March 8, 2021: ST. JOHN OF GOD, CONFESSOR
[Founder of the Order of Charity]
Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord, when he shall come and knock at the gate, shall find watching.
O God, who didst grant thy servant John, being inflamed with the fire of thy love, to walk without hurt thro’ the midst of flames, and by him didst institute a new order in thy Church; grant by his merits, that the fire of thy charity may cure our diseased souls, and obtain for us eternal remedies. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
This day [last] month we were keeping the feast of St. John of Matha, whose characteristic virtue was charity; our Saint of to-day was like him; love for his neighbour led him to devote himself to the service of them that most needed help. Both are examples to us of what is a principal duty of this present Season: they are models of Fraternal Charity. They teach us this great lesson,—that our love of God is false, if our hearts are not disposed to show mercy to our neighbour, and help him in his necessities and troubles. It is the same lesson as that which the Beloved Disciple gives us, when he says: He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in need, and shall put up his mercy from him,—how doth the Charity of God abide in him? (I St. John, iii. 7) But, if there can be no love of God, where there is none for our neighbour,—the love of our neighbour itself is not genuine, unless it be accompanied by a love of our Creator and Redeemer. The charity which the world has set up, which it calls Philanthropy, and which it exercises not in the name of God, but solely for the sake of man,—this pretended virtue is a mere delusion, is incapable of producing love between those who give and those who receive, and its results must, necessarily, be unsatisfactory. There is but one tie, which can make men love one another:—that tie is God, who created them all, and commands them all to be one in him. To serve mankind for its own sake, is to make a god of it; and even viewing the workings of the two systems in this single point of view,—the relief they afford to temporal suffering,—what comparison is there between mere Philanthropy, and that supernatural Charity of the humble disciples of Christ, who make Him the very motive and end of all they do for their afflicted brethren? The Saint, we honour today, was called John of God, because the Name of God was ever on his lips. His heroic acts of charity had no other motive than that of pleasing God; God alone was the inspirer of the tender love he had for his suffering fellow-creatures. Let us imitate his example, for our Lord assures us, that he considers as done to himself, whatsoever we do even for the least of his disciples.
The Liturgy thus portrays the virtues of our Saint.
John of God was born of Catholic and virtuous parents, in Portugal, in the town of Montemor. At his birth, a bright light shone upon the house, and the church bell was heard to ring of itself; God thus evincing to what great things he destined this his servant. For some time he fell into a lax way of living; but was reclaimed by God's grace, and led a very holy life. His conversion was effected by his hearing a sermon, and so fervently did he practise the exercises of a devout life, that, from the very first, he seemed to have attained the height of perfection. He gave whatsoever he possessed to the poor who were in prison. Extraordinary were the penances he inflicted on himself; and the contempt he had for himself induced him to do certain things, which led some people to accuse him of madness, so that he was for some time confined in a madhouse. His charity only increased by such treatment. He collected alms sufficient to build two large hospitals in the city of Granada, where also he began the new Order, wherewith he enriched the Church. This Order was called the Institute of Friars Hospitallers. Its object was to assist the sick, both in their spiritual and corporal wants. Its success was very great, and it had Houses in almost all parts of the world.
The Saint often carried the sick poor on his own shoulders to the hospital, and there he provided them with everything they could want, whether in soul or body. His charity was not confined within the limits of his hospitals. He secretly provided food for indigent widows, and girls whose virtue was exposed to danger. Nothing could exceed the zeal wherewith he laboured to reclaim such as had fallen into sins of impurity. On occasion of an immense fire breaking out in the royal Hospital of Granada, John fearlessly threw himself into the midst of the flames. He went through the several wards, taking the sick upon his shoulders, and throwing the beds through the windows, so that all were saved. He remained half an hour amidst the flames, which raged with wildest fury in every part of the building. He was miraculously preserved from the slightest injury, and came forth to the astonishment of the whole city, teaching the people, who had witnessed what had happened, that, in the disciples of charity, there is a fire within their hearts more active than any which could burn the body.
Among the virtues wherein he wonderfully excelled, may be mentioned his many practices of bodily mortification, profound obedience, extreme poverty, love of prayer, contemplation, and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He also possessed, in an extraordinary degree, the gift of tears. At length, falling seriously ill, he fervently received the last Sacraments. Though reduced to a state of utter weakness, he dressed himself, rose from his bed, fell on his knees, devoutly took the Crucifix into his hands, pressed it to his heart, and kissing it, died on the eighth of the Ides of March (March 8th), in the year 1550. He remained in this same attitude, with the Crucifix still in his hands, for about six hours after his death. The entire city came to see the holy corpse, which gave forth a heavenly fragrance. The body was then removed, in order that it might be buried. God honoured his servant by many miracles, both before and after his death, and he was canonised by Pope Alexander the Eighth.
Another account of St. John of God.
St. John, surnamed of God, was born in Portugal, in 1495. His parents were of the lowest rank in the country, but devout and charitable. John spent a considerable part of his youth in service, under the mayoral or chief shepherd of the count of Oropeusa in Castile, and in great innocence and virtue. In 1522, he listed himself in a company of foot raised by the count, and served in the wars between the French and Spaniards; as he did afterwards in Hungary, against the Turks, while the emperor Charles V was king of Spain. By the licentiousness of his companions, he by degrees lost his fear of offending God, and laid aside the greatest part of his practices of devotion. The troop which he belonged to being disbanded, he went into Andalusia in 1536, where he entered the service of a rich lady near Seville, in quality of shepherd. Being now about forty years of age, stung with remorse for his past misconduct, he began to entertain very serious thoughts of a change of life, and doing penance for his sins. He accordingly employed the greatest part of his time, both by day and night, in the exercises of prayer and mortification; bewailing almost continually his ingratitude towards God, and deliberating how he could dedicate himself in the most perfect manner to his service. His compassion for the distressed moved him to take a resolution of leaving his place, and passing into Africa, that he might comfort and succor the poor slaves there, not without hopes of meeting with the crown of martyrdom. At Gibraltar he met with a Portuguese gentleman condemned to banishment, and whose estate had also been confiscated by king John III. He was then in the hands of the king's officers, together with his wife and children, and on his way to Ceuta, in Barbary, the place of his exile. John, out of charity and compassion, served him without any wages. At Ceuta, the gentleman falling sick with grief and the change of air, was soon reduced to such straits as to be obliged to dispose of the small remains of his shattered fortune for the family's support. John, not content to sell what little stock he was master of to relieve them, went to day-labor at the public works, to earn all he could for their subsistence. The apostacy of one of his companions alarmed him; and his confessor telling him that his going in quest of martyrdom was an illusion, he determined to return to Spain. Coming back to Gibraltar, his piety suggested to him to turn pedler, and sell little pictures and books of devotion, which might furnish him with opportunities of exhorting his customers to virtue. His stock increasing considerably, he settled in Granada, where he opened a shop, in 1538, being then forty-three years of age.
The great preacher and servant of God, John D'Avila [St. John of Avila], surnamed the Apostle of Andalusia, preached that year at Granada, on St. Sebastian's day, which is there kept as a great festival. John, having heard his sermon, was so affected with it, that, melting into tears, he filled the whole church with his cries and lamentations; detesting his past life, beating his breast, and calling aloud for mercy. Not content with this, he ran about the streets like a distracted person, tearing his hair, and behaving in such a manner that he was followed everywhere by the rabble with sticks and stones, and came home all besmeared with dirt and blood. He then gave away all he had in the world, and having thus reduced himself to absolute poverty, that he might die to himself, and crucify all the sentiments of the old man, he began again to counterfeit the madman, running about the streets as before, till some had the charity to take him to the venerable John D'Avila, covered with dirt and blood. The holy man, full of the Spirit of God, soon discovered in John the motions of extraordinary graces, spoke to him in private, heard his general confession, and gave him proper advice, and promised his assistance ever after. John, out of a desire of the greatest humiliations, returned soon after to his apparent madness and extravagances. He was, thereupon, taken up and put into a madhouse, on supposition of his being disordered in his senses, where the severest methods were used to bring him to himself, all which he underwent in the spirit of penance, and by way of atonement for the sins of his past life. D'Avila, being informed of his conduct, came to visit him, and found him reduced almost to the grave by weakness, and his body covered with wounds and sores; but his soul was still vigorous, and thirsting with the greatest ardor after new sufferings and humiliations. D'Avila however told him, that having now been sufficiently exercised in that so singular a method of penance and humiliation, he advised him to employ himself for the time to come in something more conducive to his own and the public good. His exhortation had its desired effect; and he grew instantly calm and sedate, to the great astonishment of his keepers. He continued, however, some time longer in the hospital, serving the sick, but left it entirely on St. Ursula's day, in 1539. This his extraordinary conduct is an object of our admiration, not of our imitation: in this saint it was the effect of the fervor of his conversion, his desire of humiliation, and a holy hatred of himself and his past criminal life. By it he learned in a short time perfectly to die to himself and the world; which prepared his soul for the graces which God afterwards bestowed on him. He then thought of executing his design of doing something for the relief of the poor; and, after a pilgrimage to our Lady's in Guadaloupa, to recommend himself and his undertaking to her intercession, in a place celebrated for devotion to her, he began by selling wood in the market-place, to feed some poor by the means of his labor. Soon after he hired a house to harbor poor sick persons in, whom he served and provided for with an ardor, prudence, economy, and vigilance, that surprised the whole city. This was the foundation of the order of charity, in 1540, which, by the benediction of heaven, has since been spread all over Christendom. John was occupied all day in serving his patients: in the night he went out to carry in new objects of charity, rather than to seek out provisions for them; for people, of their own accord, brought him in all necessaries for his little hospital. The archbishop of Granada, taking notice of so excellent an establishment, and admiring the incomparable order observed in it, both for the spiritual and temporal care of the poor, furnished considerable sums to increase it, and favored it with his protection. This excited all persons to vie with each other in contributing to it. Indeed the charity, patience, and modesty of St. John, and his wonderful care and foresight, engaged every one to admire and favor the institute. The bishop of Tuy, president of the royal court of judicature in Granada, having invited the holy man to dinner, put several questions to him, to all which he answered in such a manner, as gave the bishop the highest esteem of his person. It was this prelate that gave him the name of John of God, and prescribed him a kind of habit, though St. John never thought of founding a religious order: for the rules which bear his name were only drawn up in 1556, six years after his death; and religious vows were not introduced among his brethren before the year 1570.
To make trial of the saint's disinterestedness, the marquis of Tarisa came to him in disguise to beg an alms, on pretence of a necessary lawsuit, and he received from his hands twenty-five ducats, which was all he had. The marquis was so much edified by his charity, that, besides returning the sum, he bestowed on him one hundred and fifty crowns of gold, and sent to his hospital every day, during his stay at Granada, one hundred and fifty loaves, four sheep, and six pullets. But the holy man gave a still more illustrious proof of his charity when the hospital was on fire; for he carried out most of the sick on his own back: and though he passed and repassed through the flames, and stayed in the midst of them a considerable time, he received no hurt. But his charity was not confined to his own hospital: he looked upon it as his own misfortune if the necessities of any distressed person in the whole country had remained unrelieved. He therefore made strict inquiry into the wants of the poor over the whole province, relieved many in their own houses, employed in a proper manner those that were able to work, and with wonderful sagacity laid himself out every way to comfort and assist all the afflicted members of Christ. He was particularly active and vigilant in settling and providing for young maidens in distress, to prevent the danger to which they are often exposed, of taking bad courses. He also reclaimed many who were already engaged in vice: for which purpose he sought out public sinners, and holding a crucifix in his hand, with many tears exhorted them to repentance. Though his life seemed to be taken up in continual action, he accompanied it with perpetual prayer and incredible corporal austerities. And his tears of devotion, his frequent raptures, and his eminent spirit of contemplation, gave a lustre to his other virtues. But his sincere humility appeared most admirable in all his actions, even amid the honors which he received at the court of Valladolid, whither business called him. The king and princes seemed to vie with each other who should show him the greatest courtesy, or put the largest alms in his hands; whose charitable contributions he employed with great prudence in Valladolid itself, and the adjacent country. Only perfect virtue could stand the test of honors, amid which he appeared the most humble. Humiliations seemed to be his delight: these he courted and sought, and always underwent them with great alacrity. One day, when a woman called him hypocrite, and loaded him with invectives, he gave her privately a piece of money, and desired her to repeat all she had said in the market-place.
