June 23, 2021: VIGIL OF THE NATIVITY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
“Fear not, O Zacharias: thy prayer is heard, and Elizabeth thy wife shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. He shall
be great in the sight of the Lord, and be filled with the Holy Ghost, even in his mother’s womb: and many shall rejoice at his birth.”
(St. Luke, i.)
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that thy people may walk in the way of salvation; and, by following the exhortation of blessed John, the forerunner, may come safely to him, whom he foretold, our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son. Who liveth and reigneth, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
LESSON – Prophecy of Jeremias, i. 4-10.
In those days: The word of the Lord came to me saying: Before I formed thee in the womb, I knew thee; and before thou camest forth from the womb, I sanctified thee, and appointed thee a prophet among the nations. Then I said: Ah! ah! ah! Lord God, behold I cannot speak, for I am a child. And the Lord said to me: Say not; I am a child; for thou shalt go about whatever I send thee: And thou shalt speak whatever I command thee. Fear not their presence: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth: and the Lord said to me: behold I have set thee this day over nations and kingdoms, to pluck up, and pull down, to destroy and scatter, to build up and to plant, saith the Lord Almighty.
GOSPEL - St. Luke, i. 5-17.
There was in the days of Herod the King of Judea, a certain priest named Zachary, of the course of Abia, and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name Elizabeth. And they were both just before God, walking in all the commandments and justifications of the Lord without blame. And they had no son, for that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were well advanced in years. And it came to pass, when he executed the priestly function in the order of his course before God, according to the custom of the priestly office, it was his lot to offer incense, going into the temple of the Lord; and all the multitude of the people was praying without, at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an Angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zachary seeing him was troubled, and fear fell upon him; but the Angel said to him: Fear not, Zachary, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John: and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice in his nativity. For he shall be great before the Lord: and shall drink no wine nor strong drink: and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb. And he shall convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; that he may turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people.
This page which the Church reads to us to-day, is precious in the annals of the human race, for here begins the Gospel itself, here we have the first word of the good tidings of salvation. Not that man had up to this, received no knowledge of Heaven's designs for the lifting up of our fallen race and the giving of a Redeemer: but weary and long had been this period of expectancy, since the day when first the sentence pronounced against the accursed serpent, pointed out to Adam and Eve a future, wherein man should be healed by the "Son of the woman," and God also by him should be avenged. Age upon age rolled on, and the promise all unaccomplished still, gradually assumed certain developments. Each generation saw the Lord, by means of the prophets, adding some new feature to the characteristics of this Brother of our race,—in Himself so great that the Most High would call Him my Son, (Ps, ii. 7) so impassioned for justice, that He would shed the last drop of His Blood to ransom earth's whole debt. (Isaias, liii. 7) Our Lamb in His immolation, He would rule the earth by His gentleness; (Isaias, xvi. 1) though springing from Jesse's root, yet was He to be the desired of the gentiles; (Isaias, xi. 10)—more magnificent than Solomon, (Ps, xliv.) He would graciously hearken to the love of these poor ransomed souls: taking the advance of their longing desires, He is fain to announce Himself, as the Spouse descending from the everlasting hills. (Osee, ii. 19; Gen, xlix. 26) The Lamb laden with the crimes of the world, the Spouse awaited by the Bride; such was to be this Son of Man, Son likewise of God,—the Christ, the Messias promised unto earth. But when will He come, He, this desired of nations? who will point out, unto earth, her Saviour? who will lead the Bride to the Bridegroom?
Mankind, gone forth in tears from Eden, had stood with wistful gaze fixed on futurity. Jacob, when dying, hailed from afar this beloved Son whose strength would be that of the lion, whose heavenly charms, still more enhanced by the blood of the grape (Oh! mystery ineffable!) rapt him in inspired contemplation, on his funeral couch. (Gen, xlix. 9-12, 18) In the name of the gentile world, Job seated on the dung-hill, whereon his flesh was falling to pieces,—gave response to ruin, in an act of sublime Hope in his Redeemer and his God. (Job, xix. 25-27) Breathlessly panting under the pressure of his woe and the fever of his longing desires, mankind beheld century roll upon century, the while consuming death suspended not its ravages,—the while his craving for the expected God, ceased not to wax hotter within his breast. Thus, from generation to generation, what a redoubling of imploring prayer; what a growing impatience of entreaty! Oh! that thou wouldst rend the heavens, and wouldst come down! (Isaias, lxiv. 1) “Enough of promises,” cries out the devout St. Bernard, together with all the Fathers, speaking in the name of the Church of the expectation, and commenting the first verse of the Canticle of Canticles;—“enough of figures and of shadows, enough of others' parleying! I understand no more of Moses; no voice have the Prophets, for me; the Law which they bear has failed to restore life to my dead. (IV Kings, iv. 31) What have I to do with the stammerings of their profane mouths, (Exod, iv. 10; Isaias, vi. 5) I to whom the Word hath announced Himself? Aaron's perfumes may not compare with the Oil of gladness poured out by the Father on Him whom I await. (Ps, xliv. 8) No more deputies, no more servants for me: after so many messages, let Him come at last, let Him come Himself!”
Yea, prostrate, in the person of the worthiest of her sons, upon the heights of Carmel, the Church of the expectation will not raise herself up, till appears in the heavens the proximate sign of salvation's raincloud. (III Kings, xviii. 42-46) Vainly, even anon seven times, shall it be answered her that as yet naught can be descried “arising sea-wards;” prolonging still her prayer and her tears, her lips parched by the ceaseless drought, and cleaving to the dust,—she will yet linger on, awaiting the appearance of that fertilising cloud, the light cloud that beareth her God under human features. Then, forgetting her long fasts and weary expectant years, she will rise upon her feet, in all the vigour and beauty of her early youth; filled with the gladness the angel announceth to her, in the joy of that new Elias, whose birthday, this Vigil promises on the morrow,—she will follow him, the predestined Precursor running (more truly than did the ancient Elias), before the chariot of Israel's king.
We borrow from the Mozarabic Breviary, the following beautiful Liturgical formula, which will put us thoroughly into the spirit of the feast.
Lo! the first beginnings of Christian joy, O Lord, whereby erstwhile, the sanctified Voice preceded the Word about to be born in flesh, and the herald of light signally announced the rising of the Day-Star, himself had witnessed: by him, both Faith's mysteries and Salvation's fountains have produced marvels: he is approved whose conception is miracle, whose birth is joy: therefore do we beseech thee, that we who with glad ovations hail the birthday of thy Precursor, may with purified hearts draw nigh likewise unto thine own Nativity: so that the Voice which preached thee in the desert, may cleanse us in the world; and he who preparing the way for the coming Lord, washed in his baptism the bodies of living men, may now, by his prayers, purify our hearts from vices and errors; so that, following in the foot-prints of the Voice, we may deserve to come to the promises of the Word.
Let us here add two Prayers from the Sacramentary of Gelasius.
May the prayer of Blessed John Baptist, O Lord, plead for us, that we may both understand and merit the mystery of thy Christ.
O Almighty and Eternal God, who in the days of Blessed John Baptist, didst fulfil the institutions of the Law and the declarations of the holy Prophets, grant we beseech thee, that figures and signs being ended, Truth Himself, by his own manifestation, may speak, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
“This child shall be great in the sight of the Lord; for his hand is with him. He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to prepare a perfect people for the Lord.”
(St. Luke, i.)
June 22, 2021: ST. PAULINUS, BISHOP AND CONFESSOR
Behold a great Prelate, who in his days pleased God, and was found righteous.
O God, You have promised a hundredfold hereafter and life everlasting to those who in this world leave all things for Your sake; grant in Your mercy, that we may follow in the footsteps of the holy Bishop Paulinus, and that we may have the grace to despise earthy things and desire only such as are heavenly. Who liveth and reigneth, World without end. Amen.
[From the Nocturnal Lessons…]
Paulinus Bishop of Nola, instructed in human letters and the holy Scriptures, composed, both in verse and prose, many elegant and remarkable works. The charity of this man was particularly celebrated: for when Campania was being ravaged by the Goths, he devoted all his substance to the feeding of the poor and the redeeming of captives, not reserving unto himself, even the necessaries of life. At which time, as Saint Augustine writes, having from the greatest opulency, voluntarily come down to the utmost exigency, yet with all, most rich in sanctity, being now taken captive by the barbarians, he made this prayer to God: “Lord, suffer me not to be put to the torture for the sake of gold and silver; for verily, where all my riches are, thou well knowest.” Afterwards, when the Vandals were infesting these shores, he, being entreated by a widow to redeem her son, all his effects being now consumed in works of charity, delivered himself up to slavery in place of the young man.
Wherefore, being now taken into Africa, he received the charge of cultivating his master's garden, who was son-in-law of the king. At length, by the gift of prophecy, having foretold to his master the death of the king, and the king himself having likewise in a dream, beheld Paulinus, seated in the midst of two other judges, wrest from his hands the scourge which he held; how great a man he was, being thus made known, he was honourably dismissed, and was moreover granted the liberation of all his fellow citizens who had been led away captives with him. Being now returned to Nola and to his episcopal functions, by word and example he more and more inflamed all unto Christian piety, until at last, being seized by a pain in his side, presently the chamber wherein he lay, was shaken by an earthquake, and shortly afterwards, he rendered up his soul unto God.
Another account of St. Paulinus.
