Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, was the disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. Believing that the Church on earth should resemble that of the heavenly Jerusalem of which Saint John wrote in his Apocalypse, he established singing in choirs in his church at Antioch, after a vision of the celestial choirs who sang in that manner. When the emperor Domitian persecuted the Church, Saint Ignatius obtained peace for his own flock by fasting and prayer, although for his own part he desired to suffer with Christ, and to prove himself a perfect disciple.
Because in accordance with the words of the First Council of Orleans, some pious Christian congregations in the earliest ages of the Church, especially the clergy, began to fast seventy days before Easter, on this Sunday, which was therefore called Septuagesima” – the seventieth day. The same is the case with the Sundays following, which are called Sexagesima, Quinquagesima , Quadragesima, because some Christians commenced to fast sixty days, others fifty, others forty days before Easter, until finally, to make it properly uniform, Popes Gregory and Gelasius arranged that all Christians should fast forty days before Easter, commencing with Ash Wednesday.
Saint John Bosco accomplished what many people considered an impossibility; he walked through the streets of Turin, Italy, looking for the dirtiest, roughest urchins he could find, then made good men of them. His extraordinary success can be summed up in the words of his patron Saint, Francis de Sales: The measure of his love was that he loved without measure.
John’s knowledge of poverty was firsthand. He was born in 1815 in the village of Becchi in the Piedmont district of northern Italy, and reared on his parents’ small farm. When his father died, Margaret Bosco and her three sons found it harder than ever to support themselves, and while John was still a small boy he had to join his brothers in the farm work. Although his life was hard, he was a happy, imaginative child. Even as a boy, John found innocent fun compatible with religion. To amuse his friends he learned how to juggle and walk a tightrope; but he would entertain them only on condition that each performance begin and end with a prayer.
As he grew older, John began to think of becoming a priest, but poverty and lack of education made this seem impossible. A kindly priest recognized his intelligence, however, and gave him his first encouragement, teaching him to read and write. By taking odd jobs in the village, and through the help of his mother and some charitable neighbors, John managed to get through school and find admittance to the diocesan seminary of nearby Turin. As a seminarian he devoted his spare time to looking after the ragamuffins who roamed the slums of the city. Every Sunday he taught them catechism, supervised their games and entertained them with stories and tricks; before long his kindness had won their confidence, and his Sunday School became a ritual with them.
After his ordination in 1841, he became assistant to the chaplain of an orphanage at Valocco, on the outskirts of Turin. This position was short-lived, for when he insisted that his Sunday-school boys be allowed to play on the orphanage grounds, they were turned away, and he resigned. He began looking for a permanent home for them, but no decent neighborhood would accept the noisy crowd. At last, in a rather tumbledown section of the city, where no one was likely to protest, the first oratory was established and named for Saint Francis de Sales. At first the boys attended school elsewhere, but as more teachers volunteered their time, classes were held at the house. Enrollment increased so rapidly that by 1849 there were three oratories in various places in the city.
For a long time Don Bosco had considered founding an Order to carry on his work, and this idea was supported by a notoriously anticlerical cabinet minister named Rattazzi. Rattazzi had seen the results of his work, and although an Italian law forbade the founding of religious communities at that time, he promised government support. The founder-priest went to Rome in 1858 and, at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, drew up a Rule for his community, the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (Salesians). Four years later he founded an Order for women, theDaughters of Mary, Help of Christians, to care for abandoned girls. Finally, to supplement the work of both congregations, he organized an association of lay people interested in aiding their work.
Exhausted from touring Europe to raise funds for a new church in Rome, Don Bosco died on January 31, 1888. He was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. The work of John Bosco continues today in over a thousand Salesian oratories throughout the world. No modern Saint has captured the heart of the world more rapidly than this smiling peasant-priest from Turin, who believed that to give complete trust and love is the most effective way to nourish virtue in others.
Lives of the Saints for Every Day of the Year. (Reprint of the work of John Gilmary Shea, with Appendix including recently canonized Saints) (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1955. Third Edition: Tan Books and Publishers: Rockford, Ill., 1995).
Saint Martina, a Roman virgin, was the child of a noble Christian consul, of whom it was said that he was extremely merciful towards the poor, and very zealous for faith in the Most Holy Trinity. His daughter lost both her parents while she was still very young, and for love of Christ she distributed all she inherited to the poor, that she might be more free to hasten towards martyrdom, during the persecution which had recently begun.
Under the emperor Alexander Severus she was discovered in a church one day by three officers of a search party, and commanded to follow them to a temple of Apollo. She cheerfully agreed, saying she would do so after praying for a short time and taking leave of her bishop. The officers reported their important capture to the emperor, believing she would readily renounce her faith. But when he ordered her to speak, she replied that she would sacrifice to none other than the true God, and never to idols, the handiwork of men. She was tortured by iron hooks, but her executioners were thrown to the ground amid a great light as she prayed, and arose converted, like Saint Paul, to the Christian faith.
She was tormented again the following day before the emperor, cruelly scourged while attached by her hands and feet to posts. When, one day later, she was taken to a temple of Diana, the demon left amid horrible screams. Fire from heaven fell and burnt the idol, which in tumbling crushed many of its priests and pagan worshipers. Saint Martina, after suffering other tortures and being spared by an enraged lion and a fiery furnace, was finally beheaded. Her death occurred on January 1st during the fourth year of Alexander Severus.
Her relics were found in 1634, during the papacy of Urban VIII, near the Mamertine Prison, with those of several other martyrs. All were placed in a beautiful church dedicated to Saint Martina in the Roman Forum. Urban VIII spared no efforts in promoting her veneration; and through his solicitude the Office was enhanced with hymns for Matins and Lauds. In these we read that her soul rose to heaven, where she was seen afterwards upon a royal throne, while the Blessed sang praises to God.
Reflection. God calls His Saints to Him at every age; little children turn to Him with faith and love, strong men in their mature years, white-haired grandparents and servants of God in their golden age. And we find martyrs ready for every torment, at all epochs of life. What is important is to be ready and to desire the most important day of our life — that of our death.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 2.
Saint Francis de Sales was born in 1567 near Annecy, of noble and pious parents, and studied with brilliant success at Paris and Padua. On his return from Italy he gave up the grand career which his father had destined for him in the service of the state, and became a priest.
When the duke of Savoy resolved to restore the shattered Church in the Chablais, Francis offered himself for the work and set out on foot with his Bible and breviary, accompanied by one companion, his cousin Louis of Sales. It was a work of toil, privation and danger. Every door and every heart was closed against him. He was rejected with insult and threatened with death, but nothing could daunt him or resist him indefinitely. And before long the Church blossomed into a second spring. It is said that he converted 72,000 Calvinists.
He was compelled by the Pope to become Coadjutor Bishop of Geneva, and succeeded to that see in 1602. Saint Vincent de Paul said of him, in praise of his gentleness, How good God must be, since the bishop of Geneva, His minister, is so good! At times the great meekness with which he received heretics and sinners almost scandalized his friends, and they protested when he received insults in silence. One of them said to him, Francis of Sales will go to Paradise, of course; but I am not so sure about the Bishop of Geneva: I am almost afraid his gentleness will play him a shrewd turn! Ah, said the Saint, you would have me lose in one instant all the meekness I have been able to acquire by twenty years of efforts? I would rather account to God for too great gentleness than for too great severity. God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove; are you wiser than God? When a hostile visitor said to him one day, If I were to strike you on the cheek, what would you do? Saint Francis answered, with his customary humility, Ah! I know what I should do, but I cannot be sure of what I would do.
With Saint Jane Frances of Chantal, Saint Francis founded at Annecy the Order of the Visitation nuns, which soon spread over Europe. Though poor, he refused provisions and dignities, and even the great see of Paris. He died at Avignon in 1622.
Reflection. You will catch more flies, Saint Francis used to say, with a spoonful of honey than with a hundred barrels of vinegar. If there were anything better or more beautiful on earth than gentleness, Jesus Christ would have taught it to us; and yet He has given us only two lessons to learn of Him — meekness and humility of heart.
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