The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

August 29

Today is the feast day of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist. 

Saint John the Baptist was called by God to be the precursor of His divine Son. In order to preserve his innocence spotless, and to improve upon the extraordinary graces which he had received in his earliest infancy, he was directed by the Holy Spirit to lead an austere and contemplative life in the wilderness. There he devoted himself to the continuous exercise of devout prayer and penance.

The tradition is that after his beheading the disciples of John the Baptist took his body and buried it at Sebaste (Samaria) near modern-day Nablus in the West Bank. His relics were certainly honoured there at the middle of the fourth century and although the tomb was desecrated by Julian the Apostate, it was restored and still even today is housed in the Nabi Yahya Mosque (“John the Baptist Mosque”) at that same place.  The story of St John’s  beheading is told in Mark 6:14-29 in the context of Herod hearing about Jesus and the miraculous powers at work in him. Herod feared that this Jesus was John whom he had beheaded risen from the dead.

By Abbot Gueranger

At that time, Herod sent and apprehended John, and bound him in prison, because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. For John had said to Herod: “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.” But Herodias laid snares for him, and would have liked to put him to death, but she could not. For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and protected him; and when he heard him talk, he did many things, and he liked to hear him. And a favorable day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet to the officials, tribunes and chief men of Galilee. And Herodias’ own daughter having come in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask of me what thou willest, and I will give it to thee.” And he swore to her, “Whatever thou dost ask, I will give thee, even though it be the half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “What am I to ask for?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in at once with haste to the king, and asked, saying, “I want thee right away to give me on a dish the head of John the Baptist.” And grieved as he was, the king, because of his oath, and his guests, was unwilling to dis-please her. But send-ing an executioner, he commanded that his head be brought on a dish, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. And his disciples, hearing of it, came and took away his body, and laid it in a tomb (Mark 6: 17-29).

Thus died the greatest of them that are born of women: without witnesses, the prisoner of a petty tyrant, the victim of the vilest passions, the wages of a dancing girl! How beautiful, as Saint John Chrysostom remarks, is this liberty of speech, when it is truly the liberty of God’s Word, when it is an echo of Heaven’s language! Then indeed it is a stumbling-block to tyranny, the safeguard of the world and of God’s rights, the bulwark of a nation’s honor as well as of its temporal and eternal interests. Death has no power over it. To the weak murderer of Saint John the Baptist, and to all who would imitate him to the end of time, a thousand tongues, instead of one, repeat in all languages and in all places: It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.

“O great and admirable mystery!” cries out Saint Augustine. “He must increase, but I must decrease, said John, said the voice which personified all the voices that had gone before announcing the Father’s Word Incarnate in His Christ. Every word, in that it signifies something, in that it is an idea, an internal word, is independent of the number of syllables, of the various letters and sounds; it remains unchangeable in the heart that conceives it, however numerous may be the words that give it outward existence, the voices that utter it, the languages, Greek, Latin and the rest, into which it may be translated. To him who knows the word, expressions and voices are useless. The prophets were voices, the Apostles were voices; voices are in the psalms, voices in the Gospel. But let the Word come, the Word Who was in the beginning, the Word Who was with God, the Word Who was God; when we shall see Him as He is, shall we hear the Gospel repeated? Shall we listen to the prophets? Shall we read the Epistles of the Apostles? The voice fails where the Word increases… Not that in Himself the Word can either diminish or increase. But He is said to grow in us, when we grow in Him. To him, then, who draws near to Christ, to him who makes progress in the contemplation of wisdom, words are of little use; of necessity they tend to fail altogether. Thus the ministry of the voice falls short in proportion as the soul progresses towards the Word; it is thus that Christ must increase and John decrease. The same is indicated by the beheading of John, and the exaltation of Christ upon the Cross; as it had already been shown by their birthdays: for, from the birth of John the days begin to shorten, and from the birth of Our Lord they begin to grow longer.”

The Feast of the Beheading of Saint John may be considered as one of the landmarks of the liturgical year. With the Greeks it was a holyday of obligation. Its great antiquity in the Latin Rite is evidenced by the mention made of it in the martyrology called Saint Jerome’s, and by the place it occupies in the Gelasian and Gregorian sacramentaries. The Precursor’s blessed death took place around the feast of the Pasch; but, that it might be more freely celebrated, this day was chosen, whereon his sacred head was discovered at Emesa.

The vengeance of God fell heavily upon Herod Antipas. Josephus relates how he was overcome by the Arabian Aretas, whose daughter he had repudiated in order to follow his wicked passions; and the Jews attributed the defeat to the murder of Saint John. Herod was deposed by Rome from his tetrarchate, and banished to Lyons in Gaul, where the ambitious Herodias shared his disgrace. As to her dancing daughter Salome, there is a tradition gathered from ancient authors, that, having gone out one winter day to dance upon a frozen river, she fell through into the water; the ice, immediately closing round her neck, cut off her head, which bounded upon the surface, thus continuing for some moments the dance of death.

From Macherontis, beyond the Jordan, where their master had suffered martyrdom, Saint John’s disciples carried his body to Samaria, out of the territory of Antipas; it was necessary to save it from the profanations of Herodias, who had not spared his august head. The wretched woman did not think her vengeance complete, till she had pierced with a hairpin the tongue that had not feared to utter her shame. In the reign of Julian the Apostate, the pagans wished to complete the work of Herodias by opening the Saint’s tomb at Samaria, in order to burn and scatter his remains. But the empty sepulcher continued to be a terror to the demons, as Saint Paula attested with deep emotion a few years later. Moreover, some of the precious relics were saved, and dispersed throughout the East. Later on, especially at the time of the Crusades, they were brought into the West, where many churches glory in possessing them. (2, 5)

Image: Crop of The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist, artist: Caravaggio, circa 1608. (7)

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Saint Moses the Ethiopian, Confessor, Martyr

August 28

Today is the feast day of Saint Moses the Ethiopian .  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Moses was born into slavery to an Egyptian official’s family. However, as a young boy he began stealing things from the home, a habit that eventually grew as the child grew.  Instead of having the slave brought up on charges, Moses was dismissed from the house.  He became the leader of a gang of bandits who roamed the Nile Valley spreading terror and violence. He was a large, imposing figure. On one occasion, a barking dog prevented Moses from carrying out a robbery, so he swore vengeance on the owner. Weapons in his mouth, Moses swam the river toward the owner’s hut. The owner, again alerted, hid, and the frustrated Moses took some of his sheep to slaughter. Attempting to hide from local authorities, he took shelter with some monks in a colony in the desert of Scete, near Alexandria (see below).

The conversion of St. Moses is hidden from history.  It seems likely that St. Moses was fleeing from the law and subsequently took cover in the desert, only to stumble upon a community or hermitage of desert monks. The dedication of their lives, as well as their peace and contentment, influenced Moses deeply. He soon gave up his old way of life and joined the monastic community at Scete.

He had a rather difficult time adjusting to regular monastic discipline. His flair for adventure remained with him. Attacked by a group of robbers in his desert cell, Moses fought back, overpowered the intruders, and dragged them to the chapel where the other monks were at prayer. He told the brothers that he didn’t think it Christian to hurt the robbers and asked what he should do with them. The overwhelmed robbers repented, were converted, and themselves joined the community.

The stories of St. Moses as a young monk detail the chronicles of a slowly reformed soul—demonstrating how a man prone to violence, with an enormous temper could gradually become one of the most serene, calm and austere of the desert fathers, well-respected for his peaceable advice and holy counsel. St. Moses once plunging into despair over his own lack of self-control during the early days in the monastery sought counsel from his abbot, St. Isidore.  Upon hearing his complaint about his own spiritual progress, St. Isidore took St. Moses to the rooftop of the house just before sunrise.  As the sun broke on the horizon, St. Isidore said, “See!  The light only gradually drives away the darkness.  So it is with the soul.”

Moses proved to be effective as a prophetic spiritual leader. The abbot ordered the brothers to fast during a particular week. Some brothers came to Moses, and he prepared a meal for them. Neighboring monks reported to the abbot that Moses was breaking the fast. When they came to confront Moses, they changed their minds, saying “You did not keep a human commandment, but it was so that you might keep the divine commandment of hospitality.” Some see in this account one of the earliest allusions to the Paschal fast, which developed at this time.

Once St. Moses did master his own soul, however, the Archbishop of Alexandria heard of his soul’s journey toward the virtues and ordained him a priest.  Eventually, St. Moses was a respected counselor, teacher and confessor among the desert fathers and desert monks.  During a raid by Berbers against many of the desert monasteries and hermitages in the early 5th Century, St. Moses and seven other monks were slaughtered.  The year was 405; St. Moses was 75 years old.

Saint Moses relics at the Church of Al Adra (the Virgin). Canonized: Pre-Congregation.

Image: Crop of St. Moses the Ethiopian, (4)

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Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

August 28

Today is the feast day of Saint Augustine.  Ora pro nobis.

See our story:

Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), bishop, confessor, Doctor of the Church, and one of the Four Great Fathers of the Latin Church. He is at times referred to as the Doctor of Grace. One of the most influential thinkers and writers of the Church, Augustine’s legacy in written works numbers at over 100 books, and 5,000,000 words! Within those words, the philosophy and virtues of our faith are revealed, inspiring us to a closer relationship with the Lord. The conversion of Saint Augustine, following years of sinful living, reminds us that we, too, are called to daily conversion… and that it is never too late to fully turn to the Lord!

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

St. Augustine, that great Doctor of the Church, who stands far above all human praise, was born at Tagaste, in Africa, in the year 354. His father, Patricius, was a heathen; his mother, Monica, a Christian, who is honored as a Saint on the 4th of May. Nature had bestowed upon Augustine the most liberal gifts, and his talents were such as to fit him for the study of all the sciences. He excelled, however, in oratory, to which he early evinced great inclination. His father had educated him in paganism, but his pious mother endeavored to convert him to Christianity. One day, when suffering excessively from cramps, and supposing that he was about to die, he desired to be baptized; but no sooner had his pains ceased than he changed his mind.

When at Carthage, where he studied rhetoric, he was seduced by the Manichees, and became an adherent to their heresy. From his own account, he spent his early youth in great frivolity, and became so great a slave to impurity, that he feared he never should be able to abstain from it. To this horrible vice he was brought, as he wrote himself, by idleness, gaming, the carelessness of his father, who was not strict enough with him, immoral plays which he frequented, and bad company. His pious mother left nothing undone to correct his conduct; she exhorted him, and punished him, but her efforts were entirely fruitless. He continued in this life of sin and shame for nine years, during which St. Monica prayed, with floods of tears, to the Almighty, for her son’s salvation.

God, at length, granted her petition. Augustine began to be displeased with the Manichean heresy, as he perceived it had no foundation. His unchaste life also began to disgust him more and more, and he sought to free himself by changing his residence. He therefore left Carthage, where, after finishing the study of rhetoric, he had taught with great success; and, against the will of his mother, he went to Rome. There he became dangerously sick, and he attributed his recovery to the prayers of his mother. After having made himself famous in Rome by his eloquence, he was sent, by the Roman prefect Symmachus, to Milan, where the emperor desired to establish an able master of rhetoric.

At that period, the holy bishop St. Ambrose, resided at Milan, and was greatly celebrated on account of his holiness and eloquence. Augustine sought his acquaintance, and was often present at his discourses, although it was not from any desire to learn, but simply from curiosity. He desired to become acquainted with the style of the bishop, and to learn whether he truly deserved the great reputation he enjoyed on account of his eloquence. This curiosity, however, led him eventually to the truth; for, while he intended only to listen to the style in which the Saint expressed himself, he heard, at the same time, how well founded his teachings were, and became thoroughly convinced of the falsity of the Manichean heresy. But notwithstanding this, he could not persuade himself to accept the truth of the Catholic Church; his unchaste desires barred the way. He admired the pure life of St. Ambrose, but feared his own inability to follow such an example.

Meanwhile, St. Monica, induced by pious solicitude for her son, had come to Milan. Repairing to St. Ambrose, she made him acquainted with her son’s spiritual condition, and begged him, with tearful eyes, to use all his endeavors to convert him. The holy bishop, deeply touched by the mother’s devotion, consoled her with the hope that her son would surely soon come to the knowledge of the ill use he made of his life, and would reform, which opinion of the Saint was verified. Simplician, a venerable and pious monk, one day accidentally related to Augustine, whose mind was in a very unsettled state, that Victorinus, the most celebrated orator at Rome, was as old as he was at that time, when he received holy baptism. Pontician, a friend and compatriot of Augustine, told him one day, of the conversion of two imperial courtiers who, after reading the life of St. Antony, immediately reformed, left the court and retired from the world, to live as hermits in solitude.

These, and other facts considerably moved the heart of Augustine, and he began to think of changing his conduct. His reason convinced him of its necessity, but he was restrained by his evil habits. Day after day he formed the resolution to change his life, but imaginary causes withheld him, and he deferred from one time to another. One day, when he had struggled severely with himself, on the one hand, told by evil habit, that it would be impossible for him to live chastely, while on the other, the virtue of chastity pointed to so many chaste youths and maidens, men and widows, saying to him: “And are you not able to do what these and those are doing!” he wept bitterly, and walking into the garden, he sat down under a fig-tree and sighed in deep grief to God; “O Lord, how long? Tomorrow, tomorrow? Why do I not at once put an end to this miserable existence?”

When, exhausted with the sorrow within his soul, he was thus sitting there, he heard a voice saying to him; “Take up and read! take up and read!” Full of awe, he arose, took up the nearest book, and opening it, he read the words of St. Paul: “Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chamberings and impurities, not in strife and envy, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences.” It needed no more to calm the storm in Augustine’s heart and end his inner strife. His mind was suddenly changed, and he determined, not only to lead a chaste life, but also to abandon heresy and unite himself to the true faith by receiving holy baptism. He immediately imparted his resolution to his pious mother, so devoted to his spiritual welfare, and to St. Ambrose, and after careful preparation, he received holy baptism, on Easter Eve, in the 33d year of his age. It is believed that the well-known hymn, “We praise Thee, O Lord! ” was composed by St. Ambrose and the newly baptized Augustine, and that it was sung on this occasion for the first time, to give thanks to the Almighty for the grace conferred.

The joy of St. Ambrose and of St. Monica, at this conversion, can better be imagined than described. I will only say this; as the pious mother had shed floods of tears, in the bitterness of her sorrow, so she wept tears of joy, when at last the event took place to which she had so long looked forward. Soon after St. Augustine had been baptized, he desired to return to his home, to live only for his salvation. He set out accompanied by his holy mother, who, when they had reached Ostia, became sick and ended her holy life by a happy death. Augustine, after having remained a short time at Rome, continued his voyage and arrived in Africa. He retired to his house in the country and lived there for three years, in solitude and continual prayer, fasting and other penances, and in contemplating the divine mysteries and reading the word of God.

A nobleman requested him to go to Hippo, and as it seemed to Augustine to be for a good and holy purpose, he complied. Having been there for some time, he was ordained priest by bishop Valerius, who was well acquainted with his virtue and great knowledge. After his ordination, which, in his deep humility, he long opposed, he founded a monastery and commenced to live a religious life with several other learned men. He wrote rules for them and thus made the beginning of the “Order of St. Augustine” afterwards so highly celebrated in the Church of Christ. After he had thus spent four years, bishop Valerius ordered him to preach the Gospel, which, at that remote period, was done only by bishops. Incredible is the good which the holy man did by his sermons, and the esteem which he gained. In consideration of this, Valerius, with the consent of the other bishops, and to the great rejoicing of all Catholics, consecrated St. Augustine as his Coadjutor, to assist him in the government of the Diocese, and, at his death, to be his successor.

Want of space prevents us from enlarging on all the good which St. Augustine did, as well during Valerius’ life, as after his death, by abolishing many abuses; by defending the Catholic faith; by vanquishing the most bitter heretics; and especially by writing a great many books, which contain an inexhaustible treasure of erudition. Even the most learned men of that period were unable to comprehend how one man could write with such ability on so many different subjects. Hence the conclusion to which all came was, that his talents and erudition had been an especial gift of God bestowed upon him, because the Church of Christ, assailed and persecuted by so many different heresies, needed a man of such wonderful genius to protect and defend it. None of the heretics were equal to him; they all feared him as much as the Catholics loved and honored him. The fame of his great holiness and wisdom penetrated even into far off lands, and everywhere his praise resounded on account of the many and glorious victories which he won over the heretics, as well in public disputes as on all other occasions. St. Jerome, St. Paulinus, and other holy men who were then living, sought his friendship, corresponded with him, and hesitated not to ask his advice. The Sovereign Pontiffs of his time held him in great esteem, and in all the councils at which he assisted, his voice was listened to with respect and attention.

In his own eyes, he possessed no merits, and he was so far from all self-esteem, that he humbly received the advice of anyone. He publicly acknowledged and corrected several faults which had crept into his works. Still more to be admired is the fact, that he wrote a book in which he laid bare, before the whole world, all the iniquities he had committed before his conversion to the true faith, in order that the divine mercy bestowed on him might move other sinners to repentance. His income as bishop, and all presents made to him, were given to the poor. From the time of his baptism until his death, he lived in chastity, and proved that a man, although for many years a slave to vice, can, by the grace of God, break all sinful fetters. He, however, avoided carefully every occasion which might endanger his chastity, and used severe means to protect it. The habit of cursing, which he had before he was baptized, he overcame so entirely, that, during all the rest of his life, no one ever heard a curse from his lips. He hated calumny and detraction so exceedingly, that he had written the following words on the wall of his dining-room: “For him who defames the character of his neighbor, there is no place at this table.” One day, it happened that a visitor began to speak ill of a neighbor. The Saint, turning to him, said : “Sir, either I must erase those words or you must change your conversation.”

