Saint Vincent de Paul

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Saint Vincent de Paul

Founder of the Lazarist Fathers and the Daughters of Charity (1576-1660)

Saint Vincent was born in 1576 near Dax, south of Bordeaux, of a poor family which survived by means of their labor. It seemed that mercy was born with him. When sent by his father to the mill to procure flour, if he met a poor man coming home, he would open the sack and give him handfuls of flour whenhe had nothing else. His Christian father was not angry; seeing his good dispositions, he was sure his son should become a priest, and placed him as a boarding student with a group of religious priests in Dax. Vincent made rapid progress, and after seven years of studying theology at Toulouse and in Saragossa, Spain, was ordained a priest in 1600. He always concealed his learning and followed the counsel of Saint Paul who said, I have wanted to know nothing in your midst but Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified.

Soon after his ordination, he was captured by corsairs and sold as a slave in Tunisia. He converted his renegade master, and escaped with him to France. Then, after a time of study in Rome, he returned to Paris and took for his spiritual director Abbé de Berulle, a famous director of souls. This servant of God saw in him a priest called to render outstanding service to the Church, and to found a community of priests who would labor for its benefit. He told Saint Vincent this, that he might prepare himself insofar as was humanly possible. When Saint Vincent was appointed chaplain-general of the galleys of France, his tender charity brought hope into those prisons where hitherto despair had reigned. When a mother mourned her imprisoned son, Vincent put on his chains and took his place at the oar, and gave him to his mother.

His charity embraced the poor, the young and the aged, the provinces desolated by civil war, Christians enslaved by the infidels. The poor man, ignorant and degraded, was to him the image of Him who became as a leper and no man. Turn the medal, he said, and you will see Jesus Christ. He went through the streets of Paris at night, seeking the infants and children left there to die — three or four hundred every year. Once robbers rushed upon him, thinking he carried a treasure, but when he opened his cloak, they recognized him and his burden, an abandoned infant, and fell at his feet. Not only was Saint Vincent the providence of the poor, but also of the rich, for he taught them to undertake works of mercy. When in 1648 the work of the foundlings was in danger of failure for want of funds, he assembled the ladies of the Association of Charity, and said, Compassion and charity have made you adopt these little creatures as your children. You have been their mothers according to grace, when their own mothers abandoned them. Will you now cease to be their mothers? Their life and death are in your hands. I shall take your votes; it is time to pronounce sentence. The tears of the assembly were his only answer, and the work was continued.

The Priests of the Mission or Lazarists, as they are called, and thousands of the Daughters of Charity still comfort the afflicted with the charity of their holy Founder. It has been said of him that no one has ever verified more perfectly than Saint Vincent, the words of Our Lord: He who humbles himself shall be exalted… The more he strove to abase himself in the eyes of all, the more God took pleasure in elevating him and bestowing His blessings on him and on all his works. He died in 1660, in an old age made truly golden by his unceasing good works.

Reflection: Most people who profess piety ask advice of directors about their prayers and spiritual exercises. Few inquire whether they are not in danger of damnation from neglect of works of charity. Let us never forget the terrible foretold words of the Final Judge: Depart from me, workers of iniquity; I was hungry, and you did not feed Me; I was without shelter, you did not take Me in…; I was sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me, etc. (Cf. Matt. 26:31-46)

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 8; 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)

St. Symphorosa and Her Seven Sons

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St. Symphorosa and Her Seven Sons, Martyrs

From their genuine Acts in Ruinart, c. 18. Some manuscripts attribute them to the celebrated Julius Africanus, who wrote a chronology from the beginning of the world to the reign of Heliogabalus, now lost, but commended by Eusebius as an exact and finished work. See Ceillier, t. 1, p. 668.

A.D. 120.

TRAJAN’S persecution in some degree continued during the first year of Adrian’s reign, whence Sulpicius Severus places the fourth general persecution under this emperor. However, he put a stop to it about the year 124, moved probably both by the apologies of Quadratus and Aristides, and by a letter which Serenius Granianus, proconsul of Asia, had written to him in favour of the Christians. 1 Nay he had Christ in veneration, not as the Saviour of the world, but as a wonder or novelty, and kept his image together with that of Apollonius Tyanæus. This God was pleased to permit, that his afflicted Church might enjoy some respite. It was, however, again involved in the disgrace which the Jews (with whom the Pagans at these times in some degree confounded the Christians) drew upon themselves by their rebellion, which gave occasion to the last entire destruction of Jerusalem in 134. Then, as St. Paulinus informs us, 2 Adrian caused a statue of Jupiter to be erected on the place where Christ rose from the dead, and a marble Venus on the place of his crucifixion; and at Bethlehem, 3 a grotto consecrated in honour of Adonis or Thammuz, to whom he also dedicated the cave where Christ was born. This prince towards the end of his reign abandoned himself more than ever to acts of cruelty, and being awakened by a fit of superstition he again drew his sword against the innocent flock of Christ. He built a magnificent country palace at Tibur, now Tivoli, sixteen miles from Rome, upon the most agreeable banks of the river Anio, now called Teverone. Here he placed whatever could be procured most curious out of all the provinces. Having finished the building he intended to dedicate it by heathenish ceremonies which he began by offering sacrifices, in order to induce the idols to deliver their oracles. The demons answered: “The widow Symphorosa and her seven sons daily torment us by invoking their God; if they sacrifice, we promise to be favourable to your vows.” 1
This lady lived with her seven sons upon a plentiful estate which they enjoyed at Tivoli, and she liberally expended her treasures in assisting the poor, especially in relieving the Christians who suffered for the faith. She was widow of St. Getulius or Zoticus, who had been crowned with martyrdom with his brother Amantius. They were both tribunes of legions or colonels in the army, and are honoured among the martyrs on the 10th of June. Symphorosa had buried their bodies in her own farm, and sighing to see her sons and herself united with them in immortal bliss, she prepared herself to follow them by the most fervent exercise of all good works. 2 Continue reading

