28 Jan Saint Peter Nolasco, Confessor
Today is the feast day of Saint Peter Nolasco. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Saint Peter Nolasco, founder of the Order of the most holy Virgin Mary, for the redemption of captives, was born at Recaudo, near Carcasson, an Episcopal See in Languedoc, France, in the year of Christ 1190. His family belonged to the noble house of Nolasco. Even when a child he wept on seeing a poor person, and could be consoled only by giving him some alms for the distressed. When he became of age he divided the inheritance bequeathed him by his parents among the poor. Without neglecting the practice of virtue, he industriously and perseveringly applied himself to his studies. His anxiety to preserve his baptismal robe unspotted, and to act as a true servant of his Lord, made him avoid the least sin, for he feared that, any negligence would dampen his fervor in the service of God, and lead to more grievous sins. Having at an early age been deprived of his parents, he withdrew to Spain, to escape the contagion of the Albigensian heresy, which had already devastated many parts of France. For a long time he occupied the post of tutor to James, the heir apparent to the crown of Aragon, and while at Barcelona he wore the livery of Christ beneath the robes of State.
The miserable condition of the Christians who were in captivity under the Moors and other enemies of the Christian name, as well as their imminent danger of losing the Faith, deeply touched his heart: he therefore gave up all his goods and possessions for their ransom, and expressed his wish to be himself sold for their sakes, or held captive in their stead. His generosity was rewarded at one time with the liberation of three hundred Christian slaves. On the following night, while he was engaged in prayer, and considering how he could rescue others from their sad fate, the Mother of God appeared to him, commended his generosity, and told him that it would be highly pleasing to her Divine Son and to herself, if he would found a Religious Order whose chief aim should be the redemption of captives. Peter gave an account of this apparition to St. Raymond of Pennafort, his confessor, who also had a similar vision on the same night. Both of them then went to the King, James, and found that he had already been informed of Heaven’s will by the Queen of heaven.
As they could no longer doubt the designs of God, they eagerly set about the prosecution of so holy a work. Raymond wrote rules for the new Order, and Peter, who received at his hands in the Church of the Holy Cross, the habit which they had adopted, was named its first General. Besides the three customary vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, this Order binds itself to a fourth, which consists in the readiness of each of its members to offer himself as a substitute for any Christian captive, if it be deemed necessary. This Order, so well deserving of the highest appreciation, was at first exposed to violent persecutions; but Peter overcame all opposition, and, before the end of his life, had the consolation of witnessing a great number of generous souls in different monasteries, devoted heart and soul to so noble a work. When the persecution was at its height, he addressed his disciples: “Let us fear and praise God: He has the hearts of men in His hands, and can bend them as He wishes.” Peter governed his Order for thirty years, within which time he opened their prison doors to thousands of captives, whom his own incessant labors, joined with those of his disciples, rescued from a miserable fate, and, in all probability, from eternal death.
Before his death, he called his children to his bedside, and exhorted them to perseverance in their love for captives. His last words were those of the Psalmist: “I will praise Thee, O Lord, who hast sent redemption to Thy people!” Previous to this hour he had long and ardently cherished the desire of visiting the tomb of his patron, the Prince of the Apostles, whose name he bore, and was saddened at not finding an opportunity to execute this project. But now this holy Apostle appeared to him and addressed him: “Not all of our pious desires can be fulfilled. God is, however, satisfied with the intention. I know your longing to visit me at Rome; but such is not the good pleasure of the Lord. Yet, because you cannot visit me, I have now come to see you, and to assure you of my assistance till your last breath.” St. Peter Nolasco obtained a similar favor from his Guardian Angel and other Saints, who visibly appeared to him, no doubt to reward his special devotion to them. But Mary, the Queen of all Saints, gave him special proofs of her love and esteem. He saw her in person several times, and was filled with such sweet joy and consolation at her promise always to befriend him, that he cried out ecstatically at his last hour: “O how sweet it is to die under the protection of Mary.” He expired in the year 1256. (1)
Saint Peter was canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1628. His Order continues its religious services, now devoted to preaching and hospital service. (2) His order was called the Mercedarians (q.v.) and was solemnly approved by Gregory IX, in 1230. Its members were bound by a special vow to employ all their substance for the redemption of captive Christians, and if necessary, to remain in captivity in their stead. At first most of these religious were laymen as was Peter himself. But Clement V decreed that the master general of the order should always be a priest. (3)
Image: Visión de San Pedro Nolasco. (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff