Saint Peter Nolasco, Confessor
The Ransomer of Captives, Peter Nolasco, is thus brought before us by the Calendar, a few days after having given us the Feast of his master, Raymond of Penafort. Both of them offer to the Divine Redeemer the thousands of Christians they ransomed from slavery. It is an appropriate homage, for it was the result of the Charity, which first began in Bethlehem, in the heart of the Infant Jesus, and was afterwards so fervently practised by these two Saints.
Peter was born in France, but made Spain his adopted country, because it offered him such grand opportunities for zeal and self-sacrifice. In imitation of our Redeemer, he devoted himself to the ransom of his brethren; he made himself a prisoner to procure them their liberty; and remained in exile, that they might once more enjoy the happiness of home. His devotedness was blessed by God. He founded a new Religious Order in the Church, composed of generous hearted men, who, for six hundred years, prayed, toiled, and spent their lives, in obtaining the blessing of liberty to countless Captives, who would else have led their whole lives in chains, exposed to the imminent danger of losing their faith.
Glory to the Blessed Mother of God, who raised up these Redeemers of Captives! Glory to the Catholic Church, whose children they were! But above all, glory be to our Emmanuel, who, on His entrance into this world, thus spoke to His Eternal Father: Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldst not, neither are they pleasing to thee–but a Body thou hast fitted unto me. Then, said I, behold I come (Ps. xxix. 7, 8): that is, Behold, I come to offer myself as a Sacrifice. The Divine Infant has infused this same spirit of love for mankind, (for whom He so mercifully became the Ransom,) into the hearts of such men as the Saint of today: they saw what God had done for man, and they felt it a necessity to go and sacrifice themselves for the redemption of their suffering fellow creatures.
Our Lord rewarded St. Peter Nolasco, by calling him to heaven, at that very hour, wherein, twelve hundred years before, himself had been born in Bethlehem. It was on Christmas Night that the Redeemer of Captives was united to Jesus, the Redeemer of Mankind. Peter’s last hymn on earth was the 110th Psalm: and as his faltering voice uttered the words: He hath sent redemption to his people; He hath commanded His covenant for ever, his soul took its flight to heaven.
The Church, in fixing a day for the Feast of our Saint, could not of course take the anniversary of his death, which belongs so exclusively to her Jesus; but it was just, that he, who had been honoured with being born to heaven at the very hour which God had chosen for the Birth of His Son upon the earth, should receive the tribute of our festive commemoration on one of the forty days of Christmas: this last day of January was selected.
Let us now learn from the Liturgy the claims of Peter Nolasco to our veneration and love.
Peter Nolasco was born at Recaud, near Carcassonne, in France, of noble parents. His distinguishing virtue was the love of his neighbour, which seemed to be presaged by this incident that when he was a babe in his cradle, a swarm of bees one day lighted upon him, and formed a honey-comb on his right hand. He lost his parents early in life. The Albigensian heresy was, at that time, making way in France . Peter, out of the hatred he had for that sect, withdrew into Spain, after having sold his estates. This gave him an opportunity of fulfilling a vow at our Lady’s of Mount Serrat, which he had made some time previous. After this, he went to Barcelona; and having there spent all his money in ransommg the Christian captives from the slavery of their enemies, he was often heard saying, that he would willingly sell himself to redeem others, or become a slave in the stead of any captive.
God showed him, by the following event, how meritorious in his sight was this desire. He was one night praying for the Christian captives, and deliberating with himself how he might obtain their deliverance, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, and told him, that he would render himself most dear to her Son and herself, if he would institute, in her honour, an Order of Religious men, who should devote themselves to the ransoming Captives from the infidels. He delayed not to follow the heavenly suggestion, and instituted the Order of Our Lady of Mercy for the redemption of Captives, in which he was aided by St. Raymund of Pegnafort, and James the First, King of Aragon, both of whom had, on that same night, received the intimation from the Mother of God. The Religious of this Order take a fourth vow, namely, to offer themselves as slaves to the Moors, if they can in no other way obtain the ransom of the Christians.
Having taken a vow of virginity, he spent his whole life in the most perfect purity. He excelled in every virtue, especially in patience, humility, and abstinence. He foretold future events by the gift of prophecy, wherewith God had favoured him. Thus, when king James was laying siege to Valentia, then in the possession of the Moors, he received assurance from the Saint that he would be blessed with victory. He was frequently consoled with the sight of his Angel Guardian and the Virgin Mother of God. At length, worn out with old age, he received an intimation of his approaching death. When he was seized with his last sickness, he received the holy Sacraments, and exhorted his Religious Brethren to love the Captives. After which, he began most devoutly to recite the Psalm, I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; and at these words: He hath sent Redemption to his people, he breathed forth his soul into the hands of his Creator, at Christmas midnight, in the year 1256. Pope Alexander the Seventh commanded that his Feast should be kept on the thirty-first day of January.
Thou, O Jesus! camest to cast fire upon the earth, and Thy desire is that it be enkindled in the hearts of men. Thy desire was accomplished in Peter Nolasco, and the children of his Order. Thus dost Thou permit men to co-operate with Thee in the designs of Thy sweet mercy, and, by thus restoring harmony between man and his Creator, Thou hast once more given to the earth the blessing of fraternal love between man and man. Sweet Infant Jesus! we cannot love thee, without loving all mankind; and thou, who art our Ransom and our Victim, willest that we, also, be ready to lay down our lives for one another.
Thou, O Peter! wast the Apostle and the model of this fraternal charity; and our God rewarded thee by calling thee to Himself on the anniversary of the Birth of Jesus. That sweet Mystery, which so often encouraged thee in thy holy labours, has now been revealed to thee in all its glory. Thy eyes now behold that Jesus as the great King, the Son of the Eternal Father, before whom the very Angels tremble. Mary is no longer the poor humble Mother, leaning over the Crib, where lies her Son; she now delights thy gaze with her queenly beauty, seated as she is on a throne nearest to that of the divine Majesty. Thou art at home amidst all this glory, for heaven was made for souls that love as thine did. Heaven is the land of love, and love so filled thy heart even when on earth, that it was the principle of thy whole life.
Pray for us, that we may have a clearer knowledge of this love of God and our neighbour, which makes us like to God. It is written, that, he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him (I. Joh, iv. 16); intercede for us, that the Mystery of Charity, which we are now celebrating, may transform us into Him, who is the one object of all our love during this season of grace. May we love our fellow-creatures as ourselves; bear with them, excuse their weaknesses, and serve them. May our good example encourage them, and our words edify them; may we comfort them and win them to the service of God by our kindness, and our charities.
Pray for France, which is thy country, and for Spain, where thou didst institute thy grand Order. Protect the precious remnants of that Order, by whose means thou didst work such miracles of charity. Console all prisoners and captives. Obtain for all men that holy Liberty of Children of God, of which the Apostle speaks (Rom. viii. 21), and which consists in obedience to the law of God. When this liberty is in man’s soul, he never can be a slave; but when the inner man is enslaved, the outward man never can be free. Oh! pray that the fetters of false doctrines and passions may be broken, and then the world will enjoy that true Liberty, which would soon put an end to tyranny, and make tyrants impossible.
The Liturgical Year. 1904. Abbot Dom Gueranger, O.S.B. Translated from the French by Dom Laurence Shepherd, O.S.B. Imprimatur, 1910.