St. Peter of Verona, Martyr
St. Peter, upon whom God bestowed a truly apostolic zeal, was born at Verona in the year 1205. His parents were Manicheans, but he himself evinced from his earliest youth an aversion to the Arian and Manichean heresies, and would not be instructed in them nor even play with a child that was not a Catholic. His parents sent him to a Catholic school because there was no other in the city: and he soon learned not only reading and writing, but also the Articles of Faith. One day, when he was hardly seven years old, on coming from school he was met by a cousin, a Manichean who asked him what he had learned. The boy answered: “The Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father, Creator of heaven and earth.” “That is wrong,” said his blasphemous cousin. “The devil is the creator of the earth, not God.” But Peter was not to be misled by such sacrilegious words: he repeated the first article of the Creed and added all the others undauntedly. The cousin, much vexed, hastened to Peter’s father, informed him of it, and advised him not to send his son to a Catholic school. The father, however, attached so little importance to it, that he even sent Peter, afterwards, to Bologna to continue his studies. There he had the opportunity to read Catholic books, by which he profited to increase his knowledge and strengthen his Catholic faith. In this city he became acquainted with St. Dominic, the celebrated Founder of the Dominican Order, and begged him upon his knees to admit him into the newly founded community. His request was granted, and he aspired so zealously after spiritual perfection, that in a short time he became an example of every virtue. Having finished his studies and being ordained priest, he was appointed to preach, and he discharged this function so successfully that he acquired through all Italy the name of an Apostle.
Meanwhile to increase the merits of his servant, God permitted him to be most shamefully calumniated. Peter was at Como in a monastery; and one day, when he was as usual absorbed in prayer, three holy virgins and martyrs appeared to him, whom he, on account of their chastity, especially loved and daily honored. These were St. Agnes, St. Catherine, and St. Caecilia. While they spoke to him as human beings converse, a monk, who passed the cell, heard them, and going to the Superior, said that Peter had admitted women into his room; and that he had heard him conversing with them. The Prior who regarded this as the greatest scandal, called Peter before him and reproved him in the presence of others. Peter was too humble to reveal the grace which heaven had vouchsafed him, but falling on his kness, he said: “I am a sinner, and ready to receive my punishment.” These words were taken as an acknowledgment of the truth of the brother’s accusation, and he was banished to another Convent, where he was kept almost like a prisoner and neither allowed to preach nor to associate with any one. The innocent man complained not of this punishment, but bore it patiently, hoping that God would, in His own time, reveal his innocence. As, however, several months passed without bringing any change, he became almost faint-hearted, and one day, prostrating himself before a crucifix, he cried out in these words: “O, my Lord; is it unknown to Thee that I am innocent? Why hast Thou allowed me to suffer so long, and dost not reveal my innocence? Thou knowest that I have not deserved this punishment.” Having thus spoken, he heard a voice which said to him: “And have I deserved to be nailed upon the cross? Let not your courage sink, but learn from me patiently to bear your cross, the heaviness of which cannot be compared to mine.” Peter, on hearing this, blushed with shame, but his heart was at the same time filled with such comfort, that he no longer had any other wish than to suffer for Christ’s sake. At length God brought the innocence of the Saint to light, and his brethern, highly esteeming the silence and patience with which he had borne the humiliation, sent him back to his convent, where, installed once more in his former functions, he continued preaching in divers cities and villages until his death. He converted many thousand sinners, and a still greater number of heretics. He convinced the latter in public disputations of their error, and thus led them to return to the true faith.
The devil, however, enraged at the loss of so many souls, tempted the Saint day and night endeavoring to weaken his faith. Peter fought manfully with him, and as in every other tribulation went for refuge to the Divine Mother, humbly praying to be released from these temptations. Imploring her thus one day, he heard, proceeding from her image, the same words that Christ had spoken to St. Peter: “I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not, and that thou mayst strengthen thy brethren.” From that same moment he was free from all temptations, and began anew to labor for the Church of Christ, to the great benefit of numberless souls. To this end God conferred on him the power to work miracles, to prophesy and to read the innermost thoughts of the heart. It would fill many pages to relate all the miracles he wrought, or all the prophesies he uttered. The heretics, in their wickedness, called him an impostor, and to make his frauds (as they termed them) better known, one of them, advised by the rest, pretended to be sick. Having called the Saint to him, he begged him to restore his health, and Peter, enlightened by the Almighty, said: “Jesus Christ, whose Gospel I preach, according to the Catholic faith, may restore your health if you are really suffering; if you, however, are intent on deceiving me, he will make you sick indeed.” The wretch was immediately seized with a malignant fever, and suffering great pain, he confessed his wickedness and begged the Saint’s forgiveness. The latter having compassion on him, cured him and converted him to the true faith.
