St. Paschal Baylon, Confessor
St. Paschal Baylon, a lay-brother of the celebrated Franciscan Order, was born in Spain, in the kingdom of Valencia, on Pentecost Sunday, 1340. He had hardly reached boyhood, when he was already employed in watching the herd, as his parents were too poor to allow him to learn a trade. In this occupation, so looked down upon by the world, Paschal remained until he took the habit, but so innocent and pious was his life, that he never stained his soul with a mortal sin. He was such an enemy to cursing, lying, unchaste conversation, and licentious songs, that he would not endure these sins in others, but most earnestly endeavored to reform those addicted to them. He took the utmost care that the cattle entrusted to him should not damage the fields and meadows of others, and when he perceived that, withou his fault, such had been the case, he made good the damage out of his own wages, or by his labor. He never took the least thing out of the gardens or vineyards, as was so frequently done by others of his station. One day the chief herdsman requested Paschal to bring him some grapes from a neighboring garden that he might appease his thirst. The pious youth refused to do so on account of its being a sin, an offence done to God. When the chief herdsman pressed him with threats, he said fearlessly: “The grapes do not belong to us, and I will sooner let myself be torn to pieces than take the least of what belongs to another, as it is a sin,” so great was the Saint’s horror of sin.
Not less was his desire to do good, and he loved prayer much more than all the pleasures of youth. He went frequently to a chapel which stood in the field, or to some church, to worship there the most holy Sacrament, and to honor the Blessed Virgin. As he had, however, not many opportunities for this, he cut an image of the Divine Mother on the top of his shepherd’s staff with a cross above it. This staff he placed in the ground, knelt before it and said his prayers with great devotion. How agreeable this must have been in the sight of the Most High, became manifest from the fact that he wrought miracles with this staff; for as often as Paschal desired to refresh his thirsty companions, the other shepherds, he struck his staff into the earth and immediately there flowed, a spring of the clearest water. In the twentieth year of his age, God called him by a visible apparition of St. Francis and St. Clare to enter into religion. The gentleman, however, of whose herd he took care, had so much affection and esteem for him, that he determined to adopt him as his son and make him heir of his large fortune. He disclosed this determination to him, but Paschal allowed nothing to prevent him from fulfilling his vocation, and rejected all earthly goods from a desire to gain so much more surely the treasures of heaven.
On Candlemas-day he took the habit, and was so assiduous in the discharge of his new duties, that in a short time, from a holy herdsman, he became a holy religious. He exercised himself most zealously in all virtues, especially in fervent devotion towards God and the Blessed Virgin, in deep humility, abject poverty, continual self-immolation, and obediece in all things. His sustenance was generally only water and bread. Except mornings and evenings he partook of nothing not even in the greatest heat. His bed was the bare floor, and his pillow a stone or a piece of wood. He constantly wore a hair-shirt and daily scourged himself most severely. The greater part of the night he devoted to prayer, which he frequently performed with such devotion, that he remained whole hours upon his knees immovable, or was found in divine ecstasies.
During the day, when at work, he raised his heart continually to heaven by pious ejaculations, and never began the labors of the day without first imploring the divine assistance with at least a short prayer. But devoutly and attentively as he said his prayers, he was far from repeating them with scrupulous fear when his mind had been distracted. He used to say that the Almighty was displeased with such repetitions, and that they gave Satan an opportunity to disquiet and trouble the soul. He walked continually before the eyes of the Almighty, always remembering His presence; hence he was never seen sad or vexed, but always bright and cheerful. He would not listen to any praises, but blushed and immediately left if anything was said in his commendation. On the contrary, he showed great pleasure if others derided him or mocked him. His utmost care was to keep his conscience clear from all stains. He avoided the least wrong as scrupulously as others did great vices, especially anything against chastity. Before he was admitted into the Order he blushed with shame when one day a shepherd coming to him made an unchaste jest; but afterwards, indignant at his licentious speech, he assured him that if any one approached him with a wicked intention, he would give the wanton such a reception as would soon extinguish the flames of evil desire. When, having received the habit, he was door-keeper, and an impudent woman dared to kiss him when he opened the door for her. He, however, filled with holy anger, pushed her away, and shut the door in her face. On other occasions where he perceived the least danger of falling into sin, he manifested the same prudence.
Axious as Paschal was, however, to avoid all sin and to practice good works himself, he was also equally zealous to promote the practice of all virtues in others. Although he was not a priest, he labored without intermission for the spiritual welfare of his neighbor. Those whom he could influence he admonished with kind words to keep the commandments of God and the church, to receive frequently the holy Sacraments, to abstain from vices to which they were addicted, to love their neighbors, to be patient, and to exercise other Christian virtues. By such admonitions he deterred many from sin, and led them to penance and to a Christian life, as his words possessed a wonderful power to obtain that which he desired. A priest one day spoke long and most emphatically to a man who had suffered great wrong, urging him to forgive his offender. The angry man, however, not only refused to listen, but drove the priest away with the threat that if he did not leave, he would lay hands on him. Paschal, who had accompanied the priest, when the latter went away, turned to the man and said: “Well, my brother, forgive out of love to God the offence done to you.” By these few words the Saint immediately obtained what the priest had not effected with his long exhortations. The injured man answered unhesitatingly “Yes! out of love to God I will forgive.” In like manner he persuaded a hardened sinner to do penance, and strengthened a woman, who looked with undue fear upon her approaching death, to bear patiently the will of the Almighty. He prayed with particular zeal for all those who preached; that God would give their words power to convince and to convert their hearers. Experience showed that his prayer was graciously accepted by the Almighty.
What we have related above placed the holy man very high in the esteem not only of the brethren of his Order, but also in that of all others. He became still more celebrated by those extraordinary graces and gifts that were graciously conferred on him by our Lord. These were, first, a wonderful comprehension of the most profound mysteries of faith, which he was able to explain so clearly that even learned men were astonished, as it was well known that Paschal had never studied. Secondly: an unusual knowledge of the hearts of those with whom he came in contact: he was therefore often successful when he admonished others to confess secret sins, and to reform their conduct. Thirdly: the gift of prophecy; hence he foretold to several sick persons that their health would soon be restored, while to others he revealed that the hour of their death was near at hand. Besides this, God worked many miracles through him, especially to the comfort of the poor, whom he always endeavored to aid as much as he could. This faithful servant of the Almighty used to say: “Man ought to have towards God the heart of an obedient child; towards his neighbor the feelings of a tender mother; but towards himself he ought to act as an inflexible judge.” As he constantly observed the second point in regard to the poor, so also he kept the first and third towards God and himself. At all times he endeavored to obey God in everything and to be austere towards himself.
When, in the 52d year of his age, Paschal became sick, he immediately prepared himself for his end, as the hour of his death had been told him by divine revelation. When his physician announced to him that his death was near, he gave him thanks for so joyous a message, adding that he could not have brought him more welcome tidings. On Ascension-day he asked several times if the High Mass had already commenced, and when they answered, “Yes!” he took the “crucifix and rosary and pressing them to his heart, his soul went to heaven at the precise moment when the priest, after the consecration, raised the Host. At the same hour some pious persons who lived far of saw the Saint like a second Elias, carried in a chariot of fire towards heaven.
For three days the holy remains were laid out in the church, in order to give the masses of people, who desired to see them and pay them due honors, an opportunity to do so. On the second day it was observed that the body thus exposed, opened its eyes and kept them fixed on the sacred Host during the elevation. The same happened when the chalice was raised. Those who had known the Saint in his life-time believed that God had wrought this miracle to manifest how pleasing had been to Him the devotion that St. Paschal had always shown towards the most blessed sacrament. When, eight months after his death, the body of the Saint was exhumed, it was found in a perfect state of preservation, although it had been covered over with unslaked lime. In the same condition it was found many years later. His tomb became celebrated on account of the many miracles which were wrought there.
Towards God we ought to have the heart of an obedient child; towards our neighbor the feelings of a tender mother, towards ourselves we ought to act like a severe judge. This was the doctrine of St. Paschal by which he regulated his life and attained to great holiness. Do you also regulate your life by it? Ah! only too many show in their deeds that they follow quite different rules. They are disobedient to God; transgress His laws without fear and almost numberless times. They respect neither His admonitions nor His Menaces. Towards their neighbor they are hard and pitiless, and even if able to help him, they refrain so, but on the contrary often oppress and persecute him. Towards themselves, however, they are very lenient, explain every thing to their own advantage, and seek to gratify their love of ease and comfort in all things. They neither restrain themselves nor punish themselves for misdeeds by penance. They seek only after what the flesh and sensuality desire, and detest every thing that has a shadow of self-denial. But who of all such people will ever attain virtue? Who will arrive at holiness? Who will enter heaven? Read the history of all the Saints; you will not find one of this description among them.
On the contrary, you will find that all Saints, as soon as they began to serve God, and occupy themselves seriously with their salvation, regulated their lives after the same doctrin that St. Paschal followed. What are you determined to do henceforth? Paschal would not bring any grapes out of a strange garden to his master, because he thought it a sin, although his master had commanded him to do it. In this the Saint acted rightly, for if any man commands something which is against God or is a sin, we must obey God rather than man, whoever he may be, as the Almighty is an inexpressibly greater Lord than any man, were he even master of the whole world, as I have already said somewhere else. To take a few grapes would only have been a venial sin, but the Saint would rather have been torn in pieces than commit even a venial sin, as he knew that it would offend the Most High. He knew, also, that we begin with small sins, and from these gradually fall into greater ones. The greatest thieves begin by taking trifles, and thus step by step, go on the road that leads them to their ruin. Judas, the traitor, who by unjust ways wished to amass money, did not commence by betraying and selling Christ, but by small thefts. But his avarice gradually led him so far, that, to increase his money, he did not scruple to betray the Saviour. In the same manner all other vices begin. Hence, Satan, when he desires the ruin of a pious man, does, not plunge him at once into vice, but tempts him first to small venial sins. If once he brings him so far that he no longer shrinks from venial sin, his falling; into mortal sin will not be far distant. Every one should beware of this deceit of Satan, and follow the admonition of St. Ephrem, who says: “I exhort and entreat you, my brethren, that you not only avoid great sin and vices, but also those which seem small, and are generally not much dreaded until the day comes when we have to give an account of them. The Evil One endeavours to ruin us through them. Shun carefully the nets and temptations of Satan, that you may one day partake, with Christ, of the eternal glories of heaven.”
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.