Saint Genevieve, Virgin
The Holy Virgin Genevieve, the fame of whose brilliant virtues and miracles fills the whole of France, was born near Paris in the year of our Lord, 422. The poverty of her parents, Severus and Gerontia, faded away before the rich treasures of virtue, which they had accumulated. Even in her childhood Genevieve was remarkable for her extraordinary love of retirement, her mature judgment, and her angelic piety. When St, Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre, was visiting his flock, he saw the child standing beside her parents, and inspired by heaven addressed the latter: “Happy are you, who have brought into the world a child so beloved of God. Take all possible care of her education; for the Lord has chosen her as a special offering.”
The following day he spoke to little Genevieve herself, and warned her to despise all temporal goods, and to choose Jesus Christ for her bridegroom. Genevieve assured him that this was her fixed design and most ardent desire. The saintly Bishop then gave her a small cross to be worn around her neck instead of every foolish trinket, and to serve as a constant reminder of her resolution. From that very moment Genevieve made constant progress in virtue, spoke little with men, cherished solitude, prayer, and menial employments, and sought the pleasure of none but God. She once earnestly begged permission of her mother to accompany her to divine service; the mother refused, and on the renewal of the request struck her on the face, but no sooner had she done so than she was smitten by the hand of God with blindness. She now acknowledged and bewailed her fault. Moved by compassion, her pious daughter betook herself to prayer, ran to a spring for water, and making the sign of the Cross washed her mother’s eyes, to which sight was immediately restored. This was the first of St. Genevieve’s miracles, to be followed by innumerable others.
In her fourteenth year she went with two other virgins to the Bishop and begged the favor of his blessing and of admittance into the cloister. The prayer of the holy virgin was granted; she was received among the nuns and bound herself by the vow of perpetual Chastity. After the death of her parents she was sent by her superioress to her godmother, at Paris. Here the Lord put her virtue to a very painful test, a severe illness; but satisfied with the proof of patience and humility, with which she submitted to this trial, He restored her to perfect health and made her name famous for miracles. Attila, the relentless king of the Goths, had fallen upon France in all the torrent of his fury, and spread devastation in its fairest portions. The inhabitants of Paris, uncertain as to his tyrannical intentions against their city, were all bent on securing their safety by flight; but Genevieve, in the ardor of her patriotic zeal, counselled them to remain in the city, and by fasting, prayer and alms deeds, to have recourse to God, assuring them that He would protect their city. They followed her advice, Genevieve joined them in fasting and prayer, and the Almighty so disposed events that the tyrant turned his steps elsewhere without laying a hand on the city. The people justly attributed the protection of the city to the holy virgin. On another occasion, when the ghastly form of famine suddenly appeared hovering over this same devoted city, she relieved the suffering by an unhoped-for exploit of love. She went on board a vessel, sailed out, and returned with eleven ships laden with provisions, which rescued multitudes from imminent starvation. Such miracles were of frequent occurrence.
On both these occasions her aid had been given to the community at large, but individuals also experienced the power of her intercession. Thus she drove the evil spirit from twelve possessed persons, restored the use of their limbs to the lame, sight to the blind, and life to an unbaptized child, who had been killed by being thrown into a well. There were also numberless instances of her intervention in favor of the sick. Our Good Lord had indeed imparted to His chaste spouse the gift of miracles in an extraordinary degree. The reason of this distinction was her holy life. Her baptismal robe from the cradle to the grave was untainted by the least sin, her virginal purity made her resemble angels rather than men; she surpassed many veteran solitaries in the rigor of her mortification; for, passing over many other instances, we know that from her fifteenth to her fiftieth year she tasted nothing but a little barley bread and beans, and those on Sundays and Thursdays only. On reaching the age of fifty she was commanded by the Bishop to mitigate her austerities; this relaxation, however, consisted in her partaking of a slight quantity of milk and fish; she never allowed herself to touch wine. Her heart so glowed with the love of God that she could scarcely ever look up to heaven without shedding tears. Her eagerness to enjoy the beatific vision of her Beloved drew from her warm tears of expectation. Nothing caused her more acute pain than the thought that the good God, whom she loved above all things and ardently wished others to love, was insulted. This lamentable fact moved her, to confine herself to a narrow cell from the Feast of the three holy kings to the 1st Thursday of Lent, and to spend the whole of that time in prayer, fasting, and other works of penance, that she might in some measure atone for the shameful excesses, by which, so many mortals offend the God of Might during the carnival season, a festive period so fraught with heathenisl practices, so unbecoming a Christian, and, as St. Charles Borromeo says, so unmistakable in its satanic origin. If indeed we inquire into its moving spirit, we must conclude that the saintly Cardinal spoke but the plain truth.
In her eightieth year the Lord prostrated His great servant with a severe stroke of sickness, a herald of her approaching death, for which she had so long sighed. She died, as she had lived, in the sweet odor of sanctity. The city of Paris, in grateful remembrance of her timely intercession with the Lord at the moment of danger, honors her as its special Patroness. King Clovis and his royal consort during their reign erected a magnificent Church over the grave of St. Genevieve. This holy virgin is usually represented bearing a palm branch and two keys in her right hand and a flaming torch in the left. The palm branch is emblematic of her unassailable purity; the keys are commemorative of the famous miracle which her prayers wrought at a time that she wished to obtain in person from King Childeric, who was outside the city, pardon for some persons who had been condemned to death. The gates had been closed by order of Childeric; but on the approach of the Saint they opened of their own accord in the sight of the entire guard, and gave her a free passage. The flaming torch denotes her lively Faith, in virtue of which she had performed so many wonderful deeds; she indeed often produced light in the midst of darkness without any other help. But enough in praise of St. Genevieve of Paris.
Saint Genevieve lived in perpetual innocence, never sinned grievously, and spent her time in the unwearied practice of every good work, especially of prayer, fasting and various kinds of mortification. She bore all of her crosses with unabated patience. Here you have in a small compass all that you have to do in the service of God, and the attainment of everlasting happiness.
First of all, shun sin, for only this can debar you forever from the heavenly mansions; he, who sins, refuses to serve God, and obeys the fiend of all abomination and wickedness. In the second place, exercise yourself strenuously and untiringly in good works, chiefly in prayer, in the mindfulness of God’s presence, in listening to His sacred word, in the more frequent reception of the Sacraments, and the like practices. You should know also that the performance of good works is essential to a servant of God, and that their omission is productive of untold misery.
In the third place, submit in the spirit of Christian patience to the trials and afflictions with which the Lord may visit you at any time. They attend us everywhere; patient suffering secures our passage into heaven ; it is the way which Jesus Christ has pointed out to us by word and example. Never lose sight of these three counsels, and let their practice rejoice your heart; bestow all possible care on them, and they will be to you a means of discharging your prime duty, fidelity in the service of God, and of meriting that reward which He has promised to His servants. ” He that will love life,” says St. Peter, ” let him decline from evil and do good” (I. Peter iii. 10) ; and St. Paul, ” Patience is necessary for you, that doing the will of God you may receive the promise” (Hebr. x. 36).
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.