November 23 Today is the feast day of Blessed Miguel Pro. Ora pro nobis. by Peter De Trolio Photos by Michael Durnan Blessed Miguel Pro, martyred son. Priests hidden in the homes of terrified Catholics persecuted by priest hunters, informants and the law. Religious orders expelled and their houses confiscated. Churches closed or converted to … Read more
Today is the feast day of the First Martyrs of Rome. Orate pro nobis.
This feast, first mentioned in the Jerome Martyrology (6th century) was extended to the universal Church in the reform of the General Calendar in 1969. In the Tridentine Calendar there were so many feasts of Roman martyrs about whom there was little historical information that it was decided to incorporate them all under one general feast.
In July of 64 A.D., a large fire broke out in Rome, destroying nearly half of the city. The fire initially was blamed on the Emperor, who is said to have wanted to enlarge his palace. Nero quickly blamed the Christians, who he accused of “hatred of the human race”. As a result, public outcry was minimal when Nero ordered thousands to be put to death— some were covered with the skins of animals and thrown to wild dogs to be torn apart; others were crucified and at sunset were covered in oil and used as human torches to light the path of the Emperor’s chariot. Saints Peter and Paul were among those martyred. Needless to say, eventually the good people of Rome took offense to Nero’s rampant persecution of Christians, and following a revolt by the military, he took his own life in 68 A.D.
The Roman historian Tacitus tells the story of the first Martyrs of Rome:
“Yet no human effort, no princely largess nor offerings to the gods could make that infamous rumor disappear that Nero had somehow ordered the fire. Therefore, in order to abolish that rumor, Nero falsely accused and executed with the most exquisite punishments those people called Christians, who were infamous for their abominations. The originator of the name, Christ, was executed as a criminal by the procurator Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius; and though repressed, this destructive superstition erupted again, not only through Judea, which was the origin of this evil, but also through the city of Rome, to which all that is horrible and shameful floods together and is celebrated. Therefore, first those were seized who admitted their faith, and then, using the information they provided, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much for the crime of burning the city, but for hatred of the human race. And perishing they were additionally made into sports: they were killed by dogs by having the hides of beasts attached to them, or they were nailed to crosses or set aflame, and, when the daylight passed away, they were used as nighttime lamps. Nero gave his own gardens for this spectacle and performed a Circus game, in the habit of a charioteer mixing with the plebs or driving about the racecourse. Even though they were clearly guilty and merited being made the most recent example of the consequences of crime, people began to pity these sufferers, because they were consumed not for the public good but on account of the fierceness of one man.” (Tacitus, Annales, 15:44)
Image: Title: Nero’s torches, artist: Henryk Siemiradski, circa 1876 (3)
Today is the feast day of the Commemoration of Saint Paul. Ora pro nobis.
“In what,” says St. Chrysostom, “in what did this blessed one gain an advantage over the other apostles? How comes it that he lives in all men’s mouths throughout the world? Is it not through the virtue of his Epistles?”
Saint Paul was originally Saul of Tarsus, born in that city of Cilicia of Jewish parents, two or three years after the Saviour was born in Bethlehem of Judea. He studied in Jerusalem at the feet of the famous teacher Gamaliel, who later would be converted and listed among the Saints.
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
Whereas the Greeks on this day are uniting in one solemnity the memory, as they express it, “of the illustrious Saints, the Twelve Apostles, worthy of all praise,” let us follow in spirit the Roman people of former times, who would gather around the Successor of St. Peter and make the splendid Basilica of the Ostian Way—St. Paul outside the Walls—re-echo with songs of victory, while he offered to the Doctor of the Gentiles the grateful homage of the city and of the world.
On the 25th of January we beheld St. Stephen leading to Christ’s Crib Saul, the once ravenous wolf of Benjamin (Gen. 49: 27), tamed at last, but who in the morning of his impetuous youth had filled the Church of God with tears and bloodshed. His evening did indeed come when, as Jacob had foreseen, Saul, the persecutor, would outstrip all his predecessors among Christ’s disciples in giving increase to the fold, and in feeding the flock with the choicest food of his heavenly doctrine.
By an unexampled privilege, Our Lord, though already seated at the right hand of His Father, vouchsafed not only to call, but personally to instruct this new disciple, so that he might one day be numbered amongst His Apostles. The ways of God can never be contradictory one to another; hence this creation of a new Apostle may not be accomplished in a manner derogatory to the divine constitution already delivered to the Christian Church by the Son of God. Therefore, as soon as the illustrious convert emerged from those sublime contemplations during which the Christian dogma had been poured into his soul, he went to Jerusalem to see St. Peter, as he himself relates to his disciples in Galatia. “It behooved him,” says Bossuet, “to collate his own Gospel with that of the Prince of the Apostles” (Sermon on Unity). From that moment, aggregated as a co-operator in the preaching of the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles describes him at Antioch accompanied by St. Barnabas, presenting himself to the work of opening the Church to the Gentiles, the conversion of Cornelius having been already effected by St. Peter himself. He passes a whole year in this city, reaping an abundant harvest. After St. Peter’s imprisonment inJerusalem, at his subsequent departure for Rome, a warning from on high makes known to those who preside over the Church at Antioch, that the moment has come for them to impose hands on the two missionaries, and confer on them the sacred character of Ordination and Consecration.
From that hour St. Paul attains the full power of an Apostle, and it is clear that the mission for which he has been preparing is now opened. At the same time, in St. Luke’s narrative, St. Barnabas almost disappears, retaining but a very secondary position. The new Apostle has his own disciples, and he henceforth takes the lead in a long series of pilgrimages marked by as many conquests. His first is to Cyprus, where he seals an alliance with ancient Rome, analogous to that which St. Peter contracted at Caesarea.
In the year 43, when St. Paul landed in Cyprus, its proconsul was Sergius Paulus, illustrious for his ancestry, but still more so for the wisdom of his government. He wished to hear Sts. Paul and Barnabas: a miracle worked by St. Paul, under his very eyes, convinced him of the truth of his teaching; and the Christian Church counted that day among Her sons one who was heir to the proudestname among the noble families of Rome. Touching was the mutual exchange that took place on this occasion. The Roman patrician had just been freed by the Jew from the yoke of the Gentiles; in return, the Jew hitherto called Saul received and thenceforth adopted the name of Paul, as a trophy worthy of the Apostle of the Gentiles.
From Cyprus St. Paul travelled successively to Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia, everywhere preaching the Gospel and founding churches. He then returned to Antioch in the year 47, and found the Church there in a state of violent agitation. A party of Jews, who had been converted to Christianity from the ranks of the Pharisees, whilst consenting indeed to the admission of Gentiles into the Church, were maintaining that this could only be on condition of their being likewise subjected to Mosaic practices, such as circumcision and the distinction of forbidden foods. The Christians who had been received from among the Gentiles were disgusted at this servitude to which St. Peter had not subjected them; and the controversy became so hot that St. Paul deemed it necessary to undertake a journey to Jerusalem, where St. Peter had lately arrived, a fugitive from Rome, and where the Apostolic College was at that moment further represented by St. John, as well as by St. James, the Bishop of that city. These being assembled to deliberate on the question, it was decreed, in the name and under the influence of the Holy Ghost, that to exact any observance relative to Jewish rites should be utterly forbidden in the case of Gentile converts. It was on this occasion, too, that St. Paul received from these Pillars, as he styles them, the confirmation of his apostolate superadded to that of the Twelve, and to be specially exercised in favor of the Gentiles. By this extraordinary ministry deputed to the nations, the Christian Church definitively asserted Her independence of Judaism, and the Gentiles could now freely come flocking into Her bosom.
St. Paul then resumed his course of apostolic journeys over all the provinces he had already evangelized, in order to confirm the Churches. Thence, passing through Phrygia, he came to Macedonia, stayed a while at Athens, and then on to Corinth, where he remained a year and a half. At his departure he left in this city a flourishing Church, whereby he excited against himself the fury of the Jews. From Corinth St. Paul went to Ephesus, where he stayed two years. So great was his success with the Gentiles there, that the worship of Diana was materially weakened (and the early converts burned their evil books—Acts 19: 19); whereupon a tumult ensuing, St. Paul thought the moment had come for hisdeparture from Ephesus. During his abode there he made known to his disciples a thought that had long haunted him: “I must see Rome.” The capital of the Gentile world was indeed calling the Apostle of the Gentiles.
The rapid growth of Christianity in the capital of the empire had brought face to face, in a manner more striking than elsewhere, the two heterogeneous elements which formed the Church of that day: the unity of Faith held together in one fold those that had formerly been Jews, and those that had been pagans. It so happened that some of both of these classes, too easily forgetting the gratuity of their common vocation to the Faith, began to go so far as to despise their brethren of the opposite class, deeming them less worthy than themselves of that Baptism which had made them all equal in Christ. On the one side, certain Jews disdained the Gentiles, remembering the polytheism which had sullied their past life with all those vices which came in its train. On the other side, certain Gentiles contemned the Jews, as coming from an ungrateful and blind people, who had so abused the favors lavished upon them by God as to crucify the Messias.
In the year 53, St. Paul, already aware of these debates, profited by a second journey to Corinth to write to the faithful of the Church in Rome that famous Epistle in which he emphatically sets forth how gratuitous is the gift of Faith; and maintains how Jew and Gentile alike being quite unworthy of the divine adoption, have been called solely by an act of pure mercy. He likewise shows how Jew and Gentile, forgetting the past, have but to embrace one another in the fraternity of the same Faith, thus testifying their gratitude to God through whom both of them have been alike prevented by grace. His apostolic dignity, so fully recognized, authorized St. Paul to interfere in this matter, though touching a Christian center not founded by him.
Whilst awaiting the day when he could behold with his own eyes the Queen of all Churches, lately fixed by St. Peter on the Seven Hills of Rome, the Apostle was once again anxious to make a pilgrimage to the City of David. Jewish rage was just at that moment rampant in Jerusalem against him; national pride being more specially piqued, in that he, the former disciple of Gamaliel, the accomplice of St. Stephen’s murder, should now invite the Gentiles to be coupled with the sons of Abraham, under the one same Law of Jesus of Nazareth. The tribune Lysias was scarce able to snatch him from the hands of these blood-thirsty men, ready to tear him to pieces. The following night, Christ appeared to St. Paul, saying to him: Be constant, for as thou hast testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
It was not however, till after two years of captivity, that St. Paul, having appealed to Caesar, landed at Italy at the beginning of the year 56. Then at last the Apostle of the Gentiles made his entry into Rome: the trappings of a victor surrounded him not; he was but a humble Jewish prisoner led to the place where all appellants to Caesar were mustered; yet was he that Jew whom Christ Himself had conquered on the way to Damascus. No longer Saul, the Benjamite, he now presented himself under the Roman name of Paul; nor was this a robbery on his part, for after St. Peter, he was to be the second glory of Rome, the second pledge of her immortality. He brought not the Primacy with him indeed, as St. Peter had done, for that had been committed by Christ to one alone; but he came to assert in the very center of the Gentile world, the divine delegation which he had received in favor of the nations, just as an affluent flows into the main stream, which mingling its waters with its own, at last empties them united into the ocean. St. Paul was to have no successor in his extraordinary mission; but the element which he had deposited in Mother Church was of such value, that in the course of ages the Roman Pontiffs, heirs to St. Peter’s monarchical power, have ever appealed to St. Paul’s memory as well; pronouncing their mandates in the united names of the “Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”
Instead of having to await in prison the day wherein his cause was to be heard, St. Paul was at liberty to choose a lodging place in the city. He was obliged, however, to be accompanied day and night by a soldier to whom, according to the usual custom, he was chained, but only in such a way as to prevent his escape; all his movements being otherwise left perfectly free, he could easily continue to preach the word of God. Towards the close of the year 57, in virtue of his appeal to Caesar, the Apostle was at last summoned to the praetorium; and the successful pleading of his cause resulted in his acquittal.
Being now free, St. Paul revisited the East, confirming on his Evangelical course the Churches he had previously founded. Thus Ephesus and Crete once more enjoyed his presence; in the one he left his disciple St. Timothy as Bishop, and in the other St. Titus. But St. Paul had not left Rome forever; marvelously illumined as she had been by his preaching, the Roman Church was yet to be gilded by his parting rays and empurpled with his blood. A heavenly warning, as in St. Peter’s case, bade him also return to Rome where martyrdom was awaiting him. This fact is attested by St. Athanasius. We learn the same from St. Asterius of Amesius, who hereupon remarks that the Apostle entered Rome once more, “in order to teach the very masters of the world; and by their means to wrestle with the whole human race. There St. Paul found St. Peter engaged in the same work; he at once yoked himself to the same divine chariot with him, and set about instructing the children of the Law within the Synagogues, and the Gentiles outside.”
At length Rome possessed her two Princes conjointly: the one seated on the eternal chair, holding in his hands the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; the other surrounded by the sheaves he has garnered from the fields of the Gentile world. They would part no more; even in death, as the Church sings, they would not be separated. The period of their being together was necessarily short, for they must needs render to their divine Master the testimony of blood before the Roman world should be freed from the odious tyranny under which it was groaning. Their death was to be Nero’s last crime; after that he was to fade from sight, leaving the world horror-stricken at his end, as shameful as it was tragic.
It was in the year 65 that St. Paul returned to Rome; once more signalizing his presence there by the manifold works of his apostolate. From the time of his first labors there, he had made converts even in the very palace of the Caesars: being now returned to this former theater of his zeal, he again found entrance into the imperial abode. A woman who was living in criminal intercourse with Nero, as likewise a cup-bearer of his, were both caught in the apostolic net, for it was hard indeed to resist the power of that mighty word. Nero, enraged at “this foreigner’s” influence in his very household, was bent on St. Paul’s destruction. Being first of all cast into prison, his zeal cooled not, but he persisted the more in preaching Jesus Christ. The two converts of the imperial palace having abjured, together with paganism, the manner of life they had been leading, this twofold conversion of theirs only hastened St. Paul’s martyrdom. He was well aware that it would be so, as can be seen in these lines addressed to St. Timothy: “I labor even unto bonds as an evil-doer; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect. For I am even now ready to be sacrificed, like a victim already sprinkled with the lustral water, and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the Faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the Just Judge, will render to me in that day.” (2 Tim.)
On the 29th day of June, in the year 67, while St. Peter, having crossed the Tiber by the Triumphal bridge, was drawing nigh to the cross prepared for him on the Vatican plain, another martyrdom was being consummated on the left bank of the same river. St. Paul, as he was led along the Ostian Way, was also followed by a group of the faithful who mingled with the escort of the condemned. His sentence was that he should be beheaded at the Salvian Waters. A march of two miles brought the soldiers to a path leading eastwards, by which they led their prisoner to the place fixed upon for the martyrdom of this, the Doctor of the Gentiles. St. Paul fell on his knees, addressing his last prayer to God; then having bandaged his eyes, he awaited the death-stroke. A soldier brandished his sword, and the Apostle’s head, as it was severed from the trunk, made three bounds along the ground; three fountains immediately sprang up on these spots. Such is the local tradition; and to this day, three fountains are to be seen on the site of his martyrdom, over each of which an altar is raised. (1)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Paul, the great Apostle and Doctor of the Gentiles, was born a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin. His native place was Tarsus, a celebrated city in Cilicia. His father sent him to Jerusalem, where he was educated by the famous Gamaliel, not only in the law but in all the ceremonies of the Hebrews. He soon surpassed all his schoolmates in knowledge, and became zealous in maintaining and defending the laws; and consequently, he was one of the most cruel persecutors of Christianity. It was he who kept the garments of those who stoned Stephen. The older he grew, the more deeply rooted became his hatred of the Christians. Not only at Jerusalem, but also in other places, he sought for those confessing Christ and delivered them into the hands of the authorities for imprisonment.
One day, he requested a commission from the High Priest at Jerusalem to the Jews at Damascus, by virtue of which they were to aid him in apprehending all the Christians that were residing there. With this order, he went, full of rage and hatred, to Damascus. When he was near the city, he suddenly beheld a light from heaven which shone around him. Saul, (this was his name before his conversion), fell in affright to the ground and heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” “Who art thou, Lord?” asked Saul. “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest,” said the voice from heaven. Although Saul trembled at these words, he answered: “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” The Lord replied: “Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.” Saul’s companions heard the voice, but saw no one. Saul arose from the ground, opened his eyes, but saw nothing, having lost his sight. Having been led to Damascus, he remained three days and nights in prayer, tasting neither food nor drink. Meanwhile Ananias, a disciple of the Lord, was informed in a vision of all that had taken place, and, going into the house where Saul was, he instructed him, restored his sight by laying his hands on him, and baptized him.