Pontius Meropius Paulinus was born at Bourdeaux in 353. In his pedigree, both by the father and mother's side, was displayed a long line of illustrious senators, and his own father, Pontius Paulinus, was prӕfectus prӕtorio in Gaul, the first magistrate in the western empire. But the honours and triumphs of his ancestors were eclipsed by his superior virtues, which rendered him the admiration of his own and all succeeding ages, and excited St. Martin, St. Sulpicius Severus, St. Ambrose, St. Austin, St. Jerom, St. Eucherius, St. Gregory of Tours, Apollinaris, Cassiodorus, and others to vie with each other in celebrating his heroic actions, and to become the publishers of his praises to the corners of the earth. Besides the pre-eminence of his birth and riches, he received from nature a penetrating and elevated understanding, and an elegant genius, with other excellent accomplishments of mind and body, by which he was qualified for the highest attainments, and seemed born for everything that is great. These talents he cultivated from his infancy, by the closest application to the study of all the liberal arts, and he acquired the most extensive compass of useful learning. He had for master in poesy and eloquence the famous Ausonius, the first man of his age in those sciences, whose delicacy and wit would have ranked him among the greatest poets, if industry, evenness of style, and the purity of the Augustan age had not been wanting in his writings. That professor, merely for his literary abilities, was honoured by Valentinian with the dignity of prӕfectus prӕtorio, and by Gratian, whose preceptor he was, with that of consul. Under such a master Paulinus fully answered the hopes which his friends had conceived of him, and, whilst young, harangued at the bar with great applause. “Every one,” says St. Jerom “admired the purity and eloquence of his diction, the delicacy and loftiness of his thoughts, the strength and sweetness of his style, and the liveliness of his imagination.” Such were the acquirements of Paulinus in his youth, whilst a desire of pleasing men yet divided his heart. Probity, integrity, and other moral virtues were endowments of his soul still more admirable than his learning. His merit was soon distinguished by those who had the administration of the state, and by the emperors themselves, by whom he was raised, yet young, to the first dignities, and declared consul before his master Ausonius; consequently before the year 379. He took to wife a Spanish lady of sincere piety, and one of the most accomplished of her sex; her name was Therasia, and she brought him a great estate in land. The prudence, generosity, affability, and other social and religious virtues of the young statesman attracted veneration and esteem wherever he came, and gained him many friends and clients in Italy, Gaul, and Spain; in all which countries he had displayed his talents during fifteen years in the discharge of various employments and affairs both public and domestic. But God was pleased to open his eyes to see the emptiness of all worldly pursuits, and to inspire him with a more noble and innocent ambition of becoming little for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
The conversation of St. Ambrose at Milan, of St. Martin whom he had met at Vienne, and of St. Delphinus bishop of Bourdeaux gave him a relish for retirement, and strong sentiments of a more perfect virtue. The last-mentioned holy prelate being bishop of the native city and most ordinary residence of Paulinus whilst he remained in the world, made good use of the opportunity which his situation gave him, and being charmed with the saint's happy dispositions, often spoke to him on the necessity and happiness of giving himself to God without reserve. Paulinus had made some advances in virtue; but was not yet perfect. He was always an enemy to vanity or the love of human applause, than which passion nothing can be more unworthy of virtue, or more beneath a generous soul: though all the heathen philosophers shamefully disgraced their attainments by this base weakness. Tully was not ashamed to boast of it, and Demosthenes was delighted to hear a poor old woman whisper, “This is the great Demosthenes.” Paulinus seemed always raised by his own greatness of soul above this abject passion, and showed that geniuses which are truly great, are superior to their own abilities. But still he found how difficult a task it is for a man to preserve a perfect disengagement and purity of heart in the midst of worldly honours and blandishments, and to stand his ground against the incitements of the softer passions. Whilst every thing goads him on, and his senses and his own heart betray him, to shield his soul from the penetrating caresses of pleasure must be little short of a continued miracle. Moreover, by serious meditation on the vanities of the world, Paulinus had possessed his mind with a sincere conviction that its pleasures are empty, treacherous, and fraught with deadly poison. Certain shocks which he felt in his fortune through revolutions that happened in the empire, contributed to give him a more feeling sense of the instability of earthly things, and that bitterness which is inseparable from worldly affairs in high life, helped to increase this disgust and contempt of the world, and to discover to him the falsehood of its gilded bubbles which dazzle the eye of men at a distance. His wife, though yet young, and in a condition to enjoy the world, was the first to excite him to a contempt of whatever is not God; and they mutually encouraged one another to forsake all, that they might more perfectly to follow Christ. In this resolution they retired first into Spain, and passed four years in a little country solitude, from 390 to 394, in exercises of penance and devotion. There they lost their only son an infant whom Paulinus calls a holy offspring, because he had been purified by baptism. They buried him at Alcala near the bodies of the martyrs Justus and Pastor. The holy couple lived from that time, by mutual consent, in perpetual chastity; and Paulinus soon after changed his dress, to signify to the world his resolution of forsaking it, and he determined to renounce the senate, his country, estate, and house, and to bury himself in some monastery or wilderness. He was very rich, and Ausonius grieved to see the kingdoms of Paulinus the father, as he calls his vast estates, divided among a hundred possessors. The saint sold all his estates, and distributed the price among the poor; as he did also the estate of his wife, with her consent, who aspired with no less fervour to Christian perfection. This action was much extolled by all true servants of God, but severely condemned by the slaves of the world; who called his piety folly, hating God in the works of his servant, because contrary to theirs. The rich forsook him; his own slaves, his relations, and brothers refused to pay him the common duties of humanity and charity, and rose up against him, so that he became as one unknown to his brothers, “and as a stranger to the children of his mother.” God permitted this persecution to befal him that by it he might be more perfectly weaned from the world, and might learn to contemn its frowns. If I please men, says the apostle, I should not be a servant of Christ (Gal, i. 10). And Christ himself assures us that no man is worthy to be called his disciple, who hath net courage to despise human respects. Paulinus, instructed in this school, rejoiced to hear men bark at him, and all his own friends conspire to tear him to pieces, and to accuse his retreat of melancholy, hypocrisy, and every other sinister motive. His short, but golden answer to their invectives was comprised in five words: “O happy affront to displease you with Christ;” as he wrote to St. Aper to comfort and encourage him under a like persecution of the world, because though a person who by his eloquence, learning, and dignity of judgment, held an eminent rank among the first magistrates of the empire in Gaul, he preferred to these advantages the obscurity of a religious state, which he and his wife embraced by mutual consent, soon after which he was promoted to priest's orders. Paulinus's old master Ausonius, who had always the most tender love and the greatest esteem for him, regretted exceedingly that he should lose a nobleman whom he knew capable of being an honour to the greatest dignities; and in verses and letters yet extant, which discover how deeply his heart was rooted in a worldly spirit, reproached him in the most bitter terms, arraigning his action of madness and extravagance. He employed the most tender entreaties, and the harshest invectives in hopes to overcome his resolution, and complains that Bilboa or Calahorra should possess and bury the glory and pillar of the Roman senate and empire! The saint, without the least emotion, wrote him back in beautiful verse, a mild and elegant answer, in which he testifies, that it was to him the highest pleasure to meet with reproaches for serving Christ: and that he regarded not the opinion or railleries of men, who pursue opposite views, provided his actions might gain the approbation of the Eternal King whom alone he desired to please. Thus whilst the world despised him, he justly and courageously despised it again, and gloriously trampled it under his feet. His persecutors and upbraiders, seeing him regardless of the censures of a world to which they were themselves enslaved, became in a short time their admirers, and loudly extolled his modesty and meekness no less than his greatness of soul and the purity of his intention. In his poverty and obscurity he became the admiration of the universe, and persons of the first rank travelled from the remotest boundaries of the empire to see Paulinus in his little cottage, as St. Austin and St, Jerom witness. Therasia confirmed him in these good resolutions, and was not inferior to him in virtue. Having joined with him in selling her estate, she was not ashamed to appear in mean clothes, being persuaded that an humble dress suits penitent minds, and that humility is not easily to be preserved under rich attire.
St Ambrose, St Austin, St Jerom, and St Martin, gave due praise to this heroic virtue of St Paulinus, knowing they might safely do it to one dead to the applause no less than to the censures of others. St. Austin being then only priest, in 392, commended his generous resolution, calling it, The glory of Jesus Christ. And exhorting Licentius, a young nobleman who had formerly been his scholar, to a contempt of the world, he wrote thus to him, “Go into Campania; see Paulinus, that man so great by his birth, by his genius, and by his riches. See with what generosity this servant of Christ has stript himself of all to possess only God. See how he has renounced the pride of the world to embrace the humility of the cross. See how he now employs in the praises of God those riches of science, which unless they are consecrated to him who gave them, are lost.” Our saint could not bear applause. Greater by his humility than by all his other virtues, he sincerely desired to be forgotten by men, and begged his friends to refrain from their compliments, and not add to the load of his sins by praises which were not his due. “It surprised me,” said he, “that any one should look upon it as a great action for a man to purchase eternal salvation, the only solid good, with perishable pelf, and to sell the earth to buy heaven.” Others called him perfect in virtue; but his answer was, “A man that is going to pass a river by swimming is not got on the other side when he has but just put off his clothes. His whole body must be in action, and his limbs all put in motion; he must exert his utmost strength, and make great efforts to master the current.” The saint had, indeed, for the sake of virtue, forsaken all that the world could give; he had despised its riches, honours, and seducing pleasures, and had trampled upon its frowns, and all human respects. Courted in the world by all who would be thought men of genius, and caressed by all who valued themselves upon a fine taste, he had courage to renounce those flattering advantages; and with honours and riches he had made a sacrifice also of his learning and great attainments only that be might consecrate himself to the divine service. Yet this was only the preparation to the conflict. Wherefore not to lose by sloth the advantages which he had procured to himself, be laboured with all his strength to improve them to his advancement in virtue. He made it his first endeavour to subdue himself, to kill the very seeds of pride, impatience, and other passions in his heart, and to ground himself in the most profound humility, meekness, and patience. If any one seemed to admire the sacrifice he had made in renouncing so great riches and honours, in the number of captives he had ransomed, of debtors whom be had freed from prison by discharging their debts, of hospitals be had founded, and of churches he had built, he replied that the only sacrifice which God accepted was that of the heart, which he had not yet begun to make as he ought; that if others had not given so much to the poor, they excelled in more heroic virtues; for the gifts of grace are various; that his sacrifice was too defective in itself, and only exterior, consequently of no value, but rather hypocrisy. These and the like sentiments he so expresses, as to show how perfectly he considered himself as the most unprofitable and unworthy of servants in the house of God, and saw nothing in himself but what was matter of compunction, and a subject of the most profound humiliation. To the practice of interior self-denial, by which he bent his will, he added exterior mortification. And so great was the poverty in which he lived, that he often was not able to procure a little salt to his herbs or bread, which the most austere hermits usually allowed themselves. Yet the holy cheerfulness of his pious soul was remarkable to all who had the happiness to enjoy his acquaintance; and we sensibly discern it in a constant vein of gaiety which runs through all his writings.
Paulinus would not choose a retreat at Jerusalem or Rome, because he desired to live unknown to the world. His love of solitude and his devotion to St. Felix determined him to prefer a lonely cottage near Nola, a small city in Campania, that he might serve Christ near the tomb of that glorious confessor, which was without the walls of the town. He would be the porter of his church, to sweep the floor every morning, and to watch the night as keeper of the porch; and he desired to end his life in that humble employment. But he was promoted to holy orders before he left Spain. The people of Barcelona seized him in the church on Christmas day in 393, and demanded with great earnestness that he should be made priest. He resolutely opposed their desire, and only at length consented on condition that he should be at liberty to go wherever he pleased. This being agreed to, he received holy orders from the hands of the bishop. The citizens of Barcelona were indeed in hopes to fix him among them; but the next year, 394, after Easter, he left Spain to go into Italy. He saw St. Ambrose at Milan, or rather at Florence, who received him with great honour, and adopted him into his clergy, but without any obligation of residing in his diocess. The saint went to Rome, and met with great civilities from Domnio, a holy priest of that church, from St. Pammachius, and many others. But Pope Siricius did not appear equally gracious, and the saint made no stay in that capital, being in haste to arrive at Nola, the place of his retirement. There stood a church over the tomb of Felix, half a mile from the walls of the city, and to it was contiguous a long building of two stories, with a gallery divided into cells, in which Paulinus lodged the clergymen who came to see him. On the other side was a lodging for secular persons, who sometimes visited him; and he had a little garden. Several pious persons lived with him, whom he calls a company of monks, and he practised with them all the rules and austerities of a monastic state. They celebrated the divine office, were clad with sackcloth, and abstained for the most part from wine, though Paulinus himself, on account of his infirmities, drank sometimes a little diluted with a great quantity of water: they fasted and watched much, and their ordinary diet was herbs; but they never ate or drank so much as to satisfy hunger or thirst. St. Paulinus says, that every day he laboured to render to St. Felix all the honour he was able; yet he strove to outdo himself on the day of his festival: to which he added every year a birth-day poem in his honour as a tribute of his voluntary service, as he styles it. We have fourteen, or as others count them, fifteen of these birth-day poems of St. Felix, composed by St. Paulinus, still extant.
