Category Archives: Saints

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 Her biographer also records that she was told by Christ to leave her withdrawn life and enter the public life of the world.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

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-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.

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-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

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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.

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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

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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

Jan 20 – St Sebastian (d. 288 AD), Martyr, Patron of Athletes

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-St Sebastian, by Guido Reni, 1618, oil on canvas, 170 x 133 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid

Born in Narbonne, Gaul (modern day France), Sebastian was the son of a wealthy Roman family. He was educated in Milan and became an officer of the Imperial Roman army.  As a favorite of the Emperor, Diocletian, he was appointed captain of the Praetorian guard, the Emperor’s personal soldiers.

During Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians, Sebastian visited them in prison, bringing supplies and comfort. He was reported to have healed the wife of a brother soldier by making the Sign of the Cross over her. He converted soldiers and a governor.

In 288 AD, charged as a Christian, Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows, and left for dead. He survived, recovered, and returned to preach to Diocletian. The emperor then had him beaten to death.  His body was thrown into a sewer.

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 -Lodovico Carracci’s rare treatment of the subject of St. Sebastian Thrown into the Cloaca Maxima (1612)

Prayer

Dear Commander at the Roman Emperor’s court, you chose to be also a soldier of Christ and dared to spread faith in the King of Kings – for which you were condemned to die. Your body, however, proved athletically strong and the executing arrows extremely weak. So another means to kill you was chosen and you gave your life to the Lord. May athletes be always as strong in their faith as their Patron Saint so clearly was in his. Amen.

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-Saint Sebastian by El Greco (1578) in Cathedral of San Antolín, Palencia

Love,
Matthew

Mar 23 – St Turibius of Mongrovejo (1538-1606), Archbishop & Great Catholic Reformer

One of the first saints of the New World, the Spanish bishop St. Turibius of Mongrovejo (1538-1606) was born in Mayorga, Spain, and educated as a lawyer. He was such a brilliant scholar that he became professor of law at the highly reputed University of Salamanca and eventually became chief judge, the Grand Inquisitor, of the Inquisition at Granada under King Phillip II of Spain.

In 1580 the archbishopric of Lima, capital of Spain’s colony in Peru, became vacant. Religious and political leaders agreed that Turibius’ holiness made him the ideal choice for this position, even though he protested that, as a layman, he was ineligible. It was felt he was the one person with the strength of character and holiness of spirit to heal the scandals that had infected that area.  Turibius cited all the canons that forbade giving laymen ecclesiastical dignities.  His protests were overruled; he was ordained a priest and bishop, and then sent to Peru, where he found colonialism at its worst. The Spanish conquerors were guilty of every sort of oppression of the native population. Abuses among the clergy were flagrant, and he devoted his energies (and suffering) to this area first.

The 450K sq km (180K sq mi) diocese of Lima was geographically isolated and morally lax.  He began the long and arduous visitation of an immense archdiocese, studying the language, staying two or three days in each place, often with neither bed nor food. In all he would make three visitations of his diocese, the first lasting seven years.  Turibius made a point of learning Native American languages; this helped him teach and minister to his people, and also made him a very successful missionary.

He confessed every morning to his chaplain, and celebrated Mass with intense fervor. Among those to whom he gave the Sacrament of Confirmation was St. Rose of Lima, and possibly St. Martin de Porres. After 1590 he had the help of another great missionary, St. Francis Solanus.

As bishop, he denounced exploitation of Native Americans by Spanish nobles and even clergy; he imposed many reforms, in spite of considerable opposition. He built roads, founded schools, churches, hospitals, and convents.  Turibius organized a seminary in 1591–the first in the Western hemisphere–and his pastoral example inspired reforms in other dioceses under Spanish administration. He served as Archbishop of Lima for twenty-six years, dying in 1606.

“Time is not our own, and we must give a strict account of it.”
-St Turibius of Mongrovejo

Prayer

Lord, through the apostolic work of Saint Turibius
and his unwavering love of truth,
You helped Your church to grow.
May Your chosen people continue to grow
in faith and holiness.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.

 
Love,
Matthew

Mar 6 – St Colette of Corbie, PCC, (1381-1447), Great Catholic Reformer & Healer of the Great Western Schism

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Colette, baptised Nicolette Boilet, was born in Corbie, France.  A carpenter’s daughter whose parents were near 60 at her birth. Colette was orphaned at age 17, and left in the care of a Benedictine abbot. Her guardian wanted her to marry, but Colette was drawn to religious life. She initially tried to join the Beguines and Benedictines, but failed in her vocation, feeling the life of those communities not strict enough to her liking.

At 21 she began to follow the Third Order Rule of the Franciscans and became an anchoress, a woman walled into a room whose only opening was a window into a church.

She had visions in which Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) ordered her to restore the Rule of Saint Clare to its original severity. When she hesitated, she was struck blind for three days and mute for three more; she saw this as a sign to take action.  After four years of prayer and penance in this cell, she left it.

