Today is the feast day of Saint Alexius. Ora pro nobis.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
The life of Alexius teaches us how great God is in His Saints. His parents, Euphemianus and Aglae, were rich and distinguished people, but they were long without issue. At length, after many prayers, they were blessed with a son, whom they named Alexius. They neglected nothing to give him a pious education; and Alexius, who was always much inclined to piety, never gave them any cause for sorrow, but was their greatest happiness and comfort. When he grew older, his parents desired that he should take to wife a maiden who was highly esteemed in Rome, as well on account of her riches as of her virtues. Although Alexius had different thoughts as to the life he wished to lead, he nevertheless, after having asked God’s advice in prayer, consented to their wish, and the wedding was celebrated with great festivities. Alexius, however, on the same day, felt an invincible desire to leave his bride, and his home, and all his riches. He obeyed the Divine voice within him, and proceeding to the apartment of his bride, he made her most costly presents of jewels and other precious things, asking her to receive and keep them as tokens of his love. He then went into his room, and, without telling any one of his design, changed his clothes, and secretly left the house. He hastened to the harbor, and embarked in a ship which was ready to sail. After a prosperous voyage, he arrived at Laodicea, and thence went to Edessa in Syria.
The consternation in Alexius’ home, the grief and anxiety of his parents and pious bride, when he did not return the following day, may easily be imagined. They sent their servants in all directions to search for Alexius, and bring him back to his home, and as he could not be found anywhere in the city, messengers were dispatched to neighboring states and cities; but all was useless; they found no trace of him. Meanwhile Alexius, after visiting many remarkable places, and having made many devout pilgrimages, had arrived at Edessa, and begun the life he was resolved henceforth to lead, and which consisted in living, for the honor of God and the salvation of his soul, in voluntary poverty until his death. Hence he gave to the poor all he still possessed, covered himself with a ragged garment, and went to a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. This house of the Almighty became, so to say, his dwelling-place, as he spent in it the whole day, except the hour for begging alms. He passed the greater part of the night in praising the Lord in the vestibule of the sacred edifice, giving only a few hours to sleep on the bare ground. He fasted most rigidly and distributed most of the alms he received among the poor. His manner of living altered the face of the Saint to such a degree that no one would have recognized him. He convinced himself of this fact by asking alms of his own servants who had come to Edessa in search of him: they gave him alms without recognizing in the miserable beggar their own master. When Alexius had lived in this manner for some time, several persons who had observed his virtuous conduct, began to think that this beggar was more than he appeared. The curate of the church, one day, while pondering over the actions of this beggar, heard a voice proceeding from an image of the Blessed Virgin, informing him that the poor man, who dwelt at the door of the church, was a great servant of the Almighty, and that his prayers were very agreeable to the Most High. This was soon known to many, and Alexius perceived that they began to honor him and treat him with distinction; and as he had determined to live in abnegation and poverty, he resolved to leave Edessa. Accordingly, he went on board of the first vessel he found, praying God to lead him where it was His holy will that he should serve Him unknown and unheeded. His prayer was accepted; for, instead of reaching Laodicea, whither the ship was bound, it was driven into the harbor of Rome. The heroic conqueror of himself saw in this that it was the design of Providence that he should continue in his home the life he had begun at Edessa.
The Almighty, who wished to give to the world an unprecedented example of self-abnegation, inspired Alexius to go into the house of his father; and the holy youth, although willing to obey the call, went first to the seven principal churches of the city, praying God to give him strength for the terrible struggle before him. No sooner had he finished his prayers, than he went to his father’s house. At that moment Euphemianus, followed by many of his servants, was coming out of his house. Alexius, clad in rags, approaching him most humbly said: “Lord, for the sake of Christ, have compassion on a poor pilgrim, and give me a corner of your palace to live in.” Euphemianus looked in pity at Alexius, and although he had no idea that his son was concealed under the garments of the beggar, his heart was moved and he consented to his request. Hence he ordered his servants to assign him a place where he might live, and to give him his daily food. The order was obeyed, and a corner under the staircase, or as some say, a small room was appointed to the poor pilgrim as his dwelling. He gratefully accepted it and remained there until his death without being recognized by any one.
God permitted that the servants soon grew weary of him, and often treated him with great indignity. They not only derided and abused him, but even sometimes dared to lay hands on him. The holy pilgrim bore it all without complaining. His greatest trial was when he saw his father, his mother or his bride, or when he heard from their own lips, how they were grieving for the loss of their Alexius. But the grace of God sustained him and he wavered not in his heroic resolution. He never left his corner, except when he went to church. Every week he partook of the Blessed Sacrament and passed many hours in church in prayer and devout reading. He fasted daily, slept on the bare floor, and mortified his body most unmercifully. He possessed no other pictures but those of Christ and the Blessed Virgin, the sight of which encouraged him to persevere. These were the means by which God enabled him to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. For seventeen years he thus struggled and conquered his own heart in his father’s house, when it pleased the Almighty to bestow upon this brave and incomparable soldier, the crown of everlasting glory. The hour of his death was revealed to him, and Alexius, after having, according to his custom, assisted at Holy Mass and received the Blessed Sacrament, went home and wrote who he was, why he had left his father’s house, and all that had taken place during his absence. This note he folded together and held in his hand when he peacefully and happily gave his heroic soul to God, in the year of our Lord 403, or as others say in 304.
At the hour of his death, Euphemianus, his father, was in church, assisting at the divine sacrifice, which Pope Innocent I. offered in the presence of the Emperor Honorius, when suddenly, a voice announced that the great servant of God at the house of Euphemianus was dead. The latter, questioned by the Pope and the Emperor, what servant of God dwelt in his house answered: “It can be none but the poor beggar to whom I have given lodgings for many years.” Accompanied by the Pope and the Emperor, Euphemianus went home, found Alexius dead. Seeing a paper in his hand, Euphemianus would have taken it, but the fingers of the dead had closed so tightly over it, that it was not possible to loosen them. The Pope and all present fell on their knees and prayed that God would permit the paper to be read, after which the Pope approached the Saint, and took the paper without any effort. The astonishment of all, but especially of Euphemianus, the Pope and the Emperor, when they read that the beggar was the long-lost son of Euphemianus is easier to be imagined than described. Grief, surprise, joy and sorrow overwhelmed the father’s heart with such force, that, for a long time, he was unable to utter a word. At last throwing himself at the feet of his holy son, he bedewed them with his tears, and broke out into piteous lamentations that he had not recognized him. Meanwhile, the mother and bride of the Saint were apprised of the startling event; and no pen can describe the scene which took place when they beheld the holy body. The report of this astonishing occurrence spread quickly through the city, and the palace of Euphemianus was soon filled with people. Every one wished to kiss, or at least to see the holy relics. Several miracles which took place, and the heavenly light with which God graced the countenance of the Saint, increased from hour to hour the crowd that came to see him. The Pope ordered that the body should be transported to the Church of St. Peter, to satisfy the people. He, as well as the Emperor, followed in the funeral procession, which was more like a triumphal march, and such as Rome had never seen before. The holy relics were, in the course of time, transferred to the church of St. Boniface; and the dwelling of Euphemianus was converted into a church and dedicated to St. Alexius. The costly tomb which encloses the holy body has been honored with many and great miracles. (6)
According to the most recent researches he was an Eastern saint whose veneration was transplanted from the Byzantine empire to Rome, whence it spread rapidly throughout western Christendom.Together with the name and veneration of the Saint, his legend was made known to Rome and the West by means of Latin versions and recensions based on the form current in the Byzantine Orient. This process was facilitated by the fact that according to the earlier Syriac legend of the Saint, the “Man of God,” of Edessa (identical with St. Alexius) was a native of Rome.
Saint Alexis lived in his family home for seventeen more years, until his death in 404, which the Lord revealed to him in advance. On the day of his death, he took pen and paper, writing a note of apology and begging for forgiveness for the earthly pain he had caused his wife and parents. That day, the day of his death, heavenly voices spoke at Masses offered throughout the city—one to Archbishop Innocent saying, “On Friday morning, the Man of God comes forth from the body. Have him pray for the city, that you may remain untroubled.” Those present were terrified, falling to the ground upon hearing the heavenly voice. Upon recovering, they searched the city, but were unable to locate humble Alexis, living under the stairs in his father’s courtyard. A second voice was heard by the Pope, while serving Mass in the Church of Saint Peter. The voice spoke, “Seek the Man of God in the house of Euphemianus.” Many traveled to the house, including the Pope and Emperor, but Alexis was found to be dead. His face was transformed into that of a angel, his youth and vigor restored and enhanced. In his hand, he clasped his final note, but it was unable to be pried free until the Pope and Emperor—addressing him as if he were alive—asked to read it.
St. Alexius is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology under 17 July in the following terms: “At Rome, in a church on the Aventine Hill, a man of God is celebrated under the name of Alexius, who, as reported by tradition, abandoned his wealthy home, for the sake of becoming poor and to beg for alms unrecognized.”
While the Roman Catholic Church continues to recognize St. Alexius as a saint, his feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969. The reason given was the legendary character of the written life of the saint. The Catholic Encyclopedia article regarding St. Alexius remarked: “Perhaps the only basis for the story is the fact that a certain pious ascetic at Edessa lived the life of a beggar and was later venerated as a saint.
Image: Hellmonsödt ( Upper Austria ). Saint Alexius parish church: High altar ( 18th century ) – Altar painting of Saint Alexius ( 1758 ) by Bartolomeo Altomonte. (4)
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Ora pro nobis.
Today, July 16, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Madonna of the Brown Scapular. It is our Lady of Mount Carmel who appeared to Saint Simon Stock, providing gentle instruction on Consecration to Her Immaculate Heart through the Scapular, which led to the growth of the Carmelite Order. As Pope Pius XII proclaimed, “Let the Scapular be for them a sign of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.”
