December 1
Blessed Edmund Campion Martyr (c 1540-1581)

To men of faith nothing is so sad as to see a beloved country fall short of the sanctity for which it is destined. No one loved England more than her martyrs, and because they loved, they gave their lives to preserve Catholicism in their country.  The story of the English martyrs is the story of a bloody ordeal, but a glorious one, because the faith of a few proved great enough to blot out the horror of those who had failed God.

The senior Edmund Campion was a bookseller in London. Both he and his wife were Catholics until the reign of Elizabeth I, when they succumbed to the temptation of apostasy from the faith.  Edmund junior was born about 1540 and was sent on a scholarship to Saint John’s College, Oxford, when he was only fifteen.  Within two years he had established himself as an outstanding orator and received numerous appointments, including one to speak before the queen during her visit to Oxford.

Having taken the oath of supremacy, Edmund was persuaded by Doctor Cheney, bishop of Gloucester, to accept ordination as deacon in the Anglican church. Campion was a scholar, however, and his studies of the Church Fathers left his mind confused; he had doubts about Anglicanism.  After a short trip to Dublin, where he was sent to help rebuild its university, he returned to England filled anguish at the thought of his future as an Anglican minister.  He made his decision.

He moved to Douai, France, where he studied Catholicism took a degree, and was ordained subdeacon. His next took him to Rome; he entered the Society of Jesus in 1573 and was assigned to the Austrian province.  Because of ability to master the subjects assigned, he completed his course of study in five years and celebrated his first Mass in Prague on September 8, 1578.

By this time the missionary field was ripe for the Jesuits. They had had remarkable success in converting Protestants in Germany, Poland, and Bohemia.  The Society decided to send a small group of priests to England to combat the evils spread by the Reformation.  Father Edmund Campion Father Robert Persons were among the first chosen for this mission.  They well knew the risks they faced, as the news from England revealed what repressive measures had been instituted since Elizabeth’s excommunication.  As the missionaries were about to depart, one of Edmund’s fellow priests wrote above his door, “Father Edmund Campion, martyr.”

At Rome the two Jesuit priests and a lay brother joined a group bound for England and after six weeks of travel arrived at Rheims. Here the group separated into two’s and three’s to embark at the various ports.  Father Persons, guised as a Lowland soldier, set out from Calais; Campion posing as a jeweler, with Brother Ralph Emerson as his servant, embarked at Saint-Omer and landed at Dover on June 24, 1580.  The English government had been informed of their arrival and since Campion had once been held in such high favor in the court, his conversion to Catholicism made his capture an undoubted prize.  The priests were driven out of London, so Campion went to work in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and Northamptonshire, ministering to Catholics who were risking property and even life to keep the faith.  In each town, no matter what his disguise, he was recognized by spies and only narrowly escaped capture several times.  Hardly more than a night in any one place, Campion was also composing a Latin treatise called Ten Reasons, in which he discussed the ten causes for argument between Catholics and Anglicans.  It was difficult to get this thesis into print, but when it was finally distributed, it caused such a stir that efforts to capture the writer were intensified.  Three weeks later, on July 16, 1581, Father Campion was captured.

He was taken with two other priests to the Tower to await the beginning of the long torture. After his body was weakened from the rack, he was questioned and even bribed by the queen in an attempt to make him apostatize.  On November 14, 1581, Campion and his companions were tried and found guilty of the fabricated charge of plotting to raise a rebellion in England.  Before the death sentence was pronounced, Campion addressed his judges:

”In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors—all the ancient priests, bishops, and kings–all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.”

“For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach? To be condemned with these lights–not of England only, but of the world–by their degenerate descendants, is both gladness and glory to us.”

On December 1 he was taken to Tyburn, where he was executed with the usual barbarities. Blessed Edmund Campion had lived and died in the spirit of the founder of his Society, Saint Ignatius, who prayed: “Take, O Lord, into Thy hands, my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my will …”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  701-704.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 2
Blessed John Ruysbroeck Confessor (c 1293-1381)

The saint can never be selfish in his love for God. He is compelled by his love to transmit it to others, through preaching, teaching, writing, and the example of his life.  Blessed John Ruysbroeck, called the “Divine Doctor,” spread his knowledge and love for God in all these ways, especially through his writings, which have been a constant source of encouragement for aspirants to the spiritual life.

Little is known of John’s background. His surname, Ruysbroeck, is the name of the village near Brussels, Belgium, where he was born in 1293.  He left his home at the age of eleven to live with his uncle, John Hinckaert, who was a canon at the Church of Saint Gudule in Brussels.  Canon Hinckaert sponsored John’s education in the Brussels schools.  He hoped the boy would become a priest.  The boy was not only attracted to the life but seemed suited to it as well.  He continued his studies and was ordained when he was twenty­ four.  Shortly after his ordination he and his uncle joined with another canon, Franco van Coudenberg, for one purpose:  they decided to live contemplative lives while fulfilling their canonical duties, giving all their superfluous income to the poor.

From 1330 to 1335 there was an outbreak of heresy in Brussels, led by a woman called Bloemardinne. She headed a sect called the Brethern of the Free Spirit, and they succeeded in spreading propaganda by means of pamphlets written in the Flemish language.  John refuted her false mysticism, using her own method of writing in the common language of the people, in order that his message might reach the masses.  After issuing a number of pamphlets he wrote the Book of the Kingdom of God’s Lovers, which incorporated many of the same principles contained in his early rebuttals.  He followed this with the Spiritual Espousals and several other works on the subject of mysticism, all written in a simple and practical style.  He spent long hours wandering in the forests, jotting down occasional ideas about humility, detachment, and resignation to God’s will.

In the spring of 1343, the three priests felt they must leave the confusion of Brussels and find a place more conducive to a life of uninterrupted contemplation. They moved to the hermitage of Groenendael, in a forest about forty miles to the southwest.  Establishing themselves in a large chapel, they accepted disciples who were attracted to their simple way of life.  It soon became necessary to organize the group, and they took vows as a community of Canons Regular of Saint Augustine.  Canon Hinckaert died in 1349 and left Franco van Coudenberg and John Ruysbroeck to carry on the organization.  Franco took care of administrative details and John became prior.  The latter’s very presence seemed to attract aspirants.  Patient and charitable, constantly seeking to serve rather than to command, John was their model in all things.

John continued his writing. His most important work, the Book of the Spiritual Tabernacle (an allegory of the mystical life), was completed during his last years at Groenendael.  In his last few years there, he was too weak to leave his cell.  Death came on December 2, 1381.  He was beatified Pope Pius X in 1908.

Although he lived during a confused and troubled time, John Ruysbroeck became one of the great contemplatives the Middle Ages. His teachings on the love of God been used by spiritual writers up to the present day.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  704-706.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 3
Saint Francis Xavier Confessor (1506-1552)

Saint Francis Xavier has been called by the Church the most outstanding missionary since Saint Paul the Apostle. During the last ten years of his life he devoted himself to the task of carrying the faith to such widely scattered Oriental peoples as the Hindus, the Malayans, and the Japanese.  Today, in company with Saint Thérése of Lisieux, he is privileged to be co-patron of all foreign missions.

Francis was born in 1506 at the castle of Xavier near Pamplona in the Kingdom of Navarre. His father was chancellor of Navarre, a serious and learned man who had married Maria de Azpilcueta, a descendant of two proud and wealthy Spanish families.  By the time Francis was nine, the death of his father and invasions of the Kingdom of Navarre had exhausted the entire family fortune.  Nevertheless, he continued to study in local schools, specializing in Latin and preparing himself for philosophical studies.

An ambitious and adventurous youth, he decided, in 1525, that he must study at the University of Paris, under its celebrated faculty of theology. He became a member of the College of Saint Barbara.  With no definite plan in mind, Francis remained in Paris for eleven years.  He studied energetically, as he did everything, and achieved amazing success.  Before he was twenty-four he obtained his master of arts degree and took a licentiate in philosophy, supporting himself as a lecturer in logic and metaphysics at Beauvais College of the University.

In 1529, Ignatius of Loyola came to Paris to study. Seeking the companionship of other Spaniards, he soon became acquainted with Francis.  It seems that indifference and even hostility characterized their early relationship.  Ignatius was older and a neophyte in the ways of scholarship.  Francis, at the peak of his intellectual career, had little or no sympathy for the older student.  Gradually, though, Ignatius succeeded in winning the young man’s confidence and in persuading him to look carefully into the problem of his salvation.  Recalling his struggle, Ignatius later confessed that Francis had been the hardest dough he had ever been called upon to knead.

On August 15, 1534, in a chapel on the hillside of Montmartre, Ignatius, Francis, and five others took the vows of chastity and poverty and also vowed to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The group remained in Paris for two more years in order to complete their studies and take degrees, renewing their vows each August 15.  Three new companions joined the circle during this time, and in November 1536 they all set off, on foot; and traveling as pilgrims, for Venice to take ship for the Holy Land.  But circumstances made the pilgrimage impossible, and the group settled down at Rome, preaching and living on alms.  They planned to become priests and then place themselves at the service of the pope.  Francis was ordained in Venice in 1537.

In 1540, when the Society of Jesus was fully constituted and approved, Ignatius was named the first general. Two men were assigned, at the request of the king of Portugal, as missionaries to the Portuguese Indies, but one became ill and could not go.  Looking over his small group for an able man to send in his place, Ignatius selected the energetic Francis.  His ship left Lisbon April 7, 1541, and after a long and painful voyage, Francis landed at Goa, India, on May 6, 1542.

Working there for many months, Francis developed the missionary techniques which were to become the basis of the Jesuit apostolic system. He came as a stranger to the land.  First, he sought to know the people, to understand their customs and, by this attitude, to convince them of his sincerity.  After winning their confidence he always sought to bring the truths of Christianity within the circle of their own traditions rather than startling them with mysteries and admonitions which they could not accept.  Francis’ second principle of missionary work was always to bring religion to the children first.  If children would hear and believe, the adults would soon follow.  To gather people for instruction, Francis would wander through the streets like the Pied Piper, ringing a bell and calling the villagers to the church.  Since love of neighbor is the distinguishing feature of the Christian, he spent countless hours ministering to the sick and poor, particularly to lepers.

Complying with the wishes of the governor of Goa, Francis set out for the Portugese colonies at the tip of India, where he labored among the most impoverished and oppressed of the population, the pearl fishermen.

In 1545 he moved on to the East Indies, landing at Malacca, on the Malay Peninsula, in early fall. He was met by large crowds eager to hear all he had to say.  Word of his charm and generosity had spread far during his three-year apostolate.  Aware of the importance of friendliness, he mingled with the crowds, eating with peasants and officials alike.  Gradually, with gentleness and tact, he induced many to abandon their spiritually impoverished lives and accept Christianity.

