Saint Hugh of Grenoble Bishop and Confessor (1053-1132)
In the eleventh century the diocese of Grenoble in southeastern France was notorious for corruption. Simony (the buying and selling of spiritual goods), usury, immorality, and ignorance were rampant in that area. During a Church Synod at Avignon in 1080, it was decided that a strict bishop should be appointed to correct these abuses; one who could lead both clergy and laity to conform to the laws of the Church. Saint Hugh was unanimously elected to the office.
Hugh was born near Valence in southern France in 1053. After completing his formal education, he accepted a canonry (an official membership in the bishop’s council) in the cathedral of that city. In his early twenties, he met the bishop of Die, who was impressed by Hugh’s virtue and administrative talents and offered him a position in his own diocese. Hugh accepted the offer and later went with the bishop to the synod at Avignon, where he was unexpectedly elected to the see of Grenoble. After being ordained at the age of twenty-seven, he was consecrated bishop by the pope.
For two years, Hugh preached, fasted, and prayed in an effort to correct the many abuses in his diocese. Then, feeling that a new bishop might be more successful, he resigned and entered the novitiate at the Benedictine abbey of ChaiseDieu. He was there only a short time when Pope Gregory VII commanded him to return to his see. Once again in Grenoble, Hugh more effectively fought the evils in his diocese. The poor were his greatest concern; once, during a time of famine, he sold his ornate gold chalice to buy them food. In 1084, when Saint Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Order, was looking for a site for a new monastery, Hugh, guided by a dream, granted him the territory known as “the Chartreuse” which gave the order its name. Hugh is often portrayed in art in connection with the Carthusians; he admired the monks and frequently visited them, happily joining in their exercises and performing the most menial tasks.
Throughout his fifty-two years as bishop of Grenoble, Hugh harbored a desire for contemplative life, but because of the tremendous influence of his holiness, pope after pope refused to release him from office. He died after a long illness, on April 1, 1132, and was canonized two years later by Pope Innocent Il.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 177-178. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Francis of Paula Confessor (1416-1507)
THE figure of Francis of Paula seems incongruous against the background of fifteenth-century Italy. That was the time of the Italian Renaissance, the rebirth of learning and beauty, when men glorified human knowledge and scoffed at strict morality. Through the purity of his life, Francis reminded men once again that what is good and true and beautiful is a reflection of God.
Francis had been dedicated to God almost from the beginning of his life. He was born in the year 1416 in Paula, a small town in Calabria, Italy. While still an infant, he suffered from a swelling that threatened the sight of one of his eyes. His parents prayed to Saint Francis of Assisi to cure their son , promising that the boy would spend a year in a Franciscan monastery; the swelling immediately disappeared. At thirteen, Francis fulfilled his parents’ vow and entered a nearby Franciscan monastery, where he was outstanding for his obedience to the monastic rule. A year later he made a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi; then, returning home and deciding to become a hermit, he went to live in a secluded cave overlooking the sea. There for about six years, he slept on stone and ate only food that was given him or that he himself could gather in the woods. In 1435 he was joined by two other men who, with Francis, formed the nucleus of the future Order of Minims.
For over forty years Francis wandered throughout southern and central Italy, gathering a large number of disciples, founding monasteries and churches. Wherever he went, he preached his own dynamic concept of charity, of living a love through fasting and mortification. Penances, charity, and humility formed the basis of the Minims’ life, and to the usual three vows taken by monks Francis added a fourth: perpetual abstinence from meat. At one time Church authorities attempted to make him retract this fourth rule, as too difficult for human nature to observe. In answer to this, Francis grasped some hot coals in his hands, holding them without pain or damage to himself, insisting that nothing is impossible to one who undertakes penances for the love of God.
Aside from the many miracles he performed, Francis was endowed with the gift of prophecy. He predicted the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, several years before the event took place. Although all Italy spoke of him as a wonder worker, a prophet, and a saint, Francis’ new order was not sanctioned by the Holy See until 1474. At that time the order was composed of uneducated men with only one priest. They were called the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, but in 1492, at Francis’ request, their name was changed to Minims; that is, the least in the household of God. Because of the strictness of their life, the Minims have always been one of the smallest orders in the Church.
In 1482, at the command of Pope Sixtus IV, Francis traveled to the castle at Plessis-les-Tours, France, where King Louis XI lay dying. Terrified by the thought of death, Louis had hoped that Francis might work a miracle to restore his health, but the saint would do nothing but assure him that the lives of all men were in the hands of God. Through Francis’ prayers and counsel, Louis died peacefully. Louis’ successor, Charles Vlll, found Francis such an invaluable advisor and spiritual director that he erected a monastery for him at Plessis-les-Tou rs to keep him near the court. Charles’ esteem for the saint was shared by Louis XII, who came to the throne in 1498, so Francis was never permitted to return to Italy.
Francis spent the last three months of his life in his cell preparing himself for death. He became grievously ill at the beginning of Holy Week in 1507 and died on Good Friday at three o’clock in the afternoon. He was canonized twelve years later, in 1519, by Pope Leo X. Most of Francis’ relics were destroyed by the French Calvinists in 1562; the ones that remain are enshrined in various churches of the Order of Minims.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 178-180. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saints Agape, Choinia, and Irene Martyrs (-304)
In the year 303 Emperor Diocletian issued a decree making it a criminal offense punishable by death for anyone to possess the Christian Scriptures. He had one thought clearly in mind: to obliterate Christianity forever by striking at the very foundation of Christian thought. And his plan might have had some success, had it not been for the hundreds of people who were willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve the Word of God.
Saints Agape, Chionia, and Irene were sisters who lived near Thessalonica, in Macedonia (now a region of Greece). The girls owned several volumes of Sacred Scriptures which, because of Diocletian’s decree, they kept carefully concealed in their home. According to an authentic account of their martyrdom, the books were somehow discovered and the girls were arrested. They were questioned by Dulcetius, the governor, who demanded that they eat meat sacrificed to the pagan gods. When they refused, the governor condemned Agape and Chionia to be burned a t the stake. Irene received a more humiliating punishment: she was taken to a house of prostitution where, miraculously, she remained unmolested. Dulcetius questioned her again; when she persisted in professing her love for Christ, he condemned her to be burned at the stake. Irene was then taken to the place where her sisters had been martyred, tied to the stake, and burned alive.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 181. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Isidore of Seville Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 560-636)
Saint Isidore, bishop of Seville and Doctor of the Church, had the phenomenal versatility of a Leonardo da Vinci. Like that famous Renaissance genius, he had an amazing store of information, including, among other things, a knowledge of history, science, natural history, literature, and philosophy.
Isidore’s parents gave four children to the Church: Leander, Fulgentius, and Isidore became bishops, Florentina became an abbess; all four were eventually canonized saints. Born about 560 at Cartagena, Spain, Isidore was educated by his elder brother, Archbishop Leander, in the cathedral school of Seville. He had always been a poor student until one day, when he was skipping school, he sat down near the edge of a spring and noticed some grooves worn into the rock. Discovering that the grooves were caused by the constant flow of water, he decided that, similarly, the continual repetition of lessons might make a permanent impression on his memory. After that, Isidore disciplined himself to long hours of study, and in a short time he mastered Latin, Hebrew, and Greek.
On March 13, 599, after Leander’s death, Isidore succeeded to the see of Seville. The Visigoths (Germanic invaders) had controlled Spain for several centuries, and at that time their barbarous influence was threatening to destroy Spanish civilization. By using every educational and religious means at his disposal, Isidore converted the Visigoths from Arianism to Catholicism, thus unifying the faith of the nation. He also helped to eradicate the acephalite heresy (it professed that the human and divine natures in Christ are identical), encouraged monasticism, and strengthened religious discipline everywhere. Isidore guided the course of three synods and presided over the Fourth Council of Toledo, held in 633. There it was decided, under Isidore’s influence, to establish a school in each diocese where the clergy could be trained in the liberal arts, and in Hebrew, Greek, medicine, and law.
Isidore was the first Christian writer to attempt compiling a summation of universal knowledge, an encyclopedia. His work, called Etymologies or Origins contained in compact form all the knowledge of his age. It preserved many fragments of classical learning in a way that was intelligible to the Germanic peoples of his time. This contribution to the field of education gained for Isidore the title “Schoolmaster of the Middle Ages,” and until the middle of the sixteenth century his Origins remained a favorite textbook. He also rendered a great service to the Church in Spain by completing the Mozarabic missal and breviary begun by Saint Leander.
Isidore was as outstanding in the practice of charity and mortification as he was in the cultivation of knowledge. His house was continually crowded with the poor of the countryside. Shortly before he died, he went to church and, covering himself with sackcloth, had ashes placed on his head. Thus dressed as a penitent, he prayed earnestly for the forgiveness of his sins and gave all his possessions to the poor. He died a short time later, on April 4, 636.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 182-183. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Vincent Ferrer Confessor (1350-1419)
The fourteenth century, a century of upheaval, a century of contradictions, was a time in which the Church saw both the holiest and the wickedest of men. She was blessed with multitudes of saints and was, at the same time, torn with quarrels and heresies. Perhaps one of the most significant tests the Church ever withstood occurred in this century-the Great Western Schism. Rival popes were reigning at Rome and Avignon and even faithful Christians were divided in their allegiance. It was to be many years before it was firmly established which of the claimants was the true pope.
It is typical of the century that one of the anti-popes, Peter de Luna, or Benedict XIII as he called himself, should have had for his confessor and champion a Dominican who was one of the most powerful preachers and most learned teachers of the time, a man destined for sainthood-Vincent Ferrer.
Before the century was spent there were no less than three claimants to the papacy. Though mistaken, Saint Vincent was deeply sincere in recognizing Benedict, and it was under the authority of the pope at Avignon that he taught, traveled, and preached. Yet the responsibility of advising this man whose obstinacy kept the Church in schism for so long was a terrible strain. While residing at Avignon as confessor and advisor to Benedict, Vincent’s health broke and all despaired of his life.
