Category Archives: Saints

May 25 – St Bede the Venerable, (673-735 AD), Doctor of the Church, Father of English History

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He was known as the most learned man of his day, and his writings started the idea of dating this era from the incarnation of Christ. The central theme of Bede’s “Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People)” is of the Church using the power of its spiritual, doctrinal, and cultural unity to stamp out violence and barbarism. Our knowledge of England before the 8th century is mainly the result of Bede’s writing.

It was as a teacher that Bede was supreme. He had no interest in speculation and no desire to be original; his genius was that of one who, with infinite pains, educates himself and transmits not only what he has learned but a deep sense of the value of such knowledge. Of his oral teaching–to which he attached great importance–of course we cannot speak, but his books became standard works of reference in his own lifetime.

His carefulness and sobriety of approach, his pains to be accurate, his obvious orthodoxy, gave to them a unique authority. Bede’s works fall into three well-defined classes. His theological writings consist mainly of a teacher’s commentaries on the Bible, based very largely on the western Fathers and written for the most part in the allegorical manner of Christian tradition. Bede used his knowledge of Greek and displayed what we may think was an innocent vanity in making the most of such Hebrew as he had learned. Yet, despite the lack of originality in his approach, the commentaries of Bede remain even today one of the best means to arrive at the thought of the early Fathers.

His scientific writings consist partly of traditional explanations of natural phenomena, in which the poetic approach of St. Ambrose is sometimes reflected, and partly of treatises on the calendar and the calculation of Easter–a matter of moment, as the Paschal controversy between Saxons and Celts had by no means entirely died down. It was Bede’s popularization of the method of calculating calendar years from the supposed date of our Lord’s birth which more than anything else ensured its universal acceptance in western Christendom.

At the time Bede wrote the Historia Ecclesiastica, there were two common ways of referring to dates. One was to use indictions, which were 15-year cycles, counting from 312 AD. There were three different varieties of indiction, each starting on a different day of the year. The other approach was to use regnal years—the reigning Roman emperor, for example, or the ruler of whichever kingdom was under discussion. This meant that in discussing conflicts between kingdoms, the date would have to be given in the regnal years of all the kings involved. Bede used both these approaches on occasion, but adopted a third method as his main approach to dating: the anno domini method invented by Dionysius Exiguus. Although Bede did not invent this method, his adoption of it, and his promulgation of it in De Temporum Ratione, his work on chronology, is the main reason why it is now so widely used.

His death was as sober and undeterred as was his life. In the early summer of 735, when he was sixty-three, his health began to fail, and he suffered much from asthma. He was, however, at work until the very end. On the Tuesday before Ascension Day he summoned the priests of the monastery, made them little gifts of pepper and incense and begged their prayers. At intervals during the next forty-eight hours, propped up in bed, he dictated to the very last sentence an English rendering of the Gospel of St. John upon which he was engaged at the onset of his illness. Finally, asking to be laid on the floor, he sang the anthem ‘O King of Glory’ from the Office of Ascension Day and so died. It was May 27th, 735.

Prayer to St Bede:

“Careful Historian and Doctor of the Church, lover of God and of truth, you are a natural model for all readers of God’s inspired Word. Move lectors to prepare for public reading by prayerfully pondering the sacred texts and invoking the Holy Spirit. Help them to read in such a way that those who hear may attain learning and edification. Amen.”

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-“St Bede Dictates the Translation of the Gospel of John on his deathbed”, one of four scenes on triptych by David Hewson, 2003, St Bede Catholic Church, Williamsburg, VA

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-St Bede’s tomb, Durham Cathedral

The Last Chapter
-The Last Chapter, by J.D. Penrose, 1902

Love,
Matthew

May 12 – Sts Nereus, Achilleus, & Domitilla, (d. 98 AD), Martyrs

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-by Peter Paul Rubens, 1607

Christian devotion to Nereus & Achilleus goes back to the earliest years of the Church, though almost nothing is known of their lives. They were praetorian soldiers of the Roman army, possibly ordered to persecute Christians, they became Christians and were banished to the island of Terracina, where they were martyred by beheading in 98 AD by order of the Emperor Domitian.  Beheading was befitting Roman citizens, similar to St Paul, as opposed to crucifixion – a much longer suffering death reserved for non-Roman citizens. The bodies of Nereus & Achilleus were buried in a family vault, later known as the cemetery of Domitilla. Excavations by De Rossi in 1896 resulted in the discovery of their empty tomb in the underground church built by Pope Siricius in 390 AD.

Everyday, especially twenty-first century, Christians would first be introduced to Nereus by reading St Paul’s Letter to the Romans 16:15, “Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones who are with them…”.  It is believed Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, along with other early Christians in Rome were all baptized by St Peter before his crucifixion in ~64 AD.

Domitilla was a Roman noble woman. Grand-daughter of Emperor Vespasian; niece of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Married to Titus Flavius Clemens, a Roman consul, nephew of Emperor Vespasian, and first cousin of Emperors Titus and Domitian. Banished to the island of Pandataria in the Tyrrhenian Sea, her husband was martyred in 96 AD.