He entered Japan in 1549 and was constantly badgered by hostile islanders; several times he and his companions only narrowly escaped death. But he loved the Japanese people for their polite and cultivated manners and of his converts he said they were the “best of Christians.”

Encouraged by reports that the Chinese, too, were eager for instruction, Francis now dreamed of securing an interview with their emperor in order to convince him and his subjects of the truth of Christianity. He died while attempting to carry out this new mission, succumbing to a violent fever on December 3, 1552.  The site of his death was a small island off the China coast near Canton.

It is almost beyond our powers to understand the spirit of sacrifice and generosity that was Francis Xavier’s. He had given up a successful career of teaching; had he continued his studies he would probably have become one of the great philosophers of his age.  Instead, he chose to work in the far corners of the world, fighting disease, oppression, bigotry, and loneliness, for the love of God and His truth.  His life was short, only forty-six years, but few others have won so many souls for Christ.

Saint Francis Xavier was canonized in 1662, at the same time as his friend and spiritual father, Saint Ignatius Loyola.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  706-709.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 4
Saint Peter Chrysologus Confessor and Doctor of the Church (406 -c 450)

Peter Chrysologus, a native of Imola, Italy, was baptized, educated, and ordained a priest by Cornelius, the bishop that city. In many of his writings Peter speaks of Cornelius with affection and gratitude as his spiritual father.  Peter was elected bishop of Ravenna sometime between 425 and 429.  The city was the imperial residence of Galla Placidia, mother of the emperor Valentinian III.  From this time it began to be an important civil, political , and ecclesiastical center.

When he arrived in Ravenna, Peter found the demoralizing effects of paganism rampant in that city. He urged his people to receive the Holy Eucharist frequently as a means of bating vice.  He pressed for complete obedience to the commands of the pope, made apparent through the counsels of the priests.

Although Saint Peter’s charity toward the poor of his diocese was outstanding, he is most noted for his sermons treatises, which were collected by Felix, archbishop Ravenna from 708 to 724. His chief works contain nations of biblical texts and treatises defending the Incarnation, which he wrote to denounce the heresy of Eutyches.  He dedicated some homilies to the Blessed Virgin, asserting the truth of the Immaculate Conception.  Not so because of his eloquence as because of the fervor and devotion of his sermons, he was given the name Chrysologus, meaning ”golden speech.”

Saint Peter died in 451 in the city of lmola, and was buried in the Church of Saint Cassian. Examination of his discourses and their lasting influence led Pope Benedict XIII to declare him a Doctor of the Church in 1729.

The Gradual of the Mass for a bishop and confessor serves as the highest praise for this holy priest: “Here was a great priest whose life was acceptable to God.  Where shall we find another to keep the law of the Most High as he kept it?”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  710-711.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 4
Saint Barbara Virgin and Martyr (date unknown)

Although the story of Saint Barbara comes to us as little more than pious legend or myth, the Syrian virgin has been given a commemoration in the Divine Office of the Latin Rite, and the Eastern churches honor her in a special office on December 4·

Barbara, the daughter of Dioscorus, a pagan nobleman, dedicated herself to God when she was still a young child. Realizing that her beauty would lead many unsuitable men to seek her in marriage, her father kept Barbara locked in a room where she spent many hours in prayer.  One day, when he was about to leave the city and wanted to give his daughter some diversion, Dioscorus ordered a bathhouse built in the garden surrounding his home.  In his absence, Barbara commanded the workmen to build three windows in the structure instead of the two which her father had ordered.  Upon his return, the angry father demanded an explanation such open defiance of his wishes.  Barbara explained that three windows symbolized the Three Persons of the Trinity, by which all light is given to the world.  In a fit of anger her father attempted to kill her, but the girl was miraculously carried to a mountain top.  Finally her father dragged by her the hair from the mountain and took her to the governor who had the young girl tortured and then killed.  The spiteful father, not satisfied at her death, cut off Barbara’s head with his own sword.  He was immediately struck dead by lightning.  Because of Dioscorus’ punishment, Saint Barbara has been invoked against lightning and fire and is the patroness artillerymen.  She is also the patroness of architects, and often represented in art with long hair and standing beside a three-windowed tower.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  711-712.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 5
Saint Sabas Abbot and Confessor (c 439-532)

One of the outstanding figures of early monasticism, Saint Sabas was born near Caesarea in Cappadocia about 439. At the age of eight he ran away from home to live in a nearby monastery.  Some years later his uncles urged him to leave monastery and marry, but Sabas was convinced of the goodness and simplicity of monastic life.  When he was eighteen he sought permission of his abbot to go to Jerusalem.  He entered a monastery there, but the example of perfect solitude and seclusion of the hermit Saint Euthymius immediately attracted Sabas, and he sought to join him.  He was refused as a disciple because of his youth.  When Sabas was thirty, after having lived the intervening years in various monasteries, Euthymius gave him permission to live a more solitary existence.

For years Sabas lived completely alone, depending entirely on herbs and dates for food. Finally he moved to a cave near the brook of Cedron, probably in the same region traveled by our Lord on His way to Mount Olivet.  So many men eventually sought his guidance that he founded a laura (a monastery in which monks lived in separate cells grouped around a church).  Since none of the men were ordained, and all believed it necessary to have an abbot who was a priest, the patriarch of Jerusalem compelled Sabas to receive holy orders in 491, when he was fifty-two years old.  Three years later Sabas was appointed general superior of all hermit­ monks living in Palestine.

A strong opponent of current heresies, Sabas appealed to the emperor Anastasius in 511, and journed to Constantinople to confer with Justinian in 531, begging for peace among the people and the clergy. An able administrator, Sabas guided not only his own foundations but counseled and aided all the other groups of hermit-monks in Palestine.  ln the fight for the orthodox faith in a world where heresy often had the support of civil authority and even of bishops and patriarchs, Sabas was both wise and firm.  In famine and hardship his own monks and all the people of Jerusalem learned to count on the prayers of the saint.  The old man, who had always wanted to preserve his desert solitude and to be unknown, became the most talked-of personage in Palestine.  At the age of ninety-three, on December 5, 532, Saint Sabas died alone in his cell at the laura which still bears his name, Mar Saba.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  712-713.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 6
Saint Nicholas of Myra Bishop and Confessor (-c 345)

Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, is undoubtedly one the most popular saints honored in the Western world. In the United States, his memory has survived in the unique personality of Santa Claus–the rotund, white-bearded gentleman whose laughter captivates children with promises gifts on Christmas Eve.  Considered the patron saint of children, Nicholas is also invoked by sailors and pawnbrokers and, with Saint Andrew, is honored as the co-patron of Russia.

In spite of his widespread fame, Saint Nicholas, from the historian’s point of view, is hardly more than a name. He was born in the last years of the third century in Asia Minor.  His uncle, the archbishop of Myra in Lycia, ordained him and appointed him abbot of a nearby monastery.  At the death of the archbishop, Nicholas was chosen to fill the vacancy, and he served in this position until his death.  About the time of the persecutions of Diocletian, he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity but was released during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

Popular legends have involved Saint Nicholas in a number of charming stories, one of which relates Nicholas’ toward the poor. A man of Patara had lost his fortune, finding himself unable to support his three maiden daughters, was planning to turn them into the streets.  Nicholas heard of the man’s intentions and secretly threw three bags of gold through a window into the home, thus providing dowries for the daughters.  The three bags of gold mentioned in this story are said to be the origin of the three gold balls that form the emblem of pawnbrokers.

After Nicholas’ death in about 345, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra. It remained there until 1087, when seamen of Bari, an Italian coastal town, seized the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city.  Veneration for Nicholas had already spread throughout Europe as well as Asia, but this occurrence led to a renewal of devotion in the West.  Countless miracles were attributed to the saint’s intercession.

The story of Saint Nicholas came to America in distorted fashion. The Dutch Protestants carried a popularized version of the saint’s life to New Amsterdam, portraying Nicholas as nothing more than a Nordic magician and wonder-worker.  Our present-day conception of Santa Claus has grown from this version.  Catholics should think of Nicholas as a saint, a confessor of the faith, and the bishop of Myra–not merely as a jolly man from the North Pole who brings happiness to small children.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  714-715.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 7
Saint Ambrose Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 340-397)

A fourth-century mother claims three canonized saints as her children: Saint Ambrose, Saint Marcellina, and Saint Satyrus.  December 7 is celebrated as the feast of Saint Ambrose, the most famed of the three.  He was born at Trèves in Gaul (the present-day German city of Trier).  His father had one of the principal offices of the Empire and administered the territories that are now Britain, Spain, and Morocco.  After his father’s death Ambrose went to Rome to study Greek, law, and oratory.  He became well known for pleading causes at the court of the praetorian prefect and was chosen to be a member of the prefect’s judicial council.  Emperor Valentinian appointed the young man governor of northern Italy, and Ambrose resided in Milan thereafter.

A certain Arian bishop had usurped and held the diocese of Milan for twenty years. When he died in 374, the city was the scene of a vicious war between Catholics and Arians over the election of a new bishop, each sect demanding a man of its own faith.  Since it was Ambrose’s task to prevent any riots that might occur in the city, he went to the crowded basilica in an effort to preserve peace.  While he pleaded with the people for settlement, a child somewhere in the crowd cried, ”Ambrose for bishop!” and the mob took up the chant.  Although Ambrose had always professed Christianity, like many others he had been misled by a common error of the times and had delayed his baptism; he was therefore ineligible for the episcopal office.  When the emperor sanctioned his candidacy, Ambrose was compelled to accept the office.  He was baptized and only a week later, on December 7, 374, was consecrated bishop.

Ambrose had been educated as a lawyer. Now conscious of the duties and responsibilities imposed upon him by·his new office, he went to Rome to study theology and Sacred Scripture.  On his return to Milan he preached so consistently and vehemently against Arianism that within ten years after his consecration there was not a citizen in the city who adhered to the heresy.  In the course of his episcopate, Ambrose prevented the Arians from gaining control of new sees and secured the deposition of two Arian bishops.

His days were active; he had been a man of state, and civil officials with weighty problems were reluctant to leave the bishop to his episcopal affairs. Still, he never lost sight of the need for meditation and contemplation.  Ambrose ruled as a dutiful bishop but tempered his authority with charity; he tempered justice with generosity, and his own mortifications with prudence and moderation.

Ambrose was a popular speaker. Impressing crowds with the blessedness of the virginal state, he inspired many to enter the religious life.  Because he combined the talents· of a scholar and orator with the virtues of a priest, he was partly responsible for the conversion of one listener, Saint Augustine.