It was at this point in his life, on October 3, 1398, that our Lord appeared to him and restored his health, commanding him to travel and preach in the tradition of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis, who also appeared in the vision. Armed with powers of apostolic missioner and papal legate, he set forth from Avignon. For twenty years his preaching took him about, his eloquence moving great masses of people everywhere, resulting in needed reforms. He was followed by a crowd of disciples whom he eventually organized under a religious rule, calling them the “Penitents of Master Vincent.” They instructed the ignorant, visited the sick, and often remained behind to continue works which he inspired. It is almost surprising to find that in this century of suspicion, laxity, accusation and counter-accusation, no breath of scandal or whisper of suspicion appears to have touched any member of that large group of men and women moving freely about the country. There were at times as many as ten thousand persons in the group.
Still the schism continued. A meeting was arranged between the papal claimants. Benedict refused to attend. It is difficult even to imagine Vincent ‘s interior conflict. He had a deep affection for the man at Avignon and believed in him, but Vincent was a man who influenced nations. His was a tremendous responsibility, for it was largely through his preaching, his sanctity, and·his miracles that Benedict continued in power. Slowly Vincent began to revise his position.
Finally, in 1416, he publicly withdrew his support of Benedict , paving the way for the resignation of all contenders and the end of the Great Schism. “But for you,” wrote Gerson, a theologian of the time, “this unity could never have been achieved.”
Vincent died, April 5 , 1419, as he had lived, preaching Christian truth.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 184-185. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Notker Balbulus Confessor (840-912)
In Switzerland, in the Middle Ages, there lived a poet and monk in the Abbey of Saint Gall. The early Middle Ages were not “Dark Ages” nor were they dreary ages or gloomy ages. They were, on the contrary, ages dedicated to the virtue of joy, a virtue too often forgotten by man.
It was a time when piety did not wear a long face and a monk could be both a man of prayer and a man of song. Such a man was Blessed Notker, called Balbulus (a Latin word meaning “stammerer”) because of his severe speech defect. There was a gladness in his heart, and what he could not say with words he would say with music and poetry.
He was sent to the abbey school at Saint Gall when he was a boy, for it was a center of the arts for all of Europe and he was of a distinguished family. There he became a monk, and remained his whole life long. Besides the usual sacred subjects, he studied music under an Irish monk, and in later years established a singing school. Notker also served as librarian and guestmaster, and it would be difficult to decide which task seemed more agreeable to him, for these were the three things he most enjoyed-music, literature, and people. Nevertheless, he was at all times faithful to his monastic rule and a model to his brother monks.
Blessed Notker is remembered in history as a teacher, a poet, and an author. He completed Erchanbert’s Chronicle (816), arranged a martyrology, and composed a metrical biography of Saint Gall. Most scholars agree that he is the “Monk of Saint Gall,” anonymous author of a collection of legends and anecdotes about Charlemagne. The number of works ascribed to him is constantly increasing. It was he who introduced into Germany the Jubilus or Sequence in the Mass, a jubilant song, as the name implies.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 186-187. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Celestine I – Catholic Online (432) | Pope Saint Celestine I – New Advent | Pope Saint Celestine I – Regina | Saint Celestine I – Magnificat – Feast day is celebrated either April 6 or July 27
Blessed Hermann Joseph Confessor (1150-1241)
When we seek to explain a man like Herman n Joseph, we tend first to look to his deeds, his visions, his miracles. There is much to tell. From the age of seven to the time of his death in old age, he was in constant communication with heaven. As a boy he would go in to a church and hold conversations with our Lady and the Holy Child. On one occasion, during a bitter winter, our Lady told the barefoot child to look under a rock, where he found money for shoes. His entire life was filled with visions and ecstasies, and a hundred instances are cited of the gift he had for reading hearts. It was said that his own heart was a clinic where the afflicted and unfortunate were welcomed and consoled.
At the age of twelve he joined the Premonstratensians at Steinfeld, who sent him to finish his studies in a Frisian monastery. After this, he made his profession and was assigned to serve his brothers at meals. Some time later he became sacristan. This duty was especially appealing to him, since he could spend long hours in church during the day as well as during the night. So absolute was his innocence that his fellow monks gave him the nickname Joseph; the name was apt in another sense, for he had a vision in which, as an earthly Joseph, he was mystically espoused to our Lady with a ring.
His life was spent in the humblest of occupations. Being clever with his hands, he was called upon to go from monastery to monastery adjusting and repairing clocks. He is said to have written several hymns and prayers and a treatise on the Canticle of Canticles, but none of these have come down to us. On April 7, 1241, at a Cistercian convent at Hoven, where he had been sent for the Passiontide and Easter ceremonies, he contracted a fever and died, after more than ninety years of life. Seven weeks later, his still incorrupt body was taken back to Steinfeld.
But these are the outward things, the things by which men seek to measure the immeasurable. There is something deeper in the story of Hermann Joseph than a series of anecdotes and stories of visions. It is the privilege of a few chosen persons to know God, in a manner much more direct, much more intimate than any natural form of human knowledge. This is called mysticism and this was the real life of Hermann Joseph. It is a story that cannot be completely told, for it cannot be expressed in human words nor ordinarily experienced by human senses. Hermann was hidden in God.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 187-188. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Julie Billiart Virgin (1751-1816)
The French Revolution was raging; powers rose and fell; a new era was being born. Who would notice a young crippled girl in the little village of Cuvilly in the north of France? She lived quietly, prayed, taught catechism to small groups of children, made linens and laces for the altar. A peaceful, harmless, unimportant person. Yet this girl was declared an enemy of the state. She was hunted from house to house, hidden by friends, carried about on a stretcher.
Why were the Jacobins afraid of a helpless girl? They were afraid simply because she was not helpless. She had power in the very area they were most concerned with-the hearts and imaginations of the people. She had come to be called “the saint of Cuvilly,” and there was no room for a saint in the new republic. The people were too easily aroused. Such ideas were dangerous.
Julie Billiart had been born at Cuvilly on July 12, 1751, and she lived in this village all her early life, manifesting unusual piety and intelligence. She knew and understood the catechism at the age of seven and was in the habit of explaining it to the slower children.
Her spiritual progress was not unnoticed by the village priest, Father Dangicourt. He allowed her to make her first Holy Communion and to be confirmed at the age of nine, a rare privilege in those days. At the age of fourteen she was allowed to make a vow of chastity, although she remained at home helping her parents, who had suffered economic setbacks. While she was working at home, an attempt upon the life of her father left her in a state of shock that led to paralysis.
Suffering is often the means by which God prepares men for the tasks He has set. It was in her helpless state that Julie learned to practice the virtue of fortitude. A daily communicant, she exercised an uncommon gift for prayer, remaining in contemplation four and five hours a day. When, in 1790, the Jacobin government sent a so-called “constitutional priest,” a schismatic, as pastor of the parish at Cuvilly, she led the villagers in boycotting him. It was at this time that she was forced into hiding.
Finally Robespierre fell; the helpless girl outlived the powerful man; the Reign of Terror was over. Later, in 1803, Father Varin, a member of the then suppressed Jesuit order, asked her and the group of women who had gathered about her to organize a group for the religious instruction of the thousands of children who had grown up in a country without religion.
The time of waiting and preparation was over. She was ready to begin her active life. On June 1, 1804, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, after a novena, Julie Billiart stood up and walked. She was completely cured.
Her first religious vows were taken on October 15, 1804, and she became the foundress and first mother general of the Institute of the Sisters of Notre Dame. There were four sisters, including Mother Julie. By June 19, 1806, when the order was licensed by the state, they numbered thirty. They proposed for their lifetime work the Christian education of girls and the training of religious teachers who would go wherever their services were requested.
The work spread through France and Belgium. New convents were opened at Namur, Ghent, and Tournai. In the space of twelve years, Mot her Julie founded fifteen convents, made one hundred and twenty journeys, many of which were very long, and carried on continual correspondence with her spiritual daughters. She never seemed to rest. At last, on April 8, 1816, while gently repeating the Magnificat, the foundress of the Institute of Notre Dame passed to the peace for which she had never had time on this earth.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 189-191. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Mary of Cleophas Holy Woman (New Testament)
Now late in the night of the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the sepulchre. . . . But the angel spoke and said to the women, ‘. . . He is not here, for he has risen even as he said.’ . . . And they departed quickly from the tomb in fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Hail!’ And they came up and embraced his feet and worshipped him” (Matthew 28:1-10).
The “other Mary”–how little we know of her! Yet what more do we need to know? These women were the first of His friends to know that He had risen. They were the first to see Him, even before the apostles. How fitting that it should be so. It was they who had stayed with Him at the last; they who had stood at the cross with His Mother when all the apostles (except John) were scattered in fear.
This other Mary, so unknown to us, was not unknown to the disciples. She was, in fact, the mother of James the Less, Joseph, Simon, and Jude. Saint Matthew felt it important to tell us that she was present. At the end, at the very moment of His death, she was there: “And many women were there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 27:55, 56).
Nor did they leave Him then. They went further. They went as far as the tomb with Him. “And Joseph, taking the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock. Then he rolled a large stone to the entrance of the tomb, and departed. But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre” (Matthew 2 7 :59-61).
It is Saint John who tells us her full name and tells us who she was. “Now there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene” (John 19:25).
Mary was the wife of Cleophas and was related to the Blessed Virgin, but how closely we do not know. In the language of Palestine, degrees of relationship were not always clearly indicated. A sister, a sister-in-law, a first cousin, a second cousin, and even a niece were all called sister. In any case, the term indicated a very near relative. And this Mary’s sons were always called Jesus’ brothers, that is, His cousins. So this family was clearly related to the Holy Family, and Mary could probably remember Christ as a small child learning to walk and talk. But, unlike the other people of Galilee, she did not shrug her shoulders in unbelief and say “He is only the son of Joseph, the carpenter.” Her children had grown up as relatives of His, yet they called Him “Master.” She herself must have loved Him dearly, though she probably did not know the great mystery of His divinity until He had revealed it to His disciples. Her faith in Him was strong, so too her compassion and her courage, for she stood by throughout the tragic hours of His death and burial. For this her great reward was to see Him as she turned from the empty tomb and to hear His voice in greeting.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 191-193. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Bademus Martyr (-c 376)
He was not a young man, nor was he any longer strong. He·had been in prison for four months, subjected to daily beatings. Now he would be allowed to die. But even in this his persecutors would allow him no peace. His executioner was to be a friend, a fellow Christian, now fallen away. His joy in martyrdom was to be mingled with sorrow at the apostasy of this Christian prince.
