Jan 7 - Blessed Angela of Foligno 1248-1309
Angela was born in 1248 of a prominent family in Foligno, three leagues from Assisi. As a young woman, and also as a wife and mother, she lived only for the world and its vain pleasures. But the grace of God intended to make of her a vessel of election for the comfort and salvation of many. A ray of the divine mercy touched her soul and so strongly affected her as to bring about a conversion.
At the command of her confessor she committed to writing the manner of her conversion in eighteen spiritual steps. "Enlightened by grace," she wrote in this account. "I realized my sinfulness; I was seized with a great fear of being damned, and I shed a flood of tears. I went to confession to be relieved of my sins, but through shame I concealed the most grievous ones, but still I went to Communion. Now my conscience tortured me day and night. I called upon St. Francis for help, and, moved by an inner impulse, I went into a church where a Franciscan Father was then preaching.
"I gathered courage to confess all my sins to him, and I did this immediately after the sermon. With zeal and perseverance I performed the penance he imposed, but my heart continued to be full of bitterness and shame. I recognized that the divine mercy has saved me from hell, hence I resolved to do rigorous penance; nothing seemed too difficult for me, because I felt I belonged in hell. I called upon the saints, and especially upon the Blessed Virgin, to intercede with God for me.
"It appeared to me now as if they has compassion on me, and I felt the fire of divine love enkindled within me so that I could pray as I never prayed before. I had also received a special grace to contemplate the cross in which Christ had suffered so much for my sins. Sorrow, love, and the desire to sacrifice everything for Him filled my soul."
About this time God harkened to the earnest desire of the penitent: her mother died, then her husband, and soon afterwards all her children. These tragic events were very painful to her; but she made the sacrifice with resignation to the will of God. Being freed from these ties, she dispossessed herself of all her temporal goods with the consent of her confessor, so that being poor herself, she might walk in the footsteps of her poor Savior. She also entered the Third Order of St. Francis, and presently found herself the superior and guide of others who followed in her path. Many women joined her, even to the point of taking the three vows. She encouraged them in works of charity, in nursing the sick, and in going personally from door to door to beg for the needs of the poor.
Meanwhile, Angela became still more immersed in the contemplation of the Passion of Christ, and she chose the Sorrowful Mother and the faithful disciple John as her patrons. The sight of the wounds which her Lord suffered for her sins urged her to the practice of still greater austerities. Once our Lord showed her that His Heart is a safe refuge in all the storms of life. She was soon to be in need of such a refuge.
God permitted her to be afflicted with severe temptations. The most horrible and loathsome representations distressed her soul. The fire of concupiscence raged so furiously that she said: "I would rather have beheld myself surrounded with flames and permitted myself to be continually roasted that to endure such things." Still, she called out to God, "Glory be to Thee, O Lord! Thy cross is my resting place." These painful trials lasted over two years; but then the purified and tried servant of the Lord was filled with great consolation. She obtained a marvelous insight into divine things and was very frequently found in ecstasy. For many years Holy Communion was her only food, until at last, completely purified, she entered into the eternal joy of the Supreme Good on January 4, 1309.
Pope Innocent XII approved the continual devotion paid to her at her tomb in Foligno. He beatified her in 1693.
ON THE BENEFIT OF TEMPTATIONS
1. Consider how Blessed Angela has to pass through many painful steps in order to arrive at true conversion. True conversion is not accomplished as easily and as soon as many people believe. One of these steps consisted in enduring temptations. This was one of the most painful stages, but it was in this way that God wishes to try the fidelity of His servants. Moses spoke thus to the chosen people of God: "The Lord your God tried you that it may appear whether you love Him with all your soul, or no" (Deut 13:3). What pleasure is it when the temptation has been overcome, to know that one has stood the test! Have you ever partaken of this joy after your temptations?
2. Consider that temptations are also a means by which we may learn to know ourselves and our weaknesses. Thomas a Kempis (1,13) says: "Temptations show us what we are." Sometimes we do not think it possible that we could fall into this or that sin into which a fellowman has fallen. But if severe temptation assails us, we readily join with the Psalmist in declaring: "Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in hell" (Ps 93:17). Temptation does not make us weak, it merely shows us how weak we are. Such experiences cause us to be kinder in our judgements of others and more cautious in our own conduct. If David became an adulterer and a murderer through a glance at Bethsabee, may we then play with danger like a gnat flying about a glowing flame? "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation" (Matt 26:41).
3. Consider that temptations impel us to draw nearer to God and to unite ourselves more closely to Him. As a child runs to its mother when danger threatens, and hides itself in her lap, so a Christian who loves his soul will have recourse to God in time of danger. And just as the tree strikes its roots deeper into the earth when storms whip its crown, so does the Christian attach himself more firmly to God during the storm of temptation. While we acknowledge that God is our all: our only hope, our support, our salvation. This acknowledgement is a great boon. Blessed Angela says, "To know oneself and to know God, that is the perfection of man; without this knowledge, visions and the greatest gifts are of no account."
