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September 30, 2012

Saint Therese of Lisieux

The spread of the cult of St. Therese of Lisieux is one of the impressive religious manifestations of our time. During her few years on earth this young French Carmelite was scarcely to be distinguished from many another devoted nun, but her death brought an almost immediate awareness of her unique gifts. Through her letters, the word-of-mouth tradition originating with her fellow-nuns, and especially through the publication of Histoire d'un ame, Therese of the Child Jesus or "The Little Flower" soon came to mean a great deal to numberless people; she had shown them the way of perfection in the small things of every day. Miracles and graces were being attributed to her intercession, and within twenty-eight years after death, this simple young nun had been canonized. In 1936 a basilica in her honor at Lisieux was opened and blessed by Cardinal Pacelli; and it was he who, in 1944, as Pope, declared her the secondary patroness of France. "The Little Flower" was an admirer of St. Teresa of Avila, and a comparison at once suggests itself. Both were christened Teresa, both were Carmelites, and both left interesting autobiographies. Many temperamental and intellectual differences separate them, in addition to the differences of period and of race; but there are striking similarities. They both patiently endured severe physical sufferings; both had a capacity for intense religious experience; both led lives made radiant by the love of Christ.

The parents of the later saint were Louis Martin, a watchmaker of Alencon, France, son of an army officer, and Azelie-Marie Guerin, a lacemaker of the same town. Only five of their nine children lived to maturity; all five were daughters and all were to become nuns. Francoise-Marie Therese, the youngest, was born on January 2, 1873. Her childhood must have been normally happy, for her first memories, she writes, are of smiles and tender caresses. Although she was affectionate and had much natural charm, Therese gave no sign of precocity. When she was only four, the family was stricken by the sad blow of the mother's death. Monsieur Martin gave up his business and established himself at Lisieux, Normandy, where Madame Martin's brother lived with his wife and family. The Guerins, generous and loyal people, were able to ease the father's responsibilities through the years by giving to their five nieces practical counsel and deep affection.
The Martins were now and always united in the closest bonds. The eldest daughter, Marie, although only thirteen, took over the management of the household, and the second, Pauline, gave the girls religious instruction. When the group gathered around the fire on winter evenings, Pauline would read aloud works of piety, such as the Liturgical Year of Dom Gueranger. Their lives moved along quietly for some years, then came the first break in the little circle. Pauline entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux. She was to advance steadily in her religious vocation, later becoming prioress. It is not astonishing that the youngest sister, then only nine, had a great desire to follow the one who had been her loving guide. Four years later, when Marie joined her sister at the Carmel, Therese's desire for a life in religion was intensified. Her education during these years was in the hands of the Benedictine nuns of the convent of Notre-Dame-du-Pre. She was confirmed there at the age of eleven.

In her autobiography Therese writes that her personality changed after her mother's death, and from being childishly merry she became withdrawn and shy. While Therese was indeed developing into a serious-minded girl, it does not appear that she became markedly sad. We have many evidences of liveliness and fun, and the oral tradition, as well as the many letters, reveal an outgoing nature, able to articulate the warmest expressions of love for her family, teachers, and friends.
On Christmas Eve, just a few days before Therese's fourteenth birthday, she underwent an experience which she ever after referred to as "my conversion." It was to exert a profound influence on her life. Let her tell of it—and its moral effect—in her own words: "On that blessed night the sweet infant Jesus, scarcely an hour old, filled the darkness of my soul with floods of light. By becoming weak and little, for love of me, He made me strong and brave: He put His own weapons into my hands so that I went on from strength to strength, beginning, if I may say so, 'to run as a giant."' An indelible impression had been made on this attuned soul; she claimed that the Holy Child had healed her of undue sensitiveness and "girded her with His weapons." It was by reason of this vision that the saint was to become known as "Therese of the Child Jesus."
The next year she told her father of her wish to become a Carmelite. He readily consented, but both the Carmelite authorities and Bishop Hugonin of Bayeux refused to consider it while she was still so young. A few months later, in November, to her unbounded delight, her father took her and another daughter, Celine, to visit Notre-Dame des Victoires in Paris, then on pilgrimage to Rome for the Jubilee of Pope Leo XIII. The party was accompanied by the Abbe Reverony of Bayeux. In a letter from Rome to her sister Pauline, who was now Sister Agnes of Jesus, Therese described the audience: "The Pope was sitting on a great chair; M. Reverony was near him; he watched the pilgrims kiss the Pope's foot and pass before him and spoke a word about some of them. Imagine how my heart beat as I saw my turn come: I didn't want to return without speaking to the Pope. I spoke, but I did not get it all said because M. Reverony did not give me time. He said immediately: 'Most Holy Father, she is a child who wants to enter Carmel at fifteen, but its superiors are considering the matter at the moment.' I would have liked to be able to explain my case, but there was no way. The Holy Father said to me simply: 'If the good God wills, you will enter.' Then I was made to pass on to another room. Pauline, I cannot tell you what I felt. It was like annihilation, I felt deserted.... Still God cannot be giving me trials beyond my strength. He gave me the courage to sustain this one."
Therese did not have to wait long in suspense. The Pope's blessing and the earnest prayers she offered at many shrines during the pilgrimage had the desired effect. At the end of the year Bishop Hugonin gave his permission, and on April 9, 1888, Therese joined her sisters in the Carmel at Lisieux. "From her entrance she astonished the community by her bearing, which was marked by a certain majesty that one would not expect in a child of fifteen." So testified her novice mistress at the time of Therese's beatification. During her novitiate Father Pichon, a Jesuit, gave a retreat, and he also testified to Therese's piety. "It was easy to direct that child. The Holy Spirit was leading her and I do not think that I ever had, either then or later, to warn her against illusions.... What struck me during the retreat were the spiritual trials through which God wished her to pass." Therese's presence among them filled the nuns with happiness. She was slight in build, and had fair hair, gray-blue eyes, and delicate features. With all the intensity of her ardent nature she loved the daily round of religious practices, the liturgical prayers, the reading of Scripture. After entering the Carmel she began to sign letters to her father and others, "Therese of the Child Jesus."
In 1889 the Martin sisters suffered a great shock. Their father, after two paralytic strokes, had a mental breakdown and had to be removed to a private sanitarium, where he remained for three years. Therese bore this grievous sorrow heroically.
On September 8, 1890, at the age of seventeen, Therese took final vows. In spite of poor health, she carried out from the first all the austerities of the stern Carmelite rule, except that she was not permitted to fast. "A soul of such mettle," said the prioress, "must not be treated like a child. Dispensations are not meant for her." The physical ordeal which she felt more than any other was the cold of the convent buildings in winter, but no one even suspected this until she confessed it on her death-bed. And by that time she was able to say, "I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me."
In 1893, when she was twenty, she was appointed to assist the novice mistress, and was in fact mistress in all but name. She comments, "From afar it seems easy to do good to souls, to make them love God more, to mold them according to our own ideas and views. But coming closer we find, on the contrary, that to do good without God's help is as impossible as to make the sun shine at night."
In her twenty-third year, on order of the prioress, Therese began to write the memories of her childhood and of life at the convent; this material forms the first chapters of Histoire d'un ame, the History of a Soul. It is a unique and engaging document, written with a charming spontaneity, full of fresh turns of phrase, unconscious self-revelation, and, above all, giving evidence of deep spirituality. She describes her own prayers and thereby tells us much about herself. "With me prayer is a lifting up of the heart, a look towards Heaven, a cry of gratitude and love uttered equally in sorrow and in joy; in a word, something noble, supernatural, which enlarges my soul and unites it to God.... Except for the Divine Office, which in spite of my unworthiness is a daily joy, I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers. . . . I do as a child who has not learned to read, I just tell our Lord all that I want and he understands." She has natural psychological insight: "Each time that my enemy would provoke me to fight I behave like a brave soldier. I know that a duel is an act of cowardice, and so, without once looking him in the face, I turn my back on the foe, hasten to my Saviour, and vow that I am ready to shed my blood in witness of my belief in Heaven." She mentions her own patience humorously. During meditation in the choir, one of the sisters continually fidgeted with her rosary, until Therese was perspiring with irritation. At last, "instead of trying not to hear it, which was impossible, I set myself to listen as though it had been some delightful music, and my meditation, which was the 'prayer of quiet,' passed in offering this music to our Lord." Her last chapter is a paean to divine love, and concludes, "I entreat Thee to let Thy divine eyes rest upon a vast number of little souls; I entreat Thee to choose in this world a legion of little victims of Thy love." She counted herself among these. "I am a very little soul, who can offer only very little things to the Lord."
In 1894 Louis Martin died, and soon Celine, who had of late been taking care of him, made the fourth sister from this family in the Carmel at Lisieux. Some years later, the fifth, Leonie, entered the convent of the Visitation at Caen.
Therese occupied herself with reading and writing almost up to the end of her life. That event loomed ever nearer as tuberculosis made a steady advance. During the night between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, 1896, she suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage. Although her bodily and spiritual sufferings were extreme, she wrote many letters, to members of her family and to distant friends, as well as continuing Histoire d'un ame. She carried on a correspondance with Carmelite sisters at Hanoi, China; they wished her to come out and join them, not realizing the seriousness of her ailment. She had a great yearning to respond to their appeal. At intervals moments of revelation came to her, and it was then that she penned those succinct reflections that are now repeated so widely. Here are three of them that give the flavor of her mind: "I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth." "I have never given the good God aught but love, and it is with love that He will repay." "My 'little way' is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute self-surrender."
A further insight is given us in a letter Therese wrote, shortly before she died, to Pere Roulland, a missionary in China. "Sometimes, when I read spiritual treatises, in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles in the way and a host of illusions round about it, my poor little mind soon grows weary, I close the learned book, which leaves my head splitting and my heart parched, and I take the Holy Scriptures. Then all seems luminous, a single word opens up infinite horizons to my soul, perfection seems easy; I see that it is enough to realize one's nothingness, and give oneself wholly, like a child, into the arms of the good God. Leaving to great souls, great minds, the fine books I cannot understand, I rejoice to be little because 'only children, and those who are like them, will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.’"

In June, 1897, Therese was removed to the infirmary of the convent. On September 30, with the words, "My God . . . I love Thee!" on her lips she died. The day before, her sister Celine, knowing the end was at hand, had asked for some word of farewell, and Therese, serene in spite of pain, murmured, "I have said all . . . all is consummated . . . only love counts."
The prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, wrote in the convent register, alongside the saint's act of Profession: ". . . The nine and a half years she spent among us leave our souls fragrant with the most beautiful virtues with which the life of a Carmelite can be filled. A perfect model of humility, obedience, charity, prudence, detachment, and regularity, she fulfilled the difficult discipline of mistress of novices with a sagacity and affection which nothing could equal save her love for God...."
The Church was to recognize a profound and valuable teaching in 'the little way'—connoting a realistic awareness of one's limitations, and the wholehearted giving of what one has, however small the gift. Beginning in 1898, with the publication of a small edition of Histoire d'un ame, the cult of this saint of 'the little way' grew so swiftly that the Pope dispensed with the rule that a process for canonization must not be started until fifty years after death. Almost from childhood, it seems, Therese had consciously aspired to the heights, often saying to herself that God would not fill her with a desire that was unattainable. Only twenty-six years after her death she was beatified by Pope Pius XI, and in the year of Jubilee, 1925, he pronounced her a saint. Two years later she was named heavenly patroness of foreign missions along with St. Francis Xavier.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, Virgin. Celebration of Feast Day is October 1.

