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October

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

'Although the Church triumphant in heaven, and the Church mourning here on earth, appear to be completely separated,' says Bossuet on this feast, ‘they are nevertheless united by a sacred bond. This bond is charity, which is found in this land of exile as well as in our heavenly country; which rejoices the triumphant saints, and animates those still militant; which, descending from heaven to earth, and from angels to men, causes earth to become a heaven, and men to become angels. For, O holy Jerusalem, happy Church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven, although the Church thy dear sister, who lives and combats here below, ventures not to compare herself with thee, she is not the less assured that a holy love unites her to thee. It is true that she is seeking, and thou possessest; that she labours, and thou art at rest; that she hopes, and thou rejoicest. But among all these differences which separate the two so far asunder, there is this at least in common: that what the blessed spirits love, the same we mortals love. Jesus is their life, Jesus is our life; and amid their songs of rapture, and our sighs of sorrow, everywhere are heard to resound these words of the sacred Psalmist: It is good for me to adhere to my God.’[1]

Of this sovereign good of the Church militant and triumphant, Teresa, in a time of decadence, was commissioned to remind the world, from the height of Carmel restored by her to its pristine beauty. After the cold night of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the example of her life possessed a power of irresistible attraction, which survives in her writings, drawing predestined souls after her in the footsteps of the divine Spouse.

It was not, however, by unknown ways, that the holy Spirit led Teresa; neither did she, the humble Teresa, make any innovations. Long before, the apostle had declared that the Christian’s conversation is in heaven; and we saw, a few days ago, how the Areopagite formulated the teaching of the first century. After him we might mention St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Gregory the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and many other witnesses from all the churches. It has been said, and proved far more ably than we could prove it, that 'no state seems to have been more fully recognized by the fathers, than that of perfect union, which is achieved in the highest contemplation; and in reading their writings, we cannot help remarking the simplicity with which they treat of it; they seem to think it frequent, and simply look upon it as the full development of the Christian life.'[2]

In this, as in all else, scholasticism followed the fathers. It asserted the doctrine concerning these summits of Christian life, even at a time when the weakness of faith in the people scarcely over left full scope to divine charity, save in the obscurity of a few unknown cloisters, In its own peculiar form, the teaching of the School was unfortunately not accessible to all; and moreover the abnormal character of that troubled epoch affected even the mystics that still remained.

It was then that the virgin of Avila appeared in the Catholic kingdom. Wonderfully gifted by grace and by nature, she experienced the resistances of the latter, as well as the calls of God, and the purifying delays and progressive triumphs of love; the Holy Ghost, who intended her to be a mistress in the Church, led her, if one may so speak, by the classical way of the favours He reserves for the perfect. Having arrived at the mountain of God, she described the road by which she had come, without any pretension but to obey him who commanded her in the name of the Lord.[3] With exquisite simplicity and unconsciousness of self, she related the works accomplished for her Spouse;[4] made over to her daughters the lessons of her own experience;[5] and described the many mansions of that castle of the human soul, in the centre of which, he that can reach it will find the holy Trinity residing as in an anticipated heaven.[6] No more was needed: withdrawn from speculative abstractions and restored to its sublime simplicity, Christian mysticism again attracted every mind; light reawakened love; the virtues flourished in the Church; and the baneful effects of heresy and its pretended reform were counteracted.

Doubtless Teresa invited no one to attempt, as presumptuously as vainly, to force an entrance into the uncommon paths. But if passive and infused union depends entirely upon God’s good pleasure, the union of effective and active conformity to the divine will, without which the other would be an illusion, may be attained with the help of ordinary grace, by every man of good will. Those who possess it, ‘have obtained,’ says the saint, ‘what it was lawful for them to wish for. This is the union I have all my life desired, and have always asked of our Lord; it is also the easiest to understand, and the most secure.’[7]

She added however: ‘Beware of that excessive reserve, which certain persons have, and which they take for humility. If the king deigned to grant you a favour, would it be humility to meet him with a refusal? And when the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth deigns to honour my soul with His visit, and comes to load me with graces, and to rejoice with me; should I prove myself humble if I would not answer Him, nor keep Him company, nor accept His gifts, but fled from His presence and left Him all alone? A strange sort of humility is that! Look upon Jesus Christ as a Father, a Brother, a Master, or a Spouse; and treat Him in one or other of these ways; He Himself will teach you which is the one that best pleases Him and that it behoves you to choose. And then, be not so simple as to make no use of it.’[8]

But it is said on all sides: ‘This way is beset with snares: such a soul was lost in it; such an one went astray; and another, who ceased not to pray, could not escape a fall. . . See the inconceivable blindness of the world. It has no anxiety about those thousands of unfortunate creatures who, entirely strangers to the path of prayer, live in the most horrible excess; but if it happens, by a misfortune deplorable no doubt but very rare, that the tempter’s artifices seduce a soul that prays, they take advantage of this to inspire others with the greatest terror, and to deter them from the holy practices of virtue. Is he not the victim of a most fatal error, who believes it necessary to abstain from doing good in order to avoid doing evil? You must rise above all these fears. Endeavour to keep your conscience always pure; strengthen yourself in humility; tread under foot all earthly things; be inflexible in the faith of our mother the holy Church; and doubt not, after that, that you are on the right road.'[9] It is too true that ‘when a soul finds not in herself that vigorous faith, and her transports of devotion do not strengthen her attachment to holy Church, she is in a way full of perils. The Spirit of God never inspires anything that is not conformable to holy Scripture; if there were the slightest divergence, that, of itself alone, would suffice to prove so evidently the action of the evil spirit, that, were the whole world to assure me it was the divine Spirit, I would never believe it.'[10] But the soul may escape so great a danger by questioning those who can enlighten her. ‘Every Christian must, when he is able, seek out a learned guide, and the more learned the better. Such a help is still more necessary to persons given to prayer; and in the highest states they have most need of it. I have always felt drawn to men eminent for doctrine. Some, I grant, may not have experimental knowledge of spiritual ways; but if they have not an aversion for them, they do not ignore them; and by the assistance of holy Scripture, of which they make a constant study, they always recognize the true signs of the good Spirit. The spirit of darkness has a strange dread of humble and virtuous science; he knows it will find him out, and thus his stratagems will turn to his own loss. ... I, an ignorant and useless creature, bless Thee, O Lord, for these faithful servants of Thine, who give us light.[11] I have no no more knowledge than virtue; I write by snatches, and even then with difficulty; this prevents me from spinning, and I live in a poor house where I have no lack of occupations. The mere fact of being a woman and one so imperfect, is sufficient to make me lay down the pen.’[12]

As thou wilt, O Teresa: deliver thy soul; pass beyond that, and with Magdalene, at the recollection of what thou callest thine infidelities, water with thy tears the feet of our Lord, recognize thyself in St. Augustine’s confessions![13] Yes; in those former relations with the world, although approved by obedience; in those conversations, which were honourable and virtuous: it was a fault in thee, who wast called to something higher, to withhold from God so many hours which He was inwardly urging thee to reserve for Him alone. And who knows whither thy soul might have been led, hadst thou continued longer thus to wound thy Spouse? But we, whose tepidity can see nothing in thy ‘great sins’ but what would be perfection in many of us,[14] have a right to appreciate, as the Church does, both thy life and thy writings; and to pray with her, on this joyful day of thy feast, that we may be nourished with thy heavenly doctrine and kindled with thy love of God.[15]

According to the word of the divine Canticle, in order to introduce Teresa into His most precious stores the Spouse had first to set charity in order in her soul. Having, therefore, claimed His just and sovereign rights, He at once restored her to her neighbour, more devoted and more loving than before. The Seraph’s dart did not wither or deform her heart. At the highest summit of perfection she was destined to attain, in the very year of her blessed death, she wrote: ‘If you love me much, I love you equally, I assure you; and I like you to tell me the same. Oh! how true it is, that our nature inclines us to wish for return of love! It cannot be wrong, since our Lord Himself exacts a return from us. It is an advantage to resemble Him in something, were it only in this.’[16]And elsewhere, speaking of her endless journeys in the service of her divine Spouse, she says: ‘It cost me the greatest pain when I had to part from my daughters and sisters. They are detached from everything else in the world, but God has not given them to be detached from me; He has perhaps done this for my greater trial, for neither am I detached from them.’[17]

Grace never depreciates nature, which, like itself, is the Creator’s work. It consecrates it, makes it healthy, fortifies it, harmonizes it, causes the full development of its faculties to become the first and most tangible homage, publicly offered by regenerated man to Christ his Redeemer. Let any one read that literary master-piece, the Book of the Foundations, or the innumerable letters written by the seraphic mother amid the devouring activity of her life; there he will see whether the heroism of faith and of all virtues, whether sanctity in its highest mystical expression, was ever prejudicial—we will not say to Teresa’s constancy, devotedness, or energy—but to that intelligence, which nothing could disconcert, swift, lively, and pleasant; to that even character, which shed its peaceful serenity on all around; to the delicate solicitude, the moderation, the exquisite tact, the amiable manners, the practical good sense, of this contemplative, whose pierced heart beat only by miracle, and whose motto was: ‘To suffer or to die.’

To the benefactor of a projected foundation she wrote: ‘Do not think, sir, that you will have to give only what you expect; I warn you of it. It is nothing to give money; that does not cost us much. But when we find ourselves on the point of being stoned, you, and your son-in-law, and as many of us as have to do with this affair (as it nearly happened to us at the foundation of St. Joseph’s at Avila), Oh! then will be the good time!’[18] It was on occasion of this same foundation at Toledo, which was in fact very stormy, that the saint said: ‘Teresa and three ducats are nothing; but God, Teresa, and three ducats, there you have everything.’

Teresa had to experience more than mere human privations: there came a time when God Himself seemed to fail her. Like Philip Benizi before her, and after her Joseph Calasanctius and Alphonsus Liguori, she saw herself, her daughters, and her sons, condemned and rejected in the name and by the authority of the Vicar of Christ. It was one of those occasions, long before prophesied, when it is given to the beast to make war with the saints and to overcome them.[19] We have not space to relate all the sad circumstances;[20] and why should we do so P The old enemy had then one manner of acting, which he repeated in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and will always repeat. In like manner, God has but one aim in permitting the evil, viz. to lead His chosen ones to that lofty summit of crucifying union, where He, who willed to be the first to taste the bitter dregs of the chalice, could say more truly and more painfully than any other: 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’[21]

The Church thus abridges the life of the reformer of Carmel.

