St. Agnes

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St. Agnes, Her Second Feast
January 28th

Five days after the martyrdom of the Virgin Emerentiana, the parents of the glorious Saint Agnes visited the tomb of their child, during the night, there to weep and pray. It was the eighth day since her martyrdom. Whilst they were thinking upon the cruel death, which, though it had enriched their child with a Martyr’s palm, had deprived them of her society–Agnes suddenly appeared to them: she was encircled with a bright light, and wore a crown on her head, and was surrounded by a choir of virgins of dazzling beauty. On her right hand, there stood a beautiful white lamb, the emblem of the Divine Spouse of Agnes.

Turning towards her parents, she said to them, “Weep not over my death: for I am now in heaven, together with these virgins, living with Him, whom I loved on earth with my whole soul.”

It is to commemorate this glorious apparition, that the holy Church has instituted this Feast, which is called Saint Agnes’ Second Feast. (Sanctae Agnetis secundo.) Let us pray to this fervent spouse of the Divine Lamb, that she intercede for us with Him, and present us to Him in this life, until it be given to us to possess Him face to face in heaven.

Prayer of Petition to St. Agnes

O sweet Saint Agnes, I earnestly implore thy compassion and commend myself to thy prayers. O noble virgin, thou didst despise all earthly things and prefer the love of Christ to the glory of the world. Death was welcome to thee, and the holy angels were waiting for thy soul to convey it into the joys of Paradise, where, adorned with the martyr’s palm, thou didst arrive at the nuptials of the heavenly Spouse. I too seek Him; deign to intercede for me that He may grant me health of mind and body, restrain the temptations of the devil, extinguish the desires of the flesh, give me time for true repentance and amendment of life, grant me the remission of all my sins, together with grace to make a good end and a happy death. Amen.

Saint Peter Nolasco

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Saint Peter Nolasco

Founder
(1189-1256)

In the early thirteenth century the Moors still held much of Spain, and in sudden raids from the sea they carried off thousands of Christians, holding them as slaves in Granada and in their citadels along the African coast. A hero of these unfortunates was Saint Peter Nolasco, born about the year 1189 near Carcassonne in France. When he went to Barcelona to escape the heresy then rampant in southern France, he consecrated the fortune he had inherited to the redemption of the captives taken on the seas by the Saracens. He was obsessed with the thought of their suffering, and desired to sell his own person to deliver his brethren and take their chains upon himself. God made it known to him how agreeable that desire was to Him.

Because of these large sums of money he expended, Peter became penniless. He was without resources and powerless, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and said to him: Find for Me other men like yourself, an army of brave, generous, unselfish men, and send them into the lands where the children of the Faith are suffering. Peter went at once to Saint Raymond of Pennafort, his confessor, who had had a similar revelation and used his influence with King James I of Aragon and with Berengarius, Archbishop of Barcelona, to obtain approbation and support for the new community. On August 10, 1218, Peter and two companions were received as the first members of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom, dedicated to the recovery of Christian captives. To the three traditional vows of religion, its members joined a fourth, that of delivering their own persons to the overlords, if necessary, to ransom Christians.

The Order spread rapidly. Peter and his comrades traveled throughout Christian Spain, recruiting new members and collecting funds to purchase the captives. Then they began negotiations with the slave-owners. They penetrated Andalusia, crossed the sea to Tunis and Morocco, and brought home cargo after cargo of Christians. Although Peter, as General of the Order, was occupied with its organization and administration, he made two trips to Africa where, besides liberating captives, he converted many Moors. He died after a long illness on Christmas night of 1256; he was canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1628. His Order continues its religious services, now devoted to preaching and hospital service.

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. 2

Saint John Chrysostom

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Saint John Chrysostom

Bishop of Constantinople, Doctor of the Church
(344-407)

Saint John Chrysostom, born in Antioch in 344, was endowed with a superior genius strengthened by a brilliant education. In order to break with a world which admired and courted him, in 374 he retired for six years to a neighboring mountain, having found Christ through his friendship with Saint Basil. After acquiring the art of Christian silence, he returned to Antioch and there labored as a priest under the direction of its bishop. His eloquence was such that the entire city, up to a hundred thousand listeners, came to hear him, a young man not yet thirty years old. He fled this popularity and adopted the monastic life for fourteen years, until he was taken forcibly to Constantinople, to be consecrated Patriarch of the imperial city in 398.

The effect of his sermons was everywhere marvelous. He converted a large number of pagans and heretics by his eloquence, then in its most brilliant luster, and constantly exhorted his Catholic people to frequent the Holy Sacrifice. In order to remove all excuse for absence he abbreviated the long liturgy then in use. Saint Nilus relates that Saint John Chrysostom, when the priest began the Holy Sacrifice, very often saw many of the Blessed coming down from heaven in shining garments, eyes intent, and bowed heads, in utter stillness and silence, assisting at the consummation of the tremendous mystery.

