Saint Giles Abbott and Confessor (-c 712)
The medieval mind was captivated by stories of Saint Giles, culled chiefly from a tenth-century Latin biography, and legends about him were written in romantic fashion. An Athenian who fled his country to avoid the attention given his sanctity, Giles journeyed to France to become a hermit. The king discovered him when, on a hunting trip, his hounds refused to approach Giles’ cave, where the hind they were pursuing had taken refuge. Later the king aided Giles in founding a monastery and asked for his spiritual counsel. On a visit to Rome, the pope gave Giles two carved cedar-wood doors, which Giles is said to have thrown into the river Tiber to precede him back to France to manifest his trust in the providence of God.
These legends are full of historical contradictions. Giles was, most probably, a monk or hermit in a settlement at the mouth of the Rhone River; his relics were claimed by the monastery there that bore his name. Perhaps Saint Giles owes his fame to this geographic position, for the village now known as Saint-Gilles is close to Aries, which throughout the Middle Ages was an important stage on the great pilgrimage routes to Rome and to Saint James of Compostella
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 495. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Stephen of Hungary King and Confessor (c 969-1038)
In eleventh-century Europe, when political wrangling was the order of the day, the wise man chose his allies carefully. Powerful, calculating kings joined forces to further their aims, and sanctity was often relegated to the cloister, appropriately clad in ecclesiastical garments. But when sanctity showed itself in Saint Stephen of Hungary, in royal garments and soldier’s gear, it was because he had chosen the most powerful ally of all.
The son of a Magyar prince nominally converted to Christianity at his marriage with the Catholic sister of the duke of Poland, Stephen was baptized with his father and succeeded him in 997 as ruler of the Magyars. It was his object to establish Hungary both politically and ecclesiastically. In an area that was a bridge between East and West he chose to establish firm relations with the West and bring his nation in contact with its Christian culture. He himself married Gisela, daughter of the emperor Henry II; after his death she became a Benedictine. Stephen built churches, monasteries, and hospices for pilgrims. He levied taxes for the support of the Church and decreed that every tenth town in his domain should build a church and support a priest. Ending the chaos of old idolatrous religions, Stephen firmly established the organized Church. Revolts, invasions, and plots to murder him he faced and dealt with as a soldier of nobility and a man of sanctity.
Stephen was an approachable king, dispensing alms, in disguise, to his poorer subjects. His sanctity touched those about him, and one of his family, his son Emeric, was canonized at the same time as he. Stephen’s ideal had been that which Saint Augustine had laid down: to be a just king, devout and peaceful. A man of unlimited power, he had nevertheless been obedient to the laws and teachings of the Church. Hungarians have ever since honored him not only as lawgiver and father of the nation, but also as a guide and model, and one whose intercession can bring strength and aid in difficult times. This wise and holy king had chosen an ally who was incomparable. ”If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 496-497. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Pius X Pope and Confessor (1835-1914)
The previous pope to be canonized prior to Saint Pius X was Pius V, in 1712; he had been pope from 1566 to 1572.
The very secret of Pius X’s sainthood was in his own mind, he never ceased to be a peasant, humbly convinced of his own lack of importance. All his life, from the time of his ordination in 1858, he had one view of himself: he was a pastor concerned with the spiritual welfare of his flock. As he was appointed, in turn, curate at Tombolo, pastor of Salzano, canon of the cathedral of Treviso, chancellor of the diocese, bishop of Mantua, and finally cardinalpatriarch of Venice, he did not change. Only the size of the flock changed.
Pius X never ceased to be the simple son of Joseph and Margarita Sarto, poor and pious people of the village of Riese in northern Italy. From the time Giuseppe Sarto was born on June 2, 1835, he was taught to do whatever work was his as perfectly as he could. No matter how important the honors that were heaped upon him, his first concern remained the welfare of his people.
When, on August 4, 1903, he was elected pope, this remained his first concern. In his first encyclical, four months later, he declared that his primary aim was “to restore all things in Christ.” This was not a small aim. Other popes had reigned in times when the authority of the Church was denied. In his reign men denied the authority of God. Having denied the very existence of God, men now seemed determined to destroy the only thing left-mankind itself. This vicar of Christ carried the burden not only of widespread heresy, but of widespread ungodliness and the first of the world wars.
The weapons he used to combat these evils were the weapons given by Christ. The most powerful of these was Christ Himself. Men had grown away from the frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist, claiming in mistaken humility that they were unworthy. It was Pius X who declared that the less worthy a man the greater was his need. In a decree of 1905 Pius X reinstated the practice of frequent, even daily, Communion. It was he who allowed children to receive the Sacrament as soon as they reached the age of reason instead of waiting until they were twelve or fifteen years old. It was because of this work that he has deserved a title that is perhaps the most beautiful that any saint has ever received: ”Pope of the Eucharist.”
In 1904 Pius X set up the commission that gave the Church its present Code of Canon Law. He revived the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and directed its propagation, for he saw clearly that Catholic impact upon the world depended upon the education of the Catholic people. He reorganized the Roman Curia, promulgated new regulations regarding papal elections, and worked for a revival of the liturgy in the lives of the people.
Above all, he saw the need of an active laity. In a time of spiritual and social crisis in the world, the work of the clergy alone was not sufficient. Every Catholic was needed in order “to restore all things in Christ.” One day he was asked what thing was most necessary to save modern society. He answered, ”What is most necessary at the present time is to have in each parish a group of laymen at the same time virtuous, well-instructed, determined and really apostolic.”
Pius X knew that Catholic Action would displease some timid souls, but he continued to insist that the laity must share in the apostolic mission of the Church. Catholics of today have seen the fruit of this insistence. Movements like the Young Christian Workers and the Christian Family Movement have sprung up. They are the arm of the Church reaching into secular society, where the priest cannot always go. “In other times,” said Pius X, “it was the popes and bishops who intervened in the defense of their children . . . today it must be the children who rise up in defense of their father.”
His Holiness Pope Pius X died on August 20, 1914, still the poor man that he had chosen to remain in the splendid surroundings of the pontificate as he had as cardinal-patriarch and as country priest. All who knew him came to realize that his paternal gentleness and understanding, his firm and resolute decisions, his serene confidence in the providence of God all arose from his intimate union with God. His very appearance radiated his holiness. Never since his first entombment in the crypt of Saint Peter’s had offerings of flowers been lacking, or prayers both to him and for his canonization. People from all over the world, one of the greatest throngs ever to fill the piazza before Saint Peter’s, in Rome for the Marian Year, joyfully witnessed his canonization on May 29, 1954.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 497-500. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Moses Lawgiver and Prophet (Old Testament)
There were holy men and women long before our Lord came to bless the earth with His presence; one of these was Moses, the son of Amram and Jochabed. He was born in Egypt where, under a tyrant’s decree much like that of Herod which threatened the life of the Christ Child, his life was endangered when Pharaoh ordered death for all Hebrew male children. Moses’ mother laid him in a basket of papyrus stalks and concealed it in the bulrushes along the bank of the Nile River. His rescue by Pharaoh’s daughter is a familiar story.
Moses was reared in the Egyptian court, but in his manhood he was forced to flee when he slew an Egyptian oppressor of a Hebrew. He took refuge in the country of Madian, where Jethro offered him hospitality, and became a sheep herder. He married Jethro’s daughter Sepphora; God blessed the union with two sons.
Moses was forty years old when God appeared to him in the form of a burning bush and commissioned him to go to Pharaoh to ask for the release of the Hebrew slaves. Moses, said the Lord, was to lead his people out of bondage and into the Promised Land. The very thought of such a task frightened Moses, and he begged God to find someone else to do it. He told the Lord that he was a poor speaker, that he stammered, and that he could never move the Egyptian ruler with his words. But God remained firm in His choice and promised Moses He would stay with the chosen people throughout the pilgrimage. He also said that Moses would have his eloquent brother Aaron to assist him; that Aaron could do all the talking and Moses the acting.
Moses went to Pharaoh and made his request; the ruler, in a rage, refused him. In his anger, he decreed that the Hebrew slaves who were toiling to build the supply cities of Pithom and Rameses must collect their own straw for the making of bricks, and yet make the same quota of bricks as when the straw had been provided by the overseers. The Hebrews were enraged at Moses, whose request had brought a new misery upon them, and they refused his leadership.
After Moses’ second fruitless audience with Pharaoh, God sent nine plagues upon Egypt. These included an invasion of frogs, swarms of gnats and flies, an epidemic of boils, a hailstorm that destroyed all the corn, and a dreadful darkness that covered the land for three days and three nights.
At last Pharaoh began to fear the God of Moses. He gave permission for the Hebrews to go, but stipulated that they must leave their flocks and herds in Egypt. Since the sheep and cattle were the only means of livelihood for the Hebrews, this was an impossible condition. Moses refused to consider it; when Pharaoh would not relent, the tenth and most terrible plague came upon Egypt. It brought about the death of every first-born Egyptian man and animal. The Lord protected His chosen ones as He had in all the previous afflictions. He told Moses to direct the people to smear the blood of a sacrificed lamb on their doorposts. This was a sign to the angel of the Lord to spare all therein and was the origin of the Jewish rite of Passover.
Pharaoh, convinced at last, told Moses to lead his people out of Egypt as quickly as possible. Thus began the long journey of the Jews led by Moses, aided by his brother Aaron and his sister Mary. The story of this journey is related in the Book of Exodus. The Lord Himself became their guide, going before them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
The journey was characterized by miraculous occurrences. There was the miracle at the Red Sea when, at God ‘s command, Moses stretched out his staff and the waters parted to allow the children of Israel to cross, while the Egyptian pursuers were drowned as they tried to follow. The Hebrews were also supplied with daily food that tasted like wafers flavored with honey, which God sent from heaven and which they called manna.
The making of the covenant came to pass at Mount Sinai in the third month of the journey, and alone on the mountain Moses received from God the Ten Commandments and some other prescriptions. He then returned to the people, who accepted them; a sacrifice was offered and the covenant sealed. Later, God called Moses back to the mountaintop and there Moses entered into the divine cloud and remained forty days and nights. During this time he received from the Lord regulations for worship and was also given two tablets of stone on which the commandments were inscribed. It was after this that Moses, returning to his people, was horrified to find them dancing and singing before an idol of a gilded calf fashioned after the ones they had seen in Egypt. Angered at seeing them give to an image the honor due only to God, Moses smashed the tablets of stone against a rock and knocked the idol from its pedestal. The next day he did what he was to do so often in his life; he went to God to beg pardon for his people and to offer himself in atonement for their offenses. But God told Moses that the people themselves would have to atone for their sins, and He threatened to leave them to their fate in the desert. Moses pleaded with God not to remove Himself from the Israelites, and God gave him two new tablets of stone, promising again to lead the people forth. When Moses came down to the plain, his face was transfigured and shone with such radiance that he covered it with a veil lest its light blind those who looked at him.