The feast was assigned to 16 July, because on that date in 1251, according to Carmelite traditions, the scapular was given by the Blessed Virgin to St. Simon Stock. It was first approved by Sixtus V in 1587. After Cardinal Bellarmine had examined the Carmelite traditions in 1609, it was declared the patronal feast of the order, and is now celebrated in the Carmelite calendar as a major double of the first class with a vigil and a privileged octave (like the octave of Epiphany, admitting only a double of the first class) under the title “Commemoratio solemnis B.V.M. de Monte Carmelo”. By a privilege given by Clement X in 1672, some Carmelite monasteries keep the feast on the Sunday after 16 July, or on some other Sunday in July. In the seventeenth century the feast was adopted by several dioceses in the south of Italy, although its celebration, outside of Carmelite churches, was prohibited in 1628 by a decree contra abusus. On 21 Nov., 1674, however, it was first granted by Clement X to Spain and its colonies, in 1675 to Austria, in 1679 to Portugal and its colonies, and in 1725 to the Papal States of the Church, on 24 Sept., 1726, it was extended to the entire Latin Church by Benedict XIII. The lessons contain the legend of the scapular; the promise of the Sabbatine privilege was inserted into the lessons by Paul V about 1614. The Greeks of southern Italy and the Catholic Chaldeans have adopted this feast of the “Vestment of the Blessed Virgin Mary”. The object of the feast is the special predilection of Mary for those who profess themselves her servants by wearing her scapular.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Carmel is a mountain, lying between Judea and Syria, of which one part belonged to the tribe of Manasses, the other to the tribe of Aser. The prophet Elias wrought, on Mount Carmel, the great miracle which is circumstantially related in the third Book of Kings, 18th chapter, when he, to prove that the God of Israel, whom he worshipped, was the true God, called down fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice. Upon this mountain, according to the Breviary, some pious nun, who had been converted to Christianity, built a church or chapel, dedicated to the Most Pure Virgin, in which they frequently assembled for prayer; and they were called “Brothers of our Lady of Mount Carmel.” There exists, at the present day, in the Catholic Church, a celebrated religious Order, whose members take their name from this mount, and hence are called “Carmelites,” or “Brothers of our Lady of Mount Carmel.” This religious Order was spread many centuries ago, not only in the Holy Land, but also in other countries. Among other things we read that St. Louis of France, on his return from Syria, brought some of these religious with him into his kingdom, and assigned them a dwelling near Marseilles. The Holy Mother who was especially honored by these religious, imparted also especial graces to them, and protected them miraculously in the greatest need and danger.
Among these graces is to be counted the following: The holy man, Simon Stock, who had, during many years served the Lord in England, as a hermit, desired most fervently to be admitted into the Carmelite Order, when he heard that the latter were spreading all over Europe. His desire was complied with, and he endeavoured with such zeal to reach the height of perfection, that after a few years he was deemed worthy to be chosen general of the whole Order. As such, he one day poured out his whole heart, with child-like confidence, before an image of the Blessed Virgin, requesting her to bestow upon his holy Order some especial favor. The Divine Mother appeared to him, and, as it is said in the Roman Breviary, bestowed upon him the habit of the holy scapular, that his Order might be thus distinguished, from all others and protected from all evil. Swanington, the companion of the blessed man, relates that Simon informed him of the apparition in the following words: “The Blessed Virgin appeared to me with a large suite; she held the habit in her hand and said, ‘This shall be thy privilege and that of all Carmelites. Those who die, with sorrow for their sins and in the true faith, and clad in this habit, shall not suffer eternal fire.'” Others say that the Divine Mother bestowed the scapular upon the blessed man with these words: “Take, my son, this scapular, as a sign of thy Order, an emblem of salvation. They who die in it, repenting of their sins, shall not suffer the eternal fire.”
This consoling apparition and promise gave rise to the confraternity of the scapular, which is now spread over the whole of the Catholic world, with the papal approbation and the grant of many indulgences. It is a consoling belief, which rests upon the words of the Breviary, that the members of this association, who endeavor to live according to its rules, enjoy the special protection of the Blessed Virgin at the hour of death, and are speedily delivered from purgatory, and taken into their heavenly home. Pope Benedict XIV. treating of the Festivals of the Blessed Virgin, says that Paul V. had made a decree, by which he sanctioned the pious belief that the Blessed Virgin would help her clients after death, by her intercession, especially on Saturdays, as this day is consecrated to her by the Holy Church, provided they had died in the grace of God, and had endeavored to follow the rules of the association. The heretics at different periods attacked this pious belief with lies and blasphemies, and ridiculed those who wore the blessed scapular; nor have they discontinued to do this in our day. Some Catholics, though Catholics only in name, agree with them, and reject the revelation of Simon Stock, as a pious fable, or a tale without any foundation. They look upon the promise made to him as something which does not harmonize with the Catholic faith; they are not even ashamed to say that it opens a path to evil; for, if we thought that we can escape hell by wearing a scapular, nothing would be more likely than that we should plunge into all possible vices and continue in them, in the belief that we cannot go to eternal destruction, by reason of our being members of that association.
To this and other such reasonings I will answer only this: As far as the comforting revelation of the blessed Simon Stock is concerned, it is, of course, not an article of faith, as those contained in Holy Writ; but it is not, therefore, only a fable or unfounded tale. It was related by trustworthy men, examined by many historians, and verified by several Popes. Those who doubt it, or denounce it as false, without sufficient cause, act unreasonably. There are thousands of facts, not contained in Holy Writ, which are incontestible on account of the testimony of trustworthy men. Among this number is the one above related. And if, notwithstanding this, a heretic thinks it a fable or an unfounded tale, let him give his reasons for rejecting it; for, a mere contradiction of a fact does not refute it. Respecting the gracious promise of the Blessed Virgin, that he who wears the habit, or blessed scapular, shall escape the fire of hell, it is beyond all doubt that we cannot understand it in such a manner that every one shall most certainly escape the fire of hell and go to heaven, simply because he wears a scapular, no matter how vicious his conduct might be. No, those who would judge in the sense of the Catholic Church, are not allowed to understand the promise in this manner. For, not to mention that, according to the teachings of the Holy Church, we cannot possess in this world, without a divine revelation, an infallible assurance of our future salvation, the Gospel of our Lord declares plainly that to escape hell and gain salvation much more is necessary than the wearing of a scapular. True faith, holy baptism, strict observance of the commandments of God and of the Church, the avoidance of sin, the practice of good works, and, finally penance when we have committed sin; these are the conditions which, according to the teachings of Christ, are necessary for our salvation, and without which all other merits, whatever they may be, are not sufficient to open for us the gates of heaven.
To elucidate the case before us still more, let us suppose that some one, either out of pious simplicity or want of instruction, carried constantly a consecrated Host with him. Now the question arises, will this person escape hell on account of it and surely gain salvation? Can he, because he carries a consecrated Host with him, not commit a mortal sin? Can he, for the same reason, not die in sin and be condemned? From the answer that must necessarily follow, we may draw the conclusion, that the words of the above promise are not to be understood as if every one who wears a scapular must surely be saved, and cannot be condemned, notwithstanding his living a bad life. Just in the same manner are some of the words of Holy Writ to be understood, for instance, where it is said that alms free men from death, that is, from eternal damnation. God, in consideration of alms, gives especial graces to man, in order that he may avoid sin, do penance, and hence not go to destruction. In the same manner, any one who, out of veneration to the Queen of Heaven, wears the scapular, and carefully observes the rules of the association, will, by her intercession, receive the grace to live piously, to escape hell, and to gain heaven. In one word, to wear the scapular, and by so doing to manifest an especial devotion to the Blessed Virgin, will assist us to gain life everlasting. But it is far from being sufficient to open heaven for us, if it is not accompanied by those means which Christ announced as necessary for the salvation of our souls.
The above is surely a proof that devotion to the scapular in no way leads to a wicked life, as the heretics pretend. No Catholic has ever thought of teaching that we gain heaven by merely wearing the scapular; while it is quite certain that the doctrines of heresy lead straightway to sin and vice. For, if any man believes, according to the teachings of the heretics, that faith alone saves, that he is sure of salvation and cannot lose it, if he only believes; or that no transgression of the Commandments can harm him, if he only accepts with a believing mind the grace of Christ, as the catechism of Calvinists teaches; what can follow but that he should plunge into sin and vice, partly because, according to his ideas, he cannot be condemned, partly on account of his wrong opinion, that faith alone saves. The Catholic Church is far from such doctrines. She does not teach that the wearing of a scapular, or any similar observance, is sufficient for our salvation, but that the wearing of a scapular, if it is done piously, assists us to gain salvation, as God, in consequence of it, will bestow upon us many graces through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, which otherwise He might not grant. The Evil One, who knows the great benefits which result from all pious associations, and especially from the veneration of the Mother of our Lord, incites the heretics to reject or to blaspheme them. He also incites Catholics to place more faith in them than they ought to do, and to pay more attention to what is merely an aid than to what is really necessary.
Thus it happens that many think it a greater sin to eat meat on Wednesday, which is forbidden by the rules of the association of the scapular, than to eat meat on the days of abstinence commanded by the Church. A true Catholic ought first to obey the commandment of God, or of the Church, and do all that is absolutely necessary to gain salvation, and after this, what is useful and beneficial. That which aids him to gain salvation he should not neglect, but at the same time he should be careful not to think that he will gain heaven if he omits that which is most needful. Let this suffice for your instruction, and to refute the wicked and the ignorant.
