The Seven Machabees, Brothers, with Their Mother

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The Seven Machabees, Brothers, with Their Mother, Martyrs

THE SEVEN brothers, called Machabees, are holy Jewish martyrs who suffered death in the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, the impious king of Syria. The Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity in the first year of the reign of Cyrus, 1 and were allowed to form themselves into a republic, to govern themselves by their own laws, and live according to their own religion. Their privileges were much extended by Artaxerxes Longimanus; but their liberty was limited and dependant, and they lived in a certain degree of subjection to the Persian kings, and shared the fate of that empire under Alexander the Great, and after his death under the Seleucidæ, kinga of Syria. Antiochus III. (the sixth of these kings) was complimented with the surname of The Great, on account of his conquests in Asia Minor, and his reduction of Media and Persia; though these two latter provinces soon after submitted themselves again to the Parthians. But this prince met afterwards with great disgraces, especially in his war with the Romans, who curtailed his empire, taking from him all his dominions which lay west of Mount Taurus, a good part of which they bestowed on Eumenes. 2 He was likewise obliged to give up to them all his armed galleys, and all his elephants, to pay to them for twelve years the annual tribute of one thousand talents (or two hundred and fifty-eight thousand three hundred and thirty-three pounds sterling), and one hundred and forty thousand modii of the best wheat (or thirty-five thousand English bushels), and to send to Rome twenty hostages, of which his son Antiochus was to be one. In Elymais, a province of Persia, between Media and the Persian gulf, which, from the death of Alexander, was governed by its own kings, there stood two famous rich temples, the one of Diana, the other of Jupiter Belus. Antiochus, after his fall, being in extreme want of money, marched to Elymais, and in the night plundered this temple of Belus; but the inhabitants pursued and slew him, and recovered the treasure. 3 The Jews had often done important services to this king, and to several of his predecessors, particularly in the reign of his father, Seleucus II. When a numerous army of Gauls or Galatians had invaded Babylonia, and the Syrians and Macedonians had not courage to meet them in the field, six thousand Jews boldly attacked, and, by the divine assistance, defeated and repulsed them, having slain a hundred and twenty thousand of them. 4 1 Continue reading

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

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Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Founder of the Society of Jesus

Saint Ignatius was born at Loyola in Spain, in the year 1491. He served his king as a courtier and a soldier until his thirtieth year. At that time a cannon ball broke the right leg of the young officer, who in a few days had reached the brink of death and received the Last Sacraments. It was the eve of the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul; he fell asleep afterwards and believed he saw Saint Peter in a dream, restoring him to health by touching his wound. When he woke, his high fever was gone and he was out of danger, although lame. To pass the time of his convalescence after three operations, he asked for books; the Life of Christ and lives of the Saints were brought to him. He read them distractedly at first, then with profound emotion. He underwent a violent combat, but finally grace won out.

He began to treat his body with the utmost rigor and rose every night to weep over his sins. One night, he consecrated himself to the Saviour through the intercession of Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners, swearing inviolable fidelity to the Son and His Mother. Not long afterwards, to fortify him in his good resolutions, Mary appeared to him surrounded by light, holding in Her arms the Child Jesus. His heart purified by this vision, Ignatius made a general confession and a pilgrimage to Montserrat, to venerate a miraculous image of the Mother of God and implore Her protection, then bought a rude long habit for the pilgrimage he was planning to make to Jerusalem. He set out on foot, wearing only one sandal for his lame leg.

He spent some time at Manreza caring for the sick and undertaking a life of austerity equaled only by the most celebrated anchorites. Living by alms, fasting on bread and water, wearing a hair shirt, he remained kneeling every day for six or seven hours in prayer. The devil made vain efforts to discourage him. He fell ill, however, and was carried to the hospital from the cavern where he was staying. It was only out of obedience to his director at Montserrat that he ceased his extreme penance, and found again, through his obedience, the peace of soul he had lost. At Manreza he composed his famous Spiritual Exercises for retreatants, which ever since have brought to grace and fervor great numbers of souls.

After a journey to Rome and other points of pilgrimage in Italy, he embarked for the Holy Land. He wished to remain there to work for the conversion of souls, but was commanded by the enlightened Provincial of the Franciscans, under obedience, to return to Europe. He was then thirty-three years old.

Ignatius had already won certain Spanish compatriots to join him in the service of God; it was for them that he had composed the Exercises. With them he undertook studies for several years, and at the end of that time had four companions. He taught catechism while at Alcala, and virtually reformed the entire youth of that city.

In 1528, when he was already 37 years old, he went to Paris to study in the greatest poverty, eating his meals at a hospital with the poor. He was persecuted when he converted a number of young persons. It was in Paris, with six young companions, that at Montmartre the Society of Jesus was founded. They made a vow to go to Jerusalem in absolute poverty, or if this proved impossible, which it did, to go to Rome to the Vicar of Christ, and place themselves at his disposition for the service of the Church and the salvation of souls. Our Lord promised Saint Ignatius that the precious heritage of His Passion would never be lacking to his Society. By this term, heritage, the Saviour referred to the contradictions and persecutions the just must always face. Founded to combat error, the Company of Jesus has always had to bear the fury of those who favor it.

When Saint Ignatius was cast into prison at Salamanca on suspicion of heresy, he said to a friend who expressed his sympathy, It is a sign that you have little love of Christ in your heart, or you would not deem it so hard a fate to be in chains for His sake. All Salamanca does not contain as many fetters, manacles, and chains as I would gladly wear for love of Jesus Christ. Saint Ignatius went to receive his crown on July 31, 1556.

Reflection: Ask Saint Ignatius to obtain for you the grace to desire ardently the greater glory of God, even though it may cost you much suffering and humiliation.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 9; Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).

SS. Abdon and Sennen

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SS. Abdon and Sennen, Martyrs

THEY were Persians, but coming to Rome, courageously confessed the faith of Christ in the persecution of Decius in 250. They were cruelly tormented, but the more their bodies were mangled and covered with ghastly wounds, the more were their souls adorned and beautified with divine grace, and rendered glorious in the sight of heaven. The Christians at Rome did not treat them as strangers, but as brethren united to them in the hope of the same blessed country; and after their death carefully deposited their bodies in the house of a subdeacon called Quirinus. In the reign of Constantine the Great, their relics were removed into the ancient burying place of Pontian, so called from some rich man who built it: called also, from some sign, Ad Ursum Pileatum. It afterwards received its name from SS. Abdon and Sennon. It was situated near the Tiber, on the road to Porto near the gates of Rome. The images of these martyrs with Persian bonnets and crowns on their heads, and their names, are to be seen there at this day in ancient sculpture. 1 SS. Abdon and Sennen are mentioned in the ancient Liberian Calendar, and in other Martyrologies; though their modern acts deserve no notice, as Cardinal Noris has demonstrated. 2 1
The martyrs preferred torments and death to sin, because the love of God above all things reigned in their breasts. “We say we are Christians,” says Tertullian; 3 “we proclaim it to the whole world, even under the hands of the executioner, and in the midst of all the torments you inflict upon us to compel us to unsay it. Torn and mangled, and weltering in our blood, we cry out as loud as we are able to cry, That we are worshippers of God through Christ.” Upon which Mr. Reeves observes, that no other religion ever produced any considerable number of martyrs except the true one. Do we ever read of any generation of men so greedy of martyrdom, who thought it long till they were upon the rack, and were so patient, so cheerful and steadfast under the most intolerable torments? Socrates was the only philosopher who can be said to have died for his doctrine; and what a restless posture of mind does he betray, who was esteemed the best and the wisest of the heathens! With what misgivings, and fits of hope and fear, does he deliver himself in that most famous discourse, supposed to have been made by him a little before his death, about a future state? 4 And neither Phædo, Cebes, Crito, Simmias, nor any other of his greatest friends who were present at his death, durst maintain either his innocence, or that doctrine for which he died, in the Areopagus. With what reserve did Plato himself dogmatize concerning the gods whom he worshipped in public, but denied in private! How did he dodge about, disguise himself, and say and unsay the same excellent truths! Only the Christians suffered at this rate, and they held on suffering for several hundred years together, till they had subdued the world by dying for their religion. What could engage such a number of men in such a religion, and support them in it, in defiance of death in the most shocking forms, but evident truth, and a superior grace and strength from above? 2

Note 1. Aringhi Roma Subterranea, l. 1, c. 25.
Note 2. Noris, Diss. 3, de Epochis Syro-Macedonum.
Note 3. Apol. c. 21.
Note 4. Plato in Phædo.

St. Martha

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St. Martha, Virgin

St. Martha, more than once mentioned in the Gospel, was born of illustrious parents. Her father was of Syria, her mother of Judaea, and after their death, she inherited their house and estate at Bethany. She exercised herself freely in good works, especially in those of charity, and was one of the first women who, by attending the instructions of Christ, and by His miracles, recognized in Him the true Messiah. From that hour her heart was filled with the most devoted love to the Lord, who, according to the Gospel, returned her pious affection. The conversion of her sister Magdalen, which has been related in the life of this Saint, was in a great measure her work, as she persuaded her to hear Christ’s sermons. After Magdalen’s conversion, she and Martha accompanied Christ from place to place, desiring not to lose any of His divine instructions. Frequently had Martha the grace to receive our Lord into her house, and to see Him sitting at her table.

One day, being so honored, she prepared, with her own hands, everything that she would set before our Saviour, anxious that He should be served well. Seeing that her sister Magdalen meanwhile sat quietly at the feet of Christ, without assisting her, she, mildly complaining, said to the Saviour: “Lord, hast thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? Speak to her, therefore, that she help me.” Christ reproached her somewhat for her too great solicitude for temporal things, with these words, fraught with deep meaning: “Martha, Martha; thou art careful and art troubled about many things; but one thing is necessary; Mary has chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Martha humbly received this kind reproof, this wholesome lesson, and when Christ was at table with Lazarus and Magdalen, she served Him, thinking rightly that this was the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon her.  Continue reading

St. Innocent I.