September 29, 2012

Feast of the Archangels St. Michael, St. Gabriel, & St. Raphael

The Sacred Scriptures have revealed the proper names of only three Angels, all of whom belong to the Choir of the Archangels. The names are well known to all, namely: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael. Ancient apocryphal literature of the Old Testament contains several other names of Archangels in addition to the three just mentioned. Like the sources themselves, these other names are spurious. Names like Uriel, Raguel, Sariel, and Jeremiel are not found in the canonical books of Sacred Scripture, but in the apocryphal book of Enoch, fourth book of Esdras, and in rabbinical literature. The Church does not permit proper names of Angels that are not found in the canonical books of the Bible. All such names that were taken from apocryphal writings were rejected under Pope Zachary, in 745. There must have been danger of serious abuses in this regard during that century, because a similar step was taken in a synod held at Aix-la-Chapelle in 789.
Michael from the Hebrew , meaning: ? His name is a battle cry; both shield and weapon in the struggle, and an eternal trophy of victory. The popularity of this name in the Old Testament appears from the fact that no less than ten persons bearing the name of Michael are mentioned in the sacred books, like: "Sthur the son of Michael." A similar name is found also in the Accadian language with a meaning identical to that of Michael; the Accadian equivalent is
As the proper name of one of the great Archangels, the word Michael appears for the first time in the book of the prophet Daniel, where he is called: "Michael, one of the chief princes," and again: "At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people."
The name "Archangel" is given only to Saint Michael, even though sacred tradition and the liturgy of the Church attribute the same title to Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael: "When Michael, the archangel, disputing with the devil, contended about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him the judgment of railing speech, but said: The Lord command thee." In spite of such an explicit testimony of the Scripture, a few writers have maintained that Saint Michael, because of his exalted position among the Angels, must belong to a much higher order, perhaps to that of the Seraphim, rather than to the order of Archangels. We do not believe that this opinion can be defended. The exalted position occupied by Saint Michael can be explained by the fact that, even though he belongs to a relatively low order by nature, his outstanding zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of his fellow Angels, at the time of Satan's rebellion, merited him such glory and power as to equal and even to excel through grace such celestial spirits that belong to a much higher Choir by nature. If we remember, ie Angels lived through a period of probation during which they could merit each according to his works. The great variety of merit explains, in addition to other natural elements, the great difference in their glory and in their power.
Father Joseph Husslein points out that the Church calls Saint Michael "Prince of the heavenly hosts"-, adding further: "The fact that the three Angels I have just mentioned are spoken of as Archangels need not imply more than that they were entrusted with extraordinary missions. Michael is the only one to whom the Scriptures apply this title, but there is good reason for the opinion that he may be the very highest of all the angels." Saint Michael is indeed a prince of the heavenly hosts, but this is sufficiently explained by the power granted him by God and not necessarily by superiority of nature. We believe that a power of that sort would not be conferred upon Seraphim and Cherubim who are the living throne of God, but rather upon those who belong to the order of ministering spirits, namely Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, who "are sent to minister for them, who shall receive the inheritance of salvation."
According to Gustav F. Oehler, "this name: Michael-Who is as God?-of the prince of the Angels does not imply merely a humble acknowledgment on the part of the Angel, but it is rather an actual assertion concerning the Angel himself. The name thus expresses the irresistibility of him to whom God gives the power to execute His behests."
Saint Michael has always been the warrior Angel, fighting first Satan and his demons from the beginning, then, in the course of time, all the enemies of God's own People. He is "the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people." As of old, so today, Saint Michael is the great defender of the Church of Christ on earth.
The now famous problem, "The Angel of the Lord," , that has engaged the attention of Scripture scholars for decades, may perhaps be solved by admitting that this mysterious Angel of the Lord (who in various books of the Old Testament is represented as acting in ie name of God Himself, and is often received and honored as God would), is none other than the Archangel Saint Michael, God's own legate to His people. The words of the prophet Daniel seem to insinuate this: "None is my helper in all these things, but Michael your prince." "At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince, who standeth for the children of thy people." A legate can speak and act in the name and by the authority of the supreme ruler who sent him and whom he represents. This seems to have been Saint Michael's position with the children of Israel; he was both the heavenly Prince representing the King of Heaven and the heavenly protector of God's own people against both human and diabolical enemies.
Saint Michael who had defended and protected God's children in the spirit world, was to extend the same protection to the human children of God here on earth. Surrounded and threatened as they were by hostile pagan nations, over which Satan had established his tyrannical rule, Saint Michael could not remain indifferent to this new form of seduction and rebellion introduced by his archenemy among the children of men. As long as Satan persists in his attacks, the heavenly champion, the Prince of the heavenly hosts will continue to shatter his plans with the war cry of old: "Who is as God?" In the Old Testament, therefore, Saint Michael is the Angel par excellence, the Angel of the Lord, the national Guardian Angel of the Israelites.
At times, especially in the book of Exodus, this "Angel of the Lord" is called simply, the Lord; as for example in this passage, "And the Lord went before them to show the way by day in a pillar of a cloud, and by night in a pillar of fire, that he might be the guide of their journey at both times." He who is called "the Lord" in this passage, is mentioned again in the same capacity as the "Angel of God" in the following passage: "And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, leaving the forepart, stood behind, between the Egyptian camp and the camp of Israel, and it was a dark cloud, and enlightening the night." This very clever military maneuver dearly shows the strategy of the Prince of heavenly hosts.
As the national Guardian Angel of the Israelites, and God's special legate to His people, Saint Michael is introduced with words which reveal the great divine love and solicitude of the Lord, together with man's duties towards Guardian Angels in general: "Behold I will send my Angel who shall go before thee, and keep thee in thy journey, and bring thee into the place that I have prepared. Take notice of him, and hear his voice, and do not think him one to be contemned, for he will not forgive when thou hast sinned, and my name is in him. But if thou wilt hear his voice, and do all that I speak, I will be an enemy to thy enemies, and will afflict them that afflict thee."
The other opinion which holds that the expression the "Angel of the Lord" is not really an Angel, or Saint Michael, but the Word of God (the Logos) God Himself, is now regarded as a mere conjecture and a rather obsolete opinion.
Several apparitions of the Archangel Michael have been reported during the Christian centuries. One of the most outstanding of all such apparitions is the one which is commemorated in the universal Church on May 8. The Archangel Saint Michael appeared on Mount Gargano in Apulia, South Italy, in the days of Pope Gelasius (492- 496). A shrine was erected in the cave of the apparition and it became the goal of devout pilgrimages in subsequent centuries. Another feast in honor of Saint Michael the Archangel, on September 29, formerly known as , is the anniversary of the Dedication of the former basilica of Saint Michael and all the Angels on the Salarian Way in Rome. An apparition, similar to that of Mount Gargano, was honored in the great shrine called , near Constantinople, according to the historian Sozomenus, who wrote about the middle of the fifth century, a century of great devotion to the Holy Angels in general and to Saint Michael in particular.
In the liturgy of the Mass Saint Michael is regarded as the Angel who leads the souls of the faithful departed to heaven: "Deliver them from the lion's mouth, that hell engulf them not, that they fall not into darkness; but let Michael, the holy standard-bearer, bring them into the holy light."
Saint Michael is invoked in a particular manner in the prayers recited at the foot of the altar after Mass: "Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, etc." This particular prayer is a condensed form of the general exorcism against Satan and all the evil spirits, published by Pope Leo XIII.
As long as God's children are exposed to the attacks of Satan in this world, Saint Michael's battle cry: "Who is like God?" will continue to scare and shatter all the forces of evil, and his powerful intervention in the struggle in behalf of the children of God will never cease.
The name Gabriel seems to be composed of the Hebrew words, : man, and <'el>: God. It means, therefore, , or,
Practically all the missions and manifestations of this Archangel are closely connected with the coming of the Messias. The most accurate prophecy regarding the time of the coming of Christ was made by Saint Gabriel through the prophet Daniel.
Immediately before the coming of Christ we meet the Archangel Gabriel in the temple of Jerusalem, announcing to Zachary the birth of a son, John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ: "I am Gabriel, who stand before God, and am sent to speak to thee, and to bring thee these good tidings."
The greatest and by far the most joyful message ever committed to an Angel from the beginning of time, was the one brought by the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, announcing to her the Incarnation of the Word of God and the birth of Christ, the Savior of mankind. The simplicity and heavenly grandeur of this message, as related to us by her who was the only witness to Gabriel's good tidings, should be read in full in order to understand the sublime and delicate mission of Gabriel in the work of human redemption.
It is the first time that a prince of the court of heaven greets an earthly child of God, a young woman, with a deference and respect a prince would show to his Queen. That Angel's flight to the earth marked the dawn of a new day, the beginning of a new covenant, the fulfillment of God's promises to His people: The Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man, whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary."