The writings of Saint Ambrose have earned him the distinction of being one of the four great doctors of the Western· Church, in company with Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great. He was above all an ecclesiastical teacher, who wrote several commentaries on the Old and the New Testaments.  His most important and influential ascetical works include On the Duties of Ministers (a manual of Christian morality), On Virgins, On Penance, and treatises on baptism, confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist.

Ambrose’s talents were, indeed, diverse. He composed a number of hymns (known in later times as the Ambrosian hymns); several of them are still used in the Roman liturgy.  He introduced the Antiochene practice of alternate singing of the Psalms and this was immediately adopted for permanent use by the whole Western Church.  The liturgical rite followed in the archdiocese of Milan today is named for Saint Ambrose, whose writings often refer to its ceremonies.

In his last illness, having been begged by his people to pray for a longer life, Ambrose replied: “I have not so behaved myself among you that I should be ashamed to live longer; nor am I afraid to die, for we have a good Master.”  He died before dawn of Holy Saturday, April 4, 397, when he was about fifty-eight years old.  His body was buried beside the relics of Saints Gervasius and Protasius in the basilica at Milan.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  715-718.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 8
Saint Romaric Abbot and Confessor (c 573-653)

The term “double monastery” is not a familiar one today. During a long period of the Church’s history, however, these religious institutions were quite common:  a convent of nuns built near a monastery of monks, both houses being ruled by the same superior.  Usually, the superior was an abbot but in some cases an abbess was in charge of both.  Saint Romaric’s greatest work was the establishment and endowment of such a monastery and the guiding of its members on paths of sanctity.  By so doing, he accomplished his own salvation as well.

Romaric’s monastic activities flourished in what is now northeastern France, but their roots lay in Ireland. From there had come the great monk-missionary, Columban, to found the Abbey of Luxeuil; this abbey became a model for many other monastic houses, and its spirit influenced laymen as well as religious.  Romaric was a young nobleman of Austrasia, one of the Frankish kingdoms; like many other young men of the time he was strongly attracted by the example of Columban, and went to Luxeuil.  Here he remained for some years, following the austere rule of life the Irish monk had established there.  It was a monk of Luxeuil, Saint Amatus, who inspired Romaric to convert his castle into the monastery which was later named, in honor of its donor, Remiremont, or Romberg.  Situated high above the Moselle River, the double monastery became a place of refuge and strength in a Europe that was frequently, in the seventh century, torn by the wars of petty noblemen.  Amatus himself was the first abbot.  Under his direction the monastery’s dedication to Christian perfection flourished.  At Amatus’ death, Romaric was made abbot and continued to work as director of the monastery until his own death in 653, on December 8.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  718-719.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 9
Saint Peter Fourier Confessor (1565-1640)

Peter was talented, and it seemed there was always someone around to put his talents to good use. He was born at Mirecourt, in Lorraine, in I 56 5. Lorraine was at that an independent territory under a duke, lying between German Empire and the Kingdom of France. Peter was to the Jesuit school at Pont-a-Mousson just fifteen years later.  He did so well in his course of studies that he was able to open a school near his home after his graduation.  At twenty he entered the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine at the Abbey of Chaumousey, where he was ordained in 1589.  Almost immediately his abbot sent him back to the university for his doctorate in theology.  Again he proved to be amazing student and teacher, impressing his students with the recitation of long passages from the Summa theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and quoting at length from the writings of the Fathers of the ancient Church.

In 1597 Peter was offered the care of one of the one of the parishes served by the Canons. A young man, full of ambition and dreams, he chose the poorest one, at Mattaincourt, where he remained for thirty years.  The town had been strongly influenced by Calvinism, the people were impoverished and disheartened and, as a result, Christian family life had suffered.  Peter may have flinched at the ugliness of this life but he did not fail to realize his dreams.  His plan for renovating the parish began with caring for economic needs.  He provided a fund, consisting of charitable bequests, fines, and all surplus money, from which a citizen could borrow, returning the sum with only a little interest when he was able.  Next he established three sodalities:  the Sodality of Saint Sebastian for men, the Holy Rosary Sodality for women, and the Immaculate Conception Sodality for children.  Each Sunday Peter delivered a sermon dealing with some particular virtue opposed to a vice he found prevalent among his parishioners.  He was systematic and constant in his work and was soon able to see the worthwhile results of his labors in the devotion of his people.  Throughout the district he was own as “the good priest of Mattaincourt.”

In order to perpetuate the work he had started, Peter Fourier brought together, in 1597, a group of young women which in 1628 became the Canonesses Regular of Saint Augustine of the Congregation of Our Lady. Blessed Alix Clercq was the co-founder and superior of this religious institute of women dedicated to the education of poor girls.  Pope Urban VII granted the nuns permission to make a vow binding themselves to the teaching of young girls without pay.  The congregation spread throughout France, and is now established in England, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Africa, and the United States.

In 1621 Peter had still another task put to him. He was ordered to Toul by the bishop, to reform the Canons Regular of Our Savior, in Lorraine.  He re-established the observance of the Rule and formed the canons into the Congregation of Our Savior.  In 1632 he was appointed superior general of the reformed congregation.

Care of his own parish and these special assignments for reform of religious were not his whole concern. Like Saint Francis de Sales, Saint John Eudes, Saint John Francis Regis, Saint Vincent de Paul, Father Olier and others, Saint Peter Fourier was active in the great apostolic offensive throughout France and Lorraine against Protestantism.

Because of his loyalty to the House of Lorraine in the crisis caused by French efforts to annex Lorraine, Cardinal Richelieu, the French minister, sent troops to arrest him. The bishop fled to the town of Gray in Franche-Comté, a territory in northeastern France at that time controlled by the Spanish Hapsburgs.  It was there that the holy founder died December 9, I640.  He was canonized by Pope Leo III in 1897.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  719-721.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 10
Saint Eulalia Virgin and Martyr (-c 304)

Although we tend to think of the early martyrs as dying in the amphitheater of ancient Rome, the scourge of Roman persecutions spread to all comers of the empire, reaching even to Spain. The edicts of Diocletian, early in the fourth century, found Eulalia, a girl of twelve, living in Mérida, a town in Spain which still exists.

When edicts were issued demanding that all should offer sacrifice to the gods, Eulalia became impatient for martyrdom.· Her mother, becoming aware of this, took the girl into the countryside for protection. Under cover of night, Eulalia escaped.  She arrived at Mérida early in the morning and immediately went to the judge in the Roman court of the city.  The judge tried flattery, bribery, and finally threats, saying that she would not be punished if she would only touch the offerings of salt and incense with the tip of her finger.  Eulalia’s answer was to break the image and trample the sacrificial cake underfoot.  The court’s response was the universal answer of the Roman persecution to the denial of Roman gods:  Eulalia was tortured and burned to death.

Early stories about Eulalia also report that snow fell after her death to cover her body and the entire forum where she suffered; and that the snow remained until her body was buried by other Christians. Today her relics are in the cathedral of Oviedo, and she is honored as patroness of the city.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 722.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 11
Saint Damasus Pope and Confessor (-c 305-384)

He who walking on the sea could calm the bitter waves, and who grants life to the dying seeds of the earth; He who as able to loose the mortal chains of death, and after the darkness of three days could bring again to the upper world the brother for his sister Martha: He, I believe, will make Damasus rise again from the dust.”  This was the epitaph written for his own tomb by a man who was a pope, defender of the Church, apologist, chronicler of the martyrs, the impetus behind Saint Jeome’s translation of the Bible, a monument builder, and above all a saint.

Damasus became pope on the death of Pope Liberius in 366 and though he was about sixty years old at the time of his elevation to the papacy, he filled the seventeen years he ruled the Church with action and wisdom. Of Spanish descent but born in Rome, Damasus did not take the Chair of Peter without difficulty; for a minority faction had elected and irregularly consecrated another pope, instigating strife which lasted until 378, with Damasus the target of the lies and malice of his opponents.  There was an infant Church to govern, there were heresies to contend with and ecclesiastics to discipline when they became too worldly and pompous.  But the act of Pope Damasus which is especially felt in the Christian world even to this day was his command to Saint Jerome, who was for a time his secretary, to revise the Latin Bible, a commission which resulted in the Vulgate.  Pope Damasus also presided over a synod in Rome at which the canon of Holy Scripture was drawn up, the list of the books that are truly inspired and constitute the Bible.  Although general agreement on the canon appeared much earlier, this was the first official document of its kind in the West.

Historians owe a considerable debt to Saint Damasus, for he took a particular interest in the official archives of the Church; a collection of which was begun early in the fourth century, and also made careful investigations to establish authentic records of many of the martyrs. We would know nothing of Saint Tarsicius today had it not been for the epitaph written about him by Saint Damasus.  Damasus repaired many of the monuments of the martyrs in the cemeteries of Rome.  In the catacombs of Saint Callistus, he built the ”papal crypt” and for it wrote another of his famous epitaphs, which reads in part: “I, Damasus, wished to be buried here, but I feared to offend the sacred ashes of the holy ones.”  Damasus himself was buried in another of the buildings with which he adorned Rome, a church in the Via Ardeatina, in the year 384.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  723-724.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 12
Saint Edburga Abbess and Virgin (-751)

What we know of Saint Edburga comes chiefly through her association with Saint Boniface; her own letters to the saint are no longer extant, but reliable material on her is found in the letters of Boniface and those of his companion, Saint Lull.

Edburga seems to have been the abbess of Minster-in­Thanet, in England, where she probably succeeded Saint Mildred in that office. A member of the royal family of Kent, Edburga met Saint Boniface on a pilgrimage to Rome, after which the correspondence between the two saints began.  Besides letters, Edburga sent Boniface money, a sanctuary carpet, clothes, and books.  She appears to have been an excellent calligrapher, since Boniface asked in a letter that she copy the Epistles of Saint Peter for him in letters of gold.

Nothing else is known of Edburga beyond these letters, except that she built a new church for her convent at Minster, where she was buried after her death in 751. Later her relics were removed to Canterbury.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  724-725.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 13
Saint Lucy Virgin and Martyr (-c 304)

In the Roman Martyrology, Saint Lucy is called both virgin and martyr, and in both titles lies the secret of her sanctity in the Roman Empire of the fourth century. Recent excavations in Syracuse, the ancient capital of Sicily, revealed both her tomb and an inscription dating from the end of the fourth century .that mentions her feast day.  She is known to have been honored in Rome in the sixth century and she is mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.  Lucy, whose name means ”light,” was invoked by the devout of the Middle Ages as a patroness of those afflicted with any eye disease.  In art she is often shown carrying a dish with two eyeballs on it.