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, Thou sweetness of hearts and light of the inhabitants of heaven, who didst refresh Blessed Angela, Thy servant, with a marvelous insight into heavenly things, grant us through her merits and intercession so to know Thee upon earth, that we may be found worthy to rejoice in the vision of Thy glory in heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jan 12 - Blessed Bernard of Corleone 1605-1667
Bernard was born on the island of Sicily in the year 1605. His father was a shoemaker and taught his son the ways of the trade. But it was difficult for the lively youth to interest himself in this work. Upon the death of his father, he immediately left the shop and, led by the love of adventure, he took up fencing. It was not long before he became quite adept at wielding the sword. His unusual corporal vigor qualified him to challenge any comer to a contest.
From then on he spent the greater part of his time in training and eagerly seized every opportunity to match swords with his hot tempered countrymen.
Although this manner of life led him far away from God, nevertheless many noble characteristics were perceptible in Bernard. In taking up any quarrel he liked to defend old people and other helpless and defenseless persons against violence. He frequently made devout visits to a crucifix that was highly honored by the people, and provided that a lamp be kept burning before it. Moreover, he cherished great devotion towards St. Francis. God and St. Francis soon led him to realize what a disorderly course he was pursuing.
Bernard had been challenged to a sinful duel, in the course of which he wounded his opponent mortally. In order to escape from his avengers, he sought refuge in flight. In this extremity, as so frequently happens, grace knocked at his heart. Bernard heeded the call. He acknowledged his godless and dangerous conduct for what it was, bewailed it bitterly, and resolved upon a complete change of sentiments.
In order to atone for his sins, he begged for admission among the Capuchins as a lay brother, and on December 13, 1632, he was invested with the holy habit. If in the past Bernard had yielded his bodily members to wayward purposes, he now used them as an atoning sacrifice unto salvation. Seven times a day he scourged himself to the blood. His sleep was limited to three hours on a narrow board, with a block of wood under his head. He fasted for the most part on bread and water. If anything delicious was placed before him, he would carry the food to his mouth so as to whet his appetite, and then lay it down without having tasted it. In spite of his austere life, he still undertook the most unpleasant and annoying tasks as being his due.
Almighty God showed how agreeable to Him was the penitential life Bernard was leading; he favored him with extraordinary graces, particularly with ardent devotion at prayer. Bernard cherished special love for our Blessed Lady, and encouraged others to do the same. Often our Lady appeared to him and placed the Divine Child in his arms. Moreover, she gave him knowledge of the day of his death four months in advance. He died at Palermo on January 12, 1667.
Attracted by the fame of his sanctity, there gathered for his burial so many people who raised their voices in praise of the deceased, that it was less a funeral cortege than a triumphal procession. Numerous miracles occurring at his grave promoted the cause of his beatification by Pope Clement XIII in the year 1767.
ON THE NECESSITY OF PENANCE
1. Consider the severe penance that Blessed Bernard practiced after his conversion. He understood what the holy Fathers say and the Catholic Church teaches, that for such as have not preserved their baptismal innocence, there is no other way to salvation but the way of penance. Perhaps we have sinned more grievously than Bernard did. In that event it behooves us to practice more rigorous penance, for according to the measure of our guilt should be the measure of our penance. Or do you perhaps believe that you have no reason to perform any penance? That would indeed be a sad delusion, for St. John writes: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:8). This is the first requisite of penance, that we sincerely acknowledge our sinfulness before God and repent of our failures with our whole heart. Do you have at least this kind of contrition?
2. Consider the words of our Lord: "Except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5). In what way? By sudden death. Our Lord spoke these words after it had been reported to Him that a number of persons had died a violent death. There is a limit to God's forbearance. Has Bernard not heeded the call of grace, might he not have perished in his sins? Hence, heed the admonition: "Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb 3:8). Should you not long ago have followed the call to do penance?
3. Consider that penance requires more than the acknowledgment of our sins and sorrow for the same. The sinner must also produce the fruits of penance. The precursor of Christ admonishes us: "Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of penance (Luke 3:8). An offense against God requires satisfaction to be made. If you cannot perform the rigorous penance Blessed Bernard performed, you can surely impose small sacrifices upon sensuality and the weakness of the flesh. The time of Lent admonishes us of these practices. Practice works of charity and piety in the spirit of penance in order to appease the divine justice, and cheerfully accept in the spirit of penance every cross and suffering that God allows to come your way.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who didst permit Blessed Bernard, Thy confessor, to distinguish himself by heroic charity and admirable penance, grant us, through his intercession, that we may love Thee with our whole heart and bring forth fruits worthy of penance. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jan 14 - Blessed Odoric Matiussi of Pordenone 1265-1331
Odoric was born of noble parents in the year 1265 at Pordenone in Friuli. He entered the Franciscan Order in the convent of Udine when he was only 15 years old. He felt himself called by God to be a missionary, and so prepared himself for his vocation by a strict life of penance, intimate union with God in solitude, and earnest application to study.
Ordained a priest, he labored as a zealous and forceful preacher of penance. The people came from great distances to hear his sermons and through him to be reconciled to God in the tribunal of penance. But soon his vast field of labor no longer satisfied his burning zeal. He was desirous of winning souls for God in the distant heathen countries and, if God so wished it, even to shed his blood for Christ. IN 1296 he went as a missionary to the Balkan Peninsula, and then to the Mongols in southern Russia.