The Saint testifies that no motive so strongly excited him to the greatest fervour in the divine service as the consideration of the infinite goodness of God, who, though we owe him so much demands only our love to pay off all debts, and to cancel our offences. Poor and insolvent as we are, if we love, this clears off all the score. And in this no man can allege the difficulty, because no man can say he has not a heart. We are masters of our love; if we give this to the Lord, we are quit. The excess of his goodness carries him still further, for he is pleased that by paying him our poor love, we should be moreover entitled to his greatest favours, and of our creditor should make him our debtor. St. Paulinus had spent fifteen years in his retirement, when upon the death of Paul the bishop of Nola, about the end of the year 409, he was chosen to fill the episcopal chair. Uranius, a priest of that church under our saint, who has given us a short relation of his death, to which he was an eye-witness, testifies that the holy prelate in the discharge of his pastoral duties, sought to be beloved by all rather than feared by any. No provocations were ever able to move him to anger, and in his tribunal he always joined mildness with severity. No one ever had recourse to him who did not receive from him every kind of comfort of which he stood in need. Every one received a share in his liberalities, in his counsels, or in his alms. He looked upon only those as true riches which Christ hath promised to his saints, saying that the chief use of gold and silver consists in affording means to assist the indigent. By his liberality in relieving others he reduced himself to the last degree of penury. The Goths in their plunder of Italy in 410, besieged Nola, and, among others, Paulinus was taken prisoner. In this extremity he said to God with confidence, “Suffer me not to be tortured for gold and silver; for you know where I have placed all that you gave me.” And not one of those who had forsaken all for Christ was tormented by the barbarians. This is related by St. Austin. A virtuous lady called Flora having buried her son Cynegius in the church of St. Felix, consulted St. Paulinus, what advantage the dead receive by being buried near the tombs of saints. Paulinus put the question to St Austin, who answered it by his book, On the Care for the Dead, in which he shows that pomp of funerals and the like honours are only comforts of the living friends, not succours of the deceased; but that a burial in a holy place proceeds from a devotion which recommends the soul of the deceased to the divine mercy, and to the saint’s intercession. St. Paulinus lived to the year 431. Three days before his death he was visited in his last sickness by Symmachus and Acyndinus, two bishops, with whom he entertained himself on spiritual things, as if he had been in perfect health. The joy of seeing them made him forget his distemper. With them he offered the tremendous sacrifice, causing the holy vessels to be brought to his bedside. Soon after the priest Posthumian coming in, told him that forty pieces of silver were owing for clothes for the poor. The saint smiling, said some one would pay the debt of the poor. A little after arrived a priest of Lucania, who brought him fifty pieces of silver, sent him for a present from a certain bishop and a layman. St. Paulinus gave thanks to God, gave two pieces to the bearer, and paid the merchants for the clothes. He slept a little at night, but awaked his clergy to matins according to his custom, and made them an exhortation to unanimity and fervour—After this he lay silent till the hour of vespers, when stretching out his hands, he said in a low voice,—I have prepared a lamp for my Christ (Psalm xxxi). The lamps in the church were then lighting. Between ten and eleven at night, all who were in his chamber felt a sudden trembling as by some shock of an earthquake, and that moment he gave up his soul to God. He was buried in the church he had built in honour of St. Felix. His body was afterwards removed to Rome, and lies in the church of St. Bartholomew beyond the Tiber.
The world by persecuting St. Paulinus served only to enhance the glory of his victory, and to prepare him a double crown. This enemy is much less dangerous if it condemn than if it applaud us. To fear its impotent darts is to start at shadows. Itself will in the end admire those who for the sake of virtue have dared to despise its frowns. To serve men for God as far as it lies in our power is a noble part of charity; but to enslave our conscience to the mad caprice of the world is a baseness, a pusillanimity, and a wickedness, for which we cannot find a name. In other things we serve you, said the Hebrews to king Pharaoh, when his slaves in Egypt; but we must be free to go into the wilderness to sacrifice to the God of Israel. In the indispensable duties of religion, in the service of God, in the affair of eternity, we are essentially free; the dignity of our nature, and our allegiance to God, forbid us in this ever to become slaves. Here we must always exert an heroic courage, and boldly profess, by our conduct, with all the saints, that we know no other glory but what is placed in the service of God, and that we look upon ignominies suffered for the sake of virtue as our greatest gain and honour. We are his disciples who, hath told us,—If the world hateth you, know that it hated me first (St. John, xv. 18).
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866; and
Saint Joseph Daily Missal, Imprimatur 1957.
St. Paulinus, pray for us.
June 21, 2021: ST. ALOYSIUS GONZAGA, CONFESSOR
Venerable old age is not that of long time, nor counted by the number of years: but the understanding of man is grey hairs; and a spotless life is old age (Wis, iv. 8). And therefore, Aloysius, thou dost hold a place of honour, amidst the ancients of thy people! Glory be to the holy Society, in the midst whereof, thou didst, in so short a space, fulfil a long course!
O God, the giver of heavenly gifts, in the angelic youth of Aloysius, You united a wonderful innocence of life with an equal spirit of penance; grant, through his merits and prayers, that, not having followed him in his innocence, we may imitate him in his penance. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
Aloysius was son of Ferdinand Gonzaga, Marquess of Castiglione delle Stivere. He was so hurriedly baptised on account of danger, that he seemed to be born to heaven, almost before he was born to earth, and he so faithfully kept this his first grace, that he seemed to have been well nigh confirmed therein. From his first dawn of reason, which he used in offering himself to God, he led a life more holy day by day. At Florence, when he was nine years old, he made a vow of perpetual virginity, before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, upon whom he always looked as a Mother; and by a remarkable mercy from God, he kept this vow wholly and without the slightest impure temptation, either of body or of mind, during his whole life. As for any other perturbations of the soul, he began at that age to check them so sternly, that he was never more pricked by even their first movements. His senses, and especially his eyes, he so restrained, that he never once looked on the face of Mary of Austria, whom for several years he saluted almost every day, whilst he was page of honour, in the court of the king of Spain; and he used the same reserve, with regard to the face of even his own mother: wherefore he might truly be called a man without flesh, or an angel in human flesh.
To this custody of the senses, he added the maceration of the body. He kept three days as fasts, in every week, and that mostly upon a little bread and water. But indeed, he, as it were, fasted every day, for he hardly ever took so much as an ounce weight of food at his meal. Often also, even thrice a day, he would, with cords or chains scourge himself to blood: sometimes he would supply the place of a discipline or hair-shirt, by his own spurs or dog-thongs. He secretly strewed his soft bed with pieces of broken wood or potsherds, that he might find it easier to wake to pray. He passed great part of the night even in the depth of winter clad only in his shirt, either kneeling on the ground, or lying prostrate, when too weary to remain upright, occupied in heavenly contemplation. Sometimes he would keep himself thus immoveable for three, four, or five hours, until he had spent at least one, without any distraction of mind. Such constancy, obtained for him the reward of being able to keep his understanding quite concentrated in prayer without any wandering of mind, as though rapt in God, in unbroken extasy. In order that he might henceforth adhere to Him alone, having overcome the bitter resistance of his father, in a sharp contest of three years' duration, and having procured the transfer of his right to the Marquessate unto his brother, he joined, at Rome, the Society of Jesus, to which he had been called by a voice from heaven, when he was at Madrid.
In his very noviciate, he began to be held as a master of all virtues. His obedience even to the most trifling rules was absolutely exact, his contempt of the world extraordinary, and his hatred of self implacable. His love of God was so ardent, that it gradually undermined his bodily strength. Being commanded, therefore, to divert his mind for a while, from divine things, he struggled vainly to distract himself from Him Who met him everywhere. From tender love towards his neighbour, he joyfully ministered to the sick in the public hospitals, and in the exercise of this charity, he caught the contagion. Whereby, being slowly consumed, on the very day he had predicted, the eleventh of the Kalends of July, in the twenty-fourth year of his age, he departed to heaven, having previously begged to receive the discipline and to be placed upon the ground to die. What the glory is which he there enjoyeth, St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was enabled, by the revelation of God, to behold; and she declared that it was such as she had hardly believed existed even in heaven, and that his holiness and love were so great that she could declare him to be a hidden Martyr. On earth, God glorified him by many miracles. These being duly proved, Benedict XIII inserted the name of this angelical youth in the Calendar of the Saints, and commended him to all young scholars, both as a pattern of innocence and of chastity, and as principal Patron.
Another account of St. Aloysius Gonzaga.
Aloysius Gonzaga was son of Ferdinand Gonzaga, prince of the holy empire, and marquis of Castiglione, removed in the third degree of kindred from the duke of Mantua. His mother was Martha Tana Santena, daughter of Tanus Santena, lord of Cherry, in Piedmont. She was lady of honour to Isabel, the wife of Philip II of Spain, in whose court the marquis Gonzaga also lived in great favour. When she understood this nobleman had asked her in marriage both of the king and queen, and of her friends in Italy, being a lady of remarkable piety, she spent her time in fasting and prayer in order to learn the will of heaven, and to draw down upon herself the divine blessing. The marriage was solemnized in the most devout manner, the parties at the same time performing their devotions for the jubilee. When they left the court and returned into Italy, the marquis was declared chamberlain to his majesty, and general of part of the army in Lombardy, with a grant of several estates. The marchioness made it her earnest petition to God that he would bless her with a son, who should devote himself entirely to his love and service. Our saint was born in the castle of Castiglione, in the diocess of Brescia, on the 9th of March, 1568. William duke of Mantua stood godfather, and gave him the name of Aloysius. The holy names of Jesus and Mary, with the sign of the cross and part of the catechism, were the first words which his devout mother taught him as soon as he was able to speak; and from her example and repeated instructions the deepest sentiments of religion, and the fear of God were impressed upon his tender sous. Even in his infancy he showed an extraordinary tenderness for the poor; and such was his devotion that he frequently hid himself in corners, where after long search he was always found at his prayers, in which so amiable was his piety, and so heavenly did his recollection appear, that he seemed to resemble an angel clothed with a human body. His father designing to train him up to the army, in order to give him an inclination to that state, furnished him with little guns, and other weapons, took him to Casal to show him a muster of three thousand Italian foot, and was much delighted to see him carry a little pike, and walk before the ranks. The child staid there some months, during which time he learned from the officers certain unbecoming words, the meaning of which he did not understand, not being then seven years old. But his tutor hearing him use bad words, chid him for it, and from that time he could never bear the company of any persons who in his hearing ever profaned the holy name of God. This offence, though excusable by his want of age and knowledge, was to him during his whole life a subject of perpetual humiliation, and he never ceased to bewail and accuse himself of it with extreme confusion and compunction. Entering the seventh year of his age he began to conceive greater sentiments of piety, and from that time he used to date his conversion to God. At that age, being come back to Castiglione, he began to recite every day the office of our Lady, the seven penitential psalms, and other prayers, which he always said on his knees, and without a cushion; a custom which he observed all his life. Cardinal Bellarmin three other confessors, and all who were best acquainted with his interior, declared after his death their firm persuasion, that he had never offended God mortally in his whole life. He was sick of an ague at Castiglione eighteen months; yet never omitted his task of daily prayers, though he sometimes desired some of his servants to recite them with him.
