From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.
The founder of a religious Order, whose distinguishing characteristics were humility and penance, comes before us to-day; it is Francis of Paula. Let us study his virtues and beg his intercession. His whole life was one of great innocence; and yet we find him embracing, from his earliest youth, mortifications which, nowadays, would not be expected from the very worst sinners. How was it that he could do so much? and we, who have so often sinned, do so little? The claims of divine justice are as strong now as ever they were; for God never changes, nor can the offence we have committed against Him by our sins be pardoned, unless we make atonement. The saints punished themselves, with life-long and austere penances, for the slightest sins; and the Church can scarcely induce us to observe the law of Lent, though it is now reduced to the lowest degree of severity.
What is the cause of this want of the spirit of expiation and penance? It is that our faith is weak, and our love of God is cold, because our thoughts and affections are so set upon this present life, that we seldom if ever consider things in the light of eternity. How many of us are like the king of France, who having obtained permission from the Pope that St. Francis of Paula should come and live near him, threw himself at the saint's feet, and besought him to obtain of God, that he, the king, might have a long life! Louis XI. had led a most wicked life; but bis anxiety was, not to do penance for his sins, but to obtain, by the saint's prayers, a prolongation of a career which had been little better than a storing up of wrath for the day of wrath. We, too, love this present life; we love it to excess. The laws of fasting and abstinence are broken, not because the obeying them would endanger life, or even seriously injure health—for where either of these is to be feared, the Church does not enforce her lenten penances—but people dispense themselves from fasting and abstinence, because the spirit of immortification renders every privation intolerable, and every interruption of an easy comfortable life insupportable. They have strength enough for any fatigue that business or pleasure calls for; but the moment there is question of observing those laws which the Church has instituted for the interest of the body as well as of the soul, all seems impossible; the conscience gets accustomed to these annual transgressions, and ends by persuading the sinner that he may be saved without doing penance.
St. Francis of Paula was of a very different way of thinking and acting. The Church gives us the following abridged account of his life:
Franciscus Paulæ, quod est Calabriæ oppidum, loco humili natus est: quem parentes, cum diu prole caruissent, voto facto, beati Francisci precibus susceperunt. Is adolescens divino ardore succensus, in eremum secessit: ubi annis sex victu asperam, sed meditationibus cælestibus suavem vitam duxit: sed cum virtutum ejus fama longius manaret, multique ad eum pietatis studio concurrerent, fraternæ charitatis causa e solitudine egressus, ecclesiam propePaulam ædificavit, ibique prima sui Ordinis fundamenta jecit.
Erat in eo mirifica loquendi gratia: perpetuam virginitatem servavit: humilitatem sio coluit, ut se omnium minimum diceret, suosque alumnos Minimos appellari voluerit. Rudi amictu, nudis pedibus incedens, humi cubabat. Cibi abstinentia fuit admirabili: semel in die post solis occasum reficiebatur, et ad panem et aquae potum vix aliquid ejusmodi obsonii adhibebat, quo vesoi in Quadragesima boet: quam consuetudinem, ut f rat res sui toto anni tempore retinerent, quarto eos voto adstrinxit.
Multis miraculis servi sui sanctitatem Deus testari voluit, quorum illud in primis celebre, quod a nautis rejectus, Siciliae fretum, strato super fluctibus pallio, cum socio transmisit. Multa etiam futura prophetico spiritu prædixit. A Ludovico undécimo Francorum rege expetitus, magnoque in honore est habitus. Denique annum primum et nonagesimum agens, Turonis migravit ad Dominum, anno salutis millesimo quingentesimo septimo: cujus corpus, dies undecim insepultum, ita incorruptum permansit, ut suavem etiam odorem effiaret. Eum Leo Papa decimus in sanctorum numerum retulit.
Francis was born at Paula, in Calabria, of humble parents, who, having been for a long time without children, obtained him from heaven, after having made a vow, and prayed to St. Francis. When very young, being inflamed with the love of God, he withdrew into a desert, where, for six years, he led an austere life, but one that was sweetened by heavenly contemplations. The fame of his virtues having spread abroad, many persons went to him, out of adesire to be trained in virtue. Out of a motive of fraternal charity, he left his solitude, built a church near Paula, and there laid the foundation of his Order.
He had a wonderful giftof preaching. He observed virginity during his whole life. Such was his love for humility, that he called himself the last of all men, and would have his disciples named Minims. His dress was of the coarsest kind, he always walked barefooted, and his bed was the ground. His abstinence was extraordinary: he ate only once in the day, and that not till after sunset. His food consisted of bread and water, to which he scarcely ever added those viands which are permitted even in Lent: and this practice he would have kept up by his religious, under the obligation of a fourth vow.
God bore witness to the holiness of his servant by many miracles, of which this is the most celebrated; that when he was rejected by the sailors, he and his companion passed over the straits of Sicily on his cloak, which he spread out on the water. He also prophesied many future events. Louis XI., king of France, had a great desire to see the saint, and treated him with great respect. Having reached his ninety-first year, he died at Tours, in the year of our Lord one thousand five hundred and seven. His body, which was left unburied for eleven days, so far from becoming corrupt, yielded a sweet fragrance. He was canonized by Pope Leo X.
Apostle of penance: thy life was always that of a saint, and we are sinners: yet do we presume, during these days, to beg thy powerful intercession, in order to obtain of God that this holy season may not pass without having produced within us a true spirit of penance, which may give us a reasonable hope of receiving His pardon. We admire the wondrous works which filled thy life—a life that resembled, in duration, that of the patriarchs, and prolonged the privilege the world enjoyed of having such a saint to teach and edify it. Now that thou art enjoying in heaven the fruits of thy labours on earth, think upon us, and hearken to the prayers addressed to thee by the faithful. Gain for us the spirit of compunction, which will add earnestness to our works of penance. Bless and preserve the Order thou hast founded. Thy holy relics have been destroyed by the fury of heretics; avenge the injury thus offered to thy name, by praying for the conversion of heretics and sinners, and drawing down upon the world those heavenly graces, which will revive among us the fervour of the ages of faith.