St. Fidelis

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St. Fidelis, Martyr

St. Fidelis, who received in baptism the name of Mark, was born at Sigmaringen, or Simmeringen, in Suabia, in the year 1577. Although encompassed by temptations, he led a most blameless life from early youth, and preserved his innocence unspotted. He applied himself to study with such untiring energy that he soon ranked highest among his school mates. He studied philosophy at Freiburg in Brisgow, and took the degrees of Doctor of Law and Doctor of Divinity at Dilligen. He then commenced to serve his neighbors in the quality of counsellor. Being a man of great erudition, as well as conscientiousness, he brought all his suits to a fortunate conclusion. He never delayed them, rightly judging this would be a great wrong. This, however, provoked other advocates who were in the habit of protracting all proceedings at law, that they might derive more profit from them. One of these, therefore, went one day to him to remonstrate against his thus hastening with his processes, giving as a reason that what they gained was too little for their maintenance, much less allowing them to save something for their wives and children. Mark was horrified at so godless a request, and turning from the unscrupulous advocate, he raised his eyes to heaven and said with a deep sigh: “Oh! heavenly Father, how great is the wickedness of this world!” From that hour he resolved to change his profession, fearing, that in the course of time he might adopt the principles of his colleagues. After mature reflection, he concluded to go into a Capuchin monastery, in which Order he had a brother whose life was happy and pious. On taking the habit, he received the name “Fidelis” which means ” faithful.” The master of novices, on the day of his investiture, made use of the words of the Apocalypse: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

These words the novice preserved carefully in his memory, and having written them on paper, he kept them constantly before his eyes. He began his novitiate with great zeal, in which he continued until the end. When others tried to induce him to moderate his zeal, he said: “Ah! do not prevent me from working in the vineyard of the Lord: because I have come so late. You entered it in the flower of your age, but I have given my first years to the vain world. Hence it is but right that I should endeavor to redeem as much as possible of the idle and dissipated time.”

He in no degree relaxed in his fervor after he had taken the vows, but persevered in it, by prayers, meditation, and , acts of self-mortification. After finishing the study of theology, he was appointed to preach, and his labors were crowned by many conversions among the heretics and other hardened sinners. At Feldkirch he nursed the soldiers of the imperial army, who were suffering from a contagious pestilence, with so much care and kindness, that even the heretics could not sufficiently praise his pious zeal. He endeavored, either by representing the joys of heaven, or by threatening with the divine punishment, to move sinners to repentance wherever he went: and it was seldom that his pious endeavors failed of their desired effect. One day he met an officer on horse-back whom he had never before seen. Pausing in his walk, he looked fixedly at him, and said: “My friend, it is a long time that you have been addicted to cursing and blaspheming without trying in any way to change this evil habit. This is the last admonition that God gives you by my mouth. Either refrain, without loss of time, from blaspheming the Almighty, or divine punishment will overtake you. A sword will end your life, and you will go into eternity unprepared.” The officer laughed at the prophet, but he soon experienced the truth of the prophecy: for in a duel he was pierced with a sword, and died without making a sign of repentance.

In 1622, St. Fidelis was sent as apostolic missionary, with nine others, into the district of Riess, not only to oppose heresy which was making the most fearful inroads there, but also to sustain the Catholics in their faith. He prepared himself for this great work by devotional exercises, saying before he left, that he knew he should not return, but be killed by the heretics. He began his mission at Riess on the Feast of the Epiphany. His sermons were fraught with apostolic zeal, and his life was so truly that of a follower of Christ, that even the enemies of the true faith were compelled to give him their highest esteem. The Almighty blessed the labors of his faithful servant, and he converted so many Huguenots and Calvinists, that the Protestants began to fear that their whole sect would be extinguished. They therefore came to the determination to make away with St. Fidelis. A Catholic, having heard of it, went to him and asked what he intended to do in case the heretics should suddenly attack and kill him. “I would do,” replied the Saint, “what so many holy martyrs have done out of love to the Gospel and the Saviour. I should consider it the greatest grace God could bestow upon me.”

Not long after this, the holy man was invited by the Catholics at Sevis to preach. He accepted the invitation, but as God had revealed to him the hour of his death, he made his confession before his departure, said Mass, and preached: exhorting all to fidelity in their faith. After this, he said to his companions: “I go to Sevis, to end my earthly career.” The 24th of April he arrived there, and immediately entered the pulpit. Upon it he found written, in large letters, these words. “Today you will preach your last sermon.” He was not in the least frightened at this, but began his discourse with the words: “One God, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.” During the sermon a heretic cried aloud: “No further, presumptuous man,” and levelling his musket, he fired it at him, without, however, doing him any harm. A terrible commotion ensued, weapons of all descriptions became visible, and the yells of the heretics drowned every thing else.

