Today is the feast day of Saint Paschal Baylon. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Paschal Baylon, a lay-brother of the celebrated Franciscan Order, was born in Spain, in the kingdom of Valencia, on Pentecost Sunday, 1340. He had hardly reached boyhood, when he was already employed in watching the herd, as his parents were too poor to allow him to learn a trade. In this occupation, so looked down upon by the world, Paschal remained until he took the habit, but so innocent and pious was his life, that he never stained his soul with a mortal sin. He was such an enemy to cursing, lying, unchaste conversation, and licentious songs, that he would not endure these sins in others, but most earnestly endeavored to reform those addicted to them. He took the utmost care that the cattle entrusted to him should not damage the fields and meadows of others, and when he perceived that, withou his fault, such had been the case, he made good the damage out of his own wages, or by his labor. He never took the least thing out of the gardens or vineyards, as was so frequently done by others of his station. One day the chief herdsman requested Paschal to bring him some grapes from a neighboring garden that he might appease his thirst. The pious youth refused to do so on account of its being a sin, an offence done to God. When the chief herdsman pressed him with threats, he said fearlessly: “The grapes do not belong to us, and I will sooner let myself be torn to pieces than take the least of what belongs to another, as it is a sin,” so great was the Saint’s horror of sin.
Not less was his desire to do good, and he loved prayer much more than all the pleasures of youth. He went frequently to a chapel which stood in the field, or to some church, to worship there the most holy Sacrament, and to honor the Blessed Virgin. As he had, however, not many opportunities for this, he cut an image of the Divine Mother on the top of his shepherd’s staff with a cross above it. This staff he placed in the ground, knelt before it and said his prayers with great devotion. How agreeable this must have been in the sight of the Most High, became manifest from the fact that he wrought miracles with this staff; for as often as Paschal desired to refresh his thirsty companions, the other shepherds, he struck his staff into the earth and immediately there flowed, a spring of the clearest water. In the twentieth year of his age, God called him by a visible apparition of St. Francis and St. Clare to enter into religion. The gentleman, however, of whose herd he took care, had so much affection and esteem for him, that he determined to adopt him as his son and make him heir of his large fortune. He disclosed this determination to him, but Paschal allowed nothing to prevent him from fulfilling his vocation, and rejected all earthly goods from a desire to gain so much more surely the treasures of heaven.
On Candlemas-day he took the habit, and was so assiduous in the discharge of his new duties, that in a short time, from a holy herdsman, he became a holy religious. He exercised himself most zealously in all virtues, especially in fervent devotion towards God and the Blessed Virgin, in deep humility, abject poverty, continual self-immolation, and obediece in all things. His sustenance was generally only water and bread. Except mornings and evenings he partook of nothing not even in the greatest heat. His bed was the bare floor, and his pillow a stone or a piece of wood. He constantly wore a hair-shirt and daily scourged himself most severely. The greater part of the night he devoted to prayer, which he frequently performed with such devotion, that he remained whole hours upon his knees immovable, or was found in divine ecstasies.
During the day, when at work, he raised his heart continually to heaven by pious ejaculations, and never began the labors of the day without first imploring the divine assistance with at least a short prayer. But devoutly and attentively as he said his prayers, he was far from repeating them with scrupulous fear when his mind had been distracted. He used to say that the Almighty was displeased with such repetitions, and that they gave Satan an opportunity to disquiet and trouble the soul. He walked continually before the eyes of the Almighty, always remembering His presence; hence he was never seen sad or vexed, but always bright and cheerful. He would not listen to any praises, but blushed and immediately left if anything was said in his commendation. On the contrary, he showed great pleasure if others derided him or mocked him. His utmost care was to keep his conscience clear from all stains. He avoided the least wrong as scrupulously as others did great vices, especially anything against chastity. Before he was admitted into the Order he blushed with shame when one day a shepherd coming to him made an unchaste jest; but afterwards, indignant at his licentious speech, he assured him that if any one approached him with a wicked intention, he would give the wanton such a reception as would soon extinguish the flames of evil desire. When, having received the habit, he was door-keeper, and an impudent woman dared to kiss him when he opened the door for her. He, however, filled with holy anger, pushed her away, and shut the door in her face. On other occasions where he perceived the least danger of falling into sin, he manifested the same prudence.