For Nereus, Achilleus, and Domitilla, they were all martyred together.  Their empty tombs were located and identified in the catacomb of Domitilla, part of her former estate near the Via Ardeatina.

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-by Andrea_di_Bonaiuto, “St._Agnes_and_St._Domitilla”,_1365, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence, Italy.

Two hundred years after their death, Pope Gregory the Great delivered his 28th homily on the occasion of their feast. “These saints, before whom we are assembled, despised the world and trampled it under their feet when peace, riches and health gave it charms.”

Pope Damasus wrote an epitaph for Nereus and Achilleus in the fourth century. The text is known from travelers who read it while the slab was still entire, but the broken fragments found by De Rossi are sufficient to identify it: “The martyrs Nereus and Achilleus had enrolled themselves in the army and exercised the cruel office of carrying out the orders of the tyrant, being ever ready, through the constraint of fear, to obey his will. O miracle of faith! Suddenly they cease from their fury, they become converted, they fly from the camp of their wicked leader; they throw away their shields, their armor and their blood-stained javelins. Confessing the faith of Christ, they rejoice to bear testimony to its triumph. Learn now from the words of Damasus what great things the glory of Christ can accomplish.”

Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar where the Catacomb Pact was signed at a Mass on Nov. 16, 1965. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
Basilica of Saints Nereus and Achilleus, an underground altar 

-(please click on the image for greater detail), Basilica Catacombs of St Domitilla, part of her former estate, on the outskirts of Rome, the Eternal City.

The church marks the spot where tradition says Sts Nereus & Achilleus were executed for converting to Christianity. And beneath the altar, and extending through more than 10 miles of tunnels, were the tombs of more than 100,000 Christians from the earliest centuries of the church.

A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho
A view inside the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome. Religion News Service photo by Grant Gallicho

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-(please click on the image for greater detail) Santi Nereo e Achilleo is an ancient church dedicated to St Nereus and St Achilleus, 4th century soldier martyrs.

The present church is the result of a restoration by Cesare Cardinal Baronio – historian and titular priest of the church – in 1596-1597/8. The work was done carefully in order to preserve as much as possible of the ancient church and to restore ancient elements that had been lost. Some of the decorations that were added were taken from San Paolo fuori le mura. Sts Nereus and Achilleus are buried beneath the high altar, together with St Flavia Domitilla. Their remains were brought here from the Catacombi di Domitilla, where they had been placed in the underground basilica. The floor in the choir was raised by Baronio in the late 16th century, to create a proper confessio beneath the high altar. The baldachino is from the 16th century, and has columns of African marble.

Cardinal Baronio asked Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) to entrust the church to his order, the Oratorians. They still serve the church.

Love,
Matthew

Apr 23 – Saint George, (d. 304 AD), Martyr

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In Christian hagiography, Saint George – The Saint who killed the Dragon (ca. 275-281?-April 23, 303) was a soldier of the Roman Empire, from Anatolia, now modern day Turkey, who is venerated as a Christian martyr.

George was born to a Christian family during the late 3rd century. His father, Geronzio, was from Cappadocia and served as an officer of the Roman army, but was killed in battle. His mother, Policronia, was from Lydda, Iudaea (now Lod, Israel). She returned to her native city as a widow along with her young son, where she provided him with an education.

The youth followed his father’s example by joining the army soon after coming of age. He proved to be a good soldier and consequently rose through the military ranks of the time.  By his late twenties he had gained the title of Tribunus (Tribune) and then Comes (Count), at which time George was stationed in Nicomedia as a member of the personal guard attached to Roman Emperor Diocletian, who embraced him, having known and regarded his father as one of his finest soldiers.

In 303 Diocletian, influenced by Galerius, issued an edict authorizing the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. The emperor Galerius would continue the persecution during his own reign (305-311).

George was ordered to take part in the persecution but instead confessed to being a Christian himself and criticized the imperial decision.  Diocletian was upset, not wanting to lose his best Tribune and the son of his former best official. George loudly denounced the Emperor’s edict, and in front of his fellow soldiers and Tribunes he claimed himself to be a Christian and declared his worship of Jesus Christ. Diocletian attempted to convert George, even offering gifts of land, money and slaves if he made a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The Emperor made many offers, but George never accepted.  An enraged Diocletian ordered the torture of this apparent traitor, and his execution.

Before the execution George gave his wealth to the poor and prepared himself.

After various tortures, beginning with being lacerated on a wheel of swords in which he was revived three times, George was executed by decapitation before Nicomedia’s defensive wall on April 23, 303. The witness of his suffering convinced Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, to become Christians as well, and so they joined George in martyrdom.  His body was returned to Lydda for burial, where Christians soon came to honor him as a martyr.

Saint George is one of the most venerated saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches. Immortalized in the tale of George and the dragon, he is the patron saint of Canada, Catalonia, England, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, the cities of Beirut, Istanbul, Ljubljana and Moscow, as well as a wide range of professions, organizations and disease sufferers.

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In the legend of St George and the dragon, brought back to Europe by Crusaders, a dragon makes its nest at the spring that provides water for the city of Cyrene in Libya or the city of Lydda, depending on the source you consult. Consequently, the citizens have to dislodge the dragon from its nest for a time, in order to collect water. To do so, each day they offer the dragon a human sacrifice. The victim is chosen by drawing lots.

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One day, this happened to be the princess. The monarch begs for her life with no result. She is offered to the dragon, but there appears the saint on his travels. He faces the dragon, slays it and rescues the princess. The grateful citizens abandon their ancestral paganism and convert to Christianity.

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In Sweden, the princess rescued by Saint George is held to represent the kingdom of Sweden, while the dragon represents an invading army. Several sculptures of Saint George battling the dragon can be found in Stockholm, the earliest inside Storkyrkan (“The Great Church”) in the Old Town.

Prayer in honor of St George

O God, You granted Saint George strength and constancy in the various torments which he sustained for Holy Faith; we beseech You to preserve, through his intercession, our faith from wavering and doubt, so that we may serve You with a sincere heart faithfully unto death. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Invocation of St George

Faithful servant of God and invincible martyr, Saint George; favored by God with the gift of faith, and inflamed with an ardent love of Christ, you fight valiantly against the dragons of pride, falsehood, and deceit. Neither pain nor torture, sword nor death could part you from the love of Christ.

I fervently implore you, for the sake of this love, to help me by your intercession to overcome the temptations that surround me, and to bear bravely the trials that oppress me, so that I may patiently carry the cross which is placed upon me; and let neither distress nor difficulties separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

O, Valiant Champion of Faith, assist me in the combat against evil, that I may win the crown promised to them that persevere unto the end.
Amen.

“Saint George was a man who abandoned one army for another: he gave up the rank of tribune to enlist as a soldier for Christ. Eager to encounter the enemy, he first stripped away his worldly wealth by giving all he had to he poor. Then, free and unencumbered, bearing the shield of faith, he plunged into the thick of the battle, an ardent soldier for Christ.

Clearly what he did serves to teach us a valuable lesson: if we are afraid to strip ourselves of our worldly possessions, then we are unfit to make a strong defense of the faith.

Dear brothers & sisters, let us not only admire the courage of this fighter in heaven’s army, but follow his example. Let us be inspired to strive for the reward of heavenly glory. We must now cleanse ourselves, as Saint Paul tells us, from all defilement of body and spirit, so that one day we too may deserve to enter that temple of blessedness to which we now aspire. “
– from a sermon by Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072), priest & one of the Great Catholic Reformers

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-tomb of St George, Lod, Israel

Love,
Matthew

Apr 28 – St Peter Chanel, SM, (1803-1841), Apostle to & Protomartyr of Oceania

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Anyone who has worked in loneliness, with great adaptation required, and with little apparent success, will find a kindred spirit in Peter Chanel.

Pierre Louis Marie Chanel was born on July 12, 1803 in La Potière near Cuet in the area of Belley, France.

He was ordained priest along with 24 others on 15 July 1827. From an early age Chanel had been thinking about going on the foreign missions and his intention was strengthened by the letters that arrived from a missionary in India.

The following year Chanel applied for permission to go to the missions. His application was not accepted and instead he was appointed for the next three years as parish priest of the run down parish of Crozet.  This parish was in dire straits and situated in a seamy district.  By the simple method of showing great devotion to the sick, Peter revitalized and reinvigorated the faith of the community surrounding the parish.

Seeming to take one step closer to his ambition of becoming a missionary, in 1831, Peter joined the newly forming Society of Mary (Marists).  Instead of being selected as a missionary, however, the Marists used his talents as the spiritual director at the Seminary of Belley, where he patiently and obediently worked for five years.

Finally, he was given permission to be a missionary and traveled to Western Oceania.  The bishop accompanying the missionaries left Peter and another Marist brother on Futuna Island in the New Hebrides, promising to return in six months. The interval lasted five years.

The group was initially well received by the island’s king, Niuliki, who had only recently forbidden cannibalism. Meanwhile Peter struggled with this new language and mastered it, making the difficult adjustment to life with whalers, traders and warring natives. Despite little apparent success and severe want, Peter maintained a serene and gentle spirit and endless patience and courage. A few natives had been baptized, a few more were being instructed.

Once the missionaries learned the local language and began preaching directly to the people, the king grew restive. He believed that Christianity would take away his prerogatives as high priest and king. When the king’s son, Meitala, sought to be baptized, the king sent a favored warrior, his son-in-law, Musumusu to “do whatever was necessary” to resolve the problem.

Musumusu initially went to Meitala and the two fought. Musumusu, injured in the fracas went to Chanel feigning need of medical attention. While Chanel tended him a group of others ransacked his house. Musumusu took an axe and clubbed Chanel on the head.  His body was cut to pieces by the natives.