Heavenly wisdom, tact, adroitness are evident in Gabriel's conversation with the Virgin Mary: "The Angel being come in said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." Gabriel must overcome Mary's reaction of surprise at both his appearance and especially at his "manner of salutation." He has to prepare and dispose her pure virginal mind to the idea of maternity, and obtain her consent to become the mother of the Son of God. Gabriel nobly fulfills this task: "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God." He calls her by her own name in order to inspire confidence and to show affection and solicitude in her perturbation. The great message is presented to her as a decree of the Most High God, a thing ordained in the eternal decree of the Incarnation, predicted centuries before by the prophets, and announced now to her as an event of imminent occurrence depending on her consent: "Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end." From these words of the Angel, it became very evident to Mary that her son was to be the promised Messias, the Son of David. But she did not know how to reconcile her vow of virginity with the promised motherhood, hence her question: "How shall this be done, because I know not man." Gabriel's reply shows that God wanted to respect Mary's vow of virginity and thus make her a mother without a human father, in a unique and miraculous way: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee."
As a last word of encouragement and, at the same time, a most gratifying information, the Archangel reveals to Mary that her elderly and barren cousin Elizabeth is now an expectant mother in her sixth month of pregnancy. This final argument was offered in order "to prove that nothing can be impossible with God."
Mary, unshaken in her profound humility, replied: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word." This reply was Mary's consent, a consent awaited by heaven and earth. The Archangel Gabriel departed from Mary to bring to all the Angels the glorious tidings of the Incarnation of the Word.
It seems very probable that Gabriel, the Archangel of the Annunciation, was given special charge of the Holy Family of Nazareth. He was probably the Angel who brought "good tidings of great joy" to the shepherds "keeping night watches over their flock," the night that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. We notice, on this occasion, the same procedure of first assuaging fear and surprise, as had been the case at Mary's Annunciation by Gabriel: "Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.... This day is born to you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David." Who else could be the messenger of such good tidings, but he who had promised them through the prophet Daniel, and announced them to Mary, Gabriel the Archangel?
Having delivered the joyful message, the Archangel is joined suddenly by a vast multitude of the heavenly hosts, singing for the first time in this valley of tears the canticle of the celestial Sion. It was fitting that the Archangel of Redemption should intone the canticle of human redemption: "Suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will."
Gabriel's duties towards the Messias did not come to an end with his birth. Gabriel was probably the Angel who "appeared in sleep to Joseph," first in Bethlehem when he warned him saying: "Arise, and take the child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be there until I shall tell you. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him." After the death of Herod the Angel appeared to Joseph again in Egypt to tell him to bring the child and his mother back into the land of Israel.
Gabriel who is "the strength of God" must have been the Angel mentioned by Saint Luke, in his narrative of Christ's agony in the garden: "And there appeared to him an Angel from heaven, strengthening him." It was fitting that the Angel who had witnessed the Savior's agony, and who had announced His coming to both the Old and New Testament, should also be the first to announce to the world the Savior's Resurrection, His triumph over sin and death on Easter morning: "An Angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and coming rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. And his countenance was as lightning, and his raiment as snow."
It is very probable that the Archangel Gabriel is meant when Saint Paul speaks of the second coming of Christ at the end of the world, when Saint Michael's struggle with Satan shall be over, and when all the physical and spiritual remedies of Saint Raphael are needed no more. It would seem that of the three
Archangels known to us, Saint Gabriel is the one who with a mighty voice will call the dead to life and to judgment: "The Lord himself shall come down from heaven with commandment, and with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead who are in Christ shall rise first." The voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God seem to be the same thing, having the purpose to convey the divine command to the dead to rise again by the power of the Almighty God. The resurrection of "the dead who are in Christ" is the harvest, the gathering of the fruits of Redemption. Gabriel, who helped along during the long day of man's life on earth, in preparing man for the work of Redemption by the Messias, would seem to be the first among the Angels who are sent out to gather the elect from the four corners of the earth.
Raphael, from the Hebrew : to heal, and <'el:> God, means "God heals," or the "Divine healer."
The history of Tobias, father and son, contains the grandest angelophany of the whole Bible, and it all revolves around the manifestation of the Archangel Raphael under the assumed name and form of a beautiful young man named Azarias. At the very end of his long mission the Archangel revealed his own identity and his real name, together with the actual purpose of his mission: "And now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee, and to deliver Sara thy son's wife from the devil. For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord." In this angelophany, Saint Raphael reveals himself as a divine healer not only of physical infirmities, the blindness of old Tobias, but also of spiritual afflictions and diabolical vexations, as in the case of Sara, young Tobias' wife. Had not the Archangel resorted to an assumed human form and personality, it might not have been possible for him to consort in such a familiar way with men, for several consecutive weeks, because of the instinctive fear that man experiences in the presence of celestial beings. Had either father or son, or both, known the real identity of the stranger, from the beginning, the Angelic mission could not have been accomplished in the charming human way in which it was actually carried out. However, the assumed form, and especially the assumed name and paternity-"Azarias the son of the great Ananias"-has been regarded by some as a sort of deception and a lie. However, the perfect sanctity of the Angels is opposed to even the appearance of sin and deception, even to what we call a white lie. In order to carry out his mission, it was necessary for the Angel to assume a form perceptible to man, a human form and a human name. In this case he assumed the appearance of an Israelite, a young relative of Tobias himself. By divine command the Archangel was to act as proxy for that young Israelite, Azarias, whose name he took; hence there was no lie on his part when he gave the name of the person he was representing in his human form. His true identity was revealed at the close of his mission, and whatever misconception had been created in the minds of the various persons he had met, was completely removed, and these were then grateful to the Archangel not only for his many benefits but also for his consideration in dealing with them like a human being. Besides, the Archangel was not hiding a human name and personality and giving another instead; in taking the place of Azarias he could in all truth call himself Azarias.
The story of the Archangel Raphael and the two Tobias' is too beautiful and too instructive for us to dismiss it with a simple reference: it reveals how Angels act when in human form; their Angelic nature, their power, wisdom, holiness are made manifest in the various incidents of this charming narrative. The Archangel is God's legate, he carries out God's plan acting as an instrument of Divine Providence, and Divine Goodness.
The old, charitable, and pious man Tobias is blind and feels that his days are numbered. He gives his young son Tobias some godly admonitions and tells him of some money he had lent to Gabelus of the city of Rages in Media, many years back, for which he had a regular note with Gabelus' signature. He wants his son to go and collect that money, but he first wants him to find a man to accompany him on the long journey: "Go now and seek thee out some faithful man, to go with thee for his hire, that thou may receive it, while I yet live."
While this was going on in Tobias' home, Heaven was listening in and preparing the companion, the "faithful man" young Tobias was looking for. The Lord gave the Archangel Raphael the command to appear as a young man named Azarias, to accompany young Tobias to the land of the Medes, and to bring peace and happiness to two God-fearing but very unhappy families. As the young man stepped out of his house in search of a companion, one morning, the Archangel Raphael was there as if waiting for him, in the disguise of "a beautiful young man." "And not knowing that he was an Angel of God, he saluted him, and said: From whence art thou, good young man? But he answered: Of the children of Israel." In a very short time the Archangel informed young Tobias that he knew the road to Gabelus, and knew Gabelus himself, having spent some time there; he knew all that country very well. Tobias could hardly believe in such a happy coincidence. Immediately he took his new friend and companion and returned to his blind father. The Angel who well knew the purpose of his mission, implicitly announced it in his words of greeting directed to the blind old man, when he said: "Joy be to thee always!"
Not knowing who was he who wished him joy, old Tobias replied: "What manner of joy shall be to me, who sit in darkness, and see not the light of heaven." Here the Archangel Raphael became more explicit, making both a promise and a prophecy: "Be of good courage, thy are from God [God heals, was Raphael's own name] is at hand." He could not say more without engendering suspicion and betraying his own identity. Old Tobias regarded those kind words as an expression of good will and paid no particular attention to them; he had heard such expressions so often in the past. His interest is now in the voyage of his son, and he wants to know in whose hands he is committing the life of his only child and part of his own fortune. Upon hearing that the young guide is no less than Azarias, the son of the great Ananias, he remarks: "Thou art of a great family." Old Tobias, like his kinsman Gabelus, later on in this story, expresses his belief in the protection and guidance of guardian Angels. Not knowing that an Archangel is actually accompanying his son, he says: "May you have a good journey, and God be with you on your way, and his Angel accompany you." Had this circumstance been known to him, both he and his wife would have been spared all the worry and the sleepless nights during the long absence of their son. One thought, however, sustained the mind of old Tobias during his waiting: "Our son is safe: that man with whom we sent him is very trustworthy."
