St. Placidus and his Companions, Martyrs
St. Placidus, a religious of the Order of St. Benedict, was born at Rome. Tertullus, his father, was greatly esteemed in the city, not only for his ancient nobility but also for his great wisdom, which raised him to the highest offices of the state. As he was as pious as he was noble, rich and learned, he gave Placidus in charge of St. Benedict, when the child had not yet reached his seventh year. Placidus made such progress in learning and in all Christian virtues, that he served as an example even to the religious, and when further advanced in years, he desired to be admitted among the disciples of St. Benedict. Tertullus not only consented to his son’s wish, but also gave the holy Founder several estates, which lay not far from Monte Cassino, that the monastery which he had begun might be completed, and that he might have means to maintain it. Besides this, he gave him an estate in Sicily, consisting of eighteen villages, as he thought that his property could not be better used than in the maintenance of those who served God zealously, and who faithfully educated the young.
Having happily concluded this affair, with the consent of St. Benedict, he selected a suitable spot whereon to build a monastery for the order. He chose a place not far from the harbor of Messina, where he erected a monastery and a chapel. As soon as he had made his dwelling there with his brethren, several came who desired to live under his guidance. He received them, and led them in the path of perfection with so much wisdom and ability, that they all loved and honored him like a father. Not only by words, but also, and more especially, by his example, did he teach those under him. He devoted many hours to prayer, which he seldom performed without tears. During Lent, he partook of bread and water, on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; on the other days he abstained from food altogether. He never tasted wine, and always wore his rough hair-shirt. He gave very little time to rest at night and slept sitting. He was very circumspect in speaking, and never permitted any one to say a disparaging word of a neighbor in his presence, as he himself never spoke ill of others. He was kind and good to all, and no one ever saw him angry, which is surely worthy of admiration. Each moment he endeavored to use to a good purpose; he was never idle, but always occupied in good works.
He had two brothers and a sister, who resided at Rome, but who went to visit him in Sicily, as they had heard so much that was praiseworthy spoken of their brother. Soon after their arrival, it happened that Manucha, a powerful pirate of the Moorish king of Africa, and a bitter enemy of the Christians, sailed into the harbor of Messina, and invaded the monastery of St. Placidus. After having robbed and plundered the whole building, the barbarians took St. Placidus, his two brothers, his sister, the two monks whom St. Benedict had given him as companions, with thirty other religious, as prisoners. Manucha commanded them to deny Christ, but as they refused to obey him, the pirate commenced to torture them, especially St. Placidus, as he encouraged the others to remain constant. The savage daily invented a new torment: they were most cruelly scourged; hung up by the feet over a fire, so that the smoke might suffocate them; and as this did not kill them, they were hung by their hands, with heavy stones tied to their feet, besides being tortured in numberless other ways. St. Placidus, who, during all this terrible suffering, did not cease to sing praises to God, had all his teeth knocked out with a stone, and his tongue torn from his mouth. Seeing at length that they could not be conquered, the inhuman tyrant had them all beheaded.
Memorable was the end of Flavia, the sister of St. Placidus, Manucha had her brought before him, and endeavored to make her deny Christ. When he perceived that he could gain no power over her, he ordered her to-be hung up by the feet, and scourged most barbarously. He then said to her: “You pretend to be a noble Roman lady, and are not ashamed to appear naked!” Flavia answered: ” What I suffer for the Christian faith cannot dishonor me. Do you not know any other torments? I am ready to suffer and to die.” Manucha, enraged at these words, gave her up to his servants. This was more terrible to the chaste virgin than all other suffering, and she called on God for aid. The Almighty delayed not to succor her. When the wretches went to seize her, their arms became powerless, and thus the purity of the virgin was saved. She ended her life by the sword.
I. St. Placidus was never seen angry. This is saying a great deal in few words; for there is hardly a passion which is so general, and which causes so many sins, as anger. Just wrath is in itself no sin; and we know that the most holy men, even Christ Himself, became incensed. Yet it is sure that we may become guilty of great sin by anger; for example, when we are angry without just cause; when we are incensed at things that ought not to provoke us; when we go too far in our wrath, and, perhaps, utter invectives, curses or even blasphemies; when we carry anger too long in our hearts, and when hatred and enmity proceed from it. In such cases, we become guilty of venial or mortal sin, and at the same time, we may cause others also to commit great sin.
Hence, be very careful that you never become angry without just reason, that you never be angry at something that ought not to arouse your wrath; that in your anger you never overstep the proper bounds; never utter invectives, curses or blasphemies. Should you, however, have become guilty of sin through anger, try to banish it from your heart. “Every one should be slow to wrath,” admonished St. James. (James, i.) “He that is easily stirred up to wrath, shall be more prone to sin,” says the Proverb. (Prov. xix.) “Remove anger from thy heart,” says the Holy Ghost. (Eccl. xi.) Follow these admonitions; and to be able to follow them, pray daily to God that He would give you the grace to overcome the dangerous passion of anger. God will not refuse your prayer; all will depend on your working with His grace to control yourself. Should you, however, still become guilty of anger, give yourself a penance, pray God to pardon you, and resolve to conquer yourself in future. In this manner, those of the Saints, who were by nature easily provoked, overcame their passion to their great benefit and merit.
II. St. Placidus endeavored to use every moment to the best advantage. He was never seen idle or unemployed. He recognized the value of time, and the aim and end for which God has bestowed it upon us. Ah! if you only possessed such esteem for time, you would not trifleaway a single moment. “Nothing is more precious than time,” writes St. Bernard; but unhappily nothing is less esteemed; the days of our salvation pass, and no one rightly considers the consequences. During a short period, man can gain pardon for his sins and eternal salvation. How valuable, therefore, must time be! None recognize this better than those to whom God gives no more time. “Should any one,” says the same holy Doctor, “bring only half an hour of repentance into hell and offer it for sale, the reprobate would give thousands of worlds for it, if they had them!” Thousands of worlds for half an hour! So precious is time.
But consider also, that this precious time which you have is short and irreparable. It is short. St. Paul writes: “The time is short.” (1 Cor. vii.) The holy Job says: “Man lives but a short time. The days of men are short.” (Job, xi.) “For behold, short years pass away.” (Job, xvi.) Should your life be prolonged to one hundred years, it might yet be said with truth, the time given you is short. “Our life on earth, compared with eternity, is short, though we live ever so long,” says St. Jerome. Look at your own life. The years which are past are already gone; they are yours no longer. Whether there is any time for you in the future, you do not know, nor how much of it you may call your own. Only the present time is yours, and that quickly passes; it never stands still; it is short, it is irrevocable. The hours you possessed yesterday have fled, never to return again. With the grace of God, you may be able, if you live long enough, to make good the days you have employed ill, but they themselves will never more return.
All these are truths which no one can deny. How is it possible that you do not weep tears of blood for the loss of so many inestimable hours, days, months and years, which you have not employed to your salvation? How is it possible that you do not make to-day the resolution to employ the time still left you, to the best of your ability? Recall often to memory what I have now told you: time is precious; time is short; time is irrevocable. May it animate you to make good use of it. Perhaps this is the last year, the last month, which God gives you. If you do not employ it well, fear that what St. Bernard said may happen to you: “God cuts short suddenly the time of those sinners who abuse it.” Should this happen to you, woe to you for all eternity! Hence, think always of the end, and forget not, that time once lost does not return,” says the blessed Thomas a Kempis.
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.