Worn out at last by ten years' hard service in his hospital, he fell sick. The immediate occasion of his distemper seemed to be excess of fatigue in saving wood and other such things for the poor in a great flood, in which, seeing a person in danger of being drowned, he swam in his long clothes to endeavor to rescue him, not without imminent hazard of his own life: but he could not see his Christian brother perish without endeavoring at all hazards to succor him. He at first concealed his sickness, that he might not be obliged to diminish his labors and extraordinary austerities; but in the mean time he carefully revised the inventories of all things belonging to his hospital, and inspected all the accounts. He also reviewed all the excellent regulations which he had made for its administration, the distribution of time, and the exercises of piety to be observed in it. Upon a complaint that he harbored idle strollers and bad women, the archbishop sent for him, and laid open the charge against him. The man of God threw himself prostrate at his feet, and said: “The Son of God came for sinners, and we are obliged to promote their conversion, to exhort them, and to sigh and pray for them. I am unfaithful to my vocation because I neglect this; and I confess that I know no other bad person in my hospital but myself; who, as I am obliged to own with extreme confusion, am a most base sinner, altogether unworthy to eat the bread of the poor.” This he spoke with so much feeling and humility that all present were much moved, and the archbishop dismissed him with respect, leaving all things to his discretion. His illness increasing, the news of it was spread abroad. The lady Anne Ossorio was no sooner informed of his condition, but she came in her coach to the hospital to see him. The servant of God lay in his habit in his little cell, covered with a piece of an old coat instead of a blanket, and having under his head, not indeed a stone, as was his custom, but a basket, in which he used to beg alms in the city for his hospital. The poor and sick stood weeping round him. The lady, moved with compassion, dispatched secretly a message to the archbishop, who sent immediately an order to St. John to obey her as he would do himself, during his illness. By virtue of this authority she obliged him to leave his hospital. He named Anthony Martin superior in his place, and gave moving instructions to his brethren, recommending to them, in particular, obedience and charity. In going out he visited the blessed sacrament, and poured forth his heart before it with extraordinary fervor; remaining there absorbed in his devotions so long, that the lady Anne Ossorio caused him to be taken up and carried into her coach, in which she conveyed him to her own house. She herself prepared with the help of her maids, and gave him with her own hands, his broths and other things, and often read to him the history of the passion of our Redeemer. He complained that while our Saviour, in his agony, drank gall, they gave him, a miserable sinner, broths. The whole city was in tears; all the nobility visited him; the magistrates came to beg he would give his benediction to their city. He answered, that his sins rendered him the scandal and reproach of their country; but recommended to them his brethren, the poor, and his religious that served them. At last, by order of the archbishop, he gave the city his dying benediction. His exhortations to all were most pathetic. His prayer consisted of most humble sentiments of compunction and inflamed aspirations of divine love. The archbishop said mass in his chamber, heard his confession, gave him the viaticum and extreme unction, and promised to pay all his debts, and to provide for all his poor. The saint expired on his knees, before the altar, on the 8th of March, in 1550, being exactly fifty-five years old. He was buried by the archbishop at the head of all the clergy, both secular and regular, accompanied by all the court, noblesse, and city, with the utmost pomp. He was honored by many miracles, beatified by Urban VIII in 1630, and canonized by Alexander VIII in 1690. His relics were translated into the church of his brethren in 1664. His order of charity to serve the sick was approved of by pope Pius V. The Spaniards [used to] have their own general: but the religious in France and Italy [used to] obey a general who resides at Rome. They follow the rule of St. Austin.
One sermon perfectly converted one who had been long enslaved to the world and his passions, and made him a saint. How comes it that so many sermons and pious books produce so little fruit in our souls? It is altogether owing to our sloth and wilful hardness of heart, that we receive God's omnipotent word in vain, and to our most grievous condemnation. The heavenly seed can take no root in hearts which receive it with indifference and insensibility, or it is trodden upon and destroyed by the dissipation and tumult of our disorderly affections, or it is choked by the briers and thorns of earthly concerns. To profit by it, we must listen to it with awe and respect, in the silence of all creatures, in interior solitude and peace, and must carefully nourish it in our hearts. The holy law of God is comprised in the precept of divine love; a precept so sweet, a virtue so glorious and so happy, as to carry along with it its present incomparable reward. St. John, from the moment of his conversion, by the penitential austerities which he performed, was his own greatest persecutor; but it was chiefly by heroic works of charity that he endeavored to offer to God the most acceptable sacrifice of compunction, gratitude, and love. What encouragement has Christ given us in every practice of this virtue, by declaring, that whatever we do to others he esteems as done to himself! To animate ourselves to fervor, we may often call to mind what St. John frequently repeated to his disciples, “Labor without intermission to do all the good works in your power, while time is allowed you.” His spirit of penance, love, and fervor he inflamed by meditating assiduously on the sufferings of Christ, of which he often used to say: “Lord, thy thorns are my roses, and thy sufferings my paradise.”
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. John of God, pray for us.
March 7, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS, CONFESSOR AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
“Wherefore I wished, and understanding
was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of Wisdom came upon me: And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones, and esteemed riches nothing in comparison of her. Neither did I compare unto her any precious stone: for all gold in comparison of
her, is as a little sand, and silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay. I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for her light cannot be put out. Now all good things came to me together with her, and innumerable
riches through her hands, And rejoiced in all these: for this wisdom went before me, and I knew not that she was the mother of them all. Which I have learned without guile, and communicate without envy, and her riches I hide not. For she is an infinite treasure
to men! which they that use, become the friends of God, being commended for the gift of discipline.”
(Wisdom, vii. 7-14)
O God, who, by the wonderful learning of blessed Thomas, thy Confessor, hast illustrated thy church, and enlarged it by his virtues; grant, we beseech thee, we may understand what he taught, and in our lives follow what he practised. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The Saint we are to honour to-day, is one of the sublimest and most lucid interpreters of Divine Truth. He rose up in the Church many centuries after the Apostolic Age, nay, long after the four great Latin Doctors, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory. The Church, the ever young and joyful Mother, is justly proud of her Thomas, and has honoured him with the splendid title of The Angelical Doctor, on account of the extraordinary gift of understanding wherewith God had blessed him; just as his co-temporary and friend, St. Bonaventure, has been called the Seraphic Doctor, on account of the wonderful unction which abounds in the writings of this worthy disciple of St. Francis. Thomas of Aquin is an honour to mankind, for perhaps there never existed a man whose intellect surpassed his. He is one of the brightest ornaments of the Church, for not one of her Doctors has equalled him in the clearness and precision wherewith he has explained her doctrines. He received the thanks of Christ himself, for having well written of him and his mysteries. How welcome ought not this Feast of such a Saint to be to us during this Season of the Year, when our main study is our return and conversion to God? What greater blessing could we have than the coming to know this God? Has not our ignorance of God, and his claims, and his perfections, been the greatest misery of our past lives? Here we have a Saint whose prayers are most efficacious in procuring for us that knowledge, which is unspotted, and converteth souls, and giveth wisdom to little ones, and gladdeneth the heart, and enlighteneth the eyes (Ps, xviii. 8, 9). Happy we if this spiritual wisdom be granted us! We shall then see the vanity of everything that is not eternal, the righteousness of the divine commandments, the malice of sin, and the infinite goodness wherewith God treats us when we repent.
Let us learn from the Church the claims of the Angelical Doctor to our admiration and confidence.
Thomas was born of noble parents, his father being Landulph, Count of Aquino, and his mother a rich Neapolitan lady, by name Theodora. When he was five years old, he was sent to Monte Cassino, that he might receive from the Benedictine Monks his first training. Thence he was sent to Naples, where he went through a course of studies, and, young as he was, joined the Order of Friars Preachers. This step caused great displeasure to his mother and brothers, and it was therefore deemed advisable to send him to Paris. He was waylaid by his brothers, who seized him, and imprisoned him in the castle of Saint John. After having made several unsuccessful attempts to induce him to abandon the holy life he had chosen, they assailed his purity, by sending to him a wicked woman: but he drove her from his chamber with a fire-brand. The young saint then threw himself on his knees before a crucifix. Having prayed some time, he fell asleep, and it seemed to him that two Angels approached to him, and tightly girded his loins. From that time forward, he never suffered the slightest feeling against purity. His sisters, also, had come to the castle, and tried to make him change his mind; but he, on the contrary, persuaded them to despise the world, and devote themselves to the exercise of a holy life.
It was contrived that he should escape through a window of the castle, and return to Naples. He was thence taken by John the Teutonic, the general of the Dominican Order, first to Rome, and then to Paris, in which latter city he was taught philosophy and theology by Albert the Great. At the age of twenty-five, he received the title of Doctor, and explained in the public schools, and in a manner that made him the object of universal admiration, the writings of philosophers and theologians. He always applied himself to prayer, before reading or writing anything. When he met with any difficult passage in the Sacred Scriptures, he both fasted and prayed. He used often to say to his companion, Brother Reginald, that if he knew anything, it was more a gift from God, than the fruit of his own study and labour. One day, when at Naples, as he was praying, with more than his usual fervour, before a crucifix, he heard these words: “Well hast thou written of me, Thomas! What reward wouldst thou have me give thee?” He answered: “None other, Lord, but thyself.”
There was not a book which he had not most carefully read. His favourite spiritual book was the Conferences of the Fathers. He was most zealous in preaching the Word of God. On one occasion, during Easter Week, as he was preaching in the Church of St. Peter, a woman touched the hem of his habit, and was cured of an issue of blood. His writings are so extraordinary, not only for their number and their variety, but also for their clearness in the explaining difficult points of doctrine, that he has received the title of Angelical Doctor. He was invited to Rome by Pope Urban the Fourth, but nothing could induce him to accept the honours which were offered him. He refused the Archbishopric of Naples, which Pope Clement the Fourth begged him to accept. He was sent by Gregory the Tenth to the Council of Lyons; but having got as far as Fossa Nova, he fell sick, and was received as a guest in the Monastery of that place, and wrote a commentary on the Canticle of Canticles. There he died, in the fiftieth year of his age, in the year of our Lord 1274, on the Nones of March (March 7th). His sanctity was made manifest by miracles, both before and after his death. He was canonized by [Pope] John the Twenty-second, in the year 1323. His body was translated to Toulouse, during the Pontificate of Urban the Fifth.
Another account of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The counts of Aquino, who have flourished in the kingdom of Naples these last ten centuries, derive their pedigree from a certain Lombard prince. They were allied to the kings of Sicily and Aragon, to St. Lewis of France, and many other sovereign houses of Europe. Our saint's grandfather having married the sister of the emperor Frederick I, he was himself grand nephew to that prince, and second cousin to the emperor Henry VI, and in the third degree to Frederick II. His father, Landulph, was count of Aquino, and lord of Loretto and Belcastro: his mother Theodora was daughter to the count of Theate. The saint was born towards the end of the year 1226. St. Austin observes, that the most tender age is subject to various passions, as of impatience, choler, jealousy, spite, and the like, which appear in children: no such thing was seen in Thomas. The serenity of his countenance, the constant evenness of his temper, his modesty and sweetness, were sensible marks that God prevented him with his early graces. The count of Aquino conducted him to the abbey of Mount Cassino, when he was but five years old, to be instructed by those good monks in the first principles of religion and learning; and his tutors soon saw with joy the rapidity of his progress, his great talents, and his happy dispositions to virtue. He was but ten years of age when the abbot told his father that it was time to send him to some university. The count, before he sent him to Naples, took him for some months to see his mother at his seat at Loretto, the place which, about the end of that century, grew famous for devotion to our Lady. Thomas was the admiration of the whole family. Amidst so much company, and so many servants, he appeared always as much recollected, and occupied on God, as he had been in the monastery; he spoke little, and always to the purpose; and he employed all his time in prayer, or serious and profitable exercises. His great delight seemed to be to intercede for, and to distribute, his parents’ plentiful alms among the poor at the gate, whom he studied by a hundred ingenious contrivances to relieve. He robbed himself of his own victuals for that purpose; which his father having discovered, he gave him leave to distribute things at discretion, which liberty he made good use of for the little time he stayed. The countess, apprehensive of the dangers her son's innocence might be exposed to in an academy, desired that he should perform his studies with a private preceptor under her own eyes; but the father, knowing the great advantages of emulation and mutual communication in studies, was determined to send him to Naples, where the emperor Frederick II, being exasperated against Bologna, had lately, in 1224, erected a university, forbidding students to resort to any other in Italy. This immediately drew thither great numbers of students, and with them disorder and licentiousness, like that described by St. Austin in the great schools of Carthage. Thomas soon perceived the dangers, and regretted the sanctuary of Mount Cassino: but by his extraordinary watchfulness, he lived here like the young Daniel in the midst of Babylon, or Toby in the infidel Ninive. He guarded his eyes with an extreme caution, shunned entirely all conversation with any woman whatever, and with any young men whose steady virtue did not render him perfectly secure as to their behavior. While others went to profane diversions, he retired into some church or into his closet, making prayer and study his only pleasure. He learned rhetoric under Peter Martin, and philosophy under Peter of Hibernia, one of the most learned men of his age, and with such wonderful progress, that he repeated the lessons more clearly than the master had explained them: yet his greater care was to advance daily in the science of the saints, by holy prayer, and all good works. His humility concealed them; but his charity and fervor sometimes betrayed his modesty, and discovered them, especially in his great alms, for which he deprived himself of almost all things, and in which he was careful to hide from his left-hand what his right did.