Teresia virgo nata est Abulæ in Hispania, parentibus tum genere, tum pietate præclaris. Ab iis divini timoris lacte educata, admirandum futuræ sanctitatis in tenerrima adhuc ætate specimen dedit. Nam cum sanctorum martyrum acta perlegeret, adeo in ejus meditatione sancti Spiritus ignis exarsit, ut domo aufugiens, in Africam trajiceret, ubi vitam pro gloria Jesu Christi et animarum salute profunderet. A patruo revocata, ardens martyrii desiderium eleemosynis aliisque piis operibus compensavit jugibus lacrimis deplorans optimam sibi sortem fuisse præreptam. Mortua matre, cum a beatissima Virgine peteret, ut se matrem esse monstraret, pii voti compos effecta est, semper perinde ac filia patrocinio Deipara perfruens. Vigesimum ætatis annum agens, ad moniales sanctæ Mariæ de Monte Carmelo se contulit: ibi per duodeviginti annos gravissimis morbis et variis tentationibus vexata, constantissime mernit in castris christianæ pœnitentiæ, nullo refecta pabulo cœlestium earum consolationum, quibus solet etiam in terris sanctitas abundare.

Angelicis ditata virtutibus, non modo propriam, sed publicam etiam salutem sollicita caritate curavit. Quare severiorem veterum Carmelitarum regulam, Deo afflante, et Pio quarto approbante, primum mulieribus, deinde viris observandam proposuit. Effloruit in eo consilio omnipotens miserentis Domini benedictio: nam duo supra triginta monasteria inops virgo potuit ædificare, omnibus humanis destituta auxiliis, quinimo adversantibus plerumque sæculi principibus. Infidelium et hæreticorum tenebras perpetuis deflebat lacrimis, atque ad placandam divinæ ultionis iram, voluntarios proprii corporis cruciatus Deo pro eorum salute dicabat. Tanto autem diviniamoris incendio cor ejus conflagravit ut merito viderit angelum ignito jaculo sibi præcordia transverberantem, et audierit Christum data dextera dicentem sibi: Deinceps ut vera, sponsa meum zelabis honorem. Eo consiliante, maxime arduum votum emisit, efficiendi semper quidquid perfectius esse intelligeret. Multa cœlestis sapientiæ documenta conscripsit quibus fidelium mentes ad supernæ patriæ desiderium maxime excitantur.

Cum autem assidua ederet exempla virtutum, tam anxio castigandi corporis desiderio æstuabat, ut quamvis secus suaderent morbi quibus afflictabatur, corpus ciliciis, catenis, urticarum manipulis, aliisque asperrimis flagellis sæpe cruciaret, et aliquando inter spinas volutaret, sic Deum alloqui solita: Domine, aut pati, aut mori: se semper miserrima morte pereuntem ex istimans, quamdiu a cœlesti æternæ vitæ fonte abesset. Prophetiæ dono excelluit, eamque divinis charismatibus tam liberaliter locupletabat Dominus, ut sæpius exclamans peteret beneficiis in se divinis modum imponi, nec tam celeri oblivione culparum suarum memoriam aboleri. Intolerabili igitur divini amoris incendio potius quam vi morbi, Albæ cum discumberet, prænuntiato suæ mortis die, ecclesiasticis sacramentis munita, alumnos ad pacem, cantatem et regularem observantiam adhortata, sub columbæ specie purissimam animam Deo reddidit, annos nata sexaginta septem, anno millesimo quingentesimo octogesimo secundo, idibus Octobris, juxta calendarii Romani emendationem. Ei morienti adesse visus est inter angelorum agmina Christus Jesus: et arbor arida celias proxima statim effloruit. Ejus corpus usque ad hanc diem incorruptum, odorato liquore circumfusum, pia veneratione colitur. Miraculis claruit ante et post obitum, eamque Gregorius decimus quintus in sanctorum numerum retulit.
The virgin Teresa was born at Avila in Spain, of parents illustrious for nobility and virtue. She was brought up by them in the fear of God; and while still very young, she gave admirable promise of her future sanctity. While reading the acts of the holy martyrs, she was so enkindled with the fire of the holy Spirit, that she ran away from home, resolved to cross over to Africa, and there to lay down her life for the glory of Jesus Christ and the salvation of souls. She was brought back by her uncle; but her heart still burned with the desire of martyrdom, which she endeavoured to satisfy by alms-deeds and other works of piety, weeping continually to see herself deprived of that happy lot. On the death of her mother she begged the blessed Virgin to be a mother to her; and she gained her request, for, ever afterwards the Mother of God cherished her as a daughter. In the twentieth year of her age she joined the nuns of St. Mary of Mount Carmel; and spent eighteen years in that monastery, enduring severe illnesses and many trials. While she was thus courageously battling in the ranks of Christian penance, she was deprived of the support of heavenly consolations, in which the saints usually abound even on this earth.

She was adorned with angelic virtues; and her charity made her solicitous not for her own salvation alone, but for that of all mankind. Inspired by God, and with the approbation of Pius IV she restored the Carmelite rule to its primitive severity, and caused it to be thus observed first by the women and then by the men. The all-powerful blessing of our merciful God was evident in this work; for, though destitute of all human aid, and moreover opposed by many of the great ones of the world, the virgin was able, in her poverty, to build thirty-two monasteries. She wept continually over the blindness of infidels and heretics, and offered to God the voluntary maceration of her body to appease the divine anger, on their behalf. Her heart burned like a furnace of divine love; so that once she saw an angel piercing it with a fiery dart, and heard Christ say to her, taking her hand in his: Henceforward, as my true bride, thou shalt be zealous for mine honour. By our Lord’s advice, she made the exceedingly difficult vow, always to do what she conceived to be most perfect. She wrote many works, full of divine wisdom, which arouse in the minds of the faithful the desire of their heavenly country.

Whereas Teresa was a pattern of every virtue, her desire of bodily mortification was most ardent; and in spite of the various maladies which afflicted her, she chastised her body with hairshirts and iron chains, scourged herself with sharp disciplines or with bundles of nettles, and sometimes rolled among thorns. She would often speak thus to God: O Lord, let me either suffer or die; for she considered that as long as she was absent from the fountain of life, she was dying daily and most miserably. She was remarkable for her gift of prophecy, and was enriched to such a degree by our Lord with his divine favours, that she would often beg him to set bounds to his gifts, and not to blot out the memory of her sins so speedily. Consumed by the irresistible fire of divine love rather than by disease, after receiving the last Sacraments, and exhorting her children to peace, charity, and religious observance, she expired at Alba, on the day she had foretold; and her most pure soul was seen ascending to God in the form of a dove. She died at the age of sixty-seven, in the year 1582, on the Ides of October according to the corrected Roman calendar.[22] Jesus Christ was seen present at her death-bed, surrounded by angels; and a withered tree near her cell suddenly burst into blossom. Her body has remained incorrupt to the present day, distilling a fragrant liquor; and is honoured with pious veneration. She was made illustrious by miracles both before and after her death; and Gregory XV enrolled her among the saints.

The Beloved, who revealed Himself to thee, O Teresa, at death, thou hadst already found in the sufferings of this life. If anything could bring thee back to earth, it would be the desire of suffering yet more.[23] ‘I am not surprised,' says Bossuet speaking in thy honour on thy feast, ‘that Jesus willed to die: He owed that sacrifice to His Father. But why was it necessary that He should spend His days, and finally close them, in the midst of such great pains? It is because, being the Man of sorrows, as the prophet calls Him, He would live only to endure; or, to express it more forcibly by a beautiful word of Tertullian’s: He wished to be satiated, before dying, with the luxury of suffering: Saginari voluptate patientiædiscessurus volebat.[24] What a strange expression! One would think, according to this father, that the whole life of our Saviour was a banquet, where all the dishes consisted of torments. A strange banquet in the eyes of men, but one which Jesus found to His teste! His death was sufficient for our salvation; but death was not enough to satisfy His wonderful appetite for suffering for us. It was needful to add the scourges, and that blood-stained crown that pierced His head, and all the cruel apparatus of terrible tortures; and wherefore? Living only to endure, He wished to be satiated, before dying, with the luxury of suffering for us. In so far that upon His cross, seeing in the eternal decrees that there was nothing more for Him to suffer, “Ah!” said He, “it is done, all is consummated; let Us go forth, for there is nothing more to do in this world;” and immediately He gave up His soul to His Father.’[25]

If such is the mind of Jesus our Saviour, must it not also be that of His bride, Teresa of Jesus? 'She too wished to suffer or to die; and her love could not endure that any other cause should retard her death, save that which deferred the death of our Saviour.’[26] Let us warm our hearts at the sight of this great example. ‘If we are true Christians, we must desire to be ever with Jesus Christ. Now, where are we to find this loving Saviour of our souls? In what place may we embrace Him? He is found in two places: in His glory and in His sufferings; on His throne and on His cross. We must, then, in order to be with Him, either embrace Him on His throne, which death enables us to do; or else share in His cross, and this we do by suffering; hence we must either suffer or die, if we would never be separated from our Lord. Let us suffer then, O Christians; let us suffer what it pleases God to send us: afflictions, sicknesses, the miseries of poverty, injuries, calumnies; let us try to carry, with steadfast courage, that portion of His cross, with which He is pleased to honour us.'[27]

O thou, whom the Church proposes to her children as a mistress and mother in the paths of the spiritual life, teach us this strong and true Christianity. Perfection, doubtless, cannot be acquired in a day; and thou didst say: ‘We should be much to be pitied, if we could not seek and find God till we were dead to the world. God deliver us from those extremely spiritual people, who, without examination or discretion, would refer everything to perfect contemplation!'[28] But God deliver us also from those mistaken devotions, which thou didst call puerile and foolish, and which were so repugnant to the uprightness and dignity of thy generous soul![29] Thou desiredst no other prayer, than that which would make thee grow in virtue. Convince us of the great principle in these matters, that 'the prayer best made and most pleasing to God, is that which leaves behind it the best results, proved by works; and not those sweetnesses which end in nothing but our own satisfaction.'[30] He alone will be saved, who has kept the commandments and fulfilled the law; and heaven, thy heaven O Teresa, is the reward of the virtues thou didst practise, not of the revelations and ecstasies wherewith thou wast favoured.[31]