Over a year later, for it took that long for news to travel of Peter’s murder and arrangements to be made, a chief named Maligi, who had not agreed to Chanel’s murder, agreed to disinter Fr. Chanel’s body, and brought it to the L’Allier, a French naval corvette, sent to retrieve Peter’s body, wrapped in several local mats.  Eventually, with proper and improved care taken of the remains, entrusted from trustworthy hand to trustworthy hand, Peter’s remains were returned to the motherhouse of the Society of Mary in Lyon, France, June 1, 1850.

Within two years after Peter’s death, some sources say five months, the whole island of Futuna became Catholic and has remained so. Musumusu himself converted, and as he lay dying, expressed the desire that he be buried outside the church at Poi so that those who came to revere Peter Chanel in the Church would walk over his grave to get to it.  As a kind of penitence a special action song and dance, known as the “eke”, was created by the people of Futuna shortly after Chanel’s death. The dance is still performed in Tonga.  Peter Chanel’s remains were returned to Futuna in 1977.

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Prayer

St Peter Chanel, you left your homeland to proclaim Jesus, Savior of the world, to the peoples of Oceania. Guided by the spirit of God, who is the strength of the gentle, you bore witness to love, even laying down your life. Grant that like you, we may live our daily life in peace, joy, and in love. May your prayer and example call forth from our midst many workers for the Gospel so that God’s kingdom may reach to the ends of the earth.  Amen.

“He loves us. He does what he teaches. He forgives his enemies. His teaching is good.”
– one of Saint Peter’s catechumens, explaining why he believed Peter’s teachings

Love,
Matthew

Apr 29 – St Catherine of Siena, O.P., (1347-1380), Doctor of the Church, Great Catholic Reformer & Mystic

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-fresco of St. Catherine of Siena – done by a family member who knew her, showing her true likeness

St Catherine of Siena, OP, one of the Great Reformers of the Catholic Church, publicly excoriated priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes.  She called them “wretches”, “idiots”, “blind hirelings”, and “devils incarnate”.  Catherine sought to shame the clergy into reform; her methods and her inspiration for reform were direct and challenging.

Catherine claimed that her reform rhetoric was revealed to her in a series of visions.  The legitimacy of these visions was reinforced by Catherine’s miracles.  From early in her career, she was known for her miraculous ability to subsist solely on the Eucharist, and was given the grace of the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, during her life, among other supernatural phenomena.

Born Catherine Benin in Siena, Italy, to Giacomo di Benincasa, a clothdyer, and Lapa Piagenti, possibly daughter of a local poet, in 1347, she was the last of 25 children.  A year after she was born, the Black Death, or bubonic plague, came to Siena for the first time.  Sometime around 1353, at the age of seven or eight, Catherine experienced a vision of Christ that led her to make a vow of virginity.

In about 1366, Catherine experienced what she described in her letters as a “Mystical Marriage” with Jesus. Her biographer also records that she was told by Christ to leave her withdrawn life and enter the public life of the world. Catherine dedicated much of her life to helping the ill and the poor, where she took care of them in hospitals or homes.

Her early pious activities in Siena attracted a group of followers, both women and men, while they also brought her to the attention of the Dominican Order, who had primary responsibility for the Inquisition in many regions.  Catherine was summoned by the Inquisition to Florence in 1374 to interrogate her for possible heresy.  After this visit, in which she was deemed sufficiently orthodox, she began travelling with her followers throughout northern and central Italy advocating reform of the clergy and the launch of a new crusade and advising people that repentance and renewal could be done through “the total love for God.”

Just as Catherine was not repulsed by the filth of her neighbors’ diseased bodies, she was also not repulsed by the corruption manifested in the body of Christ.  For most of her career, she tended to the sick, the hungry, and the dying, much like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has done in our own day.  She wrote many letters to religious leaders and secular officials of her day encouraging and demanding, under penalty of perdition, reform, peace, order, atonement, repentance, reconciliation, and adherence to the Gospel.

Her other work, “The Dialogue of Divine Providence”, is one of the most well known works in Catholic mystical writing, referred to simply as St Catherine’s “Dialogue”, or “The Dialogue”.  Its premise is a dialogue between a soul who “rises up” to God and God, and was recorded by her followers between 1377 and 1378.  She opens with a description of sin and the need for penance.  She synthesizes both the apologetics of love and of humility under the rubric of the atonement for sin.

St Catherine died of an apparent stroke in Rome, in the spring of 1380, at the age of thirty-three.  She was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1970, one of only three women and thirty men to hold this title in the history of Christianity.