The Order of St. Dominick, who had been dead twenty-two years, then abounded with men full of the spirit of God. The frequent conversations Thomas had with one of that body, a very interior holy man, filled his heart with heavenly devotion and comfort, and inflamed him daily with a more ardent love of God, which so burned in his breast that at his prayers his countenance seemed one day, as it were, to dart rays of light, and he conceived a vehement desire to consecrate himself wholly to God in that Order. His tutor perceived his inclinations and informed the count of the matter, who omitted neither threats nor promises to defeat such a design. But the saint, not listening to flesh and blood in the call of heaven, demanded with earnestness to be admitted into the Order, and accordingly received the habit in the convent of Naples, in 1243, being then seventeen years old. The countess Theodora his mother, being informed of it, set out for Naples to disengage him, if possible, from that state of life. Her son, on the first news of her journey, begged his superiors to remove him, as they did first to the convent of St. Sabina in Rome, and soon after to Paris, out of the reach of his relations. Two of his brothers, Landulph and Reynold, commanders in the emperor's army in Tuscany, by her direction so well guarded all the roads that he fell into their hands, near Acqua-pendente. They endeavored to pull off his habit, but he resisted them so violently that they conducted him in it to the seat of his parents, called Rocca-Secca. The mother, overjoyed at their success, made no doubt of overcoming her son's resolution. She endeavored to persuade him that to embrace such an Order, against his parents' advice, could not be the call of heaven; adding all manner of reasons, fond caresses, entreaties, and tears. Nature made her eloquent and pathetic. He appeared sensible of her affliction, but his constancy was not to be shaken. His answers were modest and respectful, but firm, in showing his resolution to be the call of God, and ought consequently to take place of all other views whatsoever, even for his service any other way. At last, offended at his unexpected resistance, she expressed her displeasure in very choleric words, and ordered him to be more closely confined and guarded, and that no one should see him but his two sisters. The reiterated solicitations of the young ladies were a long and violent assault. They omitted nothing that flesh and blood could inspire on such an occasion, and represented to him the danger of causing the death of his mother by grief. He on the contrary spoke to them in so moving a manner, on the contempt of the world, and the love of virtue, that they both yielded to the force of his reasons for his quitting the world, and, by his persuasion, devoted themselves to a sincere practice of piety.
This solitude furnished him with the most happy opportunity for holy contemplation and assiduous prayer. Some time after, his sisters conveyed to him some books, viz., a Bible, Aristotle's logics, and the works of the Master of the Sentences. During this interval his two brothers, Landulph and Reynold, returning home from the army, found their mother in the greatest affliction, and the young novice triumphant in his resolution. They would needs undertake to overcome him, and began their assault by shutting him up in a tower of the castle. They tore in pieces his habit on his back, and after bitter reproaches and dreadful threats they left him, hoping his confinement, and the mortifications every one strove to give him, would shake his resolution. This not succeeding, the devil suggested to these two young officers a new artifice for diverting him from pursuing his vocation. They secretly introduced one of the most beautiful and most insinuating young strumpets of the country into his chamber, promising her a considerable reward in case she could draw him into sin. She employed all the arms of Satan to succeed in so detestable a design. The saint, alarmed and affrighted at the danger, profoundly humbled himself, and cried out to God most earnestly for his protection; then snatching up a firebrand struck her with it, and drove her out of his chamber. After this victory, not moved with pride, but blushing with confusion for having been so basely assaulted, he fell on his knees and thanked God for his merciful preservation, consecrated to him anew his chastity, and redoubled his prayers, and the earnest cry of his heart with sighs and tears, to obtain the grace of being always faithful to his promises. Then falling into a slumber, as the most ancient historians of his life relate, he was visited by two angels, who seemed to gird him round the waist with a cord so tight that it awaked him, and made him to cry out. His guards ran in, but he kept his secret to himself. It was only a little before his death that he disclosed this incident to F. Reynold, his confessor, adding that he had received this favor about thirty years before, from which time he had never been annoyed with temptations of the flesh; yet he constantly used the utmost caution and watchfulness against that enemy, and he would otherwise have deserved to forfeit that grace. One heroic victory sometimes obtains of God a recompense and triumph of this kind. Our saint having suffered in silence this imprisonment and persecution upwards of a twelvemonth, some say two years, at length, on the remonstrances of Pope Innocent IV and the emperor Frederick, on account of so many acts of violence in his regard, both the countess and his brothers began to relent. The Dominicans of Naples being informed of this, and that his mother was disposed to connive at measures that might be taken to procure his escape, they hastened in disguise to Rocca-Secca, where his sister, knowing that the countess no longer opposed his escape, contrived his being let down out of his tower in a basket. He was received by his brethren in their arms, and carried with joy to Naples. The year following he there made his profession, looking on that day as the happiest of his whole life in which he made a sacrifice of his liberty that he might belong to God alone. But his mother and brothers renewed their complaints to Pope Innocent IV, who sent for Thomas to Rome, and examined him on the subject of his vocation to the state of religion, in their presence; and having received entire satisfaction on this head, the pope admired his virtue, and approved of his choice of that state of life, which from that time he was suffered to pursue in peace. Albertus Magnus teaching then at Cologne, the general, John the Teutonic, took the saint with him from Rome to Paris, and thence to Cologne. Thomas gave all his time, which was not employed in devotion and other duties, to his studies, retrenching part of that which was allowed for his meals and sleep, not out of a vain passion, or the desire of applause, but for the advancement of God's honor and the interests of religion, according to what he himself teaches. His humility made him conceal his progress and deep penetration, insomuch that his schoolfellows thought he learned nothing, and on account of his silence, called him The dumb Ox, and the Great Sicilian Ox. One of them even offered to explain his lessons to him, whom he thankfully listened to without speaking, though he was then capable of teaching him. They who know how much scholars and masters usually seek to distinguish themselves, and display their science, will give to so uncommon an humility its due praise. But the brightness of his genius, his quick and deep penetration and learning were at last discovered, in spite of all his endeavors to conceal them: for his master Albertus, having propounded to him several questions on the most knotty and obscure points, his answers, which the duty of obedience extorted, astonished the audience; and Albertus, not able to contain his joy and admiration, said, “We call him the dumb ox, but he will give such a bellow in learning as will be heard all over the world.” This applause made no impression on the humble saint. He continued the same in simplicity, modesty, silence, and recollection, because his heart was the same; equally insensible to praises and humiliations, full of nothing but of God and his own insufficiency, never reflecting on his own qualifications, or on what was the opinion of others concerning him. In his first year, under Albertus Magnus, he wrote comments on Aristotle's Ethics. The general chapter of the Dominicans, held at Cologne in 1245, deputed Albertus to teach at Paris, in their college of St. James, which the university had given them; and it is from that college they are called in France Jacobins. St. Thomas was sent with him to continue his studies there. His school exercises did not interrupt his prayer. By an habitual sense of the divine presence, and devout aspirations, he kept his heart continually raised to God; and in difficult points redoubled with more earnestness his fervor in his prayers than his application to study. This he found attended with such success, that he often said that he had learned less by books than before his crucifix, or at the foot of the altar. His constant attention to God always filled his soul with joy, which appeared in his very countenance, and made his conversation altogether heavenly. His humility and obedience were most remarkable in all things. One day while he read at table, the corrector, by mistake, bid him read a word with a false quantity, and he readily obeyed, though he knew the error. When others told him he ought notwithstanding to have given it the right pronunciation, his answer was, “It matters not how a word is pronounced, but to practise on all occasions humility and obedience is of the greatest importance.” He was so perfectly mortified, and dead to his senses, that he ate without reflecting either on the kind or quality of his food, so that after meals he often knew not what he had been eating.
In the year 1248, being twenty-two years of age, he was appointed by the general chapter to teach at Cologne, together with his old master Albertus, whose high reputation he equalled in his very first lessons. He then also began to publish his first works, which consist of comments on the Ethics, and other philosophical works of Aristotle. No one was more courteous and affable, but it was his principle to shun all unnecessary visits. To prepare himself for holy orders he redoubled his watchings, prayer, and other spiritual exercises. His devotion to the blessed Sacrament was extraordinary. He spent several hours of the day and part of the night before the altar, humbling himself in acts of profound adoration, and melting with love in contemplation of the immense charity of that Man-God, whom he there adored. In saying mass he seemed to be in raptures, and often quite dissolved in tears; a glowing frequently appeared in his eyes and countenance which showed the ardor with which his heart burned within him. His devotion was most frequent during the precious moments after he had received the divine mysteries; and after saying mass he usually served at another, or at least heard one. This fire and zeal appeared also in his sermons at Cologne, Paris, Rome, and in other cities of Italy. He was everywhere heard as an angel; even the Jews ran of their own accord to hear him, and many of them were converted. His zeal made him solicitous, in the first place, for the salvation of his relations. His example and exhortations induced them to an heroic practice of piety. His eldest sister consecrated herself to God in St. Mary's at Capua, and died abbess of that monastery: the younger, Theodora, married the count of Marsico, and lived and died in great virtue; as did his mother. His two brothers, Landulph and Reynold, became sincere penitents; and having some time after left the emperor's service, he, in revenge, burnt Aquino, their seat, in 1250, and put Reynold to death; the rest were obliged to save themselves by a voluntary banishment, but were restored in 1268. St. Thomas, after teaching four years at Cologne, was sent, in 1252, to Paris. His reputation for perspicuity and solidity drew immediately to his school a great number of auditors. St. Thomas, with great reluctancy, compelled by holy obedience, consented to be admitted doctor, on the 23d of October, in 1257, being then thirty-one years old. The professors of the university of Paris being divided about the question of the accidents remaining really, or only in appearance, in the blessed sacrament of the altar, they agreed, in 1258, to consult our saint. The young doctor, not puffed up by such an honor, applied himself first to God by prayer, then he wrote upon that question the treatise still extant, and, carrying it to the church, laid it on the altar. The most ancient author of his life assures us, that while the saint remained in prayer on that occasion, some of the brethren who were present, saw him raised a little above the ground.
The holy king, St. Louis, had so great an esteem for St. Thomas, that he consulted him in affairs of state, and ordinarily informed him, the evening before, of any affair of importance that was to be treated of in council, that he might be the more ready to give advice on the point. The saint avoided the honor of dining with the king as often as he could excuse himself: and, when obliged to assist at court, appeared there as recollected as in his convent. One day at the king's table, the saint cried out: “The argument is conclusive against the Manichees.” His prior, being with him, bade him remember where he was. The saint would have asked the king's pardon, but that good prince, fearing he should forget the argument that had occurred to his mind, caused his secretary to write it down for him. In the year 1259 St. Thomas assisted at the thirty-sixth general chapter of his order, held at Valenciennes, which deputed him, in conjunction with Albertus Magnus and three others, to draw up rules for studies, which are still extant in the acts of that chapter. Returning to Paris, he there continued his lectures. Nothing was more remarkable than his meekness on all occasions. His temper was never ruffled in the heat of any dispute, nor by any insult. It was owing to this sweetness, more than to his invincible force of reasoning, that he brought a young doctor to retract on the spot a dangerous opinion, which he was maintaining a second time in his thesis. In 1261, Urban IV called St. Thomas to Rome, and, by his order, the general appointed him to teach here. His holiness pressed him with great importunity to accept of some ecclesiastical dignity, but he knew how much safer it is to refuse than to accept a bishopric. The pope, however, obliged him always to attend his person. Thus it happened that the saint taught and preached in all the towns where that pope ever resided, as in Rome, Viterbo, Orvieto, Fondi, and Perugia. He also taught at Bologna, Naples, &c.
The fruits of his preaching were no less wonderful than those of his pen. While he was preaching, on Good Friday, on the love of God for man, and our ingratitude to him, his whole auditory melted into tears to such a degree that he was obliged to stop several times, that they might recover themselves. His discourse on the following Sunday, concerning the glory of Christ, and the happiness of those who rise with him by grace, was no less pathetic and affecting. William of Tocco adds, that as the saint was coming out of St. Peter's church the same day, a woman was cured of the bloody flux by touching the hem of his garment. The conversion of two considerable Rabbins seemed still a greater miracle. St. Thomas had held a long conference with them at a casual meeting in cardinal Richard's villa, and they agreed to resume it the next day. The saint spent the foregoing night in prayer, at the foot of the altar. The next morning these two most obstinate Jews came to him of their own accord, not to dispute, but to embrace the faith, and were followed by many others. In the year 1263, the Dominicans held their fortieth general chapter in London; St. Thomas assisted at it, and obtained soon after to be dismissed from teaching. He rejoiced to see him self reduced to the state of a private religious man. Pope Clement IV had such a regard for him, that, in 1265, among other ecclesiastical preferments, he made him an offer of the archbishopric of Naples, but could not prevail with him to accept of that or any other. The first part of his theological Summ St. Thomas composed at Bologna: he was called thence to Naples. Here it was that, according to Tocco and others, Dominick Caserte beheld him, while in fervent prayer, raised from the ground, and heard a voice from the crucifix directed to him in these words: “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas: what recompense dost thou desire?” He answered: “No other than thyself, O Lord.”
