Great saints were made through the reading of spiritual books! In the 1300s, an Italian merchant named John Colombino was rich, short-tempered, unhappily married, led a worldly, covetuous, and an irreligious life. He went home one day from the warehouse more hungry than usual; and because his dinner was a little delayed, he lost his temper and abused both his wife and servant, saying he was in a hurry to go back to his counting-house. He began to rage at her, but she responded by saying, “You have too much money and spend too little, John, why are you putting yourself out in this way? While I get things ready, take this book and read a little;” so saying, she gave him a volume containing the Lives of the Saints.
John, somewhat nettled, threw the book on the floor, saying, “All this is just fairy tales!” and went to sulk in the corner. But as dinner was delayed even longer, out of boredom he picked up the book and began to read the life of a saint. He was immediately drawn in, and in a couple minutes when dinner was ready, his wife called him but he responded, “No, no, let me finish reading.”
St Mary of Egypt
Saint Mary of Egypt (344-421 AD) was born in the Province of Egypt, and at the age of twelve she ran away from her parents to the city of Alexandria. Here she lived an extremely dissolute life. She often refused the money offered for her sexual favors, as she was driven “by an insatiable and an irrepressible passion”, and that she mainly lived by begging, supplemented by spinning flax.
After seventeen years of this lifestyle, she traveled to Jerusalem for the Great Feasts of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. She undertook the journey as a sort of “anti-pilgrimage”, stating that she hoped to find in the pilgrim crowds at Jerusalem even more partners in her lust. She paid for her passage by offering sexual favors to other pilgrims, and she continued her habitual lifestyle for a short time in Jerusalem. When she tried to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the celebration, she was barred from doing so by an unseen force. Realizing that this was because of her impurity, she was struck with remorse, and upon seeing an icon of the Virgin Mary outside the church, she prayed for forgiveness and promised to give up the world. Then she attempted again to enter the church, and this time was permitted in. After venerating the relic of the true cross, she returned to the icon to give thanks, and heard a voice telling her, “If you cross the Jordan, you will find glorious rest.” She immediately went to the monastery of Saint John the Baptist on the bank of the River Jordan, where she received absolution and afterwards Holy Communion. The next morning, she crossed the Jordan and retired to the desert to live the rest of her life as a hermit in penitence. She took with her only three loaves of bread, and once they were gone, lived only on what she could find in the wilderness.
There are a number of churches or chapels dedicated to Saint Mary of Egypt, among them:
- Temple of Portunus (Santa Maria Egiziaca, Rome)
- Church of Santa Maria Egiziaca a Forcella, Naples
- Church of Santa Maria Egiziaca a Pizzofalcone, Naples
- Chapel in Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, commemorating the site of her conversion.
”You think of nothing but legends; I have the warehouse to go to.” Presently however his conscience began to prick him; he took the book from the ground, and opening it, lighted upon the life of St. Mary of Egypt. Shortly afterwards his wife called him to dinner: “wait awhile,” replied John, forgetting his hunger; and on he went. The legend was long, but, as his biographer observes, there was a celestial melody in it: time sped, his wife looked at him; John was still reading, and what was more, grace was working. There was conversion in the legend of the penitent of Egypt; the story softened his heart; it was his thought by day, and his dream by night; the churlish Giovanni began to give alms, and always just double of what was asked of him; and to that reading was owing the outburst of the love of God which the Blessed Giovanni spread with his “Poor Sheep of Jesus,” the Gesuati, from one end of Italy to the other, from the Pope at Viterbo down to the swine-herd of Sienna. He visited hospitals, tended the sick, and made large donations to the poor. After illness, he made his house the refuge of the needy and the suffering, washing their feet with his own hands. The name Jesuati was given to Colombini and his disciples from the habit of calling loudly on the name of Jesus at the beginning and end of their ecstatic sermons. The senate banished Colombini from Siena for “imparting foolish ideas to the young men of the city”, and he continued his mission in Arezzo and other places, only to be honourably recalled home on the outbreak of the bubonic plague. He was then dedicated to nursing and burying the victims of the rampant bubonic plague.
St John of Colombino, pray for us, that we may be changed in the way you were!!
I know my Redeemer Lives!!! (Job 19:25-27)