Bademus had been a wealthy and pious citizen of BethLapat in Persia. Wishing to use his wealth for the honor and glory of God, he distributed it to the poor and built himself a small hermitage near the city and settled there to follow the monastic life. It was a place of peace in a troubled world.
During the persecution of King Sapor II, Bademus and seven of his disciples were apprehended and thrown into prison. It was a truly troubled world and Persia experienced more than its share of cruelty.
At the same time there was also arrested a Persian prince who was a Christian. Prince Nersan at first showed some resolution, but at·the first sight of torture he promised to conform and agreed to murder the holy hermit as proof of his apostasy. He hoped thus to regain his earthly possessions and indeed he did. But they did him little good: a short time afterward, he fell into public disgrace and perished by the sword, after torture and under the curses of the people. Thus does the world treat those who serve only the world.
Bademus enjoyed a better fate. His suffering was for but a short time. He suffered martyrdom on the tenth day of April in the year 376, and his glory is everlasting.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 193-194. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Leo I (The Great) Pope, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 461)
It was a time of violence. The Western Empire was disintegrating, barbarian hordes were overrunning Europe, and in the East heresies arose and controversies raged. A strong leader was needed, and a strong leader was found.
From the very beginning of his pontificate the strength of Leo the Great was tested and proved. Heresies rose from every direction: Persia, Spain, Constantinople, Greece–the names continue like a roll call of nations. There were Manicheism, Pelagianism, Priscillianism, Nestorianism, Euthychianism, Arianism, Donatism, Apollinarianism, and many more. The words mean little to us. We smile at the strange sounds of the list and are impressed that one man should have known what they all meant and, besides, know how to refute them.
The names of Nestorius and Eutyches evoke little response today, but in the fifth century they were more deadly than the invading barbarians, for they caused spiritual violence. In denying the mystery of the Incarnation and the union of the divine and human natures of Christ, they shook Christianity to its very foundations. But Leo fought, and Leo won his battles.
His writings were like strong armor against the heresies of his day and even against those of the future. He forcefully reiterated the teaching of the Church on the mystery of the lncarnation. He was very explicit in stating the extent of the pope’s supremacy and used that power with absolute authority, wielding the weapons of excommunication and banishment when necessary. He wrote letters unceasingly, and the 140 of them that we have are classed among the basic dogmatic writings of the Church. Because of these works, Pope Benedict XIV, in 1744, bestowed on Leo I the title of Doctor of the Church.
But if it was an age of spiritual violence, it was even more certainly an age of physical violence. The cowardly Roman emperor had gone into exile. The Vandals had taken over North Africa and threatened Rome. The Huns were devastating Gaul. The Visigoths and Burgundians were crossing the frontiers everywhere. The once mighty Roman Empire was without strength, without an emperor, without unity. One man stood between it and utter chaos.
In 452, enriched by the plunder of many nations, Attila the Hun, called the Terror of the World and the Scourge of God, marched toward Rome. The wretched emperor shut himself up within the walls of Ravenna and even his general, Aetius, despaired of saving the city. All eyes turned to Leo–the one strong man left in the Western world.
He went to meet Attila, taking only two dignitaries of the city with him. Contrary to the expectation of everyone, Attila received the pope with honor, gave him a favorable audience, and concluded a treaty of peace with the empire, settling for an annual tribute. A tradition attributes the Hun’s forbearance to the intervention of Saint Peter, who, in a vision, warned Attila to obey the pope.
A few years later, Genseric, the king of the Vandals, appeared at the defenseless walls of Rome. Again Leo went forth to meet the aggressor. This time his intervention was not so successful, but he convinced the barbarian that he should avoid slaughter and firesetting. Genseric was satisfied with looting the city. The Vandals withdrew to Africa after fifteen days, taking an immense booty and a host of captives. The city itself was spared.
The pope immediately undertook the task of repairing the damage that had been done. He sent priests to minister to the captives in Africa and restored, as far as he could, the vessels and ornaments of the devastated churches. He was never discouraged. He had trust in the promises of God. If Christ would be with the Church all days, then there was no cause for fear. In the twenty-one years of his pontificate Leo I won the love and veneration of rich and poor, emperors and barbarians, clergy and lay people alike.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 194-196. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Gemma Galgani Virgin (1878-1903)
Not all the saints belong to ancient times, and miracles have not died out either. We do not know how many saints there may be among our fellow Catholics in our own time, but we do know that the Church will always show the mark of holiness, not only in her teachings and her sacraments, but in the lives of many of her members.
It was in the last quarter of the nineteenth century that Gemma Galgani lived–a saint of the modern world, but not the sort the modern world expects.
The last century and our own have been very scientific minded, so the marvels in Gemma’s life were scientifically judged. Careful records were made over a long period, and the eyewitnesses could not have been deceived about her ecstasies or about the stigmata–the bleeding wounds in her hands, feet, and side, the marks of thorns on her forehead, the marks of scourging on her body, and the sweating of blood.
Gemma was born in Camigliano, a village near the city of Lucca, Italy, on March 12, 1878. It was just an ordinary village, and her family was ordinary too, except for the devout mother who, facing death from tuberculosis, spent her failing energies in preparing her little ones (there were eight of them) for heaven. The family had moved to Lucca, and there Gemma, her father’s “little jewel,” was sent to the best school. She was a kind and obedient little girl, wellbehaved and she grew into a lovely, intelligent, and charming young lady. But the marvels had begun when she was only seven years old: when she spoke to God in her prayers, she heard Him answer her.
From that time her ecstasies continued. An ecstasy is a mystic trance and is something a child–nor anyone else-can neither earn nor make happen. It is God’s work, and He usually does it only when long years of prayer and stern penances have come before. God grants His favors as He pleases, and He makes His own saints–though not, of course, if the chosen persons do not cooperate with great generosity and love.
When Gemma was eight years old her mother died; her father died when she was nineteen. The children of the family were left in great poverty, and a kindly lady of Lucca, Cecilia Giannini, took Gemma into her brother’s household ‘and cared for her until her death. In this home she was beloved, for the numerous members of the family found her a charming companion and a generous helper in all the household tasks.
Gemma received the stigmata on the eve of the Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 8, 1899. The wounds reappeared every Friday for nearly two years. During this time they were seen by family, friends, and priests. During the appearance of the stigmata, Gemma was often favored with visions, usually seeing and speaking with Christ during His suffering. Transcripts of her conversations with our Lord were kept in her diary, and after her death these were published with her autobiography. Gemma Galgani died April 11, 1903, at the age of twenty-five. She was beatified in 1933 and canonized in 1940–a saint of our own times.
Why did Christ want her to suffer so long and so intensely? Surely it was not only to show Gemma herself the enormous evil that sin really is, and how much Jesus loves men. Wasn’t it also to remind the skeptical world of the twentieth century, and especially comfortable Christians, what He Himself suffered in order to redeem them?
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 197-199. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Sabas the Goth Martyr (-c 372)
Saint Sabas was a Goth. The Goths had crossed the Danube and settled in Roman provinces, making occasional raids into Asia Minor, from which they brought Christian captives. These captives turned out to be very effective missionaries. Sabas became a Christian early in life, as did many of the Goths.
In the year 370, one of the Gothic chieftains began persecuting his Christian subjects, probably in revenge against the Roman emperor, who had declared war against him. All Christians were commanded to eat meat which had been offered to idols. Since the Christians had lived in peace in Gothic territories, their pagan friends and relatives had no desire to persecute them. They tried to protect them by swearing that there were no Christians in their midst or by substituting ordinary meat for the idolatrous meat from the pagan altars.
Saint Sabas would have none of such deception. Silence was not one of his virtues, but truth was. He would stride into the market place where half-hearted investigations were being carried out and announce, “I am a Christian.” He declared loudly that anyone who ate meat as proof that he was not a Christian was denying his faith, even if the meat itself had not been offered to idols. He did not become very popular this way. He was once exiled from the town. The soldiers, however, who were local people themselves, tried to ignore him.
They could not ignore him forever. In 372 a second persecution began, and this time the orders were not left to the judgment of the citizens. Three days after Easter, Atharidus, the son of a petty chieftain, came with a group of soldiers to the house where Sabas was staying with a Christian priest. Both were tortured but resolutely refused to eat the meat presented to them. When Sabas, ever impetuous, said that it was as impure as their leader, one of the soldiers struck him with a javelin with a force that should have killed him, but he was not even harmed.
Hearing of this, Atharidus commanded that Sabas be killed, and he was taken to the Mussovo River to be drowned. Even then, the soldiers were tempted to release him, as Atharidus would not be the wiser. But Sabas convinced them that they should obey their master. He had desired martyrdom for a long time and he was not going to be cheated of it now. He had lived as a true Christian, an example to all of honesty and uncompromising faith–of this life martyrdom was the fitting crown.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 199-200. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Hermenegild Martyr (-c 585)
Intrigue in Spain, high affairs of state–a kingdom was at stake and father was pitted against son. Hermenegild, the son of Leovigild, king of the Visigoths of Spain, had been brought up as an Arian. He was married to a Catholic princess, Ingunda of Austrasia, a kingdom of Franks in what is now southern Germany. The king’s second wife, a fanatical Arian, hated her daughter-in-law, and sought by ill-treatment to force her to abandon the faith.