“Charity is the sweet and holy bond which links the soul with its Creator: it binds God with man and man with God.” – Saint Catherine of Siena

“Lord, take me from myself and give me to Yourself.” -St. Catherine of Siena

“Oh, inestimable Charity, sweet above all sweetness!… It seems, oh, Abyss of Charity, as if thou wert mad with love of Thy creature, as if Thou couldest not live without him, and yet Thou art our God who has no need of us.” – St Catherine of Siena

“Eternal Trinity, Godhead, mystery deep as the sea, You could give me no greater gift than the gift of Yourself. For You are a fire ever burning and never consumed, which itself consumes all the selfish love that fills my being. Yes, you are a fire that takes away the coldness, illuminates the mind with its light, and causes me to know Your truth. And I know that You are beauty and wisdom itself. The food of angels, You gave yourself to man in the fire of your love.”  -from “The Dialogue”

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-“The Ecstasy of St Catherine of Siena”, Pompeo Batoni, 1743, Museo di Villa Guinigi, Lucca, Italy

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-the mystical marriage of St Catherine of Siena, O.P., Clemente de Torres, ~1715, oil on canvas, H: 175 cm (68.9 in). W: 332 cm (130.7 in), private collection

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-mummified head of St Catherine of Siena, O.P., Church of San Dominico, Siena

Love,
Matthew

Apr 5 – St Vincent Ferrer, O.P., (1350-1419), “Angel of the Last Judgment”, Great Catholic Reformer, Patron of Reconciliation

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-St Vincent preaching

The polarization in the Church today is a mild breeze compared with the tornado that ripped the Church apart during the lifetime of this saint. If any saint is a patron of reconciliation, St. Vincent Ferrer, OP, is.  Born in Valencia, Spain, January 23, 1350, the fourth child and second son of William Ferrer and Constantia Miguel, and named in honor of St Vincent Martyr, patron of Valencia, whom we considered back in January of this year.

Vincent’s birth was anything but a quiet affair! It is said that his mother, who was accustomed to difficult pregnancies, experienced only an indescribable goodness and joy at the birth of her son. This experience was accompanied by Vincent’s father’s dream in which a Dominican friar announced to him that his son would one day enter the Order of Preachers and his fame would spread throughout the world. A poor blind woman, when giving thanks to the mother of the saint for alms, astounded her by prophesying, “O happy mother, it is an angel that you bear, and one day he will give me my sight!” It is recorded that the woman did receive her sight.

Despite parental opposition, Vincent Ferrer entered the Dominican Order in his native Spain at 19. After brilliant studies, he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Peter de Luna—who would figure tragically in his life.

Contemporary evidence pictures St. Vincent Ferrer to have been a man of medium height, with a lofty forehead and very distinct features that seemed to inspire a sense of reverence and awe in all who knew him. His hair was fair in color and shaven in the form of a monastic tonsure, which is said to have resembled an areola of glory around his head. His eyes were very dark, very expressive, and full of fire, which were tempered, however, by his ever gentle manner. Pale as was his ordinary color, it is said that he became slightly ruddy when preaching. Although his handsomeness faded in later years as a result of his arduous labors and the austerities that he practiced, it became changed rather than vanished. His countenance took on a transparent peacefulness or glow that seemed to be the reflection of the inward beauty of his great spirit that was aflame with the love of God and of his neighbor. His voice was strong and powerful, at times gentle, resonant, and vibrant as it seemed to search deeply the heart and to inspire fear when fear was needed and to soothe with exquisite tenderness when comfort was needed.

Of a very ardent nature, Vincent practiced the austerities of his Order with great energy. He was chosen prior of the Dominican house in Valencia shortly after his ordination.  During a severe fever in 1398, Vincent had a vision of Christ, Saint Dominic de Guzman and Saint Francis of Assisi. It was a life changing experience – Vincent received supernatural gifts and he believed that he was instructed in his vision to be a messenger of penance, an “angel of the apocalypse” sent to prepare humankind for the Judgment of Christ.

St. Vincent Ferrer was a great preacher who converted thousands in Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Ireland. He was invited to preach in Muslim Granada.  He slept on the floor, had the gift of tongues (he spoke only Spanish, but all listeners understood him), lived in an endless fast, celebrated Mass daily, and was known as a miracle worker – reported to have brought a murdered man back to life to prove the power of Christianity to the onlookers, and he would heal people throughout a hospital just by praying in front of it. He worked so hard to build up the Church that he became the patron of people in building trades.

The Great Western Schism (1378-1417) divided Christianity first between two, then three, popes. Clement VII lived at Avignon in France, Urban VI in Rome. Vincent was convinced the election of Urban was invalid (though St. Catherine of Siena was just as devoted a supporter of the Roman pope). In the service of Cardinal de Luna, he worked to persuade Spaniards to follow Clement. When Clement died, Cardinal de Luna was elected at Avignon and became Benedict XIII.

At the beginning of the 14th century, following a disagreement between Pope Boniface VIII and King Philip the Fair(handsome) of France, who was immorally ambitious, a French pope, Clement V, was elected. Within four years, civil unrest in Rome and riots between rival factions drove Clement V to take shelter with the Dominican order in Avignon.  The move was intended to be temporary, but a number of factors combined to make it a longer sojourn.  Known as the “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy, the schism was eventually resolved by the Council of Constance (1414-1418).  Cardinals from both sides had previously met at Pisa in 1409, and trying to end the schism, elected a third pope. The rift was not healed until the Council of Constance vacated all three seats and elected Martin V as pope in 1417.

