St. Peter Damian

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St. Peter Damian, Cardinal and Bishop

In the latter part of the tenth century was born, at Ravenna, in Italy, St. Peter Damian. Left an orphan at an early age, his elder brother took him into his house, where he was treated, not like one so nearly related, but as the lowest servant. The poor boy had neither enough to eat nor decent clothes to wear, and at last he was compelled by his brother to attend to the swine. He, however, complained to no one of treatment so heartless, but obeyed his brother in all things. When in the fields, he occupied most of his time in praying.

One day he found a piece of money, without knowing to whom it belonged. He had a strong desire to buy with it something to eat, or better clothes, but he overcame these wishes, and, instead of so doing, he had a Mass said for his departed parents. This pious deed was soon richly rewarded, for when another brother, who had been long away from Ravenna, returned and saw how cruelly Peter was treated, he took pity on him, gave him food and clothes, and sent him to a school, that he might not grow up ignorant. The unusual talent with which nature had endowed him, his untiring diligence, combined with true piety, made Peter progress so rapidly in all his studies that from a pupil he soon rose to be an excellent teacher, and made himself honored and respected by every one. This, by degrees, influenced his mind in such a manner that he began to be less fervent in his devotional exercises. 

One day, however, by Divine inspiration, came the thought: “What does it avail in the end to be loved, honored, and praised by man? Does it bring true happiness? Why do you not think more earnestly on your salvation? Will you defer it to future years? Who knows whether you will live so long that you can make up for what you now neglect? Human life is short and uncertain. Is it not better, without delay, to begin what we ought to do?” Actuated by these wholesome thoughts, Peter resolved earnestly to turn his mind from earth to heaven. He therefore devoted himself to prayers and mortifications, in the hope that God would inspire him in what way to direct his life. Providence so ordered it, that two hermits from the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, at Font-Avellana, came to the city. Peter, having become acquainted with them, inquired into their mode of living, and was soon filled with the ardent wish to follow their example. As, however, their manner of life was extremely austere, he first tried himself in all those exercises which seemed to him hard to execute, such as fasting, watching, long prayers, retirement from all society, and the like; after which he repaired secretly to the hermitage, and was unhesitatingly received by the Superior. The zeal with which Peter commenced and continued his new life! was very great, and he became, in a short time, a perfect model of spiritual perfection, while, at the same time, he acquired almost more than human wisdom.

On account of his great endowments, his superior appointed him to guide the religious, by his advice and exhortations, in the path of sanctity. In this he evinced so much ability that his fame soon spread to other monasteries, whose religious humbly begged that this preacher might be sent to them, that they also might have the benefit of his instructions. This request was granted, and Peter continually travelled from one monastery to another, preaching and exhorting the religious to strive after holiness. In the course of time he was chosen Abbot, or Superior, which office he filled with great benefit to those in his charge, as well as to their great satisfaction. It also pleased Almighty God further to glorify His faithful servant by the gift of miracles. The fame of these, and still more of his heavenly wisdom, reached Rome; and Stephen IX., then Pope, sent for him, and, after sufficient proofs of his virtue and wisdom, made him Cardinal and Bishop of Ostia. Nothing but obedience could prevail on the humble servant of God to leave his monastery, and it would be no easy task to relate the works of this holy man, not only in Rome, but in other cities to which he was sent on affairs of importance, for the benefit of the Church and the salvation of souls.

