Saint Pamphilus Martyr (-309)
Saint Pamphilus, the greatest biblical scholar of his day, was a priest of Caesarea, a flourishing coastal city in Palestine (between present-day Haifa and Tel-Aviv), at the end of the third century. He had come there after years of study both in his native town of Berytus (modern Beirut in Lebanon) and in the schools of Alexandria in Egypt. Devoting his learning to the production of correct copies of the text of the Bible, Pamphilus became director of a biblical school that Origen had founded at Caesarea and collected a library there, a large one for the times, containing several thousand volumes. Then, of course, all “books” were actually handwritten manuscripts, and each copy was extremely valuable. Pamphilus became famous for giving away his laboriously produced volumes to anyone who showed an interest in the Scriptures. He also became noted–Christianity being new enough for its virtues to be surprising–for his brotherly treatment of slaves and dependents, his virtue of extraordinary humility, and his life of self-denial.
In 307, during a persecution of Christians by the governor of Palestine, Pamphilus was arrested, tortured, and thrown into prison. For two years no further action was taken against him; then a new governor came to Palestine and ordered the saint to be executed. In 309 Pamphilus and three other Christians–Paul, Valens, and Seleucus–were beheaded. Most of our knowledge of the saint comes from the works of one of his pupils, the Church historian Eusebius. The pupil loved his master so well that he took his name, and thus is known as Eusebius Pamphili.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 303-304. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Erasmus Martyr (-303)
Another saint who lacks a biography–Saint Erasmus, one of the many who died for Christ during Diocletian’s reign. Erasmus had been bishop of Formia, a city in the Roman Campagna. While the circumstances of his life and death are not known to us, we do know that when the Saracen invaders destroyed Formia in 842, the saint’s body was taken to Gaeta, where Erasmus is still the city’s patron. In the Middle Ages the saint was venerated as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers and was invoked as the patron of sailors. Many pictures of Erasmus (such as the famous one by Grunewald, in which Erasmus is shown with Saint Maurice, the Moorish soldier-martyr) depict him, horribly enough, with his entrails drawn out and wrapped around a windlass. There is no reason to suppose that the saint actually underwent this torture, and it has been suggested that a ship’s capstan with its coils of rope (an object similar in appearance to the windlass and a natural symbol for a patron of sailors) mistakenly came to be identified with the windlass and its gruesome wrappings.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 304. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Marcellinus, Peter and Companions Martyrs (-c 304)
Marcellinus and Peter, two of the saints commemorated in the Canon of the Mass, were among a group of Christians martyred at Rome about the year 304, during the persecution of Diocletian. We know that Marcellinus was a priest and Peter probably an exorcist, but history tells us nothing more about their lives. Sometime later in the century, the emperor Constantine the Great built a church over the tomb of the martyrs, and his mother, Saint Helena, was buried there. In 827 Pope Gregory IV sent the bodies of the saints to Eginhard, a minister of Charlemagne, as relics for the Frankish churches; still later, the remains of the saints came to a final resting place, Seligenstadt in Germany.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 305. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Clotilde Queen and Holy Woman (c 474-545)
Saint Clotide is one of the first of many Christian queens during the early Middle Ages who brought their pagan husbands to an acceptance of Christianity. Born about 474 in Lyons, she was married at Soissons in 492 or 493, to Clovis, king of the Franks. After his wedding, Clovis was friendly but wary toward Christianity; he allowed Clotilde to baptize their children and was undoubtedly edified by her good example, but kept delaying his own submission to the faith. During a great battle with his enemies, the Alemanni, Clovis, in desperation, called on his wife’s God and promised to become a Christian if the battle went in his favor. He won the battle, and on Christmas day, 496, was baptized in the cathedral of Rheims, with his sister and three thousand followers. This mass conversion planted the Church firmly in Gaul. Clovis died in 511, and was buried at Paris in the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul, which he and his wife had founded.
After the death of her husband, Clotilde had a long and sorrowful widowhood. Her only daughter (also called Clotilde) died as the result of brutal treatment from her husband, and the queen’s sons-Clodomir, Childebert, and Clotaire–appear to have been knaves whose lives were spent in bringing ruin to themselves and others. Clodomir, after attacking and capturing his cousin Sigismund, murdered him, his wife, and his children, and then was murdered in turn by Sigismund’s brother. When Clotilde adopted Clodomir’s three sons, intending to rear them as her own, Childebert and Clotaire tricked her into sending them two of the boys and then promptly murdered the children in order to obtain Clodomir’s in heritance.
Such monstrous behavior was too much for Clotilde; she retired to Tours and she spent the rest of her life serving the poor and praying for her terrible sons. It is said that when Childebert and Clotaire turned against each other and were about to engage their armies in battle, Clotilde spent the entire night before the battle in prayer, begging God to avert the conflict; the next morning, before the two armies could clash, a furious storm arose, drivi ng all the troops from the field and ending any possibility of an engagement. Clotilde died in 545, and for years afterward her memory was defamed by slanderous legends that pictured her as a vicious woman who urged her relatives on to mutual warfare and bloodshed. Historical research has long since shown the falsity of these malevolent tales and has revealed Clotilde for what she was: a deeply charitable and long-suffering wife and mother.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 305-307. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Francis Caracciolo Confessor (c 1563-1608)
At twenty-two, Ascanio Caracciolowas a young man enjoying the exceedingly comfortable life available to an Italian nobleman of the sixteenth century; more pious than his comrades, he still did not allow religion to interfere with his other activities, especially his hunting, in which he had an overwhelming interest. Then the unthinkable happened: he contracted a terrible skin disease, similar in appearance to leprosy, and apparently was going to die. Facing death was a fruitful experience for the youth; he vowed that if he recovered he would give the rest of his life to God, and, thereupon, did recover with miraculous speed. He immediately began studying for the priesthood and was ordained in 1587 at the age of twenty-five.
Ascanio’s first work was in Naples, with a confraternity that looked after the spiritual welfare of prisoners and those condemned to death. His real work was revealed to him, however, in 1588, when he mistakenly received a letter addressed to a relative of the same name; he learned from it that the writer–a priest called John Adorno–was planning to found an association of priests whose work would combine both active labor and contemplation. The project appealed to Ascanio, and he soon joined forces with Adorno. After making a forty-day retreat to prepare themselves for their work, the two men recruited ten companions and began their foundation. On June 1 of the same year Pope Sixtus V approved the new group, and on April 9, 1589, the co-founders made their solemn vows, Ascanio taking the name Francis, the name by which he was subsequently known.
Members of the congregation, called the Minor Clerks Regular, took the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, plus a fourth: not to seek any ecclesiastical office either with in or without the order. The priests kept perpetual adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and conducted missions, helped the inmates of hospitals and prisons, and established hermitages for those who felt called to a life of contemplation. Francis was elected the order’s first general, and although a very self-effacing man (he signed his letters “Francis the Sinner”) accomplished a great deal for it. He made three trips to Spain, where he founded houses in Madrid, Valladolid, and Alcahi. He was popular among the people as a confessor and preacher, his fervent sermons making him known as ”the Preache r of the Love of God.”
ln 1607 Francis sensed the approach of death and went into retirement to prepare for it. Since most of his adult life had been directed to God, he now had little to do except to await God’s call with confidence. His health declined rapidly, and on June 1, 1608, the end came. Those who watched at his bedside that evening heard him murmur, “Let us go! Let us go!” When asked where he wanted to go, Francis replied, “To heaven, to heaven!” Scarcely had the saint uttered these words when the wish was fulfilled. Francis’ body was taken to Naples, where it still rests.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 307-309. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Boniface Bishop and Martyr (680-754)
Boniface, the Apostle of Germany, began life as an Anglo-Saxon boy named Winfrid, in the Kingdom of Wessex, about the year 680. We are told that as early as the age of five he was determined to become a monk; at seven he was an oblate-student in the abbey school of Exeter; and at fourteen went on to further studies at the Abbey of Nursling. From pupil to teacher was the natural course for him. Before his ordination at thirty, he was a distinguished scholar, with a typical scholarly product–a Latin grammar—to his credit.
Winfrid’s life might have continued in this studious vein if he had not had that uncurable thirst for souls that makes the missionary. The territory of Frisia (including the present-day Netherlands), just across the North Sea and inhabited by many recalcitrant pagans, had been attracting the young monk for some time. It was the land from which his own ancestors had sailed for England, and it was doubtless with something of those early adventurers’ own spirit that Winfrid set off in 716, to Christianize their homeland. The attempt was an abortive one, as a war that was raging between the Frisians and the Franks made any missionary activity impossible. Forced to return to England, Winfrid stayed there for only two years (his brethren at Nursling elected him abbot in the vain hope of keeping him there) and then left for Rome to secure papal authority for his future missionary activities.
After giving Winfrid a warm welcome, the pope exacted from him a willingly given promise of loyalty to the Holy See, changed his name to Boniface (“he who does good”), and sent him back to the German provinces as a kind of missionary at large. Preaching his way north, Boniface came again to Frisia, where the war was over and mission work was once more possible. Under Saint Willibrord, an old man who had been struggling in the field for years with only scant success, Boniface worked for three years in Frisia. He left only when Willibrord began speaking hope-fully about his making the stay a permanent one. Permanence of this kind was distasteful to Boniface because of his insatiable desire to make Christ known to as many pagans as possible. In 722 he left Frisia for the wider fields of central and southern Germany, after first going again to Rome to be consecrated bishop by Pope Gregory II who gave him jurisdiction over all the German provinces.
The new bishop went next to Hesse, where one of his first acts, carried out in the presence of a crowd of awestruck pagans, was to put an axe to a giant oak tree, long revered as sacred to the pagan gods. With the wood from the oak, Boniface built a chapel and, quite understandably, soon had it filled with converts. With this vigorous start, he proceeded in the next thirty years to evangelize all of Franconia, Thuringia, Hesse, and Bavaria, a vast expanse covering thousands of square miles. Boniface bound this area firmly to the Church by making converts and by organizing a vast network of dioceses and covering the land with religious foundations. Many of the latter were filled by the parties of English monks and nuns who had followed Boniface across the Channel to help him in his work. Fulda, largest of these foundations, became one of the greatest abbeys in the West. With the religious establishments to give them stability, the new dioceses (many of which still exist just as Boniface planned them) rapidly knit the territories together in a strong Christian society.