From the 6th of December, in 1273, to the 7th of March following, the day of his death, he neither dictated nor wrote any thing on theological matters. He from that time laid aside his studies, to fix his thoughts and heart entirely on eternity, and to aspire with the greatest ardor and most languishing desires to the enjoyment of God in perfect love. Pope Gregory X had called a general council, the second of Lyons, with the view of extinguishing the Greek schism, and raising succors to defend the holy land against the Saracens. The ambassadors of the emperor Michael Palӕologus, together with the Greek prelates, were to assist at it. The council was to meet on the 1st of May, in 1274. His holiness, by brief directed to our saint, ordered him to repair thither, and to prepare himself to defend the Catholic cause against the Greek schismatics. Though indisposed, he set out from Naples about the end of January. His dear friend, F. Reynold of Piperno, was appointed his companion, and ordered to take care that he did not neglect himself, which the saint was apt to do. St. Thomas on the road called at the castle of Magenza, the seat of his niece, Francisca of Aquino, married to the count of Cecan. Here his distemper increased, which was attended with a loss of appetite. One day he said, to be rid of their importunities, that he thought he could eat a little of a certain fish which he had formerly eaten in France, but which was not easily to be found in Italy. Search however was made, and the fish procured; but the saint refused to touch it, in imitation of David on the like occasion. Soon after his appetite returned a little, and his strength with it; yet he was assured that his last hour was at hand. This however did not hinder him from proceeding on his journey, till, his fever increasing, he was forced to stop at Fossa-Nuova, a famous abbey of the Cistercians, in the diocese of Terracina, where formerly stood the city called Forum Appii. Entering the monastery, he went first to pray before the Blessed Sacrament, according to his custom. He poured forth his soul with extraordinary fervor, in the presence of Him who now called him to his kingdom. Passing thence into the cloister, which he never lived to go out of, he repeated these words: This is my rest for ages without end (Ps, cxxxi. 14). He was lodged in the abbot's apartment, where he lay ill for near a month. The good monks treated him with uncommon veneration and esteem, and as if he had been an angel from heaven. They would not employ any of their servants about him, but chose to serve him themselves in the meanest offices, as in cutting or carrying wood for him to burn, &c. His patience, humility, constant recollection, and prayer, were equally their astonishment and edification.
The nearer he saw himself to the term of all his desires, the entering into the joy of his Lord, the more tender and inflamed were his longings after death. He had continually in his mouth these words of St. Austin, “Then shall I truly live, when I shall be quite filled with you alone, and your love; now I am a burden to myself, because I am not entirely full of you.” In such pious transports of heavenly love, he never ceased sighing after the glorious day of eternity. The monks begged he would dictate an exposition of the book of Canticles, in imitation of St. Bernard. He answered: “Give me St. Bernard's spirit, and I will obey.” But at last, to renounce perfectly his own will, he dictated the exposition of that most mysterious of all the divine books. It begins: Solomon inspiratus: It is not what his erudition might have suggested, but what love inspired him with in his last moments, when his pure soul was hastening to break the chains of mortality, and drown itself in the ocean of God's immensity, and in the delights of eternity. The holy doctor at last finding himself too weak to dictate any more, begged the religious to withdraw, recommending himself to their prayers, and desiring their leave to employ the few precious moments he had to live with God alone. He accordingly spent them in fervent acts of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, humility, and repentance. He made a general confession of his whole life to F. Reynold, with abundance of tears for his imperfections and sins of frailty; for in the judgment of those to whom he had manifested his interior, he had never offended God by any mortal sin. And he said to F. Reynold, before his death, that he thanked God with his whole heart for having prevented him with his grace, and always conducted him as it were by the hand, and preserved him from any known sin that destroys charity in the soul; adding, that this was purely God's mercy to which he was indebted for his preservation from every sin which he had not committed. Having received absolution in the sentiments of the most perfect penitent, he desired the Viaticum. While the abbot and community were preparing to bring it, he begged to be taken off his bed, and laid upon ashes spread upon the floor. Thus lying on the ground, weak in body but vigorous in mind, he waited for the priest with tears of the most tender devotion. When he saw the host in the priest's hand, he said: “I firmly believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is present in this august sacrament. I adore you, my God and my Redeemer: I receive You, the price of my redemption, the Viaticum of my pilgrimage; for whose honor I have studied, labored, preached, and taught. I hope I never advanced any tenet as your word, which I had not learned from you. If through ignorance I have done otherwise, I revoke every thing of that kind, and submit all my writings to the judgment of the holy Roman church.” Then recollecting himself, after other acts of faith, adoration, and love, he received the holy Viaticum; but remained on the ashes till he had finished his thanksgiving. Growing still weaker, amid his transports of love, he desired extreme unction, which he received, answering himself to all the prayers. After this he lay in peace and joy, as appeared by the serenity of his countenance; and he was heard to pronounce these aspirations: “Soon, soon will the God of all comfort complete his mercies on me, and fill all my desires. I shall shortly be satiated in him, and drink of the torrent of his delights: be inebriated from the abundance of his house, and in him who is the source of life, I shall behold the true light.” Seeing all in tears about him, he comforted them, saying: Death was his gain and his joy. F. Reynold said he had hoped to see him triumph over the adversaries of the church in the council of Lyons, and placed in a rank in which he might do it some signal service. The saint answered: “I have begged of God, as the greatest favor, to die a simple religious man, and I now thank him for it. It is a greater benefit than he has granted to many of his holy servants, that he is pleased to call me out of this world so early, to enter into his joy; wherefore grieve not for me, who am overwhelmed with joy.” He returned thanks to the abbot and monks of Fossa-Nuova for their charity to him. One of the community asked him by what means we might live always faithful to God's grace. He answered: “Be assured that he who shall always walk faithfully in his presence, always ready to give him an account of all his actions, shall never be separated from him by consenting to sin.” These were his last words to men, after which he only spoke to God in prayer, and gave up the ghost, on the 7th of March, in 1274, a little after midnight: some say in the fiftieth year of his age. But Ptolemy of Lucca, and other contemporary authors, say expressly in his forty-eighth, which also agrees with his whole history. He was very tall, and every way proportioned.
The concourse of people at the saint's funeral was extraordinary: several monks of that house, and many other persons, were cured by his relics and intercession, of which many instances, juridically proved, are mentioned by William of Tocco, in the bull of his canonization, and other authors. The Bollandists give us other long authentic relations of the like miracles continued afterwards, especially in the translation of those holy relics. The university of Paris sent to the general and provincial of the Dominicans a letter of condolence upon his death, giving the highest commendations to the saint's learning and sanctity, and begging the treasure of his holy body. Naples, Rome, and many other universities, princes, and Orders, contended no less for it. One of his hands, uncorrupt, was cut off in 1288, and given to his sister, the countess Theodora, who kept it in her domestic chapel of San Severino. After her death it was given to the Dominicans' convent of Salerno. After several contestations, pope Urban V, many years after his death, granted his body to the Dominicans to carry to Paris or Thoulouse, as Italy already possessed the body of St. Dominick at Bologna. The sacred treasure was carried privately into France, and received at Thoulouse in the most honorable manner: one hundred and fifty thousand people came to meet and conduct it into the city, having at their head Louis duke of Anjou, brother to king Charles V, the archbishops of Thoulouse and Narbonne, and many bishops, abbots, and noblemen. It rests now in the Dominican's church at Thoulouse, in a rich shrine, with a stately mausoleum over it, which reaches almost up to the roof of the church, and hath four faces. An arm of the saint was at the same time sent to the great convent of the Dominicans at Paris, and placed in St. Thomas's chapel in their church, which the king declared a royal chapel. The faculty of theology [used to meet] to assist at a high mass there on the anniversary festival of the saint. The kingdom of Naples, after many pressing solicitations, obtained, in 1372, from the general chapter held at Thoulouse, a bone of the other arm of St. Thomas. It was kept in the church of the Dominicans at Naples till 1603, when the city being delivered from a public calamity by his intercession, it was placed in the metropolitan church among the relics of the other patrons of the country. That kingdom, by the briefs of Pius V in 1567, and of Clement VIII in 1603, confirmed by Paul V, honors him as a principal patron. He was solemnly canonized by pope John XXII in 1323. Pope Pius V, in 1567, commanded his festival and office to be kept equal with those of the four doctors of the western church.
Many in their studies, as in other occupations, take great pains to little purpose, often to draw from them the poison of vanity or error; or at least to drain their affections, and rather to nourish pride and other vices in the heart than to promote true virtue. Sincere humility and simplicity of heart are essential conditions for the sanctification of studies, and for the improvement of virtue by them. Prayer must also both go before and accompany them. St. Thomas spoke much to God by prayer, that God might speak to him by enlightening his understanding in his reading and studies; and he received in this what he asked in the other exercise. This prodigy of human wit, this unparalleled genius, which penetrated the most knotty difficulties in all the sciences, whether sacred or profane, to which he applied himself, was accustomed to say that he learned more at the foot of the crucifix than in books. We ought never to set ourselves to read or study anything without having first made our morning meditation, and without imploring in particular the divine light in every thing we read; and seasoning our studies by frequent aspirations to God in them, and by keeping our souls in an humble attention to his presence. In intricate difficulties, we ought more earnestly, prostrate at the foot of a crucifix, to ask of Christ the resolution of our doubts. We should thus receive, in the school of so good a master, that science which makes saints, by giving, with other sciences, the true knowledge of God and ourselves, and purifying and kindling in the will the fire of divine love with the sentiments of humility and other virtues. By a little use, fervent aspirations to God will arise from all subjects in the driest studies, and it will become easy, and as it were natural in them, to raise our heart earnestly to God, either despising the vain pursuits, or detesting the vanity, and deploring the blindness of the world, or aspiring after heavenly gifts, or begging light, grace, or the divine love. This is a maxim of the utmost importance in an interior or spiritual life, which otherwise, instead of being assisted, is entirely overwhelmed and extinguished by studies, whether profane or sacred, and in its place a spirit of self-sufficiency, vanity, and jealousy is contracted, and the seeds of all other spiritual vices secretly sown. Against this danger St. Bonaventure warns all students strongly to be upon their guard, saying, “If a person repeats often in his heart, Lord, when shall I love thee? he will feel a heavenly fire kindled in his soul much more than by a thousand bright thoughts or fine speculations on divine secrets, on the eternal generation of the Word, or the procession of the Holy Ghost.” Prayer and true virtue even naturally conduce to the perfection of learning, in every branch; for purity of the heart, and the disengagement of the affections from all irregular passions, render the understanding clear, qualify the mind to judge impartially of truth in its researches, divest it of many prejudices, the fatal sources of errors, and inspire a modest distrust in a person's own abilities and lights. Thus virtue and learning mutually assist and improve each other.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.
March 6, 2021: SS. PERPETUA AND FELICITY, MARTYRS
Let the Church, the Spouse of Christ, celebrate in holy praise, the two dauntless women; and sing, in joyous hymns, how the weaker sex had here two manly hearts.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord our God, that with a constant devotion we may celebrate the victories of thy holy Virgins and Martyrs, Perpetua and Felicitas, that, though we cannot solemnize them as we ought, we may seek their prayers with all due humility. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
God looks down from heaven on the two brave combatants, and calls them to the prize. Their blood streams from the wounds, and their spirits speed their way to the bosom of Christ.
Go, now, brave-hearted ones, to him who is your Spouse, and there eternally enjoy the bliss he has in store for you. He gave us you as models; oh, show your power, and help us your clients.
The real Feast of these two illustrious heroines of the Faith is to-morrow, which is the anniversary of their martyrdom and triumph; but the memory of the Angel of the Schools, St. Thomas of Aquin, shines so brightly on the seventh of March, that it almost eclipses the two glorious stars of Africa. In consequence of this, the Holy See allows certain Churches to anticipate their Feast, and keep it today. We take advantage of this permission, and at once offer to the Christian reader the glorious spectacle, of which Carthage was the scene, in the year 203. Nothing could give us a clearer idea of that spirit of the Gospel, according to which we are now studying to conform our whole life. Here are two women, two mothers; God asks great sacrifices from them; he asks them to give him their lives, nay, more than their lives; and they obey with that simplicity and devotedness which made Abraham merit to be the Father of Believers.