Axious as Paschal was, however, to avoid all sin and to practice good works himself, he was also equally zealous to promote the practice of all virtues in others. Although he was not a priest, he labored without intermission for the spiritual welfare of his neighbor. Those whom he could influence he admonished with kind words to keep the commandments of God and the church, to receive frequently the holy Sacraments, to abstain from vices to which they were addicted, to love their neighbors, to be patient, and to exercise other Christian virtues. By such admonitions he deterred many from sin, and led them to penance and to a Christian life, as his words possessed a wonderful power to obtain that which he desired. A priest one day spoke long and most emphatically to a man who had suffered great wrong, urging him to forgive his offender. The angry man, however, not only refused to listen, but drove the priest away with the threat that if he did not leave, he would lay hands on him. Paschal, who had accompanied the priest, when the latter went away, turned to the man and said: “Well, my brother, forgive out of love to God the offence done to you.” By these few words the Saint immediately obtained what the priest had not effected with his long exhortations. The injured man answered unhesitatingly “Yes! out of love to God I will forgive.” In like manner he persuaded a hardened sinner to do penance, and strengthened a woman, who looked with undue fear upon her approaching death, to bear patiently the will of the Almighty. He prayed with particular zeal for all those who preached; that God would give their words power to convince and to convert their hearers. Experience showed that his prayer was graciously accepted by the Almighty.
What we have related above placed the holy man very high in the esteem not only of the brethren of his Order, but also in that of all others. He became still more celebrated by those extraordinary graces and gifts that were graciously conferred on him by our Lord. These were, first, a wonderful comprehension of the most profound mysteries of faith, which he was able to explain so clearly that even learned men were astonished, as it was well known that Paschal had never studied. Secondly: an unusual knowledge of the hearts of those with whom he came in contact: he was therefore often successful when he admonished others to confess secret sins, and to reform their conduct. Thirdly: the gift of prophecy; hence he foretold to several sick persons that their health would soon be restored, while to others he revealed that the hour of their death was near at hand. Besides this, God worked many miracles through him, especially to the comfort of the poor, whom he always endeavored to aid as much as he could. This faithful servant of the Almighty used to say: “Man ought to have towards God the heart of an obedient child; towards his neighbor the feelings of a tender mother; but towards himself he ought to act as an inflexible judge.” As he constantly observed the second point in regard to the poor, so also he kept the first and third towards God and himself. At all times he endeavored to obey God in everything and to be austere towards himself.
When, in the 52d year of his age, Paschal became sick, he immediately prepared himself for his end, as the hour of his death had been told him by divine revelation. When his physician announced to him that his death was near, he gave him thanks for so joyous a message, adding that he could not have brought him more welcome tidings. On Ascension-day he asked several times if the High Mass had already commenced, and when they answered, “Yes!” he took the “crucifix and rosary and pressing them to his heart, his soul went to heaven at the precise moment when the priest, after the consecration, raised the Host. At the same hour some pious persons who lived far of saw the Saint like a second Elias, carried in a chariot of fire towards heaven.
For three days the holy remains were laid out in the church, in order to give the masses of people, who desired to see them and pay them due honors, an opportunity to do so. On the second day it was observed that the body thus exposed, opened its eyes and kept them fixed on the sacred Host during the elevation. The same happened when the chalice was raised. Those who had known the Saint in his life-time believed that God had wrought this miracle to manifest how pleasing had been to Him the devotion that St. Paschal had always shown towards the most blessed sacrament. When, eight months after his death, the body of the Saint was exhumed, it was found in a perfect state of preservation, although it had been covered over with unslaked lime. In the same condition it was found many years later. His tomb became celebrated on account of the many miracles which were wrought there. (2)
Saint Paschal Baylon
By Dom Prosper Gueranger 1870
The Seraph of Assisi was sure to depute some of his children to pay their court to his Risen Master. The one he sends today, is the humblest and most unknown of men; another will follow, three days hence, powerful in word and work, and holding a palm in his hands, as a most devoted preacher of the Gospel. Paschal BayIon was a simple peasant. He was a shepherd-boy; and it was in tending his flock, that he found the Lord Jesus. He had a great love for contemplation. Forests and fields spoke to him of their great Creator; and, in order that he might be the more closely united with him, he resolved to seek him in the highest paths of perfection. He was ambitious to imitate the humble, poor and suffering Life of the Man-God; the Franciscan Cloister offered him all this, and he flew to it. On that blessed soil, he grew to be one of heaven’s choicest plants, and the whole earth has now heard the name of the humble Lay-Brother of a little convent in Spain. Holy Church brings him before us today, and shows him enraptured in the contemplation of his Jesus’ Resurrection. He had trod the path of humiliation and the cross; it was but just, that he should share in his Master’s Triumph. It was of him, and of such as he, that this Divine Saviour spoke, when he said: Ye are they that have continued with me in my temptations; and I dispose to you, as my Father hath disposed to me, a Kingdom; that ye may eat and drink at my table, in my Kingdom, and may sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (St. Luke, xxii. 28, 29, 30).