Despite his immense labors in Germany, Boniface had time for important work elsewhere, notably in Gaul, where the Church had been reduced to a royally-controlled patronage system by Charles Martel. When Charles was succeeded by his sons Pepin and Carloman, Boniface used his influence to aid a reform movement for the Gallic Church. With the help of the new rulers, by 747 the simony, clerical immorality, and other abuses that had been prominent in the Gallic Church were largely eliminated. A general council held that year confirmed the work by sending to Rome a confession of faith and a statement of fidelity to the pope. By this time, Boniface had received many honors: he had been appointed bishop of Mainz–his first fixed see-and had been named primate of Germany, as well as apostolic delegate for Germany and Gaul.
Frisia, that stubborn province of Boniface’s younger days, was reverting to paganism after the death of Willibrord, and this relapse sent Boniface on his last journey. In 753, with fifty-two companions, he sailed down the Rhine to begin the reconversion of the province. All went well until his group penetrated the northern half of Frisia, which had never been reached by missionaries. On the eve of Pentecost, 754, Boniface had arranged for a confirmation service on a broad plain called Dokkum, beside the river Borne. Before his converts arrived, a hostile band of marauding pagans appeared, attacked the missionaries, and slaughtered all of them. So died Boniface, having achieved a martyr’s crown.
His body was recovered and taken to Fulda, where it still reposes. Another treasure at Fulda is the book Boniface was reading when he was attacked, hacked with sword cuts and soaked with the martyr’s blood. One of the greatest missionaries the Church has seen, Boniface is especially honored in Germany, of course, but also is widely venerated in England, where, with Pope Gregory the Great and Augustine of Canterbury, he is a patron of the country.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 309-312. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Norbert Bishop and Confessor (-c 1080-1134)
God awakens the saints to the reality of His presence in a variety of ways, some of them quite dramatic: thunder and lightning was the way for Saint Norbert. A relative of the German emperor, Henry V, Norbert was born about 1080 at Xanten, on the Rhine, and spent the first thirty years of his life in attendance at the royal court, where he was a great favorite. It was a pleasant, amusing, and purposeless existence, although he had already been ordained a subdeacon.
In 1111 he accompanied the emperor to Rome, and although his conscience was awakened when he saw Henry extorting from the imprisoned pope rights that belonged to the Holy See, it was only little by little that he left the court life and broke with the excommunicated emperor. The decisive moment came for the young man as he was riding a horse through the German countryside one day; when a violent storm occurred, punctuated by thunder and lightning, the horse bolted, throwing Norbert to the ground. The fall nearly killed him; like Paul on the road to Damascus, Norbert emerged from the experience a different man. His brush with death had revealed to him, in one sickening flash, the enormous emptiness of his life, and he resolved to make amends to God.
He returned to Xanten, found a little hermitage, and gave himself up to prayer and mortification. He left his solitude only to seek the advice and direction of Conrad of Ratisbon, the celebrated abbot of Siegburg. Conrad advised study for the priesthood, and in 1115 Norbert was ordained at Cologne. He returned again to Xanten to start his priestly career. In his youth, Norbert’s family had secured an appointment for him as a canon at the collegiate church in Xanten; such positions were largely honorary, although usually given to priests, and people were accustomed to seeing the canons leading very worldly lives. Remembering his own faults in this regard, Norbert began preaching to the canons on the need for more spirituality in their lives; his listeners, who had no taste for such medicine, laughed in his face and in 1118 denounced Norbert to the Council of Fritzlar as an unorthodox, meddling troublemaker.
The council condemned him only for preaching without proper authorization, but Norbert was stunned by the cruelty of his fellow clerics. Giving away the remains of his family fortune, he set out for Languedoc in France, where Pope Gelasius II was temporarily residing. It was winter, and Norbert walked barefoot the entire way. When he was admitted to the pope, he begged pardon for a sinful life and requested that a suitable penance be given him. The pope saw the caliber of the man before him and rewarded the saint’s act of humility by giving him permission to preach at will throughout Europe.
Thus vindicated, Norbert began a busy preaching career that took him throughout the French and Belgian dioceses. In 1119, the bishop of Laon persuaded Norbert to go there, where the canons were no better than they had been at Xanten. As before, the saint had little success with the worldly clerics; as an alternative line of action, however, the bishop suggested that Norbert found his own community of canons and gave him land for this purpose in the desolate valley of Prémontré, near the city of Laon. There, on Christmas day, 1121, a new type of religious order was born: the Order of Canons Regular of Prémontré. The order was an austere one, based on the Rule of Saint Augustine, and Norbert had the satisfaction of seeing it attract canons from all over Europe, even many of those who had earlier rejected his attempts at reform. A branch for lay people was established at the request of Theobald, count of Champagne; Norbert gave him a small scapular he could wear under his clothes and a simple rule that could be followed in secular life. This “third order,” or secular tertianship, is regarded as the first to be attached to any religious order. After making other foundations (one was in Antwerp, where Norbert gained fame by putting to rout a celebrated heretic), the saint went to Rome in 1121) to have Pope Honorius II give formal approval to the Premonstratensians.
There were no longer any doubts about the worth of this holy man. When he appeared in Germany on a visit in 1126 he was prevailed upon by the hierarchy there to accept consecration as archbishop of Magdeburg. Leaving his order under the direction of a capable disciple, Hugh of Fosses, Norbert took up residence in Magdeburg, where he once more became a stumbling-block to Christians who had forgotten the meaning of their faith. Unchaste priests, laymen who plundered the Church of its property, these and others were soon influenced by Norbert’s authority. Despite opposition (a mob once attacked him in his own cathedral), the archbishop carried out his reforms and eventually had an improved diocese.
The last achievement in Norbert’s full life was to join with Saint Bernard and the emperor Lothair to uphold Pope Innocent II in his struggle against the antipope Anacletus II. That fight took Norbert to Rome again, in 1133; although the outcome was successful, the effort proved too much for Norbert’s health. He became ill on his return to Magdeburg and, shortly after his arrival there, died on June 6, 1134. His order continued to expand after his death and still flourishes.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 312-315. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Anne of Saint Bartholomew Virgin (1549-1626)
Among the many valiant women who helped Saint Teresa of Avila in her reform of the Carmelite order, none stood closer to the saint in life, or carried out her ideals more faithfully after her death, than Blessed Anne of Saint Bartholomew. A peasant girl, born in 1549, she did nothing more remarkable in her life than tend sheep before entering the Carmelite convent at Avila in 1572. The girl’s devotion and willingness to work was soon apparent to Saint Teresa, who was the superior of the convent, and before long Anne was one of her most trusted assistants. During the last years of Teresa’s life, when she was making the long, hard journeys necessary for her work, Anne was almost always with her, acting as companion and secretary. Some say that the girl, who was illiterate when she entered the convent, miraculously began to write in obedience to a command from Teresa. It was in Anne’s arms that Teresa died in 1582.
For more than twenty years after Teresa’s death, Anne continued in the order as lay sister, but because of her intimate association with the foundress was considered a true heir of her spirit. For this reason she had a profound influence among her sisters and more than once was sent as envoy of Teresa’s reform to other convents in Spain. It was during one of her absences from Avila that Christ revealed to her His design to send her to France. When a call came from the French hierarchy in 1604, for a branch of the Reformed Carmelites to be established in Paris, Anne was chosen, with four or five others, to begin the new foundation. The Spanish nuns found it difficult to live in France, and most of them eventually returned to Spain. Anne remained, and finally, after being persuaded to become a choir nun, became prioress of a convent founded by Madame Acarie, at Pontoise, and later at new foundations in Paris and in Tours.
Anne’s career ended in Antwerp, where she went to establish a new foundation in 1612. With a reputation for prophecy and miracle-working, she achieved great success in the city and established a thriving Carmelite community there. Religious wars were raging in the Netherlands then, and twice when Protestant troops were threatening the city Anne kept all-night vigils–her arms extended–for its safety. Each time the danger passed, and the people of the city attributed their deliverance to the nun’s prayers. When Anne died in 1626, she was declared the protectress of Antwerp; her body is still venerated there.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 315-317. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Médard Bishop and Confessor (c 456 – c 560)
When it rains in the Vermandois area of northern France, the peasants say, “Saint Médard is watering his colts.” If the weather is fine on the saint’s feast day, tradition has it that the next forty days will be equally pleasant; if it rains, forty days of bad weather are expected. In the springtime many French villages still observe the ceremony of the “rose queen” (this is a ceremony in which the girl judged to have been the most virtuous in the village during the past year is taken to the church, crowned with roses, and given a small present of money), and the custom is supposed to have originated with Saint Médard. A popular saint, the good Médard is one for whose life story little is available except legends.
Médard was born at Salency, in Picardy, of a noble Frankish family. Ordained a priest at thirty-three, he was appointed bishop of Vermand (Saint-Quentin) in 530. It was a savage society then, and Médard moved his see to the fortified town of Noyon, which was less vulnerable to the attacks of barbarians. According to an unreliable tradition, Medard was so popular that the neighboring diocese of Tournai, on the death of its own bishop, asked him to fill the vacancy. He is supposed to have received permission from Rome to do this, although it was a practice normally forbidden. The only event known with certainty about the saint’s life is that, in 544, he solemnly blessed the Frankish queen Radegunde as deaconess when she had found life with her murderer-husband, King Clotaire, unbearable. Médard died, a very old man, about 560.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 317-318. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Columbkille Abbot and Confessor (c 521-597)
Whatever else the Scots and the Irish may lack in the way of common ties, they share Saint Columbkille, each country being able to include him as one of its greatest saints. Colum MacFhelim MacFergus was born in Ireland, in County Donegal, in 521. He soon gained the nickname Columbkille, “church dove,” because of the time he spent in the churches of his region. It is under this name that he won his way to the people’s hearts–“Columbkille, the friendly, the kind”–although outside the Gaelic lands he became better known as Columba, the Latin name for dove. Of royal blood (he was a descendant of the Irish king, Niall of the Nine Hostages, and three of his cousins were kings), Columbkille could have aspired to the same royal dignity himself, but chose the monastic life. He was educated in the best monastic schools of Ireland under such famous teachers as Saint Finbar at Moville, the bard Master Gemman of Leinsrer, and the scholar Saint Mobhi. Emerging from this process a poet and scholar as well as monk and priest, Columbkille was a man who loved passionately the things of the spirit, his faith above all.
Of great stature and striking appearance, he had, his biographers add, the face of an angel and a voice so loud and melodious it could be heard a mile off. He employed this far-reaching voice for twenty years among the Irish. His most popular work was his preaching, full of both fervor and poetry, always a moving thing to hear. More significant was his founding of many monasteries, among them those of Durrow, Derry, and Kells. His eventual departure from the island was preceded by two events which may or may not have been the cause of his leaving.
The first was the affair of the transcript he had made of a manuscript owned by his former master, Saint Finbar of Moville. The manuscript was a rare and precious one–a copy of Saint Jerome’s Latin translation of the Psalms–and Finbar claimed that Columba had no right to keep the copy he had made. The issue was decided by Diarmaid, the king of Ireland, who gave the following verdict: “To every cow her calf, and to every book its son-book. Therefore the copy that you have made, O Columbkille, belongs to Finbar.” Having to return his hard-wrought work rankled in Columbkille’s heart and he soon had cause to feel further resentment against Diarmaid. The second incident occurred when the king violated the law of sanctuary by sending his soldiers to seize one of his enemies, who had taken refuge with Columbkille. When the king ordered the man killed, Columbkille is said to have exploded in wrath and raised his kinsmen in warfare against the brutal Diarmaid. A battle followed in which thousands of men were killed; when a church synod placed the moral responsibility for these deaths on Columba, the saint is said to have decided, in remorse, to go to Scotland and convert as many of its pagans as there were men killed in the battle.
Neither Adamnan, his successor at lona and his authorized biographer, nor Saint Bede the Venerable agree that Columbkille’s departure from Ireland rests on these events. These more trustworthy biographers state that it was apostolic zeal and a desire to be a pilgrim for Christ that led Columbkille to leave his beloved country. He did leave, in 563, with twelve other monks, several of whom were relatives of his. In a cockleshell craft-a hide-covered wicker coracle–the monks rocked their way across the Irish Sea to land, on Pentecost Eve, at a place called Cove. The region round about was an outpost of Ireland, the Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada, and was ruled by a kinsman of Columbkille, Conall. To him the monks made their way. Spending some time with Conall, Columbkille discussed his plans for evangelizing both the Scots in the south, and the Picts in the east and the north, and for consolidating the work of the earlier Celtic missions. Conall granted him Iona, an island well situated for missionary headquarters, lying upon the sea lanes up and down the western coast and to the islands in the south and the west, and facing the land route northward up the Great Glen. Here the monks constructed their monastery–a cluster of beehiveshaped cells surrounding a small church–and made ready for their missionary work. In his thirty-four years at Iona Columbkille built and federated a large number of monasteries and hermitages; in these were prepared the monks and scholars who would be apostles to the Picts and AngloSaxons. Colurnbkille himself went to meet the fearsome King Brude of the Picts. When the king barred his castle at Inverness to Columbkille, the saint is said to have made the sign of the cross before the bolted gates, which immediately flew open. Converting Brude and many others, Columbkille did for Scotland what Patrick had done for Ireland years earlier, planting the Catholic faith deep in the hearts of the people. Ireland herself Columbkille never forgot, although Iona was now his permanent home. He returned several times to his homeland, once in 575, when he attended the Synod of Drumceatt. At that assembly the Irish were considering the subjection of women to military service and the abolition of the order of bards; both measures were dropped when Columbkille spoke against them.
With his love ”for both man and beast,” as the old chronicles put it, the saint came to be an attraction at Iona for Christians all over the British Isles. Always the faithful monk, he was severe toward himself and full of sympathy and understanding for others. Everyone loved him, his own monks, who knew his holiness better than any, most of all. Columbkille died on June 6, 597. At midnight of that day, when the monks came to church to chant the Office, they found their abbot stretched out before the altar; Columb kille had dragged himself there to die and barely had time to bless his brethren before he died.
So powerful was the saint’s influence that for nearly a century after his death the Celtic people clung to ecclesiastical practices he had introduced, often resisting the efforts of later missionaries, like Saint Augustine, to establish current Roman practices. His name was known and venerated as far afield as Gaul and Spain and even Rome; Columbkille is still the most popular saint among the Catholics of Scotland, and in Ireland he holds a nearly equal place with Saint Patrick as a national hero.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 318-321. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Margaret of Scotland Queen and Holy Woman (c 1046-1096)
The bloody figure of Macbeth looms in the background of Saint Margaret’s life, for she was the wife of Malcolm, the conquerer of Macbeth and king of Scotland after him. Her own early history, just as much as her husband’s, was a dramatic affair, mixed with intrigue and adventure. Margaret was the daughter of Edward Outremer, exiled heir to the English throne, and was born about 1046, possibly in Hungary, where Edward is supposed to have gone after being driven from England by Canute the Dane. Under King Edward the Confessor, Margaret’s father returned to England and died there shortly afterwards. His son, Edgar, could find no support for his rightful claim to the crown against William the Conqueror, and had to flee the country with the rest of the family in order to escape the usual grim fate reserved in those days for unsuccessful claimants to the royal power. Escaping by ship, the fugitives were beached by a storm in Scotland, where King Malcolm gave them refuge.
Margaret was a young girl at this time, beautiful and sweet, and Malcolm fell in love with her. When he asked her to be his queen, she hesitated because she had been considering the religious life, but finally she consented. In 1070 the couple was wed at the royal castle in Dunfermline.
As queen, Margaret brought to Scotland the heirloom known as the Black Rood, a relic of the true cross. She brought, too, a grace and beauty of character hitherto almost unknown in that rough country. Her influence was extensive and started with her husband, whose eyes she opened to many things: to the reality of the spiritual life, with its necessary acts of prayer and sacrifice, as well as to the advantages of such elementary refinements as reading and writing. Also due to Margaret’s influence was the introduction of Roman rites to supplant the rites of Saint Columbkille, which had become contaminated with profane and pagan elements. Church synods were held to suppress the evils of usury and simony, and to bring people back to a devout practice of such fundamental acts of their religion as attending Mass on Sundays and holydays and making their Easter duty. The queen’s works of charity were innumerable, the most important of them being the ones her subjects never saw; these were the long night hours of prayer she offered for her country, often with the king by her side. Other works, always carried out with Malcolm’s help, were the building of hospices for travelers, the ransoming of captives held by Scotland, especially Englishmen, and the daily feeding of crowds of paupers and orphans (the monarchs themselves would often wait on these people, giving them the same food as that served at the royal table).
Malcolm and Margaret were blessed with a family of six sons and two daughters. Three of the sons followed Malcolm in succession on the throne, and one of the daughters-Matilda–later gained fame as “Good Queen Maud,” when she married Henry I of England. Margaret died in 1093, the year in which her husband, who never had completely lost some of his more belligerent traits, was treacherously killed while fighting the English at Alnwick Castle, which he was attempting to recapture from them. Margaret was dying when her son Edgar came from Alnwick with the news of his father’s death, as well as that of one of his brothers; he hesitated to tell all this to his mother, but she had a premonition of what had happened and demanded the whole story. When she had heard it, she thanked God for this last cross, the acceptance of which would help purify her of her sins, and died peacefully.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 322-324. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Barnabas Martyr (New Testament)
A friend of the apostles, a companion of Saint Paul, a believer in Christ; this was Barnabas, an early convert to Christianity who plays a prominent role in the events narrated by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles. “Barnabas” means “son of consolation” and was the name the apostles gave the saint when he joined the Church at Jerusalem. Originally called Joseph , he was a Jewish Levite from the island of Cyprus. The first action recorded of him is the generous one of selling a piece of land he owned and giving the money to the apostles for the support of the Christian community.
When Saint Paul made his first visit to Jerusalem after his shattering experience on the road to Damascus, it was Barnabas who brought him to the apostles and thus gave him the opportunity of convincing those still skeptical men of the sincerity of his conversion. Paul and Barnabas were eventually to make a missionary trip together, but for the present Paul had to return to his native Tarsus in order to escape attempts on his life by the enraged Jews with whom he had formerly persecuted Christians. A few years later, when Barnabas had been sent to Antioch to help strengthen the small Christian group there, he went to Tarsus and brought Paul back to help in the work. About a year later, when a famine struck the countryside around Jerusalem, the two men were sent there with a relief collection taken up from the Christians of Antioch; on their return they brought with them John Mark, a nephew of Barnabas and the future evangelist.
It was now about the year 45, and time for Paul’s most important missionary trip; the command for the journey came from the Holy Spirit speaking through certain prophetically gifted members of the Church at Antioch: “Set apart for me Saul (Paul had not yet started to use the Roman form of his name) and Barnabas unto the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). With the blessing of their brethren, the two men, with Mark as an assistant, set out on a long and eventful trip: at Cyprus, the home of Barnabas, Paul (who seems to have been in charge and was the spokesman ) converted Sergius Paulus, the Roman proconsul; back on the mainland, at Perge, Mark left them, perhaps because he wished to rejoin his master, Saint Peter. At Antioch in Pisidia, where they were received with hostility by the Jews, Paul took the momentous step of preaching to the gentiles, a thing not yet generally done by the Christians; at lconium they preached to the Jews and suffered a stoning in return; at Lystra, where they preached in the public forum, the pagans first worshipped them as incarnations of pagan gods because of Paul ‘s curing of a cripple, then stoned them when troublemakers from Iconium arrived and turned the Lystrians against the two; Derbe was their last stop, after which they returned to Antioch by the way they had come, except for bypassing Cyprus.
The next major event in the lives of the two men, who seem to have been inseparable for some time, was the Council of Jerusalem, which took place about the year 51. It was there that Peter ruled against the ”Judaizers” in the Church who wanted to subject even gentile Christians to all the ceremony and custom of the Jewish law; his pronouncement that salvation came through faith in Christ, not through observance of the Old Law, was supported by testimony from Paul and Barnabas as to the effectiveness of their missionary work among the gentiles, who, of course, had never observed the Jewish law. Peter’s decision, an important one for the Church, was taken back to Antioch by the two friends, who resumed their preaching there.
Their final separation came about when Paul suggested they return to the places they had visited on their first missionary trip; Barnabas was willing, but wanted to take Mark along once more. Paul would have none of this, remembering Mark’s desertion on the first trip, and a “sharp contention” (Acts 15:39) sprang up between the two over the issue. Finally, each went his own way; Paul, with another disciple named Silas, left for Syria and Cilicia; Barnabas went back to Cyprus with Mark. Although we know that Paul later became reconciled with Mark and bore no grudge against Barnabas, the latter is not mentioned again in the Acts. Tradition has it that he met death by stoning at Salamis.
Saint Luke gives the title of apostle to Barnabas for the missionary work he did and describes him as ”a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24).
From the time of these pioneer missionaries, the Church has never lacked apostolic men who give up property, family’ fatherland, and life itself to carry the good news of salvation in Christ to new places and to the very ends of the earth.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 342-327. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Onuphrius Hermit and Confessor (-c 400)
In our day the existence of convents and monasteries is taken for granted; they belong to Christianity as we know it and are an important expression of it. In the early centuries of Christianity there were not many opportunities for those who desired to live a life wholly dedicated to God in prayer and penance. One way, they discovered, was to go to a solitary place, dwell in a cave or grotto or a little hut and live on the food that nature provided. Certain areas of Egypt were just right for this, and by the middle of the third century there were many of these hermits or anchorites.
Because of their isolation and their sometimes strange forms of self-denial and penance, the lives of these desert fathers gave rise to a number of fabulous tales, none more richly imaginative than that of Onuphrius and Paphnutius. It seems that Paphnutius was a fifth-century abbot who left his monastery to go into the desert to see if the hermit’s life was meant for him. After wandering about for days, he saw a strange creature approaching him: it seemed to be a man, but he had hair and a beard that fell to his feet and was unclothed except for a band of leaves around his waist. Paphnutius was about to run from the sight in fear, when the old man spoke to him and assured him that he was a man and a servant of God. It was, in fact, Onuphrius, who took Paphnutius to his cell and there told the abbot his story: he had come to the desert sixty years before, and ever since had lived in complete solitude, suffering continually from hunger, thirst, heat, cold, and temptations. His only food was dates from the palm tree beside his cell, his only consolation the knowledge that he was doing the will of God. That night the two men prayed together, and in the morning Onuphrius died, after first assuring Paphnutius that he had been sent there precisely for the purpose of burying him. The abbot did this, whereupon the cell and the palm tree immediately vanished, a sign that he was not to remain in the desert.
It was the Crusades that gave Onuphrius a new life; his cult spread to Italy, Germany, France, and to England, where he became known as Humphrey. A beautiful little church is dedicated to him in Rome. The fame of saints, one sees, has no geographical boundaries.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 327-328. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Anthony of Padua Confessor and Doctor of the Church (1195-1231)
If Saint Anthony is remembered today mainly as a saint to whom prayers are addressed when articles are lost, his own time had a quite different view of him. To people then, he was an inspiring preacher who could make the word of God live in their hearts as few other men could. Born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195, he joined a community of Augustinian canons when he was fifteen; after two years he was transferred to one of the order’s houses in Coimbra, then Portugal’s capital, and there, in 1221, he saw something that marked the turning point in his life: the relics of a number of Franciscan friars, who had been killed by the Moors in Morocco, being returned to Coimbra for burial.
Deeply impressed by the heroism of these men, Anthony decided to join the Franciscans and go to Morocco himself. After he had persuaded all the superiors involved to let him make the change, he was sent to Africa, but was unfortunate enough to become seriously ill, and had to start back for Portugal. When his ship was blown off course and landed in Sicily, Anthony, now thoroughly discouraged, abandoned thoughts of Portugal and Morocco and traveled up the Italian peninsula to Assisi, where Saint Francis was holding his last general chapter for his order. After the chapter, Anthony was sent, by his own request, to a hermitage at San Paolo, where he might have remained permanently if it had not been for an unexpected request for his services as a speaker.
This occurred at an ordination ceremony that Anthony was attending with his superior. Through an oversight, no one had been appointed to give the sermon for the day, and none of the unprepared ecclesiastics were willing to give voice; in desperation it was finally suggested that Anthony-the least qualified member there, apparently–give the sermon. The young man did so, and after a stumbling start amazed his audience by launching out into a profound and moving address. This burst of eloquence catapulted Anthony into fame; for the rest of his life, preaching, more than anything else, was his work. His order first sent him to northern Italy, which was infested with heretics of various sorts. He had great success there, not only because of his oratorical skill, but also because of his knowledge, which enabled him to give convincing refutations for the heretics’ arguments. His acquaintance with Holy Scripture was especially profound, so much so that Saint Francis gave Anthony permission to fill the position of lector of theology in the order, a post Francis had not yet entrusted to anyone. About 1224 Anthony went to France for a two- or three-year period; he taught and preached there, his fame growing all the time. In 1227, after the death of Saint Francis, he returned to Italy, where he was stationed in the city of Padua.
Anthony’s preaching career reached its height in Padua; his appearances in the pulpit became the chief events in the city’s life. He was outspoken against usury, or the charging of excessive interest on loans of money. This was a predominant vice in Padua and had such accompanying features as squalid debtors’ prisons, filled with poor people who could not meet the exorbitant demands of the moneylenders. By preaching Christian charity, Anthony was able to curb the vicious practice, and even succeeded in getting laws passed that made it less easy for the usurers to jail people for debt. The poor, the oppressed, those most in need of charity and justice–these were the people Anthony worked for during the rest of his short life.
At thirty-six, his health ruined by overwork, Anthony died. Whether or not he was a miracle-worker during his lifetime has been disputed; there is no doubt, however, that he was such after his death. How the practice of praying to him for the return of lost articles originated is also obscure; some think it may have been inspired by a story (perhaps legendary) about a young friar who stole Anthony’s psalter and, when the saint prayed for its return, had a vision of divine retribution that frightened him into returning the book. In art Anthony is often pictured with the Infant Christ, who is said to have descended and stood upon the book the saint was holding while he preached on the subject of the Incarnation. Anthony was canonized the year after his death and was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 328-331. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Basil the Great Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (329-379)
One of the four greatest Eastern Doctors of the Church, Saint Basil was a man of learning, talent, and holiness–all to an incredibly advanced degree. He came from the same brilliant family that produced Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Peter of Sebaste (his brothers), and·was born at Caesarea in Cappadocia in 329. His education began in Caesarea and continued at Constantinople and Athens. His classmates in the latter city included his friend Saint Gregory Nazianzen (another Cappadocian) and Julian the Apostate, the future Roman emperor. School days were anything but frivolous in Athens; according to Gregory, he and Basil knew only two streets in the city: those leading to the church and to the school.
Faithful as Basil may have been to those streets, when he returned to Caesarea about 356, both his brother Gregory and his sister Macrina (who is also honored as a saint) noticed pronounced tendencies to worldliness in him. Easily the most learned person in Caesarea by this time, Basil had established himself as a teacher of rhetoric and seemed to be enjoying, very complacently, the prestige the position was bringing him. He was shaken out of this self-satisfied attitude by Macrina, who, through her appeals to Basil’s good sense and spiritual awareness, made him see the cramping limitations of a life taken up entirely by worldly activity. Mainly through her influence, Basil left on a tour, in 357, of monastic centers in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia. When he returned to Caesarea the next year, he knew what he had to do; breaking all his former ties, he traveled northward to Pontus, near the Black Sea, and there, on the banks of the river Iris, established his own monastery.
Basil was to be involved in other kinds of activity later in life, but this monastic foundation was probably his most important work and the one he loved the most. With a profound understanding of the role played by monasticism in Christianity and of how that way of life should be carried out, Basil wrote a set of rules–later called the Basilian Code–that became the inspiration of all later Eastern monasticism. Saint Benedict subsequently borrowed for his own Rule from that of Basil, and even today most Eastern Catholic and Orthodox monks follow the Basilian Code.
The pressure of the times, however, soon interrupted Basil’s life in Pontus. With the support of the emperor Valens, Arianism was threatening the Church in Cappadocia, and strong leadership was needed to meet the attack. Basil was persuaded to come to Caesarea first to assist its bishop, and then, when the bishop died in 370, to become bishop himself. One of his first acts in his new position was to show open defiance to Valens, who was trying to secure a profession of Arian faith from all the Cappadocian clergy; Basil refused and, by the weight of his influence and personality, made the emperor cease his demands. Active as he was in the fight against heresy, Basil was closely attentive to the other needs of his diocese. Just outside Caesarea, he built a travelers’ hospice (the first of its kind) with a hospital attached for the poor. Other projects included a revision of the liturgy for his diocese (this is the older of the two liturgies of the Byzantine Rite) and a careful weeding out of heretical priests from his clergy. A brilliant orator and writer, Basil also poured out a steady stream of sermons and theological works, most of them aimed at strengthening his people against Arianism. Heresy was the ever-present danger and was accompanied by such minor. misfortunes as a quarrel with his old friend Gregory of Nazianzen and misrepresentations of his orthodoxy to the pope by his enemies.
Basil surmounted all the difficulties, however, and during his short tenure as bishop (less than nine years) he became the leading force in Caesarea. When he died on January 1, 379, the Jews and pagans there, as well as the Catholics, were willing to admit that the city had lost its best friend. Years after his death, Basil was described by a Church council as “the great Basil, the minister of grace who has expounded the truth to the whole world”: a just verdict, and one that has stood the test of time.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 331-333. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Germaine Cousin Virgin (c 1579-1601)
Germaine Cousin was born about 1579 in the village of Pibrac, near Toulouse, in southern France. Her mother died soon after giving birth to her, and her father, a farm worker, married again. Germaine was in poor health and physically handicapped from birth; her right hand was withered and paralyzed, and she suffered from scrofula, a form of tuberculosis resulting in ugly skin eruptions, particularly around the neck. Her father and stepmother were apparently revolted at her physical condition and gave her as little attention as possible ; they fed her with scraps of food and made her sleep apart from the other children in a stable, or under a staircase. As Germaine grew up, she was given no education and, to be kept out of the way, was sent to the fields to watch over sheep. These are the conditions in which she lived until her death at the age of twenty-two.
The only thing that distinguishes Germaine’s history from countless others just as wretched or worse, is her hope and courage. Her life, which the average person would probably regard as unbearable, she accepted gratefully, for its very privations allowed her to express her love of God. Her food, little of it as there was, was something for her to share with the beggars who roamed the countryside and were even less fortunate than she. Germaine’s long hours in the fields gave her opportunities for prayer or for simple talks with the small children of the neighborhood, explaining to them the need for knowing and loving God. Mass was the most important event in each day, even though it meant leaving her flocks and walking a long way to church, a journey made dangerous by the necessity of fording a broad stream that was often swollen by rain.
As the years went by, Germaine’s neighbors gradually carne to realize the nobility of spirit the girl possessed. Stories began to accumulate about her: on her way to church in the morning, she had been seen to come out of the stream with completely dry clothes; her sheep never strayed in her absence and were never attacked by the wolves that lurked in the nearby forests waiting for just such opportunities. Finally, her family came to a tardy realization of the extraordinary person in their midst and made some shamefaced attempts to treat her in a more humane fashion. She preferred, however, to continue just as she had in the past ; it made little difference, in any event, for her life was running out. On a summer morning in 1601, she was found dead, lying on her bed–a pile of straw underneath a staircase.
Germaine was buried in the village church and years later, in 1644, her body was found to be incorrupt; after sixteen years it was re-examined and still was well preserved. Miracles had been attributed to her intercession by this time, and the people of the village where she had been so cruelly treated were now praying to her in increasing numbers. Official confirmation of Germaine’s sanctity came in 1867, when she was canonized by Pope Pius IX.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 333-335. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Lutgarde Virgin (c 1182-1246)
Saint Lutgard, born in 1182 at Tongres in that part of the Low Countries which is now Belgium, was placed in a Benedictine convent by her parents when she was twelve; they had lost the money for her dowry and assumed that it was useless for her to stay in the world without that vital asset . Lutgarde was a lively, attractive girl, and enjoyed herself thoroughly in the convent; at first she was little more than a boarder there and could come and go as she pleased, as well as entertain her friends. One afternoon, as she was visiting with a friend, her easy life was suddenly interrupted by an unexpected and overwhelming event: a vision of Christ, in which our Lord asked the young girl to dedicate her life completely to Him. From then on, apparently without any of the agonizing preparatory stages undergone by most mystics, Lutgarde’s life became one of almost uninterrupted mystical experience. She also had visions of our Lady and the saints. Saint Catherine appeared to her, and she saw Saint John the Evangelist as an eagle.
She was an intensely sensitive person, and her mystical life was accompanied by the most realistic sensible experiences: when she meditated on the Passion, what appeared to be a bloody sweat broke out on her forehead; often during her prayers she would see our Lord before her just as if He were in the room. Christ’s presence in this way seemed so natural to her that if she was called away to do something at these times she would simply say, “Wait here, Lord Jesus, and I will come back as soon as my work is done.”
After twelve years with the Benedictines, she decided toind a more austere order; the Cistercians satisfied her, and she went to their convent at Aywieres in the diocese of Namur in Belgium. She could not speak French, the language used there, and this gratified her, since it made it impossible for her to hold any office in the convent. Her fasts for the conversion of souls and the safety of the Church took place here (tradition has it that there were three of these fasts, each lasting three years!), and here also she became blind, continuing in that condition for the last eleven years of her life. Death·came to Lutgarde on a date that had been foretold to her, June 16, 1246.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 335-336. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint John Francis Regis Confessor (1597-1640)
As a result of civil and religious strife, parish life in southeastern France was badly decayed in the early seventeenth century when Saint John Francis Regis began his mission there. Spiritual torpor and the secularism of the times had settled in that region like a plague, and a negligent clergy, content to let things drift, resisted every honest effort at reform. The area was a stronghold of the Protestants. In the north of Europe, the still-young Jesuit order had worked prodigiously to combat the Protestant Revolt, but in the south a new problem faced the Church: not so much a change of religion as an indifference to all religion.
John Francis was born in a village situated between Narbonne and Carcassone. At the age of fourteen he was sent to the Jesuit school of Beziers and even at that early age was a serious and devout boy. As a spare-time catechist during his seminary days, John Francis Regis had discovered the work on which he was to spend his short priesthood, and once ordained he plunged vigorously into a hectic schedule of missions and retreats. He “lived in the saddle,” moving with amazing rapidity from place to place, preaching here, dispensing the sacraments there, founding charities and pious confraternities everywhere.
Hardy as he was, ten years of this work exhausted him. After an especially arduous winter trip, he was seized with pneumonia shortly after Christmas of 1640 while giving a mission in the village of La Louvesc, and on December 31 , in the last minutes of the year and even as the world waited for the appearance of 1641, he called out to a Jesuit lay brother by his bed: “Brother, I am happy to die! I see our Lord and His Mother opening heaven for me.” The villagers buried him in a huge chestnut-tree trunk, under the altar of their church. The Jesuits of Puy realized that the hero must lay where he had fallen–and in fact the mountain folk would not have given him up. A great basilica now stands in La Louvesc in his honor.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 337-338. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Rayner Confessor (-1160)
In the Italian city of Pisa early in the twelfth century a young man named Rayner would stroll about, lute in hand, making the nights melodious with songs of love; he also dutifully practiced what he thought was love with all the conventional, empty ardor expected of young men of the world. Then Rayner met a monk named Alberto, a man who knew what love was and who was charitable enough to open Rayner’s eyes to that reality. Once introduced to God, the troubadour threw away his lute and wept; wept himself blind, in fact, and remained sightless for three days, until God restored his vision. The next experience for the young man, who was penitent but not to the point of completely renouncing the world, was Palestine, where he went both as a pilgrim and a merchant. He lost his taste for business there when he had a dream in which he saw his purse crammed with sulphur and pitch instead of money, and then awoke to find a hellish stench corning from the purse.
Back in Pisa, Rayner drifted, with a kind of holy waywardness, from monastery to monastery, never attaching himself to any one order. He may have been a preacher, but what gave him renown, then and after his death, were the miracles attributed to him. He often used holy water in working these marvels, and in time this practice supplied him with a last name: “De Aqua.” Rayner died in 1160, and his relics are kept today in a chapel dedicated to him in the cathedral of Pisa.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 338-339. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Ephraem Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 306-373)
It is hard to imagine a more pleasant way of fighting heresy than by singing it down, which is more or less the method used by Saint Ephraem in the fourth century. He was a deacon of the Church in the Mesopotamian city of Edessa, at a time when various gnostic sects were spreading erroneous doctrines by means of simple verses set to popular tunes. Ephraem, who appreciated music but not heresy, promptly wrote the words for a counter-barrage of orthodox hymns and had people sing them in the churches. This proved to be a surprisingly effective technique for combating heretical influences, and it also permanently established hymn-singing as a church practice. Many of Ephraem’s hymns, which he wrote in Syriac, are still used in the Syrian Church.
Ephraem had come to Edessa from Nisibis, the place where he was born about 306, after his native town had been surrendered by the Romans to the Persians. One account relates that his parents were Christians. Another says that his father was a priest in the cult of the pagan god Abnil, and had turned Ephraem out of the family home when he became a Christian.
The bishop of Nisibis gave him refuge and provided for his intellectual and spiritual formation. In due time he became a teacher and a deacon and in this capacity assisted the bishop until the Persians came into power. Christians had little chance of survival in Nisibis under the pagan Persian government.
Ephraem took up residence in Edessa in 363. This city was under Roman government, which since Constantine’s time had granted tolerance and even support to Christians. At first Ephraem worked as an attendant in the public baths to support himself, but soon followed the counsels of a monk he had met and retired to a desert area to live a monastic life. He chose a cave for his dwelling; austere solitude, not isolation, was his aim, and he kept in close contact with the Christians in the city. He founded in the city a school of theology for the Persian Christians who fled from their pagan persecutors. From his pen carne a great mass of writing scriptural commentaries, moral, theological, and apologetic works-most of it, except the commentaries, in verse. Ephraem may not have been the finest poet of antiquity, but the human warmth and love that he put into his treatment of the tenets of the faith gave his works a lasting attractiveness; his own people, who loved both him and his writings, gave him his title of “the Harp of the Holy Spirit.”
Not much is known of Ephraem’s last years; he seems to have made a trip westward in 370, to visit Saint Basil the Great in Caesarea, and in 373 he led the organization of relief services during a severe famine in Edessa. The latter work probably exhausted his energies, for he lived only about a month after returning to his cave that year. Not so familiar to Western Christians as the other Eastern saints of renown, Ephraem nevertheless remains one of the truly prominent figures of the early Church, a fact given recognition in 1920, when Pope Benedict XV declared him a Doctor of the Church.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 339-341. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Thomas Woodhouse Martyr (-1573)
One of the first priests martyred by Queen Elizabeth I in her persecution of English Catholics was Blessed Thomas Woodhouse. He was arrested in 1561, while saying Mass, and for the next twelve years was kept in prison, first at the Fleet Prison in London and then, when plague broke out in the city, at the country home of Tyrrell, the warden of the Fleet, who favored Catholics and gave them the best treatment he could. Imprisonment had little effect on the priest’s spirit: he worked constantly for the conversion of his fellow prisoners, threw religious messages from his cell window to passersby outside, and reportedly even tried to bribe the jailer to let him be executed in the place of another Catholic–Blessed John Storey, a layman.
Woodhouse was made a member of the Society of Jesus by letter in 1572, and the next year was tried and condemned to death. When he was told on the scaffold that he should ask pardon of God, the queen, and the country, he replied: “Nay, on the part of God I demand of you and of the queen that ye ask pardon of God and of Holy Mother Church because, contrary to the truth, ye have resisted Christ the Lord, and the pope, His vicar on earth.” The priest was then hanged, drawn, and quartered.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 341-342. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Silverius Pope and Martyr (-537)
Saint Silverius was pope from June 536 to November 537, and all we know of him are the events of his short, turbulent pontificate. He became pope at a time when Theodora, wife of the eastern Roman emperor, Justinian, was trying to gain recognition for the monophysite heretics; when Silverius upheld the decision of the Council of Chalcedon condemning the heretics and refused to cooperate with her plans, Theodora set out to destroy the pope. The agent she chose for this was the famous general, Belisarius, who had come with an army to Rome in December 536, to relieve the city from the attacks of the Ostrogoths. Under orders from Theodora, Belisarius began looking about for some means of disposing of Silverius. First he investigated charges made by the pope’s enemies in Rome to the effect that Silverius was plotting to surrender the city to the Ostrogoths ; when the accusations proved to be false, the general tried a personal appeal to the pope for his cooperation with the empress. This, too, failed, and Belisarius finally took direct action. Abducting Silverius and exiling him to Patara, in Asia Minor, he caused the election of a new pope—Vigilius—to be held.
When the emperor Justinian heard of all this, he was greatly shocked and ordered Silverius returned to Rome for a fair trial and restoration to the papacy if he was found innocent of any wrongdoing. Before Silverius reached the city, however, his enemies captured him and once more put him in the hands of Belisarius. The general, knowing it was the wish of Theodora, turned Silverius over to Vigilius, who had his predecessor returned to exile, this time on the island of Palmaria off the west coast of Italy. The much abused pope died there in 537; some say he was murdered by order of Belisarius’ wife, a friend of the implacable Theodora. One happy outcome of this affair was that Vigilius later became as resolute against the monophysites as Silverius had been.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 342-343. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Aloysius Gonzaga Confessor (1568-1591)
In 1572, when Aloysius was four years old, his father, the marquis of Castiglione in Lombardy, gave him a set of toy guns and cannons for playthings. The marquis was a member of the European nobility and wanted his son to become familiar with the proud traditions of that society, especially its proficiency in the arts of war. The child played happily with the toys, and the next year, when his father took him for several months to an army encampment where his troops were stationed, Aloysius enjoyed himself even more. Here were real guns and soldiers, with no need for make-believe; the boy marched with the men, mimicked their manners (even their profanity, which he innocently repeated), and finally achieved a really tremendous exploit: while no one was watching, he managed to put some powder into a cannon and fire it! This was more than even his father had bargained for, but the marquis was indulgent with his son, thinking that at least he was showing the right aggressive spirit.