Saint Camillus of Lellis

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Saint Camillus of Lellis

Founder of the Servants of the Sick
(1549-1614)

Saint Camillus was born in the kingdom of Naples in the year 1549. His early years gave no indication of his future sanctity. At the age of nineteen he entered into military service with his father, an Italian noble, against the Turks. After four years of hard campaigning he found himself, through his violent temper, reckless habits, and inveterate passion for gambling, a discharged soldier in bad health, and in such straitened circumstances that he was obliged to beg in the streets. Finally he found work as a laborer for a Capuchin convent which was being built. A few words from a Capuchin Friar brought about his conversion; the following day he cast himself on his knees, seeing himself clearly by a divine illumination. He prayed, Forgive, Lord, this wretched sinner! and give him time to do penance! And he resolved to become a religious.

He served the Capuchin Fathers, working in the garden, sweeping the convent, washing the dishes, until he could be received as an aspirant. Thrice he begin his novitiate with them, but each time an obstinate ulcer on his leg forced him to leave. God had other designs for him. He went to Rome for medical treatment, and there took Saint Philip Neri as his confessor. He entered, as a servant, the hospital of San Giacomo. The carelessness of the paid personnel and nurses towards the suffering patients inspired him with the thought of founding a Congregation of voluntary servants of the sick, to minister to their wants without thought of remuneration. He recalled the Cross of Our Lord, thinking, If they wore it on their breast, the sight of it would sustain them, encourage them, reward them. He spoke of this intention to the most pious ones among his companions, who joined him with enthusiasm. They set up an oratory in a little room where they retired to read and pray. They met great obstacles; their oratory was closed when they were suspected of wanting to control the hospital. But eventually Saint Camillus was ordained priest in 1584 and founded his Congregation with only two co-workers, at the chapel of Our Lady of Miracles. They continued to serve in the large Holy Spirit Hospital, and in 1586 his community, the Servants of the Sick, was confirmed by the Pope.

Its usefulness was soon felt, not only in hospitals, but in private houses. Summoned at every hour of the day and night, the devotion of Camillus never grew cold. With an inexhaustible tenderness he attended to the needs of his patients. He wept with them, consoled them, and prayed with them. During a famine in 1590, the poor were reduced to eating dead animals and often raw herbs; about sixty thousand died during that winter, which was exceptionally cold. Saint Camillus procured bread and clothing and went out to distribute them in Rome to all who needed them. Never did he refuse what was asked, giving away his cloak more than once, and the last sack of flour in the storeroom. But God always provided for the Brothers when they had nothing more to give.

Saint Camillus knew miraculously the state of the souls of his patients; and Saint Philip saw Angels whispering to two Servants of the Sick who were consoling a dying person. One day a sick man said to the Saint, Father, may I beg you to make up my bed? it is very hard. Camillus replied, God forgive you, brother! You beg me? Don’t you know yet that you should command me, for I am your servant and slave! The Saint founded houses of what had become his Order in several cities — Milan, Bologna, Genoa, Florence, Ferrare and others, and sent out his religious when a pestilence afflicted Hungary and surrounding regions. Several of his religious died on that occasion.

In his hospital he was heard to say, Would to God that in the hour of my death one sigh or one blessing of these poor sick creatures might fall upon me! His prayer was answered. He was granted the same consolations in his last hour, which he had so often procured for others. It was in the year 1614, and on the feast of Saint Bonaventure, to whom he had a great devotion, that he died as he had foretold, having the full use of his faculties, as the priest was reciting the words of the ritual, May Jesus Christ appear to thee with a mild and joyful countenance!

Reflection: Saint Camillus venerated the sick as living images of Christ, and by ministering to them in this spirit did penance for the sins of his youth. He led a life precious in merit, and from a violent and quarrelsome soldier became a gentle and tender Saint.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 8; 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)