How carefree, and how joyful must have been that journey for young Tobias. To travel in the happy company of an Angel! He knew the road so well. He was never in doubt about anybody or anything they met on the road; always cheerful, never tired or sleepy; so sweet and kind in his conversation, yet always full of respect and attention. He was deeply spiritual and profoundly devout in his prayers, pure in all his words and actions. How true and inspired were the words of old Tobias when, comforting his weeping wife, he said to her: "I believe that the good Angel of God doth accompany him, and doth order all things well that are about him, so that he shall return to us with joy."
The sacred text remarks that when young Tobias started on his journey with his Angel companion, his pet dog followed him all the way to the East. Tobias was one of the thousands of Israelites living in the Babylonian captivity. Some of them had settled down in neighboring provinces, such as Mesopotamia, Assyria, and Media. It was exactly in this last province of Media that Tobias' kinsman Raguel lived with his family. This was not really the goal of his trip to the East, but it was here that God and His Angel wanted him to go; whereas his father had sent him to collect his money from Gabelus in the city of Rages in the mountains of Ecbatana, in Media. The Angel by diverting his trip accomplished more fully his mission, bringing unexpected joy and happiness to three families.
Having left his home town, the great city of Ninive, that morning, Tobias and his guide reached the river Tigris just before dark. They decided to spend that night by the bank of the Tigris. Here the Archangel Raphael began to reveal medical knowledge and experience. At the same time he provided food for that evening and for the rest of the journey. Weary of walking all day, young Tobias went to wash his feet in the cool water of the river before retiring. Here the sight of a monstrous fish that seemed to be coming up to devour him, frightened him exceedingly and made him cry for help: "Sir, he cometh upon me !" The Angelic guide, without coming to his rescue, instructed him on what to do, both giving him directions and inspiring him with confidence. At the end of the first day young Tobias had not yet acquired familiarity with his guide, so he calls him, Sir. Later he will call him brother. When the monstrous fish had been successfully drawn out of the river, it was cut open, roasted, and salted. "Take out the entrails of this fish," ordered the Angel, "and lay up his heart, and his gall, and his liver for thee, for these are necessary for useful medicines." These, no doubt, may have seemed strange medicines to young Tobias and he wanted to know when and how to use them. Here he begins to show more confidence and affection for the heavenly guide: "I beseech thee, brother Azarias, tell me what remedies are these things good for, which thou hast bid me keep of the fish." The Angel explains the medical virtue of those parts of the fish. More practical details are imparted as the proper time for their use approaches. The liver of the fish was needed as a material ingredient for an exorcism in order to free Tobias' future wife Sara from the evil influence of the devil; the gall was to be used for the cure of the blindness of old Tobias.
The Archangel Raphael had been sent by God to cure and comfort two afflicted souls, old Tobias and Raguel's young daughter Sara, the widow of seven husbands, all of whom had died on the first night following their wedding to her.
As night was falling, at the end of another day of their long journey, young Tobias turning to his guide asked him the customary question: "Where wilt thou that we lodge ?" Here begins the first part of Raphael's mission. He must induce young Tobias to marry Sara, Raguel's daughter, and at the same time deliver her from all diabolical influence and vexation. This was a very delicate matter, for sinister rumors about this young dame, as being the cause of death to seven husbands, had reached Ninive and young Tobias himself knew all about her and was deathly afraid of associating with her. At the question of where to lodge for the night, Raphael had proposed to put up at Raguel's and for Tobias to propose to Sara, his own cousin. "I hear," answered Tobias, "that she hath been given to seven husbands, and they all died; moreover I have heard, that a devil killed them." Imagine this young man, now, going to ask for the hand of such a dame! The Archangel Raphael obtained just that, and what is more, their marriage was a very happy one, blessed with good health and long life, so that they both saw their children's children to the fifth generation. The instructions on marital union given by the Archangel Raphael to young Tobias on this occasion remain an ideal of moral perfection for married couples for all time. Prayer, continence, and pure intention dispose the soul for God's blessings and thwart all influence of the evil spirit. Young Tobias listened intently to his heavenly guide and later carried out his instructions most faithfully, first repeating them to his bride: "We are the children of the saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God."
Amid the charming and intimate family reunion in Raguel's home, described in chapter seven of the book of Tobias, an unseen struggle goes on in the spirit world. Young Azarias (the Archangel Raphael) absents himself for a very short while from the gathering of the family and friends in order to attend to a very important business of his own. During those few minutes, Raphael, in the name and with the power of God, "took the devil, and bound him in the desert of upper Egypt." This devil Asmodeus, who had caused so much sorrow to Sara and her family, was Satan himself. With the exile of the spirit of evil, joy, peace and all blessings came to Raguel's home. Having attended to his business, young Azarias returned and took his place at the wedding feast, while actually contemplating the face of the Father Who is in heaven. The following morning, leaving Tobias there with his happy bride, he continues on the journey, accompanied by four servants and two camels. He finally found Gabelus and collected the money for old Tobias and, on his return, he took Gabelus to the wedding feast of his kinsman young Tobias.
The last part of the mission entrusted to Raphael the Archangel was now to follow. Having brought joy and happiness to Sara and all her family, it was time to bring a similar and even greater joy to old Tobias and his wife. The slow pace of the caravan that accompanied the bride to Ninive did not suit the Archangel who well knew the pain and the worries of Tobias' old parents: "Brother Tobias," said the Archangel, thou knowest how thou didst leave thy father. If it please thee, let us go before, and let the family follow softly after us, together with thy wife and with the beasts." Tobias agreed and taking with himself the gall of the fish, he and the Angel began to advance with much greater speed, the dog following them. It was time now to give the final instruction as to the use of the gall: "As soon as thou shalt come into the house, forthwith adore the Lord thy God, and giving thanks to Him, go to thy father and kiss him, and immediately anoint his eyes with this gall of the fish.... Thy father shall see the light of heaven, and shall rejoice in the sight of thee."
In the meantime Tobias' old mother was waiting for her son, sitting daily on top of a hill, scanning the horizon for a sign of her son and his guide. Finally one day Tobias' pet dog, running ahead brought the joyful news to the afflicted parents by his fawning and wagging his tail. All these human and earthly elements blend beautifully with the heavenly in this charming story of Angels and men.
Everything happened as promised by the Angel. Old Tobias regained his sight. At this point the heart of young Tobias was filled with gratitude, love, and admiration for his wonderful guide; so many and so great were the benefits received through him. Having witnessed the miraculous cure of his father he could find no words to express his feelings: "We are filled with all good things through him," he kept telling his father. Old Tobias understood that it was God Who was actually working all these marvels through young Azarias, and thus, full of reverence, he calls the young guide a holy man: "What can we give to this holy man, that is come with thee?"
The Lord never permits man to remain in error because of the disguise assumed by His ministering spirits in any of their apparitions. Sooner or later the truth about them will be made manifest. For several weeks in succession, the Archangel Raphael had been acting under assumed human form and human name. Now that his mission has been happily completed, he begins to prepare his two friends, father and son, for a great surprise, the revelation of his real self. At the moment that they both humbly approach him offering one half of everything that had been brought home as payment for his service, young "Azarias" answers with a wonderful explanation of why God has so blessed them. He recalls to the mind of old Tobias all the good he did in his days, his charity, his mercy, his patience, his alms, and his tearful prayers. Thus he begins to reveal himself gradually in order not to frighten them with a sudden disclosure. The enumeration of all the good deeds and of secrets of conscience known only to God are the first step in this revelation; the second is the statement: "Now the Lord hath sent me to heal thee, and to deliver Sara thy son's wife from the devil." The third and final step was liable to trouble and frighten them, hence he begins with comforting and reassuring words: "Peace be to you; fear not." As he said this, both father and son fell upon the ground on their faces, for suddenly the human form of Azarias was transfigured into that of an Archangel of light and beauty, and the final revelation came: "I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord . . . when I was with you I was there by the will of God: bless ye him, and sing praises to him." This is the only reward that he will accept, but none of the material things, money and cattle and clothes offered him generously by his good friends. Yet, these could still entertain some doubts, because they had seen him eat and drink like any other human being, and Angels do not eat and drink as men do. To this secret doubt he answers with saying: "I seemed indeed to eat and to drink with you, but I use an invisible meat and drink, which cannot be seen by men." Now that his work has been done, and that they know that God has sent His Angel to fill them with blessings, it is time for him to return to Heaven: "It is time therefore that I return to him that sent me; but bless ye God, and publish all his wonderful works." Here the Archangel returned to his invisible form, and from the company of men returned to that of the Angels.
Raphael, the Divine healer, seems to have been at work at Jerusalem, in the days of Christ our Lord, in the pool called Bethsaida by the Sheepgate. In the five porticoes surrounding that pool there was a multitude of sick people, waiting for the action of the Angel upon the water of the pool, an action which cured immediately any person who first descended into the pool: "An Angel of the Lord used to come down at certain times into the pool and the water was moved. And he that went down first into the pool after the motion of the water, was cured of whatever infirmity he had."
The health-giving ministry of Saint Raphael may still be seen in the miraculous cures that have taken place up to our own times in many of the sacred Shrines throughout the Christian world.