When he was recovered, being now eight years old, his father placed him and his younger brother Ralph, in the polite court of his good friend, Francis of Medicis, grand duke of Tuscany, that they might learn the Latin and Tuscan languages, and other exercises suitable to their rank. At Florence the saint made such progress in the science of the saints, that he afterwards used to call that city the mother of his piety. His devotion to the Blessed Virgin was much inflamed by reading a little book of Graspar Loartes on the mysteries of the Rosary. He at the same time conceived a great esteem for the virtue of holy chastity; and he received of God so perfect a gift of the same, that in his whole life he never felt the least temptation either in mind or body against purity, as Jerom Platus and Cardinal Bellarmin assure us from his own mouth. He cultivated this extraordinary grace by assiduous prayer, universal mortification, and the most watchful flight of all occasions; being well apprized that this virtue is so infinitely tender, that it fades and dies if blown upon by the least vapour: and that it is a bright and clear mirror which is tarnished with the least breath, and even by the sight. He never looked at any woman, kept his eyes strictly guarded, and generally cast down, would never stay with his mother alone in her chamber; and if she sent any message to him by some lady in her company, he received it, and gave his answer in a few words, with his eyes shut, and his chamber door only half open; and when bantered on that score, he ascribed such behaviour to his bashfulness. It was owing to his virginal modesty, that he did not know by their faces many ladies among his own relations, with whom he had frequently conversed, and that he was afraid and ashamed to let a footman see so much as his foot uncovered. But humility, which is the mother of all virtues, was in our saint the guardian of his purity. He never spoke to his servants by way of command, but with such modesty that they were ashamed not to obey. He would only say to them: “Pray despatch this or that: You may do this:” or, “If it be no trouble you may do this or that.” No novice could practise a more exact and ready obedience than Aloysius set an example of towards all his superiors, especially Francis Tuccius, whom his father had appointed tutor to his sons, and governor of their family at Florence.
The two young princes had staid there a little more than two years, when their father removed them to Mantua, and placed them in the court of the Duke William Gonzaga, who had made him governor of Montserrat. Aloysius left Florence in November, 1579, when he was eleven years and eight months old. He at that time took a resolution to resign to his brother Ralph his title to the marquisate at Castiglione, though he had already received the investiture from the emperor. And the ambitious or covetous man is not more greedy of honours or riches than this young prince from a better principle appeared desirous to see himself totally disengaged from the ties of the world, by entirely renouncing its false pleasures, which begin with uneasiness, and terminate in remorse, and are no better than real pains covered over with a bewitching varnish. He knew the true delights which virtue brings, which are solid without alloy, and capable of filling the capacity of man's heart; and these he thirsted after. In the mean time he fell sick of an obstinate retention of urine, of which distemper he cured himself only by the rigorous rules of abstinence which he observed. He took the opportunity of this indisposition to rid himself more than ever of company and business, seldom going abroad, and spending most of his time in reading Surius's Lives of Saints, and other books of piety and devotion. It being the custom in Italy and other hot climates to pass the summer months in the country, the marquis sent for his sons from Mantua to Castiglione in that season. Aloysius pursued the same exercises, and the same manner of life in the town, at court, and in the country. The servants who watched him in his chamber saw him employed in prayer many hours together, sometimes prostrate on the ground before a crucifix, or standing up, absorbed in God so as to appear in an ecstasy. When he went down stairs they took notice that at every standing place he said a Hail Mary. It was in this retirement that his mind was exceedingly enlightened by God, and without the help of any instructor he received an extraordinary gift of mental prayer, to which his great purity of heart and sincere humility deposed his soul. He sometimes passed whole days in contemplating, with inexpressible sweetness and devotion, the admirable dispensations of divine providence in the great mysteries of our redemption, especially the infinite goodness and love of God, his mercy, and other attributes. In this exercise he was not able to contain the spiritual joy of his soul in considering the greatness and goodness of his God, nor to moderate his tears. Falling at last on a little hook of father Canisius, which treated of Meditation, and on certain letters of the Jesuit missionaries in the Indies, he felt a strong inclination to enter the Society of Jesus, and was inflamed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of souls. He began even then to frequent the schools of Christian Doctrine, and to encourage other boys, especially among the poor, in learning their catechism, and often instructed them himself. So excellently did he then discourse of God as astonished grown persons of learning and abilities. It happened that in 1580, St. Charles Borromeo came to Brescia in quality of apostolic visitor, and preached there the feast of Mary Magdalen. No importunities of the marquis or other princes could prevail upon that great saint to visit them at their country seats, or to take up his lodging any where but with the clergy of the churches where he came. Wherefore Aloysius, being only twelve years old, went to Brescia to receive his blessing. It is incredible how much the good Cardinal was taken with the piety and generous sentiments of the young prince. But finding that he had never yet received the holy communion, he exhorted him to prepare himself for that divine sacrament, and to receive it very frequently; prescribing him rules for his devout preparation, and with regard to many other practices of piety; all which the holy youth constantly observed, remembering ever after with wonderful joy the happiness of having seen so great a saint. He from that time conceived so tender a devotion to the blessed Eucharist that in hearing mass, after the consecration, he often melted into tears, in profound sentiments of love and adoration; and he frequently received wonderful favours in communicating; and this holy sacrament became his greatest comfort and joy. The marquis after this carried his whole family to Casal, the residence of his government of Montserrat. There the saint made the convents of the Capuchins and Barnabites the usual places of his resort. He fasted three days a week, Fridays at leasts on bread and water, boiled together for his whole dinner; his collation was a little piece of dry bread. On other days his meals were so slender that his life seemed almost a miracle. He secretly thrust a board into his bed to rest on in the night, and rose at midnight to pray even in the coldest season of winter, which is very sharp under the Alps. He spent an hour after rising, and two hours before going to bed in private prayer.
In 1581 his father attended the empress Mary of Austria, wife to Maximilian II and sister to Philip II of Spain, in her journey from Bohemia to Spain, and took with him his three children; a daughter named Isabel who died in Spain, and his two sons who were both made by king Philip pages to his son James, elder brother to Philip III. Aloysius was then thirteen years and a half old. He continued his studies, but never neglected his long meditations and devotions, which be often performed by stealth in secret corners. Though he every day waited on the infant of Spain, James, to pay his duty to the empress, be never once looked on the face of that princess, or took notice of her person; and so great was his guard over all his senses, and so universal his spirit of mortification, that it was a proverb at court, that the young marquis of Castiglione seemed not to be made of flesh and blood. Whilst he remained in Spain he found great pleasure and benefit in reading Lewis of Granada's excellent book on Mental Prayer. He prescribed himself a daily task of an hour’s meditation, which he often prolonged to three, four, or five hours. He at length determined to enter into the Society of Jesus in order to devote himself to the instructing and conducting souls to God; and he was confirmed in this resolution by his confessor, who was one of that Order. When be disclosed it to his parents his mother rejoiced exceedingly; but his father, in excessive grief and rage, said he would have him scourged naked. “O that it would please God,” modestly replied the holy youth, “to grant me so great a favour as to suffer that for his love.” What heightened the father's indignation was a suspicion that this was a contrivance on account of his custom of gaming, by which he had lately lost six hundred crowns in one evening; a vice which his son bitterly deplored, not so much, as he used to say, for the loss of the money, as for the injury done to God. However, the consent of the marquis was at length extorted through the mediation of friends. The infant or prince of Spain dying of a fever, Aloysius was at liberty, and after two years’ stay in Spain returned to Italy, in July, 1584, on board the galleys of the famous John Andrew Doria, whom his Catholic majesty had lately appointed admiral. His brother travelled in rich apparel, but the saint in a suit of black Flanders serge. In his journey he either conversed on holy things, or entertained himself secretly in his heart with God. As soon as he came to an inn he sought some private little chamber, and fell to prayer on his knees. In visiting religious houses he went first to the church, and prayed some time before the blessed sacrament. When he had arrived at Castiglione he had new assaults to bear, from the eloquence and authority of a cardinal, many bishops, and eminent men, employed by the duke of Mantua and his own uncles; yet he remained firm, and brought over some of these ambassadors to his side, so that they pleaded in his favour. But his father flew back from his consent, loaded his son with opprobrious language, and employed him in many distracting secular commissions. The saint had recourse to God by prostrating himself before a crucifix, and redoubling his severities; till the marquis, no longer able to oppose his design, cordially embraced him, and recommended him to Claudius Aquaviva, general of the Society, who appointed Rome for the place of his novitiate. The father repented again of his consent, and detained his son nine months at Milan, during which time he used the most tender entreaties and every other method to bring him from his purpose. He again removed him to Mantua, and thence to Castiglione; but finding his resolution invincible, left him at liberty, saying to him, “Dear son, your choice is a deep wound in my heart. I ever loved you, as you always deserved. In you I had founded the hopes of my family; but you tell me God calls you another way. Go, therefore, in his name whither you please, and may his blessing every where attend you.” Aloysius having thanked him, withdrew, that he might not increase his grief by his presence, and betook himself to his prayers. His cession of the marquisate to his brother Ralph, with the reserve of two thousand crowns in ready money, and four hundred crowns a year for life, was ratified by the emperor, and the writings were delivered at Mantua, in November, 1585. The excessive grief and tears of his subjects and vassals at his departure only drew from him these words: “That he sought nothing but the salvation of his soul, and exhorted them all to the same.” Arriving at Rome he visited the churches and chief places of devotion, then kissed the feet of Pope Sixtus V and entered his novitiate at St Andrew's, on the 25th of November, 1585, not being completely eighteen years old. Being conducted to his cell, he entered it as a celestial paradise, in which he was to have no other employment than that of praising God without interruption; and exulting in his heart, he repeated with the prophet, “This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.”