The great love of God, which burned in his heart, caused him unceasingly to repent of the iniquities of his past life. He therefore often exclaimed with a sorrowful heart: “Too late have I known thee; too late have I loved thee, thou Beauty ever ancient, and ever new! O unhappy time in which I did not love thee!” This repentance he continued until his death, which took place in his 76th year, to the great grief of all Catholics. Four years before he departed, he had entrusted the Episcopal functions to someone else, as he felt exhausted from his incessant labors, and thenceforth passed his time in devout exercises. During this time, Hippo was besieged by the cruel Vandals. The misery awaiting this city grieved the Saint so deeply that he prayed most fervently to the Almighty, either to save the city from the enemy, or not to let him live to see its destruction. After this prayer he was seized by a fever, which he considered as a messenger of approaching death. He received, with the most profound devotion, the holy sacraments, and having requested that the seven penitential psalms should be written out for him, he had them hung near his bed, on the wall, that in reading them he might end his life.

In his last days he desired to be left alone, that he might not be interrupted in his devotional exercises. This solitude lasted twelve days, during which he shed abundant tears in reading the penitential psalms. He said, one day: “Every Christian, how piously soever he may have lived, ought to die a penitent.” With such feelings of intense love and contrition, this great and holy Doctor of the Church died, in the year of our Lord 430. His holy body was buried with great solemnity in the Cathedral, but was afterwards taken to Sardinia, and thence to Pavia, where it rests at this day, and is greatly honored and venerated. The encomiums which the most eminent men have bestowed upon this Saint are almost countless. His works, in which he still continues to live, raise the fame of his learning and virtue above all human praise. (1)

A Mothers Prayer to St. Augustine for her Children

O God, Who enlightened St. Augustine by Your grace, and inflamed him with Your love in the midst of the darkness and miseries of a life of sin, have mercy likewise on my poor soul and upon those of my children and relatives! Pardon our ingratitude, our disobedience, our want of reverence, our indifference, finally, all the offenses of which we have ever been guilty against Your holy name. We acknowledge that there is in this world no pain or punishment so severe as that which we deserve; therefore, full of dread of what is in store for us, we invoke the intercession of Your holy servant Augustine, so inflamed with love of You!

O holy penitent Augustine, seraph of divine love, unspeakable miracle of divine mercy, obtain for us from God a true, perfect, and heartfelt sorrow for our sins, a devout and constant love of God, a love that triumphs over all difficulties, temptations, and tribulations, a wise and unremitting fervor in the observances of the divine Commandments and the fulfillment of our duties! Assist us especially in the training of our children. Behold to how many dangers their virtue and innocence are exposed in the world! See how numerous are the snares and deceits prepared for the ruin of their souls by the flesh, and through the words and example of evil and worldly-minded men! If they do not receive extraordinary help, how can they withstand such allurements? O great St. Augustine, take them under your protection! To our efforts in their behalf, join your intercession for them with God.

Exert all your influence and, with the compassion of your loving heart, intercede with the Most Holy Trinity for them. Permit not that our children, sanctified in the waters of Baptism, should through mortal sin be banished from the presence of God and suffer eternal punishment. Preserve them from the greatest of all evils here below, namely, that of denying the love of Jesus Christ, through affection to some creature or the fear of some misfortune. No, O great St. Augustine! Rather let them and us, their parents, die in the grace of God, than live to offend Him mortally! This favor we implore through your intercession, O holy son of a sainted mother, you who gladly receive and graciously hear the prayers of a mother! I confidently hope that you have already heard my petitions, and that you will obtain for me a favorable answer from God!     Amen. (2)

Image: Crop of St Augustine, Artist: Peter Paul Rubens, circa 1636 and 1638 (8)

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Saint Joseph Calasanctius, Confessor

August 27

Today is the feast day of Saint Joseph Calasanctius. Ora pro nobis.

Saint Joseph Calasanctius was born in Aragon in 1556 of a noble family, who gave him a very Christian education.  His parents, Don Pedro Calasanza and Donna Maria Gastonia, gave Joseph, the youngest of five children, a good education at home and then at the school of Petralta.  When only five years old, he led a troop of children through the streets to find the devil and slay him.

After his classical studies at Estadilla he took up philosophy and jurisprudence at Lerida and merited the degree of Doctor of Laws, and then with honours completed his theological course at Valencia and Alcalá de Henares.  His mother and brother having died, Don Pedro wanted Joseph to marry and perpetuate the family. God interfered by sending a sickness in 1582 which soon brought Joseph to the brink of the grave. On his recovery he was ordained priest 17 Dec., 1583, by Hugo Ambrose de Moncada, Bishop of Urgel.

He heard a voice saying, Go to Rome, Joseph and had a vision of many children who were being taught by him and by a company of Angels. When he reached the Holy City, his heart was moved by the vice and ignorance of the children of the poor, and he saw clearly that ignorance was the mother of vice and misery. Sunday catechism lessons were insufficient to remedy the situation.

Joseph joined a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and gathered the boys and girls from the streets and brought them to school. The teachers, being poorly paid, refused to accept the additional labour without remuneration. The pastor of S. Dorotea, Anthony Brendani, offered him two rooms and promised assistance in teaching, and when two other priests promised similar help, Joseph, in November, 1597, opened the first public free school in Europe. Pope Clement VIII gave an annual contribution and many others shared in the good work, so that in a short time Joseph had about a thousand children under his charge.  Sunday catechism lessons were insufficient to remedy the situation. When he could find no collaboration under the existing frameworks, the children’s need mastered his profound humility, and he undertook to found personally the Order of Clerks Regular of the Pious Schools, or the Piarists.

Enemies arose against Saint Joseph, however, from among his own subjects, thus imposing on the Founder the most sorrowful of all crosses, resembling that of the Lord Himself. They accused him to the Holy Office, and at the age of eighty-six he was led through the streets to prison. The Order was reduced to a simple Congregation under local episcopal authority and was not restored to its former privileges until after the Saint’s death. My work, he said, was done solely for the love of God. Saint Joseph is the first to have given gratuitous instruction to the children of the people. Religion can claim for its own the instruction of the poor, both by birthright and by right of conquest. The body of Saint Joseph Calasanctius reposes in the church of Saint Pantaleon in Rome. He was canonized by Clement XIII in 1767.

Image: The Last Communion of St Joseph Calasanz, by Goya, circa 1810. (3)

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Our Lady of Czestochowa

August 26

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Czestochowa.  

The origin of this miraculous image in Czestochowa, Poland is unknown for absolute certainty.   

The oldest documents from Jasna Góra state that the picture travelled from Constantinople via Belz.  Eventually it came into the possession of Władysław Opolczyk, Duke of Opole, and adviser to Louis of Anjou, King of Poland and Hungary. Ukrainian sources state that earlier in its history it was brought to Belz with much ceremony and honors by King Lev I of Galicia and later taken by Władysław from the Castle of Belz, when the town was incorporated into the Polish kingdom. A popular story tells that in late August 1384, Ladislaus was passing Częstochowa with the picture when his horses refused to go on. He was advised in a dream to leave the icon at Jasna Gora.

Art historians say that the original painting was a Byzantine icon created around the sixth or ninth century. They agree that Prince Władysław brought it to the monastery in the 14th century.

According to another tradition the painting was a portrait of Our Lady done by either St. John or St Luke sometime after the Crucifixion of Our Lord and remained in the Holy Land until discovered by St. Helena in the fourth century. The painting was taken to Constaninople, where St. Helena’s son, the Emperor Constantine, erected a church for its enthronement. This image was revered by the people of the city.

During  the siege by the Saracens, the invaders became frightened when the people carried the picture in a procession around the city; the infidels fled. Later, the image was  threatened with burning by an evil emperor, whose wife Irene saved it and hid it from harm. The image was in that Constaninople for 500 years, until it became part of some dowries, eventually being taken to Russia to a region that later became Poland.

The painting was eventually owned by Charlemagne who subsequently presented the painting to Prince Leo of Ruthenia (northwest Hungary).  It remained at the royal palace in Ruthenia until an invasion occurred in the eleventh century. The king prayed to Our Lady to aid his small army and as a result of this prayer a darkness overcame the enemy troops who, in their confusion, began attacking one another. Ruthenia was saved as a result of this intervention by Our Lady. In the fourteenth century, it was transferred to the Mount of Light (Jasna Gora) in Poland in response to a request made in a dream of Prince Ladislaus of Opola.

