May 19, 2018: POPE ST. PETER CELESTINE
May 19, 2018: ST. PETER CELESTINE, POPE AND CONFESSOR
Thou obtainedst, Celestine, the object of thy ambition. Thou wast permitted to descend from the Apostolic Throne, and return to the quiet of that hidden life, which, for so many years, had been thy delight. Enjoy, to thy heart's content, the holy charm of being unknown to the world, and the treasures of contemplation in the secret of the face of God. But this life of obscurity must have an end; and then, the Cross,—the Cross, which thou hast loved above all earthly possessions,—will rise up in brightness before thy Cell door, and summon thee to share in the Paschal Triumph of Him, who came down from heaven to teach us this great truth,—that he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.
O God, who didst raise blessed Celestin to the dignity of chief Bishop, which thou taughtedst him to quit for a more humble and private state: mercifully grant, that, by his example, we may despise the things of this world, and happily obtain the blessings promised to the humble. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
Our Paschal Season, which has already given us the admirable Doctor, St. Leo, brings before us, to-day, the humble Peter Celestine,—Sovereign Pontiff, like Leo, but who was no sooner throned on the Apostolic See, than he left it and returned to solitude. Among the long list of sainted men, who compose the venerable series of Roman Pontiffs, our Lord would have one, in whose person was to be represented the virtue of humility;—that honour was conferred on Peter Celestine. He was dragged from the quiet of his solitude, compelled to ascend the throne of St. Peter, and made to hold, in his trembling hand, the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. The holy Hermit, whose eyes had been ever fixed on his own weakness, had then to provide for the necessities of the whole Church. In his humility, he judged himself to be unequal to so heavy a responsibility. He resigned the Tiara, and begged to be permitted to return to his dear hermitage. His Divine Master, Christ, had, in like manner, concealed his glory, first, in a thirty years of hidden life, and then, later on, under the cloud of his Passion and Sepulchre. The sunshine of the Pasch came; the gloom was dispersed, and the Conqueror of Death arose in all his splendour. He would have his Servants share in his triumph and glory; but their share is to be greater or less, according to the measure in which they have, here on earth, imitated his humility. Who, then, could describe the glory which Peter Celestine receives in heaven, as a recompense for his profound humility, which made him more eager to be unknown, than the most ambitious of men could be for honour and fame? He was great on the Pontifical Throne, and still greater in his solitude; but his greatness, now that he is in heaven, surpasses all human thought.
Holy Church speaks his praise in these few lines; their simplicity admirably harmonises with the Hermit Pope, whose life they narrate.
Peter (who, from the name he took as Pope, was called Celestine,) was born at Isernia, in the Abruzzi, of respectable and Catholic parents. When quite a boy, he retired into solitude, that he might be out of the reach of the world's vanities. There he nourished his soul with holy contemplations, bringing his body into subjection, and wearing an iron chain next to his skin. He founded, under the Rule of St. Benedict, the Congregation, which was afterwards called the Congregation of Celestines. The Roman Church having been, for a long time, widowed of its Pastor, Celestine was chosen, unknown to himself, to occupy the Chair of Peter, and was therefore compelled to quit his solitude, for he was a lamp that was set upon a candlestick, and could not be hid. All men were filled with joy, as well as with surprise, at this unexpected choice. But thus exalted to the Pontificate, and finding that the multiplicity of cares rendered it almost impossible for him to continue his wonted contemplations, he resigned, of his own accord, the onerous honours of the Papal throne. He therefore resumed his former mode of life, and slept in the Lord by a precious death, which was rendered still more glorious by the apparition of an exceedingly bright cross, which hovered over the door of his cell. He was celebrated for many miracles, both before and after his death; which being authentically proved, he was canonised, eleven years after his departure from this world, by Pope Clement the Fifth.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
Pope St. Peter Celestine, pray for us.