Soon after receiving holy baptism, Saul, now named Paul, went into the Synagogue, and preaching boldly that Christ was the true and long-promised Messiah, he proved the truth of his words so clearly that no one could gainsay them. All were amazed at the change that had taken place in him, and, not able to refute his doctrines, they consulted together to kill him. The faithful, however, let him down in a basket over the walls of the city, and thus he escaped death. After this, he went to Jerusalem and desired to join the Christians there; but as they knew nothing of his conversion, they were afraid of him and would not receive him among them. Paul finding St. Barnabas, who had been his schoolmate, related to him what had taken place, and was by him brought to the apostles, who rejoiced greatly at his conversion, and gave due thanks and praise to God.
From this time, St. Paul preached the Gospel everywhere with great ardor, journeyed through many cities, lands and kingdoms, brought many thousands to Christianity, and sent many apostolic men into different countries to convert the inhabitants. Who can give an account of his cares and labors, the disgrace arid derision, the misery and persecution which he suffered for the true Faith? He himself relates it in his Epistles, particularly in the eleventh chapter of the second Epistle to the Corinthians. The same is done by St. Luke in the Acts. Among other things, he says that a prophet had told St. Paul, when the latter was about to go from Caesarea to Jerusalem, that they would seize him at that place and deliver him to the heathens. Hence his disciples would not allow him to depart; but neither tears nor prayers could detain him. “I, am ready,” said he, “not only to be bound in Jerusalem, but also to die for the name of Jesus.”
He proved his words by deeds. When he arrived at Jerusalem, he immediately went into the temple to pray, but hardly had the Jews seen him,when they fell upon him, dragged him out of the temple and would certainly have killed him with their blows, had not the Tribune, Claudius Lysias, hastily appeared with his soldiers and released him from their fury. He, however, took him prisoner and sent him to Caesarea to the Governor Felix, who, although he found him innocent, kept him in prison. Festus, his successor, would have sent him back to Jerusalem that he might be judged there, but Paul appealed to the Emperor and was sent to Rome,where, after two years of imprisonment, he was set at liberty. The Saint then began again his apostolic labors, travelled through Italy and France, ventured even to Spain, preaching the Gospel everywhere and converting a great number of people.
At last, he returned to Rome, and among others, he exhorted some concubines of the godless Emperor Nero, to forsake their wicked life. When he had so far succeeded in converting them that, in their love of chastity, none of them would longer submit to the tyrant’s lust, the enraged Nero gave orders to imprison St. Paul as well as St. Peter. Somewhat later, both were condemned to die, Peter upon the Cross, Paul by the sword. St. Chrysostom relates that the blood that flowed from the body of St. Paul when he was beheaded, was not red, but milk-white. It is also said that his head, when severed from his body, sprang up three times from the ground, and that, each time, water gushed forth. To this day, three springs, which are shown at the place where his execution took place, confirm the tradition.
St. Paul was undoubtedly favoured with special graces and virtues. He wrought many and great miracles. By the touch of his handkerchief, the sick were immediately restored and the possessed released. He had many visions both of angels and of Christ, the Lord, Himself. Once, during a tempest on the sea, an angel appeared to him announcing that for his sake, the Almighty would spare the lives of all that were in the ship. At Corinth, our Lord appeared to him and said: “Fear not, but speak: be not silent.” At Jerusalem, He visited him again, saying: “Hasten, quickly leave Jerusalem;” and at another time the Saviour said to him: “Be constant; for, as thou hast given testimony of me at Jerusalem, so must thou do at Rome.” Besides these comforting visions, the holy Apostle had the grace to be carried up, in an ecstasy, to the third heaven, to see there such great mysteries, that he was incapable of speaking of them.
His heavenly wisdom and eloquence are clearly manifested in his epistles, the reading of which has occasioned many miraculous conversions. They also give evidence of the great virtue of this holy Apostle, especially of his fervent love to the Saviour and towards his neighbor; of the purity of his life; his humility, austere penance and invincible patience. He loved his crucified Redeemer so much, that he could write: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. Christ is my life. I am fastened on the Cross with Christ. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither life, nor death, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God which is manifested in our Lord, Jesus Christ.” He gloried in nothing save in the Cross of the Saviour. The holy name of Jesus was constantly in his mouth and proceeded constantly from his pen.
He gave equal proofs of his love for his neighbor. The many and laborious voyages which he undertook, the many and great dangers and persecutions which he suffered, the inexpressibly great labor and care which he took upon himself, show how unselfishly he loved his neighbor. His zeal to save souls was insatiable, and his solicitude for the welfare of others, more than fatherly. He loved the newly converted like dear children and carried them all, as he said, in his heart before God. He kept his chastity inviolate, advised others to do the same, and showed, by his deeds, how we must fight against impure temptations; that is, by taking refuge with God in prayer and chastising his body with hunger and thirst, heat and cold, fasting and watching. With all his great deeds and the many graces he had received from the Almighty, he was so humble, that he more than once confessed the wickedness with which he had treated the Christians before his conversion; and though he worked more than all the others, he called himself the least of Apostles. His great love for Christ and his hope of an eternal reward cheered him, as he writes, in all that he had to suffer. On account of these and other virtues, to relate all of which would fill many books, there can be no doubt that St. Paul is raised to great glory in heaven. At the time of his death, he was 68 years old. His holy relics rest beside those of St. Peter at Rome. (4)
Image: Crop of The Apostle Paul, artist: Rembrant, circa 1657 (5)
Today is the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Orate pro nobis.
This feast day commemorates the martyrdom of the two great Apostles, assigned by tradition to the same day of June in the year 67. They had been imprisoned in the famous Mamertine Prison of Rome and both had foreseen their approaching death. Saint Peter was crucified; Saint Paul, a Roman citizen, was slain by the sword. Tomorrow the Church commemorates the Apostle of the Gentiles; today is dedicated primarily to Saint Peter.
Saint Augustine wrote of these holy men: “Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; and even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.”
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
After the great solemnities of Easter and Pentecost and the Feast of St. John the Baptist, none is more ancient, nor more universal in the Church, than that of the two Princes of the Apostles. From the beginning Rome celebrated their triumph on the day which saw them go up from earth to Heaven, June 29. Her practice prevailed, at a very early date, over the custom of several other countries, which put the Apostles’ feast toward the close of December. It was a beautiful thought which inspired the placing of these fathers of the Christian people in the cortege of Emmanuel at His entry into this world. But today’s teachings have intrinsically an important preponderance in the economy of Christian dogma; they are the completion of the whole work of the Son of God; the cross of Peter fixes the Church in Her stability, and marks out for the Divine Spirit the immutable center of His operations. Rome was well inspired when, leaving to the beloved disciple, St. John, the honor of presiding over his brethren at the crib of the Infant God, She maintained the solemn memory of the princes of the Apostles upon the day chosen by God Himself to consummate their labors and to crown both their life and the whole cycle of mysteries.
But we must not forget, on so great a day, those other messengers sent forth by the divine householder, who watered earth’s highways with their sweat and with their blood while they hastened the triumph and the gathering in of the guests invited to the marriage feast (Matt. 22: 8-10). It is due to them that the law of grace is now definitely promulgated throughout all nations, and that in every language and upon every shore the good tidings have been sounded (Ps. 18: 4, 5). Thus the festival of St. Peter, completed by the more special memory of St. Paul, his comrade in death, has been from earliest times regarded as the festival likewise of the whole apostolic college. In primitive times it seemed impossible to dream of separating from their glorious leader any of those whom Our Lord had so intimately joined together in the responsibility of one common work. In course of time, however, particular solemnities were successively consecrated to each one of the Apostles, and so the Feast of June 29 was more exclusively attributed to the two Princes whose martyrdom rendered this day illustrious. The feast of every Apostle during the year was formerly a holyday of obligation. The Holy See, in many instances having removed this precept, wished to compensate for it by ordering a commemoration to be made of all the Holy Apostles, in the Mass and Office of the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. Eventually this commemoration was omitted. Moreover, the Roman Church, thinking it impossible fittingly to honor both of these on the same day, deferred till the morrow her more explicit praises of the Doctor of the Gentiles.