In the year 1314 he sailed for the Orient. From Constantinople he crossed the Black Sea and landed at Trebizond, whence he travelled and preached in Armenia, Media, and Persia. In all these countries the Franciscans had founded mission centers.
With an Irish confrere, Friar James, he sailed to India and the islands of Ceylon, Sumatra and Java. He then pushed forward to China, and preaching Christ crucified as he went his way, he finally arrived at the capital, Cambalac, now called Peiping. There he met the great apostle of China, the Franciscan friar John of Montecorvino, who had been appointed archbishop of Cambalec in 1307.
After three years of fruitful labor in Cambalec, Odoric resolved to go to Europe and submit a report of his 15 years of apostolic labor to the then reigning pontiff John XXII, in the hope of securing fresh recruits for the apostolate. He traveled through China and central Asia, and returned to Italy in the year 1330, 65 years old, and emaciated by incessant toil and sufferings of various kinds, so that none of his brethren recognized him.
Reaching Pisa, he fell ill, and, as has been recorded, it was revealed to him that he should go to his native town and repair to the convent at Udine. At Padua he rested several days, and, at the command of his superiors, dictated an account of his apostolic journeys to Brother William. In this account the humble son of St. Francis says nothing of the hardships and dangers that he encountered; but his associates report that he suffered torment from evil spirits and wicked men, from wild animals, from hunger and thirst, and from heat and cold. Once he was seized by cruel heathens and tortured nigh unto death, when our Savior and the Blessed Mother appeared, consoling and strengthening him.
Having arrived at Udine after a wearisome journey, Odoric patiently awaited death in the convent where he had once received the holy habit. After making a general confession and receiving the last sacraments he departed this laborious life and entered into eternal rest on January 14, 1331.
Moved by the many miracles that were wrought at the tomb of the great missionary, Pope Benedict XIV, in the year 1775, approved the veneration which had been paid to Blessed Odoric. In the year 1881 the city of Pordenone erected a magnificent memorial to its distinguished son.
CONCERNING THE MISSIONS AMONG THE INFIDELS
1. Consider how pleasing to God must have been the labor and exertion of Blessed Odoric, as he brought the light of the Faith to so many nations, and led them to the bosom of the Church which alone could bring them salvation. "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6) and to be saved. If your heavenly Father had so great a desire for the salvation of souls that He sent His only-begotten Son into the world to enlighten them who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, how pleasing to Him must be the labors of apostolic men who continue the work of our Divine Savior! They are doing what Christ Himself commissioned the apostles to do in His parting words to them: "Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Matt 28:19). O happy calling, to co-operate in God's work of leading souls to heaven! -- Would you not like to co-operate in such work?
2. Consider how this co-operation can be put into effect. The Catholic Church has not only sent out missionaries at all times, but she has established an official department for the propagation of the Faith, which supervises all such activity. For its purposes vast financial assistance is needed, in order to support the missions in the distant heathen countries, and all those whom God has blessed with temporal goods can lend their co-operation. The department of Propaganda accepts, through the bishops and the priests, the gifts and bequests of the faithful toward spreading the Faith, in order to apply them where they are most needed. By affiliation with the Society of the Propagation of the Faith, the Holy Childhood Association, the Franciscan Missionary Union, and similar institutions, one can co-operate in the holy work of the missions by easy regular donations. -- Have you utilized such opportunities according to your means?
3. But more necessary than the financial aid, is the special grace of God for the propagation of the Faith, and everybody can help to obtain that grace from God by his prayers and by offering up his hardships. St. Theresa, who entertained an ardent desire for the conversion of the poor heathens, offered up all her prayers and mortifications for the purpose, and she received from God the assurance that she co-operated in the salvation of more infidels than St. Francis Xavier had baptized. So you, too, can co-operate daily in the spreading of the Faith, by your daily prayers and by offering up the difficulties you must suffer daily in your state of life, as is required of the members of the Apostleship of Prayer. Should not every Catholic Christian this profess his gratitude for the grace of having been born of Catholic parents?
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who, in order to lead the nations of the East to the bosom of the Church, didst equip Blessed Odoric with invincible strength of soul, graciously look upon all those who are still blinded by the deceptions of hell, that by his glorious merits they may be delivered from their darkness. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jan 16 - St. Berard and Companions d. 1220
When our holy Father St. Francis learned by divine revelation that God had called him and the members of his order not only to personal perfection but also for the salvation of the souls of others, he entertained an ardent desire to convert the Mohammedans, whose inroads at that time frequently endangered Christian countries and the Christian Faith. While he himself and a companion traveled to the Orient in order to approach the Sultan, he sent 6 of the brethren to the Mohammedans in the West; Votalis, Berard, Peter, Accursius, Adjutus, and Otho. On the journey, Vitalis, the superior, fell sick in Spain, and when his illness refused to mend, he submitted to the will of God and remained behind, while he permitted his brethren under the guidance of Berard to proceed.