After the portrait became the possession of the Polish prince, Ladislaus, it was installed in his castle. Tartar invaders besieged the castle and an enemy arrow pierced Our Lady’s image, inflicting a scar. Interestingly, repeated attempts to fix the image, artistically have all failed.  The Prince, fearing that he and the famous painting might fall to the Tartars, fled in the night finally stopping in the town of Czestochowa, where the painting was installed in a small church. The Prince subsequently had a Pauline monastery and church built to ensure the painting’s safety. In 1430, the Hussites overran the monastery and attempted to take the portrait. One of the looters twice struck the painting with his sword but before he could strike another blow he fell to the floor writhing in agony and died. Both the sword cuts and the arrow wound are still visible in the painting.

Having survived two attacks upon it, Our Lady’s image was next imperiled by the Hussites, followers of the heretic priest, John Hus from Prague. The Hussites did not accept papal authority as coming from Christ and taught that mortal sin deprived an office holder of his position, among other heresies. Hus had been influenced by John Wyclif and became infected with his errors.  The Hussites successfully stormed the Pauline monastery in 1430, plundering the sanctuary. Among the items stolen was the image. After putting it in their wagon, the Hussites went a little ways but then the horses refused to go any further. Recalling the former incident that was so similar, the heretics threw the portrait down to the ground, which shattered the image into three pieces. One of the plunderers drew his sword and slashed the image twice, causing two deep gashes; while attempting a third gash, he was overcome with a writhing agony and died.

The two slashes on the cheek of the Blessed Virgin, together with the one on the throat have always reappeared after artistic attempts to fix them. The portrait again faced danger in 1655 by a Swedish horde of 12,000, which confronted the 300 men guarding the image. The band of 300 routed the 12,000 and the following year.

After this remarkable turn of events, the Lady of Czestochowa became the symbol of Polish national unity and was crowned Queen of Poland. The King of Poland placed the country under the protection of the Blessed Mother. A more recent legend surrounding the painting involves the Russian invasion of Poland in 1920. Legend holds that the Russian army was massing on the banks of the Vistula river, threatening Warsaw, when an image of the Virgin was seen in the clouds over the city. The troops withdrew on seeing the image.

Pope Clement XI issued a Canonical Coronation for the image through the Vatican Chapter on 8 September 1717, then stolen on 23 October 1909; Pope Saint Pius X issued another canonical coronation, replacing the crowns on 22 May 1910; Pope Saint John Paul II issued another coronation as a native of Poland, which was placed on 26 August 2005.

Image: Black Madonna of Częstochowa in crown, photo by Robert Drózd (4)


Saint Zephyrinus, Pope, Martyr

August 26

Today is the feast day of Saint Zephyrinus.  Ora pro nobis.

Pope Saint Zephyrinus’ date of birth unknown.  He died on 20 Dec., 217. Pope Zephyrinus was a native of Rome.  He succeeded Victor I in the pontificate in the year 198.  Pope Zephyrinus is described by Hippolytus in the “Philosophymena” (IX, xi) as a simple man without education. This is evidently to be understood as meaning that Pope Zephyrinus had not taken the higher studies and had devoted himself to the practical administration of the Church and not to theological learning. Immediately after his elevation to the Roman See, Zephyrinus called to Rome the confessor Callistus.   Callistus lived at Antium and had received a monthly pension from Pope Victor who intrusted him with the oversight of the coemeterium.

It is evident that shortly before this the Roman Christian community had, under Victor, become the owner of a common place of burial on the Via Appia, and Zephyrinus now placed Callistus over this cemetery which was given the name of Callistus. Undoubtedly Callistus was also made a deacon of the Roman Church by Zephyrinus. He was the confidential counsellor of the pope.  Callistus eventually succeeded Zephyrinus. The positions of the Christians, which had remained favorable in the first years of the government of Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211), grew constantly worse.  In 202 or 203 the edict of persecution appeared which forbade conversion to Christianity under the severest penalties.

This bloody persecution against the Church continued for nine years until the death of the emperor in 211. Until this furious storm ended,  Pope Zephyrinus remained concealed for the sake of his flock, supporting and comforting the distressed disciples of Christ.

The holy Pope had the affliction of witnessing the fall of Tertullian. He saw to his joy, however, the conversion of Natalis, who had become a heretical bishop when he lapsed into the Theodotian heresy. God, wishing to bring him back to the Church, sent him a solid correction which opened his eyes, and he came to kneel at the feet of the Vicar of Christ, wearing a hair shirt and humbly asking pardon for his revolt.

Eusebius tells us that this holy Pope exerted his zeal so strenuously against the blasphemies of the heretics, that they treated him with the utmost contempt. To his glory, however, they also called him the principal defender of Christ’s divinity. Saint Zephyrinus governed the Church for nineteen years, dying in 217 as a martyr under Antoninus Caracalla.

Zephyrinus was buried in a separate sepulchral chamber over the cemetery of Calistus on the Via Appia (cf. Wilpert, “Die papstgruber und die Suciliengruft in der Katakombe des hl. Kallistus”, Freiburg, 1909, 91 sqq.). The “Liber Pontificalis” attributes two Decrees to Zephyrinus; one on the ordination of the clergy and the other on the Eucharistic Liturgy in the title churches of Rome.

Image: This illustration is from The Lives and Times of the Popes by Chevalier Artaud de Montor, New York: The Catholic Publication Society of America, 1911. It was originally published in 1842. Artist: Artaud de Montor (1772–1849) (3)

Research by REGINA Staff


Saint Louis IX, Confessor

August 25

Today is the feast day of Saint Louis IX.  Ora pro nobis.

Louis IX was born in the castle at Poissy near Paris on April 25, 1215. He was the son of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile.  He was eleven years of age when the death of Louis VIII made him king, and nineteen when he married Marguerite of P rovence by whom he had eleven children. The regency of Blanche of Castile (1226-1234) was marked by the victorious struggle of the Crown against Raymond VII in Languedoc, against Pierre Mauclerc in Brittany, against Philip Hurepel in the Ile de France, and by indecisive combats against Henry III of England. In this period of disturbances the queen was powerfully supported by the legate Frangipani. Accredited to Louis VIII by Honorius III as early as 1225, Frangipani won over to the French cause the sympathies of Gregory IX, who was inclined to listen to Henry III, and through his intervention it was decreed that all the chapters of the dioceses should pay to Blanche of Castile tithes for the southern crusade.

It was the legate who received the submission of Raymond VII, Count of Languedoc, at Paris, in front of Notre-Dame, and this submission put an end to the Albigensian war and prepared the union of the southern provinces to France by the Treaty of Paris (April 1229). The influence of Blanche de Castile over the government extended far beyond St. Louis’s minority. Even later, in public business and when ambassadors were officially received, she appeared at his side. She died in 1253. (3)

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

Louis IX., King of France, a perfect model of virtue to all princes, was born at Poissy, in 1215. Having early lost his father, Louis VIII., his mother, Blanche, a matron celebrated for her virtues and great mind, had him anointed king, when he was hardly twelve years old. Important reasons induced her to this step, although she remained regent during the king’s minority. To this pious queen and mother St. Louis was greatly indebted for his piety; for, she led him in the path of true fidelity to God, knowing that the welfare of the whole land depended upon it. In the first years of his childhood she instilled into his mind the fear of the Lord and a great aversion for sin, by saying to him: “Beloved child, I would rather see thee in thine innocence fall dead at my feet, than that thou shouldst ever commit a mortal sin.” These words Louis engraved so deeply into his heart, that he always abhorred sin more than all other evils, which is sufficiently illustrated by the fact that, according to the testimonials of his confessors, he never stained his soul with a mortal sin. The same fear he endeavored to impress upon others.

One day, seeing a man afflicted with leprosy, he asked one of his courtiers whether he would rather suffer this disease or commit a mortal sin. The courtier having answered that he would rather have a hundred mortal sins on his soul than leprosy on his body, the holy king was indignant, and replied: “Truly, you do not understand what it means to be in disgrace with the Almighty. Learn that a mortal sin is more to be dreaded than all the evils on earth.” Equal to his fear of sin was his zeal in performing good deeds and practicing Christian virtues. He daily attended holy Mass, and always with the greatest devotion, and he never suffered any levity at church, in his courtiers or domestics. He appointed certain hours during the day for prayers. The grace of holy baptism and of the Christian faith he esteemed more highly than his crown. To be a Christian was for him a higher title than to be king of France; hence he generally called himself Louis of Poissy, because he had been baptised in that city. His faith was so well established, that when he was one day informed that Christ was visible in the Blessed Eucharist, in the form of a lovely child, he answered: “I believe that Christ, our Lord, is present in the Blessed Eucharist, and so firm is this my belief, that I need not see Him with my eyes.”