In conclusion, as far as the use of the scapular is concerned, it would be very wrong for a Catholic to despise it. He should, on the contrary, learn to esteem it highly. We find, in many books, instances of miracles which have been wrought on those who have worn it piously. They have been miraculously protected in dangers by fire and water; in battle it has been a shield which averted the strokes of the enemy; in sickness, a life-giving remedy. And who can count the number of hardened sinners, for whom the Divine Mother has obtained grace to do penance, and thus to escape hell, in consideration of the devotion which they manifested to her by wearing the scapular? Hence, whether you are numbered among the sinners or the righteous, let the beneficial use of the scapular be recommended to you. Evince, by wearing it, your devotion towards her who faithfully aids her children in life and in death. (3)
Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
When Eternal Wisdom was playing in the world, forming the hills and establishing the mountains, He destined Mount Carmel to be the special inheritance of Eve’s victorious Daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And when the last thousand years of expectation were opening, and the desire of all nations was developing into the spirit of prophecy, the father of the prophets ascended the privileged mount, thence to scan the horizon. The triumphs of David and the glories of Solomon were at an end: the scepter of Juda, broken by the schism of the ten tribes, threatened to fall from his hand; the worship of Baal prevailed in Israel. A long-continued drought, figure of the aridity of men’s souls, had parched up every spring, and men and beasts were dying beside the empty cisterns, when Elias the Thesbite gathered the people, representing the whole human race, on Mount Carmel, and slew the lying prophets of Baal. Then, as the Scripture relates, prostrating with his face to the earth, he said to his servant: Go up, look towards the sea. And he went up, and looked and said: There is nothing. And again he said to him: Return seven times. And at the seventh time: Behold, a little cloud arose out of the sea like a man’s foot (3 Kings 18).
Blessed cloud! unlike the bitter waves from which it sprang, it was all sweetness. Docile to the least breath of Heaven, it rose light and humble, above the immense heavy ocean; and screening the sun, it tempered the heat that was scorching the earth and restored to the stricken world life and grace and fruitfulness. The promised Messias, the Son of Man, set His impress upon it, showing to the wicked serpent the form of the heel that was to crush him. The prophet, personifying the human race, felt his youth renewed; and while the welcome rain was already refreshing the valleys, he ran before the chariot of the king of Israel. Thus did he traverse the great plain of Esdrelon, even to the mysteriously named town of Jezrahel, where, according to Osee, the children of Juda and Israel were again to have but one head in the great day of Jezrahel (i.e. of the seed of God), when the Lord would seal His eternal nuptials with a new people (Osee 1: 11; 2: 14-24). Later on, from Sunam near Jezrahel, the mother whose son was dead crossed the same plain of Esdrelon, in the opposite direction, and ascended Mount Carmel, to obtain from Eliseus the resurrection of her child, who was a figure of us all (4 Kings 4: 8-37). Elias had already departed in the chariot of fire, to await the last age of the world, when he is to give testimony, together with Henoch, to the Son of Her that was signified by the cloud (Apoc. 11: 3, 7); and the disciple, clothed with the mantle and spirit of his father, had taken possession, in the name of the sons of the prophets, of the august mountain honored by the manifestation of the Queen of Prophets. Henceforward Carmel was sacred in the eyes of all who looked beyond this world. Gentiles as well as Jews, philosophers and princes, came here on pilgrimage to adore the true God; while the chosen souls of the Church of the expectation, many of whom were already wandering in deserts and in mountains (Heb. 11:38), loved to take up their abode in its thousand grottos; for the ancient traditions seemed to linger more lovingly in its silent forests, and the perfume of its flowers foretokened the Virgin Mother. The devotion to the Queen of Heaven was already established; and to the family of Her devout clients, the ascetics of Carmel, might be applied the words spoken later by God to the pious descendants of Rechab: There shall not be wanting a man of this race, standing before Me forever (Jerem. 35:19).
At length figures gave place to the reality; the heavens dropped down their dew, and the Just One came forth from the cloud. When His work was done and He returned to His Father, leaving His Blessed Mother in the world, and sending the Holy Ghost to the Church, not the least triumph of that Spirit of love was the making known of Mary to the new-born Christians of Pentecost. What a happiness for those neophytes who were privileged above the rest in being brought to the Queen of Heaven, the Virgin Mother of Him Who was the Hope of Israel! They saw this Second Eve, they conversed with Her, they felt for Her that filial affection wherewith She inspired all the disciples of Jesus. In the lessons of the Feast, the Church tells us how the disciples of Elias and Eliseus became Christians at the first preaching of the Apostles, and being permitted to hear the sweet words of the Blessed Virgin and enjoy an unspeakable intimacy with Her, they felt their veneration for Her immensely increased. Returning to the beloved mountain, where their less fortunate fathers had lived but in hope, they built, on the very spot where Elias had seen the little cloud rise up out of the sea, an oratory to the Purest of Virgins; hence they obtained the name of Brothers of Blessed Mary of Mount Carmel.
In the 12th century, in consequence of the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, many pilgrims from Europe came to swell the ranks of the solitaries on the holy mountain; it therefore became expedient to give to their hitherto eremitical life a form more in accordance with the habits of Western nations. The legate Aimeric Malafaida, Patriarch of Antioch, gathered them into a community under the authority of St. Berthold, who was thus the first to receive the title of Prior-General. At the commencement of the next century, Blessed Albert, Patriarch of Jerusalem and also apostolic legate, completed the work of Aimeric by giving a fixed Rule to the Order, which was now, through the influence of princes and knights returned from the Holy Land, beginning to spread into Cyprus, Sicily, and the countries beyond the sea. Soon, indeed, the Christians of the East being abandoned by God to the just punishment of their sins, the vindictiveness of the conquering Saracens reached such a height in this age of trial for Palestine, that a full assembly, held on Mount Carmel under Alan the Breton, resolved upon a complete migration, leaving only a few friars eager for martyrdom to guard the cradle of the Order. The very year in which this took place (1245), St. Simon Stock was elected General in the first Chapter of the West, held at Aylesford in England.
St. Simon owed his election to the successful struggle he had maintained for the recognition of the Order, which certain prelates, alleging the recent decrees of the Lateran Council, rejected as having been newly introduced into Europe. Our Lady had then taken the cause of the friars into Her own hands, and had obtained from Pope Honorius III the decree of confirmation, which originated today’s Feast. This was neither the first nor the last favor bestowed by the sweet Virgin upon the family that had lived so long under the shadow, as it were, of Her mysterious cloud, and shrouded like Her in humility, with no other bond, no other pretension than the imitation of Her hidden works and the contemplation of Her glory. She Herself had wished them to go forth from the midst of a faithless people; just as, before the close of that same 13th century, She would command Her angels to carry into a Catholic land Her blessed home of Nazareth. Whether or not the men of those days, or the short-sighted historians of our own time, ever thought of it, the one translation called for the other, just as each completes and explains the other, and each was to be for Europe the signal for wonderful favors from Heaven.
In the night between the 15th and 16th of July of the year 1251, the gracious Queen of Carmel confirmed to Her sons by a mysterious sign the right of citizenship She had obtained for them in their newly adopted countries; as Mistress and Mother of the entire religious state She conferred upon them with Her queenly hands the Scapular, hitherto the distinctive garb of the greatest and most ancient religious family of the West. On giving St. Simon Stock this badge, ennobled by contact with Her sacred fingers, the Mother of God said to him: “Whosoever shall die in this habit shall not suffer eternal flames.” But not against hellfire alone was the all-powerful intercession of the Blessed Mother to be felt by those who should wear Her Scapular. In 1316, when every holy soul was imploring Heaven to put an end to that long and disastrous widowhoood of the Church, which followed on the death of Pope Clement V, the Queen of Saints appeared to James d’Euse, whom the world was soon to hail as Pope John XXII; She foretold to him his approaching elevation to the Sovereign Pontificate, and at the same time recommended him to publish the privilege She had obtained from Her Divine Son for Her children of Carmel—viz., a speedy deliverance from Purgatory. “I, their Mother, will graciously go down to them on the Saturday after their death, and all whom I find in Purgatory I will deliver and will bring to the mountain of life eternal.” These are the words of Our Lady Herself, quoted by Pope John XXII in the Bull which he published for the purpose of making known the privilege, and which was called the Sabbatine Bull on account of the day chosen by the glorious Benefactress for the exercise of Her mercy.
There have been, of course, attempts made to cast doubt on the authenticity of these heavenly concessions. The attack of the chief assailant, the too famous Launoy, was condemned by the Apostolic See; and after, as well as before, these contradictions, the Roman Pontiffs confirmed, as much as need be, by their Supreme Authority, the substance and even the letter of the precious promises. The Popes have, time after time, enriched the Carmelite family with indulgences, as if earth would vie with Heaven in favoring it. The munificence of Mary, the pious gratitude of Her sons for the hospitality given them by the West, and lastly, the authority of St. Peter’s successors, soon made these spiritual riches accessible to all Catholics, by the institution of the Confraternity of the Holy Scapular. Who shall tell the graces, often miraculous, obtained though this humble garb? Who could count the faithful who have been enrolled in the holy militia? When Pope Benedict XIII, in the 18th century, extended the Feast of July 16 to the whole Church, he did but give an official sanction to the universality already gained by the devotion to the Queen of Carmel.
The holy liturgy gives the following account of the Feast:
When on the holy day of Pentecost the Apostles, inspired by Heaven, spoke in diverse tongues, and performed many miracles by the invocation of the most august Name of Jesus, it is said that many men who had followed in the footsteps of the holy Prophets Elias and Eliseus, and had been prepared by the preaching of John the Baptist for Christ’s coming, saw and were confirmed in the truth. They immediately embraced the Faith of the Gospel, and began to venerate the Blessed Virgin (whose conversation and company was so readily possible for them to enjoy) with such affection that before anyone else they erected a sanctuary to that purest of Virgins on that very spot of Mount Carmel where Elias had seen the little cloud rising, a significant figure of the Virgin.
Therefore, coming together in the new oratory several times a day, they honored the Blessed Virgin as the special protectress of their Order. For this reason, they began to be called everywhere the friars of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. Supreme Pontiffs not only confirmed this title, but also granted special indulgences to whoever should call by this name either the whole Order or individual friars. Together with Her name and protection, the Blessed Virgin also bestowed upon them Her holy Scapular, which She gave to Blessed Simon Stock, an Englishman, that the Order might be distinguished from others by this holy Habit and be preserved from all evil. And finally, since this Order was unknown in Europe, and on this account many were insistently asking Honorius III for its suppression, the Most Pious Virgin Mary appeared by night to Honorius and expressly ordered him to benignly receive both the Institute and its members.
