Saint Gregory Nazianzen

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Saint Gregory Nazianzen

Archbishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church
(312-390)

Saint Gregory was born in 312 near Caesarea of Cappadocia, of parents who are both honored as Saints, and the infant was immediately consecrated to God. After learning all that he could in his native land, he journeyed to Caesarea in Palestine to study at the famous school founded by Origen, then went to Alexandria in Egypt to rejoin his brother there. After some time he embarked for Athens, the metropolis of the sciences and the humanities. During the voyage, a storm of twenty days’ duration nearly caused the loss of the ship and all passengers; their safe arrival in Athens was attributed to Saint Gregory’s prayers, and all aboard adopted Christianity.

In Athens he met and became the close friend of Saint Basil, and these noble souls turned away together from the most attractive worldly prospects. For some years they lived in seclusion, self-discipline, and studious labor, knowing only two roads, Gregory wrote, one to church, the other to school. Only after thirty years of studies and good works in Athens did they leave that city and separate. They would meet again in the year 358, to live in solitude for a time in the Province of Pont.

Saint Gregory was raised to the priesthood almost by force, preaching his first sermon, after a ten-weeks’ retreat, on the dangers and responsibilities of the priesthood. In 372, when he was sixty years old, he was consecrated a bishop by his dear friend Saint Basil, who had become Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia. All their lives they would correspond; many of Saint Gregory’s noble and eloquent letters to Saint Basil can still be read among the 212 pieces of his correspondence which are still conserved.

Saint Gregory’s rare gifts and conciliatory disposition had become well known. In the year 379, when he was sixty-seven years old, he was chosen to be Patriarch of Constantinople. That city was distracted and laid waste in those times by Arian and other heretics. After a reception which was at best lukewarm, the new Patriarch labored there successfully, from his base in a small church named the Anastasia (Resurrection), where he gave instructions and saw the number of his listeners increase daily.

The Arians were so irritated at the decay of their heresy that they pursued the Saint with outrage, calumny and violence, and at length resolved to take his life. For this purpose they chose an intrepid youth who was willing to undertake the sacrilegious commission. But God did not allow him to carry it out; he was touched with remorse and cast himself at the Saint’s feet, avowing his sinful intent. Saint Gregory forgave him at once, treated him with all kindness and received him among his friends, to the wonder and edification of the whole city and to the confusion of the heretics, whose crime had served only as a mirror to the virtue of the Saint.

Saint Jerome states that he himself learned at the feet of this master, who was his catechist in Holy Scripture. But Saint Gregory’s humility, his austerities, the humble appearance of his aging and worn person, and above all his very success in Constantinople, did not cease to draw down upon him the hatred of every enemy of the Faith. He was persecuted by the magistrates, stoned by the rabble, and thwarted and deserted even by his brother bishops. During the second General Council, hoping to restore peace to his tormented city, the eloquent bishop, whom the Church calls Saint Gregory the Theologian, resigned his see and retired to his native town, where he died in the year 390.

Reflection. We must overcome our enemies, said Saint Gregory, by gentleness, and win them over by forbearance. Let them be punished by their own conscience, not by our wrath. Let us not at once fell the fig tree, from which a more skillful gardener may yet entice fruit.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5

Apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel

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Apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel

Monte Gargano, Italy (492)

It is evident from Holy Scripture that God is pleased to make frequent use of the ministry of the heavenly spirits in the dispensations of His providence in this world. The Angels are all pure spirits; by a property of their nature they are immortal, as is every spirit. They have the power of moving or conveying themselves at will from place to place, and such is their activity that it is not easy for us to conceive of it. Among the holy Archangels, Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are particularly distinguished in the Scriptures. Saint Michael, whose name means Who is like unto God?, is the prince of the faithful Angels who opposed Lucifer and his followers in their revolt against God. Since the devil is the sworn enemy of God’s holy Church, Saint Michael is given to it by God as its special protector against the demon’s assaults and stratagems.

Various apparitions of this powerful Angel have proved the protection of Saint Michael over the Church. We may mention his apparition in Rome, where Saint Gregory the Great saw him in the air sheathing his sword, to signal the cessation of a pestilence and the appeasement of God’s wrath. Another apparition to Saint Ausbert, bishop of Avranches in France, led to the construction of Mont-Saint-Michel in the sea, a famous pilgrimage site. May 8th, however, is destined to recall another no less marvelous apparition, occurring near Monte Gargano in the Kingdom of Naples.