After almost a year at Sinai the Israelites moved on. But they revolted once more against the authority of Moses, and were punished by a plague of poisonous snakes. As usual, it was Moses to whom the people appealed. Moses begged for their lives, and the Lord told him to fashion a snake of bronze and set it upon a pole. All who looked upon this image with faith, promised the Lord, would be saved.
When the Israelites came within easy reach of Chanaan, the Promised Land, they refused to prepare for battle because the scouts who had gone ahead to reconnoiter came back with frightening reports of the inhabitants. God angrily decreed that only the second generation of the Hebrews would reach the destination. The people became so frantic at this that they attacked the Chanaanites hastily and without strategy. The enemy forces swept them back across the land, and their pilgrimage continued in almost aimless wandering for thirty-eight years.
When it came time for Moses to die, God took him up to a high mountain and showed him the Promised Land he would not live to enter–a punishment for the impatience, or perhaps doubt, he had once exhibited when striking a rock to give the people water. The punishment seems severe, but from those who receive much, much is expected.
When Moses died he was buried somewhere in the land of Moab. He was the greatest of the prophets of the Old Law, a priest, deliverer, lawgiver, judge, leader, and writer. The first five books of the Old Testament are his. He was the strength of his people, the mediator between them and God. Like Christ, he endured all hardships for those he loved. Indeed, Moses is one of the greatest figures foreshadowing Christ, the Savior and Mediator between God and man.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 500-504. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Rose of Viterbo Virgin (1233-1251)
This Italian girl made public speeches in the streets of Viterbo when she was only twelve years old. It was the time when Emperor Frederick II was struggling to make Rome the civil as well as the ecclesiastical capital of the known world, with himself as the chieftain of a united empire of Germany and Italy. Pope Gregory IX had entered an alliance with the Lombards and several other groups; when Frederick attacked the Lombards, Gregory excommunicated him. Frederick then set out to conquer the papal states and the independent cities of the north. By 1240 he had occupied Viterbo, dividing the city into two noisy factions, Guelfs and Ghibellines.
Such was the world into which Saint Rose of Viterbo was born, the child of poor parents. She showed a degree of virtue unusual in a child, and a legend tells that at the age of three she raised her aunt from death by her prayers. At seven, Rose wished to live a solitary life in a room in her parents’ home but shortly afterward became ill and was believed near death. After a vision of our Lady, who told her she was to receive the habit of Saint Francis, Rose recovered and became a Franciscan tertiary.
Involved in the political disturbances of the time was an heretical faction called the Patareni, whose teachings were akin to the Albigensian heresy in France. After a brief preparation in prayer and meditation on the Passion of Christ, Rose began to traverse the streets of Viterbo with a crucifix or other sacred image in her hand, calling out the names of Jesus and Mary and urging the people to return to churchgoing. She was only twelve years old! Standing on a stone because of her short stature she would cry out against the vices and disorders of the day, explain the truths of the faith, and condemn the errors and false doctrines of the heretics. This was a situation distressing enough to the government, but when her speeches were rumored to be attended by certain miracles, the crowds about her house increased until her father forbade her to appear in public under the penalty of being beaten. Rose’s answer was: “If Jesus could be beaten for me, I can be beaten for Him.” She knew what God wanted her to do. Through the intervention of the parish priest, Rose was permitted by her father to preach, and for two years she continued to preach fidelity to the faith and to the pope. The ire of the heretics was unbounded and they finally persuaded the official who governed the city in the name of the emperor to banish Rose and her parents. At Soriano, Rose continued her apostolic mission and on December 3, 1250, prophesied the death of Frederick, which took place eleven days later.
After the death of Frederick, the papal forces regained control of Viterbo, and Rose and her parents returned. She applied for admission to the convent of Saint Mary of the Roses but was refused by the abbess. Rose took the refusal calmly: “You will not have me now, but perhaps you will be more willing when I am dead.”
Through the help of the parish priest a chapel near the convent was opened as a religious center for Rose and a few companions. But the convent demanded the privilege that no other religious community of women should be situated within a given distance of their own, and an order was obtained from Pope Innocent IV for the closing of Rose’s chapel. She returned to her parent’s home where she continued her life of prayer and penance, and died there a few months later at the age of eighteen.
Once more God had used one of the weak ones of the world to vanquish the mighty. The people of Viterbo still honor Rose as protectress of their city and there are two colorful festivals every year to celebrate her life and miracles and remind men that prayer and penance can turn the tide of history.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 504-506. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Laurence Justinian Bishop and Confessor (1381-1456)
There is a man here in Venice who begs for alms at his own house.” Thus the people of the city spoke of Saint Laurence Justinian. The child of noble parents (the family name was Guistiniani), Laurence was born in Venice in 1381 and reared with his brothers and sisters by his early widowed mother, a woman devoted to penance, works of charity, and piety. Even as a child, Laurence gave evidence of unusual devotion and at nineteen decided to enter the religious life. Before taking the step, he asked advice of his uncle, a secular canon of Saint George’s chapter. The priest’s advice was for Laurence to test himself in the practice of austerities. In spite of friends’ fears for his health, he began his mortifications, and was admitted to the chapter of Saint George at Alga, an island about a mile from the city itself.
So much did Laurence abhor the worldliness he had left that he never again, from the time of his entrance into the order, entered his mother’s house except to assist his mother and brothers at their deaths. When he was ordered to go through the streets of Venice begging for alms, Laurence would stand at the door of the family house and ask “an alms for God’s sake.” Though his mother was generous, he would refuse anything more than two loaves of bread and would depart like any other alms-seeker.
Laurence became a priest in 1406, and shortly afterward was made prior at Saint George’s; he was later chosen; superior general of the order. His reform of discipline was so prudent that he was regarded as a second founder. In times of war or of some other public distress, Laurence would tell the rulers of the city that in order to receive any help from God in their present difficulties they must remember that they themselves were nothing, a doctrine seldom heard by the prosperous citizens of Venice.
In 1433, Pope Eugenius IV named Laurence bishop of Castello, an island in the Adriatic and a see which was later transferred and became the patriarch of Venice. Although not desiring the position, Laurence took possession of his cathedral, but so quietly that his own friends were not aware of the fact until the ceremony was over.
Laurence’s life as an ecclesiastical nobleman was as unassuming as it had been as a Venetian nobleman. He slept on straw and a rough quilt and wore plain clothes. In the days of lavish households, Laurence had a household of five. In his rule as bishop, he founded fifteen religious houses a many churches, besides reforming others in the celebration of the liturgy and the administration of the sacraments.
In 1451, Pope Nicholas V made him patriarch of Venice, title and rank comparable to that of an archbishop. In spite his duties as prior, superior general, bishop, and patriarch and his work for the poor, Saint Laurence Justinian had still found time to put his spiritual counsel on paper ; he wrote many books and the last of these, The Fire of Divine Love, the age of seventy-four.
Laurence died on January 8, 1456, and is buried in the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice. His feast is kept on September 5, rather than the date of his death; it is the date of his consecration as bishop.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 507-508. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Bertrand of Garrigues Confessor (-1230)
Saints can look many ways at once. While we often feel it impossible to fix our attention on more than one problem at a time, the saints often have several good, hot irons in the fire. In either of the two contemporary problems that faced him, Blessed Bertrand would have had his work cut out for him, yet he managed the two problems and his own soul so well that he is honored with the title of Blessed.
Bertrand was born in southern France in the midst of the war against the Albigensian heresy. Garrigues was part of the estate of a community of Cistercian nuns of Bouchet, and it was from these good women that Bertrand learned his religion. Because the Cistercians had been entrusted with the mission against the heretics, the nuns of the convent earned a special display of ire from the armies of the Albigensian Raymond VI and were forced to flee before his advancing troops.
Bertrand became a priest and joined in the work of the Cistercians against heretics throughout the south of France. In 1208, Bertrand met Saint Dominic, and in 1215 he was one of the group of six preachers under the leadership of Dominic from which the Order of Friars Preachers began. After a year, in which they grew in number to sixteen, and a year of community life at the priory of Saint Romanus in Toulouse, Saint Dominic sent his friars to begin another foundation. Bertrand and six others were sent to Paris to inaugurate this new house near the University of Paris. Shortly afterward, Bertrand was recalled to Rome by Saint Dominic and given a new charge: to establish the order in Bologna with Friar John of Navarre. In 1219, Bertrand accompanied Dominic to Paris. This journey, it is said, was marked by extraordinary occurrences: the travelers remained dry in a heavy rain and understood German without ever having learned it.
Bertrand was superior of the Dominican house in Toulouse when, in 1230, the second general chapter divided the order into eight provinces, giving the duties of prior provincial of Provence to Bertrand. The remaining years of his life were spent sowing the seed of the Dominican Order throughout the south of France and establishing the Dominican priory of Marseilles.
Bertrand died in 1230, at the abbey of Bouchet, “the very image of the blessed Dominic,” one Dominican writer observed. ”By his watchings, his fasts, and his other penances, he succeeded in making himself so like his beloved Father that one might have said of him . . . ‘Truly the disciple is like the master.’ ”
France was a dark enough place in which to sow spiritual seed. The country had been torn apart by heresy and civil war, but it is in just such times that God provides courageous apostles to bring to people once again the good tidings of Christ and salvation. It was Bertrand who was called upon to plant anew the seed of faith, both by preaching and by building up and extending the Dominican Order.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 509-510. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Cloud Confessor (c 519 – c 560)
All the conspiracies against the rightful inheritor of a throne do not take place in adventure stories, and all the young princes are not plotted against by wicked uncles just in novels. The story of Saint Cloud is more adventurous than fiction because its cast of characters are people famous in history, its setting an exciting period, and some of its chief protagonists are saints.
Cloud (or Clodoald as he was known then) was the grandson of Clovis, a Frankish chieftain who had made himself master of a large part of northern France and founded the Merovingian dynasty. At his death in 511 Clovis divided his kingdom among his three sons, Clodomir, Childebert, and Clotaire. It was an imprudent act, for bitter rivalry rather than brotherly cooperation resulted from it.
Cloud’s father was Clodomir, who had inherited Orleans. Thirteen years after this division of territory, in 524, Clodomir was killed in a war against the Burgundians. His three sons, the youngest of whom was the five-year-old Cloud, were placed in the care of their grandmother, Saint Clotilde. These sons were the rightful heirs of the kingdom of Orleans but because of their youth, one or both of their uncles, Childebert of Paris and Clotaire of Soissons, were to rule for them. These two men plotted to rid themselves of the children and partition their kingdom. With shocking brutality and by a traitorous ruse, Clotaire murdered the two older boys, but Cloud was rescued and taken away to safety by faithful old servants of his father.