Since the terrible persecution of the year 64, Rome had become for St. Peter a sojourn fraught with peril, and he remembered how his Master had said to him, when appointing him shepherd of both lambs and sheep: “Follow thou Me” (John 16). The Apostle, therefore, awaited the day when he must mingle his blood with that of so many thousands of Christians, whom he had initiated into the Faith and whose spiritual father he truly was. But before quitting earth, St. Peter must triumph over Simon the magician, his base antagonist. This heresiarch did not content himself with seducing souls by his perverse doctrines; he sought even to mimic St. Peter in the prodigies operated by him. He proclaimed that on a certain day he would fly in the air. The report of this novelty quickly spread through Rome, and the people were full of the prospect of such a marvelous sight. The historian Dion Chrysostom states that Nero entertained the magician at his court, and moreover decided to honor the spectacle with his presence. Accordingly, the royal lodge was erected upon the via sacra. Here the attempted flight was to take place. The imposter’s pride, however, was doomed to suffer. “Scarcely had this Icarus begun to poise his flight,” says Suetonius, “than he fell close to Nero’s lodge, which was bathed in his blood” (In Neron. 12). The Samaritan juggler had set himself up, in Rome itself, as the rival of Christ’s Vicar, and writers of Christian antiquity agree in attributing his downfall to the prayers of St. Peter.
The failure of the heresiarch was in the eyes of the people a stain upon the emperor’s character, and if ill-will were united to curiosity, attention would be attracted toward St. Peter in a way that might prove disastrous. Also there was the peril of “false brethren” mentioned by St. Paul. This is a danger inevitable in a society as large as that of the Christians, where the association of widely differing characters is bound to cause friction, and discontent is aroused in the minds of the less educated on account of the choice of those placed in positions of trust or special confidence. This accounts for certain statements made by St. Clement in a letter to the Corinthians. He was an eye-witness of St. Peter’s martyrdom, and says that rivalries and jealousies contributed largely to bring about his condemnation by the authorities, whose suspicions concerning “this Jew” had been steadily increasing.
The filial devotedness of the Christians of Rome took alarm, and they implored St. Peter to elude the danger for a while by instant flight. Although he would have much preferred to suffer, says St. Ambrose (Contra Auxent.), St. Peter set out along the Appian Way. Just as he reached the Capuan gate, Christ suddenly appeared to him as if about to enter the city. “Lord, whither goest Thou (Domine, quo vadis)?” cried out the Apostle. “To Rome,” Christ replied, “there to be crucified again.” The Disciple understood his Master; he at once retraced his steps, having now no thought but to await his hour of martyrdom. This Gospel-like scene expresses the sequel of Our Lord’s designs upon the venerable old man. With a view to founding the Christian Church in unity, He had extended to his Disciple his own prophetic name of the rock or stone—Petrus; now he was about to make him His participator even unto the cross itself. Rome, having replaced Jerusalem, must likewise have her Calvary.
In his flight St. Peter dropped from his leg a bandlet, which a disciple picked up with much respect. A monument was afterwards raised on the spot where the incident occurred: it is now the Church of Ss. Nereus and Achilles, anciently called Titulus Fasciolae, the Title of the Bandlet. According to the designs of Providence, the humble Fasciola was to recall the memory of that momentous meeting at the gates of Rome, where Christ in person stood face to face with His Apostle, the visible Head of His Church, and announced that the hour of his sacrifice on the cross was at hand. (There is also a small church called “Domine quo vadis” erected near the spot where the apparition is believed to have taken place.)
From that moment St. Peter set everything in order, with a view to his approaching end. It was at this time he wrote his Second Epistle, which is his last testament and loving farewell to the Church. Therein he declares that the close of his life is near, and compares his body to a temporary shelter, a tent which one takes down to journey farther on. “The laying away of this my tabernacle is at hand, according as Our Lord Jesus Christ also hath signified to me” (2 Peter 1: 14). These words are evidently an allusion to the apparition on the Appian Way. But before quitting this world St. Peter provided for the transmission of his pastoral charge and for the needs of Holy Church, now about to be widowed of Her visible Head. To this he refers in these words: “And I will do my endeavor, that after my decease, you may also often have whereby you may keep a memory of these things” (Ibid. 15).
The best historical evidence confirms that it was into the hands of St. Linus that the keys were passed, which St. Peter had received from Christ as a sign of his dominion over the whole flock. St. Linus had been for more than ten years the auxiliary of the Holy Apostle in the midst of the Christians of Rome. The quality of Bishop of Rome entailed that of universal pastor; and St. Peter must needs leave the heritage of the divine keys to him who should next occupy the See which he held at the moment of death. So had Christ ordained; and a heavenly inspiration had led St. Peter to choose Rome for his last station, that long before had been prepared by Providence for universal empire. Hence, at the moment when the supremacy of Peter passed to one of his disciples, no astonishment was manifested in the Church. It was well known that the Primacy was and must necessarily be a local heritage, and none ignored the fact that Rome herself was that spot chosen by St. Peter long years before. Nor after Peter’s death did it ever occur to the mind of any of the Christians to seek the center of Holy Church either at Jerusalem, or at Alexandria, or at Antioch, or elsewhere.
The Christians in Rome made great account of the paternal devotedness he had lavished on their city. Hence their alarms, to which the Apostle once consented to yield. St. Peter’s Epistles, so redolent of affection, bear witness to the tenderness of soul with which he was gifted to a very high degree. He is ever the shepherd devoted to his sheep, fearing, above all else, a domineering tone; he is ever a Vicar offering himself, so that nothing may transpire save the dignity and rights of Him Whom he represents. This exquisite modesty was further increased in St. Peter, by the remembrance which haunts his whole life, as ancient writers say, of the sin he once committed, and which he continued to deplore up to the closing days of extreme old age. Faithful ever to that transcending love of which his Divine Master had required him to make a triple affirmation before confiding to him the care of His flock, he endured unflinchingly the immense labors of his office of fisher of men. One circumstance of his life, which relates to this its closing period, reveals most touchingly the devotedness wherewith he clung to Him who had vouchsafed both to call him to follow Him and to pardon his inconstancy. Clement of Alexandria has preserved the details as follows.
Before being called to the apostolate, St. Peter had lived in the conjugal state: from that time forth his wife became his “sister;” she nevertheless continued in his company, following him about from place to place, in his various journeys, in order to render him service (1 Cor. 9). She was in Rome while Nero’s persecution was raging, and the honor of martyrdom thus sought her out. St. Peter watched her as she stepped forth on her way to triumph, and at that moment his solicitude broke out in this one exclamation: “Oh, think of the Lord!” These two Galileans had seen the Lord, had received Him into their house, had made Him their guest at table. Since then the Divine Pastor had suffered on the Cross, had risen again, had ascended into Heaven, leaving the care of His flock to the fisherman of Lake Genesareth. What else, then, would St. Peter have his wife do at this moment but recall such sweet memories, and run forward to Him Whom she had known here below in His human features, and Who was now about to crown her hidden life with immortal glory!
The moment for entering into this same glory came at last for St. Peter himself. “When thou shalt be old,” his Master had mysteriously said to him, “thou shalt stretch forth thy hands and another shall bind thee, and lead thee whither thou wouldst not” (John 20). So St. Peter was to attain an advanced age; like his Master, he must stretch forth his arms upon a cross; he must know captivity and the weight of chains with which a foreigner’s hand will load him; he must be subjected to death, in its violent form, from which nature recoils, and drink the chalice from which even his Divine Master Himself prayed to be spared. But like his Master also, he will arise strong in the divine aid, and will press forward to the cross.
On the day fixed by God’s decree, pagan power gave orders for the Apostle’s arrest. Details are wanting as to the judicial procedure which followed, but the constant tradition of the Roman Church is that he was incarcerated in the Mamertine prison. By this name is known the dungeon constructed at the foot of the Capitoline hill by Ancus Martius, and afterwards completed by Servius Tullius, whence it is also called Carcer Tullianus. Two outer staircases, called “the steps of sighs,” led to the frightful den. An upper dungeon gave immediate entrance to that which was to receive the prisoner and never to deliver him up alive, unless he was destined to a public execution. To be put into this horrible place, he had to be let down by cords, through an opening above, and by the same was he finally drawn up again, whether dead or alive. The vaulting of this lower dungeon was high, and its darkness was utter and horrible, so that it was an easy task to guard a captive detained there, especially if he were laden with chains.
On the 29th of June, in the year 67, St. Peter was at length drawn up to be led to death. According to Roman law, he must first be subjected to the scourge, the usual prelude to capital punishment. An escort of soldiers conducted the Apostle to his place of martyrdom, outside the city walls, as the laws required. St. Peter was marched to execution, followed by a large number of the faithful, drawn by affection along his path, and for his sake defying every peril.
