The Holy Machabees
Martyrs (c 168 BC)
From the first centuries of her existence, the Church has commemorated in her liturgy, both in the East and the West, the group known as “the Holy Machabees.”These Old Testament figures are so honored because their deaths foreshadow, in a very striking way, the spirit of Christian martyrdom. The history of the group is told in the last book of the Old Testament, the Second Book of Machabees. In the second century before Christ, Antiochus IV, the king of Syria and Palestine, attempted to paganize the Jews by forcing them to adore gods of Greece. The king first slaughtered thousands of the Jews and then set up a statue of Jupiter Olympius in the Temple at Jerusalem. He also established shrines to other pagan gods throughout the country. The Jews were commanded to make sacrifices to the new gods and to abandon worship of the “One God” of the Jewish law. Many Jews resisted, particularly the powerful family of the Machabees; the group known as “the Holy Machabees” were probably not members of this family, but are given the name from the book in which their story is written.
The first of the group was Eleazar, an old man of ninety years and one of the most respected of the scribes or doctors of the law. The persecutors hoped to gain his allegiance and to win over others by his example. Eating the flesh of swine, an act forbidden by the Law of Moses, was made the test of apostasy; Eleazar refused both that and the compromise, urged by his friends, of eating another kind of meat and pretending that it was pork. After Eleazar’s refusal, Antiochus had the old man flogged to death and then offered the same test to a family of seven brothers and their mother. The young men were tried in turn, each refused to eat the meat because to do so would be a violation of God’s law, and each was slowly and cruelly tortured to death. Each one spoke of his confidence in God, in noble statements that show a true evaluation of God’s law and promises. Last of all to be tried and put to death was the mother, who had stood by and encouraged her sons as they suffered. Fidelity to God under the Old Law thus brought these people to their deaths, and through death to glory, establishing a pattern that every Christian martyr has since followed, and will follow in times to come.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 431-432. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
The eighteenth century was not a happy one for the Church. It was an age when rationalism and skepticism were dangerously threatening the faith of men; an age when such brilliant cynics as Voltaire, with his battle cry of “Crush the infamous thing!” (the “infamous thing” being the Catholic Church), were the leaders of intellectual activity. Europe was pervaded by a poisonous moral atmosphere and Catholics were badly infected with it; some abandoned everything about their faith except the outward practice of its forms, while others were driven into a heartless rigorism fostered by the wide-spread heresy of Jansenism. Saint Alphonsus Liguori lived almost the length of the century and was plagued by all its evils; unlike so many others, however, he fought the corrupting influences and became a saint in doing so.
Alphonsus was born in 1696, in the town of Marianella, near Naples. A precocious child, he was educated in everything from Greek to harpsichord playing and, at sixteen, passed an examination at the University of Naples for a doctor’s degree in law. He had his own practice by 1715 and was a familiar figure in Neapolitan society for the next eight years. Love of music brought him often to the opera, although the tastelessness of the staging caused him to sit with his spectacles off, sparing his nearsighted eyes the vulgarities of the productions. His taste for law, and for the world, lessened after a humiliating incident in court. Alphonsus had made a brilliant speech defending a client, when a lawyer for the opposition told him that a certain document in the case completely refuted his arguments. Alphonsus had carefully read the document, but on a second examination saw that his opponent was right and thereupon relinquished the case with a public admission of his error. Humbled by the experience, the young man began thinking more seriously about his life and finally decided to become a priest. His father, who was assiduously lining up marriage prospects for him, protested, but Alphonsus began his theological studies, and in 1726 was ordained.
His first assignment was mission work in the Naples area, where he soon became noted for two things: his sermons and his manner of hearing confessions. When Alphonsus preached, he spoke simply and directly, without the stale rhetoric that characterized most sermonizing of the day. In the confessional where harsh severity toward the sinner was common, Alphonsus was always gentle and patient, gaining the reputation of never having refused anyone absolution. The common people loved these qualities in him and responded to him as they did to few others.
His missionary activity continued for several years but gradually became overshadowed by his role as a religious founder. In 1730, in the city of Scala, Alphonsus reorganized a community of nuns (later known as the Redemptoristines), and in 1732, in the same city, founded a community of priests for missionary work among the growing masses of the poor in Italy. The Redemptorist order was thus born and became an undertaking that was to keep Alphonsus involved in controversy for the rest of his life. From the very beginning, he was opposed in the work by many of the hierarchy, who regarded the saint as having dangerously lax theological views, and by the government of Naples, which was militantly anticlerical in its policies. For several years the order suffered suspicion and harassment, but survived because of the approval of its constitutions by Pope Benedict XIV, in 1749.
Alphonsus found time for other activities, of which theological writing was the most important. His monumental Moral Theology was published in 1748, and became an immediate success, although his enemies were ready with their usual charges; the wildest of these was that he had defended lying. This was false, of course, and the treatise, which avoided the extremes both of laxity and of Jansenistic rigorism, was soon recognized as a safe guide in moral questions.
The saint’s duties increased in 1762, when Pope Clement XIII appointed him bishop of Sant’Agata de’ Goti. This was a small diocese with a bad reputation, which Alphonsus quickly transformed. He forced the clergy there to abandon such practices as the careless celebration of Mass (“the sight of a Mass celebrated in this way is enough to make one lose the faith,” he said) and gave the people the same charitable, intelligent attention that had marked his earlier work as a missionary.
An old man now, Alphonsus had an illness in 1767 that left his neck permanently curved and his chin digging painfully into his chest. An operation relieved the condition somewhat, but in 1775 he was allowed to resign his see because of his health. A short period of peaceful retirement followed, and then Alphonsus had to face his most difficult trial: the climactic attack on his religious order.
In 1777 the royal government, which had long sought to destroy the Redemptorists, threatened to disband them on the grounds that they were carrying on in disguise the work of the Jesuits, who had been officially suppressed in I773.· Alphonsus refuted this charge so completely that the government relaxed its attack and there even seemed some chance of obtaining the king’s approval for the order’s rule. Alphonsus signed and sent a copy of the rule to the monarch, not realizing (he was almost blind by now) that drastic alterations had been made in the copy by certain members of the order anxious to placate the king. The altered rule was approved by the king; but when Pope Pius VI saw how far in spirit it was from the original, he condemned it and stripped Alphonsus of leadership of the order.
This was a bitter blow to the man who had been completely innocent in the whole affair and perhaps the action contributed to Alphonsus’ last cross: an agonizing siege of scruples and doubts about the faith that lasted through 1784 and 1785. The storm passed, however, and by the time of his death in 1787, peace had returned to him. Before he died, he foretold the restoration of his order that was to take place a few years later under Saint Clement Mary Hofbauer. Pius VI, the same pope who had condemned him, gave Alphonsus the title of venerable in 1796; he was declared a saint in 1839, by Gregory XVI, and Doctor of the Church by Pius IX in 1871.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 432-436. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard
Saint Peter Julian Eymard was a French priest, born in a small town in the diocese of Grenoble. His lifelong aim was to spread devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. A member of the Marist Fathers for many years, he received permission, in 1856, to found his own congregation, “Priests of the Blessed Sacrament.” The primary purpose of this group is perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, but it also works among the laity, in an effort to arouse love and understanding of the Eucharist. Father Eymard started a similar congregation for women, founded the Archconfraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, and wrote several books on the Eucharist. Despite bitter personal attacks against him, his congregation gained papal approval during his lifetime and spread from Paris to several other French cities. It is now established throughout Europe and the Americas. Father Eymard had the friendship of such men as Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney (the Cure of Ars), and by the time of his death, in 1868, was regarded by many as a saint.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 436-437. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Medieval Europe had many bad features, but also many-and perhaps more–good ones; the best and most remarkable of its assets was simply the fact that its life was largely shaped and controlled by men and women who were saints. One of the most famous of these saints was Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans as the order is usually called.
Dominic was a Spaniard, born into a family of the Castilian nobility at Caleruega, in 1170. His childhood attraction to the religious life was encouraged by his mother, Dona Juana, and in 1195, after several years of study in the liberal arts and theology, he was ordained. His first years as a priest were spent at the cathedral of Osma as one of its canons. There Dominic began to be noticed for the spiritual qualities that were to characterize his life: a completely selfless love of God, a profound understanding of the needs of the soul, and a warm desire to help other men satisfy those needs by bringing them the word of God.
In 1203 Dominic was sent with Diego de Acevedo, bishop of Osma, on a mission to Denmark for Alfonso VIII, the king of Castile. The way led through Languedoc in southern France, where the Albigensian heresy was flourishing, and on the journeys to and from the northern country the two men had many contacts with heretics. The experience so aroused the zeal of the travelers that, when their work for the king was over, they went to Rome and requested Pope Innocent III to send them as missionaries to the pagans of the Volga region. The pope, however, persuaded them to return to France and fight the Albigenses, who were spreading rapidly. This heretical sect first appeared at Albi (whence its name) but the principal centers became Toulouse and Carcassonne, from which the heresy spread through Languedoc.
When Diego and Dominic went back to Languedoc, they joined forces with the Cistercians, who had been combating the heresy for some time, but with poor results. Dominic soon saw the reason for this: the Albigenses, who believed that matter was evil and that earthly existence was best ended by suicide, led lives of fanatical austerity; the Cistercians were not nearly as self-denying and went about the country with servants and rich equipages. To the people, it seemed obvious which group had the more Christian spirit; so far as they were concerned, the monks’ angry denunciations of the heretics had a hollow ring.
Dominic determined to remedy this situation. He insisted that monks who preached against heresy should themselves be living examples of a true Christian spirit: they should own nothing and should travel on foot, depending on the alms of the faithful for support; they should preach, not merely with zeal, but with understanding and charity; above all, they should do the work out of love for God and man, not any lesser motive (too often, hatred seemed to be the compelling force for zealous heretic hunters). Even with this new spirit, the struggle remained a difficult one, and Bishop Diego finally in discouragement left for Spain.