The saint in his noviceship condemned himself as guilty of sloth if he did not in every religious duty surpass in fervour all his companions; he respected them all, and he behaved himself towards them as if he had been the last person in the family, and indeed such he always reputed himself. He loved and rejoiced most in the meanest and most contemptible employments. His mortifications though great, were not so severe as he had practised in the world, because limited by obedience which gave a merit to all his actions. He used to say that a religious state in this resembles a ship, is which they sail as fast who sit idle as they who sweat at the oar in rowing. Yet such was the general mortification of his senses, that he seemed totally inattentive to exterior things, only inasmuch as they regarded God. He never took notice of the difference of villas where he had been, the order of the refectory, in which he every day ate or the rich ornaments of the chapels and altars where he prayed. He seemed entirely inattentive to the taste of what he ate, only he endeavoured to avoid whatever seemed savoury. He never listened to reports or to discourse about worldly matters: spoke very little, and never about himself, thinking himself justly deserving to be forgotten by the whole world, and to be made no account of in every thing. He was a capital enemy to any artifice or dissimulation, which he called the bane and canker of Christian simplicity. Nothing gave him so much mortification as the least marks of honour or distinction. It was his delight to carry a wallet through the streets of Rome, begging from door to door, to serve the poor and the hospitals, or to sweep the kitchen, and carry away the filth; in which actions he usually had before his eyes Christ humbled for us. On holidays he used to catechise the children of the poor labourers. He changed his new gilt breviary for an old one, and after did so in his habit and other things. His whole life seemed a continued prayer, and he called holy meditation the short way to Christian perfection. He found in that exercise the greatest spiritual delights, and remained in it on his knees, as if he were motionless, in a posture of wonderful recollection and respect. It is not possible to describe the sweet raptures and abundant tears which often accompanied his devotion, especially in presence of the blessed Eucharist, and after communicating. He spent the three first days after communion in thanksgiving for that inestimable favour; and the three following in languishing aspirations and desires to receive on the Sunday his Saviour, his God, his Physician, his King, and his Spouse: on the eve of his communion his mind was wholly taken up with the dignity, infinite importance and advantages of that great action, nor could he speak of any thing else. Such was the fire of his words whenever he spoke on that mystery of love, that it inflamed all who heard him. He made every day at least four regular visits to pray before the blessed sacrament. The passion of Christ was also a most tender object of his devotion. From his infancy he had chosen the Blessed Virgin for his special patroness and advocate. He had a singular devotion to the holy angels, especially his angel guardian. In the beginning of his noviceship he was tried by an extreme spiritual dryness and interior desolation of soul; which served perfectly to purify his heart, and was succeeded by the greatest heavenly consolations. He bore the pious death of his father with unshaken constancy, because he considered it and all other events purely in the view of the divine will and providence. It happened six weeks after Aloysius had taken the habit. From the day on which his son had left him to enter the Society, the marquis had entirely devoted himself to the practice of perfect virtue and penance.
Humility and obedience were the young novice's favourite virtues, and by them he gained a perfect mastery over himself. To appear poor, little, and contemptible was his delight, and he rejoiced to see the last and worst portion in any thing fall to his share. He was never known guilty of the least transgression of the rule of silence or any other; and feared to arrive one moment too late at any duty. He would not without the leave of his master speak one word even to his kinsman cardinal Roborei; nor would he ever stay with him so long as to fail one minute in any rule. It happened that the pious and learned Jerom Platus, whilst he was his master of novices, thinking his perpetual application to prayer and study prejudicial to his health, ordered him to spend in conversing with others after dinner, not only the hour allotted for all, but also the half hour longer which is allowed to those who dined at the second table. Father minister not knowing this order punished him for it, and obliged him publicly to confess his fault; which he underwent without offering any excuse. The minister learning afterwards how the matter was, admired very much his silence, but for his greater merit enjoined him another penalty for not telling him the order of his master. The saint bore in silence and joy the imputation and chastisement of the faults of any others, because this afforded him an opportunity of exercising patience, meekness, and humility. By a habit of continual application of his mind to God, attention at prayer seemed so easy and natural to him that he told his superior, who put to him that question, that if all the involuntary distractions at his devotions during six months were joined together, they would not amount to the space of one Hail Mary. His health decaying, he was forbidden to meditate or pray, except at regular times. This he found the hardest task of his whole life; so great a struggle did it cost him to resist the impulse with which his heart was carried towards God. For the recovery of his health he was sent to Naples, where he staid half a year, and then returned to Rome. In that city, after completing his novitiate of two years, he made his religious vows on the 20th of November, 1587, and soon after received minor orders.
Aloysius had finished his logic whilst a page in the Spanish court, and his course of natural philosophy during his nine months' stay at Milan. After this he commenced student in divinity under Gabriel Vasquez, and other celebrated professors. But a family contest obliged him to interrupt his studies. His uncle, Horatius Gonzaga, died without issue, and bequeathed by will his estate of Sulphurino to the duke of Mantua. Ralph, the saint's brother, pleaded that the donation was invalid, the estate being a fief of the empire, which inalienably devolves on the next heir in blood, and he obtained a rescript of the emperor Maximilian in his favour. But the duke refused to acquiesce in this sentence; and the archduke Ferdinand and several other princes had in vain attempted to reconcile the two cousins. At length St. Aloysius was sent for to be the mediator of peace. He had then just finished his second year of divinity, and was at the Jesuits' villa at Frescati during the vacation, when father Robert Bellarmin brought him an order from the general to repair to Mantua about this affair. A discreet lay-brother was appointed to be his companion, to whom a charge was given to take care of his health, with an order to Aloysius to obey him as to that particular. Most edifying were the examples of his profound humility, mortification, love of poverty, and devotion, and incredible the fruits of his zeal both on the road, and at Mantua, Castiglione, and other places where he went. Though both parties were exceedingly exasperated, no sooner did this angel of peace appear than they were perfectly reconciled. The duke, though before much incensed, was entirely disarmed by the sight and moving discourse of the saint; he readily pardoned, and yielded up the estate to the marquis, who as easily consented to bury in oblivion all that had passed, and the two cousins made a sincere and strict alliance and friendship together. Many others who were at variance, or at law, were in the same manner made friends by the means of the saint's friendly interposing. No enmity seemed able to withstand the spirit of meekness and charity which his words and whole deportment breathed. Great numbers were by him converted from sinful habits, and many brought to a profession of perfect virtue. His brother Ralph had fallen in love with a young gentle woman much inferior to him in birth, and had secretly married her before private witnesses, but durst not publish his marriage for fear of offending his uncle Alphonsus Gonzaga, lord of Castle-Godfrey, whose heir he was to be. The saint represented to him that by such a conduct, notwithstanding his precaution, he offended God by the scandal he gave to his subjects and others, who looked upon his behaviour as criminal. He moreover, undertook to satisfy his uncle, mother, and other friends, and thus engaged him publicly to declare his marriage, and the uncle, and others, through the saint's mediation, took no offence at the alliance. Aloysius having happily restored peace among all his relations, and settled them in the practice of true virtue, by the direction of his superiors went to Milan on the 22d of March, 1590, there to pursue his theological studies. These he accompanied with his usual exercises of devotion, and all virtues, especially humility, to nourish and improve which in his heart, he embraced every kind of humiliation. He often begged to serve in the kitchen and refectory, and it was his delight to draw water for the cook, wash the dishes, cover the table, or sweep the scullery. Whilst he was at Milan one day in his morning prayer he was favoured with a revelation, that he had only a short time to live. By this heavenly visitation he found his mind wonderfully changed, and more than ever weaned from all transitory things. This favour he afterwards disclosed at Rome, in great simplicity, to F. Vincent Bruno and others. The general would not suffer him to finish his studies at Milan, but recalled him to Rome in November the same year, to perform there the fourth or last year of his theological course. The saint chose a dark and very small chamber over the staircase in the garret, with one window in the roof; nor had he in it any other furniture than a poor bed, a wooden chair, and a little stool to lay his books upon. He appeared even in the schools and cloisters quite absorbed in God, and often at table, or with his companions at recreation time after dinner, he fell into ecstasies, and appeared unable to contain the excessive heavenly joy with which his soul overflowed. He frequently spoke in raptures on the happiness of dying, the more speedily to enjoy God.
In 1591 an epidemical distemper swept off great multitudes in Rome. In this public distress the fathers of the society erected a new hospital, in which the general himself, with other assistants, served the sick. Aloysius obtained by earnest entreaties to be one of this number. He catechised and exhorted the poor patients, washed their feet, made their beds, changed their clothes, and performed with wonderful assiduity and tenderness the most painful and loathsome offices of the hospital. The distemper being pestilential and contagious, several of these fathers died martyrs of charity, and Aloysius fell sick. It was on the 3d of March, 1591, that he took to his bed: at which time he was overwhelmed with excessive joy at the thought that he was called to go to his God. This joy gave him afterwards a scruple whether it was not immoderate. But his confessor, who was the famous cardinal Bellarmin, comforted him, saying: that it is not an unusual grace to desire death, not out of impatience, but to be united to God. The pestilential fever in seven days became so violent, that the saint received the viaticum and extreme-unction. However, he recovered; but from the relics of this distemper succeeded an hectic fever, which in three months reduced him to an excessive weakness. He studied to add continual mortifications to the pains of his disease, and rose in the night to pray before a crucifix:, till being caught by the infirmarian, he was forbid doing so for the future; which direction he punctually obeyed. The physicians having ordered him and another sick brother to take a very bitter draught, the other drank it at once with the ordinary helps to qualify the bitterness of the taste; but Aloysius sipped it slowly, and as it were drop by drop, that he might have the longer and fuller taste of what was mortifying; nor did he give the least sign of perceiving any disagreeable taste. After speaking with father Bellarmin on the happiness of speedily enjoying God, he fell into a rapture through excess of inward delights, and it continued almost the whole night, which seemed to him in the morning to have been but one moment, as he told F. Bellarmin. It seems to have been in this ecstacy that he learned he should die on the Octave day of Corpus-Christi, which he often clearly foretold. In thanksgiving for his death being so near, he desired one to recite with him the Te Deum; with which request the other complied. To another he cried out, his heart exulting with joy: “My father, we go rejoicing! we go rejoicing!” He said every evening the seven penitential psalms with another person in great compunction. On the Octave day, he seemed better, and the rector had thoughts of sending him to Frescati. But he repeated still that he should die before next morning, and he received the viaticum and extreme-unction. At night he was thought to be in no immediate danger, and was left with two brothers to watch by him. These about midnight perceived on a sudden by a wanness and violent sweat with which he was seized, that he was falling into his agony. His most usual aspirations during his illness were the ardent languishings of a soul aspiring to God, extracted from the psalms. After saying: “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” he frequently repeated the holy name of Jesus; with which sacred word he expired a little after midnight between the 20th and 21st of June, the Octave of Corpus-Christi that year, 1591, being twenty-three years, three months, and eleven days old, of which he had lived five years and almost seven months in the society. He was buried in the church of the Annunciation, belonging to the Jesuits of the Roman college. A rich chapel being afterwards built in that church under his name, by the Marquis Scipio Lancelotti, his relics were translated into it. St. Aloysius was beatified by Gregory XV in 1621, and canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. Ceparius gives a history of many miracles wrought through the intercession and by the relics of this saint, several being cures of noblemen and eminent prelates…
When we see a young prince, the darling of his family and country, sacrifice nobility, sovereignty, riches, and pleasures, the more easily to secure the treasure of divine love, and of eternal happiness, how ought we to condemn our own sloth, who live as if heaven were to cost us nothing!
