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From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Vanity of vanities and all is vanity.[1] No argument was needed to impress this truth upon the saint of to-day, when the coffin was opened which contained all that Spain had admired of youth and loveliness, and death suddenly revealed to him its awful reality. O ye beauties of all times, death alone never dies; it invites itself to your dances and pleasures, it assists at all your triumphs, it hears promises said to be eternal: and how quickly it can scatter your adorers! A few years, a few days, perhaps even less, and all your borrowed sweetness will be decaying in the tomb!

‘Enough of vain phantoms; enough of serving mortal kings; awaken, O my soul!’ Such was Francis Borgia’s reply to the teachings of death. The friend of Charles V, the great lord unequalled for nobility, fortune, and brilliant qualities, quitted the court as soon as possible. Ignatius, the soldier of the siege of Pampeluna, beheld at his feet the viceroy of Catalonia, begging to be protected against the honours which pursued him even under the poor habit of a Jesuit, which was now his glory.

The Church relates his life in the following lines.

Franciscus Gandiæ dux quartus, Joanne Borgia et Joanna Aragonia Ferdinandi Catholici nepte genitus, post puerilem ætatem inter domesticos mira innocentia et pietate transactam, in aula primum Caroli quinti Cæsaris, mox in Catalauniæ administratione admirabilior fuit christianæ virtutis et vitæausterioris exemplis. Ad Granatense sepulchrum Isabellam imperatricem cum detulisset, in ejus vultu fœde commutato, mortalium omnium caducitatem relegens, voto se adstrinxit, rebus omnibus, cum primum liceret, abjectis, regum Regi unice inserviendi. Inde tantum virtutis incrementum fecit, ut inter negotiorum turbas religiosæ perfectionis simillimam imaginem referens, miraculum principum appellaretur.

Mortua Eleonora de Castro, conjuge, ingressus est Societatem Jesu, ut in ea lateret securius, et præcluderet dignitatibus aditum, interposita voti religione: dignus, quem et viri principes complures in amplectendo severiori instituto fuerint secuti, et Carolus quintus ipse in abdicando imperio hortatorem sibi, aut ducem exstitisse non diffiteretur. In eo arctioris vitæ studio Franeiscus jejuniis, catenis ferreis, asperrimo cilicio, cruentis longisque verberationibus, somno brevissimo, corpus ad extremam usque maciem redegit: nullis præterea parcens laboribus ad sui victoriam et ad salutemanimarum. Tot itaque instructus virtutibus, a sancto Ignatio primum generaliscommissarius in Hispaniis, nec multo post præpositus generalis tertius a Societate universa, licet invitus, eligitur. Quo in munere principibus ac summis Pontificibus prudentia ac morura sanctitate apprime carus, præter complura vel condita vel aucta ubique domicilia, socios in regnum Poloniæ, in insulas Oceani, in Mexicanam et Peruanam provincias invexit: missis quoque in alias regiones apostolicis viris, qui prædicatione, sudoribus, sanguine, fidem catholicam Romanam propagarunt.

De se ita demisse sentiebat, ut peccatoris nomen sibi proprium faceret. Romanam purpuram, a summis Pontificibus sæpius oblatam, invicta humilitatis constantia recusavit. Verrere sordes, emendicare victum ostiatim,ægris ministrare in nosocomiis, mundi ac sui contemptor, in deliciis habuit. Singulis diebus multas continenter horas, frequenter octo, quandoque decena dabat cœlestium contemplationi. Centies quotidie de genu Deum adorabat. Numquam a sacrificando abstinuit, prodebatque sese divinus ardor, ejus vulfcu sacram Hostiam offerentis, aut concionantis interdum radiante. Sanctissimum Christi corpus in Eucharistia latens, ubi asservaretur, instinctu cœlesti sentiebat. Cardinali Alexandrino, ad conjungendos contra Turcas christianos principes, legato comes additus a beato Pio quinto, arduum iter, fractis jam pene viribus, suscepit ex obedientia, in qua et vitæ cursum Romæ, ut optarat, feliciter consummavit, anno ætatis suæ sexagesimo secundo, salutis vero millesimo quingentesimo septuagesimo secundo. A sancta Teresia, quæejus utebatur consiliis, vir sanctus, a Gregorio decimo tertio fidelis administer appellatus; demum a Clemente decimo, pluribus magnisque clarus miraculis, in sanctorum numerum est adscriptus.
Francis, fourth Duke of Gandia, was the son of John Borgia and of Joanna of Aragon, grand-daughter of Ferdinand the Catholic. He passed his childhood, in his father’s house, in wonderful innocence and piety; but appeared still more admirable when he showed himself a pattern of Christian virtue and austerity, first at the court of the emperor, Charles V, and afterwards as viceroy of Catalonia. He was charged to convey the body of the empress Isabella to her sepulchre at Granada. Seeing the horrible change in her features, he understood how fleeting are all earthly things, and vowed to renounce everything as soon as possible, and devote himself to the service of the King of kings. From that day forward he made such progress in virtue, that, in the midst of overwhelming occupations, his life was a faithful copy of religious perfection, so that he was called the miracle of princes.