Their two names, as St. Augustine observes, are a presage of what awaits them in heaven: a perpetual felicity. The example they set of Christian fortitude, is, of itself, a victory, which secures to the true Faith, a triumph in the land of Africa. St. Cyprian will soon follow them, with his bold and eloquent appeal to the African Christians, inspiring them to die for their Faith: but his words, grand as they are, are less touching than the few pages written by the hand of the brave Perpetua, who, though only twenty-two years of age, relates, with all the self-possession of an angel, the trials she had to go through for God; and when she had to hurry off, to the amphitheatre, she puts her pen into another's hand, bidding him go on where she leaves off, and write the rest of the battle. As we read these charming pages, we seem to be in the company of the Martyrs; the power of divine grace, which could produce such heroism amidst a people demoralised by paganism, appears so great that even we grow courageous; and the very fact that the instruments employed by God for the destruction of the pagan world, were frequently women, we cannot help saying with St. John Chrysostom: “I feel an indescribable pleasure in reading the Acts of the Martyrs; but when the Martyr is a woman, my enthusiasm is doubled. For the frailer the instrument, the greater is the grace, the brighter the trophy, the grander the victory; and this, not because of her weakness, but because the devil is conquered by her, by whom he once conquered us. He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon, is now his destroyer, brave and invincible. That first one sinned, and died; this one died that she might not sin. Eve was flushed by a lying promise, and broke the law of God; our heroine disdained to live, when her living was to depend on her breaking her faith to Him who was her dearest Lord. What excuse, after this, for men, if they be soft and cowards? Can they hope for pardon, when women fought the holy battle with such brave, and manly, and generous hearts?
The Lessons appointed to be read on the Feast of our two Saints, give us the principal incidents of their Martyrdom…
During the reign of the Emperor Severus, several Catechumens were apprehended at Carthage, in Africa. Among these were Revocatus and his fellow servant Felicitas, Saturninus and Secundulus, and Vivia Perpetua, a lady by birth and education, who was married to a man of wealth. Perpetua was about twenty-two years of age, and was suckling an infant. She has left us the following particulars of her martyrdom. “As soon as our persecutors had apprehended us, my father came to me, and, out of his great love for me, he tried to make me change my resolution. I said to him: ‘Father, I cannot consent to call myself other than what I am,—a Christian.’ At these words he rushed at me, threatening to tear out my eyes. But he only struck me, and then he left me, when he found that the arguments suggested to him by the devil, were of no avail. A few days after this, we were baptised; and the Holy Ghost inspired me to look on this baptism as a preparation for bodily suffering. A few more days elapsed, and we were sent to prison. I was terrified, for I was not accustomed to such darkness. The report soon spread that we were to be brought to trial. My father left the city, for he was heartbroken, and he came to me, hoping to shake my purpose. These were his words to me: ‘My child, have pity on my old age. Have pity on thy father, if I deserve to be called Father. Think of thy brothers, think of thy mother, think of thy son, who cannot live when thou art gone. Give up this mad purpose, or thou wilt bring misery upon thy family.’ Whilst saying this, which he did out of love for me, he threw himself at my feet, and wept bitterly, and said he besought this of me, not as his child, but as his lady. I was moved to tears to see my aged parent in this grief, for I knew that he was the only one of my family that would not rejoice at my being a martyr. I tried to console him, and said: ‘I will do whatsoever God shall ordain. Thou knowest that we belong to God, and not to ourselves.’ He then left me, and was very sad.
“On the following day, as we were taking our repast, they came upon us suddenly, and summoned us to trial. We reached the forum. We were made to mount a platform. My companions were questioned, and they confessed the faith. My turn came next, and I immediately saw my father approaching towards me, holding my infant son. He drew me from the platform, and besought me, saying: ‘Have pity on thy babe!’ Hilarian, too, the governor, said to me: ‘Have pity on thy aged father, have pity on thy babe! Offer up sacrifice for the Emperors.’ I answered him: ‘I cannot; I am a Christian.’ Whereupon, he sentences all of us to be devoured by the wild beasts; and we, full of joy, return to our prison. But as I had hitherto always had my child with me in prison, and fed him at my breast, I immediately send word to my father, beseeching him to let him come to me. He refused; and from that moment, neither the babe asked for the breast, nor did I suffer inconvenience; for God thus willed it.” All this is taken from the written account left by the blessed Perpetua, and it brings us to the day before she was put to death. As regards Felicitas, she was in the eighth month of her pregnancy, when she was apprehended. The day of the public shows was near at hand, and the fear that her martyrdom would be deferred on account of her being with child, made her very sad. Her fellow-martyrs, too, felt much for her, for they could not bear the thought of seeing so worthy a companion disappointed in the hope, she had in common with themselves, of so soon reaching heaven. Uniting, therefore, in prayer, they with tears besought God in her behalf. It was the last day but two before the public shows. No sooner was their prayer ended, than Felicitas was seized with pain. One of the gaolers, who overheard her moaning, cried out: ‘If this pain seem to thee so great, what wilt thou do when thou art being devoured by the wild beasts, which thou pretendedst to heed not when thou wast told to offer sacrifice.’ She answered: ‘What I am suffering now, it is indeed I that suffer; but there, there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I shall be suffering for Him.’ She was delivered of a daughter, and one of our sisters adopted the infant as her own.
The day of their victory dawned. They left their prison for the amphitheatre, cheerful, and with faces beaming with joy, as though they were going to heaven. They were excited, but it was from delight, not from fear. The last in the group was Perpetua. Her placid look, her noble gait, betrayed the Christian matron. She passed through the crowd and saw no one, for her beautiful eyes were fixed upon the ground. By her side was Felicitas, rejoicing that her safe delivery enabled her to encounter the wild beasts. The devil had prepared a savage cow for them. They were put into a net. Felicitas was brought forward the first. She was tossed into the air, and fell upon her back. Observing that one side of her dress was torn, she adjusted it, heedless of her pain, because thoughtful for modesty. Having recovered from the fall, she put up her hair which was disheveled by the shock, for it was not seemly that a martyr should win her palm and have the appearance of one distracted by grief. This done, she stood up. Seeing Felicitas much bruised by her fall, she went to her, and giving her her hand, she raised her from the ground. Both were now ready for a fresh attack; but the people were moved to pity, and the martyrs were led to the gate called Sana-Vivaria. There Perpetua, like one that is roused from sleep, awoke from the deep ecstacy of her spirit. She looked around her, and said to the astonished multitude: ‘When will the cow attack us?’ They told her that it had already attacked them. She could not believe it, until her wounds and torn dress reminded her of what had happened. Then beckoning to her brother, and to a catechumen named Rusticus, she thus spoke to them. ‘Be staunch in the faith, and love one another, and be not shocked at our sufferings.’
God soon took Secundulus from this world, for he died whilst he was in the prison. Saturninus and Revocatus were exposed first to a leopard, and then to a bear. Saturus was exposed to a boar, and then to a bear, which would not come out of its den; thus was be twice left uninjured: but at the close of the games, he was thrown to a leopard, which bit him so severely, that he was all covered with blood, and as he was taken from the amphitheatre, the people jeered at him for this second baptism, and said: ‘Saved, washed! Saved, washed!’ He was then carried off, dying as he was, to the appointed place, there to be despatched by the sword, with the rest. But the people demanded that they should be led back to the middle of the amphitheatre, that their eyes might feast on the sight, and watch the sword as it pierced them. The Martyrs hearing their request, cheerfully stood up, and marched to the place where the people would have them go; but first they embraced one another, that the sacrifice of their martyrdom might be consummated with the solemn kiss of peace. All of them, without so much as a movement or a moan, received the swordman's blow, save only Saturus, who died from his previous wounds, and Perpetua, who was permitted to feel more than the rest. Her executioner was a novice in his work, and could not thrust his sword through her ribs: she slightly moaned, then took his right hand, and pointing his sword towards her throat, told him that that was the place to strike. Perhaps it was that such a woman could not be otherwise slain than by her own consent, for the unclean spirit feared her.
Martyrdom of Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, and their companions.
A violent persecution being set on foot by the emperor Severus, in 202, it reached Africa the following year; when, by order of Minutius Timinianus, (or Firminianus,) five catechumens were apprehended at Carthage for the faith: namely, Revocatus, and his fellow-slave Felicitas, Saturninus, and Secundulus, and Vibia Perpetua. Felicitas was seven months gone with child; and Perpetua had an infant at her breast, was of a good family, twenty-two years of age, and married to a person of quality in the city. She had a father, a mother, and two brothers; the third, Dinocrates, died about seven years old. These five martyrs were joined by Saturus, probably brother to Saturninus, and who seems to have been their instructor: he underwent a voluntary imprisonment, because he would not abandon them. The father of St. Perpetua, who was a pagan, and advanced in years, loved her more than all his other children. Her mother was probably a Christian, as was one of her brothers, the other a catechumen. The martyrs were for some days before their commitment kept under a strong guard in a private house: and the account Perpetua gives of their sufferings to the eve of their death, is as follows: “We were in the hands of our persecutors, when my father, out of the affection he bore me, made new efforts to shake my resolution. I said to him: ‘Can that vessel, which you see, change its name?’ He said: ‘No.’ I replied: ‘Nor can I call myself any other than I am, that is to say, a Christian.’ At that word my father in a rage fell upon me, as if he would have pulled my eyes out, and beat me: but went away in confusion, seeing me invincible: after this we enjoyed a little repose, and in that interval received baptism. The Holy Ghost, on our coming out of the water, inspired me to pray for nothing but patience under corporal pains. A few days after this we were put into prison: I was shocked at the horror and darkness of the place; for till then I knew not what such sort of places were. We suffered much that day, chiefly on account of the great heat caused by the crowd, and the ill-treatment we met with from the soldiers. I was moreover tortured with concern, for that I had not my infant. But the deacons, Tertius and Pomponius, who assisted us, obtained, by money, that we might pass some hours in a more commodious part of the prison to refresh ourselves. My infant being brought to me almost famished, I gave it the breast. I recommended him afterwards carefully to my mother, and encouraged my brother; but was much afflicted to see their concern for me. After a few days my sorrow was changed into comfort, and my prison itself seemed agreeable. One day my brother said to me: “Sister, I am persuaded that you are a peculiar favorite of Heaven: pray to God to reveal to you whether this imprisonment will end in martyrdom or not, and acquaint me of it.’ I, knowing God gave me daily tokens of his goodness, answered, full of confidence, ‘I will inform you to-morrow.’ I therefore asked that favor of God, and had this vision. I saw a golden ladder which reached from earth to the heavens; but so narrow, that only one could mount it at a time. To the two sides were fastened all sorts of iron instruments, as swords, lances, hooks, and knives; so that if any one went up carelessly he was in great danger of having his flesh torn by those weapons. At the foot of the ladder lay a dragon of an enormous size, who kept guard to turn back and terrify those that endeavored to mount it. The first that went up was Saturus, who was not apprehended with us, but voluntarily surrendered himself afterwards on our account: when he was got to the top of the ladder, he turned towards me and said: ‘Perpetua, I wait for you; but take care lest the dragon bite you.’ I answered: ‘In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, he shall not hurt me.’ Then the dragon, as if afraid of me, gently lifted his head from under the ladder, and I, having got upon the first step, set my foot upon his head. Thus I mounted to the top, and there I saw a garden of an immense space, and in the middle of it a tall man sitting down dressed like a shepherd, having white hair. He was milking his sheep, surrounded with many thousands of persons clad in white. He called me by my name, bid me welcome, and gave me some curds made of the milk which he had drawn: I put my hands together and took and ate them; and all that were present said aloud, Amen. The noise awaked me, chewing something very sweet. As soon as I had related to my brother this vision, we both concluded that we should suffer death.