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866; and
Saint Joseph Daily Missal, Imprimatur 1957.
St. Aloysius Gonzaga, pray for us.
June 20, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. SILVERIUS, POPE AND MARTYR
“I am fed upon the bread of tribulation, and the water of affliction, but nevertheless, I have not given up, and I will not give up, doing my duty.”
Have regard, O Almighty God, to our weakness, and as we sink under the weight of our own doings, let the glorious intercession of blessed Silverius, thy Martyr and Bishop, be a protection to us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
Papal succession is one of the principal facts wherein is demonstrated the working of the Holy Ghost, from the very first day of His descent upon our earth. The legitimacy of the Popes, as successors of Peter, is indeed closely linked with the legitimacy of the Church herself, in her character of Bride of the Man-God; and therefore, His mission being to lead the Bride unto the Spouse,—the Holy Ghost cannot suffer her to wander in the footprints of intruders. The inevitable play of human passions, interfering in the election of the Vicar of Christ, may perchance for a while, render uncertain, the transmission of spiritual power; but when it is proved that the Church still holding, or once more put in possession of her liberty, acknowledges in the person of a certain Pope, until then doubtful, the true Sovereign Pontiff,—this her very recognition is a proof that, from that moment at least, the occupant of the Apostolic See is as such invested by God Himself. This doctrine the Holy Ghost confirms, by giving thereunto, in the Pontiff we are celebrating to-day, the consecration of martyrdom.
[Pope] Saint Agapitus I died at Constantinople, whither Theodorat, the Goth, had persuaded him to go, in order to appease the anger of Justinian excited against this king by reason of his treasons. Scarcely had the news of this death reached the Arian prince, than he, in terror of perhaps seeing some one unfavourable to his pretentions, raised to the pontificate,—imperatively designated as successor to the deceased Pope, the deacon Silverius. Two months later, the Justice of God struck the tyrant and the Church was set free. Doubtless, Rome would have but exercised her proper right, had she rejected the Head thus imposed upon her by main force: for not to earthly princes, has the Lord consigned the election of His Vicar upon earth. But Silverius, who had been an utter stranger to the violence used on his personal account, was in reality a man in every way fitted to the Supreme Pontificate: therefore, when the Roman clergy became free to act, they had no wish to withdraw from him their adhesion, until then certainly disputable. From that moment undoubtedly, Silverius could not but be Head of the Church, the true successor of Agapitus, the Lord's Elect. In the midst of a period thronged with snares, he proved how well he understood the exigences of duty in his exalted office, and preferred an exile which would eventually cost him his life, to the abandoning of a post wherein the Holy Ghost had truly placed him. Holy Church gratefully bears witness to this, in her short eulogy of him; and the army of Martyrs opened their ranks to receive him, when death had at length struck the Pontiff in his land of exile.
Silverius was a native of Campania, and succeeded Agapitus in the Papacy. His doctrine and holiness shone forth in his pursuing of heretics; and his strength of soul, in his firmness regarding the upholding of the sentence passed by Agapitus. Agapitus had deposed Anthimus, from the Patriarchate of Constantinople for defending the heresy of Eutyches; and Silverius would never allow of his restoration, although the Empress Theodora repeatedly asked him to do so.
The woman was enraged at him, on this account, and ordered Belisarius to send Silverius into exile. He was accordingly banished to the Island of Ponza, whence, it is said, he wrote these words to Bishop Amator: “I am fed upon the bread of tribulation, and the water of affliction, but nevertheless, I have not given up, and I will not give up, doing my duty.” Soon indeed, worn out by grief and suffering, he slept in the Lord, on the twelfth of the Kalends of July: His body being taken to Rome, was laid in the Vatican Basilica and was made illustrious by numerous miracles. He ruled the Church for more than three years, and ordained in the month of December, thirteen priests, five deacons, and nineteen bishops for divers sees.
Another account of St. Silverius, Pope, Martyr.
Silverius was son of Pope Hormisdas, who had been engaged in wedlock before he entered the ministry. Upon the death of St. Agapetus, after a vacancy of forty-seven days, Silverius, being then subdeacon, was chosen pope, and ordained on the 8th of June, 536, Theodatus the Goth being king of Italy. Theodoric had bequeathed that kingdom to his grandson Athalaric, under the tuition of his mother Amalasunta, a most wise and learned princess. Athalaric died in 534, after a reign of eight years: when Amalasunta called Theodatus, a nephew of her father Theodoric by a sister, to the throne; but the ungrateful king, jealous of his power, caused her to be confined in an island in the lake of Bolsena, and there strangled in a bath before the end of the same year, 534. The shocking barbarity of this action encouraged the emperor Justinian to attempt the reduction of Italy. Belisarius, his general, had been successful in all his wars against rebels at home, the Persians in the East and Gelimer the Vandal in Africa, whom he had brought prisoner to Constantinople in 534; by which victory he extinguished the puissant kingdom of the Vandals, and reunited Africa to the empire, after it had been separated above one hundred years. By the emperor's order in 535, being then consul, he marched with his victorious army against Italy. He that year made himself master of Sicily, and passing thence into Italy in 536, took Naples. Upon which the Goths deposed Theodatus, and raised Vitiges, an experienced officer, to the throne. The senate and people of Rome, at the persuasion of Pope Silverius, opened the city to the imperialists, who entered by the Asinarian gate, whilst the Gothic garrison retired by the Flaminian towards Ravenna, where Vitiges had shut himself up.
Theodora, the empress, a violent and crafty woman, seeing Justinian now master of Rome, resolved to make use of that opportunity to promote the sect of the Acephali, or most rigid Eutychian, who rejected the council of Chalcedon, and also the Henoticon of Zeno, which Petrus Mongus, the Eutychian patriarch of Alexandria, had received, endeavouring in some degree to qualify that heresy. Anthimus, patriarch of Constantinople, was violently suspected of abetting the Acephali, and by the credit of the empress had been translated, against the canons, from the see of Trapezus or Trebisond to that of the imperial city. When Pope Agapetus came to Constantinople, in 536, he refused to communicate with Anthimus because he could never be brought to own in plain terms two natures in Christ; whereupon he was banished by Justinian; and St. Menas, an orthodox holy man, was ordained bishop of Constantinople by Pope Agapetus himself, who by a circular letter notified, that “the heretical bishop had been deposed by the apostolic authority, with the concurrence and aid of the most religious emperor.” This affair gave the empress great uneasiness, and she never ceased studying some method of recalling Anthimus, till the taking of Rome offered her a favourable opportunity of attempting to execute her design. Silverius being then in her power, she endeavoured to win him over to her interest, and wrote to him requiring that he would acknowledge Anthimus lawful bishop, or repair in person to Constantinople, and reexamine his cause on the spot. The good pope was sensible how dangerous a thing it was to oppose the favourite project of an empress of her violent temper, and said with a sigh in reading her letter, that this affair would in the end cost him his life. However he, without the least hesitation or delay, returned her a short answer, by which he peremptorily gave her to understand, that she must not flatter herself that he either could or would come into her unjust measures, and betray the cause of the Catholic faith. The empress saw from the firmness of his answer, that she could never expect from him any thing favourable to her impious designs, and from that moment resolved to compass his deposition. Vigilius, archdeacon of the Roman Church, a man of address, was then at Constantinople; whither he had attended the late pope Agapetus. To him the empress made her application, and finding him taken by the bait of ambition, promised to make him pope, and to bestow on him seven hundred pieces of gold, provided he would engage himself to condemn the council of Chalcedon, and receive to communion the three deposed Eutychian patriarchs, Anthimus of Constantinople, Severus of Antioch, and Theodosius of Alexandria. The unhappy Vigilius having assented to these conditions, the empress sent him to Rome, charged with a letter to Belisarius, commanding him to drive out Silverius, and to contrive the election of Vigilius to the pontificate. Belisarius was at first unwilling to have any hand in so unjust a proceeding; but after showing some reluctance, he had the weakness to say: “The empress commands, I must therefore obey. He who seeks the ruin of Silverius shall answer for it at the last day; not I.” Vigilius urged the general, on one side, to execute the project, and his wife Antonina on the other, she being the greatest confidant of the empress, and having no less an ascendant over her husband than Theodora had over Justinian.
