April 24, 2018: ST. FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN
April 24, 2018: ST. FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, MARTYR
“For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
(II Tim, iv. 6, 7)
O God, who filledst the heart of blessed Fidelis with seraphic love, and while he laboured in the propogation of the true faith, didst honor him with the crown of martyrdom, and the gift of miracles: we beseech thee, by his merits and intercession, so to strengthen us in faith and charity, that we may be found faithful in thy service unto death. 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.
Our Risen Lord would have around him a bright phalanx of Martyrs. Its privileged members belong to the different centuries of the Church's existence. Its ranks open to-day to give welcome to a brave combatant, who won his palm, not in a contest with paganism,—as those did whose feasts we have thus far kept,—but in defending his mother, the Church, against her own rebellious children. They were heretics that slew this day's Martyr, and the century that was honoured with his triumph was the seventeenth.
Fidelis was worthy of his beautiful name. Neither difficulty nor menace could make him fail in his duty. During his whole life, he had but the glory and service of his divine Lord in view: and when the time came for him to face the fatal danger, he did so, calmly but fearlessly, as beloved a disciple of that Jesus who went forth to meet his enemies. Honour, then, be to-day to the brave son of St. Francis! truly is he worthy of his seraphic Patriarch, who confronted the Saracens, and was a Martyr in desire!
Protestantism was established and rooted by the shedding of torrents of blood; and yet Protestants count it as a great crime, that, here and there, the children of the true Church made an armed resistance against them. The heresy of the 16th century was the cruel and untiring persecutor of men, whose only crime was their adhesion to the old Faith,—the Faith that had civilised the world. The so-called Reformation proclaimed liberty in matters of Religion, and massacred Catholics who exercised this liberty, and prayed and believed as their ancestors had done for long ages before Luther and Calvin were born. A Catholic, who gives heretics credit for sincerity when they talk about Religious Toleration, proves that he knows nothing of either the past or the present. There is a fatal instinct in error, which leads it to hate the Truth; and the True Church, by its unchangeableness, is a perpetual reproach to them that refuse to be her children. Heresy starts with an attempt to annihilate them that remain faithful; when it has grown tired of open persecution, it vents its spleen in insults and calumnies; and when these do not produce the desired effect, hypocrisy comes in with its assurances of friendly forbearance. The history of Protestant Europe, during the last [few] centuries, confirms these statements; it also justifies us in honouring those courageous servants of God, who, during that same period, have died for the ancient Faith.
Let us now respectfully listen to the account given us, in the Liturgy, of the Life and Martyrdom of St. Fidelis; we shall find that the Church has not grown degenerate in her Saints.
Fidelis was born at Sigmaringen, a town of Swabia. His Parents were of a respectable family, by name Rey. He was remarkable, even when a child, for his extraordinary gifts both of nature and grace. Blessed with talent of a high order, and trained to virtue by an excellent education, he received at Friburg the well-merited honours of Doctor in Philosophy and in Civil and Canon Law, at the same time that, in the school of Christ, he strove to attain the height of perfection, by the assiduous practice of all virtues. Being requested to accompany several noblemen in their travels through various countries of Europe, he lost no opportunity of encouraging them, both by word and example, to lead a life of Christian piety. In these travels, he moreover mortified the desires of the flesh by frequent austerities; and such was the mastery he gained over himself, that, in the midst of all the trouble and excitement, he was never seen to lose his temper in the slightest degree. He was a strenuous upholder of law and justice, and, after his return to Germany, he acquired considerable reputation as an Advocate. But finding that this profession was replete with danger, he resolved to enter on the path that would best lead him to eternal salvation. Thus enlightened by the divine call, he shortly afterwards asked to be admitted into the Seraphic Order, among the Capuchin Friars-Minors.
His pious wish being granted, he, from the very commencement of his Noviciate, showed how thoroughly he despised the world and himself; and, when, with spiritual joy, he had offered to God the vows of solemn profession, his regular observance was such as to make him the admiration and a model to all around him. He devoted himself to prayer and to sacred studies; as also to preaching, for which he had a special grace, and by which he not only converted Catholics from a life of wickedness to one of virtue, but he also drew heretics to a knowledge of the truth. He was appointed superior in several convents of his Order, and fulfilled his office with admirable prudence, justice, meekness, discretion, and humility. His zeal for strict poverty was so great, that he would allow nothing to be in the convent which was not absolutely necessary. He practised severe fasting, watching and disciplines, out of holy hatred against himself; whereas, his love towards others was that of a mother for her children. A contagious fever having broken out among the Austrian soldiers, causing frightful mortality, he devoted his whole energies to untiring acts of charity in favour of the sick, whose sufferings were extreme. So admirable was he, both in advice and action, in settling disputes, and relieving everyone in trouble or trial, that he won for himself the name of the Father of his country.