The account given by the Liturgy of the angelic life of this illustrious son of St. Francis, is as follows:
Paschal Baylon was born of poor and pious parents, at Torre-Hermosa, a small town of the Diocese of Seguenza, in Aragon. Even from his infancy, he gave many signs of future sanctity. Being endowed with a good disposition, and having a great love for the contemplation of heavenly things, he passed the years of boyhood and youth in tending flocks. He loved this kind of life more than any other, because it seemed to him best for fostering humility and preserving innocence. He was temperate in his food, and assiduous in prayer. He had such influence over his acquaintance and companions, and was so dear to them, that he used to settle their disputes, correct their faults, instruct their ignorance, and keep them out of idleness. He was honored and loved by them as their father and master; and even then, was often called the Blessed Paschal.
Thus did this flower of the valley bloom in the world, that desert and parched land; but once planted in the house of the Lord, he shed, everywhere around him, a wondrous odour of sanctity. Having embraced the severest sort of life, by entering the Order of the Discalced Friars Minor of strict observance, Paschal rejoiced as a giant to run his way. Devoting himself wholly to the service of his God, his one thought, both day and night, was how he could further imitate his Divine Master. His brethren, even they that were most advanced, soon began to look upon him as a model of seraphic perfection. As for him, he put himself in the grade of the Lay-Brothers. Looking on himself as the offscouring of all, he, with humility and patience, cheerfully took on himself the most tiring and menial work of the house, which work he used to say belonged to him by a special right. He mortified and brought into subjection his flesh, which, at times, would strive to rebel against the spirit. As to his spirit, he, by assiduous self-denial, maintained its fervour, and daily stretched himself forward to the things that were more perfect.
He had consecrated himself, from his earliest years, to the Blessed Virgin; he honored her, as his Mother, by daily devotions, and prayed to her with filial confidence. It would be difficult to describe the ardour of his devotion to the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. Even after his death, this devotion seemed to linger in his body; for when laid in his coffin, his eyes were seen to open and shut twice during the elevation of the sacred Host, to the astonishment of all that were present. He publicly and openly professed before heretics his faith in the dogma of the Real Presence, and had much to suffer on that account. His very life was frequently attempted; but, by a special providence of God, he was rescued from the hands of the wicked men who sought to kill him. Frequently, when at prayer, he was in ecstasy, and swooned away with the sweetness of love. It was on these occasions that he was supposed to receive that heavenly wisdom, whereby he, though uneducated and illiterate, was enabled to give answers upon the profoundest mysteries of Faith, and even write several books. Finally, being rich in merit, he happily took his flight to heaven, at the hour which he had foretold, in the year of our Lord 1592, on the sixteenth of the Calends of June (May 17), and on the Feast of Pentecost, (the same on which he was born,) being in his fifty-second year. These and other virtues having procured him great reputation, and being celebrated for miracles both before and after his death, he was beatified by Pope Paul the Fifth, and canonized by Alexander the Eighth. (2)
Saint Pascal was beatified in 1618, and canonized in 1690. His cultus has flourished particularly in his native land and in Southern Italy, and it was widely diffused in Southern and Central America, through the Spanish Conquests. In his Apostolic letter, Providentissimus Deus, Leo XIII declared St. Pascal the especial heavenly protector of all Eucharistic Congresses and Associations. His feast is kept on 17 May. The saint is usually depicted in adoration before a vision of the Host. (5)
During the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) his relics were burned by the Red Terror. (8)
Image: San Pasquale Baylon e l’adorazione eucaristica (Ignoto sec. XVIII) (9)