From the blessed abode where thy love feeds upon infinite happiness, as it was nourished on earth by sufferings, obtain that thy native Spain may carefully cherish, in these days of decadence, her beautiful title of the Catholic kingdom. Remember the part taken by France in determining thee to undertake the reform of Carmel.[32] May thy sons be blessed with increase in members, in merit, and in holiness! In all the lands where the Holy Ghost has multiplied thy daughters, may their hallowed homes recall those ‘first dove-cotes of the blessed Virgin, where the Spouse delighted to show forth the miracles of His grace.’[33] To the triumph of the faith, and the support of its defenders, thou didst direct their prayers and fasts;[34] what an immense field now lies open to their zeal! With them and with thee, we ask of God ‘two things: first, that among so many men and so many religious, some may be found having the necessary qualities for usefully serving the cause of the Church, on the understanding that one perfect man can render more services than a great many who are not perfect. Secondly, that in the conflict our Lord may uphold them with His hand, enabling them to escape all dangers, and to close their ears to the songs of sirens. . . O God, have pity on so many perishing souls; stay the course of so many evils which afflict Christendom; and, without further delay, cause Thy light to shine in the midst of this darkness!’[35]


[1] Bossuet, Panegyric on St. Teresa.
[2] Spiritual Life and Prayer according to holy Scripture and monastic tradition, ch. xix. (Translation by the Benedictines of Stanbrook).
[3] Life of the saint written by herself.
[4] Book of the Foundations.
[5] The Way of Perfection.
[6] The Interior Castle.
[7] Interior Castle, 5th mansion.
[8] Way of Perfection, ch. xxix.
[9] Way of Perfection, ch. xxii.
[10] Life, ch. xxv.
[11] Life, ch. xiii.
[12] Ibid. ch. x.
[13] Ibid. ix.
[14] Bolland. in Theres. 133.
[15] Collect of the day.
[16] To Mary of St. Joseph, prioress of Seville, Nov. 8, 1581.
[17] Foundations, ch. xxvii.
[18] To Alphonso Ramirez, Feb. 19, 1569.
[19] Apoc. xiii. 7.
[20] See the saint’s letters: to the prior of the Charterhouse at Seville, Jan. 1579; etc.
[21] St. Matt. xxvii. 46.
[22] In order to effect this correction, Gregory XIII had ordered that ten days of the year 1582 should be suppressed, and that the morrow of October 4 should be called the 15th of that month. It was during that historic night, between the 4th and 15th, that St. Teresa died.
[23] Apparition to Father Gratian.
[24] Tertull. De patientia, 3.
[25] Bossuet, Panegyric on St. Teresa.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Bossuet, Panegyric on St. Teresa.
[28] To the Bishop of Avila, March 1577, one of the saint’s most graceful letters.
[29] Life, xiii.
[30] To Father Gratian, Oct. 23, 1577.
[31] Apparition to the Prioress of Veas.
[32] Way of Perfection, i.
[33] Foundations, iv.
[34] Way of Perfection, i. 3.
[35] Ibid.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Note.—The Feast of SAINT HEDWIGE, Widow, has been transferred from October 17 to October 16.

At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the plateaux of upper Asia poured down a fresh torrent of barbarians, more terrible than all their predecessors. The one fragile barrier, which the Graeco-Slavonian civilization could oppose to the Mongols, had been swept away by the first wave of the invasion; not one of the States formed under the protection of the Byzantine Church had any prospect for the future. But beyond this Ruthenia, which had fallen into dissolution before being conquered, the Roman Church had had time to form a brave and generous people: when the hour arrived, Poland was ready. The Mongols were already inundating Silesia, when, in the plains of Liegnitz, they found themselves confronted by an army of thirty thousand warriors, headed by the duke of Silesia, Henry the pious.[1] The encounter was terrible; the victory remained long undecided, until at length, by the odious treason of some Ruthenian princes, it turned in favour of the barbarians. Duke Henry and the flower of the Polish knighthood were left upon the battle-field. But their defeat was equal to a victory. The Mongols retired exhausted, for they had measured their strength with the soldiers of the Latin Christianity.

It is Poland’s happy lot, that at each decisive epoch in its history a saint appears to point out the road to the attainment of its glorious destiny. Over the battle-field of Liegnitz shines the gentle figure of St. Hedwige, mother of duke Henry the pious. She had retired, in her widowhood, into the Cistercian monastery of Trebnitz founded by herself. Three years before the coming of the barbarians, she had had a revelation touching the future fate of her son. She offered her sacrifice in silence; and far from discouraging the young duke, she was the first to animate him to resistance.

The night following the battle, she awoke one of her companions, and said to her: ‘Demundis, know that I have lost my son. My beloved son has fled from me, like a bird on the wing; I shall never see my son again in this life.’ Demundis endeavoured to console her.; no courier had arrived from the army, and her fears were vain. ‘It is but too true,' replied the duchess, ‘but mention it to no one.'

Three days later the fatal news was confirmed. ‘It is the will of God,' said Hedwige; ‘what God wills, and what pleases Him, must please us also.' And rejoicing in the Lord: ‘I thank Thee, O my God,' said she, raising her hands and eyes to heaven, 'for having given me such a son. He loved me all his life, always treated me with great respect, and never grieved me. I much desired to have him with me on earth, but I congratulate him with my whole soul, for that by the shedding of his blood he is united with Thee in heaven, with Thee his Creator. I recommend his soul to Thee, O Lord my God.' No less an example was needed to sustain Poland under the new task it had just accepted.

At Liegnitz it had raised up again the sword of Christendom, fallen from the feeble hands of Ruthenia. It became henceforth as a watchful sentinel, ever ready to defend Europe against the barbarians. Ninety-three times did the Tartars rush upon Christendom, thirsting for blood and rapine: ninety-three times Poland repulsed them at the edge of the sword, or had the grief to see the country laid waste, the towns burnt down, the flower of the nation carried into captivity. By these sacrifices it bore the brunt of the invasion, and deadened the blow for the rest of Europe. As long as blood and tears and victims were required, Poland gave them unstintedly; while the other European nations enjoyed the security purchased by this continual immolation.[2]

This touching page will be completed by the Church's story, where the part played by the saintly duchess is so well, brought forward.

Hedwigis, regiis clara natalibus, innocentia tamen vitæ longe clarior, sanctæ Elisabethæ filiæ regis Hungariæ matertera, Bertholdi et Agnetis Moraviæ marchionum filia, animi ab ineunte ætate moderationem protulit. Adhuc enim puellula puerilibus abstinuit, et duodennis Henrico Poloniæ duci a parentibus nuptui tradita, thalami fide sancte servata, prolem inde susceptam in Dei timore erudivit. Ut autem commodius Deo vacaret, ex pari voto et consensu unanimi ad separationem thori virum induxit. Quo defuncto, ipsa in monasterio Trebnicensi, Deo, quem assiduis precibus exoraverat, inspirante, Cisterciensem devota sumpsit habitum; in eoque contemplationi intenta, divinis Officiis et Missarum solemniis a solis ortu ad meridiem usque assidua assistens, antiquum humani generis hostem fortis contempsit.

Sæculi autem commercia, ni divina, vel animarum salutem attingerent, audire vel loqui non sustinuit. Prudentia in agendis sic emicuit, ut neque excessus esset in modo, nec error in ordine, comis alioqui, et mansueta in proximum. Grandem autem de se triumphum, jejuniis et vigiliis, vestiumque asperitate austera carnem macerans, reportavit; hinc sublimioribus florens virtutibus christianis, consiliorum gravitate, animique candore et quiete, in eximium religiosæ pietatis evasit exemplar: omnibus se ultro subjicere, atque viliora præ ceteris monialibus alacriter munia subire; pauperibus etiam flexo genu ministrare, leprosorum pedes abluere et osculari, ipsi familiare erat, neque illorum ulcera sanie manantia sui victrix abhorruit.

Mira fuit ejus patientia animique constantia; præcipue vero in morte Henrici ducis Silesiæ sui, quem materne diligebat, filii, in bello a Tartans cæsi, enituit: potius enim gratias Deo, quam filio lacrimas reddidit. Miraculorum denique gloria percrebuit; puerum enim demersum, et molendini rotis allisum et prorsus attritum, invocata, vitæ resti tuit; aliaque præstitit; ut rite iis Clemens quartus probatis, sanctorum numero eam adscripserit, ejusque festum in Polonia, ubi precipua veneratione uti patrona colitur, die decima quinta Octobris celebrari concesserit; quod deinde ut decima septima in tota Ecclesia fieret, Innocentius undecimus ampliavit.
Hedwige was illustrious for her royal descent, but still more so for the innocence of her life. She was maternal aunt to St. Elizabeth, the daughter of the king of Hungary; and her parents were Berthold and Agnes, Marquis and Marchioness of Moravia. From childhood she was remarkable for her self-control, for at that tender age she refrained from all childish sports. At the age of twelve, her parents gave her in marriage to Henry, duke of Poland. She was a faithful and holy wife and mother, and brought up her children in the fear of God. In order the more freely to attend to God, she persuaded her husband to make with her a mutual vow of continency. After his death, she was inspired by God, whose guidance she had earnestly implored, to take the Cistercian habit; which she did with great devotion in the monastery of Trebnitz. Here she gave herself up to divine contemplation, spending the whole time from sun-rise till noon in assisting at the Divine Office and the holy Sacrifice. The old enemy of mankind she utterly despised.

She would neither speak of worldly affairs nor hear them spoken of, unless they affected the interests of God or the salvation of souls. All her actions were governed by prudence, and it was impossible to find in them anything excessive or disorderly. She was full of gentleness and affability towards all. She triumphed completely over her flesh by afflicting it with fasting, watching, and rough garments. She was adorned moreover with the noblest Christian virtues; she was exceedingly prudent in giving counsel; pure and tranquil in mind; so as to be a model of religious perfection. Yet she ever strove to place herself below all the nuns; eagerly choosing the lowest offices in the house. She would serve the poor, on her knees, and wash and kiss the feet of lepers, so far overcoming herself as not to be repulsed by their loathsome ulcers.