To holy relics he showed great honor: hence, when the Emperor Constantine presented to him the crown of thorns of our Saviour, he went, with his whole court and all the clergy, five miles to meet it, and then accompanied it with great devotion to Paris. He carried the holy treasure, barefoot and with uncovered head, to the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and thence into the chapel of St. Nicholas, where it was deposited with all due reverence. Towards himself he showed an austerity hardly surpassed in the convents. He wore, almost constantly, a rough hair-shirt, fasted every Friday and during the whole of Advent. He never permitted himself a dispensation in Lent. Before his fifteenth year, he was very fond of hunting, fishing, and other harmless amusements, but afterwards he renounced them all, in order to give all his time to prayer and the care of his government. His love for the poor was so great, that he not only gave them large alms, but also visited them in their sickness, washed the feet of some every Saturday, fed daily 120 in his palace, and always entertained three of them at his own table, serving them with his own hands. Some of his courtiers maintained that this was not suitable for a king; but he replied: “I recognize and honor in the poor, Christ Himself, Who has said: ‘What you do to the least of them you have done to Me.'”

On another occasion, he said: “The poor must gain heaven by their patience, the rich, by giving alms.” He built many asylums and other houses for the maintenance of the poor, and erected a still larger number of churches and convents for the honor of God and the salvation of souls. But as St. Louis thus proved himself a pious king, so also he showed himself a worthy ruler, by being indefatigable where the welfare of his people, or where justice and the protection of the church were concerned. He made laws and ordinances commanding all officials of the State to deal justice without any delay and to take all possible care of his subjects. Those who disobeyed these laws were severely punished. He appointed two days in the week on which everybody, even the lowest and poorest had free admittance to him and could bring him his complaints. He labored especially to uproot those vices which prevent the blessing of God, and call down the Divine wrath upon a land. Hence he ordained by law that blasphemers should be branded by the public executioner, and when, one day, his pardon was asked for a nobleman who had been guilty of this crime, the holy king refused it, saying: “I would let my own lips be pierced with a red hot iron, if, by this means, I could prevent all blasphemy in my domains.”

His valor in war was as great as his zeal for justice and his endeavors to destroy all vice. The whole world had, in this pious and heroic king, a proof that piety and valor can well be united in the human heart. Over the Albigenses, the most bitter enemies of the State and Church, he gained a decisive victory, completely vanquishing them. Some rebellious subjects, who had made war against him when he first ascended the throne, and who were aided by a foreign power, were conquered and brought again under his sceptre. These and many other victories made him greatly esteemed and respected by all foreign monarchs.

But nothing more effectually proves the great zeal of this holy king for the true church, than the crusades which he undertook to recover the Holy Land and to assist the oppressed Christians who lived in it. His first expedition, at the outset, promised great success, but in the course of time, by the inscrutable decrees of Providence, the greater part of his army fell victims to disease, and the holy king himself was taken prisoner. In this misfortune, his patience was so great and heroic, that even his enemies admired it. He submitted, without any complaint, to the Divine will, and continued his prayers, fasts and pious exercises, as if he were in his palace at Paris. He was at length released on payment of a ransom of 800,000 ducats, and the surrender of the cities he had taken. He thus concluded a truce of ten years with the Saracens. Having, under these conditions obtained his liberty, he remained some time longer in the Holy Land, visited with great devotion, the places made sacred by the presence of our Saviour, ransomed many prisoners, gave abundant alms, and fortified the few cities that remained in the hands of the Christians. Meanwhile the holy queen, Blanche, his mother, died at Paris, and when the news reached the Saint, he returned at once to France.

Some years later, when it was reported that the Christians in the East were more oppressed than ever by the infidels, he resolved to undertake a second crusade to assist them. At first, success followed the king’s army, but the great heat of the climate, the want of wholesome water and provisions, infected the whole army with an epidemic, so that a large number died, among whom was a son of the king. At last, St. Louis himself was seized with the disease, and without being disturbed by it, he prepared himself for his last hour by prayer and by devoutly receiving the holy Sacraments. After this he gave to the Crown Prince, who was with him, instructions, partly verbal, partly in writing, which were dictated by Christian and royal wisdom, and which will be given below. After this he desired to dispense with all worldly affairs, and to occupy himself only with God, to whose holy will he had entirely submitted.

When his last hour had come, he desired to be robed in a penitential garment, and to be laid on a bed strewn with ashes. When this had been done, he took the Crucifix, kissed it most devoutly, and continued in prayer and acts of devotion, until he calmly expired, in the year of our Lord 1270, in the fifty-sixth year of his age. His last words were those of the Psalmist: “Lord, I will enter into Thy house: I will adore Thee in Thy holy temple, and will give glory to Thy name.” Thus did St. Louis pass from a temporal into an eternal kingdom. Truly, he had been a great and holy king; great, on account of his valor in war; still greater, for his Christian magnanimity in adversity, but greatest, for the many exalted virtues by which he shone before the whole world from his childhood to the last hour of his life, and which prevented him from ever committing a mortal sin.

The instructions which he gave to the heir of his crown, and which he had constantly observed himself, testify his great holiness. They are as follows:

1. Love God, the Almighty, above everything.
2. Flee sin more quickly than you would a serpent.
3. Become not fainthearted in adversity.
4. Become not elevated in the days of prosperity.
5. Show the wounds of your soul frequently to your spiritual physician, and refuse no remedies, however bitter, to heal them.
6. Pray diligently.
7. Be compassionate and generous to the poor.
8. If your mind is harassed with doubt, consult a devout man.
9. Keep faithful and pious counsellors around you, and dismiss those who are wicked.
10. All that is good hold fast: all that is bad discard.
11. Lend a willing ear to those who speak of God.
12. Listen not to calumniators and slanderers.
13. So long as you reign, leave not unpunished those who blaspheme God and the Saints.
14. First be grateful to God, then to men.
15. Love and protect justice, and neither neglect nor despise the complaints of the needy.
16. In your own affairs, when they are not perfectly clear, speak and act against yourself.
17. Refund immediately the possessions of others.
18. Protect the clergy.
19. Love and honor your parents.
20. If you are obliged to war against Christians, spare the churches and the convents.
21. Endeavor to terminate all contentions with kindness.
22. Guard all your officials with a watchful eye.
23. Ever show due reverence to the Pope.
24. Overstep not the bounds of moderation in your expenses.
25. When I have departed, let prayers and Masses be said for the repose of my soul.

These were the last admonitions of the holy king. (1)
St. Louis was a patron of architecture. The Sainte Chappelle, an architectural gem, was constructed in his reign, and it was under his patronage that Robert of Sorbonne founded the “Collège de la Sorbonne,” which became the seat of the theological faculty of Paris. St. Louis was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII in 1297.
Image: Saint-Louis (4)

Saint Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

August 24

Today is the feast day of Saint Bartholomew (also known as Saint Nathanael).  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Bartholomew (also known as Saint Nathanael, first century), Martyr of the Church and Apostle of Christ. The name (Bartholomaios) means “son of Talmai” (or Tholmai) which was an ancient Hebrew name, borne, e.g. by the King of Gessur whose daughter was a wife of David (2 Samuel 3:3). It shows, at least, that Bartholomew was of Hebrew descent; it may have been his genuine proper name or simply added to distinguish him as the son of Talmai. Outside the instances referred to, no other mention of the name occurs in the New Testament. 

In the Gospel of John, Bartholomew (Nathanael) is introduced as a friend of Philip.  Little is known for sure about the life of Bartholomew after the Ascension of Jesus. But tradition has it that he preached with great apostolic zeal throughout the East, traveling to India, Ethiopia, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, and Armenia—where a monastery remains on the site of his martyrdom. 

Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger

A witness of the Son of God, one of the princes who announced His glory to the nations, lights up this day with his apostolic flame. While his brethren of the sacred college followed the human race into all the lands whither the migration of nations had led it, St. Bartholomew appeared as the herald of the Lord at the very starting point, the mountains of Armenia, whence the sons of Noe spread over the earth. There had the Ark of Noe rested; humanity, everywhere else a wanderer, was there seated in stillness, remembering the dove with its olive branch, and awaiting the consummation of the alliance signified by the rainbow which had there for the first time glittered in the clouds. Behold, blessed tidings awake in those valleys the echoes of ancient traditions: tidings of peace, making the universal deluge of sin subside before the Wood of salvation. The serenity announced by the dove of old, was now far outdone. Love was to take the place of punishment. The ambassador of Heaven showed God to the sons of Adam, as the most beautiful of their own brethren. The noble heights whence formerly flowed the rivers of paradise, were about to see the renewal of the covenant annulled in Eden, and the celebration, amid the joy of Heaven and earth, of the Divine nuptials so long expected, the union of the Word with regenerated humanity.