Vincent worked for his friend, Benedict XIII, as apostolic penitentiary and Master of the Sacred Palace in Avignon. But the new pope did not resign as all candidates in the conclave had sworn to do. Benedict XIII remained stubborn despite being deserted by the French king and nearly all of the cardinals.

Vincent became disillusioned with his friend and church politics in general, and also very ill, but finally took up the work of simply “going through the world preaching Christ,” though he felt that any renewal in the Church depended on healing the schism. An eloquent and fiery preacher, he spent the last 20 years of his life spreading the Good News in Spain, France, Switzerland, the Low Countries and Lombardy, stressing the need of repentance and the fear of coming judgment. (He became known as the “Angel of the Judgment.”)

He tried, again, unsuccessfully, in 1408 and 1415, to persuade his former friend to resign. He finally concluded that Benedict was not the true pope. Though very ill, he mounted the pulpit before an assembly over which Benedict himself was presiding and thundered his denunciation of the man who had ordained him a priest. Benedict fled for his life, abandoned by those who had formerly supported him. Strangely, Vincent had no part in the Council of Constance, which ended the schism.

The split in the Church at the time of St Vincent Ferrer, OP, should have been fatal—36 long years of having two “heads.” We cannot imagine what condition the Church today would be in if, for that length of time, half the world had followed a succession of popes in Rome, and half, an equally “official” number of popes in, say, Rio de Janeiro. It is an ongoing miracle that the Church has not long since been shipwrecked on the rocks of pride and ignorance, greed and ambition. Contrary to Lowell’s words, “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne,” we believe that “truth is mighty, and it shall prevail”—but it sometimes takes a long time.

“Precious stone of virginity…
Flaming torch of charity…
Mirror of penance…
Trumpet of eternal salvation…
Flower of heavenly wisdom…
Vanquisher of demons.”

(-from the litanies of St. Vincent Ferrer, O.P.)

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-Polytptych Vicente Ferrer, by Giovanni Bellini, 1465, Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice

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-by Juan de Juanes in 1550-55

“Timete Deum Et Date Illi Honorem” – “Fear God and give Him honor!” – Rev. 14:7

Prayer

O my protector, St. Vincent Ferrer, as the eternal God has deposited in you an inexhaustible treasurer of grace and of supernatural virtues, hear my earnest petition, and help me with your intercession, more powerful now even than when you were on earth. Hence with blind confidence do I cast myself at your feet, there to place my requests for all those in whom I am concerned but more particularly for (special favor). O glorious saint, let not my confidence in you be deceived. Present for me, to the Divine Majesty, your suppliant prayers and watch over my soul. Should sorrow and trials increase, so also will my rejoicing increase, and may my patience grow with each day, that I may thus save my soul. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Apr 9 – St Casilda of Toledo, Virgin, (d. 1050 AD), Convert from Islam

one of Zurbarans Casildas
-another image of St Casilda of Toledo by Zuraban

St. Casilda was the daughter of a Muslim leader called Almacrin or Almamun in Toledo, Spain, in the 10th century. Casilda was herself raised as a Muslim and showed special kindness to Christian prisoners, carrying bread to them hidden in her clothes. Once, she was stopped by Muslim soldiers and asked to reveal what she was carrying in her skirt. When she began to show them, the bread turned into a bouquet of roses.

Casilda became ill as a young woman but was not convinced that any of the local Arab doctors could cure her. So, she made a pilgrimage to the shrine of San Vicenzo (Saint Vincent Martyr, whom we considered in January) in northern Spain. Like so many other people who made their way there—many of them suffering from hemorrhages—Casilda sought the healing waters of the shrine. We’re uncertain what illness brought her to the shrine, but we do know that she left it relieved of illness.

In response, she became a Christian and lived a life of solitude and penance not far from the miraculous spring. It’s said that she lived to be 100 years old. Her death likely occurred around the year 1050.

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_037
-St Casilda of Toledo by Francisco de Zuraban, ~1640

Love,
Matthew

Apr 19 – Blessed James Duckett (d.1602), Husband & Father, Patron of Catholic Media

You know of my passion in particular for married saints.  James Duckett was born at Gilfortrigs, Westmorland in England.  He lived at a time when Elizabeth I was Queen of England.  As a young man he became an apprentice printer in London. There he came across a book called “The Firm Foundation of the Catholic Religion” by Jean de Caumont, published first in Antwerp in 1590, available for viewing and reading online even today, and lent to him by a friend.  He studied the book carefully and believed that the Catholic Church was the true Church. In those days, Catholics were ill-treated in England. James decided that he wanted to be a Catholic anyway and would bravely face any trouble that came his way.