At Seville, in southern Spain, which the Mohammedans occupied at the time, they preached fearlessly in the mosque that the teaching of Mohammed was falsehood and deceit, and that salvation could be found only in the Faith of Christ. Burning with rage, the Mohammedan ruler, who had been listening to them, ordered that their heads be cut off at once. But his son, who was with him, appeased the anger of his father, and at his suggestion the friars were permitted to sail across the sea to Morocco.
This was quite in accordance with their wishes, since there among the Saracens they were right in the midst of the Mohammedan people. Coming upon a group of Saracens, Berard, who had a good command of the Arabic language, began at once to preach the Faith of Christ to them. On another day when King Miramolin and his suite appeared on the scene, he again fearlessly preached the doctrine of Christ and called Mohammed an imposter. The king gave orders that Berard and a his companions should be expelled from the country; but they escaped from their guards and returned a second and then a third time. Then it happened that on their way through the desert they came upon the royal army, which was nearly perishing because of thirst and could find no water anywhere. Berard prayed, struck his staff upon the ground, and at once a spring bubbled forth, which refreshed and saved the entire army.
More gently disposed because of this miracle, the king ordered the brethren to appear in his presence, and promised them wealth, positions of high honor, and all the conveniences of life if they would remain with him and become Mohammedans. But the champions of the Faith answered: "We despise all those things for the sake of Christ." They proceeded to urge upon the king the necessity of his conversion to their Faith. Stung by disappointment as well as by their audacity, Miramolin then seized his sword and split the head of every one in turn. Thus they obtained the martyr's palm on January 16, 1220. Pope Sixtus IV canonized them in 1481 after many miracles had occurred through their intercession.
ON ZEAL FOR THE FAITH
1. When St. Francis and his religious brethren recognized that they were called to labor the salvation of souls, they also remembered to bring the tidings of the true Faith to those who had not yet received the grace, because they knew that "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). Christ Himself has said: "He who believes and is baptized, he shall be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned" (Mark 16:16). -- Do you value your Faith as you should? Do you believe that the true Faith is the most necessary blessing for you and for all those in whose salvation you are interested?
2. Consider the sacrifices these first Franciscan martyrs made in their zeal for the Faith. They did not shrink from distant journeys, nor from privation and persecution; they did not permit themselves to be deterred by threats nor by promises, not even when they were face to face with certain death for preaching faith in Christ. They despised all temporal things in order to merit the eternal blessings, and they cheerfully offered their blood out of love for the immortal souls for which Christ so lovingly shed His Precious Blood. -- What efforts have you put forth to acquire a knowledge of the Faith for yourself and in order to be better able to instruct others in it?
3. Consider the great reward which the holy martyrs are now enjoying and will enjoy throughout eternity. They entered the heavenly kingdom bearing the palm of victory, and were adorned with the crown of martyrdom in the presence of the entire heavenly court. Our holy Father St. Francis, who was still living at that time, rejoiced greatly when he heard of this triumph of his sons. -- Should this not also urge you on to zeal for the Faith? To be active for its glory in your own circle of acquaintances, as well as for the spread of the Faith in pagan lands? Cheerfully to labor for this end, to contribute towards it, and to pray for it? In this way you will prove that you are worthy of being a child of St. Francis and a member of the order of these martyrs.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
We beseech Thee, O Lord, grant us through the intercession of the holy martyrs, Berard, Peter, Accursius, Adjutus, and Otho, through whose glorious martyrdom Thou didst sanctify the beginning of the Order of Friars Minor, that we may at all times desire those things which are heavenly and may love Christ. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jan 24 - St. Francis de Sales 1567-1622
The city of Geneva in Switzerland is situated at the western end of the 45 mile long lake of the same name, near the French boundary. In the 16th century the Dukedom of Savoy lost this city, as well as the province of Vaud on the north side of the lake and that of Chablais on the south side, to the Calvinists of Switzerland. By giving up his claim to Vaud, the duke of Savoy finally regained Chablais; but the people of the latter province had meanwhile become fanatical Calvinists. The bishop of Geneva resided at Annecy, some 20 miles south of Geneva.
A prominent noble family of Savoy, at this time was that of De Sales; and St. Francis de Sales, who was born in 1567 at the Chateau de Sales, near Annecy, became its most illustrious member. His father had the title to the Signory of Nouvelles by inheritance and that of Boisy by marriage. At baptism, St. Francis de Sales received St. Francis of Assisi together with St. Bonaventure as his patron saints; and after he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Geneva, he had himself enrolled in the Archconfraternity of the Cord of St. Francis. He was not a Franciscan Tertiary, but a member of the Third Order of the Minims, founded by St. Francis de Paul. However, he accepted affiliation to the First Order of St. Francis from the Capuchins in 1617; and his spirit undoubtedly has a close kinship with that of the Seraphic Saint. He once told the Capuchins that he belonged to the Franciscan Order by special ties; and in 1609, the holy bishop, girded with the cord, preached a beautiful sermon and took part in the traditional procession of the Archconfraternity. The Portiuncula Chapel at Assisi was especially dear to him because of the great spiritual favors he received there. At Evian, on the south shore of Lake Geneva, St. Francis of Assisi appeared to him and said: "You desire martyrdom, just as I once longed for it. But, like me, you will not obtain it. You will have to become an instrument of your own martyrdom."