Dominic stayed, however, and in 1206, at Prouille, established a group that was to be the forerunner of his order. This was a convent of nine nuns, all converts from the heresy, and a small monastery of “brothers” (probably priests) who directed the nuns’ spiritual life.
In 1208 civil war broke out in Languedoc between orthodox and heretic. Dominic followed the orthodox army, doing what he could to bring a little mercy into the conduct of the war, which was fought with viciousness on both sides. As time passed, the military action and Dominic’s own preaching, which he continued incessantly, broke the strength of the heretical movement. (There is no contemporary evidence that Dominic used devotion to the rosary in the campaign, and all the stories attributing the origin of the rosary to a vision in which our Lady gave the rosary to Dominic are of a much later date. The devotion, in some form, was in use long before his time.)
With the lessening of danger from heresy, Dominic began to formulate more clearly the ideas his experiences had given him for a new religious order. This order was to be linked with traditional monasticism, in that its members would be professed religious, with contemplation and prayer at the heart of their existence; its radically new feature was to be the sharing with others of the fruits of that contemplative life by teaching and preaching.
Late in 1215 Dominic went to Rome to obtain approval for his order; the pope gave it verbally, and Dominic returned to Prouille, where he drew up a rule for his men based mainly on that of Saint Augustine. In August of the next year, 1216, the tireless saint went back to Rome to receive formal approval for the order from Pope Honorius III. At Prouille, in August of 1217, Dominic assembled his followers for a last address and then sent them to establish houses at various places in France and Spain. Dominic himself returned to Rome, once more hopeful of being sent to the East as a missionary. Pope Honorius, however, asked him to stay in Rome, and in the six months he remained there he became a popular figure. He taught theology, preached in Saint Peter’s, and is said to have restored the dead to life on three occasions.
From 1218 to 1220, he traveled about in Spain, France, and Italy, founding more houses for his order. Several of these were in university towns, reflecting Dominic’s conviction that the best intellectual training and much study were essential for priests whose mission it was to preach and to combat heresy. This use of reason in the service of faith has remained one of the hallmarks of the Dominican Order. A general chapter was held in 1220, at Bologna, and Dominic took up residence there. He visited Saint Francis in Cremona later that year (the two had met and become friends earlier in Rome), and the next year held his last general chapter. On August 6, 1221, Dominic died, only fifty-one years old.
His order, together with that of Saint Francis (who died five years after Dominic), was to bring a new spirit into every branch of European life in the succeeding years. Art, learning, social life, religious expression: through the work of the mendicant friars, all these were to feel the transforming effect of the Christian poverty and brotherly love that Dominic and Francis had lived so nobly.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 437-440. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Holy Woman (-c 374)
Born around the turn of the third century, Saint Nonna is remembered chiefly as the mother of Saint Gregory Nazianzen.· She married her husband, Saint Gregory the Elder, when, still a pagan, he was acting as magistrate of the Cappadocian city of Nazianzus. Brought into the Church by Nonna, Gregory became first a priest, then bishop of Nazianzus, clerical celibacy not being the rule at that time.
Gregory and Nonna had three children: Gorgonia, who married and had a family and was renowned for her virtue; Caesarius, who became a doctor and held an imperial office under the emperors Constantius and Julian; and Gregory, who became one of the most renowned theologians of the age. Both Gorgonia and Caesarius died before their mother, and Gregory’s funeral orations extol their virtue and describe how Nonna’s noble ideals provided a home where Christian holiness could flourish. Nonna herself died a few years later, known to all as a model of charity and of fidelity to Christ. It is said that the saint died while at Mass, in an attitude of prayer, her last gesture being to reach out in supplication toward the altar, as if to ask Christ to receive her propitiously.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 441. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Sixtus II and Companions
Pope and Martyrs (-c 258)
In the year 257, Saint Sixtus II was chosen to succeed Saint Stephen I as pope; the latter had been one of the first martyrs in Emperor Valerian’s persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Sixtus was a ”good and peaceable priest,” according to one of his contemporaries, and he was to have a very short pontificate. About all we know of his reign is that he acted leniently toward some Eastern and African Christians who had been erroneously denying the validity of baptism when administered by heretics. The dispute had begun in the reign of Stephen I, and Sixtus refrained from using any disciplinary action against the parties concerned, although he urged them to accept the true teaching of the Church in the matter.
In 258 Valerian inaugurated a second, even harsher, phase of his campaign against the Christians, for it was directed chiefly against the bishops, priests, and deacons, and against liturgical assemblies, and again it was the pope who was one of the first to suffer. Sixtus had united the faithful in the catacombs of Saint Callistus for the celebration of Mass. A band of soldiers rushed in. To prevent a wholesale arrest, Sixtus offered himself with his deacons to the executioners.
Powerless, the faithful witnessed the decapitation of their courageous pope. Four deacons–Januarius, Vincent, Magnus, and Stephen–were martyred with Sixtus and buried with him in the catacombs of Saint Callistus. Felicissimus and Agapitus, two other deacons, were pursued and martyred in the cemetery of Praetextatus. Sixtus was one of the roost widely venerated of the early popes, and is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 442-443. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
The first order of clerics regular–priests who live in a community and are under a religious rule, but who are not bound to recite the Divine Office together and who engage in work in the world–was founded by Saint Cajetan in 1524.· Gaetano, as he is known in Italy, was born at Vicenza in October 1480, and before his ordination in 1516, acted for several years as secretary to Pope Julius II. While living in Rome, Cajetan became deeply disturbed by the worst scandal of the times: the corruption of the clergy. With Gian Pietro Carafa (later Pope Paul IV), he joined the ”Oratory of Divine Love,” a pious association of young men who for twenty years had been trying to promote a spiritual revival in Genoa, Rome, and other cities. Between 1518 and 1524, Cajetan started similar projects in Vicenza, Verona, and Venice. Because he accepted men of low social status in these groups and gave them such tasks as caring for the incurables in the hospitals, his work was regarded with contempt by many of his fellow priests. It was precisely this spirit of clerical pride and worldliness–and its corollary, an attitude of complete indifference–that Cajetan fought against all his life.
He returned to Rome in 1523, and the next year, with the help of Carafa and others, founded his new religious institute. Carafa, by this time bishop of Chieti, was elected the first general, and the members of the order were called “Theatines,” from the Latin name of his diocese. The Theatines performed the usual priestly tasks–administered the sacraments, preached, cared for the sick and the poor–but did these things with such love and care that they became outstanding among the clergy of the time. The members lived on charity, Cajetan allowing them to go no further in begging for alms than to toll a bell in their house as a sign to the world that they were in need.
The invasion of Rome in 1527 by Charles V of Spain drove the Theatines to Venice, where Cajetan served as general. Succeeding years found him going from city to city in the work of the order, his last stop being Naples, where he died in 1547. He had accomplished much in his life: he had helped revise the Divine Office, re-established the montes pietatis (benevolent pawnshops for the poor), and acted as peacemaker between cities; but his real achievement was simply the renewed sense of dedication and charity that he gave to the priesthood at a time when it had almost forgotten these qualities. The type of religious order he founded became a popular one and was followed by others similar to it, the best known being the Jesuits.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 443-444. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed John Felton
Martyr (- 1570)
One brave act, and the details of the death resulting from it, are all that we know of Blessed John Felton, an English layman in the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In May of 1570, he obtained from France a copy of the papal bull Regnans in excelsis, in which Queen Elizabeth was excommunicated by Pope Pius V and her subjects absolved from any allegiance to her. Before dawn on the Feast of Corpus Christi, May 25, Felton nailed this document to the door of the bishop of London’s house for all the city to see.
Arrested soon afterwards on information obtained from another Catholic, Felton freely admitted what he had done. He was kept in the Tower for three months and tortured three times in the hope of getting from him details of a non existent political plot; then, on August 4, he was tried and convicted of treason. Four days later he was brought for execution to Saint Paul’s churchyard, opposite the house where he had nailed up the bull. When he saw the terrible instruments prepared for his death (he was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered), Felton had one sickening moment of fear, then recovered himself and went on to die bravely, his daughter hearing him repeat the name of Jesus twice before he expired. His son Thomas, two years old at the time, was to die a similar martyr’s death eighteen years later.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 445. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Jean-Marie Vianney
Confessor (1786-1859) | Patron Saint of Parish Priests
The term “saintly” seems to fit certain saints better, somehow, than others. Those who lack all intellectual brilliance and personal charm, who exhibit in an almost terrifying isolation that underlying motive of all sanctity-the desire to live for God alone-these we more readily call “saintly,” simply because no other adjective seems applicable to them. Such a one was Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney, the Cure of Ars; a perfect example of how little-and how much-it takes to make a saint.
Born in 1786 into a farming family at Dardilly, near Lyons, in eastern France, Jean-Marie was a young boy during the French Revolution and shared with his family a necessity of the times: the secret practice of their religion. His faith was strengthened by the experience, and by the time the Revolution was over he had decided to become a priest. Many things delayed fulfillment of his aim: his father’s reluctance to lose him from the farm; a confused period of military service that included an act of involuntary desertion by Jean-Marie; and above all his own intellectual shortcomings. With a poor memory and no ability or taste for abstract thought, he simply could not grasp the fundamentals of such subjects as Latin and theology. Although his piety was recognized, he had to be dismissed from the seminary at Lyons, and undoubtedly would never have been ordained if he had not been helped by a friendly priest. This was Father Bailey of Ecully, who gave Jean-Marie private lessons and arranged an interview for him with the diocesan examiner of candidates for ordination. The interview uncovered Jean Marie’s academic deficiencies but also revealed something of his holiness, an attribute that made him worthier for the priesthood than any amount of textbook knowledge. The examiner recommended ordination, and on August 12, 1815, Jean-Marie received holy orders, a privilege that he always considered the greatest of his life.
