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Catholic Saints
From "Saint of the Day" Revised Edition, Leonard Foley, Ed.

July 31/Memorial: Ignatius of Loyola
Priest (1491 - 1556)

The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. (Addition of mine, from what I remember in Staggers' class: "He went through two surgeries on that leg, the second one because he wasn't happy with the results of the first, so he was bed-ridden for a good, long time. Also, because of all that surgery and the poor medical technology at the time, he would have a considerable difference in length between his two legs, and thus had a permanent, very noticable, limp.") Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, he whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Monserrat. He remained for almost a year at nearby Manresa, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper's hospice, often in a cave in the hills praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything - prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned.

It was during this year of conversion that he began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises.

He finally achieved his purpose of going to the Holy Land, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. He spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, he fell victim twice to the suspicions of the time, and was twice jailed for brief periods.

In 1534, at the age of 33, he and six others (one of whom was Francis Xavier) (A: "This was done in a very spooky set-up, something about in a cave with dead humans lying around at night or something...") vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general.

When companions were sent on various missions by the pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society.

Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity - the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam - "for the greater glory of God." In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the pope should send them for the salvation of souls. (A: "The so-called 'Black Pope,' the leader of the Jesuits in Rome at any time, is probably the second most powerful man in the Vatican.")

Comment: Luther nailed his theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517. Seventeen years later, Ignatius founded the Society that was to play so prominent a part in the Counter-Reformation. He was an implacable foe of Protestantism. Yet the seeds of ecumenism may be found in his words: "Great care must be taken to show forth orthodox truth in such a way that if any heretics happen to be present they may have an example of charity and Christian moderation. No hard words should be used nor any sort of contempt for their errors be shown." One of the greatest figures in the modern ecumenical movement was Cardinal Bea, a Jesuit.

Quote: Ignatius recommended this prayer to penitents: "Receive, Lord, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. You have given me all that I have, all that I am, and I surrender all to your divine will, that you dispose of me. Give me only your love and your grace. With this I am rich enough, and I have no more to ask."

May 25/Optional: Mary Magdalene de Pazzi
Virgin (1566-1607)

Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God and both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint."

She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566, when Florence was a great city and its first families had influence. The normal course would have been for Catherine de Pazzi to have married nobly and enjoyed comfort. But she hardly followed the normal course. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her First Communion at the then early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there.

Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstacsy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths.

As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May 27, 1584, through Pentecost week of 1585. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, Admonitions, is a collection of her sayins arising from her experiences in the formation of religious.

The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people.

It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to oprepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41 and was canonized in 1669. Over 350 years later, her body is uncorrupt.

Comment: Intimate union, God's gift to mystics, is a reminder to all of us of the eternal happiness of union he wishes to give us. The cause of mystical ecstasy in this life is the Holy Spirit, working through spiritual gifts. The ecstasy occurs because of the weakness of the body and its powers to withstand the divine illumination, but as the body is purified and strengthened, ecstasy no longer occurs. On various aspects of ecstasy, see Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "Sixth Mansion," Chapter 5, and John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 2:1-2.

Quote: There are many people today who see no purpose in suffering. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi discovered saving grace in suffering. When she entered religious life she was filled with a desire to suffer during the rest of her life for Christ. The more she suffered, the greater grew her desire for it. Her dying words to her fellow sisters were: "The last thing I ask of you - and IO ask it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ - is that you love him alone, that you trust implicitly in him and that you encourage one another continually to suffer for the love of him."

August 11/Memorial: Clare
Virgin (1194-1253)

One of the more sugary movies made about Francis of Assisi pictures Clare as a golden-haired beauty floating through sun-drenches fields, a sort of one-girl counterpart to the new Franciscan Order.

The beginning of her religious life was indeed movie material. Having refused to marry at 15, she was moved by the dynamic preaching of Francis. He became her lifelong friend and spiritual guide.

At 18, she escaped one night from her father's home, was met on the road by friars carrying torches, and in the poor little chapel called the Portiuncula received a rough woolen habit, exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it, and sacrificed the long tresses to Francis' scissors. He placed her in a Benedictine convent which her father and uncles immediately stormed in rage. She clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair and remained adamant.