“After some days, a rumor being spread that we were to be examined, my father came from the city to the prison overwhelmed with grief: ‘Daughter,’ said he, ‘have pity on my gray hairs, have compassion on your father, if I yet deserve to be called your father; if I myself have brought you up to this age: if you consider that my extreme love of you, made me always prefer you to all your brothers, make me not a reproach to mankind. Have respect for your mother and your aunt; have compassion on your child that cannot survive you; lay aside this resolution, this obstinacy, lest you ruin us all: for not one of us will dare open his lips any more if any misfortune befall you.’ He took me by the hands at the same time and kissed them; he threw himself at my feet in tears, and called me no longer daughter, but, my lady. I confess, I was pierced with sharp sorrow when I considered that my father was the only person of our family that would not rejoice at my martyrdom. I endeavored to comfort him, saying: “Father, grieve not; nothing will happen but what pleases God; for we are not at our own disposal.’ He then departed very much concerned. The next day, while we were at dinner, a person came all on a sudden to summon us to examination. The report of this was soon spread, and brought together a vast crowd of people into the audience-chamber. We were placed on a sort of scaffold before the judge, who was Hilarian, procurator of the province, the proconsul being lately dead. All who were interrogated before me confessed boldly Jesus Christ. When it came to my turn, my father instantly appeared with my infant. He drew me a little aside, conjuring me in the most tender manner not to be insensible to the misery I should bring on that innocent creature to which I had given life. The president Hilarian joined with my father, and said: ‘What! will neither the gray hairs of a father you are going to make miserable, nor the tender innocence of a child, which your death will leave an orphan, move you? Sacrifice for the prosperity of the emperor.’ I replied, ‘I will not do it.’ ‘Are you then a Christian?’ said Hilarian. I answered: ‘Yes, I am.’ As my father attempted to draw me from the scaffold, Hilarian commanded him to be beaten off, and he had a blow given him with a stick, which I felt as much as if I had been struck myself, so much was I grieved to see my father thus treated in his old age. Then the judge pronounced our sentence, by which we were all condemned to be exposed to wild beasts. We then joyfully returned to our prison; and as my infant had been used to the breast, I immediately sent Pomponius, the deacon, to demand him of my father, who refused to send him. And God so ordered it that the child no longer required to suck, nor did my milk incommode me.” Secundulus, being no more mentioned, seems to have died in prison before this interrogatory. Before Hilarian pronounced sentence, he had caused Saturus, Saturninus, and Revocatus, to be scourged; and Perpetua and Felicitas to be beaten on the face. They were reserved for the shows which were to be exhibited for the soldiers in the camp, on the festival of Geta, who had been made Caesar four years before by his father Severus, when his brother Caracalla was created Augustus.
St. Perpetua relates another vision with which she was favored, as follows: “A few days after receiving sentence, when we were all together in prayer, I happened to name Dinocrates, at which I was astonished, because I had not before had him in my thoughts; and I that moment knew that I ought to pray for him. This I began to do with great fervor and sighing before God; and the same night I had the following vision: I saw Dinocrates coming out of a dark place, where there were many others, exceeding hot and thirsty; his face was dirty, his complexion pale, with the ulcer in his face of which he died at seven years of age, and it was for him that I had prayed. There seemed a great distance between him and me, so that it was impossible for us to come to each other. Near him stood a vessel full of water, whose brim was higher than the statue of an infant: he attempted to drink, but though he had water he could not reach it. This mightily grieved me, and I awoke. By this I knew my brother was in pain, but I trusted I could by prayer relieve him: so I began to pray for him, beseeching God with tears, day and night, that he would grant me my request; as I continued to do till we were removed to the damp prison: being destined for a public show on the festival of Caesar Geta. The day we were in the stocks I had this vision: I saw the place, which I had beheld dark before, now luminous; and Dinocrates, with his body very clean and well clad, refreshing himself, and instead of his wound a scar only. I awoke, and I knew he was relieved from his pain.
“Some days after, Pudens, the officer who commanded the guards of the prison, seeing that God favored us with many gifts, had a great esteem of us, and admitted many people to visit us for our mutual comfort. On the day of the public shows my father came to find me out, overwhelmed with sorrow. He tore his beard, he threw himself prostrate on the ground, cursed his years, and said enough to move any creature; and I was ready to die with sorrow to see my father in so deplorable a condition. On the eve of the shows I was favored with the following vision. The deacon Pomponius, methought, knocked very hard at the prison-door, which I opened to him. He was clothed with a white robe, embroidered with innumerable pomegranates of gold. He said to me: ‘Perpetua, we wait for you, come along.’ He then took me by the hand and led me through very rough places into the middle of the amphitheatre, and said: ‘Fear not.’ And, leaving me, said again: ‘I will be with you in a moment, and bear a part with you in your pains.’ I was wondering the beasts were not let out against us, when there appeared a very ill-favored Egyptian, who came to encounter me with others. But another beautiful troop of young men declared for me, and anointed me with oil for the combat. Then appeared a man of prodigious stature, in rich apparel, having a wand in his hand like the masters of the gladiators, and a green bough on which hung golden apples. Having ordered silence, he said that the bough should be my prize, if I vanquished the Egyptian: but that if he conquered me, he should kill me with a sword. After a long and obstinate engagement, I threw him on his face, and trod upon his head. The people applauded my victory with loud acclamations. I then approached the master of the amphitheatre, who gave me the bough with a kiss, and said: ‘Peace be with you, my daughter.’ After this I awoke, and found that I was not so much to combat with wild beasts as with the devils.’ Here ends the relation of St. Perpetua.
St. Saturus had also a vision which he wrote himself. He and his companions were conducted by a bright angel into a most delightful garden, in which they met some holy martyrs lately dead, namely, Jocundus, Saturninus, and Artaxius, who had been burned alive for the faith, and Quintus, who died in prison. They inquired after other martyrs of their acquaintance, say the acts, and were conducted into a most stately place, shining like the sun; and in it saw the king of this most glorious place surrounded by his happy subjects, and heard a voice composed of many, which continually cried: “Holy, holy, holy.” Saturus, turning to Perpetua, said: “You have here what you desired.” She replied: “God be praised, I have more joy here than ever I had in the flesh.” He adds, Going out of the garden they found before the gate, on the right hand, their bishop of Carthage, Optatus, and on the left, Aspasius, priest of the same church, both of them alone and sorrowful. They fell at the martyr's feet, and begged they would reconcile them together, for a dissension had happened between them. The martyrs embraced them, saying: “Are not you our bishop, and you a priest of our Lord? It is our duty to prostrate ourselves before you.” Perpetua was discoursing with them; but certain angels came and drove hence Optatus and Aspasius; and bade them not to disturb the martyrs, but be reconciled to each other. The bishop Optatus was also charged to heal the divisions that reigned among several of his church. The angels, after these reprimands, seemed ready to shut the gates of the garden. “Here,” says he, “we saw many of our brethren and martyrs likewise. We were fed with an ineffable odor, which delighted and satisfied us.” Such was the vision of Saturus. The rest of the acts were added by an eye-witness. God had called to himself Secondulus in prison. Felicitas was eight months gone with child, and as the day of the shows approached, she was inconsolable lest she should not be brought to bed before it came; fearing that her martyrdom would be deferred on that account, because women with child were not allowed to be executed before they were delivered: the rest also were sensibly afflicted on their part to leave her alone in the road to their common hope. Wherefore they unanimously joined in prayer to obtain of God that she might be delivered against the shows. Scarce had they finished their prayer, when Felicitas found herself in labor. She cried out under the violence of her pain: one of the guards asked her, if she could not bear the throes of childbirth without crying out, what she would do when exposed to the wild beasts. She answered: “It is I that suffer what I now suffer; but then there will be another in me that will suffer for me, because I shall suffer for him.” She was then delivered of a daughter, which a certain Christian woman took care of, and brought up as her own child. The tribune, who had the holy martyrs in custody, being informed by some persons of little credit, that the Christians would free themselves out of prison by some magic enchantments, used them the more cruelly on that account, and forbade any to see them. Thereupon Perpetua said to him: “Why do you not afford us some relief, since we are condemned by Caesar, and destined to combat at his festival? Will it not be to your honor that we appear well fed?” At this the tribune trembled and blushed, and ordered them to be used with more humanity, and their friends to be admitted to see them. Pudens, the keeper of the prison, being already converted, secretly did them all the good offices in his power. The day before they suffered they gave them, according to custom, their last meal, which was called a free supper, and they ate in public. But the martyrs did their utmost to change it into an Agape, or Love-feast. Their chamber was full of people, whom they talked to with their usual resolution, threatening them with the judgments of God, and extolling the happiness of their own sufferings. Saturus, smiling at the curiosity of those that came to see them, said to them, “Will not to-morrow suffice to satisfy your inhuman curiosity in our regard? However you may seem now to pity us, to-morrow you will clap your hands at our death, and applaud our murderers. But observe well our faces, that you may know then again at that terrible day when all men shall be judged.” They spoke with such courage and intrepidity, as astonished the infidels, and occasioned the conversion of several among them.
The day of their triumph being come, they went out of the prison to go to the amphitheatre. Joy sparkled in their eyes, and appeared in all their gestures and words. Perpetua walked with a composed countenance and easy pace, as a woman cherished by Jesus Christ, with her eyes modestly cast down: Felicitas went with her, following the men, not able to contain her joy. When they came to the gate of the amphitheatre the guards would have given them, according to custom, the superstitious habits with which they adorned such as appeared at these sights. For the men, a red mantle, which was the habit of the priests of Saturn: for the women, a little fillet round the head, by which the priestesses of Ceres were known. The martyrs rejected those idolatrous ceremonies; and, by the mouth of Perpetua, said, they came thither of their own accord on the promise made them that they should not be forced to anything contrary to their religion. The tribune then consented that they might appear in the amphitheatre habited as they were. Perpetua sung, as being already victorious; Revocatus, Saturninus, and Saturus threatened the people that beheld them with the judgments of God: and as they passed over against the balcony of Hilarian, they said to him; “You judge us in this world, but God will judge you in the next.” The people, enraged at their boldness, begged they might be scourged, which was granted. They accordingly passed before the Venatores, or hunters, each of whom gave them a lash. They rejoiced exceedingly in being thought worthy to resemble our Saviour in his sufferings. God granted to each of them the death they desired; for when they were discoursing together about what kind of martyrdom would be agreeable to each, Saturninus declared that he would choose to be exposed to beasts of several sorts in order to the aggravation of his sufferings. Accordingly he and Revocatus, after having been attacked by a leopard, were also assaulted by a bear. Saturus dreaded nothing so much as a bear, and therefore hoped a leopard would dispatch him at once with his teeth. He was then exposed to a wild boar, but the beast turned upon his keeper, who received such a wound from him that he died in a few days after, and Saturus was only dragged along by him. Then they tied the martyr to the bridge near a bear, but that beast came not out of his lodge, so that Saturus, being sound and not hurt, was called upon for a second encounter. This gave him an opportunity of speaking to Pudens, the jailer that had been converted. The martyr encouraged him to constancy in the faith, and said to him: “You see I have not yet been hurt by any beast, as I desired and foretold; believe then steadfastly in Christ; I am going where you will see a leopard with one bite take away my life.” It happened so, for a leopard being let out upon him, covered him all over with blood, whereupon the people jeering, cried out, “He is well baptized.” The martyr said to Pudens, “Go, remember my faith, and let our sufferings rather strengthen than trouble you. Give me the ring you have on your finger.” Saturus, having dipped it in his wound, gave it him back to keep as a pledge to animate him to a constancy in his faith, and fell down dead soon after. Thus he went first to glory to wait for Perpetua, according to her vision. Some with Mabillon, think this Pudens is the martyr honored in Africa, on the 29th of April.
In the mean time, Perpetua and Felicitas had been exposed to a wild cow; Perpetua was first attacked, and the cow having tossed her up, she fell on her back. Then putting herself in a sitting posture, and perceiving her clothes were torn, she gathered them about her in the best manner she could, to cover herself, thinking more of decency than her sufferings. Getting up, not to seem disconsolate, she tied up her hair, which was fallen loose, and perceiving Felicitas on the ground much hurt by a toss of the cow, she helped her to rise. They stood together, expecting another assault from the beasts, but the people crying out that it was enough, they were led to the gate Sanevivaria, where those that were not killed by the beasts were dispatched at the end of the shows by the confectores. Perpetua was here received by Rusticus, a catechumen, who attended her. This admirable woman seemed just returning to herself out of a long ecstasy, and asked when she was to fight the wild cow. Being told what had passed, she could not believe it till she saw on her body and clothes the marks of what she had suffered, and knew the catechumen. With regard to this circumstance of her acts, St. Austin cries out, “Where was she when assaulted and torn by so furious a wild beast, without feeling her wounds, and when, after that furious combat, she asked when it would begin? What did she, not to see what all the world saw? What did she enjoy who did not feel such pain. By what love, by what vision, by what potion was she so transported out of herself, and as it were divinely inebriated, to seem without feeling in a mortal body?” She called for her brother, and said to him and Rusticus, “Continue firm in the faith, love one another, and be not scandalized at our sufferings.” All the martyrs were now brought to the place of their butchery. But the people, not yet satisfied with beholding blood, cried out to have them brought into the middle of the amphitheatre, that they might have the pleasure of seeing them receive the last blow. Upon this, some of the martyrs rose up, and having given one another the kiss of peace, went of their own accord into the middle of the arena; others were dispatched without speaking, or stirring out of the place they were in. St. Perpetua fell into the hands of a very timorous and unskilful apprentice of the gladiators, who, with a trembling hand, gave her many slight wounds, which made her languish a long time. Thus, says St. Austin, did two women, amidst fierce beasts and the swords of gladiators, vanquish the devil and all his fury. The day of their martyrdom was the 7th of March, as it is marked in the most ancient martyrologies, and in the Roman calendar as old as the year 354, published by Bucherius. St. Prosper says they suffered at Carthage, which agrees with all the circumstances. Their bodies were in the great church of Carthage, in the fifth age, as St. Victor informs us. Saint Austin says, their festival drew yearly more to honor their memory in their church, than curiosity had done to their martyrdom. They are mentioned in the canon of the Mass.