September 27, 2012

Saint Vincent de Paul, Our Patron

Today the Saint Vincent Community celebrates our Titular Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. Since Saint Vincent de Paul is our Patron, the regular Feast is elevated to a Solemnity.

Like his fellow saint, Francis de Sales, who was his friend and contemporary, Vincent de Paul performed an invaluable service to the Catholic Church in a period of confusion and laxness. But unlike the aristocratic bishop of Geneva, Vincent was born in poverty, of peasant stock. His birthplace was Pouy, near Dax in Gascony, in southwest France; the year was 1576. Jean de Paul and Bertrande de Moras, his parents, were sturdy farming people who reared a family of four sons and two daughters. Observing young Vincent's quick intelligence, his father sent him to be educated by the Cordelier Brothers at Dax. When the boy had been at school for four years, a lawyer of the town engaged him as tutor to his children, thus enabling Vincent to go on with his studies without further expense to his parents. Vincent continued his education at the Spanish University of Saragossa, and then returned to France to attend the University of Toulouse. At the age of twenty-four he was ordained priest by' the bishop of Perigueux, but remained at Toulouse for another four years to take the degree of Doctor of Theology.
Beyond an aptitude for study and a certain persistence in achieving his ends, there is nothing in Vincent's life up to this time to suggest his future fame and sanctity. He now went on a short journey which was to change his whole life. The scholarly young priest was to be captured at sea by pirates and sold as a slave in Africa! This extraordinary happening came about in the following way. Vincent, having returned home after receiving his degree, went back to Toulouse to recover by process of law a small legacy which had been left him by an old woman of that city. Homeward bound, he made the trip from Marseilles to Narbonne by water, on board a small coastwise vessel. The ship was set upon by three brigantines manned by Barbary pirates, who were at this time a menace to all Mediterranean shipping. When the Christians refused to strike their flag, the infidels attacked them with arrows. Three were killed and several, including Vincent, were wounded. Those who remained alive were put in chains, and the pirates straightway sailed to Africa with their human cargo. Landing at Tunis, the pirates led their prisoners through the streets of the city, after which they were brought back to the vessel and sold to the highest bidder, like cattle. Vincent, bought by a fisherman, was sold again to an aged Moslem, a humane man, who had spent fifty years in search of the "philosopher's stone." He grew fond of his slave, to whom he gave long lectures on alchemy and Mohammedanism; he even promised to make Vincent his heir and also to communicate to him all the secrets of his science if he adopted the religion of Islam. The young priest, terrified that his faith would be corrupted in this alien environment, prayed for divine protection, particularly for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.
Vincent continued firm in his faith and lived on with the old man until his death, when he became the property of his master's nephew, who soon sold him to a renegade Christian, a native of Nice. This man, a convert to Mohammedanism, had three wives, one of whom was a Turkish woman. She often wandered into the field where the new Christian slave was at work, and out of idle curiosity would ask him to sing songs in praise of his God. With tears running down his cheeks Vincent would obediently sing certain Psalms, among which was Psalm cxxxvii, "By the waters of Babylon," in which the Jews bewailed their captivity. The Turkish woman now began to reproach her husband for abandoning his religion, and kept on until, without herself accepting the faith, she made him return to it. He repented of his apostasy, and he and Vincent made their escape from Africa together. They crossed the Mediterranean safely in a small boat, landed near Marseilles, in June, 1607, then traveled up to Avignon. There the apostate confessed, and abjured Mohammedanism before the papal vice-legate. The following year, accompanied by Vincent, he went to Rome, where he entered the order of the Brothers of St. John of God, who serve in hospitals.
Vincent now returned to France and chanced to be brought to the attention of Queen Marguerite of Valois, who appointed him her almoner. This office gave him the income from a small abbey. For a time he lodged in the same house as a lawyer, who was one day robbed of a considerable sum. He openly charged Vincent with the theft and spoke against him to all his friends. Vincent did nothing save quietly deny the charge, adding, "God knows the truth." For six years he bore the slander, making no further denial, and at last the real thief confessed. Speaking as though the victim had been someone else, Vincent once told this story at a conference with his priests, in order to show that patience, silence, and resignation are generally the best defense of innocence.
Vincent soon came to know a famous priest of Paris, Monsieur de Berulle, afterwards a cardinal. Father Berulle, who at that time was founding a branch of the Congregation of the Oratory in France, recognized Vincent's worth. He found for him a curacy at Clichy, in the outskirts of Paris, and later through his influence Vincent became tutor to the children of Philip de Gondi, Count of Joigny and general of the galleys of France. The countess, a serious-minded woman, was so impressed by Vincent that she eventually chose him as her spiritual director.
In 1617, while the family was at its country seat at Folleville, in the diocese of Amiens, Vincent was sent for to hear the confession of a peasant who lay dangerously ill. In the course of his questioning, Vincent learned that every one of the peasant's previous confessions had been sacrilegious. On his recovery the man declared, in the presence of the countess, that he would have been eternally lost if he had not spoken with Vincent. Unlike the majority of noble women of this period, who felt no responsibility for their dependents, this good lady was concerned about the spiritual welfare of her tenantry. She persuaded Vincent to preach in the parish church of Folleville and instruct the people. Such crowds came to confess that he called the Jesuits of Amiens to his aid. The Congregation of the Mission had its inception at this time.