He was assigned to assist Father Bailey at Ecully; when that priest died in 1817, Father Vianney was sent to care for the people of a small, obscure village called Ars. When he arrived in 1818, Ars had only about 230 inhabitants. Few of these people were outstanding for either the practice or neglect of their faith; for most of them religion was merely a formality performed regularly and thoughtlessly once a week and the rest of the time ignored. Such mediocrity was incomprehensible to Father Vianney, and he determined to correct it. A house-to-house visitation of the parish, catechism classes for the children, and long Sunday sermons were part of the campaign. Taverns, blasphemous language, Sunday work-ordinary outlets for frivolity or sin–were denounced vehemently by him as distractions from the essential business of salvation. All this would have had no effect without the Cure’s own example, which was ultimately what transformed Ars.
When the people learned of the nightly scourgings which he inflicted upon himself, of the long fasts broken by no more than one or two cold potatoes, when they heard his voice, trembling with emotion, speaking of the love of God, and above all when they found themselves in the confessional with the man, they realized they had a saint in their midst. Slowly things changed; the taverns closed, the church became crowded even on weekdays, and the line to the confessional grew always longer. In that small stuffy box the priest relieved people of the burden of their sins in a way that could only be called Christ-like. Forgotten sins, concealed sins, grave sins, slight sins–all were brought to light by the priest and dismissed by him with absolution and a few compassionate words that often changed the whole course of the penitent’s life. This marvelous gift of the unlearned priest for seeing into the depths of the soul brought the world to Ars. People from the neighboring villages, from Lyons, finally from all France and beyond, swarmed into the tiny village. From 1830 on, the Cure averaged twelve to sixteen hours a day in the confessional. Healing of the sick, foretelling the future, and other marvels were attributed to him time after time.
Popular success, of course, was something the Cure neither wanted nor enjoyed; his life was so absorbed in God that it was only with difficulty (and this was the measure of his heroism) that he could immerse himself in the world of men. Three times he left Ars to retire to a monastery, but he always returned, urged by his own conscience and touched by the pleas of the people. Besides his grueling pastoral activities he had other crosses to bear. An orphanage and girls’ school he had founded in 1824 were taken out of his hands for reasons that are still obscure. Many of his less zealous fellow priest branded his whole life as “mad.” (When the bishop of the diocese heard the malicious comments, he merely said, “I wish all the clergy of my diocese had a small grain of this madness.”) The devil himself evidently persecuted the Cure, as is indicated by the noises, bed-burning, and physical assaults that took place at night in his room for years. “The grappin (devil) and I are almost old comrades,” the Cure once remarked to a friend.
The forty years in Ars were full of these sufferings, always accompanied by his own self-mortification, for he held himself to be the worst sinner in the village. When he died on August 4, 1859, Ars had already become a place of pilgrimage and continued as such in succeeding years. Pope Pius XI canonized the Cure in 1925 and in 1929 named him, very appropriately, patron of all parish priests.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 446-449. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Martyr (- 258)
The popular legend that portrays Saint Laurence lying on a gridiron and giving instructions for his own roasting may be no more than a myth; Laurence himself, however, is a reality, and legends only point to the widespread devotion to him among early Christians.
He was one of seven deacons in Rome during the pontificate of Sixtus II, and was martyred on August 10, 258, four days after Sixtus himself had been put to death by the emperor Valerian. As a deacon, Laurence had charge of caring for the property of the Church and distributing alms to the poor. According to the legend, when he was ordered by the Roman prefect to hand over the treasures of the Church, he asked for time to gather together this wealth, and then went about the city distributing the Church’s money to the poor and the sick and selling its property for the same purpose. When he came before the prefect again and was told to produce his riches, he pointed to the crowd of beggars, cripples, and other unfortunates who had followed him there and who had received the benefit of the Church’s material goods. It was this piece of audacity, the legend says, that enraged the prefect and led him to order Laurence’s unique execution. Stretched out on a gridiron over a bed of fiery coals, the saint calmly told his torturers, “Turn me over now, I’m done enough on this side.” Laurence was highly venerated in the early Church and with Sixtus II is commemorated in the Canon of the Mass.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 449-450. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Peter Faber
On August 15, 1534, Saint Peter Faber celebrated a Mass in the Montmartre district of Paris at which seven men, including himself, took vows of poverty, chastity, and pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The group was under the leadership of Saint Ignatius Loyola, and these seven men were among the first members of the Society of Jesus that he founded four years later. Father Faber, born in Savoy in 1506, had come to Paris as a promising young student of twenty. Entered in Saint Barbara College, he had Francis Xavier, another of the seven, as a roommate. In the autumn of 1529, Ignatius, the former soldier of Pamplona, joined them at the College and Peter was assigned as tutor in philosophy to this retarded student who found academic subjects difficult to master. This was one case however where the instructor learned more than the pupil; Ignatius: who had turned from military life to a passionate seeking after God, so inspired young Faber that he decided on the priesthood as a career. His ordination early in 1534 was the first among the group of seven.
The first project of Loyola and his followers, after they had received their degrees in Paris, was a pilgrimage to Palestine, but when this became impossible because of the Turkish war, they placed themselves at the disposal of Pope Paul III for whatever work he might want them to do. For Father Faber, with his intellectual abilities and as the only priest of the group, this meant first a period of teaching and preaching in Rome. The Society of Jesus became a reality in 1540 by the formal approval of Pope Paul III. Peter continued to receive his assignments from the pope, for his theological learning and his holiness made him a valuable spokesman against the heretics. He had a series of confrontations at Worms and Ratisbon in 1540 and 1541 and at Spires and Mainz in 1542 and 1543 with the leading Protestant theologians, with whom he had to argue the religious issues of the day. Although he did this brilliantly, he realized that the evils of the Lutheran heresy could not be cured merely by holding debates with Protestants; terrible corruption at the heart of Christianity had prepared the way for the “reformers,” and the situation could be remedied only by the return of the Catholic clergy and laity to a better practice of their faith. Father Faber felt that the best way to accomplish this was through the spirit of Ignatius, especially as found in his Spiritual Exercises. For the few remaining years of his life Saint Peter preached the ideals of Ignatian spirituality in Germany, Spain, and Portugal. Everywhere he went he accomplished reform, at the same time winning sympathy for the Society of Jesus. At Mainz he won for the Society the young Peter Canisius, future saint and Doctor of the Church.
In 1546 Pope Paul III summoned Father Faber to attend the Council of Trent as his personal theologian. The long, hard journey from Spain was too much for the overworked priest, and on August 1, having got as far as Rome, he died in the arms of Saint Ignatius. One of the most valuable remembrances of Father Faber is his Memoriale, or spiritual diary, in which the growth of his noble soul and the depth of his interior life are revealed through his humble and moving comments on everyday events.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 450-452. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Abbess and Virgin (c 1194-1253)
The history of Saint Clare, who was born in Assisi in 1194, does not really begin until she was about 15 years old, when she first saw and heard the future saint, Francis Bernardone, after his conversion. Clare was a beautiful blond girl, a member of the wealthy and aristocratic Offreduccio family, and her relatives seem to have been arranging a marriage for her at the time. Whatever attention she might have been giving to this project vanished, for she decided to serve God under the direction of Francis. This young man, formerly one of the town’s gayest blades, now a ragged, unshaven beggar-monk, spoke with such joy to the people of Assisi about his new love, “Lady Poverty,” that many, like Clare, resolved to join him in his way of life.
She met Francis privately, was encouraged in her decision by him, and on Palm Sunday of the year 1212 took the decisive step. In the evening she slipped out of her home and hurried by torchlight to the small chapel of the Portiuncula, where Francis and his men lived. There, after Francis cut off her long, golden hair and gave her a rough woolen gown to wear, she took the vows of religious life and put herself under his direction. He first placed her in a convent of Benedictine nuns; then when the family uproar over her action died down, placed her, together with a few other women who had chosen the same life, in their own convent near the Church of San Damiano. This was the beginning of the Second Order of Saint Francis, the Order of Poor Ladies or ”Poor Clares” as they came to be called. In 1215 Francis made Clare abbess of the convent, a position she retained until her death nearly forty years later.
Her years in the convent were strictly cloistered, and we have little information about them; there are stories about her saving both the convent and Assisi itself from pillaging soldiers, by praying with her nuns and displaying a monstrance with the sacred host in it at the convent gates (in pictures she is often shown holding a monstrance); but such events, if they did happen, had little significance in her life. More important to her than anything else was an inflexible adherence to the ideal of evangelical poverty that she had learned from Francis.
“Evangelical poverty” was a dignified label for a hard, humiliating way of life. To own nothing, to depend on the charity of others for the necessities of life–this was either madness or shameful laziness according to the popular viewpoint. Despite the impact made by Saint Francis on his time, poverty as a way of life seemed no more attractive to most men than it does now. The pressure of public opinion forced his own order into compromises with ownership that he never entirely approved, and after his death in 1226, Clare faced similar demands for more “reasonable” standards in her religious life.
In 1219 Cardinal Ugolino, a friend of Francis, had drawn up the first rule for the Order of Poor Ladies (Francis himself never gave the order a rule) and in it had said nothing about the ideal of absolute poverty. When Ugolino later became Pope Gregory IX, and rather pointedly offered to dispense Clare from her vow of strict poverty, she replied, ”I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” In 1228 she obtained a concession from the same pope: the right not to be forced by anyone to accept possessions! Common ownership of property was accepted by other convents of the growing order, however, and the principle was even embodied in a revision of the rule approved by Innocent IV in 1247. Clare still kept fighting for a rule that would prohibit all ownership of property, and finally, two days before her death, obtained such a rule for San Damiano from Innocent IV. This difference of opinion on the question of property ownership has kept the Poor Clares, just as it has the other Franciscans, divided into different groups throughout their history.
Clare’s constant effort was to remain faithful to the example of “her holy father, Francis.” All her life she lived the Franciscan spirit with a devotion unmatched by anyone except the·Poverello himself. With her nuns at San Damiano she carried on an obscure, dedicated, and profoundly humble existence; they wore nothing on their feet, slept on the ground, never ate meat, talked only when necessity demanded it. The physical suffering that filled the last twenty-seven years of Clare’s life she accepted joyfully as another means to unite herself more closely to God. Before she died in 1253, after a long and agonizing illness, among the last things she said was, ”God be blessed for having created me!” Her funeral was presided over by Pope Innocent IV, who had to be dissuaded from declaring her a saint on the spot! Canonization was not long in coming, however, taking place two years later under Pope Alexander IV. Clare’s body was buried in a church dedicated to her at Assisi, and her bones are still venerated there.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 452-455. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Queen and Holy Woman (518-587)
Violence and brutality mark the first part of Saint Radegunde’s life; peace and serenity her last years. Shortly after her birth in 518, her father, King Berthaire of Thuringia in Germany, was assassinated by his brother, and Radegunde was sent to live in the murderer’s household. In 531 Clotaire, the king of the Franks, conquered Thuringia and carried away a number of captives, Radegunde among them. She was a pretty girl, and this pleased Clotaire, a man who was “sensual and a brute,” in the unvarnished words of one biographer. When she was eighteen Radegunde was forced to become Clotaire’s wife. (At least four other women held this position, one of them perhaps at the same time as Radegunde.) She was a good wife, which means that she put up with Clotaire’s abuse without complaint, and she was also a good queen: besides praying long hours for her people, she performed many charities among them, such as building a large leper hospital and working in it herself. Clotaire’s only comment about these activities was to grumble: “It seems that I’ve married a nun instead of a queen!”
Radegunde endured her situation for six years, until a final outrage drove her from her husband: Clotaire executed her brother, who had been living at court, in reprisal for a Thuringian uprising against the Frankish rule. She went to Clotaire after this atrocity and asked his permission to retire from court; when he agreed, she fled to the city of Noyon and asked the bishop there, Saint Medard, to allow her to enter the religious life. After some hesitation (he knew how Clotaire might react to such a step), Medard consecrated Radegunde a “deaconess,” that is, a religious, in 544. After some wandering, the saint stopped at Poitiers, where she built a large double monastery for monks and nuns and entered it herself. She had gone through experiences that would certainly have broken a lesser person, but now she turned calmly to a long, fruitful period of religious activity.
Radegunde knew Latin and a little Greek, and under her influence Poitiers became something of a center of learning. About 567 the famous poet and future saint, Venantius Fortunatus, settled there and was ordained a priest. He and Radegunde became the best of friends, one of their most charming customs being the frequent exchange of presents: delicacies from the convent kitchen on Radegunde’s part, and poems thanking her for them from Fortunatus. In 569, when the emperor Justin sent Radegunde a relic of the true cross from Constantinople, Fortunatus composed two of his best and most popular hymns, the Vexilla regis prodeunt and the Pange lingua (not to be confused with Saint Thomas Aquinas’ hymn of the same name). For many years Radegunde lived quietly with her nuns–some two hundred of them eventually–helping them lead good lives in the cloister, and sometimes, it is said, miraculously curing their illnesses. Radegunde died in 587; sometime later her friend Fortunatus wrote her biography, one of our chief sources of information about her.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 455-457. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Bishop and Martyr ( -389)
The fourth century saw the gradual triumph of Christianity over paganism in the Roman Empire. Constantine’s edict of toleration in 313 left the official paganism the state unharmed, but in the time of Gratian (375-382), who was himself a Catholic, the privileges of the pagan priesthood were abolished and the properties of the temples confiscated. A further step was taken by Theodosius, when he sent imperial wrecking crews throughout the East to demolish pagan temples. At this time Saint Marcellus was bishop of Apamaea in Syria.
When one of the crews came to Apamaea, in 388, to demolish its large temple of Zeus, the solid construction of the building thwarted the attempt. The situation seemed hopeless, but an unidentified workman came to Marcellus and offered to do the work–if paid double for his time. The bishop agreed, and the man set about replacing the foundations of the temple’s pillars with wooden supports; he then set fire to the wood, and the building came crashing down. Marcellus thought this a fine wrecking technique and began applying it to other temples in the neighborhood. All went well until he came to the town of Aulona in 389; the pagans there had no intention of seeing their temple in ruins and attacked the Christians as soon as they appeared. Marcellus, who “suffered from gout and so was not able either to fight or to run away,” was captured and burned alive. His sons (he had once been married) wanted to avenge his death, but were persuaded that a martyr should not have such un-Christian action taken on his behalf.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 457-458. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Martyr (3rd Century)
Anyone who has read Cardinal Wiseman’s novel Fabiola may remember Tarsicius, the heroic boy who carried the Blessed Sacrament to Christians in the Roman prisons, and who one day was murdered by a mob of furious pagans because he tried to save the Eucharist from profanation at their hands. This use of the saint in fiction, along with increased devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in recent times, has given Tarsicius wide popularity. Still, we know no more about him than what is related in a fourth-century poem written by Pope Damasus I (366-384), which was found inscribed on the tomb of Tarsicius in the catacombs of Saint Callistus. In his poem, the pope compares the martyr to Saint Stephen (who also died violently at the hands of a mob) and says that ”Tarsicius was carrying the mysteries of Christ, when a criminal band tried to profane them: he preferred to let himself be massacred rather than give up the body of the Savior to mad dogs.”
Tarsicius was probably martyred in the persecutions of the third century, for the tombs in Saint Callistus date from that time. There is no reason to suppose that he was either a small boy or an acolyte, as late traditions have made him. That he was a deacon seems more likely, since Damasus compares him to Stephen, who held that office, and since deacons were allowed to administer Holy Communion under certain circumstances, as Tarsicius apparently did. Whatever his age, he is a good model for Christians young or old. Good Christians know that the Blessed Sacrament–in which Christ is really present among us–calls for the greatest love and veneration and must be defended against those who would defame it.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 458-459. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Father of Our Lady (1st Century before Christ)
The lives of some saints must always remain hidden; so it is with Joachim, the husband of Saint Anne and the father of the Blessed Virgin. With no certain knowledge about him, we are forced to rely on such apocryphal documents as the Book of James, which, unlike the canonical Scriptures, often mixes fiction with fact. This Book of James tells that Joachim and Anne were a rich, childless couple living in Jerusalem and far advanced in age. When Joachim was reproached by his fellow Jews for not having “raised up seed in Israel,” he went into the desert to fast and pray, begging God to grant him a child. His wife prayed for the same blessing, and after Joachim returned to Jerusalem, their prayers were answered; Anne conceived and gave birth to a child, the girl Mary. There are other apocryphal details about the life of Joachim, but like the rest their authenticity is doubtful. The lone fact that he was the father of the mother of God makes him worthy of veneration. Joachim must have been a man wealthy in virtue to be chosen as the father of Mary, who was destined to be the mother of God’s Son.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 459-460. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Confessor (4th Century)
In the later Middle Ages, when outbreaks of the plague were frequent and dreaded occurrences, Saint Roch was widely invoked for protection against the disease. He was born in Montpellier in southern France, about the beginning of the fourteenth century, and evidently spent most of his life nursing victims of the plague. Reliable information about him is scarce, although various legends and stories have supplied him with a detailed history.
According to some of the more trustworthy of these accounts, Roch was the son of Montpellier’s governor. At the age of twenty he began a pilgrimage to Rome, after first selling his inheritance and giving the money to the poor. Finding the plague raging in all the Italian towns he passed through, he began caring for those afflicted with it. Few people at that time had the courage to face the disease, much less to help those who had it. Besides being revolting to see, the plague was swift-working, easily transmitted, and nearly always fatal. Those who contracted it frequently found themselves abandoned and left to die alone. In such a fear-stricken atmosphere, Roch went from city to city devotedly nursing those who had the disease. Often, it is said, he cured his patients simply by making the sign of the cross over them.
At Piacenza, his self-sacrifice had its inevitable result; he became afflicted with the plague himself. Knowing from experience how others would react to his condition, he went to a nearby forest to die quietly and alone. The legends tell us, however, that he was kept alive by a dog bringing him a loaf of bread every day. The dog’s master followed it on one occasion, found Roch, and cared for him until he recovered. After more work among the plague-stricken, Roch finally returned to Montpellier, many years after he had left there. The city was engaged in war, and Roch, whom no one recognized, was taken for a spy and thrown into prison. He died there, still unrecognized, five years later. When his body was examined after his death, a cross-shaped birthmark on his breast enabled him to be identified as the governor’s son. One evidence of the widespread devotion to Roch are the many paintings of him; he is usually shown with a pilgrim’s staff, a dog at his feet, and a sore–the mark of the plague-showing on his thigh.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 460-462. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Confessor (c 1185-1257)
Saint Hyacinth has a curious name; one, in fact, might not approve, since it was never his. In his native he was known as Jacko, a familiar form of the name John. When members of his order came to write his life turned the “Jacko” into the Latin Jacinctus, and this, in into the similar sounding Hyacinthus, a term whose bible associations were perhaps thought to make it suitable for saint. So much for the name; the man behind it, although have only the barest outline of his life, was quite an extraordinary person. Born in Poland about 1185, he went to Rome about 1217 and while there met Saint Dominic; so impressed was with the Spanish priest that he joined his order and back to Poland a Dominican. His uncle was bishop of Cracow, and that city was Hyacinth’s first field of activity. He founded the Dominican monastery of the Holy Trinity and began a preaching campaign that did wonders for the city’s spicuously corrupt moral life. After his success in Cracow, he went on a preaching tour of all the chief Polish cities and then began a long missionary journey to the north.