The poet Dante prayed to Saint Lucy for the relief of eye ailment, and in his Divine Comedy he gave this saint on of the most honored places in heaven, next to that of Saint John the Baptist.

Much of what we are told about Saint Lucy may be legend. The earliest account of her martyrdom, although written some time before the sixth century, is not considered authentic.  This is the story it tells:

Lucy was born in Sicily of noble parents, and as a young child offered her virginity to God in a vow which she kept secret. Lucy’s mother urged her to marry a young pagan.  The matter was resolved in a way that was to mean glory both to Lucy and to the Church.

Eutychia, Lucy’s mother, had suffered from a hemorrhage, and Lucy encouraged her to go to the tomb of Saint Agatha and pray for help. Both mother and daughter made the pilgrimage, and their prayers for a cure were answered.  Lucy then informed her mother of her desire to give herself and all that she possessed to God, a desire which, in gratitude for the favor recently granted, Lucy’s mother did not refuse.  With Lucy’s suitor, however, it was a different matter, and he accused her before the governor of being a Christian.  The persecution of Diocletian was at its height, and Lucy did not escape its reach.  The Romans attempted to shake her resolution of virginity and tried to burn her, but were thwarted by divine intervention.  Finally, Lucy was put to death by the sword in 304.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  725-726.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 14
Blessed Bonaventure Buonaccor Confessor (c 1240-1315)

What could be said of a man of thirty-six, notorious as a brutal, revengeful political factionary, who was immediately converted to a life of virtue upon hearing a sermon of a Servite priest? Many objected that his conversion was specious, yet Bonaventure persisted in his reformation, a reformation so thorough that it won him the title of “il Beato”–the Blessed–during his life and the honors of the Church at his death.

Bonaventure (called Buonaccorsi, although it is not certain that he belonged to this noble family) was born about 1240, in Pistoia, a city in northern Italy. He eventually became a leader of the violently anti-papal party, the Ghibellines. In 1276 Saint Philip Benizi came to the city to a convention of the Servants of Mary and, while there, preached to the citizens of Pistoia.

One of Saint Philip’s listeners was Bonaventure, who heard and was converted. He presented himself to Saint Philip to accuse himself of all his wrongdoings; he even asked to be admitted to the order of the Servite friars.  Saint Philip had some doubts about such a sudden and drastic conversion–as would any man familiar with the conditions of the times–and decided to test Bonaventure by ordering him to do public penance for his offenses.  Bonaventure performed the assigned penance humbly and sincerely, and was immediately accepted as a Servite.  He was later ordained a priest and made an assistant to Saint Philip, aiding him in his work in the other cities of Italy, deep in the Guelf­ Ghibelline struggle from which Bonaventure had so providentially escaped.

Bonaventure was made the prior of the Servite monastery at Orvieto in 1282, but after the death of Saint Philip Benizi, he returned to Pistoia to assist that saint’s successor. Bonaventure spent many years in preaching peace and unity where he himself had once sown the seeds of hatred and discord.  He also served as prior in various Servite houses.  He died Orvieto on December 14, 1315, and was buried in the chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The practicality and possibility of beginning again was the most valuable lesson Bonaventure learned in this world. Had he not repaired the past, then set out on the path to virtue, the outcome would have been much different for his own soul and certainly for those souls he helped to heal.  Bonaventure’s spiritual “stitch in time” saved many, many more than nine–it saved his own soul and the souls of those who would listen as he had listened.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  727-728.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 15
Saint Paul of Latros Confessor (-956)

His father chose an officership in the imperial army as his way of life, but Saint Paul of Latros chose a vocation far removed from what the society of his day would expect for the son of a man slain fighting the Saracens. The warrior’s son chose to be a hermit.

Saint Paul was born early in the tenth century at Pergamos in Asia Minor, but was taken by his mother with his brother to Bithynia, a country on the southwestern shore of the Black Sea, after the death of his father. His older brother, Basil, became a monk but left the monastery to live in complete solitude on Mount Latros. After the death of their mother, Basil urged Paul to accept a hermit’s life also, and sent him to an abbot to be instructed in the necessary rules for living that life.

Paul himself wanted to leave community life for the solitude of a hermit’s cave, but his abbot, who believed him too young, refused permission. After the abbot’s death; however, Paul went to live on Mount Latros.  His reputation as a holy man spread, and several other men came to live near him; Paul was more zealous for their welfare than for his own.  He re-established little communities of this sort which had been destroyed by the Saracens.

As his fame grew, Paul had to go farther and farther away from the world to attain the solitude he desired. He went to the island of Samos in the Aegean Sea, where he found refuge in a cave, but his former companions at Latros pleaded with him to return to his old cell there, and he did so.  His love for solitude combined with his solicitude for the poor and his wisdom in giving advice–sought after by Emperor Constantine VII himself–gained for him the reputation of holiness which was later confirmed by the Church.  He spent his last days in prayer and in instructing his monks.  Saint Paul of Latros died on December 15, 956.  He is sometimes referred to today as Saint Paul the Younger, but by either name he is the same Paul of wisdom and holiness.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  728-729.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 16
Saint Eusebius Bishop and Martyr (c 283-371)

Saint Eusebius did not die a martyr’s death, but nevertheless the Church calls him a martyr. As the Breviary tells us, his sufferings for the Church and its rights won him a martyr’s crown despite the fact that he died peacefully as a bishop in northern Italy.  Eusebius was born on the island of Sardinia but was brought up in Rome.  In 340 Pope Julius appointed him bishop of Vercelli in Piedmont, a province in northwestern Italy.

From his diocese of Vercelli he threw himself into the Church’s struggle with Arianism, the heresy that denied divinity of the Son of God and His co-equality with the Father. At Milan in 355, where at his request Emperor Constantius had called a synod to settle the dispute Catholics and Arians, Saint Eusebius saw that the heretical bishops would, with imperial support, refuse to accept Nicene Council’s condemnation of their teachings and hold out for a public repudiation of their arch-enemy, Saint Athanasius.  When he tried to enter the council he found the doors barred against him.  The Arians were restraining bias in an attempt to force the condemnation of Athanasius before the Catholic bishops could intervene.

It was a high-handed maneuver, and the Catholics objected forcefully to the emperor. Constantius replied that they must accept his word that Saint Athanasius was guilty and must sign the condemnation or be banished from the empire.  A short time later, having refused to betray the authority of the Church in ecclesiastical matters, Eusebius was banished to Palestine, and there delivered up to the vengeance of an Arian bishop.  Later he was removed to Asia Minor and after that to Egypt.

Seven years later, late in the year 361, Julian became emperor, and the exile came to an end. For a time Eusebius remained in the East working to restore peace to the Church.  With Athanasius he presided over the Synod of Alexandria (362), which declared the divinity of the Holy Spirit and affirmed the true doctrine of the Incarnation.  There and elsewhere he advocated leniency toward Arian bishops who had repented, but severe penalties for those who had actually led Arian factions within the Church.

Back in his own diocese at last, he and the zealous Saint Hilary of Poitiers labored to suppress Arianism in the West. To his diocesan priests he gave a rule of life similar to that of monks in order to assure them the benefits of the common life.  At the end of his long life he offered to God not a martyr’s death, but a gift that was certainly as dear:  a lifetime of suffering undergone for the sake of the Church.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  730-731.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 17
Saint Lazarus Confessor (New Testament)

“Jesus wept.” These two words, perhaps the most moving in all the Gospels, reveal in their breathtaking simplicity how deeply attached Jesus was to Lazarus of Bethany and to his sisters.  For Lazarus was dead, and Jesus had come–seemingly too late–to Bethany.  Each of the dead man’s sisters, Mary and Martha, reproached Him:  “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus had intentionally delayed His arrival in order that He might prove, strikingly, His power over death. His own death upon the cross was not far off, and He would foretell His Resurrection with a miracle.  Thus, weeping for His friend, He was led to the cave that was Lazarus’ tomb, and there He cried out:  “Lazarus, come forth!”  And the man who had been dead for four days did indeed come forth, still wrapped in his shroud, but alive.  This event is recorded by Saint John (II :1 -44).

Of Saint Lazarus’ later life we know for certain only that the leaders of the Jews wanted to kill him because the miracle had made many believe in Jesus (John 12 :10:11). He had been present at a supper given for Jesus six days before the Passover, and many people had flocked to see him.  He remained an undeniable proof of the power of Jesus.

Old legends say that he followed Saint Peter into Syria; or that he died on the island of Cyprus as a holy bishop; or again that he was martyred at Marseilles in Gaul, buried in a cave over which the Abbey of Saint Victor was later built, arid that later his supposed relics were taken to Autun and enshrined in the cathedral there. Such tales have no foundation in fact.  The empty tomb of Lazarus at Bethany (now called El-Azarieh, “the village of Lazarus”) has from the beginning been venerated by Christians.  Even this is less significant than the evidence contained in the Gospel according to Saint John, where Lazarus is called Christ’s friend and is restored to life by Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  731-732.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 18
Saint Flannan Bishop and Confessor (Seventh Century)

Saint Flannan seems to have been torn all his life between God and family, but he devoted himself straightforwardly to God. Born in Ireland in what is now County Clare, the son of a warlike local king, he was reared by monks to the service of the Church, but that service was always threatened by family interests.  Relatives objected to his intention of going o Rome (legend has it that he crossed over the sea on a miraculous floating stone), and family troubles lay in wait for him when he returned to his home at Killaloe as a bishop consecrated by the pope himself.

Impressed with his son’s homecoming sermon, the old king departed for a monastery, leaving no heir but Saint Flannan. To avoid being drafted as his father’s successor, Flannan prayed for, and duly received, rashes and boils which disqualified him as a king under Irish law.  Although all these details may be imaginary, Flannan was in fact the first bishop of Killaloe and the cathedral bears his name.  And there are scholars who say that a little house which stands on a small island in the river Shannon nearby is almost certainly the building that served him as a home.  Saint Flannan is also supposed to have preached in the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland, in the Flannan Islands.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  733.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 19
Saint Anastasius I Pope and Confessor (-c 401)

“A man of most extreme poverty and apostolic solicitude.” Thus did Saint- Jerome write of Saint Anastasius, whose three-year pontificate was marked by his holiness and his diligence in conducting Church affairs.  He was likewise praised by Saint Paulinus of Nola for his charity and zeal.  Anastasius is remembered for his condemnations of heresies and for his leniency toward those who had been innocently implicated in heresy.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  734.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 20
Saint Philogonius Bishop and Confessor (-324)

An eloquent and honest lawyer, a husband and father, Saint Philogonius has the rare distinction of also having been a bishop. He was trained for the law, but on the death of his wife he was elected almost at once to the episcopate of his city, Antioch, succeeding Bishop Vitalis in 320.  From the beginning, his diocese, one of the oldest in the Church, was well administered.