Her patience and strength of soul were admirable; especially at the death of her dearly-loved son, Henry duke of Silesia, who fell fighting against the Tartars; for she thought rather of giving thanks to God, than of weeping for her son. Miracles added to her renown. A child, that had fallen into a millstream and was bruised and crushed by the wheels, was immediately restored to life when the saint was invoked. Many other miracles wrought by her having been duly examined, Clement IV enrolled her among the saints; and allowed her feast to be celebrated on the fifteenth of October, in Poland, where she is very greatly honoured as patroness of the country. Innocent XI extended her Office to the whole Church, fixing it on the seventeenth of October.

Daughter of Abraham according to faith, thou didst imitate his heroism. Thy first reward was to find a worthy son in him thou offeredst to the Lord. Thy example is most welcome in this month, wherein the Church sets before us the death of Judas Machabeus.[3] As glorious as his was the death of thy Henry; but it was also a fruitful death. Of thy six children he alone, the Isaac offered and immolated to God, was permitted to propagate thy race. And yet what a posterity is thine, since all the royal families of Europe can claim to be of thy lineage! 'I will

make thee increase exceedingly, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.’[4] This promise, made to the father of the faithful, is fulfilled once more on thy behalf, O Hedwige. God never changes; He has no need to make a new engagement; a like fidelity in any age, earns from Him a like reward. Mayst thou be blest by all, O mother of nations! Extend over all thy powerful protection; but above all others, by God’s permission, may unfortunate Poland find by experience that thy patronage is never invoked in vain!


[1] April 8, 1241.
[2] Dom Guépin, S. Josaphat et i'Eglise grecque unie en Pologne, Introduction.
[3] 3rd Sunday of October.
[4] Gen. xvii. 6.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Note.—The Feast of SAINT HEDWIGE, Widow, has been transferred from October 17 to OCTOBER 16.

“Among the most striking proofs of the infinite love of our Redeemer is this, that, at a moment in which the love of the faithful was growing cold, the Divine Love proposed himself as the object of special veneration and worship, and the precious treasure of the Church was opened to enrich with indulgences the cult of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. ... In that Sacred Heart we must place all our hope, from that Heart ask and expect our salvation.”[1]

The great devotion to the Sacred Heart, of which the Sovereign Pontiff Pius XI thus speaks, and which has been so marvellously extended in the Church since the seventeenth century, is no new devotion. Much research by Catholic scholars has established the fact that there was not one of the great older religious orders but had a tradition of such devotion and saintly souls in their ranks with whom it was associated. This is true of the children of St. Benedict (both of the “Black monks” of the parent stem, and the later Cistercians), of the Carthusians, Dominicans, and Franciscans. St. Bonaventure’s beautiful and tender phrases have supplied some of the lessons for the new office of the feast, whilst during the octave not only St. Bernard, but one of the greatest of the early Fathers, St. John Chrysostom, exhort us in turn concerning what has been so often described, and even bitterly opposed, as a novelty unknown to primitive days.

The truth is that, in post-Reformation days, a new element in the devotion has been stressed. In the ages of faith, although the devotion was always, as now, closely connected with the Passion, yet it was exultant, glorious, triumphant Love which dominated it. After the rending of the seamless garment of the Church universal, with all its dire consequences, it was the element of reparation, of loving the Heart which had so loved men, but was so little loved in return, which was emphasized; and it is this aspect of the devotion which is thus urged upon the faithful by Pius XI: the duty of reparation for the offences, the insults, the contempt meted out to infinite Love, in our modern world which knows him not.

The saint of this day is neither the first nor the only soul to whom our Lord revealed the mystery of the Sacred Heart; but she was the one whom he chose as the special instrument of its propagation. He had taught it to others, but he did not command them to preach it to the world or to work for its public cultus. He did so command this simple Visitation nun of Paray-le-Monial, Margaret Mary Alacoque, in an age when Jansenism was chilling men’s hearts, and substituting for love of God a terrible fear, which kept them from the Sacraments and made them “see the Judge severe e’en in the crucifix.”

Not that the devotion, even as formally and finally approved and propagated by the Church, depends upon the revelations, any more than that of Corpus Christi depends upon those of Blessed Juliana of Cornillon. Revelations have only an accessory part in the institution of such feasts; what the Church seeks is, what is useful for souls; and it suffices for her that a devotion is in itself good, and will make for the greater glory of God.

The saint’s own story illustrates the effect of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, rightly practised. Like all souls specially called to a life of reparation and expiation, Margaret Mary knew much suffering. In her early life she and her beloved mother had much to endure from members of her family. She suffered from unjust constraint upon her actions, from monotony and unkindness. Her religious practices were hindered, partly by her family circumstances and partly by those of the times; she was over twenty-one before she was able to receive the sacrament of Confirmation. Want of proper direction, and more unjust opposition, rendered her vocation a further source of suffering; and when, at last, the convent doors closed behind her, she found trials compared with which what had gone before seemed but trifling. Favoured at times, even from childhood, with extraordinary graces, she found herself at the very natural disadvantage caused by such in a prudently-ruled religious house; the more so as the Visitandine spirit was of another sort. It seems ironical that, though she had entered an order in its first fervour, and a house fervent among the fervent, under successive superiors distinguished for their spirituality and their wisdom, she should have been long completely misunderstood, undervalued, and somewhat distrusted. The tendency to scruples, excessive timidity and trouble in spiritual matters, the lack of peace which we notice in the early years, vanished only when the great revelations began. Under the influence of our Lord’s own teaching, and the guidance he further gave her in his holy servant, Blessed Claude de la Colombière, her character steadily developed. Her humility, ever great, became greater, so that she could walk safely in her mystic ways; her judgement and insight in spiritual things became sure. Despondency vanished, and no trials could disturb her peace or shake her confidence till, at the end, the religious of whom once her sisters had thought little stands revealed in her biographies “a true and valiant lover.” Once pre-occupied with self, she became selfless, and all suffering became sweet; and after her has followed an unending procession of those who, again in the words of the great Encyclical of Pius XI, valiantly strive to make satisfaction to the Divine Heart for so many sins that are committed against it, who do not fear to offer themselves to Christ as victims . . . who not only hate sin and shun it as the greatest of evils, but offer themselves to the divine will, and use every means in their power to compensate for the offences committed against the divine Majesty by constant prayer, by voluntary mortifications, and by the patient acceptance of all the trials that may come upon them—in fact by living their whole lives in the spirit of reparation.

Margarita Maria Alacoque, in pago diœcesis Augustodunensis honesto genere nata, jam inde a teneris annis futuræ sanctitatis indicia præbuit. In Deiparam Virginem et in augustum Eucharistiæ sacrametum amore flagrans, adolescentula Deo virginitatem devovit, id exoptans unice ut ad Christianas virtutes vitam componeret. In deliciis babebat prolixas preces rerumque cælestium contemplationem, sui contemptum, patientiam in adversis, corporis afflictationem, caritatem in proximos, præsertim egenos; summoque studio nitebatur ut sanctissima divini Redemptoris exempla pro viribus referret.

Margaret Mary Alacoque was bom of a respectable family in a village in the diocese of Autun, and from her earliest years already gave signs of future holiness. Filled with burning love of the Virgin Mother of God and of the august mystery of the Eucharist, in her youth she dedicated her virginity to God and strove above all things to realize in her life the practice of Christian virtues. Her delight was to spend long hours in prayer and in the contemplation of heavenly things. She had a low esteem of herself, was patient in adversity, practised bodily penance, and was charitable towards her neighbour, especially towards the poor. She diligently strove by all means in her power to imitate the most holy example of the divine Redeemer.

Ordinem Visitationis ingressa, statim religiosæ vitæ fulgore nitere cœpit. Altioris dono orationis a Deo est decorata, aliisque gratiæ muneribus et crebris visionibus. Harum celeberrima fuit cum ante Eucharistiam precanti Jesus semetipsum conspiciendum obtulit, et divinum Cor in aperto pectore flammis incensum ac spinis constrictum ostend it, præcepitque ut, ob talem caritatem et ad ingratorum hominum injurias expiandas, illa publicum Cordi suo cultum, magnis propositis cælestis thesauri præmiis, instituendum curaret. Cunctanti ex humilitate seque tantæ rei imparem profitenti amantissimus Salvator addit animum, simulque eximia sanctitate virum, Claudium de la Colombière, ducem et adjutorem designat; eamque spe fovet illius summæ utilitatis, quæ postea e divini Cordis cultu in Ecclesiam dimanavit.

Ut jussa Redemptoris impleret Margarita omni diligentia studebat. Nectamen illi defuere molestiæ plures atque acres contumeliæ ab iis qui eam vano mentis errori obnoxiam esse dictitabant. Quæ omnia æquo animo tulit, immo apponebat lucro, existimans se per opprobria et dolores hostiam Deo gratam fore, et majora ad propositum suum auxilia consecuturam. Religiosæperfectionis laude florens et per æternarum rerum contemplationem in dies singulos cælesti sponso conjunctior, ad eum evolavit, anno ætatis suæquadragesimo tertio, reparatæ salutis millesimo sexcentesimo nonagesimo. Miraculis insignem Benedictus decimus quintus Sanctis adscripsit: ejusque officium Pius undecimus Pontifex maximus ad universam Ecclesiam extendit.
Having entered the Order of the Visitation, her life becameat once a bright example to others. She was endowed by God in a high degree with the gift of prayer, together with other favours and frequent visions. Of these the most famous was when Jesus appeared to her whilst she was in prayer before the most holy Sacrament and, opening his breast, showed her his divine Heart enkindled by flames and encircled in a crown of thorns; and he bade her, in return for bis excessive love and in atonement for the insults of ungrateful men, to seek to have established the public veneration of his Heart, which he would enrich with the treasures of heavenly grace. When from humility she hesitated to undertake so great a task, the most loving Saviour encouraged her, at the same time pointing out Claude de la Colombière, a man of great holiness, as her guide and helper. He also comforted her with the assurance of the very great blessings which afterwards accrued to the Church from the worship of his divine Heart.