From early youth, St. Francis de Sales had a great desire to devote himself entirely to the service of God, although his father had other plans for him. With the pious Abbe Deage as his tutor, Francis was a student at the University of Paris from his 14th to his 20th year; and after studying jurisprudence at the University of Padua for 4 more years, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Law. In 1593 he finally obtained the consent of his father to enter the sacred ministry; and since he had devoted much time to the study of theology during his student years, he was ordained a priest 6 months later.
Not long afterwards he volunteered for the difficult and dangerous task of leading the people of the province of Chablais back to the fold of the Church. Several times he miraculously escaped death at the hands of assassins. But he persevered in his heroic and patient efforts, and after 4 years succeeded in converting a large number of Calvinists. In 1599 he was appointed coadjutor to his bishop; and in 1602 he became bishop of Geneva, a position which he filled in an exemplary manner for 20 years. St. Francis de Sales has rightly been styled "the Gentleman Saint" because of his wonderful patience and gentleness. He always tempered his unflagging zeal by imperturable meekness and kindness. He is a model for every priest and bishop. Though a learned man, he insisted on simple catechizing and preaching and himself set the example. The people came in crowds to hear him preach, not only in Savoy, but also in various cities of France. He began his writing career as a missionary to the Calvinists, by preparing leaflets explaining the principle doctrines of the Church as opposed to the errors of Calvinism. His best known works are: Philothea, or Introduction to a Devout Life and Theotimus, a treatise on the love of God. At Dijon, in 1604, he became acquainted with St. Jane de Chantal, for whom and through whom he founded the nursing/teaching order known as Visitation Nuns. He died at Lyons on Dec 28, 1622, was beatified in 1661, canonized in 1665, and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1877. He is the special patron of Catholic journalists and the Catholic press.
ON BEING A CHRISTIAN GENTLEMAN
1. A Christian gentleman is one who practices the supernatural virtues of kindness, meekness, and charity, in thought, in word, and in deed, at all times and under all circumstances. St. Francis de Sales, who was a model in this respect, describes the Christian gentleman in these words: "The man who possesses Christian meekness is affectionate and tender towards everyone. He is disposed to forgive and excuse the frailties of others. The goodness of his heart appears in a sweet affability that influences his words and actions, and presents every object to his view in the most charitable and pleasing light. He never allows himself to use a harsh phrase, much less any language that is haughty or rude. There is always a gentle serenity in his expression which distinguishes him from those violent characters who, with looks full of fury, only know how to say no, or who, when they grant, do it with so bad a grace, that they lose all the merit of the favor they confer." The world too has its gentlemen who know how to control themselves and to put on an exterior mask of meekness for the sake of material gain or advancement; but theirs is merely a sham meekness which hides their real thoughts and intentions. They are not Christian gentlemen.
2. The Christian gentleman remains kind and meek even when he is unreasonably harassed and provoked. St. Francis de Sales was often tried in this way when the crowds came to him for help in their various needs, scarcely allowing him a moment to breathe; but he always remained affable, and that encouraged them to come all the more. "God," says he, "makes use of such occasions to try whether our souls are sufficiently strengthened to bear every attack. I have myself been sometimes in this difficulty; but I made a covenant with my heart and with my tongue, in order to confine them within the bounds of duty... The most powerful remedy against sudden movements of impatience is a sweet and amiable silence. If one speaks at all, however little, self-love will have a share in it, and some word will escape that will sour the heart, and disturb its peace, for a long time. When nothing is said, and cheerfulness is preserved, the storm subsides, anger and indiscretion are put to flight, and the only thing left is a joy, pure and lasting."
3. The Christian gentleman is kind and loving also towards sinners. When some criticized St. Francis de Sales for being too indulgent toward sinners he replied: "If there were anything more excellent than meekness, God would certainly have taught it to us; and yet there is nothing to which He so earnestly exhorts all, as to me meek and humble of heart. Why would you hinder me from obeying the command of my Lord, and following Him in the exercise of that virtue which He so eminently practiced and so highly esteems? Can we really be better advised in these matters than God Himself?" He justified the tender welcome which he extended to returning apostates by observing: "Are they not a part of my flock? Has not our blessed Lord shed his blood for them, and shall I refuse them my tears? These wolves will be changed into lambs: a day will come when, cleansed from their sins, they will be more precious in the sight of God that we are. If Saul had been cast off, we should never have had a St. Paul." Of St. Francis de Sales another saint, St. Vincent de Paul, said: "Going over his words in my mind, I have been filled with such admiration that I am moved to see in him the man who, of all others, has most faithfully reproduced the love of the Son of God on earth."
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
Oh God, by whose gracious will Blessed Francis, Thy confessor and bishop, became all things unto all men for the saving of their souls: mercifully grant, that, being filled with the sweetness of Thy love, we may, through the guidance of his counsels and by the aid of his merits, attain unto the joys of life eternal. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jan 27 - St. Angela Merici 1470-1540
Angela Merici was born in the year 1470 at Decenzano, northern Italy, on the banks of Lake Garda. Even as a child she served God very fervently. She so loved modesty and purity of heart that she was quite generally venerated as a little saint in her native town.