As bishop, Philogonius added the authority of his own voice to the condemnation of Arius already made by Saint Alexander, bishop of Alexandria, of whose diocese Arius was a priest. Later, when the imperial government had espoused the Arian cause, the saintly bishop was imprisoned for a time.  He was eventually set free, and died peacefully in December 324.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  734-735.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 20
Saints Ammon, Zeno, and Companions Martyrs (Thrid Century)

Not every martyr went unwaveringly to his death. In the Decian persecution, one of the Christians brought before the Roman magistrate was on the point of denying his faith when, from the soldiers around him, came glances and gestures of encouragement.

The magistrate himself saw this and began to inquire among his troops. With this, five soldiers broke rank, declared themselves Christians, and thus were martyred with the rest.

Of these five Egyptian soldiers of Rome–Ammon, Zeno, Ptolemy, Ingenes, and Theophilus–Saint Dionysius remarked that “by their victory, Christ, who had given them this firmness of mind, gloriously triumphed.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  735.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 21
Saint Thomas Apostle (New Testament)

We “recognize” Saint Thomas the Apostle the moment we read his story in the Gospel of Saint John. His skepticism–his unwillingness to believe anything but what his senses told him was so–is a trait so common in our own times that he seems to belong as much to our age as to his own.  When we are told how, upon his arrival in the Upper Room late on the first Easter Sunday, he scoffed when his fellow apostles insisted that the Lord had risen and had appeared to them, he comes to life before our eyes; the wry smile of his disbelief is familiar.  “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails . . .”  He might be a scientist recognizing the qualities of the human soul and then demanding material evidence to support its existence.

We know almost nothing of Thomas’ background, except that he was a Jew, probably a Galilean of poor family. His name is the Syriac word for “twin,” corresponding to his, Greek name, Didymus.  What he did for a living before he became one of the Twelve, or how he happened to be called by Christ at all, will probably never be known to us in this world.  But if a man’s character and manner are the most significant elements for a knowledge of him, then we know Saint Thomas.

The first noteworthy reference to him is in the Fourth Gospel, at a point fairly late in the narrative of our Lord’s public life. Jesus had tarried along the road back to Judea from the area beyond the Jordan, delaying His arrival at Bethany and the bedside of His friend Lazarus.  Suddenly He announced that He was ready to go to the dying man, but the apostles feared for Him and themselves:  would He go to Judea, where lately the Jews had tried to stone Him to death?  It seemed foolhardy; it seemed that this was asking for trouble.

It was Thomas who, unwittingly, recalled his companions to their courage. “Let us also go,” he remonstrated, “that we may die with him” (John 11:16).  But was it the true zeal of the martyr that spoke in Thomas?  It would seem more likely that it was natural attachment to the Master, and not saintly abandonment, that made him bold.  Still, no other apostle had ever before spoken so bravely–or so impetuously.

Saint John focuses our attention on Thomas again at the Last Supper, during Christ’s final discourse to the apostles. Jesus had been telling them that He would ascend into heaven—“And where I go you know, and the way you know”– when Thomas interrupted:  “Lord, we do not know where thou art going, and how can we know the way?”

Jesus’ answer to this is perhaps as familiar to us as any statement He ever made. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:5-6).  The literal Thomas, always wanting things to be spelled out plainly, received from the lips of Christ an entire Christian theology, with Christ as the divine Mediator, drawing men to God through Himself.  But, having his answer, did he truly understand the mystery of which the Master spoke?

His last appearances in the Gospels are in the two well-known scenes in the Upper Room after the Resurrection. For some reason, he had been absent when the Lord first appeared there among the apostles, and when they told him about it he shook his head, as though pitying his gullible friends, and declared:  “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  He, Thomas, would not be taken in by something he could not touch!

Then, a week later, while Thomas was with the Twelve, the Lord appeared suddenly in their midst, greeted them, and turned questioningly to Thomas. But the skeptic had forgotten all his disbelief.  Like so many other skeptics after him, he believed, not because he had the proofs he wanted, but because faith surpassed all evidence.  His words, uttered from a heart overcome and made humble, echo still the prayerful lips of the faithful:  “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:25, 28).

Legends have flourished around the later life of Saint Thomas, all the more so since nothing certain is known of him after the day of Pentecost. One tradition says that he preached in the Near East, and the Roman Martyrology implies that he was martyred there.  The most interesting story of all has it that he journeyed to India and died for the faith there after many marvelous adventures.  This tale is all the more curious because there is to this day in India a group of more than half a million Christians, with obscure and very ancient history, who say that they were led from unbelief to faith by him whose faith was made firm by Christ Himself.· The tradition of these Saint Thomas Christians is that the saint founded seven churches in Malabar, was martyred near Madras, and buried at Mylapore.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  736-738.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 22
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini Virgin (1850-1917)

People of the United States can still recall the bustling charity of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini–lay people, religious, and priests who knew her as she labored toward her place among the Church’s canonized saints and who were witnessed to the stamp she placed on American religious history. She died a citizen of the United States, and she was so nearly our contemporary that she rode in automobiles and knew the sufferings of our modern city slums.  Everything about her should be familiar to us–everything, perhaps, but her sanctity.  It was probably one of her greatest achievements that she showed us how holiness may be attained even in our world.

This vibrant woman was born into a farmer’s family which already numbered twelve children, in a village near Lodi in Lombardy. Her mother, overloaded with the work of so large a family, entrusted her to her oldest sister, Rosa, who superintended Francesca’s early education and taught her knitting, sewing, and catechism.

At eighteen, with a teacher’s certificate and a lively interest in the missions, Francesca applied for admission to a convent, but was refused because of her bad health. Later, she tried again, and was refused a second time.  It was then that her pastor, knowing her ability, assigned her the task of reoganizing a badly managed orphanage in a nearby town.  The job proved to be the opportunity she was seeking; in 1880, six years later, the orphanage was closed, but Francesca was already Mother Cabrini, a sister in vows and the superior of seven others.

In Lodi, at the bishop’s suggestion, she established her little band as the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and founded her first house, an orphanage and day school. Within seven years, seven new houses of the congregation were founded, including a mission at Cremona and a school at Milan, all of them staffed by sisters she had trained. In 1887, on a visit to Rome, she obtained papal approval for her work, and from that time the field of her activity broadened immensely.

Two years later, with seven of her sisters, she was off to the New World and a missionary field larger than anything she had ever dreamed of. There had been hard times in Italy, and millions of Italians, lured by the promise of economic opportunity, had emigrated to the United States and to Latin America.  They were an impoverished lot, and were not immediately welcome in their new land.  In the “Little Italies” of American cities, driven by economic and social storms, they drifted away from Church and family ties.  In March of 1889, Mother Cabrini and her sisters set to work establishing an orphanage in the Italian district of New City, and by July the affairs of the new foundation were sufficiently in shape to allow her to return to other duties in Italy.  But the following spring found her again in New York, opening a settlement house for youngsters.

The remainder of her life was spent mostly in America. In New York City, in 1892, she launched the first of her hospitals, naming it for her countryman and fellow seafarer, Columbus.  Under her direction, parochial schools were built there and an orphanage was established at Dobbs Ferry.  In 1899, she opened Sacred Heart Villa in New York City as a school and novitiate, this institution thereafter becoming almost her second home.  Meanwhile, she found time for arduous journeys to Nicaragua and Buenos Aires, where she founded additional schools.  Returning from Nicaragua, she had a chance to study the plight of Italian immigrants in New Orleans, and once arrived in New York she quickly dispatched some sisters to found a school and a center in New Orleans.  Within a few years her Latin American schools were producing native novices for the congregation and helping to staff the institutions she had founded there.

But her major activities were carried on in this country. Between 1899 and 1909, Newark, Scranton, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles–even the mining camps of Colorado–were witnesses of her labors.  Afterwards, during the last eight years of her life, she pushed her strength beyond its already extraordinary limits.  Returning from another trip to the West Coast in I9I7, when she was sixty-seven years old, she stopped at Columbus Hospital in Chicago.  There, as she helped to prepare for a children’s party, she suffered a heart attack and was dead within minutes.

On July 7, 1946, her canonization was announced, accompanied by the pealing bells of Rome. The miracles ascribed to her after her death had already indicated that God had given to the people of our times and our county a pattern for modern sanctity.  Sanctity seemed more within the reach of us all for Mother Cabrini’s having lived among us.

An immigrant herself and noted for her assistance to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was named by Pius XII as the heavenly patron of all immigrants (September 8, 1950).

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  739-741.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 23
Saint Thorlakur Thorhallsson Bishop and Confessor (1133-1193)

Icelanders of the twelfth century were·so certain that the bishop of Skalholt had been a saint that, five years after his death, their senate voted to proclaim him one there and then. Bishop Thorlakur thus became one of the few ever to be elevated to the altars of the Church by democratic methods in a government assembly.  Perhaps to Icelanders, living as they do on the rim of the world, it seemed too slow a method to wait for action by the Church.  Furthermore, the bishop’s holiness was so apparent that there seemed no sense in waiting.  This action, of course, had no valid ecclesiastical effect, but it did serve to encourage the spread of his cult; even this, however, was not confirmed by·the Holy See.

Canonization by popular vote was not Saint Thorlakur’s only distinction. He was ordained a deacon as a boy of fifteen and said his first Mass at eighteen.  His studies took him to England and then to Paris, and when at last he returned to his home in Iceland it was to devote himself to study and the ministry.  A man of property who had no heir bequeathed him his land and house at Thykkviboer, and Thorlakur organized a religious community under the Rule of Saint Augustine.  Four years later, in 1172, he became abbot of the monastery.

Word came in 1174 that he was to be raised to the bishopric of Skalholt. But there was no one in Iceland to consecrate him, and only in 1178 , at Trondheim, Norway, did he finally become bishop.  Back again in Iceland, he labored until his death for the development of the Church on that subarctic island.  Thorlakur strove to maintain ecclesiastical discipline and high standards of Christian life.  In the obscurity of his diocese, far from the centers of medieval life, he found God’s will manifested in the daily duties of his office; and by steadfast submission to that will, he won heaven.  Two books describing the many miracles of Thorlakur were written a short time after his death.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  742-743.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 24
Blessed Paula Elizabeth Cerioli Holy Woman (1816-1865)

Blessed Paula Elizabeth found her apostolic vocation rather accidentally- in a way, it moved right into her home. Although a good and charitable woman, she could not have forseen it.