Beloved as he was in Constantinople, his denunciations of vice made him numerous enemies. In 403 these procured his banishment; and although he was almost immediately recalled, it was not more than a reprieve. In 404 he was banished to Cucusus in the deserts of the Taurus mountains. His reply to the hostile empress was: Chrysostom fears only one thing — not exile, prison, poverty or death — but sin.

In 407, at sixty-three years old his strength was waning, but his enemies were impatient and transported him to Pytius on the Euxine, a rough journey of nearly 400 miles. He was assiduously exposed to every hardship — cold, wet clothing, and semi-starvation, but nothing could overcome his cheerfulness and his consideration for others. On the journey his sickness increased, and he was warned that his end was near. Thereupon, exchanging his travel-stained clothes for white garments, he received Viaticum, and with his customary words, Glory be to God for all things. Amen, passed to Christ. He does not have the title of martyrdom, but possesses all its merit and all its glory. He is the author of the famous words characterizing Saint Paul, object of his admiration and love: The heart of Paul was the Heart of Christ.

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. 2

Saint Polycarp

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Saint Polycarp

Bishop, Martyr
(70-167)

Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of Saint John. He wrote to the Philippians, exhorting them to mutual love and to hatred of heresy. When the apostate Marcion met Saint Polycarp at Rome, he asked the aged Saint if he knew him. Yes, Saint Polycarp answered, I know you for the first-born of Satan. These were the words of a Saint, most loving and most charitable, and specially noted for his compassion to sinners. He abhorred heresy, because he loved God and man so well.

In 167 persecution broke out in Smyrna. When Polycarp heard that his pursuers were at the door, he said, The Will of God be done; and meeting them, he begged to be left alone for a little time, which he spent in prayer for the Catholic Church throughout the world. He was brought to Smyrna early on Holy Saturday; and as he entered, a voice was heard from heaven, Polycarp, be strong. When the proconsul urged him to curse Christ and go free, Polycarp answered, Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me wrong; how can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? When he threatened him with fire, Polycarp told him this fire of his lasted but a short time, while the fire prepared for the wicked lasted forever.

At the stake he thanked God aloud for letting him drink of Christ’s chalice. The fire was lighted, but it did him no harm; therefore he was stabbed to the heart, and his dead body was burnt. Then, say the writers of his acts, we took up the bones, more precious than the richest jewels or gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, at which may God grant us to assemble with joy, to celebrate the birthday of the martyr to his life in heaven!

Reflection. If we love Jesus Christ, we shall love the Church and hate heresy, which divides His Mystical Body and destroys the souls for whom He died. Like Saint Polycarp, we shall maintain our constancy in the faith by love of Jesus Christ, who is the Church’s Founder and its last end.

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).

The Conversion of Saint Paul

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The Conversion of Saint Paul

Apostle to the Gentiles
(36 A.D.)

The great Apostle Paul, named Saul at his circumcision, was born in Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, and was by that privilege a Roman citizen, to which quality a great distinction and several exemptions were granted by the laws of the Empire. He was early instructed in the strict observance of the Mosaic law, and lived up to it in the most scrupulous manner. In his zeal for the Jewish law, which he believed to be the divine Cause of God, he became a violent persecutor of the Christians. He was one of those who combined to murder Saint Stephen, and then he presided in the violent persecution of the faithful which followed the holy deacon’s martyrdom. By virtue of the power he had received from the high priest, he dragged the Christians out of their houses, loaded them with chains, and thrust them into prison. In the fury of his zeal he applied for a commission to seize in Damascus all Jews who confessed Jesus Christ, and to bring them in bonds to Jerusalem, that they might serve as examples for the others.

But God was pleased to manifest in him His patience and mercy. While Saul was journeying to Damascus, he and his party were surrounded by a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, and suddenly the chief was struck to the ground. And then a voice was heard saying, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? And Saul answered, Who art Thou, Lord? and the voice replied, I am Jesus, whom you persecute. This mild admonition of Our Redeemer, accompanied with a powerful interior grace, cured Saul’s pride, assuaged his rage, and wrought at once a total change in him. Therefore, trembling and astonished, he cried out, Lord, what wilt Thou have me do? Our Lord ordered him to proceed on his way to the city of Damascus, where he would be informed of what was expected of him. Saul, arising from the ground, found that although his eyes were open, he saw nothing.

He was led into the city, where he was lodged in the house of a Christian named Judas. To this house came by divine appointment a holy man named Ananias, who, laying his hands on Saul, said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your journey, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he recovered his sight; then he arose and was baptized. He stayed a few days with the disciples at Damascus, and began immediately to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. Thus a blasphemer and a persecutor was made an Apostle, and chosen as one of God’s principal instruments in the conversion of the world.

Reflection. Listen to the words of The Imitation of Christ, and let them sink into your heart: He who would keep the grace of God, let him be grateful for grace when it is given, and patient when it is taken away. Let him pray that it may be given back to him, and be careful and humble, lest he lose it.

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); The Holy Bible: Old and New Testaments