St. Magadalen of Pazzi
St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, a shining example of virtue and holiness, was born at Florence, in 1566, of illustrious parents. She received the name of Catherine in baptism, but on entering the Convent, she changed it to Mary Magdalen. The lessons of her office in the Roman Breviary testify that her life was perfect from her earliest youth. Her only enjoyment, when yet a small child, was to be taken to church, or to listen to the histories of the lives of the saints. She prayed for hours before she was able to read. Being asked what she was doing, she replied: “I pray God for grace to learn what I should do to please Him.” When she was sent to school, they gave her, as is the custom of the country, a little basket of refreshments. She, however, gave it to some prisoners whom she passed on her way, and thus fasted until noon. At another time she abstained from food or drink until she had been to church. When scarcely seven years of age, she began to mortify herself in divers ways. She denied herself her favorite fruit; took only two meals, one at noon and one at evening; refused to be present at the theatre; read with great avidity spiritual books, especially those which treated of the life and sufferings of our Saviour, and which implanted in her heart that ardent love of Christ of which her life gives so bright a record. In her eighth and ninth years, she had so intense a longing to receive holy Communion, that she could not, without tears, look at those who had the grace to partake of this food of angels. She was therefore permitted to receive her first communion, at the age of ten years. How this holy act filled her heart with joy and happiness is more easily conceived than described. She herself declared it was the happiest day of her life. Soon after, she consecrated herself entirely to God by taking the vow of perpetual chastity. Having reached her twelfth year, she had increased her mortifications to such an extent, that she wore a penitential robe, of hair-cloth, slept upon the floor and wore, during the night, a crown of thorns upon her head.” She mortified her tender body in these and many other ways, in order to become more like her beloved Jesus. When 15 years old, several rich and noble young men asked her hand in marriage; but she assured her parents that she had already chosen a much richer and more noble bridegroom, to whom she would always remain faithful, namely, Jesus.
Nothing caused her more pain than to hear that the All mighty had been offended by others. She daily offered certain prayers and penances to God for the conversion of pagans and sinners, and exhorted her sisters in the convent to do the same. For the salvation of souls she offered herself to the Almighty to be afflicted with all possible diseases and pains; she was even willing to bear the torment of hell, provided that she were not forced to blaspheme God there. One day she said: “Were the Almighty to ask me what reward I desire for the little good I have done with His grace, my answer would be: nothing but the salvation of souls.” The time of Carnival was for her a time of prayers and severe penances, which she performed in order to appease the wrath of Almighty God, whom she knew so many offended at that time. She tortured her body by wearing hair-shirts, by flagellation, watching, enduring cold and heat, and by most austere fasting. During 22 years all the nourishment she took was bread and water, except on Sundays, when she partook of lenten diet.
Meanwhile it pleased the Most High to prove His faithful handmaiden by great affliction. Five long years she was I tormented day and night with impure and blasphemous thoughts; but she always struggled with them valiantly, not allowing herself to become downcast or despondent. She often took the image of Christ or of the Blessed Virgin, and embracing it, prayed to God for aid. For the last three years of her life she had to endure divers painful maladies, and suffered so greatly from decay of the gums, that she lost one tooth after another. To this was added a burning fever and violent headache. To increase her suffering, God deprived her of all the spiritual comfort she had heretofore enjoyed. She had constantly to keep her bed, except at the time of Mass and Communion, and it was wonderful to behold how, during the first of these three years, she was strengthened by the Almighty to be present at the divine sacrifice and to receive the Blessed Eucharist, while directly afterwards she had to return to her room, where she I remained so totally exhausted that it was to be supposed she was dying. They tried to dissuade her from so frequently receiving holy communion; but she said that without it she would not be able to endure her suffering, as it endued her with strength. Therefore it was daily given to her when she was no longer able to leave her room. The patience with which she bore her sufferings is not to be described. Her continual saying was: “To suffer, not to die.” She desired to suffer as long as possible out of love to Christ. One day when her confessor, in order to comfort her, said that her sufferings would come to an end at last, she replied: “No, my father, I desire no such comfort, but hope that I may be permitted to suffer unto my life’s end.” At another time, she said: “I hope to die like my Saviour, on the cross,” by which she meant, in agonies and pain.