Colette began her reform during the time of the Great Western Schism (1378-1417) when three men claimed to be pope and thus divided Western Christianity. The 15th century in general was a very difficult one for the Western Church. Abuses long neglected cost the Church dearly in the following century; the prayers of Colette and her followers may have lessened the Church’s troubles in the 16th century. In any case, Colette’s reform indicated the entire Church’s need to follow Christ more closely.

Colette tried to follow her mission by explaining it, but had no success. Realizing she needed more authority behind her words, she walked to Nice, France, barefoot and clothed in a habit of patches, to meet Peter de Luna, acknowledged by the French as the schismatic Pope Benedict XIII. He professed her a Poor Clare, and was so impressed that he made her superioress of all convents of Minoresses that she might reform or found, and a missioner to Franciscan friars and tertiaries.

She travelled from convent to convent, meeting opposition, abuse, slander, and was even accused of sorcery. Eventually she made some progress, especially in Savoy, where her reform gained sympathizers and recruits. This reform passed to Burgundy in France, Flanders in Belgium and Spain.

Colette helped Saint Vincent Ferrer, O.P. heal the papal schism. She founded seventeen convents; one branch of the Poor Clares is still known as the Colettines.  Her sisters were known for their poverty—they rejected any fixed income—and for their perpetual fast. Colette’s reform movement spread to other countries and is still thriving today.

Colette was known for a deep devotion to Christ’s Passion with an appreciation and care for animals. Colette fasted every Friday, meditating on the Passion. After receiving Holy Communion, she would fall into ecstasies for hours. She foretold the date of her own death.  Colette was canonized in 1807.

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In her spiritual testament, Colette told her sisters: “We must faithfully keep what we have promised. If through human weakness we fail, we must always without delay arise again by means of holy penance, and give our attention to leading a good life and to dying a holy death. May the Father of all mercy, the Son by His Holy Passion, and the Holy Spirit, source of peace, sweetness and love, fill us with their consolation. Amen.”

Love,
Matthew

Mar 7: Sts Perpetua & Felicity (181-203 AD), Martyrs

It’s long, but it’s Lent.  I LOOOVE strong women; and in my life, have been so impressed with the majority of the opposite sex I have encountered, I, conservative in many other respects, consider myself a moderate feminist.  Women, I believe, are the backbone of civilization, and have been and continue to be its salvation on many occasions, and certainly instrumental to the Lord and His Work, then and now, as scripture and our own experience clearly tells us.

No saints were more universally honored in the early Church than Perpetua & Felicity.  They are honored to this day by Christians, partly due to the fact that the account of their martyrdom is so precise.  We know the details of Perpetua’s and Felicity’s imprisonment because Perpetua kept a diary which is contained in the Vatican archives to this day.

Vivia Perpetua (“life eternal”) was a noblewoman in the North African city of Carthage, in modern Tunisia.  She was the 22 year old wife of a man in a good position in the city and the mother of an infant boy.  She, her mother and two brothers were all Christians, but her father was a pagan.

Felicity (“happiness/bliss”) was a slavewoman who accepted Christianity.  When she was imprisoned she was an expectant mother.  We don’t know as much about her as we do about Perpetua and only what was in Perpetua’s diary.

Perpetua and Felicity were among a group of five Christians rounded up in Carthage on the orders of the Emperor, Septimius Severus.  The others were two free men, Saturnius and Secundulus, and a slave, Revocatus.  They were later joined by another man, Saturus, who was apparently their instructor in the faith, their catechist, and who chose to share their punishment.  At first they were lodged in a private house under heavy guard, but later were moved to a prison.

Perpetua wrote in her diary that her father tried to save her life by urging her to renounce Christianity.  “I said to my father, ‘Do you see this vessel – water pot or whatever it may be?  Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied.  ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am – a Christian.’  Then my father, provoked by the word ‘Christian,’ threw himself on me as if he would pluck out my eyes, but he only shook me, and in fact was vanquished…Then I thanked God for the relief of being, for a few days, parted from my father.”

During her imprisonment, Perpetua’s greatest concern was for her baby.  She wrote:  “A few days later we were lodged in the prison, and I was much frightened, because I had never known such darkness.  What a day of horror!  Terrible heat, owing to the crowds (imprisoned with us)!  Rough treatment by the soldiers!  To crown all I was tormented with anxiety for my baby.  But Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons, who ministered to us, paid for us (by bribing the guards) to be moved for a few hours to a better part of the prison and we obtained some relief.”

Then Perpetua said her baby was brought to her and she nursed it, “for already he was faint for want of food.”  She wrote that she spoke to her mother about her baby and commended her son to her and to her brother.  “For many days I suffered such anxieties, but I obtained leave for my child to remain in prison with me, and when relieved of my trouble and distress for him, I quickly recovered my health.  My prison suddenly became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.”