When she was in her 13th year she entered the Third Order of St. Francis, and soon afterward took the vow of perpetual chastity, renounced all her possessions, and wished to live only on alms. Along with this she practiced great austerities, slept on the bare earth, and fasted continuously on bread and water. Sometimes holy Communion was her only food over a period of several days.
When she was 23 years old, Angela was praying one day in a secluded place, and there she had a vision of a friend who had died a short while before. Her friend prophesied that Angela would be the foundress of a religious institute which would be devoted to the education of youth, and destined to do an unlimited amount of good for the kingdom of God. That proved to be a great incentive for Angela, not only to lead a life of contemplation, but also to serve her fellowmen in active work.
She gathered about her a group of young women, and together they went out to give religious instruction to little children, to help the poor, and to care for the sick. Often there were great sinners among those to whom she ministered, and in such cases she did not cease instructing, entreating, and encouraging them until they were reconciled with God and began to lead a new life.
Her saintly conduct and the profound knowledge she had, concerning even the most difficult questions of theology, caused her to be greatly respected by high and low and to be regarded as a saint. In order to escape such honor, Angela left her native town of Decenzano in 1516, and went to Brescia, where a wealthy but pious merchant offered her a house. There she lived absorbed in God until the year 1524.
At that time Angela was seized with an ardent desire to visit the Holy Land, just as our holy Father St. Francis once was. She visited Jerusalem, Mt. Calvary, and the other holy places with uncommon devotion. She returned by way of Rome, in order to pray at the tombs of the apostles, and this gain the great jubilee indulgence. Pope Clement VII, who was not unaware of her sanctity, wished to detain her in Rome, and did not permit her to return to Brescia until he understood by divine inspiration that in Brescia lay the field of labor for which God had destined her.
Due to disturbances caused by war, Angela could not undertake her appointed work until 1531. On November 25, 1535, her pious society was founded as the religious congregation of St. Ursula, who was the special patron of their work. The congregation, known also as Ursulines, spread rapidly and is active in many countries, also in America, where its institutions for the Christian education of Feminine youth are blessed with much success.
When Angela reached the age of 70, the day and hour of her death were revealed to her. She received the last sacraments with great fervor, and was rapt in ecstasy. While pronouncing the holy name of Jesus, she departed this life on January 27, 1540, in the very hour that had been foretold to her. She was laid out in the habit of the Third Order, holding in her hand the pilgrim's staff she had used in the Holy Land. Thus she reposes in a side chapel of the parish church of St. Afa in Brescia. Pope Clement XIII beatified her, and on March 24, 1807, Pope Pius VII canonized her in St. Peter's Church, Rome.
ON THE CONVERSION OF SINNERS
1. Consider that St. Angela, whose pure soul would have preferred to devote itself exclusively to the instruction of youth, did not disdain to interest herself for love of God in depraved human beings and great sinners, in order to convert them. As a matter of fact, there can be nothing more pleasing to God than to lead a sinner back to Him. Really, the reason why our heavenly Father sent His only-begotten Son into the world was, that no one should be lost, but that also should have eternal life through Him (John 3:16). The Son of God Himself declares: "I came not to call the just" --they do not need it-- "but sinners to penance" (Luke 5:32). If you can look with indifference on the ruination of sinners and not concern yourself at all with their conversion, then you do not truly love God, and you are not a good Christian, no matter how numerous are your pious practices.
2. Consider the great personal benefit you derive from interesting yourself in the conversion of sinners. First of all you will then have discharged your duty, especially if you have any responsibility in this matter, because the Prophet, writing of superiors, says: "But if you tell the wicked man that he may be converted from his wicked ways, and he be not converted from his way, he shall die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your soul!" (Ezech. 33:9). But if, by the grace of God, you have succeeded in converting a sinner, then you have acquired invaluable treasures for yourself, for St. James (5:20) writes: :He who causes a sinner to be converted from the error of his way, shall save his soul from death, and shall cover a multitude of sins." -- What an incentive, especially for those who themselves have once walked the road of sin!
3. Consider by what means the sinner is converted. Not by corrections, sermons, and reproaches can one hope to achieve this end. If it is tried with bitterness and abusive words, it will serve only to make the sinner more set. A hearty, kind, and gentle word generally does more good than severity. St. Francis de Sales used to say: "One can catch more flies with a drop a honey than with a cask of vinegar." But it is also necessary to pray fervently to God, "who inclines hearts as the divisions of waters" (Prov 21:1), and to invoke Mary's intercession for the conversion of the soul. Mary is the Refuge of Sinners and the Mother of Mercy. Appeals to her most pure heart have resulted in the most astounding conversions. You will also find grace taking effect in a remarkable way if you aim to appease the divine justice for the sinner by means of works of penance. St. Francis Xavier used to do that. But the most effective appeal to the heart of the sinner is the example of a holy and perfect life, of love, patience, faithful performance of duty, and sincere piety, which we give him. In this way St. Angela converted sinners, St. Monica converted her husband and her son Augustine, and in the same way the sisters in hospitals, like real angels of mercy, still convert numerous souls to God. -- May St. Angela help us arrive ay the joys of heaven in this way ourselves and be instrumental in helping others get there too.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who through Blessed Angela didst cause a new company of holy virgins to grow up within Thy Church, grant us through her intercession to lead angelic lives, so that, renouncing all earthly joys, we may deserve to enjoy those that are eternal. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jan 30 - St. Hyacintha Mariscotti 1585-1640
St. Hyacintha, born in 1585, belonged to a wealthy and prominent family. Her father was Count Antonio of Mariscotti, her mother descended from the princely Roman family of the Orsini.