Going through areas that were on the fringes of Christian Europe–Prussia, Pomerania, Lithuania, and Scandinavia-Hyacinth preached the faith and, to keep it alive when he left, founded house after house of Dominican friars. Turning south after this, he came to Ruthenia and the Ukraine, territories teeming with half-barbarous peoples, some of them Christian, a larger number pagan. Many of the Christians had fallen prey to the Greek schism, and Hyacinth tried to reunite them with Rome, but the results were not encouraging. Finally, after a short trip into Russia (he established another Dominican house at Kiev), Hyacinth returned to Cracow.
His respite from travel was a short one, however, and in 1239 he was back on the road. He began his second trip with a return to the northern regions, then once more turned southward. The Danube area, with its fierce bands of roving Cuman Tartars, was his goal. When he reached it, he employed his brilliant talents as a preacher again and made many converts, including one of the Tartar princes. Hyacinth was an old man by now, and worn out from years of travel, but still he gave himself no rest. After leaving the Tartars, he preached his way back to Cracow, leaving, as usual, a trail of Dominican foundations behind him.
This return was his final one; the “Apostle of the North” was to make no more missionary trips. Hyacinth died in Cracow on the Feast of the Assumption, 1257. Besides his other accomplishments, he is said to have performed many miracles during his life, including walking on the water several times. One of the extraordinary events of his life-a vision of the Blessed Virgin–has been represented in a painting by El Greco.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 462-463. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Empress and Holy Woman (c 249 – c 330)
Saint Helena was once thought to be the daughter of none other than “Old King Cole” (who was a real king: Coel of Caercolvin in Britain), but later scholars have given her a humbler origin: that of an innkeeper’s daughter at Drepanum in Bithynia (modern Turkey). She was born in this remote place about 249, and left it, dramatically, some twenty years later, when a certain Constantius Chlorus, a Roman general passing through the area, fell in love with her and made her his wife. Helena gave birth to a son, Constantine, and Constantius was a good husband–as long as this was convenient for him. It ceased being so in 293, when he was made caesar, or ruler, in Gaul, Spain, and Britain, and began to feel the embarrassment of having a woman of humble birth for a wife. His solution to the dilemma was to divorce Helena and marry Theodora, Emperor Maximian’s step aughter.
Thrust into the background by his action, Helena could do little in the next years except to cultivate patience and to hope for the good fortune of her son. She had no need for worries on this score, since Constantine’s fortunes were very good indeed; he succeeded his father in 306 and by 312, after years of scheming and fighting, he was established as the emperor of the Western Roman Empire. The story of his vision of a cross in the sky before his climactic battle that year with Maxentius is a familiar one; fighting and conquering under the sign of the cross, Constantine went on to inaugurate a policy of official toleration toward Christianity. A dutiful son, he brought his mother to Rome, gave her a palace to live in, and bestowed the title of empress on her. It was only now that she became a Christian, and ancient historians claim that Constantine was the one to convert her. This seems doubtful, however, considering his own habits (assassinating members of his family for political purposes did not bother him) and the fact that he delayed his own baptism until his deathbed.
In 324, when Constantine conquered the Eastern Empire, Helena seized the opportunity to leave for Palestine. She traveled slowly, undoubtedly happy to be out of Rome’s poisonous atmosphere of scandal and intrigue. She had wide powers as empress, and a succession of favors poured from her hands: money for the poor, freedom for the slaves in the imperial mines, special privileges for cities and private citizens.
When Helena arrived in Palestine, she assisted the bishop of Jerusalem, Macarius, in work that had been authorized by Constantine, clearing the sites of the Holy Places and building churches on them to commemorate the events in the life of Christ. Two large basilicas–one at Bethlehem and the other on the Mount of Olives–were erected at Helena’s direction; whether or not she actually found the true cross in the course of this work is impossible to determine. The tradition ascribing this discovery to her began about sixty years after her death; writers of her own time and immediately after are silent on the question. The cross, at any rate, was discovered by someone about her own time, and she may very well have been the one who found it.
Helena stayed in Palestine the rest of her life, never returning to the imperial court. She became a familiar figure in the churches and Holy Places, plainly dressed and praying with devotion. About 330 Helena died, praised by all for her charity, her prudence, and her piety. The Christian world owes much to her imperial power and her beneficent influence over her son.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 464-466. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint John Eudes
Seventeenth-century France was in a deplorable state. The wars of religion in the previous century and the inroads of Protestantism had brought the practice of religion, already weakened by long-standing abuses, to an almost hopeless state. Churches were deserted and uncared for; religious practices had given way to magic and superstition among large groups of the faithful; the clergy as a whole was ignorant and often corrupt. It was a sad period, but it had its saints and in their hands lay the fate of Christian France: Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint John Francis Regis, Saint Peter Fourrier, Saint John Eudes, and other zealous apostles. Preaching, works of charity, and the education of the clergy were the great means of revival.
Saint John Eudes’ field of action was Normandy and he easily found his way to the hearts of the people. A man of noble and majestic appearance, with a sonorous voice, an expressive face, an astonishing facility with words, Father Eudes was the finest preacher in France. He conducted no less than 110 parish missions, most of which lasted a month and a half or longer. But preaching was not his only activity. He also founded, in 1641, the community of Sisters of Refuge to provide homes for women who had lived sinfully but who wished to do penance, and from 1640 was in the midst of the complications of founding an ecclesiastical society for the education of the clergy, the Society of Jesus and Mary.
It was during the formation of this society that Father Eudes first advocated the devotion that was an answer to the worst enemy of all, the vicious heresy of Jansenism: the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Preaching several years before the revelations of Saint Margaret Mary, he was “the institutor of the liturgical cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Holy Heart of Mary,” as Pope Leo XIII described him in 1903.
His parents, Isaac Eudes and Martha Corbin, were devout farm people of the town of Ri in Normandy. John, the eldest of their six children, was given an excellent education. After graduating from the Jesuit college at Caen in 1621, he was accepted in the Congregation of the Oratory of France in 1623. Here also he was very fortunate, for he was placed under the direction of two of the finest educators in France, Father Pierre de Berulle, the founder of the congregation, and later, Father de Condren, the future director.
Ordained on December 20, 1625, John endeared himself to the diocese by his heroic work during a plague, and soon became renowned for his extraordinary gifts as a missionpreacher.
The single little house John rented in 1641 as a refuge for repentant women, under the direction of the Visitandine nuns of Caen, grew to become an order in its own right in 1650. Today it comprises the order known as the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of Refuge, and its daughter order, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, with refuges and homes throughout the world.
Most of all, however, Father Eudes realized that there was need of better education for the clergy. Therefore, in 1643, after much consultation with his superiors, he severed his connection with the Oratorians to establish a society of secular priests dedicated to the erection and administration of diocesan seminaries. Father Eudes felt that the seminaries would be more useful if they were under the direct authority of the bishop of each diocese and open to all candidates for the priesthood. He prescribed special devotion to the hearts of Jesus and Mary, and the men trained in his seminaries contributed to the downfall of Jansenism.
John’s earthly life ended on August 19, 1680, but his deeds are still effective in the works of his two foundations and his many writings on devotion to the hearts of Jesus and Mary.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 466-468. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
King and Martyr (- 651)
Most of what we know of Saint Oswin comes to us from the writings of Saint Bede the Venerable. Oswin’s father was king of Diera, an Anglian kingdom in northern Britain, and when he was killed by Cadwalla in 634, Oswin was sent to Wessex for safety, and it was there that he was baptized and educated. In 642, Oswin returned to his kingdom and began his rule. For nine years he governed his land and brought it prosperity and a reign based on prudence and justice. He was a much-loved monarch and Saint Bede tells us he was tall, good-looking, liberal and affable to all, especially to the poor, sober at table, modest and most devout.
As an example of his humility, Bede relates an episode that involved Oswin and the bishop, Saint Aidan. Oswin had given the bishop a fine horse with rich harness. Soon after he had been given this present, the bishop met a beggar who asked for alms. Not having any money, Aidan gave the beggar the horse. The next time he was in the presence of the king, Oswin asked him why he had chosen to give away so fine an animal as that, and told Aidan that he, the king, had horses of less value and other presents that would satisfy the bishop’s desire to give alms. Aidan answered, “Is then, O king, a colt or a mare of more value in your eyes than a son of God?” After reflecting on the bishop’s words, Oswin took off his sword and cast himself at the feet of Aidan, begging his forgiveness for having found fault with his almsgiving, and promising that he would never again question what the bishop might give to the poor. Soon after, Aidan appeared sorrowful and remarked to his attendants that he was sure such a virtuous ruler as Oswin would not live long, for the nation was not worthy of such a king.
What he had predicted became a reality. Oswin’s cousin, Oswy, king of Bernicia, became jealous and declared a state of open warfare. Bede tells us that Oswin, who hated bloodshed, prudently dismissed his army and retired to a town called Gilling, near Richmond in Yorkshire. He hoped that he could remain hidden here and that Oswy, content stealing his kingdom, would allow him to live in peace. Oswy feared that, as long as the popular and beloved was allowed to live, his usurpation of Oswin’s throne not be maintained. He ordered that Oswin be hunted and killed. The earl of Hunwald, with whom Oswin staying at Gilling, treacherously betrayed the king. Oswin saw the castle surrounded with soldiers, he himself for death, and only begged that the life of his be spared. His entreaty was in vain, for both he and servant were murdered and buried at Gilling.
Queen Eanfleda, the wife of Oswy, with her husband’s permission, founded a monastery at Gilling. This monastery was destroyed in later years by the Danes, but not before body of Oswin, whose shrine had become famous for miracles was removed to Tynemouth. During the troublesome times the Danish invasions, the body of Oswin was lost. In 1065 however, a layman of Tynemouth, aided by a vision, discovered it, and it was again enshrined.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 468-470. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Abbot, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (1090-1153)
Mothers hid their sons; wives locked up their husbands. Bernard of Fontaines, France, was going to a monastery, half the men in the area seemed determined to go with him. A week ago he hadn’t even been certain about his own vocation, but now he seemed to be directing everyone else’s. Five of his brothers had sought to dissuade him, and now four of them were going with him. An uncle came to the same decision, as did friend after friend. Only the youngest brother was left to care for their father, and later both father and son entered the monastery where Bernard was abbot.