Beyond the Tiber, facing the Campus Martius, there stretches a vast plain, which is reached by the bridge named the Triumphal, whereby the city is put in communication with the Via Triumphalis and the Via Cornelia, both of which roads lead to the north. From the river-side the plain is bounded on the left by the Janiculum, and beyond that, in the background, by the Vatican hills, whose chain continues along to the right in the form of an amphitheater. Along the bank of the Tiber the land is occupied by immense gardens, which three years previously had been made by Nero the scene of the principal immolation of the Christians, just at this same season also. To the west of the Vatican plain, and beyond Nero’s gardens, was a circus of vast extent, usually called by his name, although in reality it owes its origin to Caligula, who placed in its center an obelisk which he had transported from Egypt. Outside the circus, towards its farthest end, rose a temple to Apollo, the protector of the public games. At the other end, the declivity of the Vatican hills begins, and at about the middle, facing the obelisk, was planted a turpentine tree well known to the people. The spot fixed upon for St. Peter’s execution was close to this tree. There, likewise, was his tomb already dug. No other spot in Rome could be more suitable for so august a purpose. From remotest ages, something mysterious had hovered over the Vatican. An old oak, said by the most ancient traditions to be anterior to the foundation of Rome, was there held in the greatest reverence. There was much talk of oracles heard in this place. Moreover, where could a more choice resting-place be found for this old man, who had just conquered Rome, than a mound beneath this venerated soil, opening upon the Triumphal Way and the Cornelian Way, thus uniting memories of victorious Rome and the name of the Cornelii, which had now become inseparable from that of Peter?
There is something supremely grand in the taking possession of these places by the Vicar of the Man-God. The Apostle, having reached the spot and come up to the instrument of death, implored of his executioners to set him thereon, not in the usual way, but head downwards, in order, said he, that the servant be not seen in the position once taken by the Master. His request was granted; and Christian tradition, in all ages, renders testimony to this fact which adds further evidence to the deep humility of so great an Apostle. St. Peter, with outstretched arms, prayed for the city, prayed for the whole world, while his blood flowed down upon that Roman soil, the conquest of which he had just achieved. At this moment Rome became forever the new Jerusalem. When the Apostle had gone through the whole round of his sufferings, he expired; but he was to live again in each of his successors to the end of time. (6)
St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Although the Catholic Church celebrates the festival of St. Peter and St. Paul today, yet, as the office and Mass of tomorrow are especially appointed for the commemoration of St. Paul, we will give today to St. Peter and tomorrow to St. Paul. Peter, the prince of the Apostles, the visible head of the Christian Church, the Vicar of Christ on earth, was born at Bethsaida, a small town in Galilee, on the Sea of Genesareth. Before he became a follower of Christ, he was called Simon, and his father Jonas or John. He married Perpetua, a daughter of Aristobulus, but left her afterwards for Christ’s sake. Andrew, his elder brother, was a disciple of John the Baptist. As soon as the latter had heard, from the lips of his holy teacher, that Jesus of Nazareth was the true Messiah, and had convinced himself of the fact by a conversation with Christ, he informed his brother Simon of it and went with him to the Saviour. Christ, looking at Simon, said: “Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas,” which means the same as Peter or a rock. After having had some discourses with Christ, Peter again went home, and announced to others the advent of the true Messiah.
Some time later, Christ walked by the Sea of Galilee and saw Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, for they were fishermen. Christ said to them: “Come ye after me, and I will make you to be fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him; and from that moment, Peter left the Saviour no more, but followed Him whithersoever He went. The Gospel allows us no doubt that our Lord showed on all occasions a peculiar affection for Peter. He went into Peter’s ship and out of it taught the multitudes pressing to hear Him. He took him to Mount Thabor to His transfiguration. He desired to have him near when He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and also when His sufferings commenced on Mount Olivet. He promised to build His Church so strongly upon him, that not even the gates of hell should prevail against it. He said that He would give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, adding, that whatsoever Peter should bind or loose on earth, should be bound or loosed in heaven. He prayed especially for Peter, that his faith might not fail, and exhorted him to strengthen his brethren. When Peter had denied Him, He looked at him so compassionately that He moved his heart to repentance. After the Resurrection, Christ appeared to him especially and appointed him as the shepherd over His flock, made him His Vicar on earth and the visible head of His church.
We find, however, in the Gospel also, that Peter showed peculiar humility, faith and devotion towards our Lord. When he, obeying Christ’s command, let down his net into the sea and filled two boats with fishes, he deemed himself unworthy of the presence of the Lord, and falling down at His feet, he said: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” When the Saviour would wash his feet, he cried in astonishment: “Lord dost thou wash my feet? this shall never be done!” But when he heard Christ’s menace: “If I wash thee not, thou shalt have no part with me,” he submitted to the Saviour’s will and said: “Lord, not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” He evinced clearly his faith in Christ, when he made the magnificent confession: “Thou art Christ, the son of the living God!” His love for the Redeemer was manifested on different occasions. Several disciples of Christ left Him one day, not willing to listen further to His teachings, and Christ asked his Apostles; “Will ye also leave me?” Peter answered: “Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Love would not allow him to think of leaving.
At another time, Christ mentioned His approaching passion, and Peter, not yet comprehending the mystery of the Redemption, would prevent Him, and said: “Lord, be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee.” He would not consent that the object of his affection should suffer. Peter’s love to Christ was the cause of his twice throwing himself into the sea to be so much sooner with Him. He would not and could not wait until the boat, in which he was with the other disciples, had landed. Out of the heart of Peter, so full of devotion to his Divine Master, came also the fearless words, that he was ready to go with Him to prison and to death, and that if all were to forsake Him, he would not leave Him. To humble his too great confidence in himself, the contrary happened; for, Peter left Christ in the garden and denied Him three times at the house of Caiphas; but no sooner did the crowing of the cock bring to his memory the prophecy of the Lord, and no sooner had the compassionate eye of the latter fallen on him, than he repented of his fault with bitter tears. There is no doubt that God pardoned him, but it is emphatically stated in the life of the holy Apostle, that he daily repented of this denial as long as he lived; and that in the night, when he heard the cock crow, he shed floods of tears at the remembrance of it.
After Christ’s resurrection, Peter was asked three times by the Saviour if he loved Him more than the others. And three times Peter answered: “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee.” With this repeated confession of his love, Christ was so well pleased, that He entrusted to him all His flock with the words: “Feed my lambs: Feed my sheep.” This charge Peter began to administer soon after Christ’s ascension, when he admonished the assembled apostles and disciples to choose another apostle in the place of the traitor Judas; and also when, on Pentecost, after having received the Holy Ghost, he preached the first sermon to the Jews, with such zeal and fervency, that three thousand of them were at once converted. He was also the first who confirmed the teachings of the Gospel by miracles. The first of these he wrought on a lame beggar, who daily asked alms at the gate of the temple. Peter said to him: “Silver and gold I have none; but what I have I give thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.” And at the same moment, the man, who had been lame from his birth, arose and walked.
This first miracle was followed by many others, and as holy Writ relates, Peter’s shadow falling upon the sick, was sufficient to restore them to health. When the High Priests of the Jews commanded Peter and the other apostles to preach no more of Christ, Peter replied: “If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye.” And again, at another time, he said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Hence he did not discontinue to announce Christ as the true Messiah, although, on account of it, he was cast into prison and scourged. He was also the first, who, following a divine inspiration, preached the Gospel to the Gentiles, as is related in the 10th Chapter of the Acts.
What more this Prince of the Apostles did to disseminate the true faith, cannot be told in a few words. He travelled through all Judaea, and preached and wrought miracles wherever he went. He restored, in one moment, the health of Aeneas, who had been suffering of the palsy for eight years, and raised Tabitha, a pious widow, to life. Later he went into several other countries, laying everywhere the first stone of Christianity, consecrated bishops and priests, who were to govern the newly founded churches. His first See he established at Antioch, and remained there seven years, but announcing also in many other places the Gospel of the Lord. He then went to Rome, where idolatry had built her principal temples. Thence he sent his disciples, who were all animated with apostolic zeal, to Spain, France, Sicily, Germany, and other countries, to preach the Christian faith.