Margaret strove with all diligence to fulfil the Redeemer’s command. Vexations and even bitter insults were not wanting to her on the part of those who maintained that she was liable to mental delusions. She not only bore these troubles patiently, but even profited by them, deeming herself through suffering and reproach as a victim acceptable to God and taking them as a means of more easily furthering her purpose. Renowned for religious perfection and becoming daily more united to her heavenly Spouse by the contemplation of eternal things, she took flight to him in the forty-third year of her age, and in the year of restored salvation 1690. She became famous for miracles, and Benedict XV enrolled her name among those of the saints; and the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI extended her Office to the universal Church.

[1] Encycl. Miserentissimus Redemptor.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

The goodness and kindness of God our Saviour hath appeared to all men.[1] It would seem that the third evangelist, a disciple of St. Paul, had purposed setting forth this word of the doctor of the Gentiles; or may we not rather say, the apostle himself characterizes in this sentence the Gospel wherein his disciple portrays the Saviour prepared before the face of all peoples; a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of . . . Israel.[2] St. Luke’s Gospel, and the words quoted from St. Paul, were in fact written about the same time; and it is impossible to say which claims priority.

Under the eye of Simon Peter, to whom the Father had revealed the Christ the Son of the living God, Mark had the honour of giving to the Church the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of God.[3] Matthew had already drawn up for the Jews the Gospel of the Messias, Son of David, Son of Abraham.[4] Afterwards, at the side of Paul, Luke wrote for the Gentiles the Gospel of Jesus, Son of Adam through Mary.[5] As far as the genealogy of this First-born of His Mother may be reckoned back, so far shall extend the blessing He bestows on His brethren, by redeeming them from the curse inherited from their first father.

Jesus was truly one of ourselves, a Man conversing with men and living their life. He was seen on earth in the reign of Augustus; the prefect of the empire registered the birth of this new subject of Cæsar in the city of His ancestors. He was bound in the swathing-bands of infancy; like all of his race, He was circumcised, offered to the Lord, and redeemed according to the law of His nation. As a Child He obeyed His parents; He grew up under their eyes; He passed through the progressive development of youth to the maturity of manhood. At every juncture, during His public life, He prostrated in prayer to God the Creator of all; He wept over His country; when His heart was wrung with anguish at sight of the morrow’s deadly torments, He was bathed with a sweat of blood; and in that agony He did not disdain the assistance of an angel. Such appears, in the third Gospel, the humanity of God our Saviour.

How sweet too are His grace and goodness! Among all the children of men, He merited to be the expectation of nations and the Desired of them all: He who was conceived of a humble Virgin; who was born in a stable with shepherds for His court, and choirs of angels singing in the darkness of night: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good-will.' But earth had sung the prelude to the angelic harmonies; the precursor, leaping with delight in his mother’s womb, had, as the Church says,[6] made known the King still resting in His bride-chamber. To this joy of the Bridegroom’s friend, the Virgin Mother had responded by the sweetest song that earth or heaven has ever heard. Then Zachary and Simeon completed the number of inspired canticles for the new people of God. All was song around the new-born Babe; and Mary kept all the words in her heart, in order to transmit them to us through her own evangelist.

The divine Child grew in age and wisdom and grace before God and man; till His human beauty captivated men, and drew them with the cords of Adam to the love of God. He was ready to welcome the daughter of Tyre, the Gentile race that had become more than a rival of Sion. Let her not fear, the poor unfortunate one, of whom Magdalene was a figure; the pride of expiring Judaism may take scandal, but Jesus will accept her tears and her perfumes; He will forgive her much because of her great love. Let the prodigal hope once more, when worn out with his long wanderings, in every way whither error has led the nations; the envious complaint of his elder brother Israel will not stay the outpourings of the sacred Heart, celebrating the return of the fugitive, restoring to him the dignity of sonship, placing again upon his finger the ring of the alliance first contracted in Eden with the whole human race. As for Juda, unhappy is he if he refuse to understand.

Woe to the rich man, who in his opulence neglects the poor Lazarus! The privileges of race no longer exist: of ten lepers cured in body, the stranger alone is healed in soul, because he alone believes in his deliverer and returns thanks. Of the Samaritan, the levite, and the priest, who appear on the road to Jericho, the first alone earns our Saviour’s commendation. The pharisee is strangely mistaken, when, in his arrogant prayer, he spurns the publican, who strikes his Dreast and cries for mercy. The Son of Man neither hears the prayers of the proud, nor heeds their indignation; He invites Himself, in spite of their murmurs, to the house of Zacheus, bringing with Him salvation and joy, and declaring the publican to be henceforth a true son of Abraham. So much goodness and such universal mercy close against Him the narrow hearts of His fellow-citizens; they will not have Him to reign over them; but eternal Wisdom finds the lost groat, and there is great joy before the angels in heaven. On the day of the sacred nuptials, the lowly and despised, and the repentant sinners, will sit down to the banquet prepared for others. In truth I say to you, there were many widows in the days of Elias in Israel, . . . and to none of them was Elias sent, but to Sarepta of Sidon, to a widow woman. And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Eliseus the prophet, and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian.[7]

O Jesus, thy evangelist has won our hearts. We love Thee for having taken pity on our misery. We Gentiles were in deeper debt than Jerusalem, and therefore we owe Thee greater love in return for Thy pardon. We love Thee because Thy choicest graces are for Magdalene, that is, for us who are sinners, and are nevertheless called to the better part. We love Thee because Thou canst not resist the tears of mothers; but restorest to them, as at Naim, their dead children. In the day of treason, and abandonment, and denial, Thou didst forget Thine own injury to cast upon Peter that loving look, which caused him to weep bitterly. Thou turnedst away from Thyself the tears of those humble and true daughters of Jerusalem, who followed Thy painful footsteps up the heights of Calvary. Nailed to the cross, Thou didst implore pardon for Thy executioners. At the last hour, as God Thou promisedst paradise to the penitent thief, as Man Thou gavest back Thy Soul to Thy Father. Truly from beginning to end of this third Gospel appears Thy goodness and kindness, O God our Saviour!

St. Luke completed his work by writing, in the same correct style as his Gospel, the history of the first days of Christianity, of the introduction of the Gentiles into the Church, and of the great labours of their own apostle Paul. According to tradition he was an artist, as well as a man of letters; and with a soul alive to all the most delicate inspirations, he consecrated his pencil to the holiest use, and handed down to us the features of the Mother of God. It was an illustration worthy of the Gospel which relates the divine Infancy; and it won for the artist a new title to the gratitude of those who never saw Jesus and Mary in the flesh. Hence St. Luke is the patron of Christian art; and also of the medical profession, for in the holy Scripture itself he is said to have been a physician, as we shall see from the breviary lessons. He had studied all the sciences in his native city Antioch; and the brilliant capital of the east had reason to be proud of its illustrious son.

The Church borrows from St. Jerome the historical lessons of the feast. The just censure therein passed upon a certain apocryphal and romantio history of St. Thecla, in no way derogates from the universal veneration of east and west for the noble spiritual daughter of St. Paul.

Ex libro sancti Hieronymi presbyteri de scriptoribus ecclesiasticis.

Lucas medicus Antiochensis, ut ejus scripta indicant græci sermonis non ignarus, fuit sectator apostoli Pauli, et omnis peregrination is ejus comes. Scripsit Evangelium, de quo idem Paulus: Misimus, inquit, cum illo fratrem, cujus laus est in Evangelio per omnes ecclesias. Et ad Colossenses: Salutat vos Lucas, medicus carissimus Et ad Timotheum: Lucas est mecum solus. Aliud quoque edidit volumen egregium, quod titulo, Acta apostolorum, prænotatur: cujus historia usque ad biennium Romæ commorantis Pauli pervenit, id est, usque ad quartum Neronis annum. Ex quo intelligimus in eadem urbe librum esse compositum.

Igitur periodos Pauli et Theclæ, et totam baptizati leonis fabulam, inter apocryphas scripturas computamus. Quale enim est, ut individuus comes apostoli, inter ceteras ejus res, hoc solum ignoraverit? Sed et Tertullianus, vicinus eorum temporum, refert presbyterum quemdam in Asia amatorem apostoli Pauli, convictum a Joanne, quod auctor esset libri, et confessum se hoc Pauli amore fecisse, et ob id loco excidisse. Quidam suspicante, quotiescumque in epistolis suis Paulus dicit, Juxta Evangelium meum, de Lucæ significare volumine.

Lucam autem non solum ab apostolo Paulo didicisse Evangelium, qui cum Domino in carne non fuerat, sed a ceteris apostolis: quod ipse quoque in principio sui voluminis declarat, dicens: Sicut tradiderunt nobis, qui a principio ipsi viderunt, et ministri fuerunt sermonis. Igitur Evangelium sicut audierat, scripsit: Acta vero apostolorum, sicut viderat ipse, composuit. Vixit octoginta et quatuor annos, uxorem non habens: sepultus est Constantinopoli, ad quam urbem vigesimo Constantini anno ossa ejus cum reliquiis Andreæ apostoli translata sunt de Achaia.
From the book of St. Jerome, priest, on ecclesiastical writers.

Luke was a physician of Antioch, and, as is shown by his writings, was skilled in the Greek tongue. He was a disciple of the apostle Paul, and accompanied him in all his journeys. He also wrote a Gospel; wherefore the same Paul says of him: We have sent also with him the brother whose praise is in the Gospel through all the churches. And again to the Colossians: Luke the most dear physician saluteth you. And to Timothy: Only Luke is with me. He wrote another excellent work, called the Acts of the apostles, in which he relates the history of the Church, as far as Paul’s two years’ sojourn at Rome, that is to the fourth year of Nero. From this circumstance we infer that the book was written at Rome.

Conseqently we class the journeys of Paul and Thecla and the whole fable of the baptized lion, among apocryphal writings. For is it possible that the apostle’s inseparable companion should know everything concerning him except this one thing? Moreover Tertullian, who lived near to those times, relates that a certain priest in Asia, an admirer of Paul, was convicted by John of having written that book; which he confessed he had done out of love for Paul, and was on that account deposed. Some are of opinion that whenever Paul in his epistles says: According to my Gospel, he means that of Luke.