Six months later the group arrived at the monastery at Citeaux. Saint Stephen Harding, who had not had a novice in several years, was undoubtedly a bit startled when thirtyone young men presented themselves and begged to be admitted, but he welcomed them with open arms. It was the year 1112, and Bernard was exactly twenty-two years old.
In the next two years two new monasteries developed from Citeaux, but still the monastery was overcrowded. Aware of the spiritual progress and zeal of Bernard, Saint Stephen put a cross in his hand, appointed him abbot, and sent him with twelve other monks to found a new house in Champagne. The land which had been donated was a dreary valley called Absinthe, ”wormwood.” The monks cleared it, built a house, and renamed the place Clairvaux, “bright valley.” In a few years Clairvaux was renowned as the first among the monasteries of France in its strict observance, in its discipline, and in its sanctity. Novices came from everywhere. In spite of the rugged environment of the valley, the monastery was soon crowded, and it became necessary to establish new houses which, in turn, developed still other monasteries, so that in his lifetime Bernard saw sixty-six houses spring from Clairvaux.
By the time he was thirty, Bernard was looked to as one of the wise men of Europe. He was often called upon to arbitrate in civil as well as in religious disputes and discussions. In 1119 he was invited to take part in the first general chapter of the Cistercian order. In 1120 he composed the first of the many religious works that were to earn him the title of Doctor of the Church, and in 1128 he was invited to assist at the Council of Troyes.
In 1130 a schism occurred. Two popes, Innocent II and Anacletus II, were elected by two groups of cardinals. Emperors and kings took sides and the world was in turmoil. At a national council of French bishops in Etampes, Bernard was appointed judge in the controversy and decided in favor of Innocent II. It was partly through Bernard’s influence as he campaigned for Innocent in France and Germany that the true pope finally, after much hardship, won the allegiance of all the Christian princes and took his rightful place in Rome.
In our day, much interest has been directed at the controversy between Bernard and Abelard. If Bernard was the most eloquent and influential man of the times, Abelard was the most brilliant. Peter Abelard was a theologian, a philosopher, a teacher whose scholarly methods marked a turning point in the intellectual life of the Middle Ages. He was a man confident in his ability, whom Bernard regarded as scornful of authority and tradition. Yet he once burned some writings which Bernard convinced him were dangerous. However, as his popularity increased, so did Bernard’s uneasiness concerning his orthodoxy, and after a public debate with Bernard before an assembly of bishops Abelard retracted those of his writings that were condemned.
Having spent so many years away from his beloved monastery in France, giving counsel to Pope Innocent II, Bernard had hoped that he might, after the pontiff became firmly established, have the solitude he so earnestly desired. This was to be denied him. Only eighteen months after the death of Innocent II, one of his own monks, Peter Bernard of Pisa, was elected pope and became Blessed Eugenius III. A shy, retiring man, not suited to the business that the papacy entailed, he looked to Bernard for aid and advice. Bernard’s longest and most important work was the Book of Consideration, written to guide his former subject and impress upon him the duties of his office. It has been considered a model for popes ever since.
It has been said that Bernard ”carried the twelfth century on his back, but not without suffering.” Perhaps his deepest sorrow came in the failure of the Second Crusade. Since he had encouraged the Crusade by miracles as well as by sermons, many blamed him for its failure. They seemed to think that, in spite of the immorality of the armies and the political intrigues of the leaders of the troops, God owed them victory. Bernard answered the critics simply: “How is it that the rashness of mortals dares reprove what they cannot understand?”
In 1150 Bernard himself was elected to lead another Crusade, but the project never materialized, and shortly after, Bernard was struck with the last of the many illnesses that had afflicted him in his lifetime. He received the last sacraments with his monks gathered about him, and seeing their tears he tried to comfort them by saying that the unprofitable servant should not occupy a place uselessly and that it was necessary for the barren tree to be rooted up. He was torn between his love of his spiritual children and his desire to be united forever with Christ. “I am straitened between two,” he cried, “and what to choose I know not. I leave it to the Lord; let Him decide. “On August 20, 1153, at the age of sixty-three, he died at Clairvaux, which had for so long been his home. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1174 and was declared Doctor of the Church in 1830.
Today, we do not so much remember him as an arbitrator, or avenging preacher, or worker of miracles. We remember him first of all as a writer, a teacher of the Church, “Honey-sweet Doctor.” The source of Bernard’s strength was his devotion to the humanity of Christ and His Passion. He wrote, in his Sermons on the Canticle: “To meditate on these [the life and sufferings of Jesus Christ] I have called wisdom; in these I have placed the perfection of righteousness for me, the fullness of knowledge, the abundance of the riches of salvation. There is among them for me sometimes a draught of salutary bitterness, sometimes, again, a sweet unction of consolation. In adversities they raise me and in prosperity repress my exuberant delight …. It is for these reasons that I have them frequently in my mouth, as you know, and always in my heart, as God knows …. In a word, my philosophy is this, and it is the loftiest in the world, to know Jesus and Him crucified.”
Of all those writers given the title Doctor of the Church none has more natural appeal than Saint Bernard. We remember with awe the monk who befriended popes, inspired Crusades, and founded monasteries, but we member with love the man who wrote, “The reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of loving Him is to love Him without measure.”
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 470-474. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
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Saint Jane Frances de Chantal
Holy Woman (1572-1641)
Saint Francis de Sales said of his friend, ”In Madame de Chantal I have found the valiant woman whom Solomon had difficulty finding in Jerusalem.” Born at Dijon, France, on January 23, 1572, Jane was given in marriage by her father, Benigne Fremiot, to the Baron de Chantal when she was twenty years of age. So deeply did she love her husband, so well care for his castle at Bourbilly, so carefully and lovingly rear their children, that she could indeed be compared to the valiant woman of Scripture.
But what will become of the valiant woman if her husband is taken from her and her household disrupted? Through a tragic hunting accident, Jane de Chantal was left a widow at the age of twenty-eight. Yet she who could have been filled with bitterness avoided it completely. So perfectly did she forgive the man who had misfired his gun that they remained friends and she became godmother to one of his children. So humbly did she accept her misfortunes that she even expressed surprise at herself.
Jane made a vow of perpetual chastity and went with her children to live with her father. The atmosphere in that home was warm and friendly, but she soon realized that it was too far from Bourbilly for her properly to protect the interests and property of her children.
Therefore Jane went to live with her father-in-law, an irritable old man completely under the influence of his immoral housekeeper. There she lived humbly for seven years, serving the old man, giving most qf her wealth to the poor, and caring for her children.
During Lent in 1604, while visiting her father, Jane met a preacher whom she had previously seen in a vision, and learned that his name was Francis de Sales. She immediately chose him for her spiritual adviser. Without ever disturbing her family or seeming to be different, Jane took up a life of prayer and asceticism. She fasted continually, rose at five each morning to have time for prayer before the work of each day, and offered her daily fulfillment of the duties of mother and daughter as a constant prayer. So perfectly did she fulfill those duties that even the attitude of her father-in law eventually changed in her favor.
After her children reached an age when they no longer needed her undivided attention, Jane began to think of entering a convent. Consulting with Saint Francis de Sales, she readily agreed to accept the responsibility of founding a new order which Francis felt was needed. It was to be an order for women who, because of age or ill-health, could not enter the existing orders.
After giving her eldest daughter in marriage, and placing her son under tutors, Jane went with her two younger daughters and two other women to a house on the edge of the lake at Annecy, where, on Trinity Sunday of 1610, she was the first to take vows the new Order of the Visitation of Our Lady. At first there was opposition to the order, as there often is to new ideas. However, there was real need for a convent for older women, and the order grew steadily.
The affairs of her children and the settlement of her father’s estate obliged Jane to leave Annecy several times. These duties settled, she spent the remainder of her life in the cloister, where her reputation for sanctity became wide spread. Queens, princes, and princesses flocked to her for guidance. When Saint Francis de Sales died in 1622, there were thirteen houses of the Visitation, and when Jane herself died, on December I3, 1641, there were eighty-six. The order still continued to expand and at the time of her canonization there were 164 Visitation convents.
Jane Frances de Chantal is a saint who can serve as a model for every state in life. She lived as a married woman, giving devotion and care to her husband and children. She followed the single state as a widow, bearing humbly her burden of loneliness and responsibility. She lived the religious life, rising to the heights of contemplation, yet always having time to give service to others.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 474-477. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed William Lacey
A wealthy lawyer in the north of England, a married man with a family, William Lacey was in no position to become involved in controversy. Yet involved he became. In 1565, after meeting Doctor (afterwards Cardinal) William Allen, he openly joined the Catholic cause.
Lacey immediately lost his position. For fourteen years he suffered poverty and persecution, nobly comforted and aided by his wife. They were repeatedly fined and investigated, and William was once imprisoned. At last they were forced to flee their home and were hunted from place to place. At last, Mrs. Lacey collapsed under the strain and died just as she was about to be arrested.
In the next year, 1580, Lacey departed to the Continent, where he studied for the priesthood and was ordained. Arriving in England in the spring 1581, he was destined to work only twelve months for the Catholics of his native Yorkshire.
While he was assisting as a deacon at high Mass in the prison of York Castle (guards often accepted bribes to allow priests to offer Mass), the alarm was sounded and Lacey was captured. He was put in solitary confinement in irons for three weeks and then brought to trial. Although it was not, at that time, high treason for a priest to come into the country, Lacey was condemned for refusing to recognize the queen as head of the Church.