By this time Perpetua and her fellow prisoners were determined that they would suffer death before they would renounce their faith.  However, Perpetua’s father did not give up his attempts to save her life.  “Daughter,” he said, “pity my white hairs!  Pity your father, if I deserve you should call me father, if I have loved you more than your brothers!  Make me not a reproach to mankind!  Look on your mother and your mother’s sister, look on your son who cannot live after you are gone.  Forget your pride; do not make us all wretched!  None of us will ever speak freely again if calamity strikes you.”  Perpetua wrote in her diary in response,”He alone of all my kindred would not have joy at my martyrdom.”

The next day, Perpetua’s trial began at the forum in Carthage.  The prisoners were placed on a platform.  The judge was Hilarion, procurator of the province.  The others were questioned first and all confessed their faith.

When it was Perpetua’s turn, her father suddenly appeared with her infant son.  He implored his daughter to “have pity on the child.”  Then Hilarion joined with her father and said, “Spare your father’s white hairs.  Spare the tender years of your child.  Offer sacrifice for the prosperity of the emperor.”

Perpetua replied, “No!”

Hilarion asked, “Are you a Christian?”

Pepetua answered him, “Yes, I am.”

At that her father ran up on the platform and tried to drag her down the steps, but Hilarion gave the order that he should be beaten off.  One of the guards struck him with a rod.

Perpetua said, “I felt as much as if I myself had been struck, so deeply did I grieve to see my father treated thus in his old age.”

Hilarion then passed sentence, condemning them to the wild beasts.  He had Saturus, Saturninus and Revocatus scourged (Secundulus seems to have died in prison before the trial), and Perpetua and Felicity beaten on the face.

Hilarion then ordered that they be kept for the gladitorial shows which were to be given for the soldiers on the birthday festival of Geta, the young prince and son of the Emperor.  The prisoners returned to their cells, rejoicing.

The attitude of the prisoners resulted in many conversions.  One of them was their jailer, Pudens, who did everything he could for them.  The day before the games, they were given the usual last meal, which the prisoners tried to make an “agape/ ἀγάπη”(Greek for love, used by Christians to denote Christian love, in contrast to “eros/ ἔρως”, or “philia/ φιλία”) meal, or Eucharistic meal.  They sang psalms, prayed and spoke to those around them of the judgments of God and of their own joy in their sufferings.  (Acts 5:41-42)

On the day of their martyrdom, they marched from their cells to the amphitheater with cheerful looks and graceful bearing.  The three men walked ahead and Perpetua and Felicity followed them, walking side by side, the noblewoman and the slave.  At the gates of the amphitheater the attendants tried to force the men to put on the robes of the priests of Saturn and the women the dress symbolic of the goddess Ceres, but they all resisted and the officer allowed them to enter the arena clad as they were.

As they entered the arena, Perpetua was singing.  The three men called out warnings of the coming vengeance of God to the bystanders and to Hilarion, as they walked beneath his balcony.

Perpetua was the first to be attacked.  When she looked up, she saw Felicity on the ground and reached out her hand to lift her up.  Both stood up, and were then ordered to the gate called Sanavaria (where those not killed by the beasts were executed by the gladiators).  There Perpetua was welcomed by a catechumen called Rusticus.  Perpetua, rousing herself as if from sleep (she had been deeply in spiritual ecstasy), began to look around.  To everyone’s amazement, she said:  ‘When are we going to be led to the beasts?’  When she heard that it had already happened, she at first did not believe it until she saw the marks of violence on her body and clothing.

Then she beckoned to her brother and the catechumen, and addressed them in these words:  ‘Stand firm in faith, love one another and do not be tempted to do anything wrong because of our suffering.’

Saturus, too, in another gate, encouraged the soldier Pudens, saying:  “Here I am, and just as I thought and foretold I have not yet felt any wild beast.  Now believe with your whole heart…Right at the end of the games, when Saturus was thrown to the leopard, he was in fact covered with so much blood from one bite, that the crowd in the amphitheater cried out to him, “Washed and saved!  Washed and saved!”  Then Saturus said to Pudens, “Farewell, and remember your faith as well as me; do not let these things frighten you; let them rather strengthen you.”  At that moment, Saturus asked Pudens for the ring from Pudens’ finger.  Soaking it in his wound, he returned it Pudens as a remembrance and a keepsake.

The mortally wounded martyrs were led to the middle of the amphitheater to end their suffering and receive the death blow from the gladiators.  They gave each other the kiss of peace.  The gladiator ordered to kill Perpetua was young and inexperienced.  Perpetua steadied his shaking hand and guided his sword to her throat.


Before such a woman, the unclean spirit trembles.

 
 

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Prayer to Sts Perpetua & Felicity
Father,
Your love gave the Saints Perpetua and Felicity
courage to suffer a cruel martyrdom.
By their prayers, help us to grow in love of You.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Love,
Matthew