The minister from his previous church came to look for him because James had been a regular church goer, attendance was mandatory by law. James refused to go back, saying he would not return until better arguments for the Anglican faith were made to him. He was sent to prison twice for his stubbornness and both times the owner of the printing press he worked for helped free him. But then the man asked James to find himself another job.

James Duckett knew there was no turning back and was able to find a disguised Catholic priest in the Gatehouse prison. The old priest, “Mr. Weekes,” taught him about the Catholic faith and soon James Duckett was received into the Catholic Church. He married a Catholic widow and their son became a Carthusian monk.

Blessed James Duckett never forgot that it was a book that had changed his life. He made it his duty to provide his neighbors with Catholic books as he knew these books would help encourage and teach them about the faith and the Catholic Church.

So dangerous was this work that he was in prison for nine years out of the twelve that he was married. Finally, he was condemned to death by one man’s witness. Peter Bullock, a book binder who testified that he had bound Catholic books for Blessed James, a very “serious crime” in England at the time. Blessed James admitted the truth of this in court in a very self-possessed manner and with a calm demeanor.

It was unheard of to condemn a man on testimony of only one witness, so the jury found Blessed James not guilty, initially; but the judge, Sir John Popham, the Lord Chief Justice, browbeat the jury, which reversed its verdict and Blessed James was found guilty of felony. Peter Bullock turned traitor because he himself was sent to prison for a true crime and hoped to be set free, but he was not freed and was condemned alongside Blessed James.

Blessed James’ wife visited her condemned husband in prison. When he saw her tears, he said, “If I were made the queen’s secretary or treasurer, you would not weep. Do but keep yourself God’s servant and in the unity of God’s Church, and I shall be able to do you more good, being now to go to the King of Kings.”

Both Blessed James and his betrayer were sent to die on the same day, carted to the gallows at Tyburn.  Along the way, Blessed James’ wife presented him with a pint of wine.  He drank a glass of it and urged her to drink one in honor of Bullock, and hold no grudge against him.  When she refused, Blessed James chided her until she did.

Before they were hanged, Blessed James Duckett kissed his betrayer and told Bullock that he was forgiven. He kept encouraging the man as they were dying to accept the Catholic faith. Then the ropes were placed around their necks. Blessed James Duckett was martyred and died for his faith April 19, 1602.  He is remembered among those lifelong laity recognized for their sanctity.

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In my prayer currently, I am struggling, as I am sure many of you are and have.  I think it is important to remember, when we are tempted to discouragement, as we certainly must often be in these days, that it is the Lord who calls us to faithfulness.  This knowledge and reflection comforts me.  This comfort is reinforced by my hagiography.  Each of the great Catholic reformers lived in a time where no one would have questioned their discouragement, their choice to distance themselves or to not get involved.  Despite their discouragement, they remained faithful, vibrant, alive in their faith.  They struggled.  They suffered.  With the grace of the Holy Spirit, they persevered.  Let us imitate them.  This is the beauty of their vocation as Catholics – lay or ordained.  Let us pray for each other, for the Church, for struggling, lapsed, and all Catholics and for our brothers and sisters in Christ in whom we find the most disappointment.

I rejoice when I remember the Lord perseveres in His love for me, despite what must be His profound disappointment in me.  Let us imitate Him in this, too, with each other.

Love,
Matthew

Apr 18 – Blessed James Oldo (1364-1404), Priest & Confessor

james_oldo

Another married saint, born to a well-to-do family at Lodi, Italy, James Oldo knew how to have a good time in his youth.  He was the life of the party.  Self-indulgent and pleased with himself and quite self-satisfied, James sought out the company of others like himself, eventually marrying his wife, Catharine, who also liked to have a good time and enjoyed being popular.  With their soon-to-be-born three children, all seemed well and the future seemed bright for the Oldos.  But, God had other plans for James and Catharine, who might not have agreed with God’s intentions for them, had they known.  Regardless of their would-be displeasure, God has a way of getting His way.

An outbreak of plague drove James, his wife and their three children out of their home and into the countryside. Despite those precautions, two of his daughters died from the plague.  Faced with his own mortality, James began to reevaluate.  Still, only slightly shaken from the death of his children, a traveling replica of the Holy Sepulchre came to town one day for veneration by the people.  Thinking it a huge joke, James decided he would test to see who was taller, him or Christ.

James climbed into the shrine and lay in the mock tomb, attempting to mock it.  We do not know exactly what happened next to James Oldo at that very moment, but we do know he had a profound instantaneous conversion experience, while laying where it was intended the Resurrected Body of the Lord was supposed to have lain, James emerged a changed man.

bl_james_oldo

James decided he would become a secular Franciscan.  His wife and his mother could not comprehend what had happened to their son and husband.  They opposed this new direction and radical change in the life of James.  That is, until James’ mother had a vision of the being before the judgment seat of God.  Both women became secular Franciscans along with their son and husband.  They converted the Oldo mansion into a chapel and center for prayer.  They spent the rest of their years working with the sick and the prisoners taken in the civil war that devastated Lodi.