Not only in this world has the Blessed Virgin wished to honor an Order so dear to Her with special privileges, but also in the next world. For it is piously believed that any of Her children who, having been enrolled as members in the Confraternity of the Scapular and have practiced abstinence, have said the prayers prescribed and have observed chastity according to their state of life, will assuredly be consoled by Her maternal affection while in Purgatory, and, through Her intercession, be delivered from there as soon as possible and taken to the heavenly fatherland. Enriched with such great favors, the Carmelite Order, therefore, instituted a solemn commemoration in honor of the Most Blessed Virgin, to be perpetually celebrated every year, to the glory of the self-same Virgin. (5)
Research by REGINA Staff
Image: Crop of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saints (Simon Stock, Angelus of Jerusalem, Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi, Teresa of Avila), artist: Pietro Novelli, circa
Today is the feast day of Saint Vladimir of Kiev. Ora pro Nobis.
Saint Vladimir was born in 956. He was Grand Duke of Kieff and All Russia, grandson of St. Olga, and the first Russian ruler to embrace Christianity. He was the illegitimate son of Sviastoslav, grand duke of Kiev, and his mistress, Malushka. Civil war broke out between his half-brothers Yaropolk and Oleg; Yaropolk made himself ruler by defeating and killing Oleg, and when he captured Novgorod. Vladimir was forced to flee to Scandinavia in 977.
Becoming bolder Vladimir waged war against Yaropolk towards the south, took the city of Polotzk. He slew its prince, Ragvald, and married his daughter Ragnilda, the affianced bride of Yaropolk. Vladimir returned with an army and captured Novgorod and defeated and slew Yaropolk at Rodno in 980. Vladimir was now sole ruler of Russia. Vladimir was notorious for his barbarism and immorality.
As a heathen prince Vladimir had four wives besides Ragnilda, and by them had ten sons and two daughters. Since the days of St. Olga, Christianity, which was originally established among the eastern Slavs by Sts. Cyril and Methodius, had been making secret progress throughout the land of Russ (now eastern Austria and Russia). Christianity had begun to considerably alter the heathen ideas. It was a period similar to the era of the conversion of Constantine.
Vladimir continued his conquering. After his conquest of Kherson in the Crimea in 988, he became impressed by the progress of Christianity. Vladimir approached Eastern Emperor Basil II about marrying the emperor’s daughter Anna. The emperor replied that a Christian might not marry a heathen, but if Vladimir were a Christian prince he would sanction the alliance. To this Vladimir replied that he had already examined the doctrines of the Christians, was inclined towards them, and was ready to be baptized.
He converted, reformed his life and married Anna, and thereafter put away his pagan wives. When Vladimir returned to Kieff he took upon himself the conversion of his subjects. He ordered the statues of the gods to be thrown down, chopped to pieces, and some of them burned. The chief god, Perun, was dragged through the mud and thrown into the River Dnieper. These acts impressed the people with the helplessness of their gods. When they were told that they should follow Vladimir’s example and become Christians they were willingly baptized, even wading into the river that they might the sooner be reached by the priest for baptism.
Additionally on his return to Kiev, he invited Greek missionaries to Russia, led his people to Christianity. Vladimir built schools and churches. He gave up his warlike career and devoted himself principally to the government of his people. Anna died in 1011, two sons by Anna, SS Romanus and David became martyrs. After this, his life became troubled by the conduct of his elder children. Following the custom of his ancestors, he had parcelled out his kingdom amongst his children, giving the city of Novgorod in fief to his eldest son Yaroslav; the latter rebelled against him and refused to render either service or tribute In 1014 he was obliged to march against his rebellious son Yaroslav in Novgorod, fell ill on the way and died at Beresyx, Russia.
Image: Crop of Baptism of Saint Prince Vladimir, artist: Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov: Circa
Today is the feast day of Saint Henry II. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Henry was a German King and Holy Roman Emperor, son of Duke Henry II (the Quarrelsome) and of the Burgundian Princess Gisela. He was born in 972
Saint Henry II, Emperor by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Among the Roman Emperors there is one whom the Catholic Church mentions, as well in the Martyrology as in holy Mass and the breviary, as a Saint; the Emperor Henry. He was the son of the Duke of Bavaria, and received instruction in the Christian religion, and also in the liberal arts, under St. Wolfgang. This holy teacher inculcated not only piety, but also holiness, as is proved by the Emperor’s whole after-life. The early death of his holy tutor was a source of deep grief to the pious youth, and he spent many an hour at his grave, confiding all his cares to him with the confidence of a child. One day, while he was thus praying, sleep overtook him, during which he saw the holy bishop standing before him, telling him to turn his eyes to the wall. On doing so, he saw distinctly the two words “After Six.” He awoke, and thinking he should die after six days, he prepared himself piously for his departure from this life. The six days, however, passed, and as he was still alive, he thought that perhaps six weeks had been intended by those words. But these also went by, and in like manner six months and six years, during all of which he lived so piously that he was constantly ready to die. When, however, at the expiration of six years, he was chosen Emperor, he comprehended the import of those two words.
Before he was crowned Emperor, he followed the wishes of his parents and married Cunegunda, daughter of the Palatine Siegfried, with whom, by mutual consent, he lived in perpetual chastity. Having attained the highest dignity that could be conferred upon him, he altered not in the least his pious manner of living. He united with his dignity, a most edifying humility, as he had accepted the imperial crown only with the intention of furthering the honor of God, of protecting and disseminating the true faith, and of laboring for the welfare of his subjects. During his reign of 22 years, he was often in the field, sometimes in one country, sometimes in another; at first against those who aspired to the throne, and then against the persecutors of the Church, or the rebels and enemies of the Empire. He was most miraculously assisted by God and obtained many glorious victories over his enemies. We will give one example as a proof of this.
Several barbarous nations of Sclavonia and other neighboring territories made inroads into some portions of the Empire, doing great damage to the inhabitants and sparing neither churches nor convents, but plundering and laying waste everything in their way. They ravaged the diocese of Merseburg, and the holy emperor, advised by the nobles of the land, marched against them. Girding around his loins the sword of the holy Martyr St. Adrian, he called on the Lord of Hosts to be with him, and then begged his holy patrons, especially the holy Archangel Michael, St. Gregory and St. Adrian to intercede for him. He further promised to St. Lawrence, the patron of the See of Merseburg, to renew the church that had been dedicated to him, and which had been destroyed by the idolatrous people, if he would obtain from God the grace to vanquish them. His whole army was prepared for the battle, by receiving the Holy Communion, and when the morning broke, the Emperor beheld the barbarians marching against him in immense masses. Having again called on God for aid, he encouraged his soldiers to fight bravely against the enemies of the country and religion. When the battle began, the holy Emperor perceived those Saints whose aid had been invoked, at the head of his army, strengthening his soldiers and causing such panic among the enemy, that most of them fled and others turned in wild rage against each other. Thus did the Almighty renew the miracle, which, in ancient times, He had wrought for the benefit of His people, and the holy Emperor won a complete victory for which he gave due thanks to heaven and fulfilled the promise made in honor of St. Lawrence.
Valiantly as the holy Emperor marched against the enemies of his land and the Holy Church, on this occasion, he was equally ready, at other times, to spare those who humbled themselves and requested peace. The inhabitants of Troja in Calabria had rebelled against the general of the Emperor, and the latter was obliged to punish them for it, in order to prevent others from following their expample. Hence he besieged Troja with his army. When the inhabitants saw that they could not oppose the imperial power, they sent all the children in a long procession to the Emperor, crying “Lord, have mercy.” So touching a cry, accompanied by floods of tears, went to the Emperor’s heart, and withdrawing his army, he announced to the people of the city his pardon, with the words, that it would be wrong for him, as a man, to disregard prayers and tears which oftentimes moved even God. Surely a beautiful example of Christian charity, far from all desire to seek revenge on those who gave offence. The same charity actuated the holy Emperor to assist the poor and needy, and to stretch forth his hand to help the oppressed. His love to the Almighty he manifested especially by his zeal to further His honor on all occasions. To this end he erected many magnificent churches and convents, on which he spent large sums of money. There can hardly be named a monarch, who renewed and erected so many churches, endowed so many dioceses, and founded so many convents as this holy Emperor.
He founded the diocese of Bamberg and endowed it most generously. In the city of Bamberg, he built, in honor of the holy Archangel Michael, a church on the site still called Mount-Michael, another dedicated to St. Stephen, and also the magnificent Cathedral. The last was consecrated by the Pope himself, with great solemnity. The same Pope, Benedict VIII., crowned Henry and Cunegunda at Rome, on which occasion he presented the Emperor with a golden ball–the imperial globe–surmounted by the cross. This precious gift, as also the crown placed on his head at Rome, the Emperor, on his return, bestowed on the Church of the monastery at Cluni, to which he paid a pious visit. Notwithstanding his being engaged in frequent wars, which devoured enormous sums of money, he bestowed great treasure on the churches to procure everything that was necessary to ornament them. He wished to see the churches and everything belonging to the divine service magnificent, and kept in proper order, and used to say: “The Lord, to whom these churches are consecrated, is so great, that we ought to do all in our power to worship and proclaim His greatness and majesty. Nothing is laid out uselessly that is given to this end, nay, we never can ornament our churches so much that there will be no room left to do still more.” The holy Emperor desired in this respect to imitate the Emperor Constantine the Great, who was celebrated through the whole Christian world, not only for the many grand churches that he erected, but also for the splendid vessels, candelabra, paintings and vestments with which he furnished and ornamented them; for the same reason which actuated King Solomon to gather an almost inconceivable amount of gold and silver for the building of the Temple. “For,'” said he, “we do not erect a dwelling for man, but for God.”
Besides these and other works, which the holy Emperor undertook for the welfare of the empire, and the honor of the Holy Church, he did not neglect those exercises of piety which he needed for his own salvation. He had certain hours both of the day and of the night, which he gave to prayer. He undertook nothing without first asking the assistance of the Almighty by prayer. During many bitter persecutions which he had to suffer, even from his own brother, his patience was most remarkable; a word of complaint was never heard to pass his lips. In like manner he bore the most cruel pains occasioned by sickness, until St. Benedict, who visibly appeared to him during his sleep, cured him. He mortified his body with rigorous fasts and other penances. He received frequently, and always with great devotion, the Holy Sacrament, and by this means preserved his chastity until the end of his life.
