Saint John of Matha

Saint John of Matha

Founder
(1160-1213)

The life of Saint John of Matha, born in southern France of an illustrious family, was consecrated to God by a vow at his birth. His life from his youth was exemplary, by his self-sacrifice for the glory of God and the good of his neighbor. As a child, his chief pleasure was serving the poor; and he would say to them that he had come into the world for no other end but to care for them. He served every Friday in a hospital, and obtained for the sick whatever they needed. Later he studied in Paris with such distinction that his professors advised him to become a priest, in order that his talents might render greater service to others. For this purpose John gladly sacrificed his high rank and other worldly advantages.

At his first Mass an Angel appeared, clad in white, with a red and blue cross on his breast, and his hands reposed on the heads of a Christian and a Moorish captive. To comprehend what this vision might signify, John went to Saint Felix of Valois, a holy hermit living near Meaux, under whose direction he led a life of extreme penance. Another sign was given the two hermits, by a stag they saw with a red and blue cross amid its antlers. The two Christians then set out together for Rome, to learn the Will of God from the lips of the Sovereign Pontiff. Pope Innocent III consulted the Sacred College and had a Mass offered in the Lateran basilica to understand what God was asking. At the moment of the Elevation, the Pope saw the same Angel in the same vision as had been given Saint John. He told the two servants of God to devote themselves to the redemption of captives, and for this purpose they founded the Order of the Holy Trinity, whose habit was first worn by the Angel.

The members of the Order fasted every day, and after preaching throughout Europe, winning associates for their Order and gathering alms to buy back captives, went to northern Africa to redeem the Christian slaves taken prisoner during the Crusades or while traveling on the seas. They devoted themselves also to the many sick, aged, and infirm captives whom they found in both northern Africa and Spain, and who were unable to travel and thus to return home. Saint John on one occasion was assaulted in Morocco and left, in his blood, for dead. He was preserved by a miracle, and took up his charitable services again.

The charity of Saint John of Matha in devoting his life to the redemption of captives was visibly blessed by God: the Pope approved the Constitution of the Order, and in 1198 it was canonically instituted with an establishment in Rome, where the liberated captives were taken from Ostia to give thanks to God and rest for a time.

On his second return from Tunis he brought back one hundred and twenty liberated slaves. But when he was about to undertake another voyage, the Moors attacked the ship and disabled it before it could sail, removing the rudder and sails. Saint John told the passengers to take the oars and set out just the same, then he prayed on his knees to the Star of the Sea, prayers which the sailors and passengers repeated after him. He tied his cloak to the mast, saying, Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered! O Lord, Thou wilt save the humble, and wilt bring down the eyes of the proud. Suddenly wind filled the small sail, and a few days later brought the ship safely to Ostia, the port of Rome, three hundred leagues from Tunis.

Worn out by his heroic labors, John died in 1213, at the age of fifty-three.

Reflection. Let us never forget that our blessed Lord bade us love our neighbor not only as ourselves, but as He loved us, who afterwards sacrificed Himself totally for us.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul GuĂ©rin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 2; 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).

St. Romuald

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St. Romuald, Founder of the Order of Camaldoll

Ravenna, a well-known town in Italy, received, in the beginning of the tenth century, from God, the grace to become the birthplace of St. Romuald. The first twenty years of his life he passed like a child of the world, who only seeks after pleasure. Dogs, horses, hunting, riding, play, and society, were the only things he enjoyed, and in which he occupied his time. Of praying, visiting the church, listening to the Word of God, reading holy books, or other Christian exercises, he cared to hear and know nothing, until God, by the following incident, opened his eyes and brought him to the knowledge of Himself, and to repentance. His father, Sergius, Duke of Ravenna, had slain, in a duel, one of his best friends. This Romuald had witnessed, and it affected him to such a degree, that he went to Classis into a Benedictine Monastery, where he remained forty days, praying, fasting, and watching. A pious Friar, who waited upon him, endeavored to disgust him with the world, by picturing to him the many and great dangers to which those living in it were exposed. Romuald could not at first reconcile himself to the idea of relinquishing the world, but, after many prayers and the appearance of St. Apollonarius, who was patron of the monastery, he resolved to dedicate his life to the service of God, and entered the monastery. The life he henceforth led was so austere, so penitential, and so strictly in conformity with all the rules of the Order, that others, who were sluggish in the fulfilment of their duties, reproached by his example, regarded him with hatred, and even conspired against his life. As soon as Romuald became aware of this, he left the monastery and retired, with the knowledge and consent of the Abbot, into the desert to Marinus, a hermit renowned for his sanctity, under whose guidance he attained great perfection. With this, his teacher, he went to Venice and induced the Duke, Peter Urseoli, who, besides having committed many crimes, had unjustly taken possession of the Government, to leave Venice, and, with many others, to enter upon a religious life. In this way Romuald caused many others, either by personal persuasion or by letters, to repent and reform. Among these was his own father, whom he had prevailed upon to enter a monastery, and when, some years later he heard of his intention to leave it again, he walked barefooted from France to Ravenna, where his father was. By his fervent exhortations and to his own great happiness, he succeeded in persuading his father to continue his penitential life, after which he returned home, humbly praising and thanking the Almighty. Continue reading