When her sufferings had continued for three years, the physicians pronounced her end near. Magdalen requested Extreme Unction after holy Communion; and having begged her sisters to forgive her all her faults, she exhorted them specially to love God and hate themselves. After this, she continued during twelve days in the most edifying exercises, and then ended her holy and wonderful life, not so much consumed by the violence of her bodily suffering as by her fervent love to God, in the year 1607, on a Friday, and almost at the same hour at which our Saviour died for us on the Cross. A few days before her death she said: “I die without even being able to comprehend how it is possible for any one to commit a mortal sin.” Soon after her death, God made her entering into the abode of the Blessed known to the world, not only by many miracles, but also by the change that took place in her holy body. From being emaciated and pale by severe penances and a painful sickness, it suddenly became resplendent with beauty and moved all who beheld it to glorify the Almighty. The most delicious fragrance emanated from it. In 1663 when, by order of the Government, the body of the Saint was examined, it was found entirely uncorrupted and exhaling the same fragrance. It is rightly believed that God thus rewarded the virginal purity which the Saint had preserved unspotted by means of penances and prayers, fervent partaking of the holy Sacrament and filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin. She had always evinced the greatest horror of the vice of impurity, and could not remain in the presence of persons addicted to it, without a feeling of abhorrence. This was manifested even after her death. A youth of loose morals approached the bier, on which the body of the Saint was lying, to gaze at her remains. When he, however, imprudently cast his eyes upon her face, the corpse averted it from him, which made so deep an impression on him, that he confessed his fault and promised with tears to reform his life.
I. “To love God and hate ourselves” was the last instruction which St. Magdalen gave to her sisters in Christ, and by which she had regulated her own life. The hatred which she bore to herself she clearly manifested by her severe fasting, by her many austere penances, by her love to God, by her horror of sin, by her victories over temptation, by her heroic patience in suffering, by her insatiable desire to suffer out of love to God, and also by her mortifications, as she never partook of either food or drink except at stated times, never participated in the frivolous enjoyments of the Carnival, nor went to theatres, and deprived herself of fruit, of which she was very fond. In which point will you follow her example, and show not only your hatred to self but your love to God? You can best imitate her by depriving yourself, on certain days, of all food, except at your meals, and by abstaining from profane amusements. Do this out of love to God, and you will manifest your love to Him and your hatred to yourself. If you will not consent to this, you plainly show that you love yourself too well, as you allow your body all it craves. And though this may not be a sign that you hate God, since the pleasures of which you refuse to deprive yourself may be harmless; yet it is a sign that you do not love God as you ought to love Him. II. For five years St, Magdalen was tormented almost day and night with the most horrible temptations to impurity, blasphemy and despair; but she always combatted them, without allowing herself to be cast down or despondent. She called God to her aid and, sustained by His grace, she always conquered. Satan endeavors generally to torment with manifold temptations, those who are assiduous in serving the Lord. For, as St. Gregory says: “Those of whom he is sure, he does not torment much.” A servant of God ought therefore not to be grieved, but pray and combat. The Almighty who permits such temptations for our own good, will surely not forsake us, and, strengthened by Him, we shall conquer hell. Therefore no one ought to despond, as by so doing he prepares an enjoyment for the enemy of man and causes him to increase the temptations. “When our enemies, writes St. Climacus, see that we fear and tremble they attack us so much the more violently.” Hence, let us courageously arm ourselves and fight against them. In truth we have no reason to fear or become downcast, whether we, regard God, ourselves, or Satan. Regarding God, faith teaches us that he does not permit us to be tempted beyond our strength, as St. Paul assures us. (I Cor. x.) He also offers us His grace that we may overcome our temptations. He strengthens us in our weakness, as we are also taught by Holy Writ. If we regard ourselves, faith teaches us that we have our free will, by the power of which, we can either resist temptations with the grace of God, or consent to them. ” Man has his free will, says St. Cyril of Jerusalem; Satan may tempt him, but cannot force him against his will.” If we regard Satan, we know, as has just been said, that he cannot force us to consent. “Behold, says St.Bernard, the weakness of our enemy. He is able to conquer him only who is willing to be overcome. Our enemy can tempt, but it is in our power to consent or not.” What reason have we therefore to fear? If we combat courageously, the victory will be ours.
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place. 1876.