He himself fixed his See at Rome, and by his sermons converted numberless heathens. When, nine years later, he was driven away from Rome, with many Christians, he went to Jerusalem, and visited the newly converted in those parts, comforted and cheered them, preached to those who were still in the darkness of unbelief, and then returned to Rome, where he brilliantly defeated the magician Simon. The latter had, by his magic, not only blinded the Emperor Nero, but also the Roman people, and had prevented many from embracing the true faith. Peter discovered his fraud, and to confirm the doctrines he taught, he raised a dead person to life, which Simon endeavored to do, but had not the power. After this, the magician appointed a day on which he, in evidence of the truth until now taught by him, would ascend visibly to heaven. The day came and Simon, assisted by the devil, was really raised from the ground. Peter, however, prayed, and then commanded the devil to depart and behold! the imposter fell down, broke his legs, and had to be carried away covered with grief and shame.
This splendid miracle opened the eyes of many unbelievers, who desired to be baptized. But Nero, of whom Simon was a great favorite, was enraged against St. Peter, and had him cast into a dungeon with St. Paul. The faithful, with tearful eyes, begged St. Peter to escape in order to preserve his life and take care of them. Love to his flock persuaded the holy apostle to fulfil their wish. Having already arrived at the gates of the city, he met Christ, and, amazed as this vision, he asked Him: “Master, whither goest thou?” “I go into the city to be crucified again,” replied the Lord. The apostle, comprehending these words, returned to his prison and remained there until Nero gave the order, that Peter, as a Jew, should be crucified, and Paul, as a Roman citizen, should be beheaded.
When the appointed day had arrived, Peter was scourged and then fastened to a cross. The joy which he manifested in suffering thus for his faith awakened the admiration of all present. He requested that the cross might be raised in such a manner that his head would hang down, as he deemed himself unworthy to die like his Saviour. His wish was complied with, and the Saint thus painfully ended his holy life. Marcellus, a priest, buried him upon the Vatican Hill, where his relics are still honored by the Christian world. The books of the holy Fathers are filled with praise of the deeds of this glorious Apostle, this first Pope and Vicar of Christ. (5)
Image: crop of Saint Peter and Saint Paul: Artist: El Greco (1541-1614) (13)
Today is the feast day of Saint Vincenza Gerosa. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Vincenza was born Catherine Gerosa in Lovere, Bergamo, Italy in 1784. She was orphaned as a youth. Catherine was eventually adopted by a wealthy family of shopkeepers. Despite her family’s wealth, Catherine grew up shy and reserved. She was ever focused on aiding those in need, specifically the poor and abandoned. She dressed modestly, and spent her time away from working at the family shop in prayer and at daily Mass.
Catherine was sent by her parents to be educated by the Benedictine Sisters of Gandino. However, she soon fell ill, and her poor health prevented her from continuing her studies. She returned to Lovere, where her mother, father, and dear sister died in rapid succession. Catherine was left alone to manage the family business, suffering the losses of her family by offering them to Christ. She prayed constantly to accept the will of the Lord in her life, and used her family’s money to provide charitable works in the community. Catherine became involved in her Church parish, organizing a women’s oratory with meetings and retreats. She founded a practical school to teach the poor girls of the community domestic work so as to improve their station in life.
In her teachings, Catherine encountered Bartolomea Capitanio, and together they embarked on a new mission: to found a hospital to care for those who could not afford medical care. This they did, and extended their mission to establishing a special religious institute with the objectives of providing assistance to the sick, free education for girls, Christian orphanages, and programs designed to promote youth welfare. To accomplish this mission, together they founded the Sisters of Charity in 1824. At that time, Catherine took the name Vincenza. Together they wrote ‘the Foundation Document” which forms the basis of the Rule of Life for the Order: “The Institute which will be founded in Lovere is be totally founded on charity and this must be its principle aim…should have as its aim the education of poor young girls…devote itself to the relief of the sick..”
Only nine short years later, Bartolomea died, leaving Vincenza to manage and expand the order. The Order of the Sisters of Charity was approved by Pope Gregory XVI in 1840, and quickly spread throughout Italy, and later to India and other countries. Vincenza continued overseeing the order until her death in 1847. Her body is venerated at the Chapel of the Sisters of Charity in Lovere.
Saint Vincenza Gerosa was beatified on 7 May 1933 by Pope Pius XI. She was canonized on 18 May 1950 by Pope Pius XII.
Today is the feast day of Pope Saint Paul I. Ora pro nobis.
Pope Saint Paul I’s date of birth unknown; he died at Rome, 28 June, 767. He was a brother of Pope Stephen II. They both were educated for the priesthood at the Lateran palace.
Stephen entrusted his brother Paul with many important ecclesiastical affairs. Paul approved of the pope’s course in respect to King Pepin. These affairs included the restoration to the Roman cities which had been seized by the Lombard Kings Aistulf and Desiderius.
While Paul was with his dying brother at the Lateran, a party of the Romans gathered in the house of Archdeacon Theophylact in order to secure the latter’s succession to the papal see. However, immediately after the burial of Stephen (died 26 April, 757), Paul was elected by a large majority of cardinals anyway. Paul received episcopal consecration on the twenty-ninth of May, 757.
Pope Paul worked with King Pepin the Short to maintain the papacy‘s temporal powers. In 765 he settled an agreement with the Byzantine Desiderius regarding their boundaries.
Pope Paul built churches and monasteries in Rome. Paul showed great activity and zeal in encouraging religious life at Rome. He turned his paternal home into a monastery, and near it built the church of San Silvestro in Capite. The founding of this church led to his holding a synod at Rome in 761. To this church and other churches of Rome, Paul transferred the bones of numerous martyrs from the decayed sanctuaries in the catacombs devastated by the Lombards in 756.
Paul also built an oratory of the Blessed Virgin in St. Peter’s, and a church in honor of the Apostles on the Via Sacra beyond the Roman Forum. He died near the church of San Paolo fuori le mura, where he had gone during the heat of summer. He was buried in this church, but after three months his body was transferred to St. Peter’s.
Today is the feast day of Saint Irenaeus. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
St. Irenasus, one of the earliest and most renowned Fathers of the Church, was born in Asia, and placed under the charge of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, a disciple of St. John, the Evangelist. Under this holy teacher, Irenasus made such progress in virtue and sacred science, that he was by him ordained priest and sent to Lyons, in France, to preach the Gospel of Christ to the heathens, and to assist the persecuted Christians. On his arrival after a most tedious voyage, he began at once to discharge the duties of his function with truly apostolic zeal. To the heathens he preached the Gospel of the Lord, and bore testimony to it with many miracles; hence almost all, who had not yet embraced Christianity, became believers in the true God. The Christians, who had to surfer persecution, he encouraged to remain constant in their faith in the midst of their tortures. After the persecution of the faithful had somewhat subsided, Photinus, Bishop of Lyons, sent him to Rome, to get the solution of several questions and doubts which the Christians of that city had addressed to Eleutherius, who at that period was Pope. The latter received Irenaeus with great joy, as he had been informed of his zeal, and gave him the answers to all questions and doubts. On this occasion, Ireneus watched carefully all the ceremonies which were performed at Rome, and acquainted himself with the ancient traditions which had been left there by the Apostles, that he might be able to introduce them at Lyons.
Meanwhile the holy bishop Photinus, received the crown of Martyrdom at Lyons, and Irenaeus, on his return, was chosen to fill the vacant See. Having taken upon himself this heavy and dangerous burden, he employed all his efforts to gather his flock, which, partly discouraged by long persecutions, had dispersed hither and thither. He encouraged the despondent, strengthened the wavering, raised the fallen, consoled the sorrowful, instructed the ignorant, and comforted the needy, both by words and deeds. After having thus, in every way, bettered the condition of his Church, he sent several excellent and zealous priests to the neighboring cities and villages, charging them to convert the inhabitants, who were idolaters, to the faith of Christ, which, to the salvation of numberless souls, was happily effected.
Satan, unable to bear the success of the holy bishop’s endeavors, sent the two notorious arch-heretics, Marcion and Valentine, into the neighborhood of Lyons, to sow the seeds of their heresy among the newly converted. The Saint, however, manifested no less watchfulness in protecting the faithful, than solicitude in converting the heathens. He not only disclosed and refuted, in his sermons, the falsehood of the doctrines which were disseminated by these heretics, but he also used the pen against them, and wrote several learned books, in which he placed the truth of the apostolic faith and the errors of heresy so clearly before the eyes of every one, that no heretics dared further to disturb the peace of his flock with their wicked doctrines. The faithful were strengthened to such a degree in their belief by these works, that, in a persecution which took place later, they preferred to sacrifice their lives, rather than depart in the least from the precepts of their Church.
