If you’ve ever given up a lot, worked really hard, and seen almost no fruit from all your efforts, then you’re in good company with St. Peter Chanel.
Born and raised in 1803 in France, St. Peter was one of eight children. He spent his early years as a shepherd, caring for the family flock, before his intelligence and serious manner were noticed by the parish priest. After spending a few years in the local school, St. Peter eventually made his way into the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1827.
Although he deeply desired to be sent abroad to the foreign lands as a missionary, his first assignment was very close to home. Chanel was given the post of parish priest at the church in Crozet, a small town in eastern France. Even though this assignment was not the opportunity he had been hoping for, it was what he needed to prepare him for his eventual missionary work in Oceania.
In the small parish of Crozet, Chanel discovered an empty church and an indifferent populace. Leaning into his natural kindness and simplicity, St. Peter approached the situation by giving special attention to the sick of the village. His care of and concern for the ill won over his parishioners, who noticed his zeal and sincerity, and this three-year assignment was considered a success. During this mission, Chanel learned that truly caring for the needs of the people and being concerned with the same things that concerned them was a very effective method of evangelization. His actions spoke much more loudly than any words.
During his time in Crozet, St. Peter heard about a new order being formed by a group of priests. This order would be devoted to Mary, Mother of God, and in time would come to be known as the Marists, an order that is still at work in the world today. Chanel joined the Marists, who were later assigned to carry out missionary work in western Oceania, an area that includes Micronesia, Melanesia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga. On December 24, 1836, Chanel set out on a nine month sea voyage with seven other Marists, headed for the other side of the world.
After making some short stops at the Canary Islands, Tahiti and Tonga, Chanel settled into the island of Futuna. He would remain on this island until his martyrdom, a little more than three years later.
On Futuna, the Marists were initially welcomed and so they began to learn the language and acclimate themselves to a very different culture and climate than what they had known. In fact, King Niuliki, the leader of Futuna Island, had only recently outlawed cannibalism. During these three years Chanel suffered from isolation and deprivation, but he chose to respond to his trying circumstances by exhibiting the same care and concern for the people of Futuna that he had shown in Cozet. Eventually, this began to succeed and some of the people were baptized.
Unfortunately, as more people listened to Chanel and came to trust him and his message, the tribal king grew increasingly jealous. When the king’s son, Meitala, asked for baptism, King Niuliki responded with hostility and violence. Replying to the king with his characteristic charity, Chantel wrote “It does not matter whether or not I am killed. The religion has taken root on the island. It will not be destroyed by my death, since it comes not from men but from God.” Nevertheless, the king ordered his son-in-law, Musumusu, to stop the baptism using any means necessary. Musumusu visited Chanel with some other island warriors and killed him. St. Peter died on April 28, 1841.
At first glance, it does not seem that all the effort and sacrifice St. Peter had undergone amounted to much at all. Yet within two years of his death, almost the entire island had converted and remains Catholic today. Even though St. Peter did not experience the fruit of his labor when he was alive, we have faith that he did see it after his death and that he continues to pray and intercede for the people of the South Pacific today.
Chanel was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954 and is the patron saint of Oceania. The Church celebrates his feast day with an Optional Memorial on April 28.
O God, who for the spreading of your Church crowned Saint Peter Chanel with martyrdom, grant that, in these days of Paschal joy, we may so celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as to bear worthy witness to newness of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen (the Collect for April 28, Optional Memorial of St. Peter Chanel)
On April 25 each year, we celebrate the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist. St. Mark is traditionally held to be a co-worker and companion of Peter and Paul, as well as cousin to Barnabas. He accompanied Peter on his preaching travels, writing down the sermons and parables that eventually became his Gospel. He was martyred around 68, in the city of Alexandria. His gospel is the shortest of the four, even though it was composed first.
But long before Mark journeyed around, spreading the Good News, his work was foretold. In the Book of Ezekiel, that prophet records a vision of “four living creatures… Each of the four had a human face, and on the right a face of a lion, and on the left the face of an ox, and each had the face of an eagle…And the appearance of the living creatures seemed like burning coals of fire.” (Ez 1:5, 10, 14) These four creatures are usually understood as symbols of the four evangelists: the winged man, or angel, is associated with Matthew, the eagle symbolizes John, the ox is for Luke and the lion represents Mark.
These same four creatures will appear again in the book of Revelation, which says, “In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight.” (Rev 4:6-7)
On the Feast of St. Mark, let’s reflect a little on why the lion is a symbol for him. There are a few reasons.
First of all, the Gospel of Mark opens differently than the other gospels. There is no philosophy or infancy narrative. It gets right to the point by proclaiming straight away, through the voice of John the Baptist, the imminent arrival of the Messiah. John the Baptist is presented as a mighty voice, like a lion roaring in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths!” (Mk 1:3) The time is now. A response is urgently required, just as if we were to meet a wild lion in the flesh.