When he had for many years administered his sacred functions as a preacher, God revealed to him that his end was near and that his death should be such as he had always desired: namely, that he should shed his blood for the sake of Christ. At Milan, he said, one day, in a sermon: “I know that the heretics have set large sums upon my life. They have already hired the assassin. Let them, however, know that they cannot bestow greater happiness upon me than by taking my life for the faith of Christ. To obtain this grace, I have daily prayed to the Almighty in the holy Mass for many years; but let them not think that my death will be of the slightest benefit to them.” A fortnight later he travelled from Como to Milan. Two bandits, whom the heretics had hired, were lying in wait for him on the road, and when the first of them perceived him coming, he hastened from behind the bushes where he had been hiding and gave him several strokes upon the head with his sword. Sinking to the ground, the Saint dipped his finger into the blood streaming from his wounds and wrote upon the sand: ” I believe in God the Father:” then lifting his eyes towards heaven, he said: “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my soul:” and expired. The murderer left him after having stabbed him to the heart.
The body was brought with much solemnity to Milan, and buried in the Church of St. Eustorgius. The many miracles, which were wrought at his shrine, and still more, the holiness of his life, induced Pope Innocent IV. to canonize him. According to the testimony of the Roman Breviary, St. Peter kept soul and body undefiled from every stain of impurity, though he had been subjected to a thousand temptations and dangers. This alone says enough in praise of the Saint.
St. Peter, a Manichean, learned, in a Catholic School, the Catholic Creed and Articles of faith. He became more thoroughly acquainted with them afterwards by reading Catholic books which confirmed and strengthened him in the true faith. Many a Catholic child has unhappily learned heresy in schools not Catholic, and has remained perverted through his after-life. Many a Catholic has become at first unsteady and sceptical in his faith by reading heretical books, and in the course of time has even forsaken it, if not outwardly, at least in his heart. To all appearance, he belongs to the Church, but in his heart he adheres to the heretics and thus ceases to be a Catholic, though still bearing the name. To send children who are not Catholics to Catholic schools is right, and it would be well if it were more frequently done; as what they learn of the true faith falls deep into their hearts, and in time, brings forth the fruit of conversion. But to send Catholic children, without necessity, and without the consent of a prudent priest or confessor, to schools which are not Catholic, is an act which seldom fails to bring sin: for, what these children hear and learn of a faith which is not true, falls deeper into their hearts than all else taught them, and produces in the course of time the rotten fruit of apostacy from the Catholic faith. Experience gives sufficient proofs of this. Wo to the parents who have occasioned this. Wo also to them who, against the laws of the true Church, read heretical books, out of curiosity or for other unfounded reasons. Besides the danger in which they thus wantonly place themselves, the mere reading of such forbidden books is enough to condemn them.
“And have I deserved to be nailed upon the cross?” said Christ to St. Peter, when the latter complained because he suffered innocently. Impress these words deeply in your mind, and remember them when your honor or your good name is assaulted, or when you have otherwise to suffer. How innocent soever you are, your Saviour was still more so, and yet what had He to undergo, what had He to suffer? Can you compare your sufferings to His? This thought should comfort and encourage you when you suffer innocently. Do you, however, suffer deservedly, or can you recollect wrongs for which you have not yet done penance? Oh then, dare not to utter a single word against the Almighty, but think and say to yourself: I have deserved it, yes I have even deserved more. “I will bear the wrath of the Lord;” said the pious Micheas, “because I have sinned against Him” (Micheas, vii.). The remembrance of your sins will make all you have to suffer easy to you. “When we think of the wrong we have done,” says St. Gregory, ” all adversities will appear as trifles, because we know that we have deserved much more. They ought rather to urge us to thank God than to complain against Him.” What is written will always remain true: “God does not punish us according to our sins” (Judith, vii.). He punishes us in this world much more mercifully than we deserve. How can we, therefore, reasonably complain of what we have to suffer?
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.