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Saint Josaphat

by Fr. Ambrose Criste, O.Praem.


When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy, He saved us.

In St. Peter’s Basilica, in the middle of the night here and very early in the morning Roman time, the Ukrainian college and several hundred of the Ukrainian Catholics in the City turn out for a divine liturgy in their rite at the tomb of St. Josaphat on his feast day. His relics are in a glass sarcophagus right around the corner from the incorrupt body of Pope Saint John XXIII, and right across the side aisle from a portion of the relics of Saint Gregory Nazianzus. You might know that there are many other liturgical rites in our Catholic Church, even if we don’t have much experience of them here in the West, but there is something especially striking and moving to hear the deep bass chanting of the Eastern rite hieromonks performing their liturgy in a church as quintessentially Roman as St. Peter’s. What on earth did St. Josaphat do to wind up entombed in such a prominent place so far from his home? Back to that question in a moment.

You might also wonder what on earth the lepers in the Gospel did to merit Jesus’ cleansing them of their leprosy. We are struck by the fact that our Lord doesn’t ask them for a profession of faith (as He does in some of His other miraculous healings); He doesn’t mention anything about their repentance or conversion or anything of that sort; He simply tells them to go and show themselves to the priests. So off they go, and on the way they find themselves to be healed. Well, at least that one Samaritan leper finds himself to be healed, and he’s grateful. But the fact remains that all ten of those men were cleansed, and that simply from the pure goodness of the Savior Who had pity on them. Sure, they called Him Master and they asked for His healing, but He healed them not for anything they did, but simply out of His overflowing mercy and love.

Back to St. Josaphat: He lived in the late 16th century in what is now Ukraine, and most of the Christians in that region were not in union with Rome. As a young man, even though he was born Orthodox and not Catholic, he entered a monastery that had only recently come back into union with Rome, and so he too became a Catholic and devoted the rest of his life as a monk and bishop to the cause of reuniting the Christians of that region with the See of Peter. But he himself wasn’t the one to reunite his monastery with Rome. Someone else had done that, and St. Josaphat was the recipient of that tremendous blessing. We can only imagine how grateful he must have been to find himself favored by God in that way. How much more grateful must he have been when he opened the eyes of his soul in glory after his martyrdom? The Gospel reports that the Samaritan leper, realizing he had been healed, returned glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.

My dear friends, what blessings and gifts has God given to us?—blessings that we have done nothing to deserve, but that He has given us anyway out of pure love and overflowing mercy? I’m sure that every single one of us could count very many blessings—and that’s a really good thing to do, to count our blessings and to thank God for His goodness to us. St. Paul tells Titus, When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy, He saved us. Not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of His mercy, He saved us. That’s a pretty good start, and so how can we respond to such goodness? Well, like the Samaritan whom the Lord healed of his leprosy, we canons (the Western counterparts of the Eastern hieromonks like St. Josaphat) can glorify God with our voices in the choir office and at Mass, and each of us can fall at the feet of Jesus and thank Him.

To that end, I have a simple suggestion: many, many times each day we sing the Glory Be. It’s the perfect liturgical opportunity for us to fall at the feet of our Lord and to thank Him by bowing our heads and praying from our hearts, glorifying God in a loud voice like the healed Samaritan leper. Even if the psalm or canticle we just finished was distracted or drowsy because of our weakness, our Gloria Patri can get us back on track and return us to the center of our praying heart. St. Josaphat, whose own liturgical rite is so rich in repeated doxologies, is certainly someone we can ask to teach us to pray well. So as we bow down before this altar during holy Mass, and throughout the day, may he help us to do so with humble and grateful hearts. Amen.

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