The second reason for the lion symbolism comes from the Old Testament, specifically the title the “lion of Judah.” In the book of Genesis, Jacob gives his blessing to his son, Judah, and calls him a young lion, crouching down, and proclaims that not only will the “scepter never depart from Judah,” (Gen 49:10) but that tribute and the people’s obedience will also come to him. This prophetic poem is a foreshadowing of the Messiah that Mark proclaims, Jesus, the true Lion of Judah who will be victorious over all his enemies and will be given tribute and obedience.
The gospel of Mark itself resembles an energetic lion, in that it races from event to event, hardly slowing down. It has a vivid style, energetically detailing the events of Jesus’ life, as the kingdom of God breaks into the lives of humans. Ultimately, this gospel focuses on Jesus’ steady march to the cross.
In fact, the Gospel of Mark has sometimes been called a passion narrative with a long introduction. Mark introduces Jesus as the son of God from the beginning. There is no doubt that this is the Messiah, the strong, kingly, divine Son of God who will fulfill all of the Messianic prophecies. In Mark’s Gospel we see “the paradox of the Messiah who enters into his glorious reign only through the self-abasement of the cross.” *
Perhaps C.S. Lewis conveyed something about the symbolism of the lion as well, in his Narnia books. He frequently described Aslan, the Lion king, as a good lion, just not a tame one. In describing the risen Aslan, he wrote “People … sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time. If the children had ever thought so, they were cured of it now. For when they tried to look at Aslan’s face, they just caught a glimpse of the golden mane and the great, royal, solemn, overwhelming eyes; and then they found they couldn’t look at him and went all trembly.”**
Lions are strong, majestic, powerful, noble and fierce. There is simply something in their nature that commands respect and loyalty.
The winged lion has also been a symbol for many centuries of the city of Venice, due to a claim that St. Mark stopped there once and beheld an angel in the shape of a lion. Back in the U.S. there are four well-known lions that guard the city of St. Augustine, Florida, which claims to be the first place the Mass was said in the U.S. The four lions, Fiel and Firme (Faithful and Firm) and Pax and Peli (Peace and Happiness) are on either end of the Bridge of Lions. These imposing stone statues stand in front of a sign that reminds all visitors the “Lions are under video recording.” Just in case they may suddenly come to life, jump off that stone pedestal and into our lives in a very real way - in much the same way, in fact, that the Gospel of Mark tries to show us the Son of God jumps into the sad story of humanity, invigorating it, energizing it, redeeming it.
*by Mary Healy, in the April 2023 Magnificat, p. 281
** from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
“Behold, behold, the wood of the cross, on which is hung our salvation. O Come, let us adore.”
These familiar words are often intoned each year at the Good Friday service. On this somber day that we yet call ‘good,” what further words can be said? Perhaps just a few.
Looking at the cross of Christ we can say “Thank You.”
Thank you for being born as a baby, in smallness and vulnerability.
Thank you for growing into a toddler, needing to hold hands to walk.
Thank you for listening to Mary and Joseph, for your presence in the home and in the workshop.
Thank you for your courage, in speaking boldly as a young man.
Thank you for your miracles and your healings, for giving hope and help to the desperate.
Thank you for your focus, in striving to fulfill the will of the father.
Thank you for not wavering in your walk to Jerusalem, despite knowing what it would bring.
Thank you for enduring loneliness and abandonment.
Thank you for your agony.
Thank you for your death.
Thank you for your life.
Most of all, thank you for your invitation.
Thank you for inviting us to see your face in our children.
Thank you for inviting us to be patient as our toddlers grow and grasp, reach and grab.
Thank you for being present in our homes and in our work.
Thank you for giving your mother to us, and our big family of saints in heaven.
Thank you for the hope and healing you grant us, seen and unseen.
Thank you for your guidance and perseverance with us, and with our families.
Thank you for not leaving us.
Thank you for not forgetting us.
Thank you for loving us.
Is there anything else we can say, as we gaze at the cross of Christ? Perhaps these two words are appropriate - “I’m sorry.”
I’m sorry when I forgot you.
I’m sorry when I refused your invitation.
I’m sorry when I put myself ahead of my family.
I’m sorry when I didn’t want you in my home or in my work.
I’m sorry when I didn’t speak of you, at the dinner table or the coffee shop.
I’m sorry when I didn’t speak to you, at bedtime or in the car.
I’m sorry when I thought I knew better than you.
I’m sorry when I didn’t see you in others.
I’m sorry for not listening to you.
I’m sorry for not believing in you.
There are two other words that we can pray today, on this good day when the Son of God gave his life for us. We can say “I forgive.”
I forgive my spouse.
I forgive my sons.
I forgive my daughters.
I forgive my mother and mother-in-law.
I forgive my father and father-in-law.
I forgive my sisters.
I forgive my brothers.
I forgive my boss.
I forgive my coworkers.
I forgive my neighbors.
I forgive our leaders.
I forgive myself.
Thank you. I’m sorry. I forgive. Six small words we can pray as we walk with the Church through Good Friday and into Holy Saturday, as we wait in joyful hope for the dawning of Easter joy.
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