Hermenegild , therefore, took his wife and infant son to Seville, in Andalusia, and refused the command to return to the court. Through Ingunda’s example and through the preaching of Saint Leander, he renounced the Arian heresy and entered the Church. The fanatical Arianism of his step mother and his father’s severe treatment of Catholics in Spain continued unabated and drove him to take up arms in protection of his fellow Catholics and in defense of his own rights.
Disappointed in his hope for help from Constantinople, Hermenegild turned to the Roman generals who, with a small army, still ruled a strip of Spanish land along the Mediterranean coast. They made him fair promises but two years later, when his forces were defeated, they betrayed him for thirty thousand pieces of gold. Having fled to a fortified town, Hermenegild took refuge in a church there.
For a time the father softened his heart toward his son and they were reconciled. But his step-mother’s voice was persistent. As Hermenegild continued to cling to his Catholic faith, Leovigild stripped him of his royal robes, loaded him with chains, and cast him into prison. Hermenegild was accused of heresy and when he refused to give up his faith was slain on Easter, April 13, 585. Hermenegild had lost the war, but the victory was his.
Through the example of his martyrdom his brother, the future king, was converted as were, eventually, all of the Visigoths.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 201-202. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Justin Martyr (-c 100 – -c 165)
Even after he became a Christian, he wore his scholar’s robes and walked and talked with philosophers. In Rome, he even opened a school of philosophy. All his life he had studied the works of Aristotle, Pythagoras, Plato, and the Stoics. Then Justin discovered the wisdom that is of Christ. He did not think that should disqualify him as a scholar.
Born of wealthy pagan parents about the year 100, he was a native of Flavia Neapolis (the ancient city of Sichem in Palestine). Justin was given an excellent liberal education, applying himself to poetry and history and then advancing to study the philosophers, especially Plato. One day when he was walking along a lonely beach trying to picture to himself what God is really like, he met an old man who told him that if he wished to learn more about the true nature of God he must read the Hebrew prophets, who had lived before any of the philosophers and whose prophecies had been fulfilled in their own age in the person of Jesus Christ.
Justin became a Christian about the year 130 and spent the rest of his life teaching and writing about the Christian faith. Up to this time most Christians were satisfied to endure misrepresentation in order to protect the sacred mysteries from being profaned, and little was known to the outside world about the beliefs of Christianity. Justin was convinced from experience that there were many who would gladly embrace Christianity if it were properly explained to them. He therefore openly set forth Christian dogma, even describing what took place at their secret meetings. Justin never became a priest but as a layman he wandered about in his philosopher’s cloak, conversing with people of every walk of life. He held debates with pagans, heretics, and Jews. In Rome he founded a school and there he argued in public with a cynic called Crescens, whom he showed to be ignorant.
Possibly it was through the efforts of Crescens that Justin was apprehended. Justin had already drawn attention to himself, however, by sending open letters to the emperor and to the Roman Senate condemning the state for persecuting Christians. He was brought before the city prefect about the year 165. After a bold confession of faith, he was condemned to be scourged and beheaded.
We honor Justin today as both a martyr and a Father of the Church. While apostolic Fathers like Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Polycarp had addressed their letters and explanations to members and churches within the Christian fold, Saint Justin was the first to defend the faith against non-Christians and enemies of the Church. His learned writings are part of the priceless heritage of Christianity.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 202-203. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Peter Gonzalez Confessor (c 1190-1246)
Peter Gonzalez is the patron saint of Spanish and Portuguese sailors and, with Saint Erasmus, shares the pseudonym of Saint Elmo. When sailors see the pale electrical discharge that sometimes appears on the decks and riggings of ships during storms, they call it “Saint Elmo’s fire” and say these mysterious lights are the manifestation of the saint’s protection. This interpretation of a natural phenomenon is based upon the fact that Peter Gonzalez spent the last years of his life working humbly among the poor sailors of northwestern Spain.
Peter was not always so humble. He was born of noble and wealthy parents at Astorga, Spain, about 1190, and became a worldly and vain young man. Being appointed canon of the cathedral, he chose Christmas day for the solemn acceptance of this charge, and rode into the city in splendid array. Then, in full view of the city, he fell from his horse into the mud. The crowd that had assembled to applaud him now began to mock. “Since the world mocks me,” he said, “I will mock the world”; and he went to become a Dominican.
Peter traveled over the kingdoms of Leon and Castile, and everywhere he preached crowds gathered. He made many converts, becoming a very famous speaker. For a long while he traveled with King Ferdinand III on his expeditions against the Moors. When Cordova was freed, Peter set about restoring Christian standards of life, preaching the gospel to the Moorish prisoners, and spending himself in many other works of mercy and charity.
Leaving this life behind him, he received permission to preach and work among the ignorant and among the mariners in the Atlantic seaports. It was a needed and fruitful labor, and by the time he died, in Tuy in 1246, he had already become a legend among the sailors. His body was buried in the somber old cathedral of Tuy.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 204-205. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Encratia (Engracia) Virgin and Martyr (-c 304)
It was the proud boast of the poet Prudentius that no town in all Spain could rival his own city of Saragossa in the number of its martyrs. In a long poem he commemorates eighteen of them, giving special tribute to Encratia, whom he calls the “vehement maiden.”
In an early persecution, possibly under Diocletian, she suffered horribly for her faith. Her sides were torn with iron claws and other terrible tortures were devised for her. Still she did not die and was dragged back to prison. At last, a spike was driven through her head. Encratia is usually depicted in art with a spike in her hand. There was much popular devotion to her in Spain.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 205. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Confessor (1748-1783)
The world was well pleased with itself. It was the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment. Parishes and monasteries were well managed and devout. Education was within the reach of all. People were devout in an orderly, painstaking, common-sense fashion, and cleanliness was next to godliness. It was a world that was pious without being holy, sanctimonious without sanctity.
The clouds were massing for the French Revolution. A complacent age was about to be shattered by a wild cry for individualism. Violence seemed inevitable.
It is important to understand just how Benedict Labre fits into this picture. He is too easily represented as a part of that feeling of revolution, a pathetic attempt at individualism, one man turning his back on society. But that is exactly what he was not. He was not disillusioned. He did not strive for “self-expression.” He was striving for the expression of God.
We owe our knowledge of him almost entirely to his instinct for thrusting roots into his supernatural society. Whenever he stayed more than a day or two in one place, he put himself under the direction of a local priest, taking no step without his confessor’s leave.
It was God who decided the life of Benedict. Benedict had had other plans. Born on March 26, 1748, at Amettes, a little village in northwestern France, he had studied for the priesthood under his uncle, the parish priest of a nearby village. Since he was the oldest of their fifteen children, his parents had hoped he would settle in a parish near home, but at the age of eighteen he wrung a reluctant consent from them to go to a Trappist monastery.
This was the beginning of a long series of disappointments. Each time it was the same thing. Benedict had no doubt that he had a vocation to the austerer form of religious life. Yet at three different monasteries this hopeful candidate became involved in interior trials which threatened his physical health, perhaps even his reason. Regretfully, he was sent away for the third time. God did not intend Benedict for the monastery.
What a sad figure he presents as he trudges along. How completely he seems to have failed. Yet he had never been more of a success. It was only now, after a series of seeming failures, that God could reveal what He required of him. At last, he was secure against the desire to serve God in his own way instead of in God’s way. To give up the very good for which one seems to be made is a hard loss, but it removes the last remnants of self-will.
Now Benedict was ready for God’s will and now he knew what God wanted. The cloud of mystery lifted. He never returned home. Like Saint Alexis, he was to abandon his country, his parents, and everything that was flattering to the senses, to live as a hermit in the world, a pilgrim visiting famous places of Christian devotion. He set forth on his life’s journey clad in an old coat, a rosary about his neck, another between his fingers, his arms folded over a crucifix which lay upon his breast. He carried only a few religious books–no food, no extra clothing. He slept on the ground, usually in the open air, at best in a barn or shed. For food he was satisfied with a bit of bread and a few scraps of vegetables either provided by charity or taken from some refuse heap. He never asked for alms and gave away to the poor anything he was given beyond his own needs.
But if men turned to stare at his rags, it was his bearing that held their attention. Those who saw him never forgot. Who was this beggar who would accept no alms? Who was this ragged man who could read Latin? How came a vagabond to have such gentle eyes and so dignified a manner? Men everywhere met him and wondered, struck with the feeling that here was something important.
They were right. There was a message. God knew that mankind was about to take a mad plunge into an era of individualism. He would not stop them forcibly, but He would set before them a prophetic figure, a dedicated reflection of true freedom. Benedict was God’s beacon, a warning to turn men from their foolish ways. Or, if they would not turn, a light and comfort to the homeless ones who would be created by human greed.
Benedict was not himself making a comment on the world. He made no speeches-he avoided speech altogether. He had no opinion of his own–he was an expression of God’s opinion. Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was God’s answer to a mediocre world whose indifference was about to spawn thousands of such homeless waifs.
On April 16, 1783, just two years before the French Revolution, he collapsed on the steps of a church in Rome and was carried to a neighboring house, literally worn out by his suffering and austerities. In the evening, as bells rang out the Salve Regina, Benedict died. A flock of children scattered through Rome crying, “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!”so that the news seemed to come with the joyful resonance of the bells.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 206-208. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Bernadette Soubirous Virgin (1844-1879)
Who does not know of Lourdes? Who has not heard of the enormous crowds with lighted candles singing “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria?” Who has not wished to visit the place where our Immaculate Mother stood pleading with a deaf world to do penance?
In that village in the Pyrenees on January 7, 1844, was born Marie Bernarde, called Bernadette, the daughter of a miller and his wife, Franois Soubirous and Louise Casterot. She was the first of six children. The mill did not flourish and as the family grew in size it sank deeper into poverty. There was rarely enough to eat, and the frail Bernadette, suffering from attacks of asthma, was put to work tending sheep for a friend in the country, where the air was fresh and the food was plentiful.