Constance, as she was named by her parents, was born in 1816, into the family of a rich country proprietor that already counted more than a dozen children. She spent her school years at a Visitandine boarding school, and at the age of nineteen was back home, where her chief interest was to share her mother’s charitable works among the poor of the countryside.  In accordance with the ways of the country, a marriage was arranged for her by her parents; the groom they chose was a worthy man, much older than Constance, already well-to-do and heir of a countess–Gaetano Buzzecchi.

For nearly twenty years Constance’s life was that of wife and mother, and it was her school of patience, self-denial, and detachment. Her husband was an eccentric fellow, full of whims and crazy humor , and when he began to suffer a progressive paralysis, a still greater burden.  Two of their children died young, and Charles, the eldest, lived only to his sixteenth year.  Before he died, he gave her a prophetic hint of the future, “Don’t worry, Mama, God will give you other children.”

Now a rich widow, childless and alone, still under forty years of age, Constance took back her maiden name, Cerioli. The scene was prepared.  Her new vocation began when the village priest asked her to take a few orphans into her home.  Soon there were more, and then two young -girls as assistants.  Gradually the Society of the Holy Family of Bergamo was instituted, Constance and her few companions taking religious names and adopting a habit.

The program? To provide a Christian formation for the orphan girls of the area, at the same time preparing them for rural life.  Some would marry and some would become servants.  All would have a training that would teach them to love the country and dedicate their life and labor to it.  Jesus, too, preferred the country to the towns.

Six years later Sister Paula Elizabeth helped a priest and a farmer found a house for orphan boys, and thus the Sons of Saint Joseph took up their work side by side with the sisters. Italy today owes much to the agricultural training given here and in other places.

Blessed Paula Elizabeth died soon afterward, in 1865, but her noble work continued. At her beatification in 1950, the Society of the Holy Family of Bergamo had 60 establishments and more than 600 religious.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  743-745.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 25
Blessed Peter the Venerable Abbot and Confessor (c 1092-1156)

Justice and mercy were most remarkably balanced in the character of Peter the Venerable. In an age of fierce partisanship, when it was all too common to condemn the sinner as well as his sin, this peacemaking abbot of Cluny showed kindness and sympathy to the erring even while he strongly detested their errors.  When the popular will stormed against the Jews of Europe for real or imagined crimes, Peter prevented their massacre; alone of his generation, he gave asylum to Abelard when that ingenious philosopher, contrite after the papal condemnation of his errors, sought retreat.

The last of the eminent abbots of Cluny was born of a noble family of Auvergne, in France, and received his early education in the Cluniac house of Saxilanges. The network of monasteries forming the Benedictine congregation of Cluny was then at its highest development, with hundreds of houses prospering under the direct guidance of the motherhouse at Cluny, and Peter’s rise was rapid.  At the age of twenty he was appointed prior of Vézelay and at thirty he was chosen to succeed the inept and unworthy Pontius as abbot of Cluny and ruler of the entire congregation.

History has closely linked his name with that of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux; indeed, their personalities aptly reflect the contrast between their respective orders at that time: Cluny, wealthy, devoted to the intellect as well as the spirit, not altogether unworldly; the Cistercians, strict in every least detail of monastic observance, closeted from the world in cloistered contemplation, disdainful of worldly things.  In the controversy, friendly for the most part, which sprang up between them, a sparkling correspondence argued the relative merits of the two monastic theories, and at last, after Saint Bernard’s repeated accusations of Cluniac laxness, Peter began, in 1146, to reform his congregation along stricter lines.

The two names were linked again in the dispute between Saint Bernard and Abelard. Abelard had been condemned by Bernard before a synod at Sens for having taught heretical doctrine.  Abelard, defying the saintly abbot, appealed to Rome’s judgment of the case, and on his way to Italy he was received at Cluny by Peter.  At this time, the message from the pope confirming Bernard’s condemnation of Abelard came to the monastery.  Penitent in the face of authority, Abelard went into retirement at Cluny for the remaining two years of his life.  Peter was friendly and generous to the aging philosopher, and later brought about a reconciliation between him and Bernard.

Direction of the great order of Cluny required Peter to carry on a large correspondence with the popes and other Church officials, with secular protectors, and with representatives of other monastic orders. He also traveled widely, visiting Cluniac monasteries in England and in Spain.  It was in Spain that he encountered the Moslem problem, and he arranged for the translation of the Koran into Latin, the first one made in the West.  Peter himself wrote two books on the heresy of Islam.  He also wrote a number of theological treatises, some sermons, and some liturgical poems.

Saint Peter was never formally canonized, but his name was entered in the French martyrologies, and Pope Pius IX permitted his inclusion in a group of French saints to be commemorated at Clermont. His holy life, his magnanimity, and his mercy deserve respect and imitation.  As a good monk, he much preferred his monastery to the world, but he did not hesitate to enter public life when justice, mercy, and the work of the Church demanded that he do so.  He died as he had wished, on Christmas day, shortly after he had preached to his monks a sermon on the feast.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  745-747.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 25
Blessed Jacopone da Todi Confessor (c 1230-1306)

When his wife was tragically killed in an accident t a wedding feast, Jacopo Benedetti was so shocked by his loss that his friends supposed his mind to be deranged. In the ten years that followed he appeared to indulge in absurd eccentricities, earning for himself the derisive nickname Jacopone.  Once he crawled across the public square of Todi in donkey harness; and at another time he arrived at a party tarred and feathered, by his own hand, from head to toe.

Only after 1278, when he was about fifty years old, did it seem to people that he was more or less balanced mentally. In that year the Franciscans of San Fortunato somewhat hesitantly admitted him as a lay brother, and soon afterward he began to write those poems in the Umbrian dialect that have given him an honored place in Italian literature as the first of Italian vernacular poets.  Jacopone’s sympathies were very strongly in accord with those of the “Spiritual” party among the Franciscans, a zealous group seeking a more penitential life, and he used his poetic gifts to produce the most trenchant attacks upon the Spirituals’ enemy, Pope Boniface Vlll.  In the course of this controversy, Jacopone was imprisoned for five years in a papal prison, to be release only on Boniface’s death in 1303.  The Poor Clares near Todi took care of the old man until his death on Christmas, 1306

Jacopone was a hero, who never faltered in his efforts to live for God alone. Penance and prayer finally made him one who had no taste except for God.  An inscription on his tomb might serve to justify his curious actions:  “He became a fool for Christ’s sake and, having deceived the world by new artifice, took heaven by storm.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  747-748.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 26
Saint Stephen Protomartyr (New Testament)

By placing the feast of the first Christian martyr on the day immediately following the celebration of the birth of Christ, the Church seems to have intended a lesson for us. The joy of the Nativity blends with the gladness the Church feels over the triumph of her first martyr.  All who follow Christ must be prepared even for martyrdom; all who follow Him in His death receive their strength from the Infant of Bethlehem.

Saint Stephen, Protomartyr, was a Jew brought up beyond the confines of Palestine, in an area which had fallen under Greek cultural influence. He himself undoubtedly spoke Greek, and his name is the Greek word for ”crown.” The Aramaic name Kelil, also meaning “a crown,” is said to have been found on his tomb at Kafr Gamala.  But of his early life, until he appears as an ardent Christian convert in the Acts of the Apostles, nothing is known.  It does not seem hat, as at least one historian has claimed, Saint Stephen was among the Lord’s seventy disciples.

Not long after the Ascension, Stephen became one of the seven deacons ordained by the apostles for the work of ministering to the charitable needs of the Christian community at Jerusalem. The Acts describe him as “full of grace md power,” one who was “working great wonders and signs among the people” after his ordination.

Very soon, however, he was embroiled in controversy with Jewish antagonists who, finding themselves unable to resist his inspired arguments, determined to have him put to death. With bribed witnesses they came to the Jewish council and charged Stephen with blasphemy.  It is related that all who sat in the council, looking on him, “saw his face as though it were the face of an angel.”

The young deacon launched into an eloquent defense of Christian belief, summing up for his listeners the story of how the Jewish people had, throughout their history, defied the prophets God had sent to them. He ended his speech by directly accusing his judges of murdering Jesus just as their forefathers had murdered the prophets.  The Jews, he said, had received the law of the true God, but they had not kept it.

Anger filled the hearts of his judges, and the Jews all together rushed on him. “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  At the outskirts of city the Jews began to stone him.  Stephen cried out, “Jesus, receive my spirit,” and, “Lord, do not lay this against them.”  “And with these words he fell asleep” (Acts 6:8-7:60).

Among the bystanders was one who held the garments of the Jews as they stoned Saint Stephen- a young—Pharisee named Saul who, years afterward as the apostle Paul, would recall how he had assisted in the persecution of Christ’s first martyr. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians,” runs the proverb.  How fitting it is to think that, by his death, the first martyr of the Church earned from God grace that enabled Saint Paul to love Him whom Saul had persecuted.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  748-750.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 27
Saint John Apostle and Evangelist (New Testament)

The apostle who lived the longest, the one who was dearly beloved by Jesus, and the only one of the Twelve who certainly did not die as a martyr, Saint John was given a very special part in the drama of the Redemption. The son of Salome and Zebedee, a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, he was probably born at Bethsaida, where he and his James the Greater, followed their father’s occupation.  He was apparently an early disciple of Saint John the Baptist, and it was he who accompanied Saint Andrew when the latter left the Baptist to follow Christ.

The Master soon gave the brothers John and James the nickname Boanerges, meaning “sons of thunder,” but whether He gave it as a compliment to their ardent characters or for some violence of temperament is uncertain. The two Boanerges, with Saint Peter, formed the “inner circle” of the group around Jesus; these three alone were chosen to be present at the Transfiguration and to accompany Jesus to Gethsemani on the eve of His death.

But John also retained a place of his own beside the Master–a fact more clearly brought out in the story of the Passion. At the Last Supper he lay on his couch at the table with his head pressed close to the breast of Jesus, and he was almost certainly that “other disciple’ who went with Peter later that evening to the house of Caiphas, after our Lord had been brought there for questioning, and who, being known to the high priest, was allowed to enter the house while Peter remained in the courtyard.  Finally, it was John alone of the apostles who was present at the foot of the cross and, in one of the Gospels’ most touching scenes, received from the Crucified the commission to watch over the Virgin Mother.  At that moment of His death, Jesus gave Mary, through Saint John the Evangelist, to the whole of humanity as its Mother.