Personally, who was this Apostle whose ministry borrowed such solemnity from the scene of his apostolic labors? Under the name or surname of Bartholomew (“Son of Tholmai”), the only mark of recognition given him by the first three Gospels, do we see, as many have thought, that Nathaniel, whose presentation to Jesus by Philip forms so sweet a scene in St. John’s Gospel (1: 45-51)? A man of uprightness, innocence, and simplicity, who was worthy to have had the dove for his precursor, and for whom the Man-God had choice graces and caresses from the very beginning.

Be this as it may, the lot which fell to our Saint among the Twelve, points to the special confidence of the Divine Heart; the heroism of the terrible martyrdom which sealed his apostolate reveals his fidelity; the dignity preserved by the nation he grafted onto Christ, in all the countries where it has been transplanted, witnesses to the excellence of the sap first infused into its branches. When, two centuries and a half later, St. Gregory the Illuminator so successfully cultivated the soil of Armenia, he did but quicken the seed sown by the Apostle, which the trials never wanting to that generous land had retarded for a time, but could not stifle.

How strangely sad that evil men, nurtured in the turmoil of endless invasions, should have been able to rouse and perpetuate a mistrust of Rome among a race whom wars and tortures and dispersion could not tear from the love of Christ Our Savior! In spite of this schism, some chosen sons of this illustrious nation returned to the true fold, labored perseveringly for reunification by dispelling the prejudices of her people, by preserving the treasures of her literature, so truly Christian, and the magnificence of her liturgy, and above all by praying and devoting themselves to the monastic state under the standard of the father of western monks (the Mekhitarists, Armenian monks of St. Benedict). Let us also pray to St. Bartholomew their Apostle; to St. Thaddeus (thought to be one of the 72 Disciples of Our Lord, or perhaps even the Apostle St. Jude Thaddeus) who also shared in the first evangelization; to St. Hripsima the heroic virgin, who from the Roman territory led her 35 companions to the conquest of a new land (and eventually to martyrdom); and to all the martyrs whose blood cemented the building upon the only foundation set by Our Lord. Like these great forerunners, may the leader of the second apostolate, St. Gregory the Illuminator, who wished to “see Peter” in the person of St. Sylvester and receive the blessing of the Roman Pontiff, may the holy kings, patriarchs and doctors of Armenia, become once more her chosen guides, and lead her back entirely and irrevocably to the one fold of the one Shepherd!

We learn from Eusebius and from St. Jerome that before going to Armenia, his final destination, St. Bartholomew evangelized the Indies, where Pantaenus a century later found a copy of St. Matthew’s Gospel in Hebrew characters, left there by him. St. Dionysius records a profound saying of the glorious Apostle, which he thus quotes and comments: “The Blessed Bartholomew says of theology, that it is at once abundant and succinct; of the Gospel, that it is vast in extent and at the same time concise; thus excellently giving us to understand that the beneficent Cause of all beings reveals or manifests Himself by many words or by few, or even without any words at all, as being beyond and above all language or thought.”

The city of Rome used to celebrate the Feast of St. Bartholomew on the following day, as do also the Greeks who commemorate on August 25 a translation of the Apostle’s relics. It is owing, in fact, to the various translations of his holy body and to the difficulty of ascertaining the date of his martyrdom that different days have been adopted for his Feast by different Churches, both in the east and in the west. The 24th of this month, consecrated by the use of most of the Latin Churches is the day assigned in the most ancient martyrologies, including that of St. Jerome. In the 13th century Pope Innocent III, having been consulted as to the divergence, answered that local custom was to be observed.

The Church gives just the following Lessons for the life of the Apostle of Armenia:

The Holy Apostle Bartholomew was a native of Galilee. It fell to his lot to preach the Gospel in western India; and he announced to those nations the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Gospel of St. Matthew. But after converting many souls to Jesus Christ in that province and undergoing much labor and suffering, he went into eastern Armenia.

Here he converted to the Christian Faith the king Polymius and his queen, as well as twelve cities. This caused the pagan priests of that nation to be exceedingly jealous of him, and they stirred up Astyages, the brother of King Polymius against the Apostle, so that he commanded him to be flayed alive and finally beheaded. In this cruel martyrdom he gave up his soul to God.

His body was buried at Albanapolis, the town of eastern Armenia where he was martyred; but it was afterwards taken to the island of Lispari, and thence to Beneventum. Finally it was translated to Rome by the Emperor Otto III and place on the island of the Tiber in a church dedicated to God under his invocation.

On this day of thy Feast, O holy Apostle, the Church (in the Collect of the Mass) prays for grace to love what thou didst believe and to preach what thou didst teach. Not that the Bride of the Son of God could ever fail either in faith or in love; but She knows only too well that, though Her Head is ever in the light, and Her heart ever united to the Spouse in the Holy Ghost Who sanctifies Her, nevertheless Her members and particular churches may detach themselves from their center of life and wander away in darkness. O thou who didst choose the west as the place of thy rest; thou whose precious relics Rome glories in possessing, bring back to St. Peter the nations thou didst evangelize, that we may together enjoy the treasures of our concordant traditions, and go to God, even at the cost of being despoiled of all things, by the course so grand and yet so simple taught us by thy example and by thy sublime theology. (1)

He is the patron of Armenia, bookbinders, butchers, cobblers, Forentine cheese and salt merchants, leather workers, nervous diseases, neurological diseases, plasterers, shoemakers, tanners, trappers, twitching, and whiteners.

GOSPEL. (Luke vi. 12 – 19.) At That Time: Jesus went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God. And when day was come, he called unto him his disciples: and he chose twelve of them (whom also he named Apostles): Simon whom he surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, and Jude the brother of James and Judas Iscariot who was the traitor. And coming down with them, he stood in a plain place, and the company of his disciples, and a very great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, who were come to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases. And they that were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the multitude sought to touch him, for virtue went out from him, and healed all.

Image: St. Bartholomew (6)


Research by REGINA Staff


Saint Philip Benizi de Damiani, Confessor

August 23

Today is the feast day of Saint Philip Benizi.  Ora pro nobis.

Philip Benizi was born in Florence on the Feast of the Assumption, 1233.  He was born to a noble family.   That same day the Order of Servites was founded by the Mother of God. As an infant one year old, Philip spoke when in the presence of these new religious, and announced the Servants of the Virgin. Amid all the temptations of his youth, he longed to become a Servant of Mary, and it was only the fear of his own unworthiness which made him yield to his father’s wish and begin to study medicine.  He educated in Paris and Padua where he earned a doctorate in medicine and philosophy. 

by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

Having finished his studies, he was one day thinking about his vocation, and it being the Thursday after Easter, he went into the Chapel of the Servites, which stood on the outskirts of Florence, to attend holy Mass. At the Epistle were read the words of the Holy Ghost to St. Philip: ” Draw near, and join thyself to the chariot.” Having heard these words, he went into an ecstasy, and it seemed to him that he was alone in a vast wilderness, where nothing was to be seen but sterile mountains, steep rocks and cliffs, or marshes overgrown with thorns, swarming with poisonous reptiles, and full of snares. He screamed with fear, and looking around how to save himself, he saw, high in the air, the Blessed Virgin in a chariot, surrounded by Angels and Saints, and holding in her hand the habit of the Servites. At the same time, he heard from the lips of Mary the words which had just been read in the Epistle. ” Draw near, and join thyself to the Chariot.” After this revelation, Philip no longer doubted that he was called to enter the order of the Servites, and going, the following day, to the dwelling of the seven founders of this order, he desired to be received as a lay-brother.

He was readily accepted, but after having served in that capacity a few years, his talent, knowledge and holiness were so manifest, that he was made priest: after which he was raised from one dignity to another, until he was at last made General of the entire order. Although he at first humbly opposed this choice, yet when forced to obey, he became zealous in his labors to disseminate the principles of the holy Order, whose object is to reverence the Blessed Virgin and to promote her honor. He sent some of the religious to Scythia, to preach the Gospel and to spread the veneration of the Blessed Virgin. He himself with two companions went through an incredible number of cities and provinces, everywhere exhorting sinners to repentance, endeavoring to calm the contentions which at that period disturbed the Christian world, disabusing by his sermons those who refused obedience to the Pope, and animating all to greater love of God and devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

The Lord aided him visibly in all his undertakings, and obtained for him the highest regard from both clergy and laity. When the Cardinals, assembled at Viterbo to elect a new Pope, were unable to agree, they at length unanimously chose Philip, as all deemed him worthy of this high dignity. Philip, informed of it, was terrified and fled into the desert of Mount Thuniat, where he remained concealed in a cavern, until another was elected Pope: which was not less an evidence of his humility, than his election had been of the high regard in which his virtues and the many miracles he had performed were held by the Prelates of the Church. His innocence and purity he carried unspotted to the grave, but in order to preserve them he was very severe to himself. He possessed in an eminent degree, the spirit of prayer; for, besides occupying a great portion of the night in devotional exercises, he also raised his mind to God, during his various occupations, by means of short aspirations. He never undertook anything without first recommending it in prayer to God, and the more important the affair, the longer and more fervent were his prayers.