Saint Clotilde buried the two little princes in the Basilica of Saint Peter the Apostle in Paris (which later became the Basilica of Saint Genevieve), and herself departed for Tours, wanting nothing more to do with the treachery and malice of her terrible sons.
Cloud was hidden away somewhere out of the reach of his uncles, probably in a monastery. When he came of age he made no move to recover his inheritance, for he preferred the quiet of the cloister to the disorders of the political world. According to Saint Gregory of Tours, who gives the only contemporary account of Cloud, the young man became a monk, and then a priest, and died in 560 after a life of good works. Later accounts suggest that he was ordained in Paris in 551, and founded a hermitage or a monastery at Novigentum, in the vicinity of Paris, a place called, since the year 811, Saint-Cloud.
This story is one in which the hero had the wisdom to see which adornment fitted him best: the crown of state or the crown of sanctity.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 511-512. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Sergius I Pope and Confessor (-701)
One would imagine the election of a pope to be an event of great solemnity. In modern days it is, but was not always in the past. The election of Saint Sergius to the papacy had as much excitement about it as a modern political campaign. It began when Pope Conan was dying and his ambitious archdeacon, Pascal, bribed John Platyn, the imperial exarch at Ravenna, to secure his election to the papacy. John Platyn agreed, and Pascal was approved by one faction, though meanwhile another group had put forward Theodore, the archpriest of the Lateran. The more sensible group of s the electors chose Sergius, and this election was recognized as valid even by Pascal and Platyn, who consequently gave up their campaigns. Sergius was installed December 12, 687.
Many things were happening around this man who suddenly found himself pope. A Syrian, son of a merchant, he had been brought up at Palermo in Sicily and had been ordained by Pope Saint Leo II. Shortly after his elevation to the papal office, there came to him in Rome, Caedwalla, the Saxon king of Wessex. Caedwalla had been converted by Saint Wilfrid and wished to be baptized by the pope. He was baptized on the Vigil of Easter in 689 and died shortly afterward, the first English prince to come on pilgrimage to Rome. Saint Sergius had other contacts with the Church in Britain through his letters and by appointment and support of the clergy there.
As if the care of the growing Church abroad were not enough work, problems at home required courage and wisdom. At a council of two hundred bishops (all Eastern bishops except one), which the emperor Justinian convoked in Constantinople in 692, 102 laws were decreed that were largely in opposition to the Western Church. The main weakness of this council was that it sought to legislate not for the Eastern Church alone, but for the whole Church. Its acts were signed by the emperor and by the four Eastern patriarchs; they were sent to Rome to be signed by the pope so that the acts would be valid in the West as well. Sergius could not sign, for this affair was clearly a usurpation of his authority, whereupon the difficulties began in earnest. Justinian in anger sent the chief of his bodyguard to Rome to bring Sergius to Constantinople. Sergius appealed to the exarch for help, and the people, together with the soldiers of Rome and Ravenna, gathered to defend him. Zacharias, the envoy from Justinian, in terror of the mob, hid in the pope’s rooms, while Sergius went out to restore order among the crowd. The defenders of the pope refused to leave until Zacharias had been put out of the city.
Through all this activity and struggle to maintain the authority and freedom of the Holy See, Sergius continued his work as a careful pastor of his flock, consecrated bishops, ended schisms, and confirmed the privileges of abbeys, among them the monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow in Britain. Besides all this, he took care for the prayer life of the Church. He prescribed that the Agnus Dei should be sung at Mass by priest and people together, and established litanies and processions for the four greatest feasts of the Blessed Virgin.
Pope Sergius died in 701, leaving behind a reputation for true holiness, and was buried in Saint Peter’s in Rome. If anyone could have used the excuse that there wasn’t time to think about being a saint, it was Pope Sergius. Pope amid dissension, defending himself against a powerful emperor, maintaining the union of the Eastern and Western Churches, encouraging the Church in faraway Britain, and counseling the clergy-Sergius wove all these threads into a garment of holiness. Everv Christian, in fact, is called to do this same thing: to obey the law of God, and to fulfill the duties of one’s own state of life, whether one is placed on the chair of Peter or at a desk in a schoolroom, or anywhere else.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 512-514. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Peter Claver Confessor (c 1580 – 1654)
If you love the glory of God’s house . . .’ ‘ Peter Claver loved the glory of God’s house above all else, and his answer to this exhortation of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez sent him on an adventure that took him halfway around the world. “If you love the glory of God’s house, go to the Indies and save those perishing people.”
The objects of Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez’ concern were Africans, snatched from their homes and society by enterprising Englishmen who were eager to get rich by means of the slave trade with the Spanish colonies of the New World.
The condition of these people, once brought to West Indian shores, was worse then abject. At the same time, in the Old World, in Spain, there was a man who would love them more than he loved himself and would become a saint in proving it
Peter Claver was born at Verdu, in Catalonia, a province of Spain, about the year 1580. The son of a farmer, he was sent to the University of Barcelona to study for the Church. After receiving minor orders there, Peter Claver decided to join the Society of Jesus and entered the novitiate at Tarragona. Later, he was sent to study philosophy at the College of Monte Sion at Palma on the island of Majorca. It was here that his mission to the West Indies began, for it was here that he met Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, who, at the time, was a porter at the college.
Fired by Alphonsus’ pleadings for the countless souls being lost because there was none to minister to them, Peter Claver offered himself to his provincial for work in the West Indies, whereupon he was told that all would be decided in due time. He was sent back to Barcelona for theology studies. Two years later he again petitioned his superiors, and at last was sent with a mission of Spanish Jesuits going to New Granada (a territory including present-day Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador). Peter Claver saw his native Spain for the last time in April 1610. He sailed for Cartagena, in what is now the South American republic of Colombia.
After his arrival in Cartagena, he was sent to the Jesuit house in Bogota to complete his studies for the priesthood and was ordained in Cartagena in 1615. I n this bustling seaport city, in a tropical climate, humid and unhealthy, Father Claver spent most of his priestly life. When he made his final vows he added one: to be for life the slave of these miserable and degraded Negroes who were being exploited by his countrymen.
Peter Claver worked a year under Father Alfonso de Sandoval, a Jesuit missionary who had already spent many years in aiding the slaves. Peter would go with a small group of helpers to meet each slave ship as it arrived, and go among the slaves as they were herded into a small shed. Peter Claver brought them medicine, food, and clothing, for, as he said, ”We must speak to them with our hands, before we try to speak to them with our lips.” But most of all, Peter brought them God. To surmount the language barrier in his instructions, he brought with him a group of interpreters. He used pictures to instruct the slaves in Christ’s death and the other great truths of the faith. He explained to them that they were loved by God more than they were abused by man, and that evil outraged God. He offered them the only possible consolation, hope in the promises of God. Prayers, even in simplified form, had to be drilled and redrilled with infinite patience for minds that very often were slow and unused to such thinking. At baptism, each group of ten was given the same name-simply to help them remember it.
After the slaves had left the port, it was nearly impossible to keep track of them all and to continue to confirm them in the faith, yet Peter Claver did all he could in this matter, too. Each spring he would tour all the plantations surrounding Cartagena to minister to the needs of the slaves. As much as possible on his tours, he lived in the quarters of the slaves themselves, refusing the hospitality of their masters. His conversions were numerous, including not only Negroes but Anglicans, Turks, and Moors. He would often spend a whole day in the city square of Cartagena preaching to anyone who would listen.
People regarded his life, with its ceaseless labor and heroic fortitude, as a miracle, but Peter knew his strength was the fruit of prayer and penance as well as of effort. Indeed, there does seem to be one miracle-that he never contracted any of the terrible diseases from which his Negroes suffered.
While continuing his preaching among the Negroes in 1651, he finally broke down and his work ceased. But he did not die. He lingered on, weak and worn out for three years. He spent much of his time in his cell, forgotten by all save a few friends who visited him when they could. When word that his death was imminent spread through the streets of Cartagena, Peter Claver was suddenly remembered. Crowds came to see him and to kiss his hands, carrying off nearly everything portable in his cell as relics. He died on the birthday of our Lady, September 8, 1654.
The civil authority which had frowned on his concern for simple slaves, and the clergy, and his own fellow Jesuits, who had judged his zeal as an indiscretion, now hastened to do him honor. It was ordered that he be buried at public expense with his friends providing the coffin and lights; and the vicar general of the diocese officiated at the funeral. Special Masses were sung by all the religious orders and the Negroes and natives had a special Mass of their own said.
Peter Claver has never again been forgotten and never will be, for he was canonized with his friend, Alphonsus Rodriguez, in 1888, and made the patron of all missions among the Negroes in 1896.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 515-518. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Nicholas of Tolentino Confessor (1245-1305)
At times God desires that the design for sanctity in a soul be etched early in life. Born in 1245, in the town of Sant’ Angelo, a town in the Italian Marches, a province east of the Central Appennines, Nicholas was the answer to the prayers of his middle-aged parents. He displayed a desire for prayer and solitude at an early age, and at seven began various practices of penance and mortification. He was tutored by a local priest and made rapid and gifted progress, which brought him to the attention of the bishop of Fermo.
While still a boy, Nicholas received minor orders. Refusing a career in the secular clergy, he desired a way of life in which he could consecrate himself completely to God. He chose the order of Hermits of Saint Augustine after hearing one of the friars preach, and made his profession before he was eighteen. He was sent to San Ginesio for his theological studies and while there was given the charge of distributing food to the poor at the gate of the monastery. So great was his generosity with the food of the house that the procurator complained and reported him to the prior. It was here, too, that Nicholas performed the first of his many miracles by placing his hand on the head of a sick child who had come to the gate. Nicholas said, “The good God will heal you,” and the child was cured. Nicholas was ordained about 1270 and during his first Mass was rapt in ecstasy. From this time on, he had the gift of conversions through his sermons and his instructions in the confessional.
While visiting a relative who was the abbot of a monastery near Fermo, Nicholas was invited to give up the hard life he had chosen and stay at this more comfortable monastery, but while he was praying in the church, he seemed to hear a voice saying, “To Tolentino, to Tolentino. Persevere there.” And so Nicholas went to Tolentino. Tolentino at this time was still suffering from the Guelf and Ghibelline struggle, and the weakening of religious faith that resulted from war and heresy. A campaign of street preaching was necessary to revitalize Tolentino, and Nicholas was put to this work, making a great success of it. Even those who tried to drown out his voice and disband the crowds that gathered to listen to him finally stayed to hear him and to repent their own sins. Nicholas also worked in the slums of Tolentino, comforting and caring for the sick and appealing to sinners.