After so virtuous a life he became sick at the Castle of Grone, not far from Halberstadt, while on a journey. After receiving the Viaticum, he called his holy consort, Cunegunda and her relations around his dying bed, and after once again asking her to forgive him, for having once suspected her of evil deeds, as is related in the life of this holy Empress, on the third day of March, he took her hand and said to her relations, in the presence of many persons: “She was entrusted to me by you, or rather by Christ our Lord, and I give her back to Christ and to you, a pure virgin.” Soon after, he expired, in the year 1024, and the 52d of his age. It was the will of God that the holy Emperor should reveal, with his last words, the life of unviolated chastity which he and his consort had led; as until then it had been a secret. His relics were entombed at Bamberg, in the Cathedral erected by him, where they are greatly venerated at the present day. The many miracles, which have taken place at his tomb, induced Pope Eugenius III., to canonize him in the year 1152. (2)
Image: Sacramentary of king Henry II [1002-14] (8)
Today is the feast day of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Ora pro nobis.
Kateri Tekakwitha was daughter of Kenneronkwa, a Mohawk chief, and Tagaskouita, a devout Roman Catholic Algonquian woman. She was born in the Mohawk fortress of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, New York, in 1656. Kateri’s mother was baptized and educated by French missionaries in Trois-Rivières, like many of Abenaki converts.
Her chieftain father, Algonquian mother and her brother died in a plague and, though the young Tekakwitha survived the ravages of her illness, it left her delicate for the rest of her life. The Mohawk community in Ossernenon was stridently anti-Christian, yet she held fast to the faith of her mother. At the age of 20, Tekakwitha was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676 by Father Jacques de Lamberville, a Jesuit. At her baptism, she took the name Kateri, a Mohawk pronunciation of the French name Catherine. Tekakwitha literally means “she moves things.”
However this step and her newfound joy did not endear her to the other members of her tribe. She was often scorned and persecuted. For instance, her family refused her food on Sundays because she would not work on that day. Sometimes children would taunt her and throw stones.
Finally a priest arranged that she should escape to Canada to live there with other Christians. She made her way to the area around the great St. Lawrence River. She spent her time near modern-day Montreal helping the old and the sick and teaching the children. She made her first Holy Communion on Christmas Day, 1677.
She would often spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling in the cold chapel by herself. When the winter season took many of the villagers away on hunting expeditions she would be left to erect her own little chapel in the woods by carving a cross on a tree and spending time there in prayer.
She was a most gentle and loving presence in the community. She was a great storyteller and people listened to her for hours. Her favorite subjects of discourse, of course, were Jesus and his mother. It is said that when she was praying, Saint Kateri’s face became radiantly beautiful, ‘as if she was seeing the face of God’. Her great desire was to establish a religious order for Native American women but her poor health did not allow for this. She herself, however, was allowed to take the vows of a religious and consecrate herself to Christ. “Now, I belong to no one – only Jesus”, she said.
Her poor health which had plagued her since the age of four was fast declining. She died in 1680, aged twenty-four. Immediately after her death, according to a number of witnesses, the smallpox scars that had covered her face for twenty years disappeared. It was claimed too, that on the day of her funeral, many of the sick who attended were healed. Her last words were, ‘Jesus, I love you.’ Like the flower after which she was named – the lily – her life was short and beautiful.
She is called “The Lily of the Mohawks,” the “Mohawk Maiden,” the “Pure and Tender Lily,” and the “Flower among True Men,” the “Lily of Purity” and “The New Star of the New World.” According to Rev. Lawrence G. Lovasik’s Kateri of the Mohawks, her tribal neighbors called her “the fairest flower that ever bloomed among the redmen,” which was engraved on her tomb stone.
Pope John Paul beatified Kateri on 22 June 1980, and her feast day is 14 July. She was the first native American to be so honoured. She was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI.
Image: Crop of One of the oldest portraits of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha by father Claude Chauchetière around 1696 (4)
Today is the feast day of Saint Francis Solanus. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Francis Solano was born in 1549 at Montilla in the province of Andalusia, Spain, of very devout parents, Matthew Sanchez Solanus and Anna Ximenes. At the request of his mother, he received the name of Francis in baptism. She ascribed the fortunate delivery of the child to the intercession of the Seraphic Founder.
The boy grew to be a joy to his parents. While he was pursuing his studies with the Fathers of the Society of Jesus, his modesty, gentleness, and piety merited the esteem of his teachers as well as the friendship of his fellow students. Francis completed his studies and was ordained to the priesthood, proving his zeal for the salvation of souls during an epidemic of the plague that broke out in the region. The heroic sacrifices he made during an epidemic were especially admirable. He cared for the corporal and spiritual needs of the sick without any fear of infection. He became afflicted with the malady, but was miraculously restored to health.
After his ordination, he was sent by his superiors to the convent of Arifazza as master of novices.
Eventually, Francis was sent to South America in 1589 with several members of the Order, assigned to the provinces of Tucuman (Argentina), Gran Chaco (Bolivia), and Paraguay. Obediently, Francis accepted his assignment, never complaining about the countless hardships the missionaries encountered. Concentrating on the indigenous peoples of the regions, Francis approached the Indians so courteously and kindly that they rejoiced at his very appearance. He learned the difficult native languages in a very short time, and he was miraculously understood wherever he went.
God also gave Saint Francis marvelous power over hearts. Once when he was in the city of La Rioja, a horde of thousands of armed Indians approached in order to slay all Europeans and Christianized Indians. Saint Francis went out to meet them. His words at once disarmed them. All understood what he said although they spoke different languages. They begged him for instructions, and 9,000 were baptized.
After Father Francis had labored 12 years among the Indians, he was re-assigned to the Monastery at Lima, Peru, where he led the Christians of Lima away from wanton laxity, back to the tenets of the faith. Saint Francis processed through the city, calling aloud for the repentance of the inhabitants. They were—one by one—moved to repent, receive Reconciliation, enact penances, and pray for mercy. Through his efforts the city was restored.
Saint Francis Solano had labored untiringly for the salvation of souls in South America for twenty years, when God called him to Himself on the feast of his special patron, St. Bonaventure, July 14, 1610. The viceroy and the most distinguished persons of Lima bore the body of the poor Friar Minor to the grave.
Almighty God glorified Saint Francis after death by many miracles, especially in favor of sick children; yes, even dead children were restored to life at his grave. Pope Benedict XIII canonized Saint Francis Solano amid great solemnity in the year 1726.
Image: Crop of Saint Francis Solanus and the Bull, artist:Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1645 (4)
Today is the feast day of Saint Bonaventure. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Bonaventure was born at Bagnorea in the vicinity of Viterbo in 1221. He died on the night between the 14th and 15th of July, 1274. His parents were Giovanni di Fidanza and Maria Ritella. He was a frail child, given the name of John at his baptism. He soon fell so ill that his cure was despaired of, and his sorrowing mother had recourse to Saint Francis. She promised God she would endeavor to have the child take the habit of the Franciscan Order, if he were cured. Her prayer was granted, the child was cured, and Saint Francis himself gave him his new name. In reference to the miraculous cure, he prophetically exclaimed of the infant, “O buona ventura!— O good fortune!” Saint Francis died a few months later, not without foreseeing the future of this little one, destined to be a seraph of love like himself. Saint Bonaventure is titled “the Seraphic Doctor,” from the fervor of divine love which breathes in his writings.
The Franciscan Order has ever regarded Bonaventure as one of the greatest Doctors and from the beginning his teaching found many distinguished expositors within the order. Among the earliest being his own pupils, John Peckham later Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew of Aquasparta, and Alexander of Alexandria (d. 1314), both of whom became ministers general of the order. The last named wrote a “Summa quaestionum S. Bonaventura. Other well-known commentaries are by John of Erfurt (d. 1317), Verilongus (d. 1464), Brulifer (d. c. 1497), de Combes (d. 1570), Trigosus (d. 1616), Coriolano (d. 1625), Zamora (d. 1649), Bontemps (d. 1672), Hauzeur (d. 1676), Bonelli (d. 1773), etc. From the fourteenth to the sixteenth century the influence of Bonaventure was undoubtedly somewhat overshadowed by that of Duns Scotus, owing largely to the prominence of the latter as champion of the Immaculate Conception in the disputes between the Franciscans and Dominicans. Sixtus V, however, founded a special chair at Rome for the study of St. Bonaventure; such chairs also existed in several universities, notably at Ingolstadt, Salzburg, Valencia, and Osuna. It is worthy of note that the Capuchins forbade their Friars to follow Scotus and ordered them to return to the study of Bonaventure. The centenary celebrations of 1874 appear to have revived interest in the life and work of St. Bonaventure.
St. Bonaventure, Cardinal and Doctor of the Church
from the Liturgical Year, 1901
Four months after the Angel of the Schools, the Seraphic Doctor appears in the heavens. Bound by the ties of love when on earth, the two are now united for ever before the Throne of God. Bonaventure’s own words will show us how great a right they both had to the heavenly titles bestowed upon them by the admiring gratitude of men.
As there are three hierarchies of Angels in heaven, so on earth there are three classes of the elect. The Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones, who form the first hierarchy, represent those who approach nearest to God by contemplation, and who differ among themselves according to the intensity of their love, the plenitude of their science, and the steadfastness of their justice; to the Dominations, Virtues, and Powers, correspond the prelates and princes; and lastly, the lowest choirs signify the various ranks of the faithful engaged in the active life. This is the triple division of men, which, according to St. Luke, will be made at the last day: Two shall be in the bed, two in the field, two at the mill; that is to say, in the repose of divine delights, in the field of government, at the mill of this life’s toil. As regards the two mentioned in each place, we may remark that in Isaias, the Seraphim, who are more closely united to God than the rest, perform two together their ministry of sacrifice and praise; for it is with the Angel as with man: the fullness of love, which belongs especially to the Seraphim, cannot be without the fulfilment of the double precept of charity towards God and one’s neighbour. Again our Lord sent His disciples two and two before His face; and in Genesis we find God sending two Angels where one would have sufficed (Gen. xix. 1). It is better therefore, says Ecclesiastes, that two should be together than one; for they have the advantage of their society?
