St. Leo the Great

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St. Leo the Great, Pope

A.D. 461.

ST. LEO, surnamed the Great, was descended of a noble Tuscan family, but born at Rome, as he himself and St. Prosper assure us. 1 The quickness of his parts, and the maturity of his judgment, appeared in the rapid progress which he made in his studies. Having rendered himself a great master in the different branches of polite literature, especially eloquence, he turned his thoughts entirely to the study of the holy scriptures and theology, to which he made the profane sciences only subservient. “God, who destined him to gain great victories over error, and to subject human wisdom to the true faith, had put into his hands the arms of science and truth,” as an ancient general council says. 2 Being made archdeacon of the church of Rome, he had the chief direction of the most important affairs under Pope Celestine, as appears from St. Prosper, a letter of St. Cyril to him, and Cassian’s book against Nestorius. To his penetration and zeal it was owing afterward that Sixtus III. discovered the dissimulation of Julian the Pelagian, and rejected his false repentance. It happened that Aëtius and Albinus, the two generals of the Emperor Valentinian III., were at variance in Gaul, and no one being so well qualified to compose their differences as the eloquent and virtuous Archdeacon Leo, he was sent upon that important commission. During his absence, Sixtus III. died in 440, and the Roman clergy cast their eyes on him for their pastor, judging that he, who for sanctity, learning, prudence, and eloquence was the first man of his age, was the most worthy and fit to be seated in the first chair of the church. The qualifications and virtues, which we admire when found single in others, were all united in him to a very great degree. This justly raised, throughout the Christian world, the highest expectations from his administration, which yet his great actions far surpassed. He was invited to Rome by a public embassy, and expected with impatience; but it was forty days before he could arrive. The joy with which he was received, is not to be expressed, and he received the episcopal consecration on Sunday the 29th of September, in 440. We learn from himself what were his sentiments at the news of his exaltation. He considered a high dignity as a place where falls are most frequent, and always most dangerous; and he cried out: 3 “Lord, I have heard your voice calling me, and I was afraid: I considered the work which was enjoined me, and I trembled. For what proportion is there between the burden assigned to me and my weakness, this elevation and my nothingness? What is more to be feared than exaltation without merit, the exercise of the most holy functions being intrusted to one who is buried in sin? O you who have laid upon me this heavy burden, bear it with me, I beseech you: be you my guide and my support: give me strength, you who have called me to the work; who have laid this heavy burden on my shoulders.” 1 Continue reading

St. Gemma Galgani

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St. Gemma Galgani, Virgin.

Saint Gemma Galgani was born at Camigliano in Tuscany, Italy, in 1878. Her mother died when she was seven years old, and from that time on her life was one of continuous suffering. Her afflictions were caused by ill-health, by the poverty into which her family fell, by the scoffing of those who took offense at her practices of devotion, and finally, by the physical attacks of the devil. Through it all, however, she remained at peace and enjoyed constant communion with our Lord, who spoke to her as if He were bodily present. She earnestly desired to be a Passionist nun, but was not accepted because of her physical infirmities.

She was the subject of various extraordinary supernatural phenomena — visions, ecstasies, revelations, supernatural knowledge, conversations with her visible Guardian Angel, prophecy and miracles. Her director verified that letters which she wrote and committed to the care of her good Angel were infallibly delivered. Saint Gemma had periodically occurring stigmata between 1899 and 1901. At one time during her sufferings, she was asked: If Jesus gave you the choice between two alternatives, either going immediately to heaven and having your sufferings disappear, or else remaining here in suffering to procure still more glory for the Lord, which would you choose? She answered: I prefer to remain here rather than going to heaven, when it is a question of suffering for Jesus and His glory. She died on Holy Saturday in 1903 and was canonized in 1940.

Reflection. Often say with Saint Augustine: Write, O most loving Saviour, Thy wounds upon my heart, that I may always read in them Thy pains and Thy love. The afflictions that God sends us are really mercies and blessings; they are the very precious talents which we must increase, augmenting our love and affection for God by the practice of virtue.