End of movie material. Sixteen days later her sister Agnes joined her. Others came. They lived a simple life of great poverty, austerity and complete seclusion from the world, according to a rule Francis gave them as a Second Order (Poor Clares). At 21, Francis obliged her under obedience to accept the office of abbess in which she continued until her death.

The nuns went barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. (Later Clare, like Francis, persuaded her sisters to moderate this rigor: "Our bodies are not made of brass.") The greatest emphasis, of course, was on gospel poverty. They possessed no property, even in common, subsisting on daily contributions. When even the pope tried to persuade her to mitigate this practice, she showed her characteristic firmness: "I need to be absolved from my sins, but I do not wish to be absolved from the obligation of following Jesus Christ."

Contemporary accounts glow with admiration of her life in the convent of San Damiano in Assisi. She served the sick, waited on the table, washed the feet of the begging nuns. She came from prayer, it was said, with her face so shining it dazzled those about her. She suffered serious illness for the last 27 years of her life. Her influence was such that popes, cardinals and bishops often came to consult her - she herself never left the walls of San Damiano.

Francis always remained her great friend and inspiration. She was always obedient to his will and to the great ideal of gospel life which he was making real.

A well-known story concerns her prayer and trust. She had the Blessed Sacrament placed on the walls of the convent when it faced attack by invading Saracens. "Does it please you, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children I have nourished with your love? I beseech you, dear Lord, protect these whom I am now unable to protect." To her sisters she said, "Don't be afraid. Trust in Jesus." The Saracens fled.

Comment: The 41 years of Clare's religious life are poor movie material, but they are a scenario of sanctity: an indomitable resolve to lead the simple, literal gospel life as Francis taught her; courageous resistance to the ever-present pressure to dilute the ideal; a passion for poverty and humility; an ardent life of prayer; and a generous concern for her sisters.

Story: On her deathbed, Clare was heard to say to herself: "Go forth in peace, for you have followed the good road. Go forth without fear, for he who created you has made you holy, has always protected you, and loves you as a mother. Blessed be you, my God, for having created me."

September 29/Feast: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael
Archangels

Angels - messangers from God - appear frequently in Scripture, but only these three are named.

Michael appears in Daniel's vision as "the great prince" who defends Israel against its enemies; in the Book of Revelation, he leads God's armies to final victory over the forces of evil. Devotion to Michael is the oldest angelic devotion, rising in the East in the fourth century. The Church in the West began to observe a feast honoring Michael and the angels in the fifth century.

Gabriel also makes an appearance in Daniel's visions, announcing Michael's role in God's plan. His best-known appearance is in an encounter with a young Jewish girl named Mary, who consents to bear the Messiah.

Raphael's activity is confined to the Old Testament story of Tobit. There he appears to guide Tobit's son Tobiah through a series of fantastic adventures which lead to a threefold happy ending: Tobiah's marriage to Sarah, the healing of Tobit's blindness and the restoration of the family fortune.

The memorials of Gabriel (March 24) and Raphael (October 24) were added to the Roman calendar in 1921. The 1970 revision of the calendar joined their feasts to Michael's.

Comment: Each of these archangels performs a different mission in Scripture: Michael protects; Gabriel announces; Raphael guides. Earlier belief that inexplicable events were due to the actions of spiritual beings has given way to a scientific world-view and a different sense of cause and effect. Yet believers still experience God's protection, communication and guidance in ways which defy description. We cannot dismiss angels too lightly.

Quote: "The question of how many angels could dance on the point of a pin no longer is absurd in molecular physics, with its discovery of how broad that point actually is, and what part invisible electronic 'messengers' play in the dance of life" (Lewis Mumford).

October 1/Memorial: Theresa of the Child Jesus
Virgin (1873-1897)

"I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." These are the words of Theresa of the Child Jesus, a Carmelite nun who lived a cloistered life of obscurity in the convent of Lisieux, France. And her preference for hidden sacrifice did indeed convert souls. Few saints of God are more popular than this young nun. Her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, is read and loved throughout the world. Therese Martin entered the convent at the age of 15 and died in 1897 at the age of 24.