Such is the teaching of Bonaventure in his book of the Hierarchy (Eccles. iv. 9), wherein he shows us the secret workings of Eternal Wisdom for the salvation of the world and the sanctification of the elect. It would be impossible to understand aright the history of the thirteenth century, were we to forget the prophetic vision, wherein our Lady was seen presenting to her offended Son His two servants Dominic and Francis, that they might, by their powerful union, bring back to Him the wandering human race. What a spectacle for Angels when, on the morrow of the apparition, the two saints met and embraced: “Thou art my companion, we will run side by side,” said the descendant of the Gusmans to the poor man of Assisi; “let us keep together, and no man will be able to prevail against us.” These words might well have been the motto of their noble sons, Thomas and Bonaventure. The star which shone over the head of St. Dominic, shed its bright rays on Thomas; the Seraph who imprinted the stigmata in the flesh of St. Francis, touched with his fiery wing the soul of Bonaventure; yet both, like their incomparable fathers, had but one end in view : to draw men by science and love to that eternal life which consists in knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
Both were burning and shining lamps, blending their flames in the heavens, in proportions which no mortal eye could distinguish here below; nevertheless, Eternal Wisdom has willed that the Church on earth should borrow more especially light from Thomas and fire from Bonaventure. Would that we might here show in each of them the workings of Wisdom, the one bond even on earth of their union of thoughts, that Wisdom, who, ever unchangeable in her adorable unity, never repeats herself in the souls she chooses from among the nations to become the prophets and the friends of God. But to-day we must speak only of Bonaventure.
When quite a child, he was saved by St. Francis from imminent death; whereupon his pious mother offered him by vow to the Saint, promising that he should enter the Order of Friars Minor. Thus, in the likeness of holy poverty, that beloved companion of the Seraphic Patriarch, did Eternal Wisdom prevent our Saint from his very cradle, showing herself first unto him. At the earliest awakening of his faculties he found her seated at the entrance of his soul, awaiting the opening of its gates, which are, he tells us, intelligence and love. Having received a good soul in an undefiled body, he preferred Wisdom before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison with the august friend, who offered herself to him in the glory of her nobility and beauty. From that first moment, without ever waning, she was his light. Peacefully as a sunbeam glancing through a hitherto closed window, Wisdom filled this dwelling, now become her own, as the bride on the nuptial day takes possession of the bridegroom’s house, filling it with joy, in community of goods, and above all of love. For her contribution to the nuptial banquet, she brought the substantial brightness of heaven; Bonaventure on his part offered her the lilies of purity, so desired by her as her choicest food. Henceforth the feast in his soul was to be continual; and the light and the perfumes, breaking forth, were shed around, attracting, enlightening, and nourishing all. While still very young, he was, according to custom, sent, after the first years of his religious life, to the celebrated University of Paris, where he soon won all hearts by his angelic manners; and the great Alexander of Hales, struck with admiration at the union of so many qualities, said of him that it seemed as if in him Adam had not sinned. As a lofty mountain whose head is lost in the clouds, and from whose foot run fertilizing waters far and wide, Brother Alexander himself, according to the expression of the Sovereign Pontiff, seemed at that time to contain within himself the living fountain of Paradise, whence the river of science and salvation flowed over the earth (Litt. Alexandri IV.: De fontibus paradisi flumen egrediens). Nevertheless not only would he, the irrefragable Doctor, and the Doctor of doctors, give up his chair in a short time to the new-comer, but he would hereafter derive his greatest glory from being called father and master by that illustrious disciple (Bonavent. in 11 Sent., dist. xxiii. art. 2. qu. 3, ad 7). Placed in such a position at so early an age, Bonaventure could say of Divine Wisdom, even more truly than of the great master who had had little to do but admire the prodigious development of his soul: “It is she that has taught me all things; she taught me the knowledge of God and of His works, justice and virtues, the subtleties of speeches and the solutions of arguments (Cf. Wisd. vii. and viii).”
Such indeed is the object of those Commentaries on the four Books of Sentences, first delivered as lectures from the chair of Paris, where he held the noblest intellects spellbound by his graceful and inspired language. This masterpiece, while it is an inexhaustible mine of treasures to the Franciscan family, bears so great testimony to the science of this doctor of twenty-seven years of age, that, though so soon called from his chair to the government of a great Order, he was worthy on account of this single work to share with his friend Thomas of Aquin, who was fortunately freer to pursue his studies, the honourable title of prince of Sacred Theology.
The young master already merited his name of Seraphic Doctor, by regarding science as merely a means to love, and declaring that the light which illuminates the mind is barren and useless unless it penetrates to the heart, where alone wisdom rests and feasts (Exp. in Lib. Sap. viii. 9, 16). St. Antoninus tells us also, that in him every truth grasped by the intellect, passed through the affections, and thus became prayer and divine praise (Antonini,Chronic., p. III. tit. xxiv., cap. 8). “His aim,” says another historian, “was to burn with “love, to kindle himself first at the divine fire, and afterwards to inflame others. Careless of praise or renown, anxious only to regulate his life and actions, he would fain burn and not only shine; he would be fire, in order to approach nearer to God by becoming more like to Him who is fire. Albeit, as fire is not without light, so was he also at the same time a shining torch in the House of God; but his special claim to our praise is, that all the light at his command he gathered to feed the flame of divine love (H. Sedulius, Histor. seaph).”
The bent of his mind was clearly indicated when, at the beginning of his public teaching, he was called upon to give his decision on the question then dividing the Schools: to some theology was a speculative, to others a practical science, according as they were more struck by the theoretical or the moral side of its teaching. Bonaventure, uniting the two opinions in the principle which he considered the one universal law, concluded that “Theology is an affective science, the knowledge of which proceeds by speculative contemplation, but aims principally at making us good.” For the wisdom, of doctrine, he said, must be according to her name (Eccli. vi. 23), something that can be relished by the soul; and he added, not without that gentle touch of irony which the saints know how to use: “There is a difference, I suppose, in the impressions produced by the proposition, Christ died for us, or the like, and by such as this: the diagonal and the side of a square cannot be equal to one another (Bonavent.Praemium in Sent., qu. 3).” The graceful speech and profound science of our saint were enhanced by a beautiful modesty. He would conclude a difficult question thus: “This is said without prejudice to the opinions of others. If anyone think otherwise, or better, as he may well do on this point as on all others, I bear him no ill-will; but if, in this little work, he find anything deserving approval, let him give thanks to God, the Author of all good. Whatever, in any part, be found false, doubtful or obscure, let the kind reader forgive the incompetence of the writer, whose conscience bears him unimpeachable testimony that he has wished to say nothing but what is true, clear, and commonly received.” On one occasion ,however, Bonaventure’s unswerving devotion to the Queen of Virgins modified with a gentle force his expression of humility: “If anyone,” he says, “prefers otherwise, I will not contend with him, provided he say nothing to the detriment of the Venerable Virgin, for we must take the very greatest care, even should it cost us our life, that no one lessen in any way the honour of our Lady (IV. Sent. dist. xxviii, qu. 6. ad 5).” Lastly, at the end of the third book of this admirable Exposition of the Sentences, he declares that charity is worth more than all science. It is enough, in doubtful questions, to know what the wise have taught; disputation is to little purpose. We talk much, and our words fail us. Infinite thanks be to the Perfecter of all discourse, our Lord Jesus Christ, who taking pity on my poverty of knowledge and of genius, has enabled me to complete this moderate work. I beg of Him that it may procure me the merit of obedience, and may be of profit to my brethren: the twofold purpose for which the task was undertaken (III. Sent., dist. xl. qu. 3, ad 6).”
But the time had come when obedience was to give place to another kind of merit, less pleasing to himself, but not less profitable to the brethren. At thirty-five years of age, he was elected Minister General. Obliged thus to quit the field of scholastic teaching, he entrusted it to his friend, Thomas of Aquin, who, younger by several years, was to cultivate it longer and more completely than he himself had been suffered. The Church would lose nothing by the change; for, Eternal Wisdom, who ordereth all things with strength and sweetness, thus disposed that these two incomparable geniuses, completing one another, should give us the fullness of that true science which not only reveals God, but leads to Him.
Give an occasion to the wise man, and wisdom shall be added to him (Prov. ix. 9). This sentence was placed by Bonaventure at the head of his treatise on the “Six Wings of the Seraphim,” wherein he sets forth the qualifications necessary for one called to the cure of souls; and well did he fulfill it himself in the government of his immense Order, scattered by its missions throughout the whole Church. The treatise itself, which Father Claud Aquaviva held in such high estimation as to oblige the Superiors of the Society of Jesus to use it as a guide, furnishes us with a portrait of our Saint at this period. He had reached the summit of the spiritual life, where the inward peace of the soul is undisturbed by the most violent agitations from without; where the closeness of their union with God produces in the saints a mysterious fecundity, displayed to the world, when God wills, by a multiplicity of perfect works incomprehensible to the profane. Let us listen to Bonaventure’s own words: “The Seraphim exercise an influence over the lower orders, to draw them upwards; so the love of the spiritual man tends both to his neighbour and to God; to God that he may rest in Him; to his neighbour to draw him thither with himself. Not only then do they burn; they also give the form of perfect love, driving away darkness and showing how to rise by degrees, and to go to God by the highest paths (Bonavent. De Eccle. hier., p. II. c. ii).”
Such is the secret of that admirable series of opuscula, composed, as he owned to St. Thomas, without the aid of any book but his crucifix, without any preconceived plan, but simply as occasion required, at the request, or to satisfy the needs of the brethren and sisters of his large family, or again when he felt a desire of pouring out his soul. In these works Bonaventure has treated alike of the first elements of asceticism and of the sublimest subjects of the mystic life, with such fullness, certainty, clearness, and persuasive force, that Sixtus IV. declared the Holy Spirit seemed to speak in him (Litt. Superna caelestis). On reading the Itinerary of the soul to God, which was written on the height of Alvernia, as it were under the immediate influence of the Seraphim, the Chancellor Gerson exclaimed: “This opusculum, or rather this immense work, is beyond the praise of a mortal mouth (Gerson Epist. cuidam Fratri Minori. Lugd. an. 1426).” And he wished it, together with that wonderful compendium of sacred science, the Breviloquium, to be imposed upon theologians as a necessary manual. “By his words,” says the great Abbot Trithemius in the name of the Benedictine Order, “the author of all these learned and devout works inflames the will of the reader no less than he enlightens his mind. Note the spirit of divine love and Christian devotion in his writings, and you will easily see that he surpasses all the doctors of his time in the usefulness of his works. Many expound doctrine, many preach devotion, few teach the two together; Bonaventure surpasses both the many and the few, because he trains to devotion by science, and to science by devotion. ” If then you would be both learned and devout, you must put his teaching in practice (Trithem. de Scriptor. eccle).”
But Bonaventure himself will tell us best the proper dispositions for reading him with profit. At the beginning of his Incendium amoris, wherein he teaches the three ways, purgative, illuminative, and unitive, which lead to true wisdom, he says: “I offer this book not to philosophers, not to the worldly-wise, not to great theologians perplexed with endless questions, but to the simple and ignorant who strive rather to love God than to know much. It is not by disputing, but by activity, that we learn to love. As to these men full of questions, superior in every science, but inferior in the love of Christ, I consider them incapable of understanding the contents of this book; unless putting away all vain show of learning, they strive, by humble self-renunciation, prayer, and meditation, to kindle within them the divine spark, which, inflaming their hearts and dispelling all darkness, will lead them beyond the concerns of time even to the throne of peace. Indeed by the very fact of their knowing more, they are better disposed to love, or at least they would be, if they truly despised themselves and could rejoice to be despised by others (Incend. amoris Prologus).”
Although these pages are already too long, we cannot resist quoting the last words left us by St. Bonaventure. As the Angel of the School was soon, at Fossa Nova, to close his labours and his life with the explanation of the Canticle of Canticles, so his seraphic rival and brother tuned his last notes to these words of the sacred Nuptial Song: “King Solomon has made him a litter of the wood of Libanus: The pillars thereof he made of silver, the seat of gold, the going-up of purple (Cant. iii. 9, 10). “The seat of gold,” added our Saint, “is contemplative wisdom; it belongs to those alone who possess the column of silver, i.e. the virtues which strengthen the soul; the going-up of purple is the charity whereby we ascend to the heights and descend to the valleys (Illuminationes Ecclesiae in Hexaemeron, sermo xxiii).”
It is a conclusion worthy of Bonaventure, the close of a sublime but incomplete work, which he had not even time to put together himself. “Alas! alas! alas!” cries out with tears the loving disciple to whom we owe this last treasure, “a higher dignity, and then the death of our lord and master prevented the continuation of this work.” And then showing us, in a touching manner, the precautions taken by the sons lest they should lose anything of their father’s conferences: “What I here give,” he says, “is what I could snatch by writing rapidly while he was speaking. Two others took notes at the same time, but their papers are scarcely legible; whereas several of the audience were able to read my copy, and the master himself and many others made use of it; a fact for which I deserve some gratitude. And now at length, permission and time having been given to me, I have revised these notes, with the voice and gestures of the master ever in my ear and before my eyes; I have arranged them in order, without adding anything to what he said, except the indication of certain authorities (Illuminat. Eccles., Additiones).”
The dignity mentioned by the faithful secretary is that of Cardinal Bishop of Albano. After the death of Clement IV., and the succeeding three years of widowhood for the Church, our Saint, by his influence with the Sacred College, had obtained the election of Gregory X., who now imposed upon him in virtue of obedience the honour of the Cardinalate. Having been entrusted with the work of preparation for the Council of Lyons, convened for the Spring of 1274, Bonaventure had the joy of assisting at the reunion of the Latin and Greek Churches, which he, more than anyone else, had been instrumental in obtaining. But God spared him the bitterness of seeing how short-lived the reunion was to be: a union which would have been the salvation of that East which he loved, and where his name, translated into Eutychius, was still in veneration two centuries later at the time of the Council of Florence. On the 15th of July of that year, 1274, in the midst of the Council, and presided at by the Sovereign Pontiff himself, took place the most solemn funeral the world has ever witnessed. “I grieve for thee, my brother Jonathan,” cried out before that mourning assembly gathered from East and West, the Dominican Cardinal Peter of Tarentaise. After fifty-three years spent in this world, the Seraph had cast off his robe of flesh, and spreading his wings had gone to join Thomas of Aquin, who had by a very short time preceded him to heaven. (2)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
The Seraphic Doctor, St. Bonaventure, was born in 1221,at Balneoregio, in the State of Tuscany. His parents were very distinguished people, not only on account of their nobility and great riches, but still more for their piety and virtues. When scarcely four years old, Bonaventure became dangerously sick and the physicians despaired of his life. His mother appealed to St. Francis of Assisium, who was still living at that period, begging him to obtain, by his prayers, her son’s life from God. She promised to bring him up to the honor of the Almighty, and in the course of time to consecrate him entirely to His divine service in the Order founded by St. Francis. The latter prayed for the sick child and the malady was subdued. In regard to this miracle the holy man cried: “O Buona Ventura! ” which means, “Oh happy event!” and from that time they called the child, so miraculously cured, Bonaventure, although at the baptismal font it had received the name of John.
Arrived at the period when reason awakens, Bonaventure heard of the promise his mother had made in regard to him and fulfilled it by entering joyfully into the Order of St. Francis. After having finished his probation, he went to Paris to devote himself to study, and his progress in learning was as great as his advancement in virtue, especially in humility, constant selfdenial, perfect obedience, great love of his crucified Lord, and ardent devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He meditated daily on the passion and death of Christ, and spent as much time as he could in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He seldom received Holy Communion, especially when he himself said Mass, without shedding many tears. His innocence he preserved inviolate. The celebrated Doctor Alexander of Hales, under whom Bonaventure studied, used to say, that it seemed to him that he had not committed any sin in Adam; so strictly did he control his inclinations, so great were his virtue and his piety.
Before he was thirty years old, his superiors appointed him to teach theology in the University of Paris, which he did with immense success. There he and St. Thomas of Aquin received the title of “Doctor,” the highest dignity conferred upon Theologians. At the age of 35 years, he was elected General of the whole Seraphic Order, and his election was confirmed by Pope Alexander, who had presided over the assembly. When once installed in his new functions, he was as zealous to preserve the rule of the holy Founder, as he had previously been earnest in declining the dignity. He made the most wholesome regulations, and led all those under him by word and example to great sanctity. During eighteen years he administered his office, with so much wisdom, mildness and strength of character, that he was loved and esteemed by all, and venerated as the second Founder of the Order.
Although occupied with such constant and important labors, he never neglected his devotional exercises or his studies. We possess this day a great many theological works of great learning written by this holy man. Among others, he wrote a book to refute those who slandered the Mendicant Orders, which he entitled: “A Defense of the Poor.” He proves in this book the temporal as well as spiritual benefits of such orders. He also wrote several most learned and eloquent books in praise of the Blessed Virgin, whose honor he desired to further to the best of his ability, and whom, from childhood, he had greatly venerated. There is also extant from his pen, the life of St. Francis, Founder of the Seraphic Order. Whilst he was writing this work, St. Thomas Aquinas came to pay him a visit. Hearing in what Bonaventure was occupied, he declined disturbing him, and left with the words: “Let us leave one Saint to work for another.”
St. Thomas so highly esteemed Bonaventure, that he did not hesitate to call him a Saint while he was still alive. This holy man was greatly astonished that Bonaventure, being so much occupied with his duties, yet found time to write so many books of such profound learning, and one day asked him where his library was. Bonaventure pointing to a crucifix, said: “This is the library, wherein I find all that I teach to others.” Before he began to study, or whenever a doubt or a difficulty during study embarrassed him, he fell down before the Crucifix and humbly prayed for Divine assistance. He said more than once, that by this means, he had obtained more knowledge and wisdom than by all his industry. Not content with all this, the holy man preached publicly in all the places which he visited in the exercise of his functions, exhorting sinners to repentance and the pious to be constant in good works; by which he converted, in a most remarkable manner, the most hardened sinners.
The fame of his great knowledge and holiness, which spread all over the country, was of great benefit to him in his missionary work; whence he received the title of Seraphic Doctor, by which he is still known in our days. Bishops and prelates of the Church honored the Saint still more than other people of a lower degree. Clement IV, desired to reward him for his many services to the Church with the Archbishopric of York; but the holy man throwing himself at his feet, begged so earnestly to be spared the burden of this honor, that the Holy Father acceded to his request. After the death of this Pope, the Cardinals, assembled at Viterbo, could not agree in the election of a new head of the Church, and they at last determined to leave the choice to Bonaventure, promising to accept as Pope, whomsoever he thought deserving to receive the highest of earthly dignities. This was surely the greatest sign of honor which they could confer upon the Saint.
Bonaventure, after having prayed to God, said that, in his opinion, Theobald, archdeacon of Liege, who was not even present, was most worthy to be raised to the Pontifical Throne. The cardinals received his decision and Theobald became the head of Christ’s Church. This Pope, who took the name of Gregory X, sent afterwards the hat and insignia of a Cardinal to Bonaventure, nominating him Bishop of Albano, and commanding him at the same time, to obey without any opposition. The papal Nuncios who were to convey this news to the Saint, found him occupied in washing the dishes in the kitchen. He listened with unfeigned surprise to their message, and as he saw that, this time, there was no escape left, he obediently submitted, but nevertheless he finished his humble occupation. The Pope, calling him to Rome, took him to Lyons where a general Council was held, during which he gave new proofs of his great learning, and of his unwearied zeal in promoting the welfare of the holy Church.