On the morning of the Resurrection, John and Peter raced to the sepulcher after being told by Mary Magdalene that the Lord’s body had disappeared from the tomb. John, the younger of the two, outdistanced Peter, but when he arrived at the tomb he stood aside to let the chief of the apostles enter first and make the actual inspection of the place.  “Then,” as Saint John himself relates in his Gospel, “the other disciple also went in … And he saw and believed.”

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus foretold that Peter would be crucified, and Peter, pointing at John, asked the Master what would happen to that disciple. Jesus’ answer-­”If I wish him to remain until I come, what is it to thee?”–was interpreted by many of the Christian brethern as a promise that John would remain alive until the final coming of the Lord.  But in his Gospel , John himself points out that the Lord did not say exactly that John would not die, but that it was no concern of Peter’s what became of John as long as he, Peter, remained faithful.

As a matter of fact, John’s exceedingly long life (he is said to have been more than a hundred when he died) seemed to give weight to the belief that he would never die. We read of him frequently in the Acts of the Apostles, where he was involved in the most important of the apostolic decisions and was a leader of the Christian community at Jerusalem.  Perhaps soon after the Council of Jerusalem, which took place about the year 51, he left Palestine for Asia Minor, where for most of his later life he made his home.  As the protector and foster son of the Mother of God, he would have taken her with him.  The Fathers of the Church have embroidered greatly on the relationship of these two and have glowingly described their deep love and harmony.

Saint Irenaeus says that John settled at Ephesus only after the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul, but how soon afterward nobody seems to know. A tradition states that he was taken to Rome during the reign of Domitian, where he was miraculously saved from martyrdom, and that he was then banished to the island of Patmos.  It is certain that he composed the Apocalypse on Patmos, where he received the visions which that book describes.  In the year 96, when Domitian was dead, he was able to return to Ephesus, and it is believed that he was there when he wrote his Gospel.

The Fourth Gospel is strikingly different from the Gospels of the other evangelists. Saint John evidently intended to supplement rather than repeat the information contained in the other accounts, and he relates events in Jesus’ life which appear nowhere else.  In none of the other Gospels is the personality of our Lord so beautifully set forth.  Yet John, with quiet humility, refrained therein from referring to himself by name; he is most often referred to simply as the “beloved disciple.”

It is Christian charity, propounded through all of his writings, that is John’s central doctrine. His works, especially his Epistles, return to that theme continually.  His close union with Jesus, his abiding love for Him, and his intimacy with Mary are all reflected there, burning incessantly, unquenchably, for the moment of love’s final consummation in heaven.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  750-753.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 27
Saint Fabiola Holy Woman (-400)

Passionate, self-willed, and restless all her life, Saint FabioIa was not cut to the pattern of the holy women of her time. Her civil divorce and remarriage cut her off from the Church, but on her second husband’s death she submitted to a public penance.  Then she devoted herself to charity, giving large sums to various churches and founding a hospital for the sick of Rome that was the first of its kind, and a hospice at Ostia that became famous, says Saint Jerome, “from Parthia to Britain.”  She spent herself for the sick, gathering them from the streets and alleys of the city, personally attending to their needs.  She had the same liberality in regard to the clergy, and to monks and consecrated virgins.

While visiting Bethlehem in 394, she lodged with Saint Jerome and his circle. Saint Jerome marveled at her love of Scripture and her eagerness to learn.  He wrote two works for her, one a dissertation on sacred vestments and the other a letter offering meditations on Hebrew names. She remained for some months but, thirsting for activity, she returned to Rome in 395 and resumed her public and private works of charity. Restless to the end, she was about to set out on another long journey when she died.  Almost all of Rome was present at her funeral, paying veneration to their dynamic benefactress.  Saint Jerome had likened her whole life to the Israelites’ forty years of wandering in the desert.  “I leave to others,” he said, “the task of praising her mercy, her humility, her faith; as for me, I would prefer to celebrate the ardor of her soul.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  753-754.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 28
The Holy Innocents Martyrs (New Testament)

Flowers of the martyrs, the liturgy calls them, but the Holy Innocents were hardly more than buds when they were cut down by the swords of King Herod’s soldiers. The king, fearing that the Babe born recently in Bethlehem might some day come to take his throne, sent his men to slaughter every male child under two years old in that area (Matthew 2 :16-18).  Though they died uncomprehendingly, these infants truly sacrificed their lives for the Infant Christ, and the Church has long venerated them as martyrs.

Herod’s barbarity was known far and wide in his time, and it was felt even by his own family. No one could deny that he was capable of such a crime, for blood flowed frequently while he ruled.  As to the actual number of children massacred, some early writers estimated it in the thousands.  But it is much more likely, if we consider Bethlehem’s smallness and the sparsity of population in its vicinity, that about twenty children were actually involved.

It is generally agreed that the Holy Innocents received the baptism of blood, and they are consequently included among the redeemed. The Church nevertheless uses purple vestments, rather than the usual martyr’s red, on their feast, and their Mass contains neither Gloria nor Alleluia.  By commemorating them so soon after the feast of the Nativity, the Church demonstrates how closely these children, these martyrs who unknowingly died for Christ, are joined with Him.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  754-755.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 28
Saint Theodore the Holy Abbot and Confessor (c 314-368)

From boyhood Theodore was blessed with that singleness of purpose which was the special gift of all the desert fathers. He was born about 314 in the Upper Thebaid of Egypt, a land already becoming famous for the marvelous holiness and extreme self-denial of the early hermits.  When he was only twelve, begging divine grace to make him faithful to his resolution, he vowed always to prefer nothing to the love and service of God.  Two or three years after that decision, he left home to finish his education among a group of monks, and some time later he found his way into the Thebaid an came under the patronage of Saint Pachomius.

This remarkable saint, the founder of the Church’s first religious communities, was already gathering hermits and new arrivals in the desert into the first primitive monasteries. The scene must have been breathtaking; into the eye-burning wasteland first hundreds and then thousands of men had come to win for themselves, by prayer and self-denial, the crowns which but recently the martyrs had been winning with their lives.  The solitary life of the hermits had its disadvantages, even its special temptations and dangers, and Pachomius had established a community with the purpose of disciplining and encouraging the zeal that had flowered in the desert.

The holy abbot took Theodore as his protégé, and ten years later made him his companion in the work of governing the monasteries, had him ordained, and finally gave him charge of the monastery at Tabenna, one of the nine Pachomian communities. Two years later, in 346, Pachomius died thirteen days later his appointed successor was dead too.  Then Saint Orcisius, the superior elected by the monks found the burden of government too heavy, and the office fell to Theodore.

History’s silence on Theodore’s later career as an abbot seems to indicate that he maintained the harmony he had brought to his monasteries. Early chroniclers thereafter fasten their attention on his gifts of miracles and prophecy.  Saint Ammon relates how he cured a dying girl by having her father give her water the saint had blessed, and how once, in the company of Saint Athanasius, he told that renowned foe of heretics that his greatest enemy, Emperor Julian the Apostate, “was at that moment dead and that his successor would restore peace to the Church”–a prophecy soon borne out by news from Persia, where Julian had met his end in battle.

On Holy Saturday, 368, after the death of one of his monks, Theodore was heard to remark that “this death will shortly be followed by another that is less expected.” Little more than a week later the abbot was dead.  His monks buried him first in the monastic cemetery, but, remembering that during life he had been a “right hand” to Saint Pachomius, they gathered up his remains and reinterred them beside those of their holy founder.  The founder and the chief disciple, joined thus in their graves, had borne joint witness to the fountains of grace that they had caused to spring up in the wilderness.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  755-757.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 29
Saint David King and Prophet (Old Testament)

More than a thousand years before Christ, God spoke to Samuel, saying, “Fill thy horn with oil, and come, that I may send thee to Isai (Jesse) the Bethlehemite: for I have provided thee a king among his sons” (1 Kings 16:1).  Saul, king of Judah, had been rejected by God for his disobedience, and the Lord therefore raised up a new king and gave him a mission surpassing that of every other king of Israel.  The shepherd David, anointed by Samuel at God’s command, was to be a warrior and a poet and a figure of the Messiah who was to come.  Even in his kingship he was to foreshadow the more spiritual kingship of Christ and, in many of the psalms written by David, he was to utter prayers prophetic of Christ and to foretell Israel’s final redemption by the King of kings.

Once David was anointed king, he quickly won the love of the people and the close friendship of Jonathan, Saul’s son, by his daring exploits and especially by his victory over Goliath, which made him a national hero. Saul, who retained the throne despite God’s will, was at first inclined toward the young shepherd minstrel, but jealousy later made him resolve to kill David, whom he considered a threat to the kingly power.  Warned of this by Jonathan, David fled from Judah and waited on its borders for the kingship to fall like a ripe plum into his hands.  Though he might have done so, he refused to kill his enemy, insisting instead on waiting for God to bring Saul to his end.

About 1002 BC, Saul committed suicide during the battle with the Philistines, and David was acclaimed king, first of Judah, then of all of the Jewish nation. For several years he warred continually with Israel’s neighbors in order to strengthen and unify his kingdom.  In one of his campaigns he captured Jerusalem and made it the permanent capital and center of Jewish life.

But David was human, with many weaknesses, and it was his lust which came near undoing everything he had done. Desirous of obtaining the beautiful Bethsabee for himself, contrived to have her husband killed, and for this the Lord let fall on him a succession of heavy sorrows.  The child that Bethsabee had given him died; his son Absalom slew another of his sons, Ammon; and at last even the beloved Absalom revolted against him, pursuing him with armies until, in a pitched battle between their forces, one of David’s own lieutenants, acting against the express orders of the king, killed the much-lamented Absalom.

David then turned to holier things, preparing for the building of the temple at Jerusalem and regulating the services of the Jewish priesthood. He arranged to have his son, Solomon, proclaimed king and then died, chastened by his sufferings, virtuous, and pious.  Despite his human weaknesses, he beautifully displayed in his complex character the genius of the general, the wisdom of the king, and the piety of the man of God.  In the Psalms we may see, in the sufferings of this man torn by the cruelty of his enemies and crying for the blessing of God, the reflection of the God-man, who, even in His infinitely profounder sufferings, uttered as He died the phrases of David from His parched and bruised lips.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  757-759.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 29
Saint Thomas A Becket Bishop and Martyr (c 1118-1170)

One day in the year 1170, between the altar and the choir of his cathedral, Saint Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered by four knights in the service of the king whose boon companion he had been. Thomas’ story, so relevant to our own times, reveals a man for whom principle overcame every worldly allegiance and for whom the rights of the Church were superior to every consideration of earthly gain.  Thomas was born in London in 1118; his father was a noble knight who had gone into business there.  As a young man he was tall, handsome, and vigorous, with piercing eyes.  Although he had studied in Paris he was more a man of action than a scholar.