And now, dear Saints, Perpetua and Felicitas, intercede for us during this season of grace. Go, with your palms in your hands, to the throne of God, and beseech him to pour down his mercy upon us… You, and countless other Martyrs, have won victory for Faith; and that Faith is now ours; we are Christians… Holy Martyrs! pray for us that we may profit by the example of your virtues, and that the thought of your heroic devotedness may urge us to be courageous in the sacrifices which God claims at our hands.
Taken from: The Liturgical
Year – Septuagesima, Edition 1870;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.
March 5, 2021: THE HOLY WINDING SHEET OF OUR LORD
[Friday after II Sunday of Lent]
“And taking him down, he wrapped him in fine
linen, and laid him in a sepulchre that was hewed in stone, wherein never yet any man had been laid.”
(St. Luke, xxiii. 53)
O God, who hast left for us the marks of thy passion, in the holy winding sheet in which thy most sacred body was wrapped by Joseph after it was taken down from the cross; mercifully grant that by thy death and burial we may be brought to the glory of thy resurrection. Who liveth and reigneth, world without end. Amen.
For meditation, the below narrations are taken from The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Revelations of Anna Catherine Emmerich. With Ecclesiastical Approbation. Imprimatur. 1914.
The Descent From the Cross.
It was still foggy and dark and gloomy when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus reached the summit, where they were met by the servants whom they had sent on ahead. The holy women sat before the Cross weeping, while Cassius and several soldiers who had been converted stood at some distance silent and reverent. Joseph and Nicodemus narrated to Our Lady and John all they had done to deliver Jesus from an ignominious death, and heard from them in turn how they had, though with difficulty, hindered the breaking of His limbs and thus the prophecy had been fulfilled. They likewise told the story of the lance-thrust of Cassius. Abenadar, too, had now arrived, and sadly and reverently they set about the loving task of taking down from the Cross and preparing for burial the sacred body of their Lord, their Master, their Redeemer.
Our Lady and Magdalen sat on the hillock to the right of Our Lord, out towards the cross of Dismas. The other holy women were busy in getting ready the necessary spices, sponges, pieces of cloth and vessels of water. On seeing Abenadar approach, Cassius drew nigh and told his former captain how wonderfully his eyes had been healed. The entire holy company was bathed in a silent atmosphere of sad and earnest tenderness. Now and then, ’tis true, one or the other, without relaxing in vigilance and attention, broke out in burning sighs and lamentations. Magdalen alone had surrendered altogether to grief. Lost in the violence of her emotions she could listen to no suggestion of moderation from anyone.
Nicodemus and Joseph planted their ladders against the rear of the Cross, climbed upon them, passed the broad sheet between Our Lord's body and the Cross, wrapped the sheet round the body, and then bound the body firmly to the Cross by three broad straps which were attached to the sheet. In similar manner they passed pieces of cloth between Our Lord's arms and the cross-beams, wrapped the arms round, and bound them firmly to the beams. Hereupon they placed pegs against the points of the nails behind and drove them out in front. Their blows did not shake Our Lord's hands very much, and the nails fell out easily, because the distended body on the one hand had torn the wounds wide open and on the other was now supported, not by the hands, but by the sheets that bound it.
The lower part of the body, which had sagged down at the knees when He died, was now in a natural position, supported by a sheet that was fastened to the cross-beams at the nail-holes for the hands. While Joseph was occupied in driving out the left nail and letting the left arm sink in its bandages gently down beside the body, Nicodemus on his side was similarly engaged in binding to the beam both the right arm and the thorn-crowned head, which was sunken down on the right shoulder. Then he, too, drove out the nail on his side, and let also the right arm sink in its bandages gently down beside the body. Meanwhile, with some exertion, Abenadar had driven the large nail up through the feet. As the nails fell to the ground, Cassius took them up reverently, and laid them together at the feet of Our Lady.
And now they planted their ladders in front, quite close to the sacred body, climbed up again, unloosed the higher straps from the Cross and hung it over one of the hooks attached to the ladders. In the same way they unloosed the other two straps and fastened them to the hooks on the ladder. They then began the descent, moving the straps one by one to a lower hook and then to a still lower, thus letting the sacred body little by little downwards. The centurion Abenadar, standing on a stool, was supporting Our Lord's body by clasping it beneath the knees, while Joseph and Nicodemus held the upper body between them in their arms. Thus step by step, gently and carefully, as though bearing a severely wounded friend, they slowly descended the ladders and laid the martyred body of the Redeemer on the ground.
The whole scene was indescribably sad and beautiful. Every act was marked with caution and tenderness, as though they feared to inflict new pain on His dead body. They showered upon the sacred remains the same love and reverence they had shown to the Most Holy One during His life. Every eye was fixed steadily on the sacred body, its every motion was followed with tears, with spontaneous outstretching of hands that signified support and compassion. But all were still and silent, speaking only when cooperation required it, and then briefly and in subdued tones, like men overpowered by reverence at a sacred ceremony in a temple.
The strokes of the hammer in driving out the nails resounded with fresh sorrow in the souls of Our Lady and Magdalen, and of all who had been present at the crucifixion. They could not but recall the fearful nailing to the Cross, and likened again in trembling to His clear, sweet tones of lamentation, and seemed again to be awaiting in sadness His approaching death, though His sacred lips were now silent.—As soon as the sacred body reached the ground, the men wrapped it in linen from the hips to the knees, and laid it into the eager outstretched arms of the Dolorous Mother.
Our Lord's Body Prepared for Burial.
Our Lady sat on an outspread coverlet, her back supported by a bundle, which the women seem to have rolled together out of cloaks and mantles, in order to make it somewhat easier for the sorrow-worn Mother to render the last sad service of love to the body of her slaughtered Son. Her right knee was somewhat elevated, and the men laid the body down upon the sheet so as to bring Our Lord's head to rest on His Mother's knee. Our Lady's grief is equalled only by her love, now that she can at last hold once more in her arms, lifeless though it be, that dear body during whose long martyrdom she has had to stand by helpless. Here He is at last, right under her eyes, in all His beautiful desolation. Lovingly, dolorously, her lips touch His bloody cheeks, and slowly from wound to wound her eyes glide tenderly over His lacerated form.
In their degree all present shared her grief. Magdalen's face was pressed down on Our Lord's feet. A number of converted soldiers, Cassius at their head, stood reverently at a distance. The other men withdrew to a deeper lying mountain nook, southwest of the summit, to get everything in readiness for embalming the sacred body. All who were ill-disposed to Our Lord had returned into the city, so that those present formed a body-guard round the spot where the last honors were being paid to the sacred remains. While humbly keeping their distance the men were near enough when called upon to render loving service.
The holy women surrounded the body somewhat more closely, offering whenever necessary water flasks, sponges, cloths, ointments and spices, then stepping back reverently to continue their loving vigilance. Among them were Mary of Cleophas, Salome and Veronica. Magdalen was constantly occupied with the holy body itself. […] John was constantly at Our Lady's beck and call, and acted as messenger between the women and the men. He assisted in so many different ways, both here with the women, and afterwards with the men. Everything the women needed was ready. I noticed particularly water flasks of leather, which could be opened and laid flat together one on top of another, as also a vessel of water standing over glowing coals. One vessel of pure water after another, one sponge after another, the women offered to Our Lady and Magdalen, receiving back and squeezing into the flasks those already used.
Our Lady's indescribable agony did not make her less strong and courageous. Though inundated with sorrow she could not leave that beloved body in such outraged condition, and at once set about her long and loving task.
She opened the crown of thorns from behind, and began carefully, with the assistance of her companions, to loosen it from His head. Some of the thorns had pierced into His head, and had first to be cut away from the crown, as otherwise every attempt to loosen the crown would have widened the wounds. They laid the crown to the nails, while Our Lady took a long, elastic, yellow-colored pair of pincers and drew from Our Lord's head all the piercing points and slivers that still remained, holding them up sadly to be gazed upon by her companions. The thorns were laid with the crown, at least most of them, some may have been kept as memorials.
Our Lord's face was so bloody and disfigured as to be almost unrecognizable, and His dishevelled hair and beard were clotted with blood. Our Lady washed that pitiful head and face, loosened the congealed blood in His hair with a wet sponge. And ever as she proceeded in her work of love, stood out more clearly His awful martyrdom, ever as she passed from wound to wound grew deeper her compassion, and care, and tenderness. Her right hand holding a sponge and its fingers covered with a piece of cloth, she loosened and washed the blood out of the wounds in His head, out of the death-broken eyes, out of the nostrils, out of the ears. With cloth and index finger she cleansed the half-open mouth, the tongue, the teeth and the lips. She parted His hair between the right side and the back of His head and again between the back and the left side, and on both sides brushed it back smooth behind the ears. Her task of cleansing concluded, she kissed His cheek and covered His head.
And now her tender fingers wandered on over His neck, shoulders, breast and back, along His arms and down to His blood-stained, lacerated hands. Oh, God, more shuddering than ever is now the desolation of ruin wreaked upon that beautiful frame! Behold that chest with its distended and distorted bones and joints! That shoulder with its deep-ploughed wound! That breast and back and arms harrowed with scourges and stripes! That little tell-tale wound above His heart to the left, and to the right below that awful gap where the heart-cleaving lance found entrance! On from one to the other glided the cleansing compassionate fingers. Magdalen sometimes stood in front of Our Lady to render aid, but generally lay prostrate at the feet of Jesus, washing them for the last time rather with her tears than with water, and wiping them with her hair.
Our Lord's head, breast, waist, and limbs were now free from blood and filth, and the holy body lay peacefully in Mary's lap. His bloodless flesh shining bluish white in color, except clotted stripes streaked in brown, or raw-peeled patches tinged it red. Tenderly Our Lady now covered His sacred limbs, and began to anoint His body wound by wound as before. The holy women knelt in succession before her, holding open for her a little box filled with ointment or some similar precious substance. Out of this box Our Lady kept the thumb and fore-finger of her right hand constanly moistened till she had anointed all His wounds. How beautiful to see her take Our Lord's hands into her own left hand, kiss them reverently, and fill those gaping wounds with spicy ointment. The openings in His ears. His nostrils, the lance-wound in His side—all claimed in turn her loving ministrations.—Magdalen's service was given almost exclusively to Our Lord's sacred feet. Now she dried and anointed them, then moistened them again with her tears, often lying prostrate for long at a time with her face resting on them.
I saw that they did not throw away the water when used but poured it into the leathern flasks. Oft-times I saw Cassius or some other soldier take the flasks or jars which the women had brought, and go to the well in Gihon to get fresh water. This well was quite near, so near that it could be seen from the Garden of the Sepulchre.
Our Lady Closes Our Lord's Half-broken Eyes.
After anointing all Our Lord's wounds, Our Lady swathed His head, but did not as yet draw down the ligatures over His face. Gently she pressed down the lids over those half-broken eyes, letting her hand rest softly on them for a while. Then she closed His mouth, embraced His sacred body, and let her weeping face sink sadly down upon His. Magdalen's reverence would not let her touch the face of Jesus, her own face rested on His holy feet.
Joseph and Nicodemus had already been waiting for some time, and John now drew near Our Lady to beg her to give the precious body over to them so they might have it embalmed before the Sabbath commenced. Once more, still more tenderly and lovingly, Our Lady embraced the martyred body and spoke touching words of farewell. Then by means of the sheet on which it lay the men lifted the body of Jesus out of the lap of His Mother and carried it down to the spot chosen for embalming. Our Lady, who had felt some alleviation of agony in caring for and caressing those beloved remains, now sank back into the depths of sorrow and lay with muffled head resting in the arms of her companions. Magdalen, like one being robbed of her beloved, followed with outstretched arms the men who were bearing Our Lord away, but turned after a few steps and came back to Our Lady.
When the sacred body had been embalmed, John led Our Lady and the holy women to the spot. Our Lady knelt down at Our Savior's head, took from round her neck beneath her mantle a fine piece of linen, presented to her by Claudia Procles, and laid it under Our Lord's head. With her companions she piled the entire space between head and shoulders and round up to the cheeks with aromatic herbs, filling in all crevices with delicate fibers and fine powder, then wrapped the underlying fine piece of linen round head and shoulders so that they were imbedded in this sweet-scented cushion. Magdalen poured a full flask of fragrant perfume into the wound in the side, and the other holy women put aromatic herbs into the hands and round and beneath His feet. Then with sweet spices the men filled in the arm-pits, overlaid the cavity about the heart, and rounded out every depression of the entire body. Hereupon they crossed the stiffened arms upon the bosom, and fastened the fragrant layers of spices and perfume by wrapping the large white sheet firmly round the body as high as the breast, just as one would swathe a child. Then they laid the body upon the six-cubits long sheet, bought by Joseph, folded one of the lower ends up over the breast, one of the upper ends down over head and shoulders, and wrapped the two sides inwards round the body.