At the age of fourteen she returned to her parents, for she wished to make her first Communion at home. This was in 1858. On February II of that year, Bernadette went with her sister and a friend to gather firewood. She became separated from her companions and at a natural grotto near the river she saw a beautiful lady. Clad in a white robe with a blue sash, a white veil covering her head, the lady appeared to Bernadette to be about sixteen or seventeen years old.
In spite of the teasing of her family and the fears of her mother, Bernadette returned to the grotto and saw the lady many times, exciting varied and violent reaction among the townspeople. Among the many things the lady told her were these: “I cannot promise you happiness in this world, but in another” (February 18); “Pray for poor sinners” (February 21); “Penance! Penance!” (February 24); “Go and tell the priests that a chapel should be built here” (February 27); “I am the Immaculate Conception” (March 25).
It was during the ninth apparition that Bernadette acted in such a strange manner as to make all wonder if she were not mentally ill. She dug a hole in the ground with her hands , then drank and washed her face with the muddy water that filled it. She also ate a blade of grass. When questioned afterwards about this she could only say, “The lady told me to do so.” But there were some in the crowd who were not skeptical, who remained in prayer after she had left. These were the first to see the clear waters of the miraculous spring of Lourdes flowing from that hole.
People came from everywhere; their enthusiasm was limitless. They tore down the barricades that the civil authorities had erected around the grotto. There were rumors of miracles and cures. Two early miracles were unmistakable. A dying child immersed in the waters was completely cured, and a quarryman who had been blinded by a fragment of stone regained his sight.
In 1862, after an exhaustive ecclesiastical investigation, the bishop of Tarbes declared that the faithful were justified in believing that Mary, the immaculate Mother of God, did in reality appear to Bernadette Soubirous. The saintly bishop took the necessary steps to obtain papal recognition, which was given by Pius IX in 1869, and also began construction of the chapel our Lady had requested.
Bernadette had long wished to be a Carmelite but was not allowed to enter the order because of her extremely poor health. In July 1866, at the age of twenty-two, she was permitted to enter the novitiate of the Sisters of Notre Dame at Nevers. There she spent the rest of her life, sometimes working as sacristan or infirmarian, but mostly confined to her bed. In addition to continual attacks of asthma and hemorrhages, she endured intense pain from an abscess which formed on her right knee.
At the end her sufferings were so severe that she could not remain in bed and was placed in an armchair where, on the afternoon of Easter, 1879, she whispered her last words,
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner- – poor sinner–a poor sinner.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 209-211. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Donnan and Companions Martyrs (-c 616)
The land of Scotland did not have a single great apostle as Ireland had in Saint Patrick. It had a half dozen or more, who traversed the glens and mountains and the outlying islands in all directions of the compass, to bring the message of salvation to the Picts and Gaels. The first of these was Saint Ninian, who built his first church and hermitage in 397. The best-known was Saint Columbkille, who came from Ireland in 563 and settled on the island of Iona. Here he established a monastic center that became “the light of the North,” and could boast of the most zealous missionaries and accomplished scholars of the age.
Among the noble Irish that Scotland came to honor as apostle and martyr was Saint Donnan, a friend and disciple of Columbkille. Very little is known about his life and only his martyrdom is recorded. Yet his arduous travels may be guessed at from the widely separated church sites that still bear his name, Kildonnan (Donnan’s Church). These appear in the south, near Saint Ninian’s Whithorn, in the east, in the north, in the Outer Hebrides, and on the coastal islands of the west and south. One of his foundations·was on the island of Eigg. In this solitary retreat he founded a monastery, with fifty-two fellow monks, and with them met his death. There are two versions of his martyrdom in Eigg. One simply mentions a pirate raid, the other is more colorful. In this account the evil deed is laid to a local chieftainess who paid a band of pirates to wipe out this community of monks because they had settled on her sheep pastures. However it was, the pirates arrived while Saint Donnan was celebrating Mass. He asked for a respite until Mass was over, saying: “We may not die so long as we remain in the joy of the Lord; however, let us go where we refresh our bodies and there pay the mortal penalty.” So it was arranged, and Saint Donnan and his companions died in the refectory, either by fire or by the sword.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 211-212. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed Marie of the Incarnation Holy Woman (1566-1618)
Of all the husbands who have attempted to dictate what their wives should read, Pierre Acarie deserves the prize. Because he lost his temper over the romantic novels she read, his wife’s entire life was changed. He forbade such reading, and the next morning the young wife found her desk piled with books he had procured from his confessor–books on the spiritual life. It may have been with a grimace that she began, but Barbe Acarie dutifully read them all. She was never the same again.
Barbe Avrillot had been born in Paris, in I566, of well to-do parents who refused her request to enter a convent and arranged her marriage to Pierre Acarie when she was a little over sixteen years of age. Pierre was a hot-headed, charming young man with little worldly common sense. He was deeply pious but somewhat ill-tempered and given to teasing. It seems to have been a very happy marriage, filled with love. It was certainly never dull. If Pierre was explosive, Barbe was serene; if his impulsiveness brought the family into financial straits, her uncommon business sense got them out again.
When her spiritual reading began, Barbe attained almost at once a high degree of contemplative prayer. She was blessed with an invisible stigmata and frequently experienced ecstasies, which she managed to keep from interfering with her domestic duties. She had a large and busy household-six children, the servants, and an astonishing variety of houseguests and relatives.
After the accession of the Huguenot king; Henry IV, Pierre was banished from Paris because of his support of the Catholic League. Madame Acarie conducted the defense of her husband in the law courts, proved him innocent of the charge of conspiracy, and appeased his creditors. She even obtained the king’s permission for him to return to Paris, with a diminished fortune but with an untarnished name.
Her husband tried, as best he could, to keep pace with his wife’s spiritual growth. He read deeply and did much to help Catholics exiled from England because of the Penal Laws. At other times, however, he did seem a bit chagrined at her achievements. One cannot but sympathize to hear him tease, “It is uncommonly inconvenient to have such a saintly wife.”
Through Barbe’s efforts, and at the inspiration of a vision of Saint Teresa, the first Carmelite nuns of Saint Teresa’s reform were brought to Paris from Spain. She also helped reform several religious communities and was instrumental in establishing the Ursulines and the Oratorians in Paris. Three of her daughters became Carmelites.
In 1614, after her husband died, Barbe herself was received into the Carmelite monastery at Amiens as a lay sister, taking the name of Marie of the Incarnation. She gladly performed the most menial tasks, and was at one time under the authority of her eldest daughter, who had been appointed sub-prioress. She was later transferred to Pontoise, the poorest Carmel in France. It was there, .on Easter morning, 1618, that she died, having been a Carmelite for four years.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 213-214. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Leo IX Pope and Confessor (1002-1054)
It was a troubled see that Leo IX accepted in 1047, when he began his pontificate. Civil authorities had infringed upon the power of the papacy in attempts to limit the authority of the popes. In fact, Leo himself had been nominated at the suggestion of his kinsman and friend, the emperor Henry III. When he accepted the office, he made it very clear that he intended to break the power that the princes held over the papacy.
Leo had been born in Alsace, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1002, and named Bruno. While still a very young priest, he was summoned to the emperor’s court, where he so made his influence felt that he was called “Good Bruno.” For twenty years Leo successfully demonstrated his technique of fighting abuses and evils in the diocese of Toul, where he was elected bishop by the clergy and the people. It was undoubtedly on the strength of this work that, on October 9, 1047, he was nominated for the papacy. The Assembly of Worms unanimously verified the nomination and the people of Rome joyfully elected him.
This was to be one of the last times that a pope was elected in this manner. Leo recognized that the custom allowed the princes an excessive influence in the choice, and it was his proposal that the election of the pope should lie exclusively within the power of the Roman cardinals. This suggestion became law ten years after his death.
Leo soon began the reforms which were so urgently needed. In April of 1049 he held the first of many synods to condemn the two glaring abuses of the time-simony and marriage of the clergy. Realizing that reforms could not be accomplished merely by issuing orders, Leo undertook a series of journeys which led him into every comer of Western Christendom, everywhere achieving reforms.
Among the papal possessions were many territories in southern Italy, and these were being ravaged by the Normans. After many unsuccessful attempts at peaceful settlement, he took up the sword in defense of his subjects. However, the invasion was not meant to be stopped, and Leo was taken prisoner. He was treated with the greatest respect by the Normans, who declared that they were also his subjects.
Although they held him at Benevento they did not interfere with his papal duties. While a prisoner, Leo was able to deal successfully with an attempt by the patriarch of Constantinopole to dispense with the authority of Rome. The entire Western Church was accused of heresy on grounds of certain unimportant points of ritual which differed from the Eastern customs. It is typical of Leo that he answered with a long and courteous letter, even studying Greek that he might better understand the arguments. Nevertheless, the dispute finally ended in a permanent schism between the Eastern and Western Churches.
When his health began to fail, the Normans released him so that they would not be held responsible for his death, and he returned to Rome. The dying pope ordered that his bed and coffin be placed side-by-side in Saint Peter’s, and he passed away very peacefully before the altar. In the five years of his pontificate, Leo had begun the enormous work of reform which was to give the next century a character of its own.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 215-216. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Blessed James Bell and Blessed John Finch Martyrs (1520 – 1584) (1548-1584)
There were men who said that under Elizabeth I, England prospered. There were others who did not believe it, who did not believe that England was happier without the Church, or that being a Catholic was an act of treason. Some men were willing to die to defend these convictions. Such men were James Bell and John Finch.
James Bell, a native of Warrington, was educated at Oxford and had been ordained a priest while Queen Mary reigned. When Elizabeth came to the throne, he at first conformed to the state religion. The prayers of a devout Catholic friend and his own reflections during a serious illness led him back to the Church, however, and he was allowed to resume his priestly duties.
He worked for about two years before he was arrested and brought to trial. He freely admitted that he was a priest and had returned to the faith which he had left; he was sentenced to death.
