription on his tomb has survived, and bears the words: Fabian, Bishop, Martyr.
His remains were later re-interred at San Sebastian’s Outside the Walls, (appropriately, for these two Martyrs share today as their Memorial) by Pope Clement XI where the Albani Chapel is dedicated in his honour.
Thought for the Day – 15 January – The Memorial of Bl Nikolaus Gross (1898-1945) Martyr
Excerpt from “A Daughter Remembers”
by Marianne Gross Reichartz
“On 15 January 1945 Roland Freisler announced the death sentence. Quote from the process report. “Modest in nature, near the proclamation of judgement, weeping.” After the verdict my parents could see each other again and say goodbye for this life.
In a farewell letter to his family, my father writes:
“Especially you, dear mother, I still have to thank you. When we said goodbye a few days ago for this life, I returned to the cell, I thanked God from the bottom of my heart for your Christian strength and faith. Yes, mother, through your brave farewell You have poured a bright light on my last days of life, the conclusion of our heartfelt love could not be more beautiful and happy than it has become through your strong-minded behaviour. “
On 23 January 1945, my father was executed in Berlin Plötzensee.
After the end of the war, my mother’s great task was to continue on her own what she and her husband had dreamed up for their family. My brother Klaus returned from Russia three years after the end of the war. My mother now had to raise her seven children alone and we were not simple children. Since we had received no official death message, my mother did not receive any pension. We rented the parental bedroom to guests. All children wrote addresses for the newspaper advertisement of the first Cologne newspaper, for 2 Pfennig per letter. We girls sewed rubber panties on behalf of a small company created in the backyard. While the widow Freisler already put in their considerable pension every month, my mother had to fight for her pension for years under degrading circumstances.
But never has this strong and upright woman criticised her husband’s path, never felt betrayed or abandoned. All the good that happened to us, she attributed to my father. When friends and good people helped us with food and money during the hunger period after the war and when they helped us children with their schooling and job search, the mother called them “tools of the father.”“The father helps us again,” she always said then.
As young people we often and gladly discussed after the end of the war. For too long the mouth had been banned. A popular topic was: Can a father of seven children go so far? Her answer: “He would have died internally if he could not have lived his life and his faith and that would have been as much a death to him as bodily death.” The memorial days of her husband (the anniversary of the death on 23 January and 20 July), the many initiations and naming ceremony, she celebrated with strength and dignity.
When the name of my Father is proclaimed in St Peter’s Square on 7 October 2001, at the Beatification of Nikolaus Gross, I am not only proud of my father, then, I am proud of my parents!”
You have given the Blessed Nikolaus Gross
the strength to be a Christian in family, work and society
and to give his life
in resistance to the evil forces of his time.
We ask you –
Strengthen us also in faith,
so that we may recognise
Your mission for our lives
and fill it with courage and perseverance,
through Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives in the unity of the Holy Spirit
with You and reigns for all eternity.
Quote/s of the Day – 15 January – The Memorial of Bl Nikolaus Gross (1898-1945) Martyr
“If we do not risk our life today, how do we then, want one day, to justify ourselves before God and our people?”
“…One must obey God more than men”. If something is demanded of us that goes against God or the Faith, then, not only, may we but we must, refuse obedience (towards men).”
“Sometimes, my heart becomes heavy and the task appears insoluble if I measure my own human imperfection and inadequacy against the greatness of the obligation and the weight of the responsibility.
If a generation must pay the highest price, death, for its short life, we look for the answer in ourselves in vain. We find it only in Him in whose hand we are safe in life and in death. We never know what problems are waiting to test the power and strength of our souls…. Man’s ways lie in obscurity.
But even darkness is not without light. Hope and faith, which always hasten ahead of us, already have a presentiment of the breaking of a new dawn. If we know, that the best thing in us, the soul, is immortal, then we also know, that we shall meet each other again”.