One day, several years after his nomination as Cardinal, having happily concluded some business upon which the Pope had sent him to Milan and Parma, he was permitted to ask a favor as a recompense for the many great services he had rendered to the Pontiff. The Saint requested to be allowed to return to the desert, and quietly to employ the remainder of his life in preparing himself for the next world. It cost him, however, many prayers and tears before the permission could be obtained. As soon as he had received it, he went back to the desert, not to live there as a great Prelate, but in the same manner as the other hermits. He was even much more exact in keeping the rules, much more austere in fasting, praying, and watching, than the others. It was observed that often, for forty days, he partook of no prepared food, all his sustenance at such times consisting of some herbs and water. While he was indulging in the hope of continuing so peaceful a life, he received a sudden order from the Pope to undertake a journey upon some affairs of the Church. He obeyed the order, but, as he was returning to his beloved hermitage, having happily concluded the business on which he had been sent, he fell sick on the route near Faenza. He, however, reached the city, and, having been brought to the Convent of St. Mary, he received the holy Sacraments, and died on the feast of the See of St. Peter, for whose honor and advancement he had so zealously labored. His death took place in the year 1072, and the 84th of his age. The works that he left for the benefit of posterity contain the most wholesome advice, and are, to our day, proofs of the greatness of his virtue and learning.

Practical Considerations

“Why do you not think more earnestly on working out your salvation?” It was thus that God asked St. Peter Damian, by inspiration, when he became neglectful in the exercise of virtue. Put the same question to yourself. What will be your answer? You pay so much attention to other business: why so little to the business of your salvation? It is by far the most important, as everything depends upon it. If it be well done, eternal happiness will be your portion; if not, you will be lost for all eternity. It is your own affair; the benefit is yours if you do it well; the loss is also yours, and yours alone, if you neglect to do it. It is the only object for which you were placed upon this earth, for you were not created to be rich, happy, or honored, but that you should serve God and eventually go to heaven.

Attend, therefore, in future, as Peter did, more carefully to this work than to any other. “Thou art careful and art troubled about many things. But one thing is necessary” (St. Luke, x.). Thus spoke Christ our Lord to the much concerned Martha. Cannot the same be just as truthfully said of you? You are occupied with many affairs, and you think of them day and night. But there is one care that should employ your time most, namely, the care for your salvation. St. Paul writes of this: “But we entreat you, brethren, that you abound more, and that you use your endeavor to be quiet, and that you do your own business ” (I. Thess. iv.). Heed it well. “Your business.” The business of salvation is your business, and the only one for which you are in the world. Let it concern you before all others, and more than all others. “The greatest care,” says St. Eucherius, “should be the care for our salvation, as it is our greatest and most important business.” “Life is short and uncertain:” thus we are admonished by the Holy Ghost. Yes, it is surely so. Life is short; it flies quickly; sometimes lasts only a few years; and even if it continued thousands of years, it would still be considered short in comparison with eternity, because all that ends in the course of time must in truth be regarded as short. Life is short. It is also uncertain, because you know not how long it will last. You count, perhaps, on many years, and who knows if you have even many more days to live?

In the course of this year, in this month, on this very day, your life may end. What follows from this? Do as St. Peter did: be solicitous for your salvation. Employ well the short and uncertain time. What you think necessary for your salvation defer not to a future, uncertain time. The hope of having plenty of time to work out their salvation has deceived many, to their eternal ruin. Keep watch that you do not deceive yourself by such a doubtful, dangerous hope. Life is short and uncertain. “Man knoweth not his own end: but as fishes are taken with the hook, and birds are caught by the snare, so men are taken in the evil time, when it shall suddenly come upon them.” Thus speaks Holy Writ. Again, what have we to deduce from this? Nothing, but what is further said: “Whatsoever thy hand is able to do, do it earnestly; for neither work, nor reason, nor wisdom, nor knowledge, shall be in the grave, whither thou art hastening” (Eccl. ix.). This plainly declares that when you are dead you can no longer work out your own salvation. Therefore, set to work now, without loss of time, without delay, without hesitation, as it is unknown to you when your end will come. Take this admonition of God to your inmost heart. Add to it the words of St. Paul: “Therefore, whilst we have time, let us work good” (Gal. vii.). Why? “Time is short,” says the same holy Apostle. And when you have trifled away this time, you cannot, in all eternity, repair the loss; as time, once gone, is irrecoverable. “If the time which Divine goodness has bestowed upon us to do penance and work out our salvation is once lost,” says St. Bonaventure, “it cannot be recalled in all eternity.”

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.


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