John Finch was a layman whose home was a missionary center where priests were harbored and converts instructed. Careless of his faith in his youth, he was reconciled with the Church as a grown man. He was arrested, dragged forcibly to a Protestant church, and then thrust into a dungeon, where he nearly starved. John Finch was tried at Lancaster with Father Bell, condemned for treason, and executed with him on April 20, 1584.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 217. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Anselm Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 1033-1109)
There have been few men so well suited for the silent life of a monk and a scholar as Anselm; there have been even fewer men so constantly denied that kind of life. Born of noble parents at Aosta, in Piedmont, Italy, about the year 1033, Saint Anselm went to the French monastery of Le Bee in 1060, hoping to lead a quiet life of prayer and study.
The dream was not to last long. He was at the abbey but three years when he was made prior and had to put aside his own studies in favor of more active duties. Among these duties was the direction of the school Lanfranc had founded, and under Anselm it became one of the great centers of medieval learning. In 1078 Anselm was elected abbot.
It was not until 1092 that his real problems began. The archbishop of Canterbury had died, and King William Rufus would not allow the post to be filled, seizing the revenues for himself. The king swore there would be no archbishop of Canterbury while he lived. As if God had taken up the challenge, King Rufus immediately became so violently ill that it was thought he would die. The protesting Anselm, who had been recommended for the see, was almost bullied into accepting the post, so terrible was the fear of the king.
Saint Anselm had every reason for not wanting the job. As the king recovered his health, he also recovered his greed. Unable to pay the immense sums of money demanded by the king, Anselm was forced to retreat to Rome. The king refused to concede to Rome, refused Archbishop Anselm’s right to return to England, and only escaped public excommunication through the intercession of Anselm, who feared the effect such action might have upon England.
At the death of Rufus in 1100, the archbishop returned to England, where he was greeted joyfully by the people and by the new king, Henry I.
But if William Rufus had desired money, the present king desired power. He claimed the right to appoint all bishops and insisted that Archbishop Anselm be reinvested through his hands. This Anselm would not allow. The matter dragged on for years, with innumerable legates being sent to the pope, who consistently upheld Anselm.
The quarrel between the pope and the king grew in intensity, with Anselm in the middle, until it seemed that the country might fall into schism after all. At last, frightened by the treat of excommunication, the king became reconciled with Anselm, restoring the revenues of his see. Henry renounced the right to invest either bishop or abbot with staff and ring, while the pope gave permission for prelates to do homage to the king as temporal ruler. This agreement was reached in 1107.
In his last years, Anselm had some degree of peace, performing his pastoral duties but finding time also for his studies. The Church owes him a debt of gratitude for his courage and wisdom in dealing with the problem of lay investiture, though Anselm felt that his true work was his theological writings. In this the Church agrees. Anselm’s writings on free will, predestination, and the Incarnation, and his much–discussed proof for the existence of God, earn for him a place beside men like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 218-219. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Agapitus Pope and Confessor (-536)
Length of office is often unimportant. It is by deeds that we judge a man, not by length of tenure. Agapitus I ruled as pope for less than eleven months, but in that time he became a model of justice and wisdom.
Agapitus’ first act, after his election in 535, was to annul the stem decree against the followers of the antipope Dioscorus, which had been pronounced by his predecessor. In another decision, he upheld the earlier decree that African bishops and priests converted from Arianism must renounce their ecclesiastical offices.
Feeling that matters in the East demanded his personal attention, Agapitus visited the emperor Justinian in Constantinople in February of 536. He could not alter the emperor’s intention of invading Italy, but in religious matters he was more successful. In spite of the protests of the empress Theodora, he induced the emperor to depose Anthimus, an heretical bishop, from the patriarchate.
While Agapitus was still in Constantinople and engaged in denouncing known heretical groups, investigating other accusations of heresy, and establishing Church unity, he was struck by a serious illness and died on April 22, 536, after a short but fruitful pontificate.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 220. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint George Martyr (-c 303)
“Saint George for England!” With this cry the Crusaders went to war. Richard the Lion-Hearted, who had quartered his troops at Lydda, the site of the saint’s tomb, had had a vision of Saint George. It was such a rousing battle cry that even the defeat of the Crusaders did not dim their faith in Saint George.
By the fourteenth century, English soldiers and sailors had adopted the cross of Saint George which was the Crusaders’ emblem, a red cross on a white background. This same emblem is, even today, the insignia of the English navy. It is also a part of the Union Jack. Even under the militantly Protestant Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare could describe English troops, under Henry V, being stirred to action by the cry, “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!” George is the patron saint of England.
Devotion to this martyr has existed in the West since the sixth century; and among the Anglo-Saxons before the Norman Conquest. But the extravagant legends and incredible marvels that surround this “dragon-slayer” arise from a medieval source, the Golden Legend, a collection of legends and tales. Saint George is said to have tamed a dragon about to devour a princess. First he transfixed it with his lance, then he borrowed the princess’s sash and tied it about the dragon’s neck. The subdued beast was then led through the streets of the city, after which George slew it in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Saint George of fact and the Saint George of fancy became merged, and there are countless tales told of him in poetry and song and art. Some may think it cold-hearted to try to separate them. But good Christians may prefer to remember what Pope Gelasius said about him in 495: that Saint George is one of those whose names are justly held in reverence among men, but whose actions are known only to God.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 221-222. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Fidelis of Simaringen Martyr (1577-1622)
Saint Fidelis prayed for two things: that he might never fall into mortal sin and that he might die for his faith. It was on April 23, 1622, that he won the martyr’s crown for which he prayed.
A brilliant Prussian lawyer, Fidelis had become disgusted with the unscrupulous methods used by most lawyers and had entered the Capuchin order. At the conclusion of his theological studies, Fidelis was assigned to Rheinfelden and later to Freiburg and Feldkirch. As a preacher his burning zeal brought him great renown.
In 1621 Fidelis was appointed by the Congregation of the Propaganda, founded by Gregory XV, to undertake a mission to the area known as the Grisons (eastern Switzerland), where many of the people had succumbed to the heretical doctrines of Calvin and Zwingli. It was there that he earned his martyrdom.
Fidelis’ preaching was so successful and his converts so many that the heretic preachers were alarmed. They undertook to convince the people that his mission was political and that Fidelis wished them to submit to the Austrians. After predicting his own death, Fidelis was beaten and stabbed to death by a band of armed peasants, who overpowered him as he left a church where he had been preaching. His prayer had been answered.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 222-223. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Mark Evangelist (New Testament)
Saint Mark, evangelist, herald of the Word, trumpet of God, has for his symbol the lion. He was a writer, the author of the Second Gospel, a witness to the Person and message of the Son of God.
Whatever else he was, we hardly know. The few facts we know about Mark, the man, become unimportant compared with the impact of Mark the evangelist. We do not know where he was born, nor where he died.
It is as if Mark’s life was meant to be a shadow to us, as if the importance of his words completely overwhelms his life. His name was John Mark: John his Hebrew name, Mark his cognomen in the Greco-Roman world outside Palestine. We know that his mother, Mary, opened her home in Jerusalem as a kind of rendezvous for the apostles and that Peter sought shelter there the night he was miraculously released from prison. It was Peter who had baptized him. We know that Mark’s uncle, Saint Barnabas, was a Levite, and infer that Mark himself may have been of the Jewish priesthood.
Of his family and station we know nothing else. Of his life little more is known. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas when they set out on the first missionary journey and went with them to Cyprus, but turned back when they had·reached Perge. This desertion displeased Saint Paul, but perhaps Mark felt he must rejoin Peter, whose disciple he was. This was his one important relationship and brought him his most important task. He was to be the spokesman of Saint Peter.
He was with Peter in Rome. Peter preached of Christ’s divinity, and Mark recorded what he heard. This constituted his Gospel.
Writing from Rome (which he called Babylon because of its luxury and sin), Peter sent greetings from himself and from “my son Mark.” Not a physical son, certainly, but a spiritual son. What volumes are spoken in those words! Here is partially unlocked the mystery of the unknown man through whom God Himself chose to speak to us. We need know nothing more about him. God put His seal upon him, and it was confirmed by Peter, Christ’s representative on earth.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 223-224. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saints Cletus and Marcellinus Popes and Martyrs (-c 88, -c 304)
The early popes were all cast in heroic molds. In those days, even to be a Christian was a heroic act, every day bringing the possibility of martyrdom. Indeed, courage was a necessity for leaders of Christians.
Saint Cletus, or Anacletus (the longer form of his name), was the third pope. Popes did not have long reigns in the early Church. It was not a safe position. Cletus ruled from about 76 to about 88, and according to tradition was martyred under Domitian. He was buried in Rome near the tomb·of Saint Peter. Saint Cletus is commemorated in the Canon of the Mass, together with four other early popes: Saints Linus, Clement, Sixtus II, and Comelius.
Saint Marcellinus, who came to the bishopric of Rome in 296, only reigned for eight years before he won a martyr’s crown. Writers of the Middle Ages seemed to believe that under fierce trial Marcellinus had yielded and offered incense to the gods before repenting and expiating his sin by a holy death. However, all historical evidence is to the contrary. The council where his supposed confession was made never took place. His crown is without blemish.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 225. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Peter Canisius Confessor and Doctor of the Church (1521-1597)
Doctor of the Church, second apostle of Germany, one of the founders of the Catholic press, first of a long line of literary Jesuits, Saint Peter Canisius ought to be called the patron saint of “getting things done.” The official list of his writings, in all their editions, takes thirty-eight pages, and that list is incomplete. Yet writing was only one of his occupations.
Peter was a teacher, a preacher, an arbitrator, a confessor, an advisor to kings and princes, court preacher, a writer, a reformer, and a founder of schools and universities. To those who said a thing was impossible, he would reply, “If you have too much to do, with God’s help you will find time to do it all.” ·
Born on May 8, 1521, at Nijmegen, Holland (then a city of the Hanseatic League), Peter was the son of a wealthy burgomaster. He was educated as a lawyer, but gave up his lucrative practice and an opportunity for a wealthy marriage in order to join the Jesuits, a new and exciting order headed by Ignatius Loyola. He was admitted on May 8, 1543·
Saint Ignatius was not long in discovering in this new member piety, leadership, talent, and above all an extraordinary understanding of people of the Protestant faith. In an age of violence, when heretics and “witches” were still occasionally burned, Peter was outstanding as a proponent of moderation and gentleness who did more to restore the Catholic faith in south and west Germany than any other man. He had an ability to write truthfully without ever antagonizing the reader. In his Catechism (undoubtedly his most important work) he never mentioned the name of Luther or Melanchthon.