St. Innocent I., Pope and Confessor

HE was a native of Albano, near Rome; and upon the death of Pope Anastasius, in 402, was unanimously chosen to fill the pontifical chair. He ascended it by compulsion, and considering himself in it with trembling, he never ceased to beg of God the spirit of his holy wisdom and prudence, which he stood the more in need of, as the times in which he lived were more difficult. Alaric the Goth, with an army of barbarians, threatened to carry desolation over all Italy. The pope exhorted the faithful to receive the scourges of heaven with submission and humility, and undertook several journeys to negotiate a reconciliation between the emperor Honorius and Alaric, but in vain. The Goths received a great overthrow from the Roman army commanded by Stilico, in 403. But Alaric led them a second time to attempt the plunder of Rome; and because Honorius refused to make him general of the imperial army, he took that city on the 24th of August, 410, and abandoned it to the fury of his soldiers, excepting the church of SS. Peter and Paul, to which he granted the privilege of a sanctuary. Pope Innocent was at that time absent with the emperor at Ravenna. The year following, Alaric being dead, his brother-in-law and successor Atulphus again plundered Rome. 1
After the departure of the barbarians, the good pope hastened thither, and by his presence brought comfort and joy to that afflicted people. He taught them to draw an advantage from their sufferings by making a good use of them; and so much were the Heathens edified at the patience, resignation, and virtue with which the Christians suffered the loss of their goods and whatever was dear, without any murmuring or complaint, that they came in crowds desiring to be instructed in the faith and baptized. The pope laboured incessantly to form them a holy people, always occupied in good works. His letters, especially those to Exuperius, the most holy bishop of Toulouse, and Decentius, bishop of Gubbio, in answer to their several queries, contain many useful rules, and judicious decisions. In the former, he says, that communion or absolution is never to be denied to dying penitents, that we may not imitate the hardness of the Novatians. In that to Decentius he says, that only bishops, who have the sovereignty of the priesthood, can confer the Holy Ghost in confirmation, by anointing the foreheads of persons baptized; and that he cannot recite the words of the form for fear of discovering the mysteries or sacraments to the infidels. He uses the same precaution in speaking of the sacrifice; so inviolable was the secret with which, out of respect, the primitive Christians treated the sacraments. In the same epistle, this pope mentioning the extreme unction which is given to the sick, he says, it cannot be administered to penitents before their reconciliation, because it is a sacrament; and all sacraments are refused them in that state. This evinces that it was held to be no less properly a sacrament than the eucharist. He indeed allows the custom that then prevailed for the laity to use the holy oils out of devotion, but without the sacramental words, and not as a sacrament; for being consulted whether bishops could give that sacrament, which was usually administered by priests, he proves that bishops can do it, because priests can; consequently, he supposes as undoubted, that only priests, not laymen, can minister this holy sacrament. 2
When, in 416, the councils of Carthage and Milevum had condemned the Pelagian errors, and wrote to the pope against them, the synodal letters of both those councils having been drawn up by St. Austin, St. Innocent, in his answer to the bishops of the council of Milevum, says, that “all ecclesiastical matters throughout the world are, by divine right, to be referred to the apostolic see, that is, to St. Peter, the author of its name and honour.” He commends the bishops of this council for so doing: “Following,” says he, “the ancient rule, which you know with me has been always observed by the whole world.” 1 The confirmation given by Pope Innocent to these two African councils being brought to Africa, St. Austin said: 2 “The decisions of the two councils have been already sent to the apostolic see; the rescripts are also come from thence. The cause is now finished; would to God that the error may at last be at end.” St. Innocent closed his life with exerting his zeal in defence of divine grace, dying in 417, having been pope fifteen years. See his letters, and the councils, Ceillier, t. 10, p. 104, and Cuper the Bollandist, t. 6, Jul. p. 548. 3

Note 1. From this example it is manifest, that the African bishops referred greater causes, at least those of faith, to the holy see, and in them always allowed appeals to it; though at that time they carried on a contest with the Popes Innocent, Zosimus, and Celestine, against appeals being made in lesser causes of personal facts, which it is often difficult to carry on in remote courts, and which, if too easy and frequent, are a bar to the speedy execution of justice. Yet such appeals or revisions of causes are sometimes necessary to hinder crying injustices and oppressions. Whence the regulation of the manner of restraining appeals in smaller ecclesiastical causes is a point of discipline; but the general council of Sardica, which was an appendix of the council of Nice, declared, that appeals must be allowed from the whole world to the bishops of Rome: and in this discipline the Africans soon after acquiesced.
Note 2. St. Aug. Serm. 131, n. 10.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VII: July. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. July 28.