The more easily to make this project to bear, the enemies of the good pope had recourse to a new stratagem, and impeached him for high treason. Vitiges the Goth returned from Ravenna in 637, with an army of one hundred and fifty thousand men, and invested the city of Rome. The siege lasted a year and nine days, during which both Goths and Romans performed prodigies of valour; but the latter defeated all the attempts and stratagems of the barbarians, and in the end obliged them to retire. The pope was accused of corresponding during the siege with the enemy, and a letter was produced, which was pretended to have been written by him to the king of the Goths, inviting him into the city, and promising to open the gates to him. Belisarius saw evidently this to be a barefaced calumny, and discovered the persons who had forged the said letter, namely, Marcus, a lawyer, and Julianus, a soldier of the guards, who had been both suborned by the pope's enemies. The general, therefore, dropped this charge of treason, but entreated the pope to comply with the will of the empress, assuring him he had no other means of avoiding the loss of his see, and the utmost calamities. Silverius always declared that he could never condemn the council of Chalcedon, nor receive the Acephali to his communion. Upon leaving the general's house, he fled for sanctuary to the basilic of the martyr St. Sabina; but a few days after, by an artful stratagem of Belisarius, was drawn thence, and summoned to repair to the Pincian palace, where the general resided during the siege. He was admitted alone, and his clergy, whom he left at the door, saw him no more. Antonina received him sitting upon her bed, whilst Belisarius was seated at her feet; she loaded him with reproaches, and immediately a subdeacon tore the pall off his shoulders. He was then carried into another room, stripped of all his pontifical ornaments, and clothed with the habit of a monk. After this it was proclaimed that the pope was deposed, and become a monk. Belisarius the next day caused Vigilius to be chosen pope, and he was ordained on the 22d of November, 537. In the mean time Silverius was conducted into banishment to Patara, in Lycia. The bishop of that city received the illustrious exile with all possible marks of honour and respect; and thinking himself bound to undertake his defence, soon after the pope's arrival repaired to Constantinople, and having obtained a private audience, spoke boldly to the emperor, terrifying him with the threats of the divine judgments for the expulsion of a bishop of so great a see, telling him — “There are many kings in the world, but there is only one pope over the church of the whole world.” It must be observed that these were the words of an oriental bishop, and a clear confession of the supremacy of the Roman see. Justinian, who had not been sufficiently apprized of the matter, appeared startled at the atrocity of the proceedings, and gave orders that Silverius should be sent back to Rome, and in case he was not convicted of the treasonable intelligence with the Goths, that he should be restored to his see; but if found guilty, should be removed to some other see. Belisarius and Vigilius were uneasy at this news, and foreseeing that if the order of the emperor were carried into execution, the consequence would necessarily be the restoration of Silverius to his dignity, they contrived to prevent it, and the pope was intercepted in his road towards Rome. His enemies saw themselves again masters of his person, and Antonina resolving at any rate to gratify the empress, prevailed with Belisarius to deliver up the pope to Vigilius, with full power to secure him as he should think fit. The ambitious rival put him into the hands of two of his officers, called the defenders of the church, who conveyed him into the little inhospitable island of Palmaria, now called Palmeruelo, over against Terracina, and near two other abandoned desert islands, the one called Pontia, now Ponza, and the other Pandataria, now Vento Tiene. In this place Silverius died in a short time of hard usage; Liberatus, from hearsay, tells us of hunger; but Procopius, a living witness, says he was murdered, at the instigation of Antonina, by one Eugenia, a woman devoted to their service. The death of Pope Silverius happened on the 20th of June, 538. Vigilius was an ambitious intruder and a schismatic so long as St Silverius lived; but after his death became lawful pope by the ratification or consent of the Roman church, and from that time renounced the errors and commerce of the heretics. He afterwards suffered much for his steadfast adherence to the truth; and though he entered as a mercenary and a wolf, he became the support of the orthodox faith.
The providence of God in the protection of his church never appears more visible than when he suffers tyrants or scandals seemingly almost to overwhelm it. Then does he most miraculously interpose its defence to show that nothing can make void his promises. Neither scandals nor persecutions can make his word fail, or overcome the church which he planted at so dear a rate. He will never suffer the devil to wrest out of his hands the inheritance which his Father gave him, and that kingdom which it cost him his most precious blood to establish, that his Father might always have true adorers on earth, by whom his name shall be for ever glorified. In the tenth century, by the power and intrigues of Marozia, wife to Guy, marquess of Tuscany, and her mother and sister, both called Theodora, three women of scandalous lives, several unworthy popes were intruded into the apostolic chair, and ignorance and scandals gained ground in some parts. Yet at that very time many churches were blessed with pastors of eminent sanctity, and many saints preached penance with wonderful success; nor did any considerable heresy arise in all that century. Pride, indeed, and a conceit of learning, are the usual source of that mischief. But this constant conservation of the church can only be ascribed to the singular protection of God, who watches over his church, that it never fail.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Pope St. Silverius, pray for us.
June 19, 2021: ST. JULIANA FALCONIERI, VIRGIN
To serve Mary, was the only nobility that had any attraction in thine eyes, O Juliana! to share her Dolours, was the only recompense which thy generous soul in its lowliness, could ambition. Thy desires were granted: but from that lofty Throne where She reigns as Queen of Angels and of men, She who confessed Herself the Handmaid of the Lord and beheld God to have regard to her humility,—was also pleased to exalt thee, like herself, above all the mighty ones.
O God, who didst vouchsafe to refresh, after a wonderful manner, blessed Juliana, thy Virgin, in her last moments, with the precious body of thy Son: grant, we beseech thee, through her merits and intercession, that we also may, in our last conflict, be so refreshed and strengthened with the same, as to be brought to our heavenly country. Thro’ the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Whilst thou dost, Juliana, claim
The nuptials of the heavenly lamb,
Thou dost thy Father’s house forsake,
And care of Virgins undertake.
And whilst with deepest sorrows pierced,
Nor day, nor night thy groans e’er ceas’d,
For thy dear spouse nail’d on a tree,
His sacred image was in thee.
sevenfold, thou dost weep,
And at God’s mother’s feet dost keep:
Whilst tears thy ardent love proclaim,
Thy tender heart is on a flame.
And hence when painful death drew
God took of thee unusual care;
His sacred body he bestows,
And puts an end to all thy woes.
To God the Father and the Son
And Holy Spirit, Three in One,
Be endless Glory, as before,
The world began, so evermore. Amen.
This day witnesses the close of the pilgrimage of one, who was miraculously supplied with the divine Viaticum: Juliana presents herself at heaven's gate, showing upon her heart, the impress of the Sacred Host. The lily emblazoned on the city escutcheon of Florence, glistens with fresh radiance to-day, for it was she gave birth to our Saint, as well as to so many others, some of whom have already beamed across our path, and some are about to follow,—all of them brilliant in sublime virtues practised within the ancient walls of this “City of flowers,” under the delighted glance and the urging influence of the Spirit of Love. But what shall we say of the glory of yonder mountains, that nobly crown this fair city,—a diadem lovely in men's eyes and still more so, to Angels' gaze? What, of Vallombrosa, and further in the blue distance, of Camaldoli, of Alberno?—all sacred fortresses, at whose foot hell trembling howls,—all sacred reservoirs of choicest grace, guarded by Seraphim, whence flow in gushing streams more abundant and more pure than Arno's tide, living waters of salvation on all the smiling land around!
In 1233, just thirty seven years previous to Juliana's birth, Florence seemed destined to be, under the holy influence of such a neighbourhood, a very paradise of sanctity; so common did the higher Christian life become,—of such every-day occurrence were supernatural prodigies. The Mother of Divine Grace was then multiplying her gifts. Once on a certain festival of the Assumption, seven of the citizens the most distinguished for nobility of blood, fortune, and public offices of trust, were suddenly inflamed by a heavenly desire to consecrate themselves unreservedly to the service of Our Lady. Presently, as these men passed along, bidding adieu to the world, babes at the breast cried out, all over the city: “Behold the Servants of the Virgin Mary!” Among the innocents whose tongue was thus unloosed to announce divine mysteries, was the new-born son of the illustrious family of Benizii, he was named Philip and had first seen the light on the very feast of the Assumption, whereon Mary had just founded for her glory and that of her Divine Son, the Order of the Servites.
We shall have to return to this child, who was to be the chief propagator of the new order; for holy Church celebrates his birthday into heaven, on the morrow of the [feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary]. He was destined to be Juliana's spiritual father. In the meanwhile, the Seven invited by Mary to the festival of penitence, who all persevering faithful unto death, are inscribed on the catalogue of the Saints,—had retired three leagues from Florence to the desert of Monte Senario. There Our Lady, during seven years, formed them to the great work, of which they were the predestined though unwitting instruments. According to His wont, the Holy Ghost, during all this preparatory season, though of long duration,—kept from them every idea save that of their own santification, employing them in the mortification of the senses, and in a spirit of exclusive contemplation of the sufferings of Our Lord and those of His divine Mother. Two amongst them, daily came down to the city to beg bread for themselves and their companions. One of these illustrious mendicants was Alexius Falconieri, the most eager for humiliations, amongst all the seven. His brother who, still continuing in the world, held one of the highest positions amongst the citizens, was in every way worthy of this blessed man, and paid homage to his heroic self-abasement. He likewise took an honourable share in the united gift bestowed, with the concurrence of all classes of these religious citizens, upon the solitaries of Monte Senario, whereby a magnificent Church was added to the poor retreat, they had been induced to accept, for greater convenience, at the gates of Florence.
To honour the mystery wherein their Sovereign Lady declared herself to be the humble servant of the Lord,—this church and monastery of the Servites of Mary received the title of the “Annunziata.” Among the marvels which wealth and art, in succeeding ages, have lavished upon its interior, the principal treasure which puts all the rest in the shade, is a primitive fresco of the angelical salutation, dating from the life-time of the founders,—the painter whereof, more devout to Mary, than skilful with his pencil, deserved to be aided by the hands of Angels. Signal favours obtained without interruption, from this sacred picture, still attract flocks of devout visitors. If the city of the Medici and of the Tuscan Grand-Dukes, though swallowed up by the universal brigandage of the house of Savoy, has preserved better than many others, the lively piety of better days,—she owes it to this her ancient Madonna, as well as to her numerous saints, who seem gathered within her walls, to serve as a cortège of honour for Our Lady.
These details seem necessary to throw light on the abridged account given in the Liturgy, regarding our Saint. Juliana, born of a sterile mother and of a father advanced in years, was the reward of the zeal displayed for the Annunziata, by her father, Carissimo Falconieri. Beside this picture of the Madonna was she to spend her life and to yield up her last breath; close by, her sacred relics now repose. Educated by her uncle, Saint Alexius, in the love of Mary and of humility, she devoted herself from her very youth to the Order founded by Our Lady; ambitioning no title save one, that of Oblate, which would entail upon her the serving, in the lowest rank, the Servites of God's Mother: for this reason, she was later on, acknowledged to be the foundress of the Third Order of the Servites, and was Superioress of the first community of these female tertiaries, surnamed “Mantellatӕ.” But her influence extended further still, so that the whole Order, both the men and the women, alike hail her as their Mother; for it was indeed she who put the finishing stroke to the work of its foundation, and gave it the stability it has been possesed of for centuries.
The Order which had become marvellously extended during forty years of miraculous existence and under the government of Saint Philip Benizi, was at that moment passing through a dangerous crisis, the more to be feared because the storm had taken rise in Rome itself. There was question of everywhere carrying into effect, the canons of the Councils of Lateran and Lyons, prohibiting the introduction of new Orders into the Church; now, the institute of the Servites being posterior to the first of these Councils, Innocent V was resolved on its suppression. The superiors had already been forbidden to receive any novice to Profession or to Clothing; and whilst awaiting the definitive sentence, the goods of the Order were considered, beforehand, as already devolved on the Holy See. Philip Benizi was about to die, and Juliana was but fifteen years of age. Nevertheless, enlightened from on high, the Saint hesitated not: he confided the Order to Juliana's hands, and so slept in the peace of our Lord. The event justified his hopes: after various catastrophes which it were long to relate, Benedict XI, in 1304, gave to the Servites, the definitive sanction of the Church. So true is it, that in the Counsels of Divine Providence, nor rank, nor age, nor sex, count for aught! The simplicity of a soul that has wounded the Heart of the Spouse, is stronger in her humble submission, than highest authority; and her unknown prayer prevails over powers established by God Himself.