He was extremely devout to the Virgin Mother of God, and a zealous promoter of the Rosary. He besought of God, through the intercession of this Blessed Mother firstly, and then through that of all the Saints, that he might be allowed to shed his blood and lay down his life for the Catholic Faith. This ardent desire was increased by the daily and devout celebration of the Holy Sacrifice; and, at length, by the wonderful providence of God, this valiant soldier of Christ was placed at the head of the Missions recently established among the Grisons, by the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. Fidelis undertook this arduous task with a ready and cheerful heart, and laboured in it with such earnestness, that he converted many heretics to the true Faith, and inspired the hope that the whole of that people would be reconciled to the Church and to Christ. He had the gift of Prophecy, and frequently predicted the calamities that were to befal the Grisons, as also his own death by the hands of the heretics. Being fully aware of the plot laid against him, he prepared himself for the combat, and, on the twenty-fourth day of April, in the year 1622, he repaired to the Church of a place called Sevis. Hither had the heretics, on the previous day, invited him to come and preach, pretending that they wished to be converted. Whilst he was preaching, he was interrupted by their clamours. They rushed upon him, cruelly struck and wounded him even to death. He suffered it with courage and joy, thus consecrating by his blood the first-fruits of the Martyrs of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. His name was rendered illustrious by many miracles, especially at Coire and Weltkirchen, where his Relics are kept, and honoured with exceeding great veneration of the people.
Life of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Martyr
He was born in 1577, at Sigmarengen, a town in Germany, in the principality of Hoinvenzollen. The name of his father was John Rey. The saint was christened Mark; performed his studies in the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and whilst he taught philosophy, commenced doctor of laws. He at that time never drank -wine, and wore a hair-shirt. His modesty, meekness, chastity, and all other virtues, charmed all who had the happiness of his acquaintance. In 1604, he accompanied three young gentlemen of that country on their travels through the principal parts of Europe. During six years, which he continued in this employment, he never ceased to instil into them the most heroic and tender, sentiments of piety. He received the holy sacrament very frequently, particularly on all the principal holidays. In every town where he came, he visited the hospitals and churches, passed several hours on his knees in the presence of the blessed sacrament, and gave to the poor sometimes the very clothes off his back. After this he practised the law in quality of counsellor or advocate at Colmar, in Alsace, with great reputation, but with greater virtue. Justice and religion directed all his actions. He scrupulously forbore all invectives, detractions, and whatever might affect the reputation of any adversary. His charity procured him the surname of counsellor and advocate for the poor: but the injustices of a colleague in protracting lawsuits for gain, and his finding fault with our saint for producing all his proofs for his clients in the beginning, in order to the quicker dispatch, gave him a disgust of a profession which was to many an occasion of sin, and determined him to enter among the Capuchin friars. [These are an austere reformation of the Franciscans, or Grey-Friars, commenced in Italy in 1528, by Friar Matthew de Basel, and approved of by Clement VIII.] He first received holy orders, and having said his first mass in their convent at Fribourg, on the feast of St. Francis, in 1612, he consecrated himself to God by taking the habit. The guardian gave him, in religion, the name of Fidelis, or Faithful, alluding to that text of the Apocalypse which promises a crown of life to him who shall continue faithful to the end. From that moment, humiliations, macerations, and implicit obedience were his delight. He overcame temptations by discovering them to his director, and submitting to his advice with regard to his conduct under them. By his last will, he bequeathed his patrimony to the bishop's seminary, for the establishment of a fund for the support of poor students, to whom he also left his library; and gave the remainder of his substance to the poor. In regard to dress and furniture, he always chose that for his own use which was the least valuable and convenient. He fasted Advent, Lent, and Vigils, on bread and water, with dried fruits, tasting nothing which had been dressed by fire. His life was a continued prayer and recollection, and at his devotions he seemed rather like an angel than a man. His earnest and perpetual petition to God was, that he would always preserve him from sin, and from falling into tepidity or sloth in his service. He sought the most abject and most painful employments even when superior; knowing that God exalts those highest who have here humbled themselves the lowest and the nearest to their own nothingness. He had no sooner finished his course of theology, than he was employed in preaching and in hearing confessions; and being sent superior to the convent of Weltkirchen, that town and many neighbouring places were totally reformed by his zealous labours, and several Calvinists converted. The Congregation