Miracles always accompanied this work. Less public than this apostolate to the sinners and to the suffering were the practices of penance and the long hours of prayer that were the source both of his success and of his sanctity. Always exceptionally faithful to the community office in the monastery church, he added many more hours of prayer both day and night, in the church and in his own cold cell. Only humble obedience to his superiors kept him from the strict fasts and harsh self-denial that threatened to make him an invalid.
Nicholas died in 1305, and the miracles that followed were so numerous that the case for his canonization was immediately drawn up. The grave difficulties of the Holy See that resulted from the transfer of the papacy to Avignon delayed any action on his cause until I446, when he was canonized by Pope Eugenius IV.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 518-520. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint John-Gabriel Perboyre Martyr (1802-1840)
To become like his brothers in externals and to make them like Christ in internal, spiritual things was the work that Blessed John-Gabriel traveled halfway around the world to accomplish, a task that ended in a crown-the crown of martyrdom.
Blessed John-Gabriel Perboyre was born in Montgesty in southern France, January 6, 1802, and while still a small boy was noted for his devotion and his willingness to work hard and to make himself pleasant and helpful to others. People are inclined to say of such a boy, “He would make a good priest.” So it was that he was sent, at the age of fifteen, to the minor seminary at Montauban, where his uncle, who was a Vincentian, was rector. It was not long before he was inspired by the missionary ideal, and decided to enter the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians). He was ordained in 1825. Because of his brilliance in theology, he was sent to teach at the seminary of Saint-Flour. In 1832 he was sent to Paris as assistant director-general of the novitiate, carrying out these charges well and conforming to religious obedience, although his real desire was to be sent to the mission in China, especially after his brother Louis, who had followed him into the Congregation, died at sea on his way to the mission field. Finally, in 1835, the permission was granted.
He arrived at Macao, the exotic Portuguese seaport on an island west of Hong Kong, in August of that year. The voyage took five months. Here he learned Chinese with such facility that he was sent to his mission in the Honan province after four months. Attired in what he called “my Chinese get-up”-a shaved head, a long pigtail, and a moustache and eating with chop-sticks, John-Gabriel labored among the Chinese in the work of rescuing abandoned children and rearing them in the faith.
Two years later he was sent to the Hupeh province where, in 1839, there was a sudden and unaccountable persecution. The missionaries went into hiding but Father Perboyre was betrayed for a price and taken in chains·from one government official to another, finally being brought before the governor. Asked to betray his friends and to worship idols, John Gabriel refused and the torturing began. Twenty times he was brought before the officials and twenty times he was tortured because he refused their requests. He was branded with four characters about his face which, translated, meant “teacher of false religion.” Finally, a year after his capture, Blessed John-Gabriel was executed by strangulation along with five common criminals at Wu-Chang-Fu. He is the first martyr of China to be beatified (1889). He was canonized in 1996 by Pope John Paul II.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 520-521. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Guy of Anderlecht Confessor (-c 1012)
Saint Guy was a quiet man; perhaps that is why there are no contemporary accounts of his life. A long time after his death, a miracle attracted attention to his long-neglected tomb. By the time any account of him was written down, much unreliable detail had crept in, and like other simple and hidden souls who were laborers or wanderers, he is familiar to us only through legends.
Guy was born in the countryside near Brussels in the tenth century, the child of good peasant parents who instructed him in the faith. As he grew older, he wandered about for a time and finally came to the Church of Our Lady at Laeken, near Brussels, where he was given the duty of sacristan. Desiring more money to give to the poor, Guy entered into an unfortunate business venture and the ship carrying the goods he had invested in was lost. Having given up his job as sacristan in order to engage in the business proposition, Guy was left in a state of poverty.
In reparation for his misjudgment and lack of wisdom, Guy undertook a pilgrimage to Rome and then to Jerusalem and all the famous shrines of the period.
After seven years he came to Anderlecht, near Brussels, exhausted and ill from the hardships of his journeys. There died about 1012. He was buried in the cemetery of the canons, but after miracles occurred his body was removed to a shrine.
Much folklore has grown up about Guy, “the poor man of Anderlecht.” He became the protector of stables, grooms, coachmen, and other rural laborers; in the eighteenth century a folk festival in his honor included a race of farm horses, in which the winner rode his horse right into the church to receive the victor’s garland of roses.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 522-523. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Eulogius Bishop and Confessor (-607)
Many times in the history of the Church men who had sought a life of prayer and solitude were called out to serve the Church in positions of authority and found themselves caught up in much trouble and activity. Eulogius was one of these.
A Syrian by birth, Eulogius became a monk at Antioch and later became the abbot of his monastery. Because of the pressing necessities of the Church at that time, Eulogius was asked to leave his monastery.
Alexandria, the capital of Egypt, was one of the greatest cities of the ancient world, queen of learning and of ideas; for centuries now its Christian life had been thrown into disorder and confusion by persecution and by successive heresies. Eulogius was made patriarch of Alexandria in 579, and immediately set about the task of restoring peace to the Church, so torn by heresy and unrest.
On a visit to Constantinople on the affairs of his church, Eulogius met Saint Gregory the Great, who was at that time papal representative at the Byzantine court. This event was the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship. The letters of Gregory to Eulogius provide us with much of what we know about the latter and his service to the Church during that period. In one of Gregory’s letters after he had become pope, he mentions to Eulogius that as the fruit of Saint Augustine’s work in England, ten thousand Angles had been baptized the preceding Christmas Eve, and uses this as an encouragement to Eulogius in his work to save Christians from the monophysites. Another letter implies that Eulogius himself may have had a hand in sending Augustine to Britain on his first mission.
Along with his duties as patriarch of Alexandria, Eulogius found time to write, the object of most of his writings being the refutation of the heresies of the time, especially monophysism (which denied that Christ had both a divine and a human nature). The only writings of Eulogius extant today, however, are a sermon and a few fragments of other works. Authorizing a treatise that Eulogius had submitted to him prior to its publication, Saint Gregory said: “I find nothing in your writings but what is admirable.”
Saint Eulogius died, not long after his friend Gregory the Great, in the year 607. In spite of his heroic efforts monophysism survived; the Church of Alexandria was doomed, and in the near future (638) would face its death struggle in the Moslem conquest. Yet Eulogius had been a faithful shepherd of his people, and his guidance had helped many Christians preserve their faith.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 523-524. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Notburga Virgin (c 1265-1313)
Saints are not all patriarchs, popes, martyrs, and missionaries. Saint Notburga was a serving girl, the daughter of a peasant. She entered, at the age of eighteen, the household of Count Henry of Rattenberg as a kitchen servant in the castle that still perches on a spur of rock, looking down on the Inn River. Henry was a feudal count, and the inhabitants of his castle and his visitors were well fed. There was usually a good deal of food left after each meal and Notburga developed the practice of giving it to the poor who came to the side door of the castle, even giving them part of her own meal besides. Her charity was permitted by her masters until the death of the count’s mother, whereupon Henry’s wife instructed that all surplus food should be fed to the pigs. Notburga obeyed for a time and gave to the poor only what she saved from her own meals; but she began her almsgiving again, and was discovered by her masters and dismissed from the castle.
Notburga then sought work from a farmer at Eben, a village nearby, and it was here that a legend about her grew and still remains familiar to Tirolese children. Notburga was reaping one Saturday afternoon when the bell of the church rang for Vespers, indicating to the people that Sunday had begun. Notburga stopped her work and was about to go to church when her master stopped her, commanding her to go on with the reaping. When she told him that Sunday begins with Saturday Vespers, he ignored her and told her to continue her work, arguing that the weather might change and make further reaping impossible. Notburga decided to let it be settled in her way; picking up the sickle she threw it in the air where it remained suspended in the shape of the first quarter of the harvest moon, a sign of continued good weather.
Again, legend enters the story of Saint Notburga. Misfortunes had fallen on the house of Count Henry, which, the legend says, he attributed to the dismissal of Notburga. When Henry married a second time, after the death of his first wifee, Notburga was recalled to Rattenberg and installed as housekeeper, a post she is said to have retained for the rest of her life. The legend continues. that at her death, Notburga asked that her body be placed on a farm wagon and buried wherever the oxen drawing the wagon would stop. The oxen halted at the door of the Church of Saint Rupert at Eben, and there she was buried in the year 1313. In 1718 her relics were placed in a shrine above the high altar, and in 1862 she was named the patroness of poor peasants and of hired servants.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 525-526. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint John the Dwarf Hermit and Confessor (5th Century)
Saint John the Dwarf was one of the many hermits who inhabited the Egyptian wilderness of Skete in the fifth century. He chose to live in this remote wilderness in order to escape earthly distractions and cares and to unite himself to God in prolonged prayer. Known for his obedience, humility, and perseverance, John, at his superior’s direction, performed a unique act of obedience. Planting a dry walking stick in the desert, he watered it every day until it should yield fruit. Though he had to walk a great distance to fetch water, the saint continued the task until its completion in the third year, when the tree bore fruit.
John continued to practice his life of self-renunciation and holiness. When a group of Berbers, a nomadic people that inhabited North Africa, raided the area, he and his companions fled to Mount Kolzim near the Red Sea, where he died.
John was not a saint when he went into the desert. He had faults-pride coupled with an inordinately quick temper. But, unlike other proud men, he acknowledged his faults and knew what provoked them. Avoiding the ways of men and their spurious discussions, he cultivated a life of peace and contemplation. Thus for John the Dwarf as for many others before and since, the wilderness was a school of sanctity.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 526-527. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Cyprian Bishop and Martyr (c 210-258)
Not all saints, as we know, spend their lives in seclusion. Besides the hermits, monks, and nuns who lead a contemplative Christian life, there are many saints who were ”men of action.” Such a dynamic man was Saint Cyprian. Cyprian had a many-faceted personality. As a bishop he was perhaps the most illustrious figure of his age, and in the field of Church affairs and that of Christian morality, no one had a higher or more extensive influence than he. As a writer, he dominated the religious literature of his time and was one of the most read Fathers of the Church throughout the Middle Ages. As a man, he commanded great personal prestige. Cyprian was a public orator, literary scholar, lawyer; and after his conversion a priest, a bishop, and finally a martyr, the first martyr-bishop of Africa.
Born in Carthage about the year 210, Cyprian grew to manhood and became active in the pagan life of that city. But when he was about 35 years old, he became weary of the vain ideals of his pagan world and disturbed at the uncertainties of its philosophy. Then he made friends with an old priest named Caecilian, who answered his queries about Christianity and led him to the Church. Not a man to do things half-way, the orator, teacher, and lawyer was completely changed. He began his pursuit of Christianity by making a vow of chastity. Selling his whole estate, he gave almost all he possessed for the support of the poor. He assigned himself the task of learning all he could about God.