Luke, however, was instructed in the Gospel not only by the apostle Paul, who had never seen the Lord in the flesh, but also by the other apostles. This he declares in the beginning of his work, saying: According as they have delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word. He wrote his Gospel, then, from what he had heard, but the Acts of the apostles from what he had himself seen. He lived eighty-four years, and was never married. His body lies at Constantinople, whither it was translated from Achaia, together with the relics of St. Andrew the apostle, in the twentieth year of Constantine.

The symbolical Ox, reminding us of the figurative sacrifices, and announcing their abrogation, takes his place to-day, with the man, the lion, and the eagle, to complete the number of the four mystical creatures before the throne of God. O evangelist of the Gentiles, blessed be thou for having put an end to the long night of our captivity, and warmed our frozen hearts. Thou wast the confidant of the Mother of God; and her happy influence left in thy soul that fragrance of virginity which pervaded thy whole life and breathes through thy writings. With discerning love and silent devotedness, thou didst assist the apostle of the Gentiles in his great work; and didst remain as faithful to him when abandoned or betrayed, shipwrecked or imprisoned, as in the days of his prosperity. Rightly, then, does the Church in her Collect apply to thee the words spoken by Saint Paul of himself: In all things we suffer tribulation, are persecuted, are cast down, always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus; but this continual dying manifests the life of Jesus in our mortal flesh. Thy inspired pen taught us to love the Son of Man in His Gospel; thy pencil portrayed Him for us in His Mother’s arms; and a third time thou revealedst Him to the world, by the reproduction of His holiness in thine own life.

Preserve in us the fruits of thy manifold teaching. Though Christian painters do well to pay thee special honour, and to learn from thee that the ideal of beauty resides in the Son of God and in His Mother, there is a yet more sublime art than that of lines and colours: the art of reproducing in ourselves the likeness of God. This we wish to learn perfectly in thy school; for we know from thy master St. Paul that conformity to the image of the Son of God can alone entitle the elect to predestination.

Be thou the protector of the faithful physicians, who strive to walk in thy footsteps, and who, in their ministry of devotedness and charity, rely upon thy credit with the Author of life. Second their efforts to heal or to relieve suffering; and inspire them with holy zeal, when they find their patients on the brink of eternity.

The world itself, in its decrepitude, now needs the assistance of all who are able, by prayer or action, to come to its rescue. ‘The Son of Man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?'[8] Thus spoke our Lord in the Gospel. But He also said that we ought always to pray and not to faint;[9] adding, for the instruction of the Church both at this time and always, the parable of the widow, whose importunity prevailed upon the unjust judge to defend her cause. ‘And will not God revenge His elect, who cry to Him day and night; and will He have patience in their regard? I say to you that He will quickly revenge mem.'[10]


[1] Tit. ii. 11; iii. 4.
[2] St. Luke ii. 31. 32.
[3] St. Mark i. 1.
[4] St. Matt. i. 1.
[5] St. Luke iii. 38.
[6] Vesper hymn for the feast of St. John Baptist.
[7] St. Luke iv. 25-27.
[8] St. Luke xviii. 8.
[9] Ibid. 1.
[10] Ibid. 2-7.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

‘O happy penance, which has won me such glory!' said the saint of to-day at the threshold of heaven. And on earth, Teresa of Jesus wrote of him: ‘Oh! what a perfect imitator of Jesus Christ God has just taken from us, by calling to his glory that blessed religious, Brother Peter of Alcantara! The world, they say, is no longer capable of such high perfection; constitutions are weaker, and we are not now in the olden times. Here is a saint of the present day; yet his manly fervour equalled that of past ages; and he had a supreme disdain for everything earthly. But without going barefoot like him, or doing such sharp penance, there are very many ways in which we can practise contempt of the world, and which our Lord will teach us as soon as we have courage. What great courage must the holy man I speak of have received from God, to keep up for forty-seven years the rigorous penance that all now know!

Of all his mortifications, that which cost him most at the beginning was the overcoming of sleep; to effect this he would remain continually on his knees, or else standing. The little repose he granted to nature he took sitting, with his head leaning against a piece of wood fixed to the wall; indeed, had he wished to lie down, he could not have done so, for his cell was only four feet and a half in length. During the course of all these years, he never put his hood up, however burning the sun might be, or however heavy the rain. He never used shoes or stockings. He wore no other clothing than a single garment of rough, coarse cloth; I found out, however, that for twenty years he wore a hair-shirt made on plates of tin, which he never took off. His habit was as narrow as it could possibly be; and over it he put a short cloak of the same material; this he took off when it was very cold, and left the door and small window of his cell open for a while; then he shut them and put his cape on again, which he said was his manner of warming himself and giving his body a little better temperature. He usually ate but once in three days; and when I showed some surprise at this, he said it was quite easy when one was accustomed to it. His poverty was extreme; and such was his mortification, that, as he acknowledged to me, he had, when young, spent three years in a house of his Order without knowing any one of the religious except by the sound of his voice; for he had never lifted up his eyes; so that, when called by the rule to any part of the house, he could find his way only by following the other brethren. He observed the same custody of the eyes when on the roads. When I made his acquaintance, his body was so emaciated that it seemed to be formed of the roots of trees.’[1]

To this portrait of the Franciscan reformer drawn by the reformer of Carmel, the Church will add the history of his life. Three illustrious and worthy families now form the first Order of St. Francis, known as the Conventuals, the Observantines, and the Capuchins. A pious emulation for more and more strict reform, brought about in the Observance itself, a subdivision into the Observantines proper, the Reformed, the Discalced or Alcantarines, and the Recollets. This division, which was historical rather than constitutional, no longer exists; for, on the feast of the patriarch of Assisi, October 4, 1897, the sovereign Pontiff Leo XIII thought fit to reunite the great family of the Observance, which is henceforth known as the Order of Friars Minor.[2]

Petrus, Alcantaræ in Hispania nobilibus parentibus natus, a teneris annis futuræ sanctitatis indicia præbuit. Decimo sexto ætatis anno ordinem Minorum ingressus, se omnium virtutum exemplar exhibuit. Tum munus concionatoris ex obedientia exercens, innumeros a vitiis ad veram pœnitentiam traduxit. Primævum sancti Francisci institutum exactissime reparare cupiens, ope divina fretus, et apostolica munitus auctoritate, angustissimum et pauperrimum cœnobium juxta Petrosum fundavit: quod vitæ genus asperrimum, ibi feliciter cœptum, per diversas Hispaniæ provincias, usque ad Indias mirifice propagatum fuit. Sanctæ Teresiæ, cujus probaverat spiritual, in promovenda Carmelitarum reformatione adjutor fuit. Ipsa autem a Deo edocta, quod Petri nomine nihil quisquam peteret, quin protinus exaudiretur, ejus precibus se commendare, et ipsum adhuc viventem sanctum appellare consuevit.

Principum obsequia, qui ipsum velut oraculum consulebant, summa humilitate declinans, Carolo quinto imperatori a confessionibus esse recusavit. Paupertatis rigidissimus custos, una tunica, qua nulla deterior esset, contentus erat. Puritatem ita coluit, ut a fratre, in extremo morbo sibi inserviente, nec leviter quidem tangi passus sit. Corpus suum perpetuis vigiliis, jejuniis, flagellis, frigore, nuditate, atque omni genere asperitatum in servitutem redegit, cum quo pactum inierat, ne ullam in hoc sæculo ei requiem præberet. Caritas Dei et proximi in ejus corde dilfusa tantum quandoque excitabat incendium, ut e celiæ angustiis in apertum campum prosilire, ærisque refrigerio conceptum ardorem temperare cogeretur.

Gratia contemplationis admirabilis in eo fuit, qua cum assidue spiritus reficeretur, interdum accidit, ut ab omni cibo et potu pluribus diebus abstinuerit. In æra frequenter sublatus, miro fulgore coruscare visus est. Rapidos fluvios sicco pede trajecit. Fratres in extrema penuria, cœlitus delata alimonia cibavit. Baculus ab ipso terræ defixus, mox in viridem ficulneam excrevit. Cum noctu iter ageret, densa nive cadente, dirutam domum sine tecto ingressus est, eique nix in ære pendula pro tecto fuit, ne illius copia suffocaretur. Dono prophetiæ ac discretionis spirituum imbutum fuisse sancta Teresia testatur. Denique annum agens sexagesimum tertium, hora qua prædixerat, migravit ad Dominum, mirabili visione, sanctormnque præsentia confortatus. Quem eodem momento in cœlum ferri beata Teresia procul distans vidit; cui postea apparens dixit: O felix pœnitentia, quæ tantam mihi promeruit gloriam! Post mortem vero plurimis miraculis claruit, et a Clemente nono sanctorum numero adscriptus est.
Peter was born of noble parents at Alcantara in Spain, and from his earliest years gave promise of his future sanctity. At the age of sixteen, he entered the Order of Friars Minor, in which he became an example of every virtue. He undertook by obedience the office of preaching, and led numberless sinners to sincere repentance. Desirous of bringing back the Franciscan Order to its original strictness, he founded, by God’s assistance and with the approbation of the apostolic See, a very poor little convent at Pedroso. The austere manner of life, which he was there the first to lead, was afterwards spread in a wonderful manner throughout Spain and even into the Indies. He assisted St. Teresa, whose spirit he approved, in carrying out the reform of Carmel. And she having learned from God that whoever asked anything in Peter’s name would be immediately heard, was wont to recommend herself to his prayers, and to call him a saint, while he was still living.

Peter was consulted as an oracle by princes; but he avoided their honours with great humility, and refused to become confessor to the emperor Charles V. He was a most rigid observer of poverty, having but one tunic, and that the meanest possible. Such was his delicacy with regard to purity, that he would not allow the brother, who waited on him in his last illness, even lightly to touch him. By perpetual watching, fasting, disciplines, cold, and nakedness, and every kind of austerity, he brought his body into subjection; having made a compact with it, never to give it any rest in this world. The love of God and of his neighbour was shed abroad in his heart, and at times burned so ardently that he was obliged to escape from his narrow cell into the open, that the cold air might temper the heat that consumed him.