Vincent left the household of the count that same year to become pastor of the parish of Chatillon-les-Dombes, which had long been neglected, its church virtually abandoned to the elements. By restoring the church, by instituting the habit of regular worship, he created a new spirit which helped to regenerate the whole district. He converted the notorious count of Rougemont and many other aristocrats from their dissolute lives. Seeing how effective Vincent's labors were, the countess now offered him a large sum of money to found a perpetual mission in whatever place and manner he thought fit. Nothing at first came of the idea, for Vincent seemed reluctant to undertake so important an enterprise. Meanwhile the countess secured her husband's help in organizing a company of zealous missionaries to work among their own vassals and the peasants of the countryside. They also discussed the plan for a perpetual mission with the count's brother, Jean Francois de Gondi, archbishop of Paris, who gave them the College des Bons Enfants as a reception house for the proposed new community.
The countess had obtained from Vincent a promise to continue as her spiritual director while she lived and to assist her at the end. She was in failing health and died in the summer of 1625, whereupon Vincent went to Paris to establish himself at the College des Bons Enfants. Now, at the age of forty-nine, he was free to assume the position of director. He drew up rules and constitutions for the house, and these were approved by Pope Urban VIII in 1632. In that year they were given the priory of St. Lazare, henceforth the chief house of the congregation. The Fathers of the Mission thus came to be called Lazarists, although they are more generally known as Vincentians. The Congregation consisted then, as it still does, of priests and laymen who, after a period of probation, take four simple vows, poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. They live from a common fund and devote themselves to sanctifying their own spirits and to converting sinners. They are employed in missions, especially to country people, teaching the Catechism, preaching, reconciling differences, and performing charitable deeds. Some of them conduct seminaries. Their institutions now flourish in all parts of the world. Vincent lived to see twenty-five more communities founded in France, northern Italy, Poland, and elsewhere.
Extensive and rewarding as this work was, it did not satisfy Vincent's passion for helping suffering people. He started con fraternities to seek out and care for the sick in every parish. From these groups, under the leadership of Louise de Marillac, sprang the Sisters of Charity, "whose chapel is the parish church, whose cloister the streets of the city and wards of the hospitals." Vincent persuaded a number of noble and wealthy Parisian women, who had hitherto never given a thought to the misery of others, to band together as Ladies of Charity, to collect funds and assist in many practical ways. He made plans for the founding of several hospitals to serve the needy sick, foundlings, and the aged. At Marseilles a home was opened for exhausted galley-slaves. It was the custom at this time in France to punish criminals by condemning them to service in the war galleys of the state. Under the lash and chained to their benches, they performed the cruelly hard labor of rowing these cumbersome vessels with their many-tiered banks of oars. After a few years the prisoners were broken and useless; now for the first time they had a hospital and various other forms of aid.
For men about to take Holy Orders, Vincent devised a set of spiritual exercises, and special exercises also for those desiring to make general Confession, or to settle on a vocation. He conferred frequently with the clergy on the correction of the shocking slackness, ignorance, and abuses that were all around them. To the Biblical injunction, "Thou art thy brother's keeper," he gave new practical meaning, by laying down patterns of philanthropy that have been followed ever since. To the worldly society of seventeenth-century Paris he presented a much-needed example of selfless charity.
The great political and religious conflict known as the Thirty Years War was now raging. Vincent, on hearing of the wretchedness of the people of Lorraine, collected alms for them in Paris. He sent missionaries to other countries affected by the war. Recalling his own sorrows as a slave in Tunisia, he raised enough money to ransom some twelve hundred Christian slaves in Africa. He had influence with the powerful Cardinals Richelieu and De Retz, directors of French foreign policy; and was sent for by King Louis XIII, to minister to him as he lay dying. The king's widow, Anne of Austria, now Queen Regent, had him made a member of the Council of Conscience of the five-year-old prince, the future Louis XIV. Vincent continued to be in favor at court, and during the civil war of the Fronde, tried to persuade the Queen Regent to give up her unpopular minister, Cardinal Mazarin, to help pacify and unify the people.

Thus, although he had no advantages of birth, fortune, or handsome appearance, or any showy gifts at all, Vincent de Paul's later years became one long record of accomplishment. In the midst of great affairs, his soul never strayed from God; always when he heard the clock strike, he made the sign of the cross as an act of divine love. Under setbacks, calumnies, and frustrations, and there were many, he preserved his serenity of mind. He looked on all events as manifestations of the Divine will, to which he was perfectly resigned. Yet by nature, he once wrote of himself, he was "of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger." Without divine grace, he declared, he would have been "in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed." With grace, he became tenderhearted to the point of looking on the troubles of all mankind as his own. His tranquillity seemed to lift him above petty disturbances. Self-denial, humility, and an earnest spirit of prayer were the means by which he attained to this degree of perfection. Once when two men of exceptional learning and ability asked to be admitted to his congregation, Vincent courteously refused them, saying: "Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penitence, and to plant the Gospel spirit of charity, humility, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians." One of his rules was that, so far as possible, a man ought not to speak of himself or his own concerns, since such discourse usually proceeds from and strengthens pride and self-love.
Vincent was deeply concerned at the rise and spread of the Jansenist heresy. He protested hotly against a view of God that seemed to limit His mercy, and no priest teaching that error could remain in his congregation. "I have made the doctrine of grace the subject of my prayer for three months," he said, "and every day God has confirmed my faith that our Lord died for us all and that He desires to save the whole world."