After her younger sister had been given in marriage, the disappointed Clarice, as Hyacintha was then called, entered the convent of the Tertiaries at Viterbo, but apparently only as a secular Tertiary. She permitted herself to be supplied with all sorts of things by way of eatables and articles of dress which enabled her to enjoy quite an agreeable and comfortable existence. Her rooms were furnished with much worldly apparatus. The spirit of mortification and of penance with which every Tertiary ought to be equipped was in no wise discernible to her.
Then it happened that she was afflicted with a strange illness, and her confessor was obliged to go to her rooms to administer the sacraments to her. When he saw the worldly and frivolous objects in her cell, he sharply reproved the sick sister. Following her confessor's advice, she afterwards went to the common refectory and there, with a rope around her neck, begged forgiveness of her fellow sisters for the scandal she had given them.
However, it was only after she had invoked the aid of St. Catherine of Siena, that she dispossessed herself of all frivolous and unnecessary objects, and thereupon resolutely entered upon a life of heroic virtue.
She began to lead a very penitential life, in which she persevered unto the end. She went barefoot, wore an old habit that had been discarded by another sister, and performed the lowliest and most trying tasks. She ate only inferior food with which she mixed bitter herbs. Her bed consisted of a few bare boards, on which there was but a single blanket; a stone served as her pillow. She fostered a special devotion to the sufferings of Christ; and in memory of them, she subjected herself to special austerities on Fridays and in Holy Week. She also entertained a filial love for Mary, the Mother of Mercy, who sometimes appeared to her and comforted her.
Enriched by every virtue and held in great repute by her fellow sisters, she died in the 55th year of her age, in the year of our Lord 1640. Many miracles occurred at her grave for which reason Pope Benedict XIII placed her in the ranks of the blessed.
In the year 1807 she was canonized by Pope Pius VII.
ON ACCEPTING REPRIMANDS IN THE PROPER SPIRIT
1. How fortunate it was for Hyacintha that her confessor rebuked her so severely though he knew of her distinguished descent and saw that she was on her sickbed. It is really a great charity to us if a person points out our faults to us in a becoming manner. Every man has his faults. But often we are unaware of them; self-love hides them from us and, unfortunately, those that call themselves our friends, also try to palliate them and justify them, so that we can truly say, "Those who praise me, do not love me." Thus it is also written in Holy Scripture: "Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Better are the wounds of a friend than the deceitful kisses of an enemy" (Prov 27:5). -- Have you always counted those as your benefactors who have reprimanded you, and do you have the courage to extend this charity to others when it is seasonable?
2. Consider what folly it is to resent a well meant reprimand. What would have happened to Hyacintha if she had not accepted the reprimand given her by her confessor? When a person corrects you, he gives you a mark of his confidence, for evidently he regards you as virtuous enough to accept it in good par, otherwise it would be foolish to reprimand you. If you resent it, he will certainly be very careful not to correct you again; but in the end you will have to hear more severe reproaches when you stand before the judgement seat of God. Therefore do not shut the door of your heart to wholesome admonition, but be grateful to him who administers it. -- Has this been your way in the past? Do you perhaps also have the courage calmly to accept an unmerited reprimand?
3. Because friends that are true enough to correct us are so rare, we should be all the more anxious to profit from admonitions that are given in general. Such admonitions are given in sermons and in spiritual reading. On such occasions one is so readily inclined to refer everything that is faulty to others, or, when a reproof does strike home, to take offense at the author. It is the enemy of the soul who is back of all this and who is endeavoring to prevent our amendment. Do not let yourself be led astray by him, but rather be grateful to God, who so kindly leads us, erring sheep, back to the fold. From now on, strive to apply to yourself all the admonitions you meet with in sermons or in spiritual reading.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who didst transform the holy virgin Hyacintha into a sacrifice of continual mortification and love, grant through her example and intercession that we may bewail our sins and love Thee at all times. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jan 31 - St. John Bosco 1815-1888
St. John Bosco, one of the greatest saints of modern times, was born in a Piedmontese village in 1815. When he was 2 years old, he lost his father, a humble peasant farmer; and he was brought up by his saintly Tertiary mother, Margaret. It was no doubt due to her example and influence that John too joined the Third Order of St. Francis.
Even as a youngster, John recognized that it was his vocation in life to help poor boys; and he began to teach catechism to the boys of his own village and bring them to church. Acrobatic stunts and conjuring tricks were the means he used to get them together.