Admirable was his gift of contemplation. Sometimes, while his spirit was nourished in this heavenly manner, he would pass several days without food or drink. He was often raised in the air, and seen shining with wonderful brilliancy. He passed dry-shod over the most rapid rivers. When his brethren were absolutely destitute, he obtained for them food from heaven. He fixed his staff in the earth, and it suddenly became a flourishing fig-tree. One night when he was journeying in a heavy snow-storm, he entered a ruined house; but the snow, lest he should be suffocated by its dense flakes, hung in the air and formed a roof above him. He was endowed with the gifts of prophecy and discernment of spirits as St. Teresa testifies. At length, in his sixtythird year, he passed to our Lord at the hour he had foretold, fortified by a wonderful vision and the presence of the saints. St. Teresa, who was at a great distance, saw him at that same moment carried to heaven. He afterwards appeared to her, saying: O happy penance, which has won me such great glory! He was rendered famous after death by many miracles, and was enrolled among the saints by Clement IX.

‘Such then is the end of that austere life, an eternity of glory!’[3] And how sweet were thy last words: ‘I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.'[4] The time of reward had not yet come for the body, with which thou hadst made an agreement to give it no truce in this life, but to reserve its enjoyment for the next. But already the soul, on quitting it, had filled it with the light and the fragrance of the other world; signifying to all that, the first part of the contract having been faithfully adhered to, the second should be carried out in like manner. Whereas, given over for its false delights to horrible torments, the flesh of the sinner will for ever cry vengeance against the soul that caused its loss; thy members, entering into the beatitude of thy happy soul, and completing its glory by their own splendour, will eternally declare how thy apparent harshness for a time was in reality wisdom and love.

Is it neccessary, indeed, to wait for the resurrection, in order to discover that the part thou didst choose is incontestably the best? Who would dare to compare, not only unlawful pleasures, but even the permitted enjoyments of earth, with the holy delights of contemplation prepared, even in this world, for those who can relish them? If they are to be purchased by mortification of the flesh, it is because the flesh and the spirit are ever striving for the mastery; but a generous soul loves the struggle, for the flesh is honoured by it, and through it escapes a thousand dangers.

O thou who, according to our Lord’s promise, art never invoked in vain, if thou deign thyself to present our prayers to Him; obtain for us that relish for heavenly things, which causes an aversion for those of earth. It is the petition made by the whole Church, through thy merits, to the God who bestowed on thee the gift of such wonderful penance and sublime contemplation.[5]The great family of Friars Minor cherishes the treasure of thy teaching and example; for the honour of thy holy Father Francis and the good of the Church, maintain in it the love of its austere traditions. Withdraw not thy precious protection from the Carmel of Teresa of Jesus; nay, extend it to the whole religious state, especially in these days of trial. Mayst thou at length lead back thy native Spain to the glorious heights, whence formerly she seemed to pour down floods of sanctity upon the world; it is the condition of nations ennobled by a more sublime vocation, that they cannot decline without the danger of falling below the level of those less favoured by the Most High.


[1] St. Teresa. Life, xxvii, xxx.
[2] Constit. apost. Felicitate quadam.
[3] St. Teresa. Life, xxvii.
[4] Ps. cxxi. 1.
[5] Collect of the feast.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

Kenty, the humble village of Silesia which witnessed the birth of St. John, owes its celebrity entirely to him. The canonization of this holy priest, who in the fifteenth century had illustrated the university of Cracow by his virtues and science, was the last hope of expiring Poland. It took place in the year 1767. Two years earlier, it was at the request of this heroic nation that Clement XIII had issued the first decree sanctioning the celebration of the feast of the sacred Heart. When enrolling John Cantius among the saints, the magnanimous Pontiff expressed in moving terms the gratitude of the Church towards that unfortunate people; and rendered to it, before shamefully forgetful Europe, a supreme homage.[1] Five years later Poland was dismembered.

Joannes in oppido Kenty Cracoviensis diœcesis, a quo Cantii cognomen duxit, Stanislao et Anna piis et honestis parentibus natus, morum suavitate, innocentia, gravitate, ab ipsa inf antia spem fecit maximæ virtutis. In universitate Cracoviensi philosophiæ ac theologiæ primum auditor, tum per omnes academiæ gradus ascendendo professor ac doctor, sacra quam annis multis tradidit doctrina, mentes audientium non illustrabat modo, sed et ad omnem pietatem inflammabat, simul docens scilicet et faciens. Sacerdos factus, nihil de litterarum studio remittens, studium auxit Christianæperfectionis. Utque passim offendi Deum maxime dolebat, sic eum sibi et populo placare oblato quotidie non sine multis lacrimis incruento sacrificio satagebat. Ilkusiensem parochiam annis aliquot egregie administravit; sed animarum periculo commotus postea dimisit, ac postulante academia ad pristinum docendi officium rediit.

Quidquid temporis ab studio supererat, partim saluti proximorum, sacris præsertim concionibus curandæ, partim orationi dabat, in qua cœlestibus quandoque visionibus et colloquiis dignatus fertur. Christi vero passione sic afficiebatur, ut in ea contemplanda totas interdum noctes duceret insomnes, ejusque causa melius recolendæ Hierosolymam peregrinatus sit: ubi et martyrii desiderio flagrans, Turcis ipsis Christum crucifixum prædicare non dubitavit. Quater etiam ad apostolorum limina pedes, atque viaria onustus sarcina Romam venit, tum ut Sedem apostolicam, cui maxime addictus fuit, honoraret, tum ut sui (sic enim aiebat) purgatorii pœnas exposita illic quotidie peccatorum venia redimeret. Quo in itinere a latronibus olim spoliatus, et numquid haberet præterea interrogatus, cum negasset, aureos deinde aliquot suo insutos pallio recordatus, fugientibus hos etiam clamans obtulit latronibus: qui viri sancti candorem simul, et largitatem admirati, etiam ablatos ultro reddidere. Alienæ famæ ne quia detraheret, descriptis beati Auguatini exempio in pariete versiculis, se atque alios perpetuo voluit admonitos. Famelicos de suo etiam obsonio satiabat: nudos autem non emptis modo, sed detractis quoque sibi vestibus et calceis operiebat, demisso ipso interim uaque ad terram pallio, ne domum nudipedes redire videretur.

Brevis illi somnus, atque humi; vestis, quæ nuditatem, cibua, qui mortem dumtaxat, arceret. Virginalem pudicitiam, velut lilium inter sninas, aspero cilicio, flagellis atque jejuniis custodivit. Quin et per annos ante obitum triginta circiter et quinque ab esu carnium perpetuo abatinuit. Tandem dierum juxta ac meritorum plenus, cum vicinæ, quam præsensit, morti se diu diligenterque præparasæt, ne qua re amplius teneretur, ai quid domi supererat id omnino pauperibus distribuit. Tum Ecclesiæ sacramentia rite munitus, dissolvi jam cupiens, et esse cum Christo, pridie Nativitatis ejus, in cœlum evolavit, miraculis ante et post mortem claras. Mortuus ad proximam academiæ ecclesiam sanctæ Annæ delatus est, ibique honorifice sepultus. Auctaque in dies populi veneratione ac frequentia inter primarios Poloniæ ac Lithuaniæ patronos religiosissime colitur. Novisque corascans miraculis, a Clemente decimo tertio Pontifice maximo decimo septimo calendas Augusti, anno millesimo septingentesimo sexagesimo septimo, solemni ritu sanctorum fastis adscriptus est.
John was born at Kenty, a town in the diocese of Cracow; and hence his surname Cantius. His parents were pious and honorable persons, by name Stanislaus and Anna. From his very infancy, his sweetness of disposition, innocence, and gravity, gave promise of very great virtue. He studied philosophy and theology at the university of Cracow, and taking all his degrees proceeded professor and doctor. He taught sacred science for many years, enlightening the minds of his pupils and enkindling in them the flame of piety, no less by his deeds than by his words. When he was ordained priest, he relaxed nothing of his zeal for study, but increased his ardour for Christian perfection. Grieving exceedingly over the offences everywhere committed against God, he strove to make satisfaction on his own behalf and that of the people, by daily offering the unbloody Sacrifice with many tears. For several years he had charge of the parish of Ilkusi, which he administered in an exemplary manner; but fearing the responsibility of the cure of souls, he resigned his post; and, at the request of the university, resumed the professor’s chair.

Whatever time remained over from his studies, he devoted partly to the good of his neighbour, especially by holy preaching; partly to prayer, in which he is said to have been sometimes favoured with heavenly visions and communications. He was so affected by the Passion of Christ, that he would spend whole nights without sleep in the contemplation of it; and in order the better to cultivate this devotion, he undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While there, in his eagerness for martyrdom he boldly preached Christ crucified even to the Turks. Four times he went to Rome on foot, and carrying his own baggage, to visit the threshold of the apostles; in order to honour the apostolic See to which he was earnestly devoted, and also (as he himself used to say), to save himself from purgatory by means of the indulgences there daily to be gained. On one of these journeys he was robbed by brigands. When asked by them whether he had anything more, he replied in the negative; but afterwards remembering that he had some gold pieces sewn in his cloak, he called back the robbers, who had taken to flight, and offered them the money. Astonished at the holy man’s sincerity and generosity, they restored all they had taken from him. After St. Augustine’s example, he had verses inscribed on the walla in his house, warning others, as well as himself, to respect the reputation of their neighbours. He fed the hungry from his own table; and clothed the naked not only with garments bought for the purpose, but even with his own clothes and shoes; on these occasions he would lower his cloak to the ground, so as not to be seen walking home barefoot.

He took very little sleep, and that on the ground. His clothing was only sufficient to cover him, and his food to keep him alive. He preserved his virginal purity, like a lily among thorns, by using a rough hair-shirt, disciplines, and fasting; and for about thirty-five years before his death, he abstained entirely from fleshmeat. At length, full of days and of merits, he prepared himself long and diligently for death, which he felt drawing near; and that nothing might be a hindrance to him, he distributed all that remained in his house to the poor. Then, strengthened with the Sacraments of the Church, and desiring to be with Christ, he passed to heaven on Christmas Eve. He worked many miracles both in life and after death. His body was carried to St. Anne’s, the church of the university, and there honourably interred. The people’s veneration for the saint, and the crowds visiting his tomb, increased daily; and he is honoured as one of the chief patrons of Poland and Lithuania. As new miracles continued to be wrought, Pope Clement XIII solemnly enrolled him among the saints, on the seventeenth of the Kalends of August, in the year 1767.