Lacey was respected in the community, and some of the gentry tried to have him pardoned. They probably would have succeeded except for the influence of the secretary of the queen’s Council of the North, who was determined to see him executed. On August 22, 1582, William Lacey was hanged, drawn, and quartered just outside the city of York.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 477-478. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Philip Benizi
Saints are often pictured, with good but misguided intention, as imperturbable, tractable, conventional creatures. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are the truly unconventional, because they do not follow the ways of the world.
Take Philip Benizi as an example. General of the Servite order, directing his monks, living a life of prayer and work, he seemed a perfect model of conventionalism. Yet one day in 1269 he took refuge in a cave. The reason? The College of Cardinals wanted to elect him pope, and he did not feel that God meant him to be pope. When convinced that they are right, the saints can be most stubborn. Philip remained in his cave for three months, until the cardinals had elected another as pope.
It was not the first time Philip had chosen an unconventional means to remain uncelebrated. The noble Florentine family into which he had been born had provided him with the finest of educations. He was a doctor of medicine and philosophy when he was nineteen years old. Yet in 1254, when he decided that his vocation was to religious life, he offered himself to the Servites as an uneducated man wishing to be a lay brother.
Philip worked as a gardener at Monte Senario for four years until his background was accidentally discovered. It was only at the command of his superior to put his learning to use that Philip allowed himself to be ordained in 1259. From that time forward his hopes of living an obscure life of prayer were over. Promotions came quickly. He traveled as assistant to Saint Buonfiglio Monaldi, one of the founders, until he was appointed novice master at Siena in 1261. Four months later he was made one of the four vicars of the order, and in 1267 a chapter of the entire order was held at which, in spite of his protests, Philip was unanimously elected to the generalship.
Again Philip proved that saints are not lacking in initiative. After he codified the rules and constitutions of the Servite order, and after his voluntary exile in the hidden cave, Philip returned from the desert burning with zeal. Appointing a vicar general to govern his order, he left with two other friars on an extensive mission, preaching throughout France and Germany. He converted many, arbitrated between warring factions, established the order in Germany, and attended the Second Council of Lyons.
In Italy the strife between Guelfs and Ghibellines had intensified, and Saint Phllip, commissioned by Pope Nicholas III, returned there in 1279. At Pistoia and other places he made peace. At Forti, he was beaten and insulted, but eventually disarmed the men’s fury and by his patience vanquished them. Peregrine Laziosi, who was the leader of the mob and had himself struck the saint, was so overcome by remorse that he threw himself at Philip’s feet and begged forgiveness. Peregrine was received into the Servites, and so complete was his conversion that he was eventually canonized.
Throughout his life Philip Benizi worked for the sanctity of the men within his order. He helped Saint Juliana Falconieri found the third order of Servites (Mantellate Sisters), and he was responsible for sending the first Servite missionaries to the East.
In 1285, broken in health and realizing that his life was drawing to a close, he made a last visit to each of his monasteries. That year, at the monastery of Todi, after bidding the community: “Love one another, reverence one another, and bear with one another,” he died.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 478-480. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Apostle (New Testament)
We know only one thing about Bartholomew. He was of the twelve apostles. He followed our Lord, sat at His feet, listened to His parables, learned from Him directly. He was one of those twelve pillars upon which the Church was built.
We do not even know his given name; Bartholomew merely means “son of Tolmai.” Many biblical believe he is the Nathanael, a native of Cana in Galilee, of whom our Lord said, “Behold a true Israelite in whom there is no guile!” (John 1:47).
Early writings tell us that Bartholomew planted the faith in India. To the early writers, however, India meant any of a number of places outside the Roman Empire-Arabia, Ethiopia, Libya, Parthia, or Persia. Most likely his teaching took place in Ethiopia or Arabia, or both. He left home, family, and possessions to follow Christ. Fired with that zeal that assured the expansion of the early Church, he went into strange lands with neither worldly learning nor material assistance, his only wealth being a deep love of his Redeemer and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
Bartholomew is the patron saint of Armenia, and it is a tradition that he died there. How fitting a place for Bartholomew to have begun the work of the Church! There it was that the Ark came to rest. There it was that the dove of peace carried its olive branch to humanity. There the gospel of the Prince of Peace should, from the beginning, have been presented to humanity.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 480-481. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Louis IX
King and Confessor (1215-1270)
Louis IX of France, king, crusader, saint; what a world of romance and adventure surrounds the name! He stands with King Arthur and Richard the Lion-Hearted as a hero of the days of knighthood. Yet he also stands with Joan of Arc as a saint of France.
Born at Poissy on April 25, 1215, Louis was the son of King Louis VIII, and his mother was Blanche of Castile. Since his father died when he was only eleven years old, Queen Blanche was his regent. It was she who instilled in him a desire for holiness and a horror of sin, declaring she would rather see him die than commit a mortal sin. It was she who battled certain feudal lords of the kingdom who sought to take advantage of their king’s youth. These lords had banded into a confederation and made extravagant demands, but with the help of allies, Blanche overcame them in the field. She could be fierce in the defense of her son’s inheritance.
Louis married when he was nineteen and two years later took over the rule of his kingdom from Queen Blanche. He never forgot the teachings of his mother nor did he fail throughout the whole of his life to pray frequently (especially the Divine Office), to fast and perform other acts of penance and self-denial, and to follow the ideals he had adopted as a Franciscan tertiary. His friend and biographer, Jean de Joinville, relates that never in the twenty-two years he knew him had Louis ever been heard to use profane language.
This same biographer tells us of an incident that has ever since stood as a symbol of Saint Louis’ entire life. The king and Joinville were talking one day of leprosy, not an uncommon topic of conversation in the thirteenth century. Both had seen the disease many times, both at home and during the Crusades. Joinville declared that his horror of leprosy was such that he would prefer to commit thirty mortal sins than to become a leper. Louis gently reproved him, asserting that he would become a leper thirty times over rather than commit one mortal sin.
As a king, Louis was necessarily concerned with the virtue of justice. It was with fear and trembling that he had taken up the role of monarch. He did not take his obligations lightly, but remembered well the words of Scripture, ”He has put down the mighty from their thrones.” He continually fought against abuses, not hesitating to punish nobles as well as those less powerful. He forbade lay investiture, simony, and usury, and sternly punished lords who oppressed their vassals.
In December of the year 1244, the king became violently ill, and it was thought that he would die. After a sudden and perhaps miraculous recovery, Louis vowed he would lead a crusade to the Holy Land. Mother and wife wept, and the bishops of Paris and Meaux tried to deter him; but he was not to be dissuaded. After three and a half years of opposition and preparation, he left for Cyprus. His wife and three brothers accompanied him; his mother remained as regent.
Louis’ destination was Egypt, whose sultan had captured Palestine. The city of Damietta on the Nile was easily captured, on June 7, 1249, and Louis made a solemn entry into the city. He came, not with pomp, but with the humility of a truly Christian prince, walking barefoot, in religious procession. After the annual flooding of the Nile, Louis’ army advanced across the river to attack the Saracens. Six months of fighting followed, in which the French army was scattered and Louis was taken prisoner. After much mistreatment, and even torture, the king was ransomed, together with the healthy members of his army. The sick and injured had been slain. Louis remained in Palestine, visiting the Holy Places, until 1254 when news arrived of the death of his beloved mother, the queen regent.
Returning to Paris, Louis ruled with such justice and wisdom that for centuries a dissatisfied Frenchman would call for the kind of justice of the days of King Louis IX. Louis was called upon to act as arbitrator in the feuds of other lands and was the mediator between Henry Ill of England and his barons. He endowed many religious foundations, and also the house of studies now known as the Sorbonne, which his friend Robert de Sorbon had founded in 1253. He fed hundreds of poor people in his palace every day and kept a list of needy persons from every province so he could care for those at a distance. He made the feudal “king’s court” a real tribunal of justice; proof by witness and the judicial process replaced the old trial by arms. When he sought to go to the East again, there was an uproar.
Nonetheless, on July I, 1270, Louis proceeded to Tunis with his three sons. While awaiting the arrival of his brother, the king of Sicily, dysentery struck the French army and one of Louis’ sons died. On the same day Louis and his eldest son, Philip, were stricken with the disease. On Sunday, August 24, the king received the last sacraments, and having summoned the Greek ambassadors, exhorted them to work for union with the Church. He died the following afternoon, uttering with his last breath the words of our Lord on the cross: “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 481-484. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Thomas Percy
Blessed Thomas Percy was killed for opposing a temperamental redhead. Actually, the redhead, Queen Elizabeth I, had nothing personal against Thomas; it was his religious and political views that irked her.
Thomas Percy was born in 1528, in that unfortunate era when Mary Tudor, Mary Stuart, and Elizabeth Tudor wrangled over the English throne and English religion. The senior Sir Thomas Percy had been hanged in 1537 for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a Catholic rising in the north, and Thomas inherited his zeal for the cause of Catholicism as well as the earldom of Northumberland.
When Mary Tudor ascended the throne, she installed Thomas as earl. He served her well, keeping order along the turbulent Scottish border. In 1558 he married Anne Somerset, daughter of the earl of Worcester, who shared his desire to restore Catholicism in England.
Disaster came when Elizabeth became queen. A clash was inevitable since she championed the Anglican Church; Thomas (the people of northern England were still Catholic at heart) upheld Catholicism and Mary Stuart. With another nobleman, Charles Neville, he organized forces and restored the cathedral at Durham to Catholic worship. The band marched through the north, restoring other churches and recruiting the enthusiastic people. Their success was shortlived; they were routed by Elizabeth’s forces under the earl of Sussex. The leaders of the rebellion (among them Thomas) fled to Scotland, but hundreds of the common people were hanged. Thomas was captured by the earl of Moray, the Scottish regent, and was locked up for two and a half years at Lochleven Castle. He patiently spent his time there in prayer and meditation. His wife was soliciting money in Scotland and the Netherlands to pay his ransom, but the agents of Elizabeth arrived first with the money to bring him into English custody. He was then taken to York to await execution.
