St. Raymond of Penafort, Confessor
St. Raymond, sprung from the noble race of Penafort, was born at Barcelona, in Catalonia, in the year 1175. Even in early childhood his only delight was in prayer and study, and when but a mere youth he was so advanced in learning as to be deservedly appointed to instruct others. Subsequently he devoted himself to canon and civil law, and soon excelled the most celebrated jurists of his time.
At Bologna he lectured publicly and gratuitously. At this time, Berengarius, Bishop of Barcelona, happening to pass through Bologna, and hearing of Raymond’s wide-spread fame, persuaded him to return to his native land, where he first installed him as canon, subsequently, however, as provost. Nor did the Bishop hesitate to consult him in his most important affairs.
At the age of forty-four he entered the order of St. Dominic in which he soon acquired a great reputation for learning and piety. Pope Gregory the Ninth called him to Rome and chose him for his spiritual guide and confessor, of which duties he acquitted himself with remarkable modesty and frankness. Observing that many poor people visited the papal palace, in whose fate no one seemed to interest himself, Raymond imposed upon the Pope, as a penance, the duty of better providing for Christ’s poor. The Pope, who tells this anecdote himself, loved Raymond the more and valued him the more highly on this account, carefully regulating his manner of life according to the instructions of the Saint.
As some reward for his many services, the Holy Father wished to appoint him to the bishopric of Taragona; but Raymond steadfastly refused the proffered dignity, only begging to be dismissed from the papal court. In fact, his physicians had already decided that, if he wished to recover from a malady with which he was afflicted, he must seek his native air. Once more restored to his old home, he resumed his primitive fervor, in which he ever persevered. He wrote various instructions for the use of his neighbor, to whose eternal salvation he entirely devoted himself.
In the foundation of the Order for the Redemption of Captives he took no little part; for he too, like St. Peter, was admonished, in an apparition of our Lady, to interest himself in its cause. He compiled rules for those who wished to enter the order, received St. Peter as its first member, afterwards appointing him, with permission of the Holy See, its first general. Raymond himself was elected the third general in 1238, but hastened, after three years, to resign, preferring the quiet of the cloister, devoted to prayer, the writing of edifying books, and other such holy and useful occupations. He was looked upon by all as a model of Christian perfection, but he excelled especially in a wonderful humility, an obliging condescension to the poor, and a most childlike devotion to the Virgin Mother.
Many and remarkable are the miracles recorded of him, but the following, which is the most known, may suffice here. James the First, King of Arragon, had chosen St. Raymond for his confessor, and desired him to favor him with his company on a journey to the island of Majorca. But the king, incited by an unholy love for a certain woman, clandestinely conveyed her with him. Raymond had repeatedly and with holy zeal conjured the king to dismiss her, and James had even promised to comply with the holy man’s request; but upon their arrival at Majorca the Saint, soon perceiving that the king had broken his promise, went up to him, and thus addressed him: “Your Majesty must either dismiss this person, or I shall be obliged to set sail for Barcelona to return to my cloister.” The king, growing angry at this reproof, gave strict orders that no one should give passage to Raymond should he wish to return to Spain. The holy man, unconscious of the intrigues of the king, hastened to the sea-coast, where a vessel lay ready to sail. He sought for admission in vain, the officers showed him the royal mandate in his regard.
Full of confidence in God, the Saint stepped upon a huge rock that stretched far into the sea. After making the sign of the cross, he spread his cloak upon the water and mounted the same as if it were? a seaworthy vessel. In vain did he press a fellow-Religious, who had followed him to the coast, but who now stood stupefied at this manner of sailing, to join him on his voyage. Raymond did not allow himself to be shaken in his purpose by the fright of his companion, but, placing his staff upright on his cloak, and gathering up the folds in front in the manner of a sail, he glided off, to the most profound astonishment of all present. He arrived safely in Barcelona within six hours after his departure, the distance being 160 miles. In the presence of a large concourse of people, he stepped ashore, and, throwing his perfectly dry cloak over his shoulders, he hurried to his monastery. There he lived for some time in great sanctity, and when he had almost reached his hundreth year, he slept quietly in the Lord, full of virtues and merits.
In the capacity of spiritual director, St. Raymond did not hesitate to admonish either Pope or King of their failings. It is the duty of confessors, in some circumstances, to warn their penitents lest both priest and penitent be brought to perdition. But it is the duty, too, of penitents to receive such lessons with a good grace, and endeavor to put them into practice. Woe to them who ridicule such instructions, or take occasion to murmur against the priests of God. Nor does it show a true repentance designedly to choose such guides as have not moral courage to speak out their mind. The same may be said of those who, leading a sinful life, are continually changing their confessor, fearing lest the one who knows their conscience the best would not absolve them. Take care not to class yourself with this sort of unfortunate people. Rather be persuaded that the spiritual director who candidly admonishes you of your faults, though it may wound your sensibility, will do you more good than one who is inclined to overlook your shortcomings. He who loves you will strive to correct your faults and endeavor to lead you to a more perfect life. Even should his paternal warnings touch you to the quick, they are still indications of love, for your welfare is intended. It would be a true hatred of your soul not to hasten to its assistance when it is on the verge of destruction.
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.