Juliana, of the noble family of Falconieri, was daughter of that illustrious nobleman who founded and built the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, still to be seen in Florence. When she was born, in the year 1270, both he and Reguarda his wife were already advanced in years and up to this, quite childless. From her very cradle, she gave tokens of the holiness of life to which she afterwards attained. And from the lisping of her baby lips was caught the sweet sound of the names of Jesus and Mary. As she entered on her girlhood, she delivered herself up entirely to the pursuit of Christian virtues, and so excellently shone therein that her uncle, the blessed Alexius, scrupled not to tell her mother that she had given birth to an Angel rather than to a woman. So modest, indeed, was her countenance, and so pure her soul from the slightest speck of indiscretion, that she never in her whole life raised her eyes to a man's face, and that the very mention of sin made her shiver; and when the story of a grievous crime was told her, she dropped down fainting and almost lifeless. Before she had completed her fifteenth year, she renounced her inheritance, although a rich one, and all prospect of earthly marriage, solemnly making to God a vow of virginity, in the hands of St. Philip Benizi, from whom she was the first to receive the religious habit of what are called the “Mantellatӕ.”
Juliana's example was followed by many young women of noble families, and even her own mother put herself under her daughter's instructions. Thus in a little while, their number increased, and she became foundress of the Order of the Mantellatӕ, to whom she gave a rule of life, full of wisdom and holiness. St. Philip Benizi having thorough knowledge of her virtues, being at the point of death, thought that to none better than to her, could he leave the care not only of the women but of the whole Order of Servites, of which he was the propagator and head; yet of herself she ever deemed most lowly; even when she was the mistress of others, ministering to her sisters in the meanest offices of the household work. She passed whole days in incessant prayer, and was often rapt in spirit; and the remainder of her time, she toiled to make peace among the citizens, who were at variance amongst themselves; to recall sinners from evil courses; and to nurse the sick, to cure whom she would sometimes use even her tongue to remove the matter that ran from their sores, and so healed them. It was her custom to afflict her body with whips, knotted cords, iron girdles, watching, and sleeping upon the bare ground. Upon four days in the week, she ate very sparingly, and that only of the coarsest food; on the other two she contented herself with the Bread of Angels alone, except Saturday whereon she took only bread and water.
This hardship of life caused her to fall ill of a stomach complaint, which increasing, brought her to the point of death, when she was seventy years of age. She bore the daily sufferings of this long illness with a smiling face and a brave heart; the only thing of which she was heard to complain being, that her stomach was so weak, that unable to retain food, she was withheld, by reverence for the holy Sacrament, from the Eucharistic Table. Finding herself in these straits she begged the Priest to bring her the Divine Bread, and as she dared not take It into her mouth, to put It as near as possible to her heart exteriorly. The Priest did as she wished, and to the amazement of all present, the Divine Bread at once disappeared from sight, and at the same instant, a smile of joyous peace crossed the face of Juliana, and she gave up the ghost. This matter seemed beyond all belief, until the virginal body was being laid out in the accustomed manner; for then there was found, upon the left side of the bosom, a mark like the stamp of a seal, reproducing the form of the Sacred Host, the mould of which was one of those that bear a figure of Christ crucified. The report of this and of other wonders procured for Juliana a reverence not only from Florence, but from all parts of the Christian world, which reverence so increased through the course of four hundred years, that Pope Benedict XIII commanded a proper Office in her honour to be celebrated by the whole Order of Servites of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Clement XII the munificent Protector of the same Order, finding new signs and wonders shedding lustre upon her glory every day, inscribed the name of Juliana upon the catalogue of holy Virgins.
Another account of St. Juliana Falconieri.
The illustrious family of Falconieri in Italy received great honour from the sanctity of this holy virgin. Her father, Charissimus Falconieri, and his pious lady, Reguardata, were both advanced in years, and seemed to have lost all hopes of issue, when in 1270 they were wonderfully blessed with the birth of our saint. Devoting themselves afterwards solely to the exercises of religion, they built and founded at their own expense the stately church of the Annunciation of our Lady in Florence, which for riches and the elegance of the structure, may at this day be ranked among the wonders of the world. B. Alexius Falconieri, the only brother of Charissimus, and uncle of our saint, was with St. Philip Beniti, one of the seven first propagators and pillars of the Order of Servites, or persons devoted to the service of God under the special patronage of the Virgin Mary. Juliana in her infancy seemed almost to anticipate the ordinary course of nature in the use of reason, by her early piety; and the first words she learned to pronounce were the sacred names, Jesu, Maria. Fervent prayer and mortification chiefly took up her attention at an age which seems usually scarcely capable of any thing serious. Such was her angelical modesty, that she never durst lift up her eyes to look any man in the face; and so great was her horror of sin that the very name of it made her almost fall into a swoon.
In the sixteenth year of her age, despising whatever seemed not conducive to virtue, she bid adieu to all worldly thoughts and pleasures, renounced her great estate and fortune, and the better to seek the inestimable jewel of the gospel, she consecrated her virginity to God, and received from the hands of St. Philip Beniti the religious veil of the Mantellatӕ. The religious men among the Servites are called the first Order. St. Philip Beniti constituted his second Order, which is that of the nuns, in favour of certain devout ladies. The Mantellatӕ are a third Order of the Servites, and take their name from a particular kind of short sleeves which they wear, as fittest for their work. They were instituted to serve the sick, and for other offices of charity, and at the beginning were not obliged to strict inclosure. Of this third Order St. Juliana was, under the direction of St. Philip, the first plant; and as she grew up, the great reputation of her prudence and sanctity drawing to her many devout ladies, who desired to follow the same institute, she was obliged to accept the charge of prioress. Though she was the spiritual mother of the rest, she made it her delight and study to serve all her sisters. She often spent whole days in prayer, and frequently received great heavenly favours. She never let slip any opportunity of performing offices of charity towards her neighbours, especially of reconciling enemies, reclaiming sinners, and serving the sick. She sucked the most nauseous ulcers of scorbutic patients and lepers; by which means the sores are cleansed without the knife, or painful pressure of the surgeon's hand, and a cure rendered more easy. By an imitation of this mortification and charity, do many pious religious persons, who attend the hospitals of the poor, gain an heroic victory over themselves. Saint Juliana practised incredible austerities. In her old age she was afflicted with various painful distempers, which she bore with inexpressible cheerfulness and joy. One thing afflicted her in her last sickness, that she was deprived of the comfort and happiness of uniting her soul with her divine Spouse in the sacrament of the altar, which she was not able to receive by reason that her stomach, by continually vomiting, could not retain any food. The sacred host however was brought into her cell, and there suddenly disappeared out of the hands of the priest. After her death the figure of the host was found imprinted on the left side of her breast; by which prodigy it was judged that Christ had miraculously satisfied her languishing holy desire. She died in her convent at Florence in the year 1340, of her age seventy. Miracles have been frequently effected through her intercession, among which several have been juridically proved. Pope Benedict XIII enrolled her name among the blessed in 1729. His successor, Clement XII put the last hand to her canonization. Her Order is propagated in Italy and Austria.
Example - St. Juliana Falconieri
The following was extracted from: "The Fairest Flower of Paradise; Considerations on the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, Enriched with Examples Drawn from the Lives of the Saints", by Fr. Alexis M. Lepicier O.S.M., p. 68-70, 1922, Imprimatur
One of those souls who applied themselves especially to imitate the spotless purity of the Mother of God,
was without doubt the illustrious Foundress of the Mantellate Sisters of the Servants of Mary, St. Juliana, a descendant of the powerful Falconieri family of Florence, born in the second half of the thirteenth century.
During her childhood, her whole personality breathed forth such candor and modesty, that her uncle St. Alexis, one of the Seven Holy Founders of the Order of the Servants of Mary, used to say to her mother that she had given birth to an angel rather than to a child. So great was her horror of sin, that at its bare mention she trembled from head to foot, and one day when she heard tell of some offense against God, she fell down in a swoon.
When only fourteen, she made a vow of perpetual virginity before the miraculous picture of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence. In order to keep herself always pure and spotless, she
afflicted her body with disciplines and hairshirts, so much so, that these latter became embedded in her flesh. Such virtues could not but arouse the hatred of the infernal enemy, who attacked her with all manner of fierce temptations, but the holy servant
of Mary used to repeat: "My Jesus, cast me into hell, but do not permit me to offend Thee!"
So great was the sanctity of Juliana, that, as we read in the Bull of her Canonization, she did not commit any deliberate venial sin throughout her whole life. The secret of such holiness is to be found in her ardent devotion to the sorrows of Mary. Every day she recited a thousand Hail Marys before Our Lady's altar. From this devotion there grew in her heart a deep love for Jesus Crucified. She was wont to exclaim: "Let no one ever take away from me my Loved One Crucified."
No doubt it was owing to this great devotion, that Juliana merited the singular grace which crowned her life. In her last extremity, she desired to receive Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, but not being able to do this on account of an excessive weakness caused by fasting, she begged the priest at least to place the Sacred Host on a linen cloth over her heart. Her wish was complied with, and lo! as soon as the Sacred Host was placed near to that furnace of divine love, It disappeared and Juliana gave up her soul into the hands of her Lord, exclaiming: "O my Jesus!" This remarkable death took place on the nineteenth of June, 1341.
O Mary, Mother of Our Redeemer, Immaculate Virgin, temple of God, and sanctuary of the Holy Ghost, thou art the sole creature who in such a manner wast pleasing to Jesus Christ, that He associated thee in the work of our ransom. Grant me, I beseech thee, to flee sin, and never to seek anything but the good pleasure of God. Amen.
An indulgenced prayer to St. Juliana Falconieri.
His Holiness, Leo XIII, by a rescript of the S. Congr. of Indulgences, dated July 20, 1889, granted to the faithful who shall say the above prayer AN INDULGENCE OF TWO HUNDRED DAYS, once a day.
O faithful Spouse of Jesus Christ and most humble Servant of the Sorrowful Virgin, glorious S. Juliana, when nearing the term of a life all spent in the practice of the most heroic virtues, you felt but the one grief of being prevented by sickness from receiving in viaticum your Beloved; but this grief proved to be so pleasing to your heavenly Spouse Jesus Christ that he deigned himself to reward it by an extraordinary prodigy, when, behold, at your supplications, the Divine Sacrament having been placed on your virginal breast, it instantly penetrated the same, leaving the image of the Crucified visibly impressed thereon, whilst your soul, with a sweet smile, expired in his sacred embrace. O great Saint, and my special Patroness, obtain for us from God, we pray, the grace to live a holy life like to yours, that we may die a holy death; and in particular that, prepared for this last voyage, provided with the Holy Sacrament, and strengthened with God’s grace, I may deserve a holy demise and escape eternal death.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year –
Time After Pentecost, Vol. III, Dublin, Edition 1890;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. VI, 1866;
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Juliana Falconieri, pray for us.