Life in a Carmelite content is indeed uneventful and consists mainly of prayer and hard domestic work. But Theresa possessed that holy insight that redeems the time, however dull that time may bee. She saw in quiet suffering redemptive suffering, suffering that was indeed her apostolate. Theresa said she came to the Carmel content "to save souls and pray for priests." And shortly before she died, she wrote: "I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth."

Comment: Theresa has much to teach our age of the image, the appearance, the "sell." We have become a dangerously self-conscious people, painfully aware of the need to be fulfilled, yet knowing we are not. Theresa, like so many saints, sought to serve others, to do something outside herself, to forget herself in quiet acts of love. She is one of the great examples of the gospel paradox that we gain our life by losing it, and that the seed that falls to the ground must die in order to live (see John 12).

Preoccupation with self separates modern men and women from God, from their fellow human beings, and ultimately from themselves. We must relearn to forget ourselves, to contemplate a God who draws us out of ourselves, and to serve others as the ultimate expression of selfhood. These are the insights of St. Theresa of LIsieux, and they are move valid today than ever.

Quote: All her life long St. Theresa suffered from illness. As a young girl she underwent a three-month malady characterized by violent crises, extended delirium and prolonged fainting spells. Afterwards she was ever frail and yet she worked hard in the laundry and refectory of the convent. Psychologically, she endured prolonged periods of darkness when the light of faith seemed all but extinguished. The last year of her life she slowly wasted away from tuberculosis. And yet shortly before her death on September 30 she murmured, "I would not suffer less."

Truly she was a valiant woman who did not whimper about her illnesses and anxieties. Here was a person who saw the power of love, that divine alchemy which can change everything, including weakness and illness, into service and redemptive power for others. Is it any wonder that she is patroness of the missions? Who else but those who embrace suffering with their love really convert the world?

October 4/Memorial: Francis of Assisi (1181?-1226)


Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the Gospel literally - not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a mite of self-importance.

Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer - lengthy and difficult - led him to a self-emptying life that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy."

From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman.

He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up every material thing he had, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious "nut," begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, bringing sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking.

But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (see Luke 9:1-3).

Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed tto support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly eemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity.

He was torn between a life devoted entirelly to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did manage to try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade.

During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44) he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side.

On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.

Comment: Francis of Assisi was poor only that he might be Christ-like. He loved nature because it was another manifestation of the beauty of God. He did great penance (apologizing to "Brother Body" later in life) that he might be totally disciplined for the will of God. His poverty had a sister, humility, by which he meant total dependence on the good God. But all this was, as it were, preliminary to the heart of his spirituality: living the gospel life, summed up in the charity of Jesus and perfectly expressed in the Eucharist.

Quote: "We adore you and we bless you, Lord Jesus Christ, here and in all the churches which are in the whole world, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world" (St. Francis).

October 16/Optional: Hedwig
Religious (1174?-1243)

Far too rarely do humans realize the possiblities of the wise use of earthly power and worldly wealth. Hedwig was one of the few. Born to nobility toward the close of the 12th century, she was given in marriage at an early age to Henry, Duke of Silesia. Through her persuasion and personal efforts, a large number of monastic institutions of both men and women were established in Silesia. Several hospitals, one for lepers, were likewise founded. She was personally a great force in establishing peace in the surrounding areas in those troubled times of power struggles. To her great sorrow, she was unable to prevent a pitched battle between the forces of two of her sons, one of whom was dissatisfied over the partition of estates that Henry had made between them.

After she and her husband had made a mutual vow of continence, she lived, for the most part, at the monastery at Trebnitz where, although not a formal member of the religious institute, she nevertheless participated in the religious exercises of the community. She died in 1243 and was buried at Trebnitz.

Comment: Whatever possessions we may be blessed with are not for our own needs or personal comfort alone, but are also to be used in the assistance of others. To whatever use these goods may be put, they should always promote, never impede, progress in God's love. It is true that earthly things of themselves in no way contradict God's love, but rather are evidences of it; still, we can become so interested in and enticed by what we sense that we become forgetful of the God from whom these blessings come.