James gave up his old lifestyle and did penance for his sins. His acts of penance became so severe that his bishop had to order him to eat at least three times a week.  He cared for a sick priest, who taught him Latin. Upon the death of Catharine, James himself became a priest. James became an excellent preacher whose life and words moved many to enter the religious life. He displayed the gift of prophecy by predicting wars and the timing of his own death. James focused on caring for the sick and for prisoners of war. He died in 1404 after contracting a disease from one of his patients.  When his body was moved seven years later, it was found to have suffered no corruption.

Love,
Matthew

Apr 21 – St Anselm, (1033-1109 AD), Doctor of the Church, Archbishop of Canterbury

Anselm

Anselm may, with some justice, be considered the first scholarly philosopher of Christian theology. In Anselm, one finds the special characteristics of scholastic theological thought: a recognition of the relationship of reason to revealed truth, and an attempt to elaborate a rational system of faith.

Anselm’s constant endeavor was to render the contents of the Christian consciousness clear to reason, and to develop the intelligible truths interwoven with the Christian belief.  The necessary preliminary for this is the possession of the Christian consciousness.

“Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam.
Nam et hoc credo, quia, nisi credidero, non intelligam.”

(“Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand.
For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.”)

Anselm also held that after the faith is held fast, the attempt must be made to demonstrate by reason the truth of what we believe.  Indeed, it is wrong not to do so:

“Negligentiae mihi esse videtur, si, postquam confirmati sumus in fide, non studemus quod credimus, intelligere.”

(“I hold it to be a failure in duty if after we have become steadfast in our faith we do not strive to understand what we believe.”)

The groundwork of Anselm’s theory of knowledge is contained in his tract “De Veritate” (lesser known than his seminal work “Curs Deus Homo”), in which, from the consideration of truth as in knowledge, in willing, and in things, he rises to the affirmation of an absolute truth, in which all other truth participates.

This absolute truth is God Himself, who is therefore the ultimate ground or principle both of things and of thought.  The notion of God comes thus into the foreground of the system; before all things it is necessary that it should be made clear to reason, that God should be demonstrated to have real existence.

“Kindest, gentlest, most serene Lord,
Will you not make it up to me for not seeing
The blessed incorruption of your flesh,
For not having kissed the place of the wounds
Where the nails pierced,
For not having sprinkled with tears of joy
The scars that prove the truth of your body?
Alas, Lord, alas, my soul.”

-St Anselm

“Little man, rise up! Flee your preoccupations for a little while. Hide yourself for a time from your turbulent thoughts. Cast aside, now, your heavy responsibilities and put off your burdensome business. Make a little space free for God; and rest for a little time in him.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts. Keep only thought of God, and thoughts that can aid you in seeking him. Close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek.

And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you.

Lord, if you are not here, where shall I seek you when you are absent? But if you are everywhere, why do I not see you present? Truly you dwell in unapproachable light. But where is unapproachable light, or how shall I come to it? Or who shall lead me to that light and into it, that I may see you in it? Again, by what signs, under what form, shall I seek you? I have never seen you, O Lord, my God; I do not know your face.

What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile far from you? What shall your servant do, anxious in his love of you, and cast out far from your presence? He is breathless with desire to see you, and your face is too far from him. He longs to come to you, and your dwelling-place is inaccessible. He is eager to find you, but does not know where. He desires to seek you, and does not know your face.

Lord, you are my God, and you are my Lord, and never have I seen you. You have made me and renewed me, you have given me all the good things that I have, and I have not yet met you. I was created to see you, and I have not yet done the thing for which I was made.

And as for you, Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, do you forget us; how long do you turn your face from us? When will you look upon us, and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes, and show us your face? When will you restore yourself to us?

Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, reveal yourself to us. Restore yourself to us, that it may be well with us, yourself, without whom it is so ill with us. Pity our toilings and strivings toward you since we can do nothing without you.

Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me when I seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you by loving you and love you in the act of finding you.”
-St Anselm, Proslogion

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St. Anselm meets the Countess Matilda—the defender of Pope St. Gregory VII—in the presence of Pope Urban II, by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli, (1610-1662).

I am desperate for your love, Lord. My heart is aflame with fervent passion. When I remember the good things you have done, my heart burns with desire to embrace you. I thirst for you; I hunger for you; I long for you; I sigh for you. I am jealous of your love. What shall I say to you? What can I do for you? Where shall I seek you? I am sick for your love. The joy of my heart turns to dust. My happy laughter is reduced to ashes. I want you. I hope for you. My soul is like a widow, bereft of you. Turn to me, and see my tears. Come now, Lord, and I will be comforted. Show me your face, and I shall be saved. Enter my room, and I shall be satisfied. Reveal your beauty, and my joy will be complete. -St Anselm of Canterbury

Prayer for the intercession of St Anselm

Father, You called St Anselm to study
and to teach the sublime truths You have revealed.

Let Your gift of Faith
come to the aid of our understanding
and open our hearts to Your Truth.
Amen.

Love,
Matthew