Bl Nikolaus Gross (1898-1945) Martyr
“With the clear insight that the Nazi ideology was incompatible with Christian faith, he courageously took up his pen to plead for the dignity of human beings. Nikolaus loved his wife and children very much. However, the inner bond with his own family never allowed him to pull back from confessing Christ and His Church. It was clear to him, “If we do not risk our life today, how then do we want to justify ourselves one day before God and our people?”. For this conviction he submitted to being hanged, so that heaven itself might be opened to him. In the Blessed Martyr Nikolaus Gross was accomplished what the prophet foretold “The just man will live on account of his faith” (Hb 1,4).
St Pope John Paul at the Beatification of Blessed Nikolaus Gross, 7 October 2001
One Minute Reflection – 15 January – Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time – Today’s Gospel: Mark 1:21-28 and The Feast of Our Lady of Banneux & Memorial of Bl Nikolaus Gross (1898-1945) Martyr
And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” …Mark 1:27
REFLECTION – “The power of Jesus confirms the authority of His teaching. He does not just speak with words but He takes action. In this way, He manifests God’s plan with words and with the power of His deeds. A teacher and a friend, who shows us the path and takes care of us, especially when we are in need.”…Pope Francis – Angelus, 28 January 2018
PRAYER – King of heaven and earth, Lord God, rule over our hearts and bodies this day. Sanctify us and guide our every thought, word and deed, according to the commandments of Your law, so that now and forever, Your grace may free and save us. Sanctify our hearts, minds and actions with Your power, that all we are may speak of Your Light. May the prayers of our Mother of Banneux and Blessed Nikolaus Gross, who so diligently followed You in the darkness around him, bring us to peace and confidence. We make our prayer through Your Son, our Lord Jesus, in union with the Holy Spirit, one God for all eternity, amen.
Saint of the Day – 15 January – Blessed Nikolaus Gross – (1898-1945) Martyr, layman, father of seven children, union activist, newspaper editor, apostle of charity. Born on 30 September 1898 at Niederwenigern, Ruhr region, Germany and died by execution on 23 January 1945 at the Berlin-Plotzensee, Germany prison. He was Beatified on 7 October 2001 by St Pope John Paul II at Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy.
Nikolaus Gross was born on 30 September 1898 of a colliery blacksmith in Niederwenigern, near the city of Essen and attended the local Catholic school from 1905-12. He then worked initially in a plate rolling mill, then as a grinder and later as a face-worker in a coal mine. He worked underground for five years.
In his limited spare time, he continued his higher education. In 1917, he joined the Christian Miners’ Trade Union. In 1918 he joined the Centre Party (the Catholic political party). In 1919 he joined the St Anthony’s Miners Association (Antonius Knappenverein KAB) in Niederwenigern. It was the major Catholic union for the Catholic miners and a major Catholic voice. At the age of 22 he became secretary for young people in the union. A year later he became assistant editor of the union newspaper Bergknappe (“The Miner”). His work with the union took him around Germany until he finally settled in Bottrop in the Ruhr Valley, in what is now the Diocese of Essen.
In the meantime, he married Elizabeth Koch from Niederwenigern. They had seven children in the course of their happy marriage. He loved his family above everything and was an exemplary father in his responsibility for their education and upbringing in the faith. Gross did not withdraw into the shell of family life. He remained attuned to the great social problems, precisely in his responsibility for his family. Work and social obligations were the place in which he realised his Christian mission. In his doctrine of faith written in 1943 he wrote: “The majority of great achievements come into being through the daily performance of one’s duties in the little things of everyday routine. Our special love here is always for the poor and the sick”.
At the beginning of 1927, he became assistant editor of the Westdeutsche Arbeiterzeitung (West German Workers’ Newspaper), the organ of the St Anthony’s Miners’ Association (KAB) and soon became its editor-in-chief. Here he was able to give Catholic workers guidance on social and labour questions. In the course of time, it became clear to him that the political challenges contained a moral claim and that the social problems cannot be solved without spiritual efforts.
The editor became a messenger who bore witness to his faith here too. When he moved in this capacity to the Ketteler House in Cologne, in 1929, he already had a clear opinion about approaching Nazism . Starting out from Bishop Ketteler’s main idea that a reform of the conditions in society can only be achieved by a reform in attitude, he saw in the Nazis’ success in society: “political immaturity” and “a lack of discernment”. Already at that time he called the Nazis “mortal enemies of the present state”. As editor of the organ of the KAB, on 14 September 1930, he wrote: “As Catholic workers we reject Nazism not only for political and economic reasons but decisively also, resolutely and clearly, on account of our religious and cultural attitude”.
Already a few months after Hitler’s seizure of power, the leader of the German Labour Front, Robert Ley, called the KAB’s Westdeutsche Arbeiterzeitung “hostile to the state”. In the following period, Gross attempted to save the newspaper from destruction without making concessions on its content. From then on he knew how to write between the lines. In November 1938 came the final ban on the workers’ newspaper which, in the meantime, had been renamed Kettelerwacht (Ketteler’s Watch).
Gross, who had to work very hard for his education was no great orator. But he spoke convincingly, warm-heartedly and with power of persuasion. The fact that Nikolaus Gross joined the resistance in Germany resulted from his Catholic religious conviction. For him the key was “that one must obey God more than men”.“If something is demanded of us that goes against God or the Faith, then not only may we but we must, refuse obedience (towards men)” Thus wrote Nikolaus Gross in 1943 in his doctrine of faith. It was becoming ever clearer to him that Germany had reached this state under the Hitler regime.
Gross set down his joint thoughts in two writings which later fell into the hands of the Gestapo: The Great Tasks and Is Germany Lost? They were to contribute towards his execution.
In 1940, Gross had to endure interrogations and house searches. After the ban on the association’s newspaper, he published a series of small pamphlets which were intended to help strengthen the critical force of faith and Gospel values among workers. We find an answer for the reasons which motivated someone like Nikolaus Gross in the memoirs of the well-known, workers’ chaplain, Msgr Caspar Schulte of Paderborn. There we read: “In my many conversations, especially with Nikolaus Gross and the association’s head, Otto Müller, I got to know and admire these men’s moral greatness. They did not stumble into death. They went their way also prepared to bear a painful death for the sake of freedom. I said to Nikolaus Gross on the day before the assassination attempt on Hitler of 20 July 1944: “Mr Gross, remember that you have seven children. I have no family for which I am responsible. It’s a matter of your life’. To which Gross made a really great statement to me: “If we do not risk our life today, how do we then want one day to justify ourselves before God and our people?'”.
In 1943, Gross wrote in a booklet, what was almost a prophecy: “Sometimes, my heart becomes heavy and the task appears insoluble if I measure my own human imperfection and inadequacy against the greatness of the obligation and the weight of the responsibility. If a generation must pay the highest price, death, for its short life, we look for the answer in ourselves in vain. We find it only in Him in whose hand we are safe in life and in death. We never know what problems are waiting to test the power and strength of our souls…. Man’s ways lie in obscurity. But even darkness is not without light. Hope and faith, which always hasten ahead of us, already have a presentiment of the breaking of a new dawn. If we know that the best thing in us, the soul, is immortal, then we also know that we shall meet each other again”. What a testimony to a sense of responsibility, feeling for reality and assurance of faith! For Gross, trust in God was the foundation on which he did not falter. During the years of the war he formed a network of resistance to the Nazi’s and he was often the courier between the centres of resistance. He was well informed of the plot to assassinate Hitler, even though he took no part in its preparation and execution.