As the end of his long life drew near, Vincent endured much suffering. On September 27, 1660, he received the Last Sacraments, and died calmly in his chair, being then eighty-five years old. He was buried in the church of St. Lazare, Paris. In 1729 he was beatified by Benedict XIII, and canonized by Clement XII in 1737. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him patron of all charitable societies. His emblem is, most appropriately, children.

(Above: The incorrupt body of Saint Vincent de Paul)

September 23, 2012

St. Pio of Pietrelcina

Like the Apostle Paul, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina placed at the centre of his life and apostolic work the Cross of his Lord as his strength, his wisdom and his glory. Inflamed by love of Jesus Christ, he became like him in the sacrifice of himself for the salvation of the world. In his following and imitation of the crucified Christ he was so generous and perfect that he could have said: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20). And the treasures of grace which God had granted him so lavishly he unceasingly passed on through his ministry, serving the men and women who came to him in ever greater numbers, and bringing to birth an immense host of spiritual sons and daughters.

This worthy follower of St Francis of Assisi was born on 25 May 1887 at Pietrelcina in the Archdiocese of Benevento, the son of Grazio Forgione and Maria Giuseppa De Nunzio. He was baptized the next day and given the name Francesco. At the age 12 he received the sacrament of Confirmation and made his First Holy Communion.
On 6 January 1903, at the age of 16, he entered the novitiate of the Capuchin Friars at Morcone, where on 22 January he took the Franciscan habit and the name Brother Pio. At the end of his novitiate year he took simple vows, and on 27 January 1907 made his solemn profession.
After he was ordained a priest on 10 August 1910 at Benevento, he stayed at home with his family until 1916 for health reasons. In September of that year he was sent to the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo and remained there until his death.

Filled with love of God and love of neighbour, Padre Pio lived to the full the vocation to work for the redemption of man, in accordance with the special mission which marked his entire life and which he exercised through the spiritual direction of the faithful, the sacramental reconciliation of penitents and the celebration of the Eucharist. The pinnacle of his apostolic activity was the celebration of Holy Mass. The faithful who took part witnessed the summit and fullness of his spirituality.
On the level of social charity, he committed himself to relieving the pain and suffering of many families, chiefly through the foundation of the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza (House for the Relief of Suffering), opened on 5 May 1956.
For the servant of God, faith was life: he willed everything and did everything in the light of faith. He was assiduously devoted to prayer. He passed the day and a large part of the night in conversation with God. He would say: "in books we seek God, in prayer we find him. Prayer is the key which opens God's heart". Faith led him always to accept God's mysterious will.
He was always immersed in supernatural realities. Not only was he himself a man of hope and total trust in God, but by word and example he communicated these virtues to all who approached him.
The love of God filled him, and satisfied his every desire; charity was the chief inspiration of his day: to love God and to help others to love him. His special concern was to grow in charity and to lead others to do so.
He demonstrated to the full his love of neighbour by welcoming, for more than 50 years, countless people who had recourse to his ministry and his confessional, his counsel and his consolation. He was almost besieged: they sought him in church, in the sacristy, in the friary. And he gave himself to everyone, rekindling faith, dispensing grace, bringing light. But especially in the poor, the suffering and the sick he saw the image of Christ, and he gave himself particularly to them.
He exercised to an exemplary degree the virtue of prudence, acting and counseling in the light of God.
His concern was the glory of God and the good of souls. He treated everyone with justice, frankness and great respect.
The virtue of fortitude shone in him. He understood very early in life that his would be the way of the Cross, and he accepted it at once with courage and out of love. For many years, he experienced spiritual sufferings. For years he endured the pains of his wounds with admirable serenity. He accepted in silence the many interventions of his superiors, and in the face of calumnies he always remained silent.
He habitually practised mortification in order to gain the virtue of temperance, in keeping with the Franciscan style. He was temperate in his attitude and in his way of life.

Conscious of the commitments which he had undertaken when he entered the consecrated life, he observed with generosity the vows he had professed. He was obedient in all things to the commands of his superiors, even when they were burdensome. His obedience was supernatural in intention, universal in its scope and complete in its execution. He lived the spirit of poverty with total detachment from self, from earthly goods, from his own comfort and from honours. He always had a great love for the virtue of chastity. His behaviour was modest in all situations and with all people.
He sincerely thought of himself as useless, unworthy of God's gifts, full of weakness and infirmity, and at the same time blessed with divine favours. Amid so much admiration around him, he would say: "I only want to be a poor friar who prays".
From his youth, his health was not very robust, and especially in the last years of his life it declined rapidly. Sister Death took him well prepared and serene on 23 September 1968 at the age of 81. An extraordinary gathering of people attended his funeral.
On 20 February 1971, barely three years after the death of the servant of God, Pope Paul VI, speaking to the superiors of the Capuchin Order, said of him: "Look what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Perhaps because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal? Because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was—it is not easy to say it—one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and suffering".
Even during his lifetime, he enjoyed a vast reputation for sanctity because of his virtues, his spirit of prayer, sacrifice and total dedication to the good of souls.
In the years following his death, his reputation for sanctity and miracles grew steadily and became established in the Church, all over the world and among all kinds of people.
God thus showed the Church his desire to glorify on earth his faithful servant. In a short time the Capuchin Order took the steps prescribed by canon law to begin the cause of beatification and canonization. After examining the case, the Holy See, in accordance with the norm of the Motu Proprio Sanctitas clarior, granted the nihil obstat on 29 November 1982. The Archbishop of Manfredonia was thus abled to introduce the cause and set up the informative process (1983-90). On 7 December 1990 the Congregation for the Causes of Saints recognized its juridical validity. When the Positio had been completed, there was the usual discussion on whether the servant of God had exercised the virtues to a heroic degree. On 13 June 1997 the special meeting of the theological consultors was held and gave a positive judgement. In the ordinary session on 21 October 1997, with Bishop Andrea Maria Erba of Velletri-Segni as the proposer of the cause, the Cardinals and Bishops recognized that Padre Pio of Pietrelcina had lived to a heroic degree the theological, cardinal and associated virtues.
On 18 December 1997, in the presence of Pope John Paul II, the decree on heroic virtues was promulgated.
For the beatification of Padre Pio, the Postulation presented to the competent Congregation the healing of Mrs. Consiglia De Martino of Salerno. The regular canonical process concerning this case was held at the ecclesiastical tribunal of the Archdiocese of Salerno-Campagna-Acerno from July 1996 to June 1997, and the case was recognized as valid by a decree dated 26 September 1997. On 30 April 1998 at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Medical Board examined the miracle, and on 22 June 1998 the special meeting of theological consultors gave its judgement. On 20 October 1998 the ordinary congregation of the Cardinals and Bishops belonging to the Congregation, together with the proposer, Bishop Andrea M. Erba, was held in the Vatican.
On 21 December 1998, in the presence of Pope John Paul II, the decree on the miracle was promulgated.

Pax et Gaudium

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness