St. Joseph Calasanctius
‘To thee is the poor man left: thou wilt be a helper to the orphan.’ Proud Venice has already seen these words realized in her noble son Jerome Emilian: to-day they indicate the sanctity of another illustrious person, descended from the first princes of Navarre, but of still higher rank in the kingdom of charity.
God, who waters the trees of the field as well as the cedars of Libanus, because it is He that planted them all, takes care also of the little birds that do not gather into barns: will He then forget the child, who is of much more value than the birds of the air? Or will He give him corporal nourishment, and neglect the soul hungering for the bread of the knowledge of salvation, which strengthens the heart of man? In the sixteenth century one might have been tempted to think our heavenly Father’s granaries were empty. True, the holy Spirit soon raised up new saints; but the reviving charity was insufficient for the number of the destitute; how many poor children, especially, were without schools, deprived of the most elementary education which is indispensable to the fulfilment of their obligations, and to their nobility as children of God: and there was no one to break to them the bread of knowledge!
More fortunate than so many other countries overrun with heresy, Spain was at her apogee, enjoying the hundredfold promised to those who seek first the kingdom of God. She seemed to have become our Lord’s inexhaustible resource. A little while ago she had given Ignatius Loyola to the world; she had just enriched heaven by the precious death of Teresa of Avila, when the Holy Ghost drew once more from her abundance to add to the riches of the capital of the Christian world, and to supply the wants of the little ones in God’s Church.
The descendant of the Calasanz of Petralta de la Sal was already the admired apostle of Aragon, Catalonia, and Castille, when he heard a mysterious voice speaking to his soul: ‘Go to Rome; go forth from the land of thy birth; soon shall appear to thee, in her heavenly beauty, the companion destined for thee, holy poverty, who now calls thee to taste of her austere delights; go, without knowing whither I am leading thee; I will make thee the father of an immense family; I will show thee all that thou must suffer for My name’s sake.’
Forty years of blind fidelity, in unconscious sanctity, had prepared the elect of heaven for his sublime vocation. ‘What can be greater,’ asks St. John Chrysostom, ‘than to direct the souls and form the characters of children? Indeed I consider him greater than any painter or sculptor, who knows how to fashion the souls of the young.’ Joseph understood the dignity of his mission: during the remaining fifty-two years of his life he, according to the recommendations of the holy Doctor, considered nothing mean or despicable in the service of the little ones; nothing cost him dear if only it enabled him, by the teaching of letters, to infuse into the innumerable children who came to him the fear of the Lord. From St. Pantaleon, his residence, the Pious schools soon covered the whole of Italy, spread into Sicily and Spain, and were eagerly sought by kings and people in Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, and the northern countries.
Eternal Wisdom associated Calasanctius to her own work of salvation on earth. She rewarded him for his labours as she generally does her privileged ones, by giving him a strong conflict, that he might overcome, and know that wisdom is mightier than all. It is a conflict like that of Jacob at the ford of Jaboc which represents the last obstacle to the entrance into the promised land, when all the pleasures and goods of the world have been sent on before by absolute renouncement; it is a conflict by night, wherein nature fails and becomes lame; but it is followed by the rising of the sun, and sets the combatant at the entrance of eternal day; it is a conflict with God hand to hand, under the appearance, it is true, of a man or of an angel; but it matters little under what form God chooses to hide Himself, provided it takes nothing from His sovereign dominion. ‘Why dost then ask my name?’ said the wrestler to Jacob; ‘thine shall be henceforth Israel, strong against God.’
Our readers may consult the historians of Saint Joseph Calasanctius for the details of the trials which made him a prodigy of fortitude, as the Church calls him. Through the calumnies of false brethren the saint was deposed, and the Order reduced to the condition of a secular congregation. It was not until after his death that it was re-established, first by Alexander VII, and then by Clement IX, as a Regular Order with solemn vows. In his great work on the Canonization of saints, Benedict XIV speaks at length on this subject, delighting in the part he had taken in the process of the servant of God, first as consistorial advocate, then as promoter of the faith, and lastly as Cardinal giving his vote in favour of the cause. We shall see in the lessons that it was he also that beatified him.
Let us now read the life of the founder of the Poor Regular Clerks of the Pious Schools of the Mother of God.
Joseph Calasanctius of the Mother of God was born of a noble family of Petralta in Aragon, and from his earliest years gave signs of his future love for children and their education. For, when still a little child, he would gather other children round him and would teach them the mysteries of faith and holy prayer. After having received a good education in the liberal arts and divinity, he went through his theological studies at Valencia. Here he courageously overcame the seductions of a noble and powerful lady, and by a remarkable victory preserved unspotted his virginity which he had already vowed to God. He became a priest in fulfilment of a vow; and several bishops of New Castille, Aragon, and Catalonia availed themselves of his assistance. He surpassed all their expectations, corrected evil living throughout the kingdom, restored ecclesiastical discipline, and was marvellonsly successful in putting an end to enmities and bloody factions. But urged by a heavenly vision, and after having been several times called by God, he went to Rome.
Here he led a life of great austerity; fasting and watching, spending whole days and nights in heavenly contemplation, and visiting the seven basilicas of the city almost every night. This last custom he observed for many years. He enrolled himself in pious associations, and with wonderful charity devoted himself to aiding and consoling the poor with alms and other works of mercy, especially those who were sick or imprisoned. When the plague was raging in Rome, he joined St. Camillus, and not content in his ardent zeal, with bestowing lavish care upon the sick poor, he even carried the dead to the grave on his own shoulders. But having been divinely admonished that he was called to educate children, especially those of the poor, in piety and learning, he founded the Order of the Poor Regular Clerks of the Mother of God of the Pious Schools, who are specially destined to devote themselves to the instruction of youth. This Order was highly approved by Clement VIII., Paul V., and others of the Roman Pontifis, and in a wonderfully short space of time it spread through many of the kingdoms of Europe. But in this undertaking Joseph had to undergo many sufferings and labours, and he endured them all with so much constancy, that every one proclaimed him a miracle of patience and another Job.
Though burdened with the government of the whole Order, he nevertheless devoted himself to saving souls, and moreover never gave over teaching children, especially those of the poorer class. He would sweep their schools and take them to their homes himself. For fifty-two years he persevered in this work, though it called upon him to practise the greatest patience and humility, and although he suffered from weak health. God rewarded him by honouring him with many miracles in the presence of his disciples; and the blessed Virgin appeared to him with the Infant Jesus who blessed his children while they were praying. He refused the highest dignities, but he was made illustrious by the gifts of prophecy, of reading the secrets of hearts, and of knowing what was going on in his absence. He was favoured with frequent apparitions of the citizens of heaven, particularly of the Virgin Mother of God, whom he had loved and honoured most especially from his infancy, and whose cultus he had most strongly recommended to his disciples. He foretold the day of his death and the restoration and propagation of his Order, which was then almost destroyed; and in his ninety-second year he fell asleep in our Lord, at Rome, on the eighth of the Calends of September, in the year 1648. A century later, his heart and tongue were found whole and incorrupt. God honoured him by many miracles after his death. Benedict XIV. granted him the honours of the blessed, and Clement XIII. solemnly enrolled him among the saints.
The Lord hath heard the desires of the poor, by making thee the depositary of His love, and putting on thy lips the words He Himself was the first to utter: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’ How many owe, and will yet owe, their eternal happiness to thee, O Joseph, because thou and thy sons have preserved in them the divine likeness received in Baptism, man’s only title to heaven! Be thou blessed for having justified the confidence Jesus placed in thee by entrusting to thy care those frail little beings, who are the objects of His divine predilection. Be thou blessed for having still further corresponded to that confidence of our Lord, when He suffered thee, like Job, to be persecuted by saten, and with yet more cruel surprises than those of the just Idumaean. Must not God be able to count unfailingly upon those who are His? Is it not fitting that, amidst the defections of this miserable world, He should be able to show His angels what grace can do in our poor nature, and how far His adorable will can be carried out in His saints?
The reward of thy sufferings, which thy unwavering confidence expected from the Mother of God, came at the divinely appointed hour. O Joseph, now that the Pious Schools have been long ago re-established, bless the disciples whom even our age continues to give thee; obtain for them, and for the countless scholars they train to Christian science, the blessing of the Infant Jesus. Give thy spirit and thy courage to all who devote their labours and. their life to the education of the young; raise us all to the level of the teaching conveyed by thy heroic life.
O God, Who by means of holy Joseph Thy Confessor didst provide Thy Church with new helpers for training the young in the spirit of understanding and piety: grant, we beseech Thee, that, through his example and intercession, we may so work and so teach as to win everlasting rewards. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. R. Amen