Cyprian’s rise in Christian ranks was astoundingly swift. He was baptized, probably on the Vigil of Easter, in 246, and shortly after this was ordained a priest. So manifest was his virtue and authority in Carthage that soon he was named bishop of that city. His first reactions were refusal and an effort to escape, but the people surrounded his house. After a vain attempt to get out by a window, Cyprian yielded and was consecrated bishop in the last months of 248 or early in 249.
All was peaceful for a short time, but when Emperor Decius ascended the Roman throne he began his reign by persecuting Christians. A pagan mob stormed Carthage, capital of proconsular Africa, shouting “Cyprian to the lions!” The bishop, however, had already retired to a secret hiding place, from which he directed the clergy and laity. Much adverse criticism was heaped upon him for leaving, but Cyprian felt justified in his action. Remaining in Carthage would have been sure death; his survival meant he could maintain discipline and repair the persecution’s damage to his flock.
The bishop continued to lead his flock, substituting letters for his presence. He exhorted Christians to pray without ceasing, urging prayer not only for individual persons but also for the unity and brotherhood of man. The prayers were surely heard, for the persecution slackened in 251.
Not a compromising man, Cyprian was adamant when a matter of religion came into question. As a result of the great many apostasies that had taken place during the persecution, a serious disagreement arose among his priests and people in regard to the reconciliation of these lapsed Christians, many of whom had repented and now wanted to be reinstated in the Christian community. When Cyprian upheld the necessity of canonical penance and the possible reconciliation of all, a group of his clergy defied him and set up a schismatic community, and one of them even went to Rome and joined an anti-papal campaign. But the other African bishops upheld Cyprian at a synod, and approved the excommunication of the schismatic priests.
Only a year after the persecution, Carthage was afflicted with a terrible plague. The poor and sick were ever under Cyprian’s watchful care, and the public affliction served to emphasize his kindness.
A controversy of the time in which Cyprian was concerned in the last years of his life concerned the validity of baptism by heretics. The Church in Africa had a traditional distrust of such rites, based upon a statement of Tertullian, and Cyprian reaffirmed this view. In this Cyprian and the other bishops of Africa were mistaken, and Pope Saint Stephen sent a, warning not to depart from the apostolic tradition, which held that one who had been baptized, even if by a heretic, must not be rebaptized. Cyprian was unable to see the dogmatic significance of this question and, concerned about the unity and discipline of his own community, never did change his mind. Nevertheless, the thing he always had at heart was the unity of the Church.
Saint Cyprian was forewarned by God of the revival of persecution and of his own approaching martyrdom. In August 257, the first edict of Valerian forbidding Christians to assemble for worship was promulgated. The bishop of Carthage was tried and subsequently banished. A second trial by the proconsul Galerius Maximus in 258 resulted in his condemnation; Cyprian was to be beheaded. Texts of the trials show Cyprian calm and resolute, and when sentence was passed he replied, ”Thanks be to God.”
A tumultuous throng of Christians surrounded Cyprian at his death. Even then, he set an example for them: showing Christ-like forgiveness, the saint asked a friend to give his executioner twenty-five pieces of gold. After the beheading, his body was set up as an example or threat by the pagans. When night came, a procession of Christians carried their good bishop’s body away, chanting prayers and praises at his burial. So ended the life of the versatile Cyprian, but not his name and fame. The anniversary of his martyrdom was commemorated at Rome, and he is among the martyrs named in the Canon of the Mass.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 527-530. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Hildegard Abbess and Virgin 1098-1179
The vision made her blush and cry; the shaft of light that looked like an azure sky frightened her. But then Saint Hildegard was only three years old when this first vision occurred. Unlike most children, who would immediately run off to tell someone what they had seen, Hildegard was too shy to tell anyone of the event. From the age of five she understood that the visions came from God.
Hildegard was born in 1098 at Bermersheim, in the Rhineland; she was the youngest of ten children. Sent to a convent on the Mount of Saint Disibod (Disibodenberg), the young girl began her education under the care of Blessed Jutta. Here she learned Latin as well as domestic accomplishments. Hildegard then received the veil of a nun, following the Rule of Saint Benedict. For many years her life was uneventful so far as her companions could see, but not to Hildegard-her visions and revelations continued. She was still too timid to make them known.
At the death of Blessed Jutta in 1136, Hildegard became abbess of the Disibodenberg community, and thus began her public life. Now she told her confessor of the unusual experiences, and he urged her to write them down. Upon the approval of the archbishop of Mainz, a monk was appointed to act as her secretary. A book was completed which told -of twenty-six visions dealing with the Church, relations between God and man, and numerous prophetic utterances.
Saint Hildegard’s activity was not confined to waiting for visions and prophecies. Carrying out her duties as abbess with efficiency, she was responsible for the building of a new monastery, at Rupertsberg, near Bingen. She wrote a large number of hymns, both words and music, as well as fifty allegories for her nuns. Two of her books dealing with medicine and natural history were well in advance of twelfth-century science. Making numerous journeys in the Rhineland in spite of poor health, the abbess founded another house, visited monasteries and clergy, and at the same time continued her writing. She had many eminent visitors, such as the archbishops of Mainz and Salzburg, and Saint Elizabeth of Schőnau. Crowds of people flocked to her from all over Germany and Gaul to receive her wise advice and spiritual guidance. This fame brought her an invitation to visit Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Her correspondence comprises more than three hundred letters, to popes, princes, bishops, abbots and abbesses, priests, and laymen.
The abbess died on September 17, 1179, at the age of 81. The revelations and visions by which God showed his favor to Hildegard won her the name of ”Sibyl of the Rhine.” On account of these visions and prophecies some denounced her as a fraud or a sorceress, but those who investigated her behavior and her writings were easily convinced of her holiness and orthodoxy. She was indeed enlightened by God, and like Saint Catherine of Siena and Blessed Anna Maria Taigi confidently brought His counsels and warnings to popes and kings.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 531-532. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Joseph Cupertino Confessor (1603-1663)
The life of Joseph of Cupertino is surely one of the most extraordinary and baffling among the accounts of holy men and women. For one thing, Joseph could fly!
Joseph Desa was born June 17, 1603, at Cupertino, a village in the heel of Italy. He was an unhappy child. His and widowed, considered him a nuisance. Running sores afflicted him. Extremely. absent-minded, Joseph sometimes even forgot his meals. Because he wandered aimlessly, the village people called him “the Gaper.” He applied himself with no success when apprenticed to a shoemaker. Only the things of God caught his attention.
When Joseph was seventeen he tried to enter the Franciscans, but they refused to accept him because of his ignorance. After eight months spent with the Capuchins he was dismissed; he was too absent-minded and clumsy to perform the duties assigned him. Joseph’s mother was unhappy because of his return to Cupertino, so she prevailed upon her brother, a Franciscan, to accept him into that order as a servant. He was put to work in the stables.
A change seemed to come over Joseph. His duties were performed more successfully. An attitude of cheerfulness pervaded even the most menial tasks. He prayed continually and practiced rigid austerities, sleeping only three hours each night. Seeing all this piety and austerity, the community agreed to admit him as a candidate for the priesthood.
Joseph’s novitiate was marked by constant prayer and contemplation. He was ever patient and humble, but his virtues were not matched by his progress as a student learning was hard for him. But Joseph was fortunate. Not eloquent, the only biblical text he could expound was, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee.” When the examination for the promotion to deacon came, the bishop opened the Gospels at random and asked Joseph to explain that very text, which he did with brilliancy. He was similarly fortunate when he was to be examined for the priesthood. The first members of the class were so learned that the rest, Joseph included, were passed without examination.
Ordained in 1628, Joseph continued his humble and penitential life. He gave up everything the Rule permitted him to and, during Lent, took no food except on Thursdays and Sundays. He performed his simple tasks with diligence, knowing that they were all he was capable of.
Joseph’s life of miracles began from the time of his ordination. No other saint is credited with so many supernatural happenings. He had a more marvelous command over animals than Saint Francis. Anything referring to God would transform him into ecstasy. Sometimes, especially during Mass, he would be lifted off his feet for a long time. Over seventy instances are recorded of this levitation. One Christmas Eve he rose in the air with a cry, flew to the high altar of the church, and knelt there praying for fifteen minutes. When the friars, building a replica of Calvary, were unable to lift a thirty-six-foot cross, Joseph flew seventy yards, lifting and placing the cross. When he was in ecstasy, not even burning his flesh or pricking it with needles had any effect on him. Only the voice of his superior could bring Joseph back to the sense world.
His life was filled with so many supernatural phenomena that he was not allowed to say Mass in public, eat with the other members of the community, or attend public functions. When Saint Joseph attracted crowds, he was taken to Naples to be examined, then to Rome, where he saw Pope Urban VIII. He was then assigned to the Franciscan monastery at Assisi. Yet he was not entirely secluded and a number of eminent persons visited him. Among them was a German duke, whom Joseph led to the Catholic faith. But his habitation soon became too well known and he was again removed by order of the Holy Office, this time to a Capuchin monastery in a more solitary place. After several years he was permitted to rejoin his Franciscan brothers, at Osimo, a little town in the March of Ancona, a province on the Adriatic Sea.
Joseph fell sick in August 1663. On the Feast of the Assumption he said his last Mass, during which his last levitation occurred. He died on September 18, 1663.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 533-535. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Januarius and Companions Bishop and Martyr (c 304)
Walk down any street in Naples, Italy, and ask a native about Saint Januarius. With many gestures and much enthusiasm, he will tell you about the city’s patron saint. At greater length, you will hear of the miracle of Saint Januarius-a miracle that has continued to the present day.
Actually, the fame of this saint in modern times rests on the miracle, as we know little of his life history. No accurate accounts have come down to us. Some say he was born in Naples, others say in Benevento. It is certain at least that a bishop named Januarius was martyred near Naples, and that he was venerated at an early date, for about the year 431 a priest mentions Januarius as a saint and a fifth-century painting at Naples depicts him with a halo and identifies him as a martyr.
The legendary account of this saint describes him as bishop of Benevento at the time when Diocletian’s harsh persecution occurred, between 302 and 304. The story continues as follows.
An intimate friend of Januarius, along with several others, had been imprisoned at Pozzuoli because he had confessed his faith. When the bishop heard their fate, he decided to visit his friends in order to comfort and encourage them. The prison guards informed the governor of the visit, and Januarius was subsequently arrested and imprisoned at Nola. Festus and Desiderius, officials of his church, were taken as they came to visit their bishop. They shared torments and interrogations with him.
Having confessed their faith, the three Christians, loaded with heavy chains, were made to walk to Pozzuoli. Condemned to be torn to pieces by wild beasts, they awaited fulfillment of the emperor’s command. When they were exposed to the savage animals in the amphitheater, none of the beasts would touch them. The amazed and angry governor had the martyrs beheaded, and they were buried near Pozzuoli.
In the ninth century, the relics of the saint were removed from Pozzuoli. Naples claimed the remains of Januarius, but the claim went unfulfilled. The relics were removed to Benevento during the wars of the Normans and afterwards to the abbey of Monte Vergine, but in 1497 there were triumphantly brought to Naples. The city, seven miles from Mount Vesuvius, credits the martyr with its deliverance from the frequent and damaging eruptions of the volcano.
The details of the life and martyrdom of Saint Januarius are not certain, but the ”miracle of Januarius” has a worldwide fame; it is the liquefaction of his blood. Preserved in the chapel of the Treasury in the cathedral of Naples is a small glass vial fixed in a metal reliquary. The vial contains a dark, opaque, solid substance. Eighteen times a year the relic is held in the presence of the martyr’s head by a priest, who occasionally turns the vial upside down. Prayers are said by the people. After a time, usually from two minutes to an hour, the dark substance, before immovable, becomes liquid, reddish in color, and froths and bubbles. The priest announces the completion of the miracle, and the congregation venerates the relic.
There is no doubt that the blood in the vial actually becomes liquid. Records show that the liquefaction has occurred for the last four hundred years. No scientific explanation for the happening has yet been made. Certain facts concerning the substance are the following: it does not always occupy the same volume; there is a variation in weight; the liquefaction bears no relationship to temperature changes.
On the other hand, there are reasons to dispute the liquefaction as a miracle. Other blood relics are found in the neighborhood of Naples which seem to behave similarly. We have no proof that the blood in the vial is actually that of Januarius. The blood has liquefied several times while a jeweler was repairing the reliquary. Furthermore, there seems to be no purpose to the miracle.
The Church has made no commitment as to this alleged miracle. We are not bound to believe that this liquefaction is a miracle. Neither the obscurity of his life history nor the legend of his miraculous relic are of any great importance but we do not doubt that Saint Januarius did exist, that he was martyred for the love of God, and that he is honored by the Church as a saint.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 535-538. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Eustace and Companions Martyrs (-c 118)
Nothing can be said of Saint Eustace with certainty. Even his historical existence remains in doubt. Yet he has been venerated for many centuries in both East and West.
When facts are few, people often lean on legend to supply them. Such is the case with Saint Eustace. The tale relates that he was a Roman general under Emperor Trajan. While hunting one day, a stag with a cross between its antlers approached him, calling his name. (This incident was afterwards made part of the legend of Saint Hubert.) Eustace was at once converted by the vision, and he and his family were baptized. The most prominent characteristic of the martyr’s Christian life seems to have been his generosity to the poor.
After undergoing severe persecutions and afflictions, Eustace, his wife and his children were cruelly martyred by the men whom he once served the emperor. Their penalty for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods was a gruesome one – the entire family was locked in a large bronze figure of a bull, a fire was lighted, and they were roasted to death.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 538-539. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Matthew Apostle and Evanglist (New Testament)
God chooses whom He wills, and is not influenced by the prejudices of man. Christ too made His own choice of friends without regard to the opinions of His fellow Jews. He received into His companionship, even into the intimate circle of the twelve who were later to found His faith and spread His truth over the earth, a publican. The despised publican did not need to beg or entreat admittance to Christ’s association; the Son of God invited him. Matthew, also called Levi, was that publican.
A publican was one who collected taxes from the Jews for their Roman conquerors, or for Herod Antipas. Each year a certain amount had to be collected. The authorities did not care how the publican collected his money, how much he demanded of the Jews, or how much he kept for himself, so long as the requested amount was sent to the treasury. Thus the publican had what we might term a “racket”-he could collect from the Jews an unlimited amount of tax and send only a small percentage of it to the treasury.
No one was more shunned by the Jews than a collector of taxes, and understandably so, since this was one of their own people working for the Roman administration, robbing them, while making a large personal profit. Publicans were not all lowed to trade, eat, or even pray with other Jews. The Jew even refused to marry into a family that had a tax-collector among its members.
Saint Matthew’s place of business was at Caparnaum, on the Sea of Galilee. He must have seen our Lord there more than once, had heard of His miracles, and perhaps had heard Him preach in the synagogue, but had probably never even thought of speaking to Him-he was used to being scorned. One day, he looked up from his table of books and money to see Christ standing before him. The Son of God had only to look at Matthew and say two words: “Follow me.” This was all that was needed to make him rise, leaving his pieces of silver to follow Christ. Joyfully he arranged a dinner party for Christ and His companions and invited his fellow tax-collectors. He was saying farewell to his business, and celebrating his entry into a new employment. A whole new existence was now opened up to the publican. His name Levi, was changed to Matthew, meaning “the gift of God.” Sharing in the poverty and work, the sufferings and the conversions, he followed Jesus throughout His earthly life.
After Christ had ascended into heaven, Matthew wrote his Gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel is a short history of Christ in which Matthew intended to demonstrate that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of David, whom the Jews awaited. It was the first of the Gospels to be written and was written in Aramaic, probably while Matthew was still in Palestine.
Matthew remained with Peter and the others for some time, preaching in Judea. After the apostles separated, each going a different way to spread the new faith, he is said to brought Christianity to the Persians and to other Eastern nations. Some authorities say he died a natural death; say he suffered martyrdom. The Church venerates him as a martyr, and portions of his relics are claimed by the cathedral at Salerno, Italy.
Christ’s words, “Follow me,” echo down the centuries. The heart of Jesus, burning with love for men, seeks others who will rise and follow Him. We, like Matthew, do not need to beg association with the Son of God – all we need do is to accept His invitation.
In the traditional symbolization of the evangelists, based on Ezekiel 1:5-10 and Revelation 4:6-7 the image of the winged man is accorded to Matthew because his Gospel begins with the human genealogy of Christ.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 539-541. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Thomas of Villanova Bishop and Confessor (1488-1555)
Saint Thomas is often called ”Father of the Poor.” From his parents he received a rich inheritance–not a large estate or a trust fund, but rather the practice of charity.
Thomas was born at Fuenllana, Spain, in 1488. The surname commonly given him in English is the Italian form of Villanueva, where he was raised. His parents were not rich -his father was a miller; but by living frugally they were able to contribute liberally to the poor. Rather than sell the grain that exceeded their own needs, they made it into bread to give to the poor. His mother taught him well, and while still a young lad he would give away his own lunch or his jacket or shoes.
At the age of fifteen, Thomas was sent to the University of Alcala, where he was particularly noted for his brilliance as a student and for his Christian perfection. His whole time was spent in study, prayer, and charitable actions. While Thomas was at the university, his father died, and Thomas resigned his inheritance except for what money would be necessary to complete his education. The young man received a master’s degree in theology, and at the age of twenty-six was made professor of philosophy.
In 1516 Thomas joined the Augustinian friars. In 1520 he was ordained, and took up his priestly duties with love and dignity. He was assigned to preach, and he also taught theology at his convent. Thomas became prior of Salamanca, then of Burgos and Valladolid, and was afterwards provincial of Andalusia and of Castile. He governed his religious brothers through the example of his holy life rather than by authority. In 1533 he sent the first band of Augustinians to America as missionaries to Mexico.
Although Charles V was an intimate friend of the saint, Thomas declined when the emperor offered to name him archbishop of Granada. In 1544 Charles nominated him to be archbishop of Valencia, and he again declined. Prince Philip, however, asked Thomas’ provincial to command him to conform to the emperor’s will.
Thomas was consecrated and took possession of his cathedral on January 1, 1545. Because he was poor, he was given four thousand crowns to furnish his house. Thomas immediately sent the money to a hospital, explaining that the money would serve God better as a gift to the poor and sick rather than as furniture for a poor friar. The archbishop kept the humility of a friar; his canons were often embarrassed by his clothes. He even mended his own garments because the small sum he saved would feed a poor man. Eighteen thousand ducats a year were allowed the archbishop, but Thomas kept only four thousand for household and office expense giving the remainder to the needy. Every day hundred several hundred poor people came to his door to receive food and money. Orphans were taken under his care, and every poor girl was given a dowry. Although many people who received his kindness abused it, he continued to aid them.
The charity of the archbishop of Valencia to the materially poor was equalled by his charity toward the spiritually poor, the sinners. Rather than use coercive methods, such as excommunication, he preferred to persuade sinners to repent. Thomas tried to supplant the brutal Spanish Inquisition with Christian education. He persuaded the emperor to provide funds for priests to work with newly-converted Moors, and he himself founded a college for them. He also founded colleges for poor scholars at his university, Alcalá, and at the University of Valencia.
Taken ill in August of 1555, Thomas, after making his spiritual preparation, began to prepare in other ways for death. Having commanded all the money he possessed to be distributed among the poor of the city, he ordered all his goods, save for his bed, to be given to the rector of the college. The bed on which he lay was to be given to the jail for the use of prisoners after his death. On September 8, 1555, after speaking the words, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit,” Saint Thomas of Villanova died-materially poorer than the very poorest he had helped, but rich in virtue and the love of God.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 541-544. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Thecla Virgin and Martyr (1st Century)
The story told of this girl is like a radio serial, a series of episodes in which the heroine always gets rescued from her difficulties. Or perhaps it is more like a fairy tale, with Thecla as the princess. At any rate, this is a legend that grew up around Thecla, who lived in lconium, a city in Asia Minor. Most of the story comes from a romance called Acts of Paul and Thecla, written at the end of the second century. The people loved the romance; they enlarged upon it and handed the following version down to the twentieth century:
Thecla had everything a young girl could desire: she was beautiful, rich, had a young fiancé named Thamyris who was devoted to her, and she was very intelligent, knowing all about literature and philosophy. She was soft-spoken, and words of graciousness fell from her lips. More important was the young maiden’s deep love for Christ.
One day Thecla heard Saint Paul speak. As we know from the New Testament, Paul praises a life of virginity. Thecla was much impressed by his teaching and determined to put practice–she immediately broke her engagement to Thamyris.
The young man was indignant at the thought of losing the beautiful Thecla, and he tried to win her back with flatteries and caresses. Her parents were against her, shamed that their daughter would give up wealth and social position to lead a lonely life following the street-preacher Paul. Even the servants and the town officials begged her to marry Thamyris and live as other girls of the time did.
Thecla saw she could never lead a live of virginity at home without constant defense again her relatives and friends. Since her love for for God was great and she was very sure of the virtues of the kind of life she desired, she secretly left her wealthy home, friends, and position to find Saint Paul.
Her fiancé was so angry that he complained to the civil magistrate; this official ordered Paul scourged and sent from the city. Thecla herself was to be burned at the stake. Just when the twigs around the maiden were lit, a storm came from heaven to put out the flames. She escaped in time to warn Saint Paul, and together they fled to the city of Antioch in Pisidia.
In Antioch an official named Alexander was moved by Thecla’s beauty and tried to abduct her in the street. The maiden fought against him, tearing his cloak. Naturally Alexander was furious; the people had stood by and laughed at him. He dragged Thecla off to the governor, who condemned her to the beasts. The virgin was stripped of her clothes and exposed in the amphitheater. Even the spectators were terrified at the rage of the lions, bears, and tigers. Thecla alone was unconcerned as she fearlessly watched the animals rushing toward her. Suddenly a change came over the beasts: as the lions drew near, they lay down at her feet and licked them. The bears and tigers fought among themselves and seemed not to notice the young girl.
Thecla, in the face of death, realized that she was not yet baptized. Seeing a ditch of water in the amphitheater, she plunged into it in an expression of desire for baptism. Wild seals that had been in the water now floated dead. When Thecla emerged, there was a cloud of fire around her. The spectators were unable to see her nakedness; the animals were afraid of the flames and would not go near her.
The governor would not be defeated; he next ordered her to be goaded by bulls. But fire burned the ropes binding Thecla to the bulls. When Queen Tryphaena, a friend of Thecla, fainted, the governor stopped the games. Onlookers cheered, and Thecla was released.
Now Thecla dressed herself as a boy and fled to Saint Paul. She taught the word of God for a time and then retired to live in a cave at Seleucia for seventy-two years. Many said she had the power of healing and performed miracles. Hearing this, the Greek physicians became jealous and sent a band of young men to kill her. At the approach of the group, the pure and holy Thecla started to pray. The rock in the cave opened, and she vanished into it. Some say God called her then; others that she found an underground passage in the rock which led to Rome and Saint Paul.
The story is pure fiction. Yet who is to say that Paul could not have had a collaborator who suffered for Christ? Thecla probably did exist, and was converted by Saint Paul. All Christendom venerates her, and there is a church erected near the cave at Seleucia in her honor. If her martyrdom did not consist in the death of her body for Christ, it was in the renunciation of her body for the sake of God’s love. While the story is fiction, the message of the value of virginity that it contains is very real.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 544-546. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Gerard Sagredo Bishop and Martyr (-1046)
Gerard Sagredo was another rich man who began his journey to heaven by renouncing his earthly goods. Of wealthy parentage, he was born in Venice, Italy, toward the end of the tenth century. He answered the call of his vocation at an early age, giving up his family and estate to become a Benedictine monk. He was sent to Bologna for his studies in liberal arts and philosophy. In 1021 he became abbot of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore.
While on a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem, the abbot passed through Hungary and became known to King Stephen. Stephen had been worried about the large number of infidels in his country, and now urged Gerard to stay in Hungary in the hope that he might convert the pagans. The king was convinced that his visit to the country had been inspired by God. The monk consented to stay but not at the court. Instead he chose to live in a small hermitage.
Saint Stephen then asked Gerard to tutor his son, Saint Emeric. Besides teaching the young prince, the monk found time to preach the Gospel. He had such success that when Stephen established the see of Csanád in 1035, Gerard was made its first bishop. There was more to the appointment than honor; the people were, for the most part, idolators and those who professed Christianity were savage and ignorant.
Gerard Sagredo labored successfully. Although two-thirds of the residents of the city of Csanád were infidels, they were all Christians less than a year after the new bishop was consecrated. Conversions in the rest of the diocese were equally impressive. The bishop was as humble as he was ambitious — he chose to live at a hermitage in a small cell.
Christianity in Hungary suffered when Saint Stephen died in 1038. Peter, his nephew, a cruel and sinful man, ascended the throne. Fortunately, he was deposed four years later by his own subjects. His successor, a savage chieftain called Aba Samu, was no improvement over Peter. When asked to crown Aba Samu, Gerard refused and told the new king that God would end his reign and his life if he refused to change his wickedness. Only two years later the people who had placed him on the throne beheaded him. The next ruler Andrew, did nothing to stop the revolt against Christianity which was spreading over Hungary; it was even said that was encouraging the return of paganism.
Saint Gerard resolved to talk to the new king. On the way to meet Andrew, he had a vision of his coming martyrdom. About to cross the river Danube, his party was stopped by a military group under Duke Vatha, who had been a notorious enemy of Stephen. The soldiers began to hurl stones at Saint Gerard, overturned his vehicle, and dragged him to the ground. As the saint was kneeling, praying for his enemies, the soldiers ran a lance through his body and hurled it over Blocksberg Cliff into the Danube below. Saint Gerard’s work in Hungary did not end with his life; King Andrew was impressed by his heroic death that he was converted a fostered Christianity throughout his reign.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 547-548. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Finbar Bishop and Confessor (-c 623)
All Ireland celebrates on September twenty-fifth. It is not the Feast of Saint Patrick, nor is it the anniversary of Irish independence from England-it is the Feast of Saint Finbar, founder of the city and the diocese of Cork.
Finbar was born at Rathculleen. He is said to have been the son of a master smith called Amergin. He was baptized Lochan, but when he went to school in Kilmacahill, the monks there called him Fionnbarr, or Whitehead, because of the color of his hair.
The saint preached in many parts of southern Ireland, founding at least twelve churches. He then lived on an island as a hermit. His most well-known deed, however, was the establishment of a monastery at the mouth of the river Lee. The site was a low marshy ground, or corcagh, from which the city of Cork derives its name. Finbar became so famous, and the monastery so excellent, that Christians thronged to the monastery, settling there to lead a holy life. The settlement grew and became the city of Cork.
Evidently Finbar extended his spread of Christianity to Scotland, preaching mostly in the region of Kintyre. The island of Barra in the Western Isles is named for him. He is said to have died at Cloyne, but his body was taken for burial to his own church at Cork.
Finbar is interestingly portrayed in Irish legends. One relates a trip to Rome, where Finbar was to be consecrated bishop by Pope Saint Gregory the Great. The pope had a vision which told him not to make the Irish monk bishop because God wished to consecrate him Himself. Upon Finbar’s return to Ireland, a flow of oil burst from the ground, conveying the saint toward heaven, where he was consecrated with the oil of the gusher. Another story tells of a conversation he had with Saint Laserian. Evidently Laserian was wary of his companion, for he asked him to prove God was with him. As Finbar prayed, a bush above them suddenly grew nuts. When the nuts ripened and fell to the ground, Finbar picked them up in handfuls, pouring them in Laserian’s lap. Legends of the great Irish monk tell of an unusual miracle at his death: when his soul ascended to God, the sun did not set for a fortnight. Both fable and fact have endeared Finbar to the Irish people.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 549-550. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Nilus Abbott and Confessor (-c 910-1004)
Some miles from Rome, at the foot of Mount Cavo, stands an abbey that in recent years has regained much of its ancient splendor by the restoration of its bell tower and the interior of its church. But it has a far greater significance than as sight for admiring tourists or a treasure for antiquarians. The Abbey of Grottaferrata is the center of an important revival of studies of Byzantine Catholicism and of the Eastern apostolate.
The abbey owes its origin to Saint Nilus. He was born about 910 in Rossano of one of the foremost Greek families of Calabria, a southern province of Italy. This area was in ancient times founded as a Greek colony and was part of the Byzantine Empire until 1050.
The child was baptized Nicholas, was given a good education, and grew up a fervent young man. The monastic life had some attraction for him, but he married and it was only after the death of his wife and child that he seriously turned to God, in the year 940. It was a somber age, disturbed by internal war between Bysantines and Lombards, and suffering frequent Saracen raids on the coasts. After fleeing his own town of Rossano he became a monk and settled at a monastery near Palma on the Tyrrhenian Sea. A Moslem attack caused the community to flee, but Nilus became a hermit in a nearby forest. Later, at Rossano, he ruled a convent and gained fame for his wisdom and prudence; here also he interceded with the authorities for mutineers condemned to death and with the Jewish community for a young man who had killed a Jew, and once he succeeded in ransoming a number of enslaved Christians. The position of archbishop was offered him but Nilus refused.
When a Byzantine prince asked the Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino to give Nilus and his fellow monks a monastery, the abbot sent them an invitation to come to Monte Cassino. These bearded Byzantines and their Eastern liturgy were a strange sight to the Benedictines, but they provided a monastery at Valleluce, where the community remained for fifteen years and then moved to Serperi, near Gaeta. Emperor Otto III offered him a monastery richly endowed, but Nilus asked the emperor only for his promise of repentance and a good life, saying “You are a good emperor, you are mortal, and must die. You must render account of your deeds, good or evil.” Otto bent his crowned head for the old man’s blessing.
Sometime in 1004 Nilus set out on a visit to a monastery and fell ill near Tusculum. A vision of our Lady showed him that this was to be the permanent home of his monks. This promise was fulfilled when the count of Tusculum offered land on the slopes of Mount Cavo and the community was sent for. But Nilus died before the monastic buildings could be begun. To this day Saint Nilus is honored as founder and first abbot, and Grottaferrata today is a shining symbol of the Byzantine Catholics who never separated themselves from the unity of the Church under the Holy See.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 550-552. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saints Cosmas and Damian Martyrs (-c 303)
Cosmas and Damian, always honored together, have since ancient times had a widespread cult in both East and West. All that can be said about them with certainty is that they were martyred under Diocletian and were buried at Cyrrhus in Syria. Their origin and true from is beyond recall, but from among the extravagant and historically worthless fragments of tales about them a story can be reconstructed. It goes as follows.
Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers who were born in Arabia and who studied the sciences in Syria. They settled down to practice medicine at Aegeae, a town on the Gulf of lssus in Asia Minor. Very active Christians, they propagated their faith whenever possible. They treated the sick without ever accepting any money for their services. Loved by all with whom they came in contact, they were called the “holy moneyless ones.”
They were too well known as Christians to go unnoticed when Diocletian began his persecution. The governor of Cilicia apprehended them and, after inflicting various torments, beheaded the doctors. Their bodies were transported back to northern Syria and buried at Cyrrhus.
Legend attributes many miracles to Cosmas and Damian. They are said to have defied death by water, fire, and crucifixion before they were beheaded. Many miracles of healing were credited to the pair after their death, the saints appearing to the sick and either prescribing a medicine for them or effecting a direct cure. Emperor Justinian I attributed recovery from an illness to them and rebuilt a church in Constantinople in their honor. Other churches under their patronage were built in Pamphylia and Cappadocia, provinces of Asia Minor, at Aegeae, Jerusalem, and Rome.
The “moneyless ones” are still honored today. They are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass and, with Saint Luke and Saint Pantaleon, are the patron saints of physicians and surgeons. They are likewise the patrons of prescription druggists and apothecaries.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 552-553. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Wenceslas King and Martyr (907 – 935)
Good King Wenceslas — we all hear this song at Christmas time. It’s a disappointment to find that the nineteenth-century author, Neale, who wrote the carol, only used name of Wenceslas because it suited his music. But the true Wenceslas was good, and he was a king.