At 16 he entered the seminary at Chieri. He was so poor at the time, that the mayor contributed a hat, the parish priest a cloak, one parishioner a cassock, and another a pair of shoes. After he was ordained a deacon he passed on to the seminary in Turin; and there, with the approbation of his superiors, he began to gather together on Sundays poor apprentices and waifs of the city.
Not long after his ordination to the priesthood in June, 1841, he established what he called a Festive Oratory, a kind of Sunday school and recreation center for boys, in Turin. His mother came to be his housekeeper and mother of the Oratory. Two more Oratories in the same city followed. When Father John Bosco's mother did in 1856, the Oratories housed 150 resident boys; and there were four Latin classes and four workshops, one of them a printing press. Ten young priests assisted Father John in his work. Father John was also much in demand as a preacher; and he spent half of his nights in writing popular books in order to provide good reading.
Father John's confessor and spiritual director was the saintly Tertiary priest Joseph Cafasso; and Father John too gained the reputation of being a saint. Miracles, mostly of healing, were attributed to him. By his kindness and sympathy and his marvelous power of reading the thoughts of his boys, he exercised a profound influence upon his charges. He was able to rule them with apparent indulgence and absence of punishment, something the educationists of the day could not understand.
In 1854 Father John founded the religious order of Salesians, so called in honor of St. Francis de Sales. Its members devote themselves to the education of poor boys. The new society grew rapidly. Father John lived to see 38 houses established in the Old World and 26 in the New World. Today it is one of the largest orders of men in the Church.
Father John also founded a sisterhood called Daughters of St. Mary Auxiliatrix; and he organized many outside helpers into the Salesian Co-operators, who are pledged to assist in some way the educational labors of the Salesians. In 1930 they totalled 800,000.
Father John's last great work was the building of Sacred Heart Church in Rome, a task which was entrusted to him by Pope Pius IX after it has seemed to be a hopeless project. The holy priest, who was everywhere acclaimed as a saint and wonderworker, gathered funds for the church in Italy and France; and somehow he succeeded where others had failed. But in doing so he wore himself out. and on January 31, 1888, he was called to his reward. Forty thousand persons came to pay their respects as his body lay in state in the church at Turin; and his funeral resembled a triumphal procession.
St. John was canonized in 1934.
ON THINKING KINDLY OF OTHERS
1. What was the secret of St. John Bosco's wholesome influence on the boys who came under his care? Was it not the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and of St. Francis de Sales, with which he was deeply imbued? A spirit, which made him think kindly of these boys in the first place, and then caused him to do all he could for their temporal and spiritual welfare? Thinking kindly of others, we will have understanding for them, judge them charitably, and show them our esteem. To understand another means to put ourselves in his place and to take into consideration everything which has made and makes him what he is: his character and disposition, his background and environment, his interests and strivings, his problems and needs. To understand another means to go beyond the narrowness of human judgement and to acquire something of the depth and breadth of the vision of God, who has the deepest understanding for every human being. It means to become similar to our divine Saviour, in whom the goodness and love of God became visible, and who during His sojourn on earth showed such deep and loving understanding for His Apostles and all who came to Him with their problems or listened to His word. When there is perfect harmony between two persons, we say that they understand each other; when there is disharmony, it is often due to misunderstandings.
2. He who has understanding for others, will also judge them with charity and mercy, even when their faults are evident and undeniable. He will not be inflexible and harsh in his judgement, for he will discover mitigating circumstances and recognize many good qualities. The all-holy God does not cast off and despise the sinner, even when his sins are grievous ands inexcusable. His love and grace pursues every human soul in order to bring the good in it to victory and perfection. Thinking kindly of others and judging them charitably makes us like God; it is a sign that we are united with God in love. It is an indication of greatness of soul and spiritual maturity. Like St. Francis de Sales, St. John Bosco was criticized for being too kind and indulgent; but he understood his boys and judged them charitably because of his nobility of soul and his constant union with God.
3. He who thinks kindly of others will also show them esteem; and sincere esteem is a source of great pleasure and encouragement to the recipient. It makes him feel that we believe in the good that is in him, or at least that we believe in his final victory. By showing esteem to another we appeal to his sense of honor, and this is a powerful moral force which the Creator Himself has implanted in all men. On the other hand, a culprit who receives only contempt from his fellowmen often loses the last particle of his self-respect and self-confidence and with it all moral support and incentive. St. John Bosco believed in the good that was in his boys; he encouraged them to keep on trying; he had compassion with them in their difficulties; he was solicitous about their temporal and spiritual progress. Always to think kindly of our fellowman, and to prove it by seeking to understand him, to judge him charitably, and to show him our esteem -- that is the Franciscan way of dealing with our neighbor and loving him sincerely.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who hath raised up in Thy confessor St. John Bosco a father and teacher of youth, and didst will that through him with the help of the Virgin Mary new religious families should flourish in the Church, grant, we beseech Thee, that enkindled by the same fire of charity we may be able to labor in finding souls and serve only Thee. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
from THE FRANCISCAN BOOK OF SAINTS
edited by Marion Habig, ofm
Copyright 1959 Franciscan Herald Press