The heroic constancy of so many Christians has been most justly ascribed to the indefatigable zeal of Irenaeus. It was also the result of his endeavors, that several bishops, who had forsaken the Pope, returned to him, and that others remained obedient to the holy Father. Victor, the holy Pope, had decided that the Christians should not celebrate Easter on the same day as the Jews; but, according to a verbal direction of St. Peter, on a Sunday. Many bishops in the East had adopted a different rule for the celebration of the feast, and would not alter it. Irenaeus exhorted all, in several letters, to be obedient to the Church at Rome, as the mother and instructress of all the other Churches. The high esteem in which the holiness and erudition of Irenasus was held by every one, was the cause that almost all the refractory Bishops submitted to the judgment of the Pope.
After this and many more labors of St. Irenaeus for the Church of Christ and for the salvation of souls, a new persecution of the Christians arose in the reign of the Emperor Severus. So many were executed in Lyons, that according to the language of St. Gregory, Bishop of Tours, the streets were overflowed with blood. And among those who thus testified with their lives to Christ’s teachings, was also St Irenaeus. He taught by his example what he had so often preached to his fold, namely, to suffer the most cruel martyrdom rather than abandon the true faith. The body of this Saint was buried by Zachary, a Priest, and was always kept in great honor, until the year 1562, when Lyons was besieged and taken by the Huguenots. They tore the holy relics out of the tomb where they rested and threw them into a well, while they cast the head, after treating it most indecently, into a pit. The head was, however, found after some time and publicly exposed to receive due honor.(2)
Born in Asia Minor, probably Smyrna (now Izmir in Turkey), between 115 and 125. Saint Irenaeus, was one of the earliest and most renowned Fathers of the Church. He was placed under the charge of Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. Under this holy teacher, Irenaeus made such progress in virtue and sacred science, that he was ordained priest and sent to Lugdunum (Lyons), in France, to preach the Gospel of Christ to the heathens, and to assist the persecuted Christians.
To the heathens he preached the Gospel of the Lord. The Christians, who had to suffer persecution, he encouraged them to remain constant in their faith in the midst of their tortures. After the persecution of the faithful had somewhat subsided, Photinus, Bishop of Lyons, sent him to Pope Eleutherius in Rome. The latter received Irenaeus with great joy, as he had been informed of his zeal. On this occasion, Irenaeus watched carefully all the ceremonies performed at Rome, and acquainted himself with the ancient traditions left there by the Apostles– that he might be able to introduce them at Lyons.
Returning to Gaul, Irenaeus succeeded the martyr Saint Photinus as Bishop of Lyons. During the religious peace which followed the persecution of Marcus Aurelius, the new bishop divided his activities between the duties of a pastor and of a missionary (as to which we have but brief data, late and not very certain). His writings include: Against heresies and The Presentation of the Apostolic Preaching. They have a twofold aim: to explain the truth of the faith clearly and to defend the true doctrine from the attacks of heretics.
Before Irenaeus, Christians differed as to which gospel they preferred. The Christians of Asia Minor preferred the Gospel of John. The Gospel of Matthew was the most popular overall. Irenaeus asserted that four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were canonical scripture. Thus Irenaeus provides the earliest witness to the assertion of the four canonical Gospels.
Nothing is known of the date of his death, which must have occurred at the end of the second or the beginning of the third century. In spite of some isolated and later testimony to that effect, it is not very probable that he ended his career with martyrdom. His body was buried at Lyons in the Church of St John (later, the Church of St Irenaeus), but the shrine was destroyed by Calvinists in 1562. (4)
Today is the feast day of Saint Ladislas I, King of Hungary. Ora pro nobis.
Ladislaus (Ladislas) I was the grandson of the cousin of Saint Stephen of Hungary and the second son of his father, King Bela. As a young man he had seen his father ascend the throne by a war against his uncle. His cousin Solomon, legitimate heir, was cruel and had been driven out by Ladislas’ older brother, Geiza, who after taking his place had reigned for only three years before his death. The people of Hungary knew of Ladislas’s bravery in combat, his chastity, and his sobriety, above all his charity. He knew many of them by name, and they had named him the pious Prince, for he had built magnificent Christian churches in a land where many still honored the pagan idols. It was with joy that the people chose Ladislas to replace his brother as King of Hungary.
He soon showed himself to be a perfect Christian king by the moderation of his judgments, his affability in receiving even the least of his vassals, his fatherly kindness to all. He restored the good laws and discipline which Saint Stephen had established. Chastity, meekness, gravity, charity, and piety were from his infancy the distinguishing traits of his character. His life in the palace continued to be very austere. He was very frugal and mortified personally, but very generous to the Church and the poor. He always sought God’s greater honor. Generous and merciful to his enemies, he was vigorous in the defense of his country and the Church.
During his reign his kingdom was attacked by numerous neighboring peoples. Before going out to repulse them he always commanded public prayers and a fast of three days. Then at the head of his armies fought and was invariably victorious with the help of God. He was preparing to depart, at the request of the princes of France, Spain and England, as General-in-chief of the 300,000 recruits of the great first crusade of the Christians against the Saracens for the recovery of the Holy Land, when God called him to Himself, on July 30, 1095, at the age of fifty-four years, at Neutra. Miracles were numerous at his tomb, and he was canonized one hundred years later, in 1199 by Celestine III. The same day a small child born without hands and feet was cured by the invocation of Saint Ladislas. (1)
Ladislaus is a patron saint of Hungary, especially along the borders. In particular, soldiers and the Székely people venerate him. A late medieval legend says that Ladislaus appeared at the head of a Székely army fighting against and routing a plundering band of Tatars in 1345. He is also called upon during times of pestilence.He is often depicted as a mature, bearded man wearing a royal crown and holding a long sword or banner. He is also shown on his knees before a deer, or in the company of two angels. (3)
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Ora pro nobis.
The name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help derives from one of the most famous of all pictures of Mary, an icon of the fourteenth century painted on walnut wood perhaps in Crete; from where it was thought to have been stolen by an Italian merchant and brought to Rome.
It is the story of an unknown artist, a repentant thief, a curious little girl, an abandoned church, and old religious and a Pope.
1. The merchant who stole “our Lady” There is a tradition from the 16th century that tells of a merchant from Crete who stole a miraculous picture from one of its churches.
He hid it among his wares and set out westward. It was only through Divine Providence that he survived a wild tempest and landed on shore. After a year he arrived in Rome with his stolen picture.
It was there that he became mortally ill and looked for a friend to care for him. At his hour of death, he revealed his secret of the picture and begged his friend to return it to the church. His friend promised that he would do so, but because his wife did not want to relinquish such a beautiful treasure, the friend also died without fulfilling the promise. At last the Blessed Virgin appeared to the six year old daughter of this Roman family and told her to tell her mother and grandmother that the picture of Holy Mary of Perpetual Help should be placed in the Church of St. Matthew the Apostle, located between the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.
The tradition relates, how, after many doubts and difficulties, “the mother obeyed and after consulting with the priests in charge of the church, the picture of the Virgin was placed in St. Matthew’s on the 27th of March, 1499.” There it would be venerated during the next 300 years. thus began the second phase of the history of the icon, and devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help began to spread throughout the city of Rome.
2. Three Centuries in the Church of St. Matthew
St. Matthew’s Church was not grand but it possessed an enormous treasure that attracted the faithful: the Icon of Our Mother of Perpetual help. From 1739 to 1798 the church and adjacent monastery was under the care of the Irish Augustinians who had been unjustly exiled from their country and used the monastery as a formation center for their Roman Province. The young students found an abode of peace in the presence of the Virgin of Perpetual Help while they prepared for the priesthood, the apostolate and martyrdom.
In 1798, war raged in Rome and the monastery and church were almost destroyed; several Augustinians remained there for a for more years, but they, too, had to leave, some returning to Ireland, others to America, while most of them moved to a nearby monastery. This last group brought the icon with them. Thus began the third stage of her history, the “hidden Years.”
In 1819, the Irish Augustinians moved to the Church of St. Mary in Posterula near the “Umberto I’ bridge that crosses the Tiber, and with them went the icon. But as “Our Lady of Grace” was already venerated in this church, the newly arrived picture was placed in a private chapel in the monastery where it remained, all but forgotten, but for Brother Augustine Orsetti, one of the original friars from St. Matthew’s.