While they knelt thus round the body, weeping and saying farewell, a most touching miracle took place before their eyes. On the outer surface of the sheet that covered it there appeared, reddish-brown in color, the entire figure of the body with all its wounds as if Our Lord was anxious to show His gratitude for their loving care and compassion by letting His picture shine out to them through all its wrappings. Weeping and lamenting they embraced the sacred body and kissed with reverence that wonderful impression. Astonishment made them unwrap the outer sheet once more, and that astonishment grew still deeper when they found all other wrappings as white as ever, and only the outer sheet marked with Our Lord’s figure.
Upon the sheet below where Our Lord lay were imprinted the full outlines of His back, while the form of His body in front stood out above. But as here in front several different corners and edges overlay one another, the sheet, in order to show Our Lord’s figure, had to be folded just as it had been when wrapped round the body. This picture did not arise naturally from contact with Our Lord's wounds, since these were deeply imbedded in spices and thickly wrapped in bandages. It was a miraculous impression created by the Godhead which remained hypostatically united even to the dead body of the Savior.
Taken from: The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the Revelations of Anna Catherine Emmerich, Imprimatur. 1914; and
The Missal for the Laity according to the use of the Holy Roman Church, 1846.
Aaron entering into the tabernacle to offer a holocaust on the altar for the sins of the children of Israel was clothed with a linen tunic.
March 4, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. CASIMIR, PRINCE OF POLAND, CONFESSOR
Enjoy thy well-earned rest in heaven, O Casimir! Neither the world with all its riches, nor the court with all its pleasures, could distract thy heart from the eternal joys it alone coveted and loved. Thy life was short, but full of merit. The remembrance of heaven made thee forget the earth. God yielded to the impatience of thy desire to be with him, and took thee speedily from among men. Thy life, though most innocent, was one of penance, for knowing the evil tendencies of corrupt nature, thou hadst a dread of a life of comfort.
O God, who amidst the delights of a court, and the attractive snares of the world, didst preserve holy Casimer constant and faithful in thy service; grant, we beseech thee, that by his intercession, thy people may despise the things of this world, and eagerly pursue those that are everlasting. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
It is from a Court that we are to be taught to-day the most heroic virtues. Casimir is a Prince; he is surrounded by all the allurements of youth and luxury; and yet he passes through the snares of the world with as much safety and prudence, as though he were an Angel in human form. His example shows us what we may do. The world has not smiled on us as it did on Casimir; but, how much we have loved it! If we have gone so far as to make it our idol, we must now break what we have adored, and give our service to the Sovereign Lord, who alone has a right to it. When we read the Lives of the Saints, and find that persons, who were in the ordinary walk of life, practised extraordinary virtues, we are inclined to think that they were not exposed to great temptations, or that the misfortunes they met in the world, made them give themselves up unreservedly to God's service. Such interpretations of the actions of the Saints are shallow and false, for they ignore this great fact,—that there is no condition or state, however humble, in which man has not to combat against the evil inclinations of his heart, and that corrupt nature alone is strong enough to lead him to sin. But in such a Saint as Casimir, we have no difficulty in recognising that all his Christian energy was from God, and not from any natural source; and we rightly conclude, that we, who have the same good God, may well hope that this Season of spiritual regeneration will change and better us. Casimir preferred death to sin. But is not every Christian bound to be thus minded every hour of the day? And yet, such is the infatuation produced by the pleasures or advantages of this present life, that we, every day, see men plunging themselves into sin, which is the death of the soul; and this, not for the sake of saving the life of the body, but for a vile and transient gratification, which is oftentimes contrary to their temporal interests. What stronger proof could there be than this, of the sad effects produced in us by Original Sin?—The examples of the Saints are given us as a light to lead us in the right path: let us follow it, and we shall be saved. Besides, we have a powerful aid in their merits and intercession: let us take courage at the thought, that these Friends of God have a most affectionate compassion for us their Brethren, who are surrounded by so many and great dangers.
The Church, in her Liturgy, thus describes to us the virtues of our young Prince.
Casimir was the son of Casimir, king of Poland, and of Elizabeth, of Austria. He was put, when quite a boy, under the care of the best masters, who trained him to piety and learning. He brought his body into subjection by wearing a hairshirt, and by frequent fasting. He could not endure the soft bed which is given to kings, but lay on the hard floor, and during the night, he used privately to steal from his room, and go to the Church, where, prostrate before the door, he besought God to have mercy on him. The Passion of Christ was his favourite subject of meditation; and when he assisted at Mass, his mind was so fixed on God, that he seemed to be in one long ecstacy.
Great was his zeal for the propagation of the Catholic faith, and the suppression of the Russian schism. He persuaded the king, his father, to pass a law, forbidding the schismatics to build new churches, or to repair those which had fallen to ruin. Such was his charity for the poor and all sufferers, that he went under the name of the Father and Defender of the Poor. During his last illness, he nobly evinced his love of purity, which virtue he had maintained unsullied during his whole life. He was suffering a cruel malady; but he courageously preferred to die, rather than suffer the loss, whereby his physicians advised him to purchase his cure,—the loss of his priceless treasure.
Being made perfect in a short space of time, and rich in virtue and merit, after having foretold the day of his death, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of his God, in the twenty-fifth year of his age, surrounded by Priests and Religious. His body was taken to Vilna, and was honoured by many miracles. A young girl was raised to life at his shrine; the blind recovered their sight, the lame the use of their limbs, and the sick their health. He appeared to a small army of Lithuanians, who were unexpectedly attacked by a large force, and gave them the victory over the enemy. [Pope] Leo the Tenth was induced by all these miracles to insert his name among the Saints.
Another account of St. Casimir.
St. Casimir was the third among the thirteen children of Casimir III, king of Poland, and of Elizabeth of Austria, daughter to the emperor Albert II, a most virtuous woman, who died in 1505. He was born in 1458, on the 5th of October. From his childhood he was remarkably pious and devout. His preceptor was John Dugloss, called Longinus, canon of Cracow, a man of extraordinary learning and piety, who constantly refused all bishoprics, and other dignities of the church and state, which were pressed up on him. Uladislas, the eldest son, was elected king of Bohemia, in 1471, and became king of Hungary in 1490. Our saint was the second son: John Albert, the third son, succeeded the father in the kingdom of Poland in 1492; and Alexander, the fourth son, was called to the same in 1501. Casimir and the other princes were so affectionately attached to the holy man who was their preceptor, that they could not bear to be separated from him. But Casimir profited most by his pious maxims and example. He consecrated the flower of his age to the exercises of devotion and penance, and had a horror of that softness and magnificence which reign in courts. His clothes were very plain, and under them he wore a hair shirt. His bed was frequently the ground, and he spent a considerable part of the night in prayer and meditation, chiefly on the passion of our Saviour. He often went out in the night to pray before the church-doors; and in the morning waited before them till they were opened to assist at matins. By living always under a sense of the divine presence he remained perpetually united to, and absorbed in, his Creator, maintained an uninterrupted cheerfulness of temper, and was mild and affable to all. He respected the least ceremonies of the church: every thing that tended to promote piety was dear to him. He was particularly devout to the passion of our blessed Saviour, the very thought of which excited him to tears, and threw him into transports of love. He was no less piously affected towards the sacrifice of the altar, at which he always assisted with such reverence and attention that he seemed in raptures. And as a mark of his singular devotion to the Blessed Virgin, he composed, or at least frequently recited, the long hymn that bears his name, a copy of which was, by his desire, buried with him. His love for Jesus Christ showed itself in his regard for the poor, who are his members, to whose relief he applied whatever he had, and employed his credit with his father, and his brother Uladislas, king of Bohemia, to procure them succor. His compassion made him feel in himself the afflictions of every one.
The Palatines and other nobles of Hungary, dissatisfied with Matthias Corvin, their king, son of the great Huniades, begged the king of Poland to allow them to place his son Casimir on the throne. The saint, not then quite fifteen years of age, was very unwilling to consent; but in compliance with his father's will he went, at the head of an army of twenty thousand men, to the frontiers, in 1471. There, hearing that Matthias had formed an army of sixteen thousand men to defend him, and that all differences were accommodated between him and his people, and that pope Sixtus IV had sent an embassy to divert his father from that expedition, he joyfully returned, having with difficulty obtained his father's consent so to do. However, as his dropping this project was disagreeable to the king his father, not to increase his affliction by appearing before him, he did not go directly to Cracow, but retired to the castle of Dobzki, three miles from that city, where he continued three months in the practice of penance. Having learned the injustice of the attempt against the king of Hungary, in which obedience to his father's command prevailed upon him to embark when he was very young, he could never be engaged to resume it by a fresh pressing invitation of the Hungarians, or the iterated orders and entreaties of his father. The twelve years he lived after this, he spent in sanctifying himself in the same manner as he had done before. He observed to the last an untainted chastity, notwithstanding the advice of physicians who excited him to marry, imagining, upon some false principle, this to be a means necessary to preserve his life. Being wasted with a lingering consumption, he foretold his last hour, and having prepared himself for it by redoubling his exercises of piety, and receiving the sacraments of the church, he made a happy end at Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, on the 4th of March, 1482, being twenty-three years and five months old. He was buried in the church of St. Stanislas. So many were the miracles wrought by his intercession, that Swiecicki, a canon of Vilna, wrought a whole volume of them from good memoirs, in 1604. He was canonized by pope Leo X, whose legate in Poland, Zachary Ferrier, wrote the saint's life. His body and all the rich stuffs it was wrapped in, were found quite entire, and exhaling a sweet smell one hundred and twenty years after his death, notwithstanding the excessive moisture of the vault. It is honored in a large rich chapel of marble, built on purpose in that church. St. Casimir is the patron of Poland, and several other places, and is proposed to youth as a particular pattern of purity. His original picture is to be seen in his chapel in St. Germain des Prez in Paris, built by John Casimir, king of Poland, the last of the family of Waza, who, renouncing his crown, retired to Paris, and died abbot of St. Germain's, in 1668.
What is there on earth which can engage the affections of a Christian, or be the object of his ambition, in whose soul God desires to establish his kingdom? Whoever has conceived a just idea of this immense happiness and dignity, must look upon all the glittering bubbles of this world as empty and vain, and consider everything in this life barely as it can advance or hinder the great object of all his desires. Few arrive at this happy and glorious state, because scarce any one seeks it with his whole heart, and has the courage sincerely to renounce all things and die to himself: and this precious jewel cannot be purchased upon any other terms. The kingdom of God can only be planted in a soul upon the ruins of self-love: so long as this reigns, it raises insuperable obstacles to the perfect establishment of the empire of divine love. The amiable Jesus lives in all souls which he animates by his sanctifying grace, and the Holy Ghost dwells in all such. But in most of these how many worldly maxims and inclinations diametrically opposite to those of our most holy heavenly king, hold their full sway! how many secret disorders and irregular attachments are cherished! how much is found of self-love, with which sometimes their spiritual exercises themselves are infected! The sovereign king of men and their merciful Redeemer is properly said to reign only in those souls which study effectually, and without reserve, to destroy in their affections whatever is opposite to his divine will, to subdue all their passions, and to subject all their powers to his holy love. Such fall not into any venial sins with full deliberation, and wipe away those of frailty into which they are betrayed, by the compunction and penance in which they constantly live, and by the constant attention with which they watch daily over themselves. They pray with the utmost earnestness that God deliver them from all the power of the enemy, and establish in all their affections the perfect empire of his grace and love; and to fulfil his will in the most perfect manner in all their actions, is their most earnest desire and hearty endeavor. How bountifully does God reward, even in this life, those who are thus liberal towards him! St. Casimir, who had tasted of this happiness, and learned truly to value the heavenly grace, loathed all earthly pomp and delights. With what joy ought not all Christians, both rich and poor, to be filled when they hear: The kingdom of God is within you! With what ardor ought they not to devote themselves to make God reign perfectly in their hearts! How justly did St. Casimir prefer this pursuit to earthly kingdoms!
When, O Casimir, shall we be made to understand that penance is a debt we owe to God,—a debt of expiation for the sins we have committed against him? Thou didst prefer death to sin; get us a fear of sin, that greatest of all the evils that can befal us, because it is an evil which strikes at God himself. Pray for us during this holy Season, which is intended as a preparation for penance; impress our minds with the truths now put before us. The Christian world is honouring thee to-day; repay its homage by thy blessing.
Poland, thy fatherland, is in mourning; comfort her. She was once the bulwark of the Church, and kept back the invasion of schism, heresy, and infidelity; and now she is crushed by tyrants, who robbed her of her faith;—pray for her that she may be freed from her oppressors, and, by regaining her ancient zeal for the faith, be preserved from the apostacy into which her enemies are seeking to drive her.
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Casimir, pray for us.