Ignatius made good use of his powers, sending Peter wherever–one should say everywhere–he was needed. He went to and fro in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Tyrol, Poland, and Bohemia. Wherever he stayed any length of time, he left some enduring souvenir of his sojourn–a college or seminary, for instance. He opened Jesuit colleges at Prague, Strasbourg, Munich, Ingolstadt, Innsbruck, Dillingen, Vienna, and Fribourg, to say nothing of the many schools he rescued from financial collapse or heretical infiltration.
Peter established seminaries (and filled them), raised funds for schools and scholarships, preached and taught, arbitrated at meetings between Protestant and Catholic leaders, advised at legislative assemblies, worked reforms among laity and clergy alike, and was occasionally allowed a “rest” to write a book or two. To the Jesuits belong most of the credit for saving part of Germany from Protestant innovations. In this work Canisius was the leader.
Peter died in Fribourg in Switzerland, on December 2I, 1597, the city where he had founded one of his finest colleges, St. Michael’s. Soon after his death reports of miracles spread and pilgrims began to visit his tomb. He was canonized in 1925 and was declared a Doctor of the Church at the same time, the first saint to be so honored. Peter’s body was transferred from Saint Nicholas Cathedral to the Church of Saint Michael in 1604, where it has been the object of veneration not only for the people of Fribourg but for pilgrims from all over the world.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 226-227. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Louis Marie de Montfort Confessor (1673-1716)
In 1947 the Holy Father canonized Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. This priest who never belonged to a regular order founded two religious communities. This priest who was banned from many dioceses became a saint.
Louis was simply too advanced for his time. Ordained at the age of twenty-seven, the young priest was placed as a chaplain in a hospital. He not only ministered to the spiritual needs of the sick poor, he also sought to do something about their physical sufferings, organizing a congregation of sisters to care for them.
This was too much for the local authorities. The very improvements he introduced aroused resentment, and Father Grignion was forced to resign his post. How could they have known that by the twentieth century this congregation, the Sisters of Divine Wisdom, would number 5,000 and be working in every country, teaching 60,000 children?
Soon afterward Louis discovered his true vocation-preaching missions. He had immeasurable talent for this work, but this too brought him difficulties. Startled by his unconventional methods and, in some cases, jealous of his success, many bishops banned him from their dioceses. Nonetheless, after receiving permission from Pope Clement XI, he traveled about France with the title of missionary apostolic.
A typical “sermon” for Saint Louis would be to have all the people of a village bring their irreligious books to be burnt in the public square with an effigy of the devil on top of the heap. Or he might produce a short play, in which he took the role of a dying man, while the devil and an angel, portrayed by two other priests, fought to claim his soul.
Always Louis sought the practical and the lasting result. Often it expressed itself in the restoration of some dilapidated church in which the mission was held, or the erection of huge memorial crosses, or liberal alms to the poor. Most important was the spirit of prayer which he instilled. Nearly sixty years after his death, the pastor of Saint Lô declared that many of his parishioners still practiced the devotions Saint Louis had them begin at one of his missions.
The most important of these devotions was the recitation of the rosary. It is believed that Louis did more than any other man to spread the practice in France. He established many confraternities for its recitation, recommended it to all, and was himself a tertiary of the Order of Saint Dominic. He has been called the “apostle of the rosary.”
His preaching went on continually. The time and place did not matter. Once while traveling on a market-boat, he asked his fellow passengers, who were singing obscene songs, to join him in the rosary. At first they only jeered but Father Louis always had known how to handle hecklers. Not only did they recite the rosary on their knees, reverently, but they listened to a sermon afterward. On another occasion it was a rough open-air dance he dispersed in the same way.
A few years before his death, Louis gathered together a few priests who became the first members of his Company of Mary. But he did not live to see that community grow. A sudden illness struck him, and he died at Saint-Laurent-surSèvre on April 28, 1716.
Louis was only forty-three years old when he died, but in his short life he did more than most do with twice that time. What is more, one cannot but feel that he enjoyed life, that he enjoyed doing the things he did at the same time that he did them for God.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 228-230. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Paul of the Cross Confessor (1694-1775)
In the year 1694 Voltaire was born, a man who would lead men away from anything so outmoded as devotion to the crucified Christ. As if in recompense, in the same year was born Paul Francis Danei, a man who had the cross constantly before him, the founder of the Passionist Fathers, Saint Paul of the Cross.
Throughout his childhood in Genoa, Italy, his parents, Luke Danei and Anna Maria Massari, instilled in him the greatest piety. The crucifix was his book and Christ his model. Together with his younger brother, John Baptist, from whom he was inseparable, Paul practiced a life of unabated austerity, fasting, and mortification.
The friendship and devotion of the two brothers was as rare as it was beautiful. After their ordination they were each other’s confessors, helping and upholding each other in the dedicated life they had chosen. So noted was this friendship of John and Paul that years later the pope assigned to Paul of the Cross the Roman church dedicated to the two martyrs, Saints John and Paul, and this continues to be the motherhouse of the Passionists.
One of the few times the two were separated was when Paul journeyed to Rome to obtain permission to found an order commanded by our Lady in a vision–an order that would mourn continually for the passion and death of her Son.
After their ordination, Paul and his brother opened a house at Monte Argentario. So strict was the rule that Paul had drawn up that in the early years not a single candidate remained with them. In 1714, when the severity of the rule was slightly lessened, Pope Benedict XIV granted a general approbation and the number of candidates increased. Within six years the congregation had three houses, and eventually the order spread throughout Europe and beyond.
Saint Paul himself preached in nearly every town in the Papal States, speaking always of the Passion of Christ. His words seemed to move the coldest hearts. When he scourged himself in public for the offenses of the people, hardened soldiers and even bandits wept, confessing their sins.
Paul was endowed with extraordinary gifts, prophesying future events, healing the sick, and even appearing in visions to persons far away. Huge crowds followed him, wishing to touch him or carry off some fragment of his habit as a relic.
When his congregation was solemnly authorized in 1769, he turned, although failing in health, to the founding of a congregation of Passionist nuns, the first house of which was opened at Corneto in 1771. But Paul was not there. He was so ill in that year that he could not come; so ill, in fact, that he sent for the papal blessing. The Holy Father, however, replied that he must live a little longer as he could not be spared. In obedience, perhaps, Saint Paul of the Cross rallied and lived three more years, dying in Rome on October 18, 1775.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 230-231. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Peter Chanel Martyr (1803-1841)
Peter Chanel was the first martyr of Oceania, islands of the South Pacific–a new frontier for martrydom.
Ordained in 1841, he worked for three years in the parish of Crozet, France, not too far from Cuet, where he had been born in 1803. As a parish priest he brought about a great revival of piety in a district that had a bad reputation. He especially endeared himself to the people by his devotion to the sick.
But Peter’s heart turned toward the foreign missions. In 1831 he joined the Marists and was sent to the Friendly Islands. From there he went alone to Futuna Island, where he was very well received because of his ministry to the sick.
However, as the king came to learn more about Christianity, he realized that it would usurp his power as high priest. Suspicion turned to hatred when his own son asked to be baptized. On April 28, 1841, he ordered a band of warriors to murder the saint; they clubbed Peter to death, cutting up his body with their hatchets.
In his death Peter was victorious. The example of his martyrdom was the last step needed. Within five months the entire island was converted to Christianity.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 232. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Peter of Verona Martyr (1205-1252)
Modern Catholics have somehow developed the habit of apologizing for the Middle Ages, thinking of them as a time of darkness, rather than a time of the light of faith. Let anyone mention the Inquisition and they begin, not to explain, but to apologize. The writers of popular historical fiction (and fiction is a good word for it) have so often pictured papal inquisitors as coldly avenging fanatics that even Catholics tend to accept this picture.
Thus, the presentation of a papal inquisitor who was also a martyr and a saint evokes some surprise. Yet Saint Peter the Martyr was papal inquisitor of northern Italy. It is hard for us to realize that the work of the Inquisition was not to destroy heretics, but to convert them. This work Saint Peter performed with outstanding success.
Peter was born in 1205 at Verona. His own parents were members of an heretical sect, the Cathari. However, desiring the best education for their son, they sent him to Catholic schools, where he acquired a great love of truth.
After entering the Dominican Order, he became so noted for his preaching, as well as for his virtue and severity of life, that Pope Gregory IX made him general inquisitor. In this capacity, Peter traveled throughout Italy, preaching, judging, burning immoral and heretical books, and denouncing vice and error in Catholics and heretics alike.
Conversions were numerous and several miracles were attributed to him. He is often pictured in art healing the leg of a crippled boy. Peter was loved, not feared, and crowds followed him everywhere. He would allow no compromise on matters of truth, but though quick to argue he was slow to turn even the most hardened heretic over to the civil authorities.
There are those who would question any civil interference in such matters. However, they do not realize that the heretic of this day was not the same as the modern dissenter. These men often were willing to use any form of violence. It was not only the faith of the people that was endangered but their lives and property, the whole social order.
It was with such men that Peter dealt. On April 6, 1252, two assassins, hired by heretics who were determined to rid themselves of this powerful preacher, waylaid the saint in a wood. Struck in the head with a billhook, he is said to have written on the ground with his own blood the first words of the Creed, “I believe in God,” before being killed by a second blow.
So numerous were the miracles after his death that Peter was canonized one year later. The miracles performed through his relics and intercession fill twenty-two pages of the official record. He is often pictured with a bleeding wound in his head and with a knife projecting from his head or his shoulder.
Worthy of note is the conversion of one of Saint Peter’s murderers, a man named Carino. He was so overcome with remorse that he confessed his crimes and entered a Dominican priory, living a penitential life as a lay brother.