The only object of his many and laborious voyages was the glory of God and the good of men, and his constant endeavor was to prevent offences of the Divine Majesty and to work for the salvation of souls. But how shall we express his tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin, whom he had loved and honored as a mother from his earliest childhood? In her honor while yet a youth, he kept several festivals and performed many prayers, and he entered the Order of the Servites, because they regarded it their duty to promote her veneration and honor. In every sermon, he admonished the people to honor Mary and to call upon her in all their troubles. In a word, he neglected nothing which he deemed necessary or useful to institute and disseminate due devotion to the Queen of Heaven. Although in many places, he had to endure much hardship and persecution, his love of God and the Blessed Virgin could not be discouraged from continuing in his apostolic labors.

Meanwhile, the weakness of his body manifested plainly that his last hour was approaching. He therefore went to his convent at Todi, and there first visited the Church. He prostrated himself before the Altar, and when, after a long and fervent prayer, he again rose, he said: “Lord, receive my thanks ; here is my place of rest.” On the festival of the Assumption of Our Lady, he preached his last sermon with such eloquence and unction, that all his listeners were greatly moved. On leaving the pulpit, he was seized with a fever, which, although by others thought of no consequence, was regarded by himself as a messenger of death. Hence, he had himself carried into a special apartment and laid down; but could not be persuaded to divest himself of the rough hair-shirt which he constantly wore. The days that he remained on earth after this, he employed in instructing and exhorting his religious, in prayers to God, and invoking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin; in repenting of his sins and in longing to be admitted to the presence of the Most High. After having received, with great devotion, the holy Sacraments, he requested his brethren to say the litany of the Saints. When they came to the words: “We sinners; we beseech Thee to hear us!” he fell into an ecstasy, and lost his consciousness to such a degree that he seemed already to have expired.

In this state he remained for three hours, when one of his friends loudly called him. He awakened as if from a deep slumber, and related how fearful a struggle he had had with Satan; how the latter had reproached him with his sins, and endeavored to make him despair of the mercy of God. But when the combat was at its height, the Blessed Virgin had appeared to him, and, driving away Satan, had not only saved him from all danger, but had also shown him the crown which awaited him in the other world. Having related this to those around him, who were all awestruck, he requested what he called “his book,” the Crucifix, and pressing it to his heart, he intoned the hymn of praise of St. Zachary, and after it, the 30th Psalm: “In thee, O Lord, have I hoped !” Arriving at the words: “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” he looked once again at the Crucifix, and ended his holy and useful life, on the octave of our Lady’s Assumption, in the year 1285. The biography of this Saint contains many miracles which he performed during his life, and many more which took place, by his intercession, after his happy death. (1)

Many miracles were wrought at his intercession; even the dead were raised to life. He was canonized by Clement IX in 1671.  The Church of the Servites of Mary in Todi, Umbria, contains the body of St Philip Benizi, whose statue is the work of Bernini. St Philip’s feast day is celebrated on August 23. He and Santa Maria Addolorata are the titular co-patrons of the minor basilica of Monte Senario (Vaglia), Province of Florence, in the Diocese of Florence (since 1917).

Image: The Presentation in the Temple, with St Philip Benizi on the left and St. Pellegrino Laziosi (Latiosi) on the right.  Artist: Fra’ Filippo Lippi, circa between 1460 and 1465 (4)

Research by REGINA Staff





The Immaculate Heart of Mary

August 22

Today is the feast day of The Immaculate Heart of Mary.  Ora pro nobis.

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Our Lady at Fatima told us: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” There are three elements here to be analyzed: What is the Heart of Mary? How does the term immaculate apply to it? How will it triumph?

I believe that in this case to triumph is to reign. Thus, the triumph of Our Lady will be established when she will reign over the world. Let us look at the titles, then, that allow Our Lady to be Queen of all of Creation and how this reign will become effective through her Immaculate Heart.

The right of Our Lady to be Queen

We know that Our Lady by right is the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She has this right for two reasons: First, because she is the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the King of all creation. Her situation is somewhat similar to a queen mother in countries with a monarchical structure. Second, Our Lady is Queen because God granted her an actual rule over Heaven and earth. She has power over the Angels, Saints, souls in Purgatory, everyone on earth, and even over the devils and condemned souls in Hell.

A queen mother is not properly speaking a reigning queen. She receives royal honors, but she does not reign. For example, Queen Elizabeth in England, the late mother of Queen Elizabeth II, was the Queen-Consort because she was married to George VI. When the King passed away, the royal power passed to her daughter, and she became the Queen-Mother. Her whole life she received royal honors, but she never exercised royal power. On the other hand, Queen Elizabeth II is a Queen who reigns; that is to say, she reigns with that small amount of power still remaining to the Sovereign of England.

Our Lady is not only a Queen-Mother because she is the Mother of Our Lord, but also she is a Queen who reigns because God granted her this royal power.

A power exercised from heart to heart

How does she exercise this power? She applies it by the action of her heart over the hearts of all rational creatures. The heart, as you know, is a physical organ that symbolizes the mentality of a person, the way a person sees and does all things.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary is an expression of the most wise and pure mentality of Our Lady that, among other things, symbolizes her ineffable goodness, her incomparable sweetness and her endless mercy. For these reasons, the Angels and Saints of Heaven love her intensely, as much as it is proper to love someone other than God.

The result of this love is such that she reigns over them, her heart wields a power over their hearts, her mentality exerts an influence over their mentality so that her way of seeing and doing things become a norm of wisdom for them to follow. Her most pure will, immaculate and spotless, becomes the rule to guide their wills, so that even if God’s command to obey her should cease to exist, they would continue to love her with the same intensity.

By an action of her heart over other hearts, Our Lady dominates Heaven. She also dominates Purgatory. Indeed, the souls of Purgatory also can no longer sin. They have the guarantee of Heaven. There is no risk that a soul in Purgatory could revolt against the extreme sufferings it endures. Those souls are confirmed in grace and strive to model their lives on Our Lady, to think what she thinks and to wish what she wishes. They live for her, and when at times she appears in Purgatory, they have an indescribable joy and sing her glory amidst their sufferings. She always returns to Heaven with many of these souls in Purgatory, and leaves behind for the souls who remain a supernatural dew that diminishes their chastisements, increases their hope and softens their pains. It is also from heart to heart that Our Lady reigns over those souls, and not just by a decree of God.

The authority of the Immaculate Heart over the world

What about things on this earth? On earth we have the sad liberty, which in fact is slavery, to not do the will of God. Like tyrants, our passions drag us to do things we know we should not do. They generate that sad liberty we have to say ‘no’ to God.

Notwithstanding, these passions exist and we have to fight against them. We can only be liberated from our slavery to these passions by a grace coming from Our Lady. Only with her help can we diminish and even extinguish the dominion of our passions over our wills. Without it, we are the slaves of our defects and vices.

On earth, then, there is the fight between those who obey and those who do not obey Our Lady. She has the right, however, to be obeyed by everyone. She is by right the Queen of the entire world. But because of free will, persons can choose to disobey her, and many actually do so.

How does the Immaculate Heart of Mary make its authority effective throughout the world? Our Lady touches the hearts of people, sending them abundant graces so that many will follow her. This is not an automatic process, of course. Many persons resist those graces; but countless others, because of those graces, stop sinning and move toward the service of Our Lady.

These graces invite our hearts to see the Heart of Mary, to know and love the wisdom and adamantine purity that emanates from her entire person. This is the way she makes herself obeyed by us.

Her Heart, therefore, is the scepter by which she governs all those who obey her on this earth.

Her power over the Devil and his cohorts

It is clear that Our Lady also exerts her power over the Devil. For example, Anne Catharine Emmerick reports this horrible fact. When Our Lord was crucified, the Devil wanted to impose a final humiliation on Him. After Our Lord had been nailed on the Cross and as it was being raised up to stand before the sight of all, for a moment the Cross vacillated and seemed as if it might fall forward. The Devil was planning to push the Cross down to the ground so that with the weight of His Person plus the heavy wood, Our Lord would fall on His Face and completely smash it.

When Our Lady realized the plan of the Devil, she simply gave the command: “No. This I do not permit.” That is, the case was finished. There was no more discussion. Satan was forbidden to make this affront, and so the horrible deed was not done. She permitted everything that was necessary for the Redemption of mankind, but that supreme humiliation was not necessary. So she gave the command that the Devil had no choice but to obey. She has power over the Devil and his cohorts.

By right Our Lady has power over all. At times, she compels this empire by her will and none can resist. At other times her rule becomes effective not by an action of her will over the evil ones, but through the love she communicates to many good souls.