In the year 492 a man named Gargan was pasturing his large herds in the countryside. One day a bull fled to the mountain, where at first it could not be found. When its refuge in a cave was discovered, an arrow was shot into the cave, but the arrow returned to wound the one who had sent it. Faced with so mysterious an occurrence, the persons concerned decided to consult the bishop of the region. He ordered three days of fasting and prayers. After three days, the Archangel Saint Michael appeared to the bishop and declared that the cavern where the bull had taken refuge was under his protection, and that God wanted it to be consecrated under his name and in honor of all the Holy Angels.

Accompanied by his clergy and people, the pontiff went to that cavern, which he found already disposed in the form of a church. The divine mysteries were celebrated there, and there arose in this same place a magnificent temple where the divine Power has wrought great miracles. To thank God’s adorable goodness for the protection of the holy Archangel, the effect of His merciful Providence, this feast day was instituted by the Church in his honor.

It is said of this special guardian and protector of the Church that, during the final persecution of Antichrist, he will powerfully defend it: At that time shall Michael rise up, the great prince who protects the children of thy people. (Dan. 12:1) Compare this text with Chapter 10 of the Apocalypse of Saint John.

Reflection. Saint Michael is not only the protector of the Church, but of every faithful soul. By humility he defeated the devil; we who are enlisted in the same warfare must adopt his weapons — humility and ardent love of God. Regarding this Archangel as our leader under God, let us courageously resist the devil in all his assaults with our protector’s famous exclamation: Who is like unto God?

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950) 

Saint Stanislaus

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Saint Stanislaus

Bishop of Cracow, Martyr
(1030-1079)

Saint Stanislaus was born in answer to prayer, when his parents were advanced in age. Out of gratitude they educated him for the Church. When his parents died, he sold their vast properties and gave the price to the poor. He was ordained, and being a holy priest, soon afterwards became a Canon of the Cracow cathedral.

It was necessary to have recourse to the Pope to have him accept the see of Cracow when it became vacant. But the bishop of Cracow’s virtues increased with his dignity and obligations; Saint Stanislaus donned a hair shirt, which he wore until he died. He had a list drawn up of every poor person of the city, and gave orders to his servants never to refuse anything to anyone.

Boleslaus II was at that time King of Poland; he was a prince of good disposition, but spoilt by a long series of victories and successes. After many acts of lust and cruelty, he outraged the whole kingdom by carrying off the wife of one of his nobles. Against this public scandal the chaste and gentle bishop alone raised his voice. Having commended the matter to God, he went to the palace and openly rebuked the king for his crime against God and his subjects, and threatened to excommunicate him if he persisted in his sin. Boleslaus, with the intention of irrevocably ruining the bishop’s good reputation, suborned the nephews of a man named Paul who had recently died, to swear that their uncle had never been paid for land which the bishop had bought for the Church. Saint Stanislaus stood fearlessly before the king’s tribunal, though all his frightened witnesses forsook him, and guaranteed to bring the dead man to witness in his favor within three days.

On the third day, after many prayers and tears, he raised the dead man to life and led him in his grave-clothes before the king, where Paul testified that the bishop had reimbursed him fully for the terrain he had sold. He was then taken back to the grave, where he lay down and again relapsed into his former state, before a large number of witnesses.

Boleslaus for a while made a show of a better life. Soon, however, he returned to the most scandalous excesses, and the bishop, finding all remonstrance useless, pronounced the sentence of excommunication. In defiance of the censure, on May 8, 1079, the king went to a chapel where Saint Stanislaus was saying Mass and commanded three groups of soldiers in succession to slay him at the altar. Each in turn came out, saying he had been alarmed by a light from heaven. At this the king himself rushed in and slew with his own hand the Saint at the altar during the Holy Sacrifice.

The Pope placed the kingdom of Poland under interdict, excommunicated the king and declared his royalty null and void. Boleslaus repented, took refuge in another country for a time, then set out dressed as a pilgrim for Rome. On the way he knocked on a monastery door to ask for an alms, then decided to enter there anonymously, and was received. He spent seven years there as a Benedictine lay brother, rendering every humble service to the monks, patiently bearing rude treatment. Only on his deathbed did he identify himself, taking out his royal ring which he had concealed until then. He had spent hours praying before a statue of Our Lady in the chapel, by which we may conclude that the Mother of God had obtained for him the grace of conversion and a happy death. His body remains in the church of the same monastery of Ossiach.