On the death of his wife Eleanora de Castro, he entered the Society of Jesus, that he might be therein more hidden, on account of the vow which closes the door to ecclesiastical preferment. Many princes followed him in embracing a severe manner of life; and Charles V himself did not hesitate to acknowledge that his advice and example had led him to abdicate the throne. Francis devoted himself to the exercises of a penitential life, and macerated his body by fasting, iron chains, a rough Imir-shirt, long and bloody disciplines, allowing himself very little sleep; while at the same time he spared no elfort to conquer himself and to gain souls. His great virtue caused St. Ignatius to appoint him commissary general for Spain; and soon afterwards, against his will, he was chosen by the whole Society third General of the Order. In this position his prudence and holiness endeared him both to Popes and to temporal rulers. He founded and enlarged many houses of his Order, and introduced the Society into Poland, the islands of the Atlantic, Mexico, and Peru, and sent apostolic men into other regions who spread the Catholic, Roman faith by their preaching, their labours, and their blood.

He had a most lowly opinion of himself, always calling himself the sinner. This humility led him to persistently refuse the Roman purple, which was more than once offered him by the Pope. Filled with contempt for himself and the world, he delighted in sweeping away dirt, begging alms from door to door, and serving the sick in the hospitals. He devoted many hours every day to heavenly contemplation, spending sometimes eight or even ten hours in prayer, and genuflecting in adoration a hundred times in the day. He never omitted saying Mass; While he was offering the divine Victim, or preaching, the heavenly ardour which consumed him betrayed itself by the radiance of his countenance. He knew by a heavenly instinct where the most holy Body of Christ, hidden in the Eucharist, was kept. Saint Pius V appointed Francis companion to Cardinal Alessandrino,in an embassy for uniting the Christian princes against the Turks. Although his strength was almost exhausted, he undertook this journey in obedience; but on the way he happily closed his life, as he had wished, at Rome, in the sixty-second year of his age, and in the year of salvation 1572. By St. Teresa, who had often sought his advice, he was called a saint, and by Gregory XIII, a faithful servant of God. Finally, after many great miracles, he was canonized by Clement X.

‘O Lord Jesus Christ, the pattern and reward of true humility, we beseech Thee, that as Thou didst make blessed Francis a glorious follower of Thee in the contempt of worldly honour, so Thou wouldst grant us to be partakers of the same imitation and glory.’[2] Such is the prayer the Church offers through thee to her divine Spouse. She knows that the saints always have great power with God; but especially when they would obtain for their devout clients the virtues they themselves more particularly cultivated when on earth.

How precious is this prerogative in thy case, O Francis, for it concerns the virtue which attracts God’s grace in this life, and wins such glory hereafter! Since pride has hurled Lucifer into the abyss, and the self-abasement of the Son of God has led to His exaltation above the heavens, humility, whatever men may now say, has lost nothing of its inestimable value; it is still the indispensable foundation of every durable edifice, whether spiritual or social; the basis, without which the other virtues, and even charity the queen of them all, could not subsist a single day. Therefore, O Francis, obtain for us this humility; thoroughly convince us of the vanity of this world’s honours and false pleasures. May the holy Society, which thou after St. Ignatius didst render still more valuable to the Church, cherish this spirit of thine, so that it may deserve more and more the esteem of heaven and the gratitude of earth.


[1] Eccles. i. 2.
[2] Collect of the day.