After the abortive assassination attempt on 20 July 1944, events came thick and fast. Gross, who was not himself involved in the preparation and execution of the plot, was arrested towards noon at his home on 12 August 1944 and taken first to the prison in Ravensbrück and then to the penitentiary in Berlin-Tegel. His wife, Elisabeth, came to Berlin twice to visit him . She reported clear signs of torture on his hand and arms. His letters from the prison and the witness of the chaplain, Fr Peter Buchholz, give impressive evidence that constant prayer was the source of strength in his difficult and, in the end, hopeless position. In every letter he never failed to request constant prayer from his wife and his children, just as he himself also prayed for his family each day.
On 15 January 1945, the death sentence was pronounced by the chairman of People’s Court, Roland Freisler. His final remark in the court record and the real reason for the sentence: “He swam along in treason and consequently had to drown in it!”.He was hanged in Berlin-Plotzensee on 23 January 1945. The Nazis did not make any martyrs. They did not allow the hanged man to have a grave. For the followers of falsehood and hatred there was only brutal destruction. His ashes were scattered across a sewage farm.
But the testimony to truth and faith is not to be obliterated! It lives on in those who have gone before us as a shining example. The prison chaplain, Fr Peter Buchholz, who blessed the condemned man on his final walk, reported afterwards: “Gross bowed his head silently during the blessing. His face already seemed illuminated by the glory into which he was getting ready to enter”.
He was Beatified on 7 October 2001 by St Pope John Paul II at Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy.
There is a museum dedicated to Nikolaus Gross in Niederwenigern. In 1948 a street in Cologne was named in his honour and streets were named after him in places such as Berlin and Essen amongst others. A chapel was dedicated to him on 10 October 2004 and a memorial stone in Gelsenkirchen-Buer on 26 October 2003.
Saints of the Day – Sts Julian and Basilissa (died c 304) – Martyrs – Julian and Basilissa were husband and wife. They were Christian martyrs who died at either Antioch or, more probably, at Antinoe, in the reign of Diocletian, early in the fourth century.
Forced by his family to marry, Julian, agreed with his spouse, Basilissa, that they should both preserve their virginity and further encouraged her to found a convent for women, of which she became the superior, while he himself gathered a large number of monks and undertook their direction. The two converted their home into a hospital which could house up to 1,000 people (thus, Julian is often confused with Julian the Hospitaller). There, they worked tirelessly, using their own funds, to assist the poor, the sick, the needy. Basilissa attended those of her sex, in separate lodgings from the men, these were taken care of by Julian, who from his charity is named the Hospitalarian. Egypt, where they lived, had then begun to abound with examples of persons who, either in the cities or in the deserts, devoted themselves to the most perfect exercises of charity, penance, and mortification.
Basilissa, after having stood severe persecutions, died in peace. Julian survived her many years but was martyred, (together with Celsus a youth, Antony a priest, Anastatius and Marcianilla the mother of Celsus) under the Persecutions of Diocletian.
During the persecution of Diocletian he was arrested, tortured and put to death at Antioch, in Syria, by the order of the governor, Martian, according to the Latins, at Antinoe, in Egypt, according to the Greeks, which seems more probable. Celsus, the young son of Marcionilla, was martyred along with Julian. The priest Anthony (Antony) was martyred at the same time, as well as a convert and neophyte named Anastasius. Marcionilla’s seven brothers are also said to have been killed.
In any case, these two saints must have enjoyed a great reputation in antiquity and their veneration was well established before the eighth century. Only a fragment of Ælfric’s Passion of St Julian and His Wife Basilissa from his Lives of the Saints has survived but the traditional legend is there – the two saints vow not to consummate their marriage on their wedding night and devote themselves to chastity. Julian suffers martyrdom by beheading.
Many churches and hospitals especially in the West, bear the name of one or other of these martyrs. Four churches at Rome and three out of five at Paris, which bear the name of St Julian, were originally dedicated under the name of St Julian, the Hospitalarian and martyr.
In the time of St Gregory the Great, the skull of St Julian was brought out of the East into France and given to Queen Brunehault, who gave it to the nunnery which she founded at Étampes. Part of it is at present in the monastery of Morigny, near Étampes and part in the church of the regular canonesses of St Basilissa at Paris.