The devotion of the Counter-Revolution

This is how Our Lady reigns through her Immaculate Heart. When her reign over the good spreads throughout the world, we will have the triumph predicted in Fatima. This will be the victory of the Royal, Wise and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Being wise, Our Lady is against all vain pride; being immaculate, she is against sensuality. Therefore, devotion to the Heart of Mary from this perspective is par excellence the devotion of the Counter-Revolution, since the Revolution is moved forward by pride and sensuality. Those two points that the Revolution hates most, wisdom and purity, must be the points that are most strongly affirmed by counter-revolutionaries.

Our prayer on this feast day should be: “Make our hearts like unto thy Heart.” This does not imply some vague similarity. It means to make our hearts as closely identified as possible to her Immaculate Heart, insofar as it is in the plans of God. “Make me wise, according to thy wisdom. Make me pure with a purity partaking of thy own purity.”

We may add: “My Mother, I am not strong enough to give myself to thee. Enter into my soul with graces that I am unable to resist, shatter this door that in my misery I do not want to open. I will be awaiting thee behind that door with all my appreciation and gratitude.” (1)

Specific Devotions

Mary appeared to St. Catherine Labouré standing on a globe, rays of light streaming from her fingers, enframed in an oval frame inscribed with the words, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” The whole vision “turned” showing the back of the oval inscribed with the letter “M” entwined with a Cross, and the hearts of Jesus and Mary, the former surrounded with thorns, the latter pierced with a sword. 12 stars circled this oval frame. Mary told her to strike a medal in this form — a medal now known as the “Miraculous Medal” — and that all who wore it properly after having it blessed would receive graces. The wearing of the Miraculous Medal has become one of the most common devotions to the Immaculate Heart.

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart became even more popularized after Mary’s appearing to the three young shepherd children at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 (before the Russian Revolution), when she asked that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart to prevent the spread of “the errors of Russia.” Eight years later, in 1925, Mary appeared to one of the visionaries — Lucia, who’d since become a nun — and requested reparations for the various ways in which her Immaculate Heart was offended — such as attacks against her Immaculate Conception, virginity and divine maternity, and for those who teach their children contempt of Mary or who insult her by desecrating her images.

To make these reparations, she asked that we do 5 things, all with the intention of making reparation to her Immaculate Heart:

  • recite at least Five Decades of the Rosary every day
  • wear the Brown Scapular
  • offer our daily duty to God as an act of sacrifice (ie., make the Morning Offering)
  • make Five First Saturdays of Reparation to Her Immaculate Heart (see below)
  • the Pope, in union with all the bishops of the world, must consecrate Russia to Her Immaculate Heart. Russia would be converted through this means, and a period of peace to be given to the world. If this is not done (and it hasn’t been done), Russia will “spread her errors throughout the world.” This consecration must be of Russia — not “the world,” but Russia by name.

The “First Saturdays of Reparation” was not a new devotion, but it was even more popularized after Our Lady appeared at Fatima. It consists of, on the first Saturday of each month for five consecutive months:

  • going to Confession (may be 8 days before the Saturday as long as one stays in a state of grace)
  • receiving the Eucharist
  • praying 5 decades of the Rosary, including the Fatima Prayer
  • “keeping her company” for 15 minutes while meditating on all of the Mysteries of the Rosary with the intention of making reparation to her. This can be done by reading Scripture or other writings relevant to the Mysteries, meditating on pictures of the Mysteries, or simple meditation.

The promise given by Mary to those who make the First Saturday devotion is her assistance at the hour of their death. (2)

The Pure Heart of Mary
by Rev. Arthur Ryan, 1877

“Cor mundum crea in me Deus.”–PS. 90. 

The Church, dear brethren, places before us to-day, as the object of our devotion on this feast, the Heart of Mary in what may be called its characteristic virtue–its purity. Purity has been called “Mary’s virtue,” not because she had it in fuller measure or in greater brightness than the other virtues contained in the absolute fulness of her grace, but because it best suits our view of the Virgin Mother, and because it has been ever held the special grace and charm of womanhood. But this is not the feast of Mary’s Purity (that is kept on another day), but of Mary’s most pure heart: that is, it is the feast of that wondrous union and interdependence, in the character of our Holy and Immaculate Mother, of purity and love. It will instruct us to-day, and also help us to honour our Lady in the spirit of her feast, if we reflect for a few moments on this union. We shall find that Mary’s purity of heart came from the love of her heart, and the sorrow perfecting that love; and we shall learn that in love and in sorrow are to be found the surest foundation and the lasting protection of our own purity of heart. 

We say anything is pure or clean when there is nothing of a lower or coarser nature mixed with it or resting on it. In this way we speak of a pure spirit as one not made for union with a material body; pure water, again, that is not mixed with any foreign matter that will dull its brightness. Remark that purity does not mean coldness or stiffness. If snow is the emblem of purity, it is because of its heaven-born whiteness and stainlessness–not because of its coldness. Once let the clay and soilure of earth be mixed with the drift, and though it has not ceased to be cold it has ceased to be pure. The icicle which the poet has made the emblem of chastity is no fitting emblem either in its coldness or sharpness–but (if it be a fit emblem at all) in its transparent clearness. To-day, however, we see the true emblem of purity, better than snow or ice, however spotless; for we see a human heart, warm with the warmest human love, throbbing and yearning as with the love of all hearts in one, and yet, nay by very reason of its vehement love, the home and emblem of purity–the most loving of the loving, and the purest of the pure.

For think, brethren, how could it be otherwise. Loving Jesus as Mary did, how could her love know that mixture of other love which alone could make her love impure? What drop of tainted earthly love could find room in the crystal vessel of her heart, full to the very brim of the heavenly love of Jesus? Her warm, womanly heart, so gentle and tender, so fitted and attuned to the finest pulsations of love–made by the Eternal God to be, next to the Heart of Jesus, the most perfect instrument of love, that heart had found complete and perfect rest in the love of God–in the love of its Jesus, and what more could it hold? Love filled that inner house, occupied every chamber and stood at the door, so that no other love could enter. Thus was Mary’s love the cause and the guard of Mary’s purity–enough of itself to be the full account of Mary’s stainlessness.

But yet another cause we seem to see. I say “seem,” brethren, for in a perfect work, such as Mary’s heart is, we find that the virtues are not separable in themselves or in their causes, as they are in works less perfect. In fact, the unity of God’s holiness, in Whom all perfections are as one, seems thus reflected in His most perfect creatures. It is, then, only as of another phase of Mary’s love that I would speak of Mary’s sorrow. She sorrowed because she loved, and for her love; and the purity that was founded in that love takes, in our eyes, its lustre and refinement from that sorrow. The Holy Scriptures speak, as men have in every land and literature spoken, of sorrow typified by fire. Prophet and poet are one in telling of the fire of affliction, the furnace of pain; and when the passing woes of earth shall find their awful and eternal home in Hell, they shall dwell there as in a pool of fire. But it is in the purifying qualities of sorrow that has been found the fitness of its comparison with fire. Not to mention many passages in the Old Testament, St. Peter speaks of the soul made sorrowful in divers temptations like the precious gold which is tried by the fire: and St. John commends gold fire-tried, and in the next verse explains this by the words: “Such as I love I rebuke and chastise.” You know that gold, though so precious, is seldom (if ever) found pure. It has to be made pure by the process of fire: the dross is thus taken from it, and nothing but the bright ore remains. 

So is it with the human heart. Precious as is that heart and dear to God, it is yet mixed up with much that is of earth–with sin and the effects of sin. Jesus Christ Himself has told us of the defilements of the heart of man. “From the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things that defile a man.” Such an admixture of what is impure makes the purifying of the heart a necessity: and the fire that loosens this dross, and makes the heart an offering acceptable to God, is the fire of sorrow–sorrow as it is sent us by our loving Father in the chastisement of His love–sorrow as it meets us at the hands of our fellow-men–sorrow as we embrace it ourselves and choose it freely as our lot in the generosity of Penance. The example of this sorrow, if not the example of its work, we behold in the pure and sorrowing heart of Mary. She needed not that fire for herself. No smallest atom of earthly defilement was on that pure heart for the furnace of pain to burn away. Love had done all, and left sorrow nothing to do. But, brethren, for your sakes and mine Mary plunged her heart down into that fire, deeper than any heart has ever gone, save only the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Man of Sorrows.

And shall we refuse to enter our fiery furnace? Shall we refuse to purchase our purity at the price of our pain? Ah no! Our love will make that pain bearable, and will make its work less.

To love and to suffer–be this our lot with the loving, suffering hearts of Jesus and Mary–if only by that love and by that sorrow we may come to something of that purity!

“Who, then, shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or persecution, or the sword? For in all these things we overcome because of Him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6)


Image: The Heart of Mary, artist: Leopold Kupelwieser, circa 1796-1862. photo by Diana Ringo (5)

Research by REGINA Staff