Story: Hedwig sacrificed her wish to become a religious in later life in order that she might use earthly goods to help the poor. For herself, she chose poverty, distrusting the comforts her means might have afforded her and denying herself even such basic necessities as shoes in winter. She wore the religious habit, lived the life of a religious, but would not give up the administration of her possessions because she wanted these goods to help the poor. She lived her life and used whatever goods were hers so that she and those she was able to help might better appreciate the supernatural life of God's grace.

September 19/Optional: Januarius
Bishop and Martyr (d. 305?)

Nothing is known of Januarius's life. He is believed to have been martyred in the persecution of Diocletian of 305. Legend has it that after he was thrown to the bears in the amphitheater of Pozzuoli, he was beheaded, and his blood ultimately brought to Naples.

Comment: It is defined Catholic doctrine that miracles can happen and be recognized - hardly a mind-boggling statement to anyone who believes in God. Problems arise, however, when we must decide whether an occurrence is unexplainable in natural terms, or only unexplained. We do well to avoid an excessive credulity, which may be a sign of insecurity. On the other hand, when even scientists speak about "probabilities" rather than "laws" of nature, it is something less than imaginative for Christians to think that God is too "scientific" to work extraordinary miracles to wake us up to the everyday miracles of sparrows and dandelions, raindrops and snowflakes.

Quote: "A dark mass that half fills a hermetically sealed four-inch glass container, and is preserved in a double reliquary in the Naples cathedral as the blood of St. January, liquefies 18 times during the year... This phenomenon goes back to the 14th century... Tradition connects it with a certain Eusebia, who had allegedly collected the blood after the martyrdom... The hceremony accompanying the liquefaction is performed by holding the reliquary close to the altar on which is located what is believed to be the martyr's head. While the people pray, often tumultously, the priest turns the reliquary up and down in the full sight of the onlookers until the liquefaction takes place... Various experiments have been applied, but the phenomenon eludes natural explanation. There are, however, similar miraculous claims made for the blood of John the Baptist, Stephen, Pantaleon, Patricia, Nicholas of Tolentino and Aloysius Gonzaga - nearly all in the neighborhood of Naples" (Catholic Encyclopedia).

November 17/Memorial: Elizabeth of Hungary
Religious (1207-1231)

In her short life Elizabeth manifested such great love for the poor and suffering that she has become the patroness of Catholic charities and of the Franciscan Third Order. The daughter of the king of Hungary, Elizabeth chose a life of penance and asceticism when a life of leisure and luxury could easily have been hers. This choice endeared her in the hearts of the common people throughout Europe.

At the age of 14 Elizabeth was married to Louis of Thuringia (a German principality), whom she deeply loved; she bore three children. Under the spiritual direction of a Franciscan friar, she led a life of prayer, sacrifice and service to the poor and sick. Seeking to become one with the poor, she wore simple clothing. Daily she would take bread to hundreds of the poorest in the land, who came to her gate.

After six years of marriage, her husband died in the Crusades, and she was grief-stricken. Her husband's family looked upon her as squandering the royal purse, and mistreated her, finally throwing her out of the palace. The return of her husband's allies from the Crusades resulted in her being reinstated, since her son was legal heir to the throne.

In 1228 Elizabeth joined the Third Order of St. Francis, spending the remaining few years of her life caring for the poor in a hospital which she founded in honor of St. Francis. Elizabeth's health declined, and she died before her 24th birthday in 1231. Her great popularity resulted in her canonization four years later.

Comment: Elizabeth understood well the lesson Jesus taught when he washed his disciples' feet at the Last Supper: The Christian must be one who serves the humblest needs of others, even if one serves from an exalted position. Of royal blood, Elizabeth could have lorded it over her subjects. Yet she served them with such a loving heart that her brief life won for her a special place in the hearts of many. Elizabeth is also an example to us in her following the guidance of a spiritual director. Growth in the spiritual life is a difficult process. We can play games very easily if we don't have someone to challenge us or to share experiences so as to help us avoid pitfalls.

Quote: "In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of absolutely every person, and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord: 'As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me' (Matthew 15:40)" (The Church in the Modern World, 27).