de Propaganda Fide, sent to father Fidelis a commission to go and preach among the Grisons; and he was the first missionary that was sent into those parts after that people had embraced Calvinism. Eight other fathers of his Order were his assistants, and laboured in this mission under his direction. The Calvinists of that territory, being incensed at his attempt, loudly threatened his life, and he prepared himself for martyrdom on entering upon this new harvest. Ralph de Salis, and another Calvinist gentleman, were converted by his first conferences. The missionary penetrated into Pretigout, a small district of the Grisons, in 1622, on the feast of the Epiphany, and gained every day new conquests to Christ; the conversion of which souls ought to be regarded as more the fruit of the ardent prayers in which he passed great part of the nights, than of his sermons and conferences in the day. These wonderful effects of his apostolic zeal, whereof the bishop of Coire sent a large and full account to the Congregation de Propaganda, so enraged the Calvinists in that province, who had lately rebelled against the emperor, their sovereign, that they were determined to bear with them no longer. The holy father having notice of it, thought of nothing but preparing himself for his conflict, passing whole nights in fervent prayer before the blessed sacrament, or before his crucifix, and often prostrate on the ground. On the 24th of April, 1622, he made his confession to his companion with great compunction, said mass, and then preached at Gruch, a considerable borough. At the end of his sermon, which he delivered with more than ordinary fire, he stood silent on a sudden, with his eves fixed on heaven, in an ecstasy, during some time. He foretold his death to several persons in the clearest terms, and subscribed his last letters in this manner: “Brother Fidelis, who will be shortly the food of worms.” From Gruch he went to preach at Sevis, where, with great energy, he exhorted the Catholics to constancy in the faith. A Calvinist having discharged his musket at him in the church, the Catholics entreated him to leave the place. He answered, that death was his gain and his joy, and that he was ready to lay down his life in God's cause. On his road back to Gruch, he met twenty Calvinist soldiers with a minister at their head. They called him false prophet, and urged him to embrace their sect. He answered: “I am sent to you to confute, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic religion is the faith of all ages. I fear not death.” One of them beat him down to the ground by a stroke on his head with his backsword. The martyr rose again on his knees, and stretching out his arms in the form of a cross, said with a feeble voice: “Pardon my enemies, Lord: blinded by passion they know not what they do. Lord Jesus have pity on me. Mary, mother of Jesus, assist me.” Another stroke clove his skull, and he fell to the ground and lay weltering in his blood. The soldiers, not content with this, added many stabs in his body, and hacked his left leg, as they said, to punish him for his many journeys into those parts to preach to them. A Catholic woman lay concealed near the place during this butchery; and after the soldiers were gone, coming out to see the effects of it, found the martyr's eyes open, and fixed on the heavens. He died in 1622, the forty-fifth year of his age, and the tenth of his religious profession. He was buried by the Catholics the next day. The rebels were soon after defeated by the imperialists, an event which the martyr had foretold them. The minister was converted by this circumstance, and made a public abjuration of his heresy. After six months, the martyr's body was found incorrupt, but the head and left arm separate from the trunk. These being put into two cases, were translated from thence to the cathedral of Coire, at the earnest suit of the Bishop, and laid under the high altar with great pomp; the remainder of the corpse was deposited in the Capuchin's church at Weltkirchen. Three miracles performed by his relics and intercession, out of three hundred and five produced, are inserted in the decree of his beatification, published by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729. Other miracles were proved, and the decree of his canonization was published by Benedict XIV in 1746. The 24th of April is appointed the day of his festival, and his name is inserted in the Roman Martyrology…
To contribute to the conversion of a soul from sin is something far more excellent than to raise a dead body to life. This must soon fall again a prey to death; and only recovers by such a miracle the enjoyment of the frail and empty goods of this world. But the soul which, from the death of sin, is raised to the life of grace, is immortal, and, from a slave of the devil and a firebrand of hell, passes to the inestimable dignity and privileges of a child of God; by which divine adoption she is rescued out of the abyss of infinite misery, and exalted to the most sublime state of glory and happiness, in which all the treasures of grace and of heaven are her portion for ever. Hunger, thirst, watchings, labours, and a thousand martyrdoms, ought to seem nothing to one employed in the sacred ministry, with the hopes of gaining but one sinner to Christ. Moreover, God himself will be his recompense, who is witness, and keeps a faithful account of all his fatigues and least sufferings.
Taken from: The Liturgical
Year – The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, pray for us.