Aloysius had spirit, indeed, but a kind that his father soon found hard to appreciate. In an incredibly short time, the boy outgrew the toys and enthusiasms of childhood; at seven he had only one interest: the spiritual life. The reality of Christ and the need for returning His love through prayer and self-sacrifice now absorbed Aloysius completely. All other activities–including the military life–were from this time on nothing more to him than childish pastimes, unworthy of serious attention. As far as his father was concerned, this was a completely wrong-headed view of things.
In hope of awakening Aloysius to a proper appreciation of the world that was open to him, the marquis sent him, along with his younger brother, Rodolfo, on a tour of some of the fabulous courts of the day. In 1577 it was Florence, with all its Medici splendor; in 1579, Mantua, whose duke was the marquis’ own patron; in 1581, the royal court of Spain, where the marquis was called on state affairs and his sons were given the privilege of being pages to the king’s son. His acquaintance with Renaissance court life aroused only one thing in Aloysius: an iron resolve never to be drawn into that society, which he later described as one of ”fraud, dagger, poison, and lust of the most hideous kind.” In his fight to keep free of this environment, Aloysius was unsparing with himself; he prayed and meditated long hours, fasted often, scourged himself, and took a vow of chastity. His zeal in this last regard even led him to such youthful excesses as refusing to stay alone in the same room with his mother or sisters.
By the time he was seventeen, Aloysius had determined his future: it was to be spent as a priest in the Jesuit order. When he announced this decision to his father, the marquis erupted into threats and abuse; he even forced the boy into a final frantic round of visits to the Italian courts, hoping for a last-minute change of heart on Aloysius’ part. All this was quite useless, however, and the marquis finally had to give his consent. On November 25, 1585, Aloysius entered the Jesuit novitiate at Rome, and then strangely enough, it was the father who experienced a change of heart. He became ill after his son’s departure and lived only about six weeks. During the time before his death, he completely reversed his attitude toward Aloysius and gave his full approval to his son’s decision. The youth’s few years as a Jesuit (he was not to live to be ordained) were taken up mainly with studies and, of course, with the constant deepening of his interior life of prayer and sacrifice. In 1589 he had a chance for a last visit to his home when his superiors sent him there to intervene in a quarrel that had broken out between his brother Rodolfo and the duke of Mantua over property rights. Aloysius brought the two men to a peaceable settlement of their dispute and also helped Rodolfo regularize a secret marriage he had made.
Aloysius’ reputation for sanctity grew steadily while he was with the Jesuits, and great things were expected of him achievements his short life left little time to fulfill. In 1591 the plague struck Rome, and when Aloysius went to work in a hospital set up by the Jesuits, he contracted the disease. His illness was a lingering one, but he knew what the outcome would be and waited with a kind of joyful impatience for death, completely happy at the thought of at last being united with God. The end came finally on the night of June 20, 1591. That Aloysius never had committed a mortal sin was the opinion of many, including his confessor and friend, Saint Robert Bellarmine. To achieve such sanctity during adolescence and young manhood, perhaps the hardest time of all to live close to God, is truly remarkable and makes it particularly fitting that Aloysius should be a patron of Catholic youth.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 343-346. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Paulinus Bishop and Confessor (352-431)
Saint Paulinus comes to us with the best of references: a successful lawyer, he was the friend of such saints as Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, and Gregory of Tours, all of whom speak of him with the highest praise. “Everyone,” says Saint Jerome, “admired the purity and elegance of his diction, the delicacy and the loftiness of his sentiments, . . . . and the vividness of his imagination.”
Born in 352 into the family of the Roman prefect of Gaul, he grew up as a wealthy young man whose government work took him throughout Gaul, Italy, and Spain. In 378 he married a Spanish woman named Therasia, also wealthy, and by 389 he and his wife were able to retire to his native Bordeaux, where he was converted and baptized. Within a year, the couple left for Spain, had their only child there (a boy who lived only a few days), and decided to consecrate the rest of their lives to God.
Paulinus was ordained a priest by the bishop of Barcelona about 394, and shortly after that left for Nola, in southern Italy, where he settled permanently. There, the saint and a few other men began living a semimonastic life in a building near the tomb of Saint Felix, the city’s patron. Paulinus and Therasia, much to the disgust of their relatives, had already given away most of their vast wealth, but Paulinus had maintained some of it, and with this he now built an aqueduct and a travelers’ hospice for the city, and also fed its poor regularly. In 409 Paulinus was appointed bishop of Nola and he kept the position until his death in 431.
In this position of service and charity to the people of Nola he did not cut himself off from the wider world he had previously known. His correspondence with the great Christian leaders of the time–and much of it has been preserved to our time–throws precious light on Church affairs, on the monastic life, and on dogmatic questions. But even more than this, his poetry survives to show that he was one of the few great poets of the patristic age and added much to the treasures of Christian literature. Among the fruits of his genius was a series of poems in honor of Saint Felix of Nola, one of which he wrote each year for the feast of the saint, celebrated on January 14. He also wrote a number of letters in verse to the poet Ausonius.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 346-347. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint John Fisher Bishop and Martyr (1469-1535)
The long agony of the Church in England, beginning in the reign of Henry VIII, had for one of its first and most illustrious victims Saint John Fisher, the bishop of Rochester. Born in Yorkshire in 1469, Fisher was sent to Cambridge University at fourteen, was ordained there in 1491, and served there in various positions until he was named chancellor of the university in 1504. In 1502 he had been made chaplain to Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII. With her financial assistance, Cambridge developed into one of the finest universities of Europe. As chancellor, Fisher brought the humanist Erasmus to teach at Cambridge, restored Greek and Hebrew to the curriculum, and multiplied many times over the meager library of some 300 books. Unlike so many scholars of the time, Fisher had something besides learning: his spirit could not grow in knowledge alone, and love of the cross led him to associate a hair shirt and the use of a discipline with his scholarly work.
Appointed bishop of Rochester when he was only thirtyfive (he had refused richer sees), the saint was as conscientious and successful as he had been at Cambridge. Administering the diocese and the university, producing scholarly works in opposition to the Lutherans, Bishop Fisher was soon the outstanding prelate in England. This, at least, was the opinion of Henry VIII, who early in his reign often spoke glowingly of the qualities of “his Rochester.” As time passed, however, and Henry became increasingly preoccupied with Anne Boleyn, his appreciation for the bishop grew considerably less. In 1529, when the king began divorce proceedings against his wife, Catherine, Fisher spoke against the legality of the action. Henry began insinuating that the bishop was a traitor, the charge that later became standard for anyone who opposed the will of the monarch, even in religious matters.
The Oath of Succession, which acknowledged Henry as supreme head of the English Church, was the next test; when Fisher refused to take the oath (almost alone, with Thomas More, among the distinguished men of England to see the issue clearly and refuse), a trial for treason was the result, with a verdict of guilty that was never in doubt. This was in June 1535; Fisher had been in prison for months, and while there had been sent a cardinal’s hat by Pope Paul III, an action that hastened his trial by further enraging the king against him.
Awakened on the morning of June 21, and told that this was to be the day of his execution, the bishop asked to have a little more sleep, as he had had a restless night; after two hours of sound slumber, he awoke, ready for what was to follow. Taking up his New Testament he read the consoling text: “Now this is everlasting life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou hast sent, Jesus Christ. I have glorified thee on earth; I have accomplished the work that thou hast given me to do” (John 17:3-4). On Tower Hill, facing the huge mob that had come to see him die, the bishop spoke to the people calmly, telling them that he was dying for “the faith of the Catholic Church and of Christ,” and asking them to pray for him. He was beheaded, and Henry, in a last vengeful gesture, had the head of the saint exposed on London Bridge for two weeks and then thrown into the Thames. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized both Fisher and Thomas More, who was executed a few days after the bishop.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 348-350. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Etheldreda Queen, Abbess and Virgin (679)
Although we might not know it, the word “tawdry” leads straight back to old England and Saint Etheldreda. Saint Audrey, as she was popularly called, was invoked against diseases of the throat, and it was the custom to sell cheap lace necklets at fairs held on her feast. These were called “tawdry” (from Saint Audrey), and the word was later applied to anything cheap and showy.
Saint Etheldreda, who lived in the seventh century, was first the wife of an Anglo-Saxon prince and then the wife of a king. She lived in continence with Tonbert, the prince, until his death, and married King Egfrid of Northumbria on the condition that he observe the same relationship. After several years of marriage, Egfrid attempted to break the agreement, and Etheldreda fled to a convent to escape him. About the year 672, she founded a double monastery on the island of Ely and remained there as abbess until her death in 679. The last years of her life were made painful by a tumor in her throat, but she accepted this gratefully, saying that it was a fitting punishment for the pleasure she had once taken in wearing fine necklaces.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 350. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint John the Baptist Prophet and Precursor (New Testament)
The life of Saint John the Baptist is summed up in his title “the Precursor,” the forerunner. His mission was to announce to the Jews that the time of the promised Messiah had come and, when Christ began His public life, to identify Him as the Messiah.
His parents were Zachary and Elizabeth, an elderly, Godfearing couple (Zachary was a priest of the Temple) who had no children and were resigned to that state, when an angel appeared to Zachary in the Temple and promised him a son. Soon afterwards Elizabeth, despite her advanced age, conceived a child. Before John was born, his mother received a visit from her cousin, the Blessed Virgin, who by this time, through the power of the Holy Spirit, had conceived her divine Son. “’When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary . . . the babe in her womb leapt” (Luke1:41) j the common interpretation of this incident is that the Baptist was miraculously enabled to recognize Christ and was cleansed from original sin by the meeting, so that he was born in the state of sanctifying grace. After John’s birth, Zachary uttered his canticle of thanksgiving to God, foretelling his son’s work with the words, “And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High, for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Luke 1:76).
John’s early years were hidden ones, as Christ’s were. Sometime before his public life began, he went into the desert, where, clothed in a camel’s skin, he lived on locusts and wild honey. Then “the word of God came to John” (Luke 3:2), and he began his mission. He preached to the Jews the need of repentance for their sins; when they questioned him about his identity (some believed him to be the Messiah), he replied that he was not the Christ, but “the voice of one crying in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord'” (John 1:23). He warned them that “one mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loose” (Luke 3:16). Whoever accepted his message, he baptized in a ceremony symbolic of the sacramental baptism soon to be inaugurated by Christ.
John’s mission had its fulfillment on the momentous day when Christ joined the crowds and, in His turn, asked for baptism. On seeing Christ, John said: “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29), and at first argued that he was unworthy of baptizing our Lord. Christ had determined on this means to open His public ministry, however, and insisted on the ceremony in order that they might “fulfill all justice” (Matthew 3:17). After the baptism, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon Him, with a voice from the heavens saying, ”This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). To make unmistakably clear the significance of Christ’s appearance, John declared, “I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34).
Now that Christ had begun His public mission, there was no further need for the precursor. John saw this and sent his disciples after Christ, saying ”He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). There remained for him only his cruel death in the palace of Herod, where he had been imprisoned after rebuking Herod for his unlawful marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. The account of this death is a familiar one: Salome’s dance before Herod, her terrible request (prompted by Herodias, her mother) for John’s head on a dish, and the granting of this dreadful favor; such was the grisly chain of events that brought the Baptist’s career to its close.
Before John’s death his sanctity was witnessed by Christ Himself, who reproached the Jews for not having listened to the Baptist and spoke of him in words that were both a tribute to John and a warning to the Jews: “But what did you go out to see?” Christ asked them of John; “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall make ready thy way before thee.’ I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:26-28). John, by being perfectly faithful to his mission as the precursor, was perfectly faithful to Christ; by announcing the coming of the Savior and then, when Christ appeared, effacing himself in favor of our Lord, John had made Christ the whole end and aim of his life; and this is the aim of every Christian.
John the Baptist has always been a popular saint, and relics that are supposed to be his are venerated today in many places. According to an ancient tradition, his disciples obtained his body after his beheading and buried it in the city of Sebaste. During the fourth-century persecution of Julian the Apostate, John’s bones are said to have been burned, with the exception of a few that were saved from the fire and sent to Saint Athanasius in Alexandria. These remaining relics spread from there throughout the Christian world, so that now some part of them is claimed in various places.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 351-353. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint William of Vercelli Abbot and Confessor (1085-1142)
Saint William of Vercelli is remembered as a founder of monasteries, although he seems to have been a man who preferred living alone with God and leaving such active work to others. Born at Vercelli in 1085, he determined on a religious vocation at fourteen and at that age made a pilgrimage to Compostella in Spain. Back in Italy, William drifted from place to place, living at one time with a city friend, at another with a hermit, and once setting out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a venture that ended disastrously in an attack by robbers a few miles from its starting point. He eventually came to Mount Virgiliano (later known as Mount Vergine) in southern Italy and attempted to settle there as a hermit.
He was living in a generous age, however, and soon found himself surrounded by a group of men eager to share his solitude. With no alternative but to start a religious community, he built a church and established his followers as a group of hermit-monks. Before long, the men found their leader’s ideas on asceticism entirely too severe (he allowed them no meat, wine, or dairy foods) and began complaining. He agreed that they should not accept such things against their will and left them to live just as they pleased. Another period of wandering followed, with William starting new communities in various places; in 1137 he came to Guglieto and made his last foundations: one community for men and another for women.
By this time King Roger II of Naples had heard of the saint and wished to have his counsel and guidance. William consented to take the post and spent his last years giving good counsel in the king’s palace. In 1142 William returned to the monastery at Guglieto, where he died on June 25. All his foundations later formed a Benedictine congregation. The only one of his communities still surviving is the original one at Mount Vergine.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 354-355. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Anthelmus Bishop and Confessor (c 1105-1178)
Born about 1105, near Chambery in eastern France, Saint Anthelmus is one of the prominent figures of the Carthusian Order, although he began his adult life as a secular priest. A younger son of a noble family, he was destined “for the Church,” from his childhood, and after being ordained was given a comfortable administrative position in the diocese. During the years he filled this post, Anthelmus occasionally visited a relative at the Carthusian monastery of Portes. The solitary life of prayer and sacrifice he discovered there, with its calm, austere beauty, profoundly attracted him, and he obtained permission to enter the order about 1137.
He began his novitiate at Portes and finished it as the Grande Chartreuse, high in the French Alps, which had been almost destroyed by an avalanche a few years before. Its prior was trying to rebuild it, and Anthelmus was an valuable aid in the work, being as successful at sheep and bam building as he was in helping his fellow monks faithful to their rule. When the prior resigned in 1139 Anthelmus was elected to the office. He completed rebuilding of the monastery and also made it the mother house for all the other Carthusian monasteries that until had been independent. After twelve years as head of order, Anthelmus retired and went back to his solitude–remain permanently, he hoped, an ordinary monk. Subsequent priors had the same idea, however; when Bernard de Varey retired from office at Portes, Anthelmus had step in to fill the vacancy. Partes had become an extremely prosperous monastery, distressingly so to Anthelmus, who spent most of his time there in dispensing its wealth in charitable projects. After two years, the saint once more attempted retirement to the Grande Chartreuse, but now reputation had spread and his help was wanted beyond his own order.
The election of the new pope, Alexander lll, was being contested by an antipope, and Anthelmus was asked to enter the controversy. With the help of another abbot, Geoffrey of Hautcombe, he organized support for the true pope throughout Europe. Once firmly established in the papacy, Alexander demonstrated his appreciation for Anthelmus’ assistance by appointing him, in 1163, bishop of Belley. The saint would have cheerfully foregone the honor, but once put in office he ruled the diocese with his customary zeal and efficiency. Clerical celibacy–or the lack of it–was one of his problems, and he was unrelenting in his insistence that his priests strive to be worthy of their holy station. He also gave careful attention to the laity–from the lepers, whose sores he himself cleaned, to Humbert III, duke of Saxony and lord of Belley, whom he excommunicated for interfering in Church affairs. Utterly serious about this action, Anthelmus would not revoke it even at the pope’s urging; when attempts to influence him in this regard continued, he went back to Portes and threatened to stay there unless his treatment of Humbert was accepted. He had his way–everyone knew he was too valuable to lose–and soon was back at Belley.
The pope wished to send him to England as papal legate in an attempt to end another bishop-ruler quarrel, this one the long and famous conflict between Henry II and Saint Thomas Becket; Emperor Frederic Barbarossa succeeded in preventing this legation, however, and two Carthusians from another monastery were sent. In his last years Anthelmus received extraordinary honors from the emperor: temporal power over the city of Belley itself, the right to coin his own money, and other privileges. The bishop still longed for the cloisters of the Grande Chartreuse, however, and visited there whenever he had the chance. On his death bed in 1178, he was visited by Duke Humbert, who had come at last to beg his forgiveness and absolution. Anthelmus gladly gave it to him and peacefully went to meet the eternal Judge.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 355-357. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Ladislaus King and Confessor (c 1041 – 1095)
Saint Ladislaus (also called Laszlo), one of the heroes of the Hungarian people, was king of Hungary from 1078 to 1095. His way to the throne was made difficult by many obstacles. Duke Bela, Ladislaus’ father and the brother of Hungary’s King Andrew I, was living in exile in Poland when Ladislaus was born about 1041. After Andrew’s death, Bela was recalled to Hungary and reigned until his own death, in about 1065. A struggle for the throne followed between Geyza, Bela’s oldest son, and Solomon, the son of King Andrew. With the help of Ladislaus, Geyza defeated Solomon in battle in 1074 and took the throne. He died after a reign of about three years, and Ladislaus was immediately chosen by acclamation to succeed him.
The new king’s first task was to deal with the still ambitious Solomon, who had begun to make peaceful overtures to his former enemies. Ladislaus discovered that this ”peace move” was a ruse, and the king put the troublemaker in prison. Released shortly afterward by his overly kind opponent, Solomon made one last desperate attempt to gain the throne; with an army of foreign mercenaries he invaded Hungary, was defeated soundly, and vanished forever.
Now firmly established as king, Ladislaus could turn to the needs of his country. The inauguration of just laws was tremendously important to this most Christian monarch, and he saw to it that such laws were passed by his nation’s Diet, or parliament. He also had the courage to give the full benefit of these laws to such despised and often maltreated minorities as the Jews and the Moslems. With his country situated on the rim of Christian Europe, Ladislaus had to fight constantly against barbarians from the east and south; he did this with some success, and in the process he added many new territories to Hungary. His first concern in these areas was always to bring the people the Christian faith; his second, to rule them wisely. Ladislaus’ ability as a ruler led to his being offered the imperial German crown, but he refused the honor since it would take him away from his people.
Utterly devoted to Hungary, he would allow no one to interfere in its temporal affairs, not even a pope. When Pope Urban IT claimed authority over territory Ladislaus considered his own, the king announced to him that ”he was ready … with his whole heart, to obey the Holy See as an ecclesiastical power, and His Holiness the pope as his father; but that he would not subordinate the independence of his realm to anybody or anything.” Remembering Ladislaus’ strong support of Pope Gregory XII in his struggle over the question of lay investiture with Henry IV of Germany, Urban did not doubt the sincerity of the king’s words and let the territorial matter drop. Ladislaus had also founded the diocese of Zagreb (in Croatia), built a cathedral at Varazdin, and obtained the canonization of King Stephen. Like Stephen himself, through whom Christianity had been established in Hungary, Ladislaus was inspired by his faith to make the country he ruled a truly Christian state. After he died in Nyitra (in Slovakia) in 1095, Hungary wore mourning for its holy king for three years, and has cherished his memory ever since.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 357-359. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint lrenaeus Bishop and Confessor (-c 202)
A vital element in the life of the Church is its tradition; this is the body of practices, precepts, and especially doctrinal truth that has been handed down through the centuries by its own members, either orally or in writing. This divine truth given us is, in the mind of the Church, a precious gift; through it we are given a living witness to the continuity of our faith and are put in direct contact with the earliest Christians and with Christ Himself.
A man whose writings constitute one of the most important links in the unbroken chain of Christian tradition is Saint lrenaeus, who lived just after the time of the apostles and who knew those who had seen and talked with them. lrenaeus, who was born some time in the first half of the second century, perhaps at Smyrna (in Asia Minor), was well acquainted with such men as the bishop of Smyrna, Saint Polycarp, who in turn had known Saint John the Evangelist. Because he had been so close to the source of Christianity and had received the apostolic teaching intact, Irenaeus realized the importance of his own witness to the true teaching of the Church and was careful to emphasize its reliability.
With this background and with his own zeal and learning, Irenaeus was an invaluable help tothe Church in her defense against the heresies that assaulted her from the very beginning of her history. Some time after his ordination, he had been sent to the city of Lyons, the largest trading center in Gaul. There, under Bishop Pothinus, he performed his duties so well that in 177 he was given an important mission to Rome. This was to carry to Pope Eleutherius a letter from the Christian community at Lyons, expressing the hope that the pope would deal gently with the Montanist heretics in Phrygia, so that the Church’s unity would not suffer too greatly. While Irenaeus was gone, the emperor Marcus Aurelius began a devastating persecution of the Christians in Gaul. When the saint returned to Lyons, its bishop and more than 40 of his people had been martyred. lrenaeus was selected to replace Pothinus and had the task of restoring the Church in Gaul.
The chief obstacle he met was not persecution, which dwindled after he became bishop, but heresy, especially that of gnosticism. The missionaries he sent throughout Gaul met this false doctrine wherever they went; it taught that men were saved not through faith in Christ, but through special knowledge of some kind, knowledge that in practice always turned out to be a weird mixture of philosophy and magic that only the few could understand. After studying the gnostic doctrines, Irenaeus wrote his treatise Against the Heresies, which contrasted their teachings with the true doctrines of the Church, which he had learned from unimpeachable sources. Although charitable in tone and even humorous at times, his work was so crushing in its effect that gnosticism soon was on the wane in Gaul.
The note of moderation, the desire to win people to Christianity by love rather than by fear, was apparent in all of Irenaeus’ work. His name comes from the Greek word for “peace,” and he was truly a peacemaker for his time. Late in life he made another trip to Rome similar in purpose to his first. This time he begged Pope Victor I for leniency toward a group of Eastern Christians who had been excommunicated for not accepting the Western usage in regard to the date of Easter. The group had been on the point of schism; but, mainly through Irenaeus’ intervention, they became reconciled to the pope and later voluntarily adopted the Western practice for determining the date of Easter. The other events of Irenaeus’ episcopate are lost to us, and we know only that he died about 202. Of all the writings of this noble defender of Christian tradition, only two are extant ; the above-mentioned work against the gnostics and one called Proof of the Apostolic Preaching.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 359-361. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Peter Apostle (New Testament)
The dominant figure among the followers of Christ in the Gospels is Peter, Prince of the Apostles. If through no other means than by listening for years to the Sunday Gospels read in church, every Catholic, whether he is aware of it or not, has an indelible knowledge of the events in the life of the Church’s first leader. It takes little effort for us to recall the most important of them: Christ’s calling of Simon (Peter’s original name) and his brother Andrew away from their trade as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee: “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 ); Simon Peter’s resounding confession of faith in Christ when our Lord tested the apostles by asking them who he was: ”Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew. 16:17), and Christ’s profoundly significant reply: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16 :17-18); then Christ’s foretelling Peter’s denial of Him: “. . . this very night, before a cock crows twice, thou wilt deny me three times” (Mark 14:30), and Peter’s bitterly repented fulfillment of the prophecy: “I do not know the man!” (Matthew 26:72).
Additional information about Peter’s life is contained in the Acts of the Apostles, where his actions as head of the Church are recorded: on the first Pentecost he speaks for all the apostles, and about three thousand converts are made (Acts 2:14-4I); in the name of Christ he heals the sick, who are eager to have even his shadow fall on them (Acts 3:6; 5:15); imprisoned by Herod, he is miraculously released by an angel (Acts 12:1-17); he leads the way in preaching the faith to the gentiles (Acts 10:I-48) and, at the Council of Jerusalem (about the year 51), rules against subjecting them to all the requirements of the old Jewish law (Acts I5:6-11).
Tradition–our final source of knowledge about Peter-completes his history: until about the year 42, he had his see at Antioch; afterwards he was in Corinth, and finally in Rome where he established his see permanently, wrote his two Epistles, and suffered martyrdom–a head-downward crucifixion under the emperor Nero, about the year 67. For centuries it has been believed that Peter’s tomb was under the high altar in Saint Peter’s at Rome, and recent excavations there have brought to light considerable evidence in confirmation of this tradition.
From all these sources an appealing image of Peter emerges: a man so like ourselves that we are attracted to him as we seldom are to saints whose almost inhuman severities leave us awestruck. Peter is human–all too human at times. Full of brave words and good intentions, he as often as not fails abjectly when put to the test. After he confidently leaps out of the boat and begins to walk on the water at Christ’s bidding, fear seizes him and he begins to sink; Christ has to rescue him, saying, “O thou of little faith, why didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Before his shameful denial of Christ he boasts pathetically, “Even though all shall be scandalized because of thee, I will never be scandalized.. . . Even if I should have to die with thee, I will not deny thee!” (Matthew 26:33, 35). When Christ prophesies His own passion and death to the apostles, Peter takes it upon himself to assure our Lord confidently, “Far be it from thee, O Lord; this will never happen to thee”; and Christ has to reprimand his brash follower with, ”Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men” (Matthew 16:22-23). Even after Christ’ Ascension, when Peter is acting as head of the Church, he does not escape reproof; Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, says that, because Peter stopped eating with the gentiles out of fear of what the Jewish Christians would say, “I withstood him to his face, because he was deserving of blame” (Galatians 2:11). Poor Peter! He could do nothing right!
But before we take too much comfort from his weakness and mediocrity, we might note some of his other qualities. At his first meeting with Christ, when he senses something of our Lord’s infinity, he realizes exactly what his own worth is and sums it up with nice precision: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Honest enough to admit this, he is also courageous enough to leave everything he has to follow Christ. So wholehearted is his commitment that when Christ later asks the apostles if they want to leave Him, as many others are doing, Peter can only say, “to whom shall we go?” (John 6:69). Christ is now at center of Peter’s existence and there is nothing else in the world that has any meaning for him. Even after denying Christ, he perseveres in his attachment to Him and repents, and does not fall into the oblivion of despair as Judas did. Peter maintained the precious truth that he had known the Lord and found salvation in Him, and he was able to endure to the end in this faith, through his selfless love of the Redeemer. Ultimately, it was this gift of love, learned from Christ Himself, that transformed Peter from the simple fisherman into the man of faith, Christ’s first vicar on earth.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 362-365. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Paul Apostle (New Testament)
All the first Christians were necessarily missionaries, but one outshines them all; Saint Paul, a man whose eloquence and zeal flooded the pagan world with the name and message of Christ. He was named Saul by his Jewish parents, who were Roman citizens in Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia in southeast Asia Minor. The parents were members of the strictest of the Jewish sects, the Pharisees, and reared their son in rigid conformity to Pharisaic teachings. Immensely talented and energetic, Saul absorbed everything he was taught–including his father’s trade of tent-making. Proud of his brilliance, his parents sent him to Jerusalem to study under the celebrated teacher of the law, Gamaliel. Saul had probably completed his studies and returned to Tarsus by the time Christ began His public life; he does not mention being in Palestine until after Christ’s Ascension, at the stoning of Saint Stephen. By then, Saul was a fiery defender of Jewish orthodoxy, contemptuous of Christians and eager to wipe them out as corrupters of Judaism. He watched with approval as life was crushed out of Stephen, and then started his own career of persecution.
His own words, as reported in the Acts of the Apostles, best describe his activities: “. . . I then thought it my duty to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth . . . . many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests to do so; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them; and oftentimes in all the synagogues I punished them and tried to force them to blaspheme; and in my extreme rage against them I even pursued them to foreign cities” (Acts 26:9-11).
One of these cities was Damascus, where Saul wanted to arrest the Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. The journey there was the most critical of his life; this is his description of it: “. . . as I was on my way and approaching Damascus, suddenly about noon there shone round about me a great light from heaven; and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?’ And I answered, ‘Who art thou, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou art persecuting.’ . . . And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there thou shalt be told of all that thou art destined to do’ ” (Acts 22:6-10). In this momentous encounter, Saul’s life was shattered and re-made. He went to Damascus, was baptized by a holy Christian named Ananias, and then retired to the desert of Arabia to meditate and to prepare himself for his future work.
About three years later, Saul returned to Damascus and began preaching his new faith. His change in allegiance caused a sensation, of course, and the enraged Jews plotted to kill their former comrade. Saul escaped by being let down over the city walls in a basket, and then he visited Peter in Jerusalem and learned many details of the life and sayings of Jesus, and the practices of the Christian community. For a time Paul tried to preach the gospel to the Jews and at the same time escape their vengeance. Then he went back to Tarsus for a few quiet years, where in lonely prayer and thought was forged the profound understanding of the mystery of Christ that would influence Christianity forever. After another visit to Jerusalem, he finally came to Antioch at the request of Barnabas. It was from this city that Paul (he began to use the Roman form of his name about this time) set out on his first missionary journey.
Between the years 45 and 58, he made three of these trips with various companions, including Saints Barnabas, Mark, and Luke, visiting the major cities of Phoenicia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Macedonia. His procedure was always the same: to confront the religious leaders of the people, usually in the synagogue, and boldly preach the message of Christ to them. Often enough, his reward was a stoning or whipping, with expulsion from the city, but despite opposition he made scores of converts and left the areas dotted with firmly established Christian communities. He preached to the gentiles and supported Peter’s decision at the Council of Jerusalem to make Church membership easier for the gentiles by emancipating them from many provisions of the Jewish law. At the end of his third journey, Paul returned to Jerusalem, where he was arrested by the Jews as a transgressor against their law. He would have been put to death, but by appealing to Caesar, as his Roman citizenship allowed him to do, he made it necessary for the officials to send him to Rome for trial. He spent two years there, preaching to all who came to him (he was only under house arrest), and then was released. According to tradition, after a trip to Spain, he revisited the churches he had established in the East and returned to Rome. During the persecution under the emperor Nero, about 67, he was arrested and beheaded.
By the time of Paul’s martyrdom, his extraordinary labors had left Christianity firmly rooted throughout the East. His Epistles, his letters to the Christian communities that he had founded or visited, show the depth and forcefulness of this great “Apostle of the Gentiles.” They contain his personal history, pastoral advice, and theological teachings; most of all, however, they reveal Paul’s profound identification of his own will with that of God, an identification that enabled him to say, ”It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 365-368. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.