The Church is ever saying to thee, and we repeat it with the same unwavering hope: ‘O thou, who didst never refuse assistance to any one, take in hand the cause of thy native kingdom; it is the desire of the Poles, thy fellow-countrymen, it is the prayer of even foreigners.'[2] The treason of which thy unhappy fatherland was the victim, has not ceased to press heavily upon disorganized Europe. How many other crushing weights have since been thrown into the balance of our Lord’s justice! O John, teach us at least not to add thereto our own personal faults. It is by following thee along the path of virtue, that we shall merit to obtain pardon from heaven,[3] and to hasten the hour of great atonements.


[1] Bulla canonizationis.
[2] Hymn of Matins.
[3] Collect.

 

From Dom Guéranger's The Liturgical Year.

‘Monks were unknown in Syria before St. Hilarion,' says his historian St. Jerome. ‘He instituted the monastic life in that country, and was the master of those who embraced it. The Lord Jesus had His Anthony in Egypt and His Hilarion in Palestine, the former advanced in years, the latter still young.'[1] Now our Lord very soon raised this young man to such glory, that Anthony would say to the sick, who came to him from Syria attracted by the fame of his miracles: ‘Why take the trouble to come so far, when you have near you my son Hilarion?'[2] And yet Hilarion had spent only two months with Anthony; after which the patriarch had said to him: ‘Persevere to the end, my son; and thy labour will win thee the delights of heaven.' Then, giving a hair-shirt and a garment of skin to this boy of fifteen whom he was never to see again, he sent him back to sanctify the solitudes of his own country, while he himself retired farther into the desert.[3]

The enemy of mankind, foreseeing a formidable adversary in this new solitary, waged a terrible war against him. Even the flesh, in spite of the young ascetic’s fasts, was satan’s first accomplice. But without any pity for a body so frail and delicate, as his historian says, that any effort would have seemed sufficient to destroy it, Hilarion cried out indignantly: ‘Ass, I will see that thou kick no more; I will reduce thee by hunger, I will crush thee with burdens, I will make thee work in all weathers; thou shalt be so pinched with hunger, that thou wilt think no more of pleasure.'[4]

Vanquished in this quarter, the enemy found other allies, through whom he thought to drive Hilarion, by fear, back to the dwellings of men. But to the robbers who fell upon his poor wicker hut, the saint said smiling: ‘He that is naked has no fear of thieves.' And they, touched by his great virtue, could not conceal their admiration, and promised to amend their lives.[5]

Then satan determined to come in person, as he had done to Anthony; but with no better success. No trouble could disturb the serenity attained by that simple, holy soul. One day the demon entered into a camel and made it mad, so that it rushed upon the saint with horrible cries. But he only answered: 'I am not afraid of thee; thou art always the same, whether thou come as a fox or a camel.' And the huge beast fell down tamed at his feet.[6]

There was a harder trial yet to come from the most cunning artifice of the serpent. When Hilarion sought to hide himself from the immense concourse of people who besieged his poor cell, the enemy maliciously published his fame far and wide, and brought to him overwhelming crowds from every land. In vain he quitted Syria and travelled the length and breadth of Egypt; in vain, pursued from desert to desert, he crossed the sea, and hoped to conceal himself in Sicily, in Dalmatia, in Cyprus. From the ship, which was making its way among the Cyclades, he heard, in each island, the infernal spirits calling one another from the towns and villages and running to the shores as he passed by. At Paphos, where he landed, the same concourse of demons brought to him multitudes of men; until at length God took pity on His servant, and discovered to him a place inaccessible to his fellow-men, where he had no company but legions of devils, who surrounded him day and night. Far from fearing, says his biographer, he took pleasure in the neighbourhood of his old antagonists whom he knew so well; and he lived there in great peace the last five years before his death.[7]

The Church thus abridges St. Jerome’s history of Hilarion.

Hilarion, ortus Tabathæ in Palæstina ex parentibus infidelibus, Alexandriam missus studiorum causa, ibi morum et ingenii laude floruit:ac Jesu Christi suscepta religione, in fide et caritate mirabili ter profecit. Frequens enim erat in ecclesia, assiduus in jejunio et oratione: omnes voluptatum illecebras et terrenarum rerum cupiditates contemnebat. Cum autem Antonii nomen in Ægypto celeberrimum esset, ejus videndi studio in solitudinem contendit: apud quem duobus mensibus omnem ejus vitærationem didicit. Domum reversus, mortuis parentibus, facultates suaspauperibus dilargitus est: necdum quintum decimum annulli egressus, rediit in solitudinem, ubi, exstructa exigua casa, quæ vix ipsum caperet, humi cubabat. Nec vero saccum, quo semel amictus est, umquam aut lavit, aut mutavit, cum supervacaneum esse diceret, munditias in cilicio quærere.

In sanctarum litterarum lectione et meditatione multus erat. Paucas ficus et succum herbarum ad victum adhibebat; nec illis ante solis occasum vescebatur. Continentia et humilitate fuit incredibili. Quibus aliisque virtutibus varias horribilesque tentationes diaboli superavit, et innumerabiles dsemones in multis orbis terræ partibus ex hominum corporibus ejecit. Qui octogesimum annum agens, multis ædificatis monasteriis, et Claris miraculis, in morbum incidit: cujus vicum extremo pene spiritu conflictaretur, dicebat: Egredere, quid times? egredere, anima mea, quid dubitas? septuaginta prope annis servisti Christo, et mortem times? Quibus in verbis spiritum exhalavit.
Hilarion was born of infidel parents at Abatha in Palestine; and was sent to study at Alexandria, where he became famous for his talents and the purity of his morals. He embraced the Christian religion, and made wonderful progress in faith and charity. He was constantly in the church, devoted himself to prayer and fasting, and was full of contempt for the enticements of pleasure and earthly desires. The fame of St. Anthony had then spread over all Egypt. Hilarion, desirous of seeing him, betook himself to the wilderness, and stayed two months with him learning his manner of life. He then returned home; but on the death of his parents he bestowed his goods upon the poor, and though only in his fifteenth year, returned to the desert. He built himself a little cell scarcely large enough to hold him, and there he slept on the ground. He never changed or washed the sackcloth he wore, saying it was superfluous to look for cleanliness in a hair-shirt. 

He devoted himself to the reading and study of the holy Scripture. His food consisted of a few figs and the juice of herbs, which he never took before sunset. His mortification and humility were wonderful; and by means of these and other virtues he overcame many terrible temptations of the evil one, and cast innumerable devils out of the possessed in many parts of the world. He had built many monasteries, and was renowned for miracles, when he fell ill in the eightieth year of his age. In his last agony he exclaimed: Go forth, my soul, why dost thou fear? Go forth, why dost thou hesitate? Thou hast served Christ for nearly seventy years, and dost thou fear death? And with these words he expired.

To be a Hilarion, and yet to fear death! If in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?[8] O glorious saint, penetrate us with the apprehension of God’s judgments. Teach us that Christian fear does not banish love, but on the contrary, clears the way and leads to it, and then accompanies it through life as an attentive and faithful guardian. This holy fear was thy security at thy last hour; may it protect us also along the path of life, and at death introduce us immediately into heaven!

St. Hilarion was one of the first confessors, if not the very first, to be honoured in the east with a public cultus like the martyrs. In the west, the whiterobed army led by Ursula adds to the glory of the holy monk who has the first honours of this day.

On October 21,451, Cologne was made equal to the most illustrious cities by a spiritual glory. Criticism, and there is no lack of it, may dispute the circumstances which brought together the legion of virgins; but the fact itself, that eleven thousand chosen souls were martyred by the Huns in recompense for their fidelity, is now acknowledged by true science. From the earth where so many noble victims lay concealed, they have more than once been brought to light by multitudes, bearing about them evidence of the veneration of those who had buried them; for instance, by a happy inspiration, the arrow that had set free the blessed soul, would be left, as a token of victory, fixed in the breast or forehead of the martyr.

St. Angela of Merici confided to the patronage of the glorious phalanx her spiritual daughters, and the numberless children whom they will continue till the end of time to educate in the fear of the Lord. The grave Sorbonne dedicated its church to the holy virgins as well as to the Mother of God; and here, as in the universities of Coimbra and Vienna, an annual panegyric was pronounced in praise of them. Portugal, enriched with some of their precious relics, carried their cultus into the Indies. And pious confraternities have been formed among the faithful for obtaining their assistance at the hour of death. Let us address to them these verses from a beautiful Office composed in their honour by the blessed Herman, their most devout client.

 

AD COMPLETORIUM

 

O præclaræ vos puellæ,
Nunc implete meum velle,
Et dum mortis venit hora,
Subvenite sine mora:

In tam gravi tempestate
Me præsentes defendate
A dæmonum instantia.

Nulla vestrum ibi desit,
Virgo Mater prima præsit,
Si quæ mihi fæx inhæsit,
Quæ me sua labe læsit,
Vestra prece procul fiat,
Vos præsentes hostis sciat,
Et se confusum doleat.
O ye glorious virgins,
fulfil now my desire,
and when the hour of death arrives,
hasten to my assistance:

be present at that terrible moment,
and defend me
from the assault of the demons.

Let not one of you be then absent;
come with the Virgin Mother at your head.
If any remnant of sin still cling to me
and soil me with its stain,
remove it by your prayer.
Let the foe be aware of your presence,
and bewail his own confusion.

Let us conclude with the Church's own prayer.

Prayer

Da nobis, quæsumus Domine Deus noster: sanctarum virginum et martyrum tuarum Ursulæ et sociarum ejus palmas incessabili devotione venerari; ut quas digna mente non possumus celebrare, humilibus saltem frequentemus obsequiis. Per Dominum.
Grant us, we beseech thee, O Lord our God, to venerate with continual devotion the triumphs of thy holy virgins and martyrs, Ursula and her companions; that what we cannot celebrate with worthy minds, we may at least attend with humble service. Through our Lord &c.

[1] Hieron: in vita S Hilarionis, cap. ii.
[2] Ibid. iii.
[3] Ibid. i. ex græca versione.
[4] Hieron. Vita S. Hilarionis.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid. ii.
[7] Hieron. Vita S Hilarionis, 3, 4, 5.
[8] St. Luke, xxiii. 31.

 

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