Saint Stanislaus was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1253.

Reflection. The safest correction of vice is the Christian’s blameless life. Yet there are times when silence would make us answerable for the sins of others. At such times let us, in the name of God, rebuke the offender without fear.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894). 

Saint John before the Latin Gate

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Saint John before the Latin Gate

(95 A.D.)

In the year 95, Saint John the Evangelist, the only surviving Apostle, who was governing all the churches of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), was apprehended at Ephesus and sent in chains to Rome. The Emperor Domitian did not relent at the sight of the venerable old man, but condemned him to be cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. The martyr doubtless heard, with great joy, this barbarous sentence; the most cruel torments seemed to him light and agreeable because he hoped they would unite him forever to his divine Master and Saviour. But God accepted his will and crowned his desire; He conferred on him the honor and merit of martyrdom while suspending the operation of the fire, just as He had formerly preserved the three children from injury in the Babylonian furnace. The seething oil was changed for him into an invigorating bath, and the Saint came out more refreshed than when he had entered the cauldron.

The glorious triumph of Saint John happened just beyond the gate of Rome called the Latina. A church which ever since has borne this title was consecrated there, in memory of the miracle. Domitian saw this miracle without deriving the least advantage from it, remaining hardened in his iniquity. Nonetheless, he contented himself afterwards with banishing the holy Apostle to the little island of Patmos. Saint John returned to Ephesus during the mild reign of Nerva (96-98), who during his short imperial government lasting one year and four months, merely labored to restore the faded luster of the Roman Empire.

Reflection. Saint John suffered above the other Saints a martyrdom of love, being a martyr and more than a martyr, at the foot of the cross of his divine Master. All Our Lord’s sufferings were by love and compassion imprinted in his soul, and thus shared by him. O singular happiness, to have stood under the cross of Christ! O extraordinary privilege, to have suffered martyrdom beside Jesus, and been eye-witness of all He did or endured! If nature revolts within us against suffering, let us call to mind those words of the divine Master to Saint Peter: Now thou knowest not why, but thou shalt know hereafter. (John 13:7)

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894

Saint Pius V

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Saint Pius V

Pope
(1504-1572)

Michael Ghislieri, a Dominican friar from his fifteenth year, a teacher of religion at twenty, as a simple religious, as inquisitor, bishop, and cardinal, was famous both for the spotless purity of his own life and for his intrepid defense of the Church’s faith and discipline. Surrounded in his time by great men and great Saints, in apostolic virtue he was surpassed by none.

As Pope, his first concern was to reform the Roman court and the capital city by the strict example of his own household and the punishment of offenders. He next endeavored to obtain from the Catholic powers recognition of the decrees of the Council of Trent, two of which he strictly enforced: the obligatory residence of bishops in their sees, and the establishment of diocesan seminaries. He revised the Missal and Breviary, and reformed ecclesiastical music.

He was not less active in protecting the Church outside Italy. We see him at the same time supporting the Catholic King of France against the Huguenot rebels, and encouraging Mary, Queen of Scots in the bitterness of her captivity. It is he who excommunicated her rival, the usurper Elizabeth, when the best blood of England flowed upon the scaffold and the measure of her crimes was full. The intrepidity of this Vicar of Christ found enemies. The holy Pope was accustomed to kiss the feet of the crucifix on leaving or entering his room. One day the feet moved away from his lips. Sorrow filled his heart, and he made acts of contrition, fearing that he must have committed some secret offense, yet he still could not kiss the feet. It was afterwards discovered that they had been poisoned by an enemy.

It was in the Lepanto victory that the Saint’s power was most plainly manifest. There, in October of 1571, by the holy league which he had formed but still more by the prayers of the aging Pontiff to the great Mother of God, the defeat of the advancing Ottoman forces was obtained and Christendom was saved from the Turk. Six months later Saint Pius V died, having reigned only six years.

Reflection. Thy cross, O Lord, is the source of all blessings, the cause of all graces; by it the faithful find strength in weakness, glory in humiliation, life in death. (Saint Leo)

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).