After refusing repeatedly to bow to the Anglicans, Thomas was beheaded in 1572 . The people loved him, and those who witnessed his execution reverently dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, hoping to sustain their own faith by these relics of his martyrdom.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 484-486. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Joseph Calasanctius
Joseph thrived on a dream. He worked and worked, until the dream became reality. But with the fulfillment of the dream came disaster. At the time of Joseph’s death, an evil enemy had destroyed his work.
Joseph Calasanctius (in Spanish, Calasanz), was born in Aragon in 1556. Even when he was a boy he was very religious. For this trait his fellow students ridiculed him. Nor were his parents joyous when Joseph announced his desire to become a priest.
Joseph was ordained in 1583. Although he was happy working at reform and administration in the Spanish Church, an inner voice kept calling him to Rome. After nine years he went there, and for five years led a hidden life of prayer and of service in hospitals and prisons. When he saw how ignorant the children of the poor were, his true vocation in Rome became apparent to him.
In 1597 Joseph opened a free school. His project grew rapidly and before long he had established many schools. In 1617 Joseph conferred the religious habit of Clerics Regular of the Religious Schools (known as the Piarists) upon his fourteen assistants. The next year it was made a mendicant order.
Difficulties arose when a priest, Mario Sozzi, contrived to have Joseph arrested and then made himself head of the order. The Piarists and their schools were thrown into confusion. Finally an investigation by the pope served to reinstate Joseph. His joy at this was short-lived; other troublemakers arose, and the Piarists became simply a society of priests without vows. Joseph, grief-stricken at seeing his work destroyed, died shortly afterward, in 1648. He was 92 years old, and had suffered innumerable outrages with Christ-like patience and humble obedience. Immense crowds came to his funeral.
Joseph’s dream became a reality after his death. In 1669 the foundation was reconstituted as a religious order, and his ideal, the education of children, is being carried out today by the Piarists.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 486-487. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (354-430)
Saint Monica persevered in spite of the monotony–the monotony of a prayer repeated over and over for many years. The prayer was for the conversion of a sinner, and Monica had a special reason for her persistence, for the sinner was her son Augustine.
Saint Augustine was born in 354 at Tagaste, a town in North Africa known today as Souk-Aras. Although his mother taught him Christian principles, his baptism was deferred, a custom of the time. Augustine first went to school in Madaura, a city twenty miles from Tagaste. He was a poor student, not from lack of intelligence, but from lack of effort. In 370, when the boy was 17, he was sent to school at Carthage, and he soon became head of the class. He admits in his Confessions that his motive in studying was pride. His brilliant success opened up a career as teacher, and he taught at Tagaste and at Carthage.
More important in the events of Augustine’s stay at Carthage was his fall into vicious habits, swearing, impurity, and heretical thinking. He had a mistress, who later bore him a son. Heresy attracted him when he began to study philosophy. At first led to the Scriptures, he put them aside because of their unpolished style and turned instead to the Manicheans, who maintained that they could lead men to God and free them from error by reason alone. Throughout these years he was in great mental turmoil, for his thoughts kept turning to the Catholic faith and he was being driven to face its claims. Though he was still unaware of it, he wanted God more than anything else.
By 383 Augustine tired of the Manicheans, and went to Rome, where he opened a school of rhetoric. When his students failed to pay their tuition, he accepted a commission to teach in Milan. Monica followed her son to Milan and finally persuaded him to give up his mistress. But this seemed to do little good for him spiritually; he was still troubled by doubt and sin.
Saint Ambrose was bishop of Milan at the time, and Augustine often went to hear him preach, not from any interest in religious matters, but for the eloquence of the speaker. The sermons produced an effect; Augustine began to read the Bible, particularly the Epistles of Saint Paul, and became convinced of the truth of Christianity. But for Augustine, as with all men, the ascent to God was more than a matter of knowing the truth; he found it difficult to live according to its demands. There arose in him a long struggle between the intellect and the flesh, and for a time unchastity continued to overpower him.
The circumstances of his conversion were unusual. One day in September 386, as he walked in his garden with his friend Alypius, Augustine heard what he thought was a child’s voice chanting, “Take up and read.” Finding the book of Saint Paul’s Epistles open, his eyes fell on the passage: “… not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought for its lusts” (Romans 13:13-14). All hesitation was gone–his doubts had vanished. Alypius also picked up the book and found the next words: ”But him who is weak in faith, receive.” The two ran to tell Saint Monica the good news, and her joy was unbounded in finding that her prayer had at last been answered. Her son was now thirty-two.
The two friends, along with Monica, Augustine’s brother Navigius and his son Adeodatus, moved to a country home, where they prayed and studied. Augustine was solemnly baptized by Saint Ambrose on the vigil of Easter, in 387. The joyful family and friends decided to return to their native Africa but Monica died on the way. The grieving Augustine returned to Rome and sometime later went on to Tagaste, where he lived in fasting and prayer for three years with his son Adeodatus and his friend Alypius. He sold his inheritance there and gave the proceeds to the poor.
In 391 the saint made a journey to Hippo. There was a scarcity of clergy in Africa at this time, and holy men were often conscripted for the priesthood by popular demand. When the people of Hippo witnessed Augustine’s faith, they clamored for his ordination. Since he had no such desire, Augustine protested, but was at last ordained in 392 and appointed as an aide to the bishop, Valerius, whom he later succeeded. His chief duty as a priest seems to have been writing and delivering sermons–over four hundred of them are preserved.
Augustine’s life as a bishop was exemplary. He was particularly noted for his humility, but his greatest contribution to Christianity was in doctrine. The African Church was infested with heresies, and the bishop devoted himself to refuting them. He pioneered in formulating many of the basic doctrines, for example on grace, original sin, and free will.
The death of the saint occurred during the period when the Vandals, having invaded Rome, were moving on to destroy religion and culture in Africa. Augustine, in his seventy-sixth year, died a few months before Hippo was captured in 430.
One can learn much about Augustine by reading the most famous of his writings, the Confessions, in which he relates the story of his early life and conversion. It is a work characteristic of his humility, written not for the curious, nor to show how saintly Augustine was to make his sins public, but for those who would praise God’s mercy for allowing such a sinner to become a defender of His truth. The theme of the life of this “Father of the West” may be found in his own words: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!”
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 487-490. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Richard Herst
Richard Herst, a respected English yeoman in the time of Charles I, was martyred for his faith as surely as any of those early Christians who perished at the hands of pagan executioners. During a fracas with Richard’s servants, one of the men sent to arrest Richard for his Catholic loyalty fell and broke his leg–an injury from which he subsequently died. Desirous of making an example of this prominent Catholic, the Crown used the pretext of a murder charge and forced the court to deliver a verdict of guilty. Blessed Richard was offered his life in exchange for taking the oath acknowledging the religious supremacy of the king, but he refused to temporize and died, leaving his seven children the memory of his heroic constancy.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 491. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Rose of Lima
If Rose of Lima was radical for the sixteenth century, she is no less extreme according to present-day standards. In the matter of appearance, for example, while women through the ages, in her day no less than ours, have sought to enhance their beauty, Rose tried to destroy hers, fearing that such beauty might be an occasion of temptation to herself or others.
Rose was Spanish, born in Lima, Peru, in 1586. She was christened Isabel, but was known as Rose because of her soft, pink complexion. Devoted to God even in childhood, she fasted several days in the week. One day her mother tried to show off this beautiful daughter by adorning her with a garland of roses; the girl stuck a pin through the garland into her head. She learned to play the lute and to write poetry. But when a woman commented on Rose’s beautiful hands, the girl rubbed them in lime until they were so sore that she was unable to use them for a month.
Rose was penitential in her daily life, working day and night at flower-raising and embroidery to support her parents. When she was twenty she became a Dominican tertiary, and from this time on always sought to prove her love of God. She took a vow of virginity and became a recluse, living in a crude hut she had built in her garden and wearing on her head a slender silver band studded on the inner surface with thorn-like prongs. In her charity she had an ardent desire to bring Christ to the Indians of Peru, and often left her solitude to help the poor and the sick. Rose also suffered mental anguish and temptations from the devil, and was tortured by a lingering illness. Her constant prayer was, “Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Thy love in my heart.”
Saint Rose died on August 24, 1617, at the age of thirty one. Her last words were, “Jesus! Jesus! Be with me.” She was beatified in 1668 and canonized in 1671. Pope Clement X named her patroness of the Philippines and the Americas, fittingly recognizing America’s first saint as its special protector.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 491-493. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Raymond Nonnatus
Raymond was born in Catalonia, Spain, in 1204, at the time when the Moors were enslaving the Spaniards. As a boy he felt pity for his suffering countrymen, and as a young man he joined the Order of Our Lady of Mercy to help ransom captives.
When Raymond, on a mission to Algiers, had spent all the ransom money, he offered himself as a hostage to the Moors, that other slaves might be set free. Raymond not only sacrificed his liberty, but he exposed himself to torments. The Moors treated him with barbarity, stopping only because they were afraid he would die, and his death would mean money lost. Raymond made use of every opportunity to comfort Christians and convert Moslems. He had full knowledge of the punishment such activity would bring; yet he persisted, firm in the belief that saving souls was more important than preserving his own life. Consequently he was whipped and imprisoned, and his mouth was shut up with a padlock, the bow or shackle of the lock being passed through holes that were bored in his lips with a hot iron. After eight months he was ransomed, and although reluctant to leave the country where so many needed help, he departed by order of his superior.
Upon his return to Spain in 1239, Raymond was made a cardinal and called to Rome. Seized with a fever on the way, the saint died in a little town near Barcelona, at the age of thirty-six.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 493-494. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.