Wenceslas was born in 907 near Prague, in Bohemia (now part of Czechoslovakia). His parents were Vratislas and Drahomira, king and queen of Bohemia. His grandmother, Ludmila, asked that she might educate the young prince, and along with his Slavic language he was taught to love God. His father later sent him to the Latin school at Budec. When his father was killed fighting against the Magyars, Wenceslas was called upon to rule the country. Since he was still young, Queen Drahomira became regent and governed Bohemia. Drahomira had been but a nominal Christian, and now that all restraint was gone, tried to suppress Christianity and did all she could to persuade Wenceslas to renounce the faith. Much of her action against Christians came about because of the influence of some evil noblemen who still clung to the traditional pagan sacrifices.
Saint Ludmila became alarmed at the persecution of Christianity and urged Wenceslas to wrest the government from his mother. Learning this, two nobles went to Ludmila’s castle and strangled her. Deprived of her support, Wenceslas waited until he came of age to rule Bohemia.
The political policy of the saint was to maintain unity, so he cultivated friendly relations with the German emperor. On one occasion, when a neighboring tribe led by a certain duke raided the country, Wenceslas suggested that he and the duke might settle the the issue by single combat, thus sparing the blood of many soldiers. Just as his adversary was about to throw a javelin at him, he saw a brilliant cross shining on the forehead of Wenceslas and threw down his weapon.
One of his first official acts was to establish liberty of conscience in an attempt to quiet the unrest of pagan nobles. “If God bores you, why forbid others to love Him?” he asked them. He himself desired to love God above all things and with all his heart. He welcomed the Bavarian and Swabian priests who came with books and relics. He built churches, notably that of Saint Guy at Prague. As for himself he wore penitential garments under his royal robes, and spent many nights in prayer, especially to thank God for His blessings. He kept a very strict fast in Lent, and more than once made a pilgrimage, barefoot along the icy roads.
The policy of unity, together with the promotion of Christianity, gained Wenceslas many enemies, especially among the heathens. He thought of abdicating to enter a monastery, giving the throne to his brother Boleslas, but he wished first to finish building a church at Prague in honor of Saint Vitus. Boleslas joined with the king’s enemies and together they formed a plot against him . Wenceslas was invited to his brother’s residence at Boleslava and it was planned to assassinate him at a banquet. But the murderers hesitated, and decided to wait until the next morning. On September 28, 935, as Wenceslas was going to Mass, Boleslas attacked him with a sword. The brothers struggled, but three other rebels rushed up and killed the king. As the good Wenceslas died, he murmured, “Brother, may God forgive you.”
Boleslas became terrified when he heard of the many miracles credited to Wenceslas at his tomb in Boleslava near his own chateau and consented to transfer his body to the Church of Saint Vitus at Prague. The saint was honored as a martyr, and since 985 his feast has been observed in Bohemia. He is venerated as a patron of Czechoslovakia.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 554-556. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Michael Archangel
We usually picture an angel as a human being with wings and Saint Michael becomes a human being with wings a sword. In reality, an angel has no body whatsoever, and Michael has no sword.
In the scale of being, angels are infinitely above men, being pure spirits. The angels are perfectly holy creatures who obey, love, and glorify God at all times, and serve as His messengers. The angels carry our prayers to God and bring back His blessings to us. That the blessed angels intercede, with God for us and that we may invoke their patronage is an article of the Catholic faith.
The word “angel” means messenger. Archangels are so called because they are considered chiefs or leaders entrusted by God with important missions. Only three are known by name: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.
The name Michael means “who is like God?”; it is like a war cry against those rebellious angels who refused to serve. Most of us think of Michael only as the one who overcame Satan, as Saint John describes him in the Apocalypse (12:7). Saint John also sees him as defender of the Church. Michael is mentioned by the prophet Daniel as one of the chiefs of the heavenly hosts and the guardian of the people of both covenants, the Hebrew people and the Church Militant. Both the liturgy and popular devotion call upon Michael the Archangel. His intercession is asked for at the incensing in solemn Mass, in the prayers for the dying, in the Confiteor, and in the prayer after Mass beginning “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.” He is also specially invoked as the protector of soldiers.
The first center of devotion to Saint Michael was in Asia Minor near the city of Colossae; it seems to go back to the first century. Constantine built a church in his honor in Constantinople; there were others in Alexandria, in Egypt, and in Milan, Genoa, Ravenna, and other Italian cities by the end of the fifth century. One of the greatest centers of devotion to Saint Michael to be seen today is Mont-SaintMichel in Normandy, founded in 709. September 29 celebrates the dedication at Rome of a basilica on the Salarian Way, before the sixth century. Saint Michael has been venerated on this day since that time. Besides Michael, we honor all angels on this day: we thank God for the glory which they enjoy; we thank Him for giving us the aid of the angels in our struggle for salvation; we join the angels in adoring God; and we implore their intercession.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 556-557. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Jerome Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 342-420)
Saint Jerome very much a part of our everyday life. Most of us are affected by his chief work. This work, the Vulgate Bible, a translation of Scripture into Latin, which became and still remains the approved Catholic version, is undoubtedly one of the greatest accomplishments of history. It has had a tremendous influence on the evolution of Christian culture, and it is for this reason that all of us owe much to Saint Jerome.
Jerome was born about 342, at Stridonium, a little village in Dalmatia, near the borders of present-day Hungary. Its exact site is unknown, as it was wiped out in a Gothic invasion. His parents were Christians; Christians in the fashion of a time when pagan and Christian were socially fused. Because they were wealthy and Jerome was a precocious boy, and had succeeded well in his studies at home, they sent him to Rome to complete his education. He remained there for several years. He was an eager scholar and soon was deep in the study of the Greek and Latin classics of literature, history, and philosophy. In addition to his studies the young man began a life-long project-building a library of his own. This did not mean the purchase of books, but copying the works himself. Besides enjoying the intellectual of literature, Jerome joined in the other pleasures and delighted in games and spectacles.
At the age of twenty, Jerome was baptized by Pope Liberius. The sacrament had been deferred until this time so that the sins of youth would be taken away, a common abuse of the time. The young man had become aware of Christianity in the Eternal City. Two things impressed him: the fervor of congregations in the churches and the tombs of the apostles and martyrs which he visited.
Eager for knowledge, Jerome made a journey to Gaul with a friend searching for the centers of learning and opportunity to learn what they had to offer. He sojourned for some time at Trier (in present day Germany, one of the oldest cities in Europe and in Jerome’s time a seat of the imperial court) where he transcribed some of the works of Saint Hilary of Poitiers. It was probably while he was in Gaul that Jerome began to think of renouncing the world for a life entirely devoted to Christ. He returned to his own province, to the city of Aquilea, and remained there for some time, in the company of a group of devout men who had been brought together by a local priest. Soon some troubles arose and with three friends and all his precious manuscripts, Jerome set out eastward. Perhaps he intended to go to Palestine, but he arranged his route to take in many cities of Asia Minor on the way. When he reached Antioch, an important cultural center, his health required him to remain for several months.
At Antioch, an event occurred that turned Jerome’s love for literature from the pagan classics to Christian writings. He had a dream. In the dream, he was brought before the great Judge. Asked who he was, he answered that he was a Christian. ”You lie,” said the Judge, ”you are a Ciceronian. Where your treasure is, there is your heart.” Jerome resolved never again to read the literary works he had loved so well, but to devote himself to Scripture.
Jerome now desired a more solitary life, and went to the desert of Chalcis, about fifty miles southeast of Antioch. Here he lived the penitential life of a hermit, but instead of occupying a narrow hut as the others did, Jerome lived in a room spacious enough to hold his library. He spent his days in prayer, study of the Scripture, and copying books.
The delights of Rome were not easy to forget; Jerome was plagued by unchaste thoughts and was homesick also for the world of thought, study, and discussion. To dispel his unhappy state of mind, he decided to study Hebrew with the help of a monk who was a Jew by birth. The knowledge of this language enabled him to translate the Scriptures from more direct sources. He also organized a workshop of copyists, and began to write letters to his friends in the West.
Unfortunately, this pleasant solitude was disrupted by the theological disputes of quarreling monks, and Jerome in exasperation went back to Antioch. Here after some resistance he allowed himself to be ordained a priest by the bishop Paulinus, but reserved the right to remain unattached to any particular diocese. He went to Constantinople in 380 to meet Saint Gregory Nazianzen and then to Rome in 382.
When Saint Jerome spoke at a council there, Pope Damasus was impressed by his learning and the sureness of his doctrine, and took him as secretary. This gave Jerome many opportunities to exercise his talents. Almost immediately the pope commissioned him to revise the New Testament. He revised, in accordance with the Greek text, the Latin New Testament, which had been disfigured by clumsy correction.
In fostering Christian asceticism, he sought the assistance of a group of holy women influenced by Saint Athanasius, members of Rome’s first convent. Among the women were and Saint Marcella and Saint Paula, with Paula’s daughters, and Saints Blesilla and Eustochium.
During this time, Rome was at Jerome’s feet. He was spoken of as the next pope. But one cannot be so well-liked and have such definite ideas (and express them with such vigor) and not gain enemies. In 384 Pope Damasus died and Jerome lost his protector. Those who hated Jerome influenced the people and shouted against him, attaching his reputation with slander.
Jerome with Paula and Eustochium and a group of other women who wanted to lead a dedicated life, went to the Holy Land where they traveled about for some time, and finally settled in Bethlehem, where two monasteries were built, one for Jerome, the other for Paula and her companions. Education and care of the needy were not neglected, but the most important work of the Bethlehem group was continued work on the Scriptures. Jerome now translated most of the books of the Old Testament from Hebrew, and some from the Greek Septuagint. He had sought the help of a Jewish rabbi to improve his knowledge of Hebrew. Not content with this, he wrote many scriptural commentaries, two biographies, and a history of ecclesiastical writers, and kept up a vast correspondence. Besides all this there were sermons or conferences for monks, and lessons for young people.
For thirty-six years the scholar lived at Bethlehem. Most of these years were not peaceful; there was much confusion in the Church. Jerome seems to have been involved in most of the quarrels over doctrine. He disputed with Saint Augustine, with the heretic Jovinian, with the bishop of Jerusalem, and with his friend Rufinus over the writings of Origen.
Jerome died peacefully in 420, worn out by a lifetime of study and austerity and of labor and combat. He had worked for the Church in an heroic manner, for doctrine, for scriptural science, for monastic ideals. With Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose, and Saint Gregory the Great, he is one of the four great Doctors of the Western Church.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 558-562. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.