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 233-234. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Robert of Molesme Confessor (1024-1110)
Saint Robert is honored as one of the founders of the Cistercian Order.
Born of noble parents at or near Troyes in northeastern France, he entered the Benedictines at the age of fifteen. He was named abbot of the house at Saint Michael of Tonnerre while very young, and in 1075 he was sent to Molesme, where a group of hermits had asked for the Benedictine Rule. The new monastery at first flourished. An impious desire for luxury, however, began to destroy the spirit of the monastery, and the monks ignored Saint Robert’s protests. Being unable to win the monks over to their earlier fervor he took two companions and retired to a nearby forest to put to a trial a plan of reform. But the bishop intervened and required Robert to return to Molesme.
When all his efforts for the reform of Molesme failed again, Robert petitioned the Holy See for permission to make a new foundation. In 1098, while still abbot of Molesme, he received this permission, with six of his monks, to leave the monastery and retire to the forest of Citeaux. Here the foundations of the Cistercian life were laid.
Only a year later, Saint Robert was recalled to Molesme by the repentant monks, who claimed that their religious observance had suffered because of Robert’s departure and that they felt that the salvation of their souls and the prosperity of the monastery depended upon his return. The papal legate ordered him to go, so his transfer was arranged and he returned to the monastery to rule the monks until his death in 1110. This time his prayers and leadership succeeded in restoring a true religious spirit to the house. But Robert never ceased to long for Citeaux. In one of his letters to his brethren there, he wrote, “I should sadden you too much if I could use my tongue as a pen, my tears as ink, and my heart as paper . . . I am here in body because obedience demands it, but my soul is with you.”
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 235-236. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
Saint Catherine of Siena Virgin (1347-1380) – Patron of Fire Prevention, Illness, United States, Italy, Miscarriages, People ridiculed for their faith, Sexual temptation and Nurses
Catherine was a problem, there was no denying it. There was little her parents could do with this youngest of their twenty-five children. She refused to marry and she would not enter a convent. To make matters worse, she insisted on joining the Dominican tertiaries, an organization strictly for married women and widows. She would live like a hermit in a cell, she said, but chose her own cell in her father’s home, which sheltered his twenty-four other children, their husbands and wives, and eleven grandchildren.
Catherine continues to be a problem. She is an enigma, a true puzzle, to those who study her life. Few women have had a more amazing career than this young dyer’s daughter, who made her way from the bare little room in her parents’ home to the palace of the popes at Avignon, who braved revolutionary crowds, wrote letters to cardinals and kings, and all through her life preserved her uninterrupted union with God in times perhaps as unsettled as our own. How Saint Catherine, who has been called by some the “greatest woman in Christendom,” who influenced the pope to return to Rome from the “Babylonian Captivity,” could have chosen to live exactly as she did is a puzzle to us.
But this was God’s will. In a convent she might well have become a saint, but not the kind of saint God wanted her to be. The kind of life she was to lead, her extraordinary influence over popes, kings, sovereign cities, and crowds of disciples, was incompatible with the peace of the cloister. “I have placed you in the midst of your brothers,” Christ told her, “so that you can do for them what you cannot do for Me.”
What Catherine was, in fact, was a politician. If she had not been a politician, she would have been an entirely different sort of person. The way she bullied two popes would have been inconceivable in our day. Even more astonishing is the fact that the popes listened. They actually paid heed to these not always polite letters from a woman, a woman without learning or position.
God began early to prepare Catherine for her task. She was born in Siena, on March 25, 1347, the daughter of Giacomo Benincasa and his wife Lapa. Christ first appeared to her when she was only six years old. At seven she took a vow of virginity; at twelve she cut off her shimmering hair to avoid the marriage planned by her parents, and at fifteen she became the first unmarried woman to enter the tertiaries, the Third Order of Saint Dominic. She always got her way. Yet it was not truly Catherine’s way; it was God’s way for Catherine.
Since her first vision at the age of six, Catherine had belonged completely to God. At first, this was to mean only the happiness of mystical prayer, and visions of Christ and His saints. Later, it was to mean giving herself to Him through the severest suffering. These sufferings took the form of terrible periods of desolation when it seemed to her that God had abandoned her altogether. “Oh Lord, where wert Thou when my soul was in such torment?” she asked our Lord, as He appeared to her after an arduous period of trial. “I was in your heart, fortifying you by My grace”; and He then assured Catherine that from that time He would show Himself to her more often.
It was on Shrove Tuesday, 1366, when all of Siena was celebrating the carnival, that Catherine was espoused to Christ. While she was praying in her room, Christ and our Blessed Lady appeared to her. Taking Catherine’s hand, our Lady held it up to her Son, who placed on it a ring that was visible to Catherine but never to other people. It was at this time that Christ told Catherine she was to be of good courage for she was not armed with indomitable faith. Later, Catherine received an invisible stigmata, which became visible after her death, and through which she accepted the physical agonies of the crucifixion.
This spiritual betrothal brought Catherine’s years of preparation to an end. She was now ready to go out into the world and carry Christ to others. After becoming a tertiary, Catherine went with the other women to tend the sick (especially choosing those afflicted with the most repulsive diseases), to serve the poor, and to labor for the conversion of sinners. Though always suffering terrible physical pain, living for long intervals with practically no food except the Blessed Sacrament, she was full of practical wisdom and the greatest spiritual insight. Disciples began to gather about her.
She began now to be a problem not only to her family, but to her bishop. Michael de Ia Bedoyere says of her, ”One feels nowadays a person like Catherine, neither nun nor lay woman, the object of extravagant devotion on the part of local friars, the ‘Mamma’ of a completely unsupervised group of men and women of all ages, and a self-constituted theologian and spiritual director of all and sundry, clearly the cause of much gossip and criticism, would have caused many sleepless nights to her bishop, and even anxiety to the police.”
Nonetheless, the general chapter of Dominicans of Florence gave Catherine its approval and appointed Father Raymond of Capua as her confessor. So numerous were the cases of conscience with which she dealt that three Dominicans were specially charged with hearing the confessions of those who were induced by her to amend their lives.
During the summer of 1370, she experienced a series of visions and heard a divine command to enter the public life of the world. Catherine began correspondence with the princes and republics of Italy, was consulted by papal legates about the affairs of the Church, and set herself to heal the wounds of her native land, which was ravaged by civil war and factions. Above all, she implored the pope, Gregory XI, to leave Avignon. Although she was not able to avert the tumult of civil war, she made such a profound impression on the pope that, in spite of the opposition of the French king and almost the entire Sacred College, he left Avignon and returned to Rome on January 17, 1377. Because of her work in bringing the pope back to the See of Peter, Saint Catherine has been named a patron of Rome.
After helping to bring about peace between the Republic of Florence and the new pope, she returned to Siena, where she passed a few months of comparative quiet dictating her Dialogue, the book of her meditations and revelations.
In the meantime, the Great Schism broke out. In November of 1378, Catherine repaired to Rome, where she supported the cause of the true pope. But this schism could not be solved by politics. Sacrifice was required.
Catherine besought Christ to let her bear the punishment for the sins of the world and to receive the sacrifice of her body for the unity and renovation of the Church. This petition was answered by a vision in which the Bark of Peter was laid upon her shoulders, crushing her with its weight. After a prolonged and mysterious agony, during which she was paralyzed from the waist downward, Catherine died on April 29, 1380. Through suffering, she had stepped across the threshold into eternal joy. But then, for Catherine, heaven had always been right at the threshold. It was she who had said, ”All the way to heaven is heaven because He said, ‘I am the Way.'”
Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 236-240. © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958. Print.
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|April 1||Saint Hugh of Grenoble||Bishop and Confessor (1053-1132)|
|April 2||Saint Francis of Paula||Confessor (1416-1507)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 3||Saints Agape, Choinia, and Irene||Martyrs (-304)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 4||Saint Isidore of Seville||Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 560-636)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 5||Saint Vincent Ferrer||Confessor (1350-1419)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 6||Blessed Notker Balbulus||Confessor (840-912)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 7||Blessed Hermann Joseph||Confessor (1150-1241)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 8||Blessed Julie Billiart||Virgin (1751-1816)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 9||Saint Mary of Cleophas||Holy Woman (New Testament)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 10||Saint Bademus||Martyr (-c 376)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 11||Saint Leo I (The Great)||Pope, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 461)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 11||Saint Gemma Galgani||Virgin (1878-1903)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 12||Saint Sabas the Goth||Martyr (-c 372)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 13||Saint Hermenegild||Martyr (-c 585)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 14||Saint Justin||Martyr (-c 100 – -c 165)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 15||Saint Peter Gonzalez||Confessor (c 1190-1246)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 16||Saint Encratia (Engracia)||Virgin and Martyr (-c 304)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 16||Saint Benedict Joseph Labre||Confessor (1748-1783)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 16||Saint Bernadette Soubirous||Virgin (1844-1879)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 17||Saint Donnan and Companions||Martyrs (-c 616)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 18||Saint Marie of the Incarnation||Holy Woman (1566-1618)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 19||Saint Leo IX||Pope and Confessor (1002-1054)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 20||Blessed James Bell and Blessed John Finch||Martyrs (1520 – 1584) (1548-1584)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 21||Saint Anselm||Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 1033-1109)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 22||Saint Agapitus||Pope and Confessor (-536)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 23||Saint George||Martyr (-c 303)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 24||Saint Fidelis of Simaringen||Martyr (1577-1622)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 25||Saint Mark||Evangelist (New Testament)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 26||Saints Cletus and Marcellinus||Popes and Martyrs (-c 88, -c 304)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 27||Saint Peter Canisius||Confessor and Doctor of the Church (1521-1597)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 28||Saint Louis Marie de Montfort||Confessor (1673-1716)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 28||Saint Paul of the Cross||Confessor (1694-1775)|
|XXXXXXXXX||April 28||Saint Peter Chanel||Martyr (1803-1841)|