3. The Old Religious and the Young Boy
The years passed and it seemed that the icon had been saved from the war that destroyed St. Matthew’s, was about to be lost in oblivion.
A young altar boy, Michael Marchi, often visited the Church of Sancta Maria in Posterula and became friends with Brother Augustine. Much later, as Father Michael, he would write:
“This good brother used to tell me with a certain air of mystery and anxiety, especially during the years 1850 and 1851, these precise words: ‘Make sure you know, my son, that the image of the Virgin of St. Matthew is upstairs in the chapel: don’t ever forget it . . . do you understand? It is a miraculous picture.’ At that time the brother was almost totally blind.
“What I can say about the venerable image of the ‘Virgin of St. Matthew,’ also called ‘Perpetual Help,’ is that from my childhood until I entered the Congregation of the Redemptorists I had always seen it above the altar of the house chapel of the Augustinian Fathers of the Irish Province at St. Mary in Posterula . . . there was no devotion to it, no decorations, not even a lamp to acknowledge its presence . . . it remained covered with dust and practically abandoned. many were the times, when I served Mass there, that I would stare at it with great attention.”
Brother Augustine died in 1853 at the age of 86, without seeing fulfilled his desire that the Virgin of Perpetual help be once again exposed for public veneration. His prayers and boundless confidence in the Virgin Mary seemed to have gone unanswered.
4. The Rediscovery of the Icon
In January of 1855, the Redemptorist Missionaries purchased “Villa Caserta” in Rome, converting it into the general house for their missionary congregation that had spread to western Europe and North America. On this same property were the ruins of the Church and Monastery of St. Matthew. Without realizing it at the time, they had acquired the land that, many years previously had been chosen by the Virgin as her sanctuary between St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran.
Four months later, construction was begun on a church in honor of the Most Holy Redeemer and dedicated to Saint Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Congregation. On December 24, 1855, a group of young men began their novitiate in the new house. One of them was Michael Marchi, the former altar boy.
The Redemptorists were extremely interested in the history of their new property. But more so, when on February 7th, 1863, they were puzzled by the questions from a sermon given by the famous Jesuit preacher, Father Francesco Blosi, about an icon of Mary that “had been in the Church of St. Matthew and was known as The Virgin of St. Matthew, or more correctly as The Virgin of Perpetual Help.”
On another occasion, the chronicler of the Redemptorist community “examining some authors who had written about Roman antiquities, found references made to the Church of St. Matthew. Among them was a particular citation mentioning that in the church had been an ancient icon of the Mother of God that enjoyed “great veneration and fame for its miracles.” Then “having told all this to the community, a dialogue began as to where they could locate the picture. Father Marchi remembered all that he had heard from old Brother Augustine Orsetti and told his confreres that he had often seen the icon and knew very well where it could be found.”
5. The Reception of the Icon by the Redemptorists
With this new information, interest grew among the Redemptorists to know more about the icon and to retrieve it for their church.
Pope St. Pius IX gives the Icon of Perpetual Help to the Redemptionist Missionaries
The Superior General, Fr. Nicholas Mauron, presented a letter to Pope Pius IX in which he petitioned the Holy See to grant them the Icon of Perpetual help and that it be placed in the newly built Church of the Most Holy Redeemer and St. Alphonsus, which was located near the site where the old Church of St. Matthew had stood. The Pontiff granted the request and on the back of the petition, in his own handwriting, he noted:
“December 11, 1865: The Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda will call the Superior of the community of Sancta Maria in Posterula and will tell him that it is Our desire that the image of Most Holy Mary, referred to in this petition, be again placed between Saint John and St. mary major; the Redemptorists shall replace it with another adequate picture.”
According to tradition, this was when Pope Pius IX told the Superior General: “Make Her known throughout the world!” In January, 1866, Fathers Michael Marchi and Ernest Bresciani went to St. Mary’s in Posterula to receive the picture from the Augustinians.
Then began the process of cleaning and retouching the icon, the task of which was entrusted to the Polish artist, Leopold Nowotny. On April 26, 1866, the image was again presented for public veneration in the Church of St. Alphonsus on the Via Merulana. With this event the fourth phase of her history began: the spread of the icon throughout the world.
6. The Latest Restoration of the Icon
In 1990, the picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was taken down above the Main altar to satisfy the many requests for new photographs of the icon. It was then that the serious state of deterioration of the image was discovered; the wood, as well as the paint, had suffered from environmental changes and prior attempts at restoration. The General Government of the Redemptorists decided to contract the services of the Vatican Museum to bring about a general restoration of the icon.
The first part of the restoration consisted of a series of x-rays, infra-red images, and analysis of the paint and other tests. It was determined that the wood of the Icon of Perpetual Help could safely be dated from between 1325-1480.
The second stage of the restoration involved filling cracks and perforations in the wood, cleaning the paint and retouching affected sections, etc. This work was limited to the absolute minimum because all restorative work, somewhat like surgery, always provokes some trauma. An artistic analysis concluded that the pigmentation of the paint after the 17th century; this would explain why the icon offers a synthesis of oriental and occidental elements, especially in its facial aspects. (1)
The original picture painted on gold ground, is the work of a devout and skillful master. The best judges concede that it must have been painted in the 13th or 14th century, in the East, as its Grecian or Byzantine style plainly shows. The Blessed Mother, in half-figure, has her child on her left arm, and in her right hand, she holds the hand of her Divine Infant. Her beautiful eyes are directed towards the beholder with an expression of tender reproach, and speak eloquently of her great anguish at the sufferings of her Son. On either side of her head are four Greek letters, which stand for the words “Mother of God.”
The Divine Infant is in full figure. On his head is a crown. He wears sandals, one of which is fastened to his left foot, the other hangs loose from the right. Over his left shoulder are the Greek letters signifying “Jesus Christ.” He clasps his mother’s right hand in both his own, as though seeking protection from the instrument of His Passion, presented to Him by the two angels at his side. The Angel on the right, over whom are to be seen in Greek the initials of the name of “Michael the Archangel,” presents to the Holy Child, the Lance, the Reed and the Sponge of His future Passion, while the Angel on the left holds up before His gaze four nails and a cross, with two beams, as well as the tablet of the inscription; over Him are the initials in Greek of “Gabriel the Archangel.” The drapery of the picture is exquisite. (3)
Image: Crop of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Byzantine icon said to be 13th or 14th century (7)
Today is the feast day of Saint Anthelm of Belley. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Anthelm of Belley was born near Chambéry, in Savoy, France in 1107. He would later receive an ecclesiastical benefice in the area of Belley. When he was thirty years old, he resigned from this position to become a Carthusian monk at Portes. Only two years after joining the order, he was made the prior of the Grande Chartreuse, the motherhouse of his order.
He was an effective administrator. While under his direction, the community increased in numbers. He restored and improved the buildings, including constructing a defensive wall and an aqueduct. The rules of the order were standardized, and changed to allow women the opportunity to enter the order in their own houses. He also brought the other houses of the order into closer alignment with the motherhouse. The monks under his direction included Hugh of Lincoln, who expressed great fondness for Anthelm.
Anthelm continued in his office almost constantly for twenty-four years, barring a period of a few years when he was a hermit. After that period, in 1152, Anthelm returned to the Grand Chartreuse, and helped defend the sitting Pope Alexander III against the antipope Victor IV. Alexander III appointed Anthelm bishop of Belley in 1163. In that position, he is said to have been fearless and uncompromising, working to reform the clergy and regulate the affairs of the diocese. One example of his fearlessness occurred in 1175, when Anthelm excommunicated Count Humbert of Maurienne for having taken one priest captive and murdering another priest who had tried to free him. Humbert appealed his excommunication to Pope Alexander III, who reversed Humbert’s excommunication. Anthelm, who believed that Humbert was not penitent for his misconduct, withdrew from his diocese in protest.
Pope Alexander then commissioned Anthelm to travel to England to try to reconcile Henry II of England and Thomas Becket. Anthelm’s health was such that he was unable to take the journey. Anthelm returned to Belley to help care for the poor and the lepers of the area.
Anthelm died at Belley in 1178. On his deathbed, he received Humbert, and recognized that at that time Humbert truly had repented of his earlier acts. In liturgical art, Saint Anthelm is depicted with a lamp lit by a divine hand.