As a young and well-trained deacon in the service of Archbishop Theobald, Thomas had opportunities to travel and between 1151 and 1153 went to Rome, to Bologna, and to Auxerre in France. Quite early in his career he came to the attention of King Henry II.  At thirty-seven he became chancellor of the realm and entered upon that deep friendship with his young sovereign which was to cause his contemporaries to describe them as being like brothers to each other.  From the outset, Becket tended to uphold Henry in the latter’s scheme to limit the rights of the Church.  He himself lived in a splendor which at times seemed to surpass even that of the king.

But there was another and less well-known side to the chancellor. To a large extent he was responsible for Henry’s praiseworthy legal reforms and, despite his evident partiality to the king’s other programs, he did, on occasion, vigorously oppose his sovereign; and his private life was blameless, as his confessor testifies.

In 1161, upon the death of Theobald, the king determined to appoint Thomas to the see of Canterbury, feeling certain that the chancellor would make a most agreeable tool for the royal policy. Thomas was fearful that, after accepting the appointment, he would necessarily come into conflict with the king over Church rights.  But the king insisted and, when the royal mandate was backed up by the authority of Rome, Becket at last consented.  He was ordained a priest, and three days later was consecrated and enthroned in his see.

At once a very notable change occurred in the life of the chancellor. Where he had been accustomed to worldly living, he now retired to an austere and withdrawn routine, giving himself to penance and charity and rigorously carrying out his duties to the Church.  He resigned from the chancellorship, which by papal dispensation he might have kept, and instead of becoming the king’s tool, he now showed himself an uncompromising defender of ecclesiastical rights.

A controversy between the arch bishop and the king over the royal taxes produced, in 1163, the first open conflict, and this was quickly followed by a bitter dispute over a question of jurisdiction between the ecclesiastical and the secular courts. In 1164, by which time their former friend ship had degenerated into outright enmity, Thomas fled from the king to exile in a French monastery.  For six years he carried on his fight for the recovery of his see, continually trying to force Henry’s submission, until, in 1170, after the contest had been seemingly settled at a conference held in a chateau at Freteval in Henry ‘s French territory, the archbishop, aware that he was returning to his certain death, crossed the channel to England.  He was received with rejoicing, but there was a foreboding in the air which everyone felt.

Within a month, he was lying in a pool of blood on the stone floor of his cathedral. In the presence of his barons, Henry, enraged by Thomas’ excommunication of three royalist bishops, cursed all who had allowed the archbishop to live and so hinder the royal will.  Four of the knights, taking Henry’s curse as a command, stole out of the assembly and headed for Canterbury.  There they accosted Thomas in his episcopal palace and then again in the cathedral itself.  When the saint still refused to withdraw the excommunications, they drew their swords and cut him down where he stood.

Henry was appalled by the crime he had unwittingly instigated; he went into mourning at once for his former friend and later did public penance for his part in the murder. The people immediately began to look on the martyred archbishop as a saint, and three years later he was canonized.  Miracles were worked at his tomb in the cathedral, which remained, throughout medieval times, one of Europe’s most famous centers of pilgrimage.  Years afterward, the king himself was to stand on the cathedral steps and do penance in the presence of the martyr’s relics.

In death, Thomas a Becket was more victorious in his defense of the Church than he had ever been in life. His tomb was to stand as a monument to the Church’s rights and as a warning to all who would subvert those rights by the use of secular power.  Without force and without anger, but with a strong conviction of his duty to God, Saint Thomas won his battle.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  759-761.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 30
Saint Sabinus Bishop and Martyr (c 303)

To Venustian, the pagan governor of Etruria, a province of Italy, the punishment seemed to be suited to the crime: his prisoner had broken with his hands the statue of Jupiter he had been given to adore, and therefore his hands were to be cut off.  What Venustian did not realize was that the sentence was to have a greater effect upon himself than upon the prisoner.

According to this legend, fabricated in the fifth or sixth century, the prisoner was a certain bishop of Assisi named Sabinus. He and several of his clergy had been arrested and tried on the charge of being Christians.  Two deacons were scourged and tortured to death, but Saint Sabinus, his hands severed, was returned to his cell while further tortures were prepared for him.

While recovering from his ordeal, the saintly bishop was visited in prison by a widow named Serena and her blind son. Raising his handless arms over the boy, Sabinus blessed him, and immediately the boy’s sight returned.  News of the event spread through the prison, and soon the bishop’s fellow prisoners were beseeching him to baptize them.  Venustian himself was converted to Christ through the miracle, and he and his wife and children soon followed the holy bishop in martyrdom.

The gift of miracles is given to a saint not for himself but as a means of grace to others. The cure wrought by Sabinus with the stumps of his arms did not bring about his release, for he was soon beaten to death at Spoleto; but in the conversion of Venustian and his household it produced something much more wonderful.  By miraculously restoring sight to a blind boy’s eyes, he gave his persecutors the vision of faith; by dying for Christ, he inspired them to follow him bravely in martyrdom.

None of the details of this story are attested by history, but a certain Sabinus was martyred, in unknown circumstances, and his true history is known only by God.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  762-763.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 31
Saint Silvester I Pope and Confessor (-335)

In 313, an edict of Constantine granted toleration to the Christians of the Roman Empire; thus a new age, with new problems, opened for the Church. It was given to Saint Silvester to guide the Church as it emerged from the catacombs.

Very little of his personal life is known, but an early biography of him says that, as a grown man during the last persecutions, he hid himself in order to escape consecration as a bishop. It is certain that, once the humble Silvester had become pope, he could no longer escape from the honors, or the trials, that were thrust upon him.  Indeed, few pontificates in Church history have been so crucial as his.

His reign began within a year of the Edict of Toleration, and the new pope was at once beset by controversy with the Donatists, heretics who taught that an heretical or immoral priest cannot validly perform priestly acts, even in dispensing the sacraments. The question had already been decided once–against the heretics–but in August of 314, the emperor called for a final settlement at the Council of Aries.  There again the Donatists lost, but the assembled bishops regretted that the pope was not present, for they felt that his active participation would have given their judgments a greater force and influence. The primacy of the Roman pontiff was already well attested at this time.

A council even more important than that at Aries was held midway through Silvester’s reign. The first general council of the Church, meeting at Nicaea in 325, settled the most dangerous of the early heresies when it declared that the Arian bishops erred in teaching that Jesus Christ was in His divinity inferior to the Father.

One of the many legends connecting this pope with the emperor says that Silvester personally baptized Constantine and thereby cured him of leprosy. The story is shown to be false by the fact that Constantine remained a catechumen until just before his death in 337, two years after the death of Silvester.  It is probably true, however, that the emperor gave his palace, the Lateran, to Silvester for his first cathedral.  Constantine had not only granted freedom to the Christians and decreed that their confiscated properties should be restored to them; he immediately set about the construction in Rome of splendid basilicas and other churches, including Saint Peter’s, which only later took the place of the Lateran as the seat of the popes.  It was the duty of Silvester to say where the Church localized the tombs of the great martyrs, for the basilicas of Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint Laurence.  The preferences of the imperial family determined the location of the other four basilicas.

Upon his death in 335, Silvester was buried, most likely on December 31, in the crypt of the church he had built at the cemetery of Saint Priscilla on the Salarian Way. Christianity, lately freed from the darkness of persecution and clandestine life, Silvester led into the freer light of the Roman day–not into final peace but into an era of new problems–and he guided Christians in their dangerous new liberty.  For the Church, as for men, the greatest problems begin not in persecution but in freedom.  This long pontificate was indeed a turning point in Christian history.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  764-765.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

December 31
Saint Catherine Laboure Virgin (1806-1876)

Like our own century, the nineteenth was a proud, pretentious one, glorying in its material advances and the hazy splendor of its “enlightened” views on morals, politics, and religion. To strengthen faith and revive a spirit of prayer in this proud, man-centered age, the world was granted three remarkable visions of the Blessed Virgin: those of the rue du Bac, La Salette, and Lourdes.

Zoé Labouré, the recipient of the first of these visions, was the ninth of ten children born to a modest peasant family at Fain-les-Moutiers, a village in eastern France. Her mother died when she was nine, and as Zoé grew up she found herself charged with much of the responsibility of the large household.  She had a vocation to the religious life from the time of her First Communion, but her father refused to give up his little housekeeper, and it was not until she was twenty­four years old that he permitted her to answer her call.

In 1830 Zoé joined the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and took the name Catherine. It was early in her noviciate in the convent of the rue du Bac in Paris that she had her visions of the Blessed Virgin.  In the most notable of these apparitions, on November 27, 1830, our Lady appeared to her in an oval of light, with her hands reaching down and with beams of light extending from them to the earth, represented by a globe upon which the Virgin stood.  Above her head were the words, “Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”  Our Lady bade Catherine to have a medal made bearing the image of the vision, and she showed her what was to appear on the other side of the medal: the letter M, a cross, and the hearts of Jesus and Mary.

Catherine told her confessor, Father Aladel, about her vision, and he obtained permission from the archbishop to have the medal made. Extensive publicity followed, and in 1836 the archbishop ordered an investigation of the visions.  Saint Catherine was not identified by name and did not testify, but the tribunal accepted the visions as authentic.

In 1842, an Alsatian Jew, Alphonse Ratisbonne, who had grudgingly accepted one of the medals during a visit to Rome, had a vision of our Lady and was converted. With his brother Theodore he later founded the Missionaries and Daughters of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of Jews.  The publicity given to the conversion of Alphonse, a notorious atheist, made the miraculous medal, as it was called, extraordinarily popular.

Until shortly before her death, only Catherine’s confessor knew that it was she who had received the vision of the miraculous medal. Her superiors regarded her as virtuous and hard-working, but not remarkable for intelligence or judgment, and they assigned her to menial tasks–tasks that Catherine welcomed.  She worked in the kitchen, the laundry, took care of the chickens, tended the old people in the convent hospice, and cleaned the chamber pots.  After a full life of work and prayer, she died peacefully on December 31, 1876, after a brief illness.

Moved by the revelation of her vision, those who had known her only as commonplace and insignificant now found clues to her rich interior life in the bits of her conversation they remembered and in the notes of her retreats. Of her method of prayer she had said:  “’It is not hard.  In the chapel I say to God:  ‘Lord, here I am.  Give me whatever You wish.’  If He gives me something, I thank Him; if He gives me nothing, I still thank Him, because I deserved nothing.  I tell Him what comes into my mind, I tell Him my troubles and my joys, and I listen to Him.  If you listen to Him, He will speak to you, too.  He always speaks when one goes to Him sincerely and simply.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  766-768.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.