It pleased the Almighty, to call His faithful servant, in the midst of his pious labor, and after a short illness, to receive his eternal reward. He died in 1274, only fifty-three years of age. The Pope and all the bishops deeply lamented his early death, but God immediately honored him by many miracles. One hundred and sixty years later, when on account of the erection of a new Church, the relics of the Saint were exhumed, it was found that the flesh of the body was entirely consumed, the head excepted, of which the hair, teeth, tongue, eyes and ears, lips and cheeks, were as perfect as though he had still been living. The head, therefore, was preserved in a rich shrine, and the rest of the body laid into a coffin. After many years, when the Huguenots or Calvinists took possession of Lyons, they publicly burned the body of the Saint and threw the ashes into the river. The holy head, however, was saved from their rage by the care of a priest, who, though most cruelly tortured, to make him confess where the relic was kept, preferred to bear the suffering rather than reveal where the precious treasure was concealed. (1)
Image: Saint Bonaventure, François, Claude (dit Frère Luc) – 1660 (7)
Today is the feast day of Saint Mildred. Ora Pro Nobis.
Saint Mildred or Mildthryth (694–716 or 733), also Mildrith, Mildryth was an Anglo-Saxon abbess.
She was the daughter of King Merewalh of Magonsaete, a sub-kingdom of Mercia, and Eormenburh (Saint Eormenburga), herself the daughter of King Æthelberht of Kent, and as such appearing in the so-called Kentish royal legend.
Her sisters Milburh (Saint Milburga of Much Wenlock) and Mildgytha (Saint Mildgyth) were also considered saints. Goscelin, probably relying on a now-lost history of the rulers of the Kingdom of Kent, wrote a hagiography of Mildthryth.
At an early age, her mother sent her to be educated at Chelles in France, where many English ladies were trained to a saintly life. A young nobleman, related to the Abbess of Chelles, entreated her to arrange that he might marry this English princess. The abbess tried to persuade her, but Mildred said her mother had sent her there to be taught, not to be married. All the abbess’s advice, threats and blows failed to persuade her to accept the alliance offered to her.
At last the abbess shut her up in an oven in which she had made a great fire. After three hours, when the abbess expected to find not only Mildred’s flesh but her very bones burnt to ashes, the young saint came out unhurt and radiant with joy and beauty. The faithful, hearing of the miracle, venerated Mildred as a saint. The abbess, more infuriated than ever, threw her on the ground. The abbess beat, kicked and scratched her and tore out a handful of her hair.
Mildred found means to send her mother a letter, enclosing some of her hair, torn from her head by the violence of the abbess. Queen Ermenburga soon sent ships to fetch her daughter. The abbess, fearing that her evil deeds should be made known, would, on no account, give permission for Mildred’s departure. Mildred, however, fled by night; but, having in her haste forgotten some ecclesiastical vestments and a nail of the cross of Christ which she valued extremely, she managed to return for them and brought them safely away. Upon her arrival back in England, she landed at Ebbsfleet. Here she found a great square stone, miraculously prepared for her to step on from the ship. The stone received, and retained, the mark of her foot. Afterwards the stone was removed to the Abbey of Minster-in-Thanet and kept there in memory of her. Many diseases are said to have been cured for centuries after, by water containing a little dust from this stone.
Mildred eventually entered the abbey of Minster-in-Thanet, which her mother had earlier established. She became abbess by 694. Suggesting that ties to Gaul were maintained, a number of dedications to Mildred exist in the Pas-de-Calais, including at Millam. Mildred died at Minster-in-Thanet and was buried there.
She continued to be an extremely popular saint, eclipsing the fame of St. Augustine, in the immediate neighbourhood of her monastery, where the place that used to be proudly pointed out as that of his landing came to be better known as “St Mildred’s Rock.”
St. Mildred died of a lingering painful illness, towards the close of the seventh century. This great monastery was often plundered by the Danes, and the nuns and clerks murdered, chiefly in the years 980 and 1011. After the last of these burnings, there were no more nuns but only a few secular priests. In 1033, the remains of St. Mildred were translated to the monastery of Austin’s at Canterbury, and venerated above all the relics of that holy place, says Malmesbury who testifies frequent miracles to have been wrought by them: Thorn and others confirm the same. Two churches in London bear her name. (4)
Mildred is sometimes represented in art holding a church and accompanied by three geese, as she was protector against damage by such wild birds.
Today is the feast day of Saint Eugenius, Bishop of Carthage. Ora pro nobis.
It is unknown when was Saint Eugenius was born.
In 428 Genseric, the King of the Vandals, invaded and took over North Africa. The Vandals, who were Arians, had the practice of persecuting the Catholics, especially the Bishops. They plundered and destroyed Carthage’s churches and monasteries. They banished to the desert St. Quodvultdeus, the city’s Bishop, along with other Prelates and clergy as well as 5,000 lay people. As they left, mothers followed the ecclesiastics, weeping and crying: “Who will take care of us after you leave? Who will baptize our children, hear our confessions and reconcile us with God? Who will bury us when we die? Who will offer the Divine Sacrifice? Let us go with you.”
In the year 481, the episcopal see of Carthage had been vacant for twenty-four years. Huneric, who succeeded Genseric, decided to allow the Catholics to fill it, provided certain conditions be met. The people chose Eugenius, a citizen of Carthage, eminent for his learning, zeal, piety and prudence. His charities to the distressed had already been very abundant, and in his new office he refused himself the slightest convenience, in order to be able to give all he had to the poor.
His virtue gained him the respect and esteem even of the Arians; but at length, moved by envy and blind zeal, the king sent him an order never to sit in the episcopal throne, preach to the people, or admit into his chapel any Vandals, among whom several had been converted. The saint boldly answered the messenger that the laws of God commanded him not to shut the door of his church to any that desired to serve Him in it.
Huneric, enraged at this answer, persecuted the Catholics in many ways, especially the Vandals who had embraced the true Faith. He commanded guards to be placed at the doors of the Catholic churches, who when they saw any man or woman going in clothed in the habit of the Vandals, struck them on the head with short jagged staves, which being twisted into their hair and drawn back with great violence, tore off hair and skin together. Some lost their eyes by this means, and others died with the extreme pain; but many lived a long time after. Women, with their heads flayed in this manner, were publicly led through the streets, with a crier going before them to show them to the people.
The streets of Carthage were filled with spectacles of cruelty; continually there could be seen some without hands, others without eyes, nose or ears, others whose heads appeared sunk in between their shoulders from having been hung up by the hands on the tops of houses. Many nuns were so cruelly tortured that several died on the rack. Nearly 5,000 men, women and children were banished into a desert filled with scorpions and poisonous snakes; but these servants of God suffered much more from the want of the necessities of life.
There were episodes in the many martyrdoms that took place when St. Eugenius was Bishop. A woman, for example, was brought to watch her son cruelly tortured for being a Catholic. Seeing him tremble in face of the torment, without hesitation she addressed him thus: “My son, remember that we were baptized in the name of the Trinity in the bosom of the Holy Church, our Mother.” Hearing this, the youth courageously faced martyrdom.
Many of the Catholics who apostatized from fear of martyrdom became cruel persecutors of their faithful brothers. This is the famous case of Elpidophorus who was appointed judge at Carthage. One day Deacon Muritta, who had baptized Elpidophorus when he was a child, was brought before him. With him Muritta brought the chrismale, or white garment, with which he had clothed the child after he was baptized. Showing it to the whole assembly, he said to the apostate judge: “This garment will accuse you when God the Judge shall appear in majesty on the last day. It will bear testimony against you to your condemnation. This garment that covered you when, pure and unspotted, you left the waters of Baptism, will increase your torment when you will be engulfed by the eternal flames.” St. Muritta is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on July 13.
Eugenius was banished under Huneric. Gunthamund, who succeeded Huneric allowed Eugenius to return to Carthage and permitted him to reopen the churches. After eight years of peace Thrasamund succeeded to the throne. He revived the persecution, arrested Eugenius, and condemned him to death. Thrasamund commuted the sentence into exile at Vienne, near Albi (Languedoc), where the Arian Alaric was king. Eugenius built a monastery over the tomb of St. Amaranthus, the martyr, and led a penitential life till his death in 505. He is said to have miraculously cured a man who was blind.
Image: A statue portraying Saint Eugenius, in the church museum in Sant’Eustorgio (Milan, Italy). Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, March 1 2007. (4)
Today is the feast of Saint Veronica. Ora pro nobis.
Very little is known about the woman known as Veronica. Tradition has it that a women named Seraphina wiped Jesus’ face with her cloth. The image that appeared on it was known from the very beginning as a Vera Icon or a True Image. Over time, the two names blended, and Seraphina’s name turned into Veronica.
This same holy woman—healed by her faith– is later identified as Saint Veronica in the apocryphal “Acts of Pilate.” According to tradition, Veronica was present on the Via Dolorosa when Jesus carried His cross toward Golgotha. Veronica witnessed Jesus fall beneath the weight of His heavy burden and was so moved, she pushed through the crowd past the Roman soldiers to reach her Lord. Veronica used her veil to wipe the blood and sweat from His face, and as the soldiers forced her away, she bundled her veil and did not look at it again until she returned home. When she finally unfolded the veil, it was imprinted with an image of Christ’s face. The story was later elaborated in the 11th century, that Veronica—upon receiving her veil with the imprint of the face of Christ upon it—took the veil to Rome and miraculously cured the Emperor Tiberius.
The legend of Saint Veronica is one of the most popular in Christian lore and the veil is one of the most beloved relics of the Church, still preserved in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Saint Veronica’s act of charity and compassion remain an inspiration for us today.
St. Veronica, you gave Christ a towel on His way to Cavalry Which He used to wipe the Precious Blood from His Holy Face. In return for this great act of kindness He left you His most Holy image on the towel. Pray for us to Our Lord that His Holy Face may be imprinted on our hearts so that we may be always be mindful of the Passion and Death of Our lord Jesus Christ, through the same Christ our Lord, Amen.
Image: Crop of The shrine to Saint Veronica in Basilica di San Pietro, Vatican City. (4)