The Saint, fearing that it might come to a bloody conflict between Catholics and heretics in the Church, descended from the pulpit, prayed for some time before the altar, and then fearlessly left the church by way of the sacristy. Scarcely, however, had he made a few steps, when twenty armed Huguenots attacked him, trampling him on the ground and menacing him with a most cruel death if he did not immediately renounce the Catholic faith. He unhesitatingly replied: “Dear friends, I came to you not to adopt a false faith, but to instruct you in the true one. Upon this they rushed upon the Saint, who called upon the holy names of Jesus and Mary, while one of the men clove his head by repeated strokes of his sword. Some stabbed his body, others beat him with wooden clubs which had iron spikes, and yet others with other weapons. In a word, they acted as their rage prompted them, paying no respect even to the dead body. “Look,” cried they, “here is one who intended to convert us all into Papists and to extinguish our religion.”

This glorious martyrdom occurred in 1622. In the last century, the faithful servant of God was canonized, and Benedict XIV. placed his name among those of the Martyrs. Numberless have been the miracles which God has wrought through the intercession of this great Saint.

Practical Considerations

St. Fidelis redoubled his zeal in the service of God as soon as he entered the religious state, because he remembered that he began to serve Him so late. It may be that you also have begun late to know and serve God. You must therefore double your zeal in His service and try to compensate for the time you have lost. Those laborers in the vineyard who only began at the eleventh hour, retrieved by their zeal what they had lost, and received the same reward as those who had worked longer. What, however, is to be done in case you have not yet begun to serve God? Nothing, except to repent of your error and begin today to change your conduct. Yes, even today: for, you know not how long you may have time to serve God and work out your salvation. “The night cometh,” says Christ, “when no man can work” for his salvation (St.John ix.). When this night shall come is unknown to us. Whoever considers that the question involves a whole eternity, will not delay one single hour. “Therefore, while we have time,” says the apostle, “let us work good ” (Galat. v.). You still have time, but how long this will last is unknown to all but God. May be it will soon be ended. Therefore, hesitate no longer, but begin today to serve the Lord your God with fervent zeal.

St. Fidelis impressed the meaning of his name and the admonition of the novice-master, or rather of the Holy Scriptures, deeply into his heart. “Remain faithful unto death.” Therefore he remained faithful to God and to doing good until his end. How much you have promised to your God at your baptism! How much at frequent confessions! How much in sickness and in other circumstances! But have you been faithful? Have you kept your promises, your so often repeated good intentions? Ah! be ashamed before your God at the thought of how you have acted towards Him. You despise a man who keeps not the promise he made to you. Has not the great God much more reason to be displeased with you–to despise you,–as you have scarcely kept one of the promises that you have so often and so solemnly made to Him? Entreat His pardon, without delay, for the offence you have committed by your unfaithfulness. Endeavor in future to be more true to your promises and your good intentions, or, otherwise you cannot expect the crown of eternal life: because it is written; “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Apoc. ii,). St. Bernard says, “To obtain salvation, a man must faithfully fulfil the good promises he has made.”

Responsory: Melts vir tu nomine

Thy name, Fidelis, doth proclaim
Thy living faith and doctrine’s fame
False teachers bow before thy word
Thy blood bears witness to thy Lord,

Let Heaven’s light, to thee we pray,
Within our hearts and minds hold sway;
Let faith and hope and holy love
Shine in us brightly from above,

Through thee the halt, the lame, the blind,
New health and strength and light do find;
To speechless tongues, speech thou dost give;
Thou makest dying infants live,

Let Heaven’s light, to thee we pray,
Within our hearts and minds hold sway
Let faith and hope and holy love
Shine in us brightly from above.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son,
And to the Holy Ghost.
Let heaven’s light, to thee we pray,
Within our hearts and minds hold sway.

As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end, Amen.

Let faith and hope and holy love
Shine in us brightly from above.
(tr. C.E. Spence).

Antiphon, Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,

V. Pray for us, O blessed Fidelis,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ

Let us pray,

God, who has vouchsafed to glorify blessed Fidelis, inflamed with seraphic ardor of spirit, with the palm of martyrdom and the fame of miracles in the propagation of the true faith: by his merits and intercession, we beseech Thee so to strengthen us by Thy grace in faith and charity, that we may deserve to be found faithful in Thy service unto death. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

(An indulgence of 300 days, once a day)

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.

 

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