Plague in Rome 591

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Plague in Rome 591

The Abbot Orsini wrote: “On this day, in the year 591, St. Gergory the Great, having had the picture of Our Lady, which was painted by St. Luke, carried in procession, the plague ceased at Rome.”

The miseries that afflicted Rome in the year 591 were substantial. The Gothic War between the Byzantine Empire and the Goths had substantially depopulated Italy, so much so that a Germanic tribe of Lombards had entered the peninsula and established their own kingdom. They were pagans and Arians who did not respect Catholics, burning the famous Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino and pillaging the land at will.

The instability and warfare caused famine in large regions, though Rome was still able to obtain grain by sea. Then came earthquakes and flooding to further the suffering, and from this plague Rome was not immune. The banks of the Tiber overflowed, and when the waters did not recede, all of the low-lying lands became swamps that brought death and plague. The disease struck with such rapidity that the victim would often die shortly after realizing he had contracted the disease, although there were some who sickened but recovered. Our custom of saying, “God Bless you,” to someone who sneezes came about at this time, for sneezing was one of the signs that someone had contracted the disease.

Even the Roman Pontiff died of the plague on February 7th, 590. His successor was Pope Saint Gregory the Great, who was both a humble and pious man. It would be an understatement to say he did not want the honor of being the next pope, but he did do everything in his power to try to save his people. He understood that the plague was a chastisement from God, and encouraged the faithful to repent of their sins and pray for deliverance while he and the religious cared for the people of Rome.

Finally, Saint Gregory called for a procession to take place at dawn on April 25th. On that day the faithful first assembled in their groups throughout Rome and then walked through the streets of the city praying and singing as they approached the church of Saint Mary Major. The plague was so potent at that time that eighty people collapsed and died as they walked toward the meeting place.

Pope Saint Gregory met them upon their arrival, joining them in prayer as he took his place with them holding aloft the miraculous image of Our Lady painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist. As the procession neared the Vatican the participants all saw Saint Michael the archangel standing upon the cupola of Hadrian’s mausoleum as he sheathed his flaming sword. It was a sign that the chastisement had come to an end, and at once the heaviness in the air abated and the air itself seemed to freshen and clear. Indeed, at that moment the plague ended as the faithful rejoiced and lifted up their voices to thank the Mother of God.

“Regina Coeli laetare, Alleluia! (Queen of heaven, rejoice, Alleluia!)

Quia quem meruisti portare, Alleluia! (Son whom you merited to bear, Alleluia!)

Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia! (He has risen as He said, Alleluia!) 

Saint Euphrasia

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Saint Euphrasia

Virgin
(382-412)

Saint Euphrasia, born in Constantinople, was the daughter of noble and pious parents, honored by the pious Emperor Theodosius and the Empress of that city. After the early death of Antigonus, her father, her mother consecrated her widowhood to God, and retired with their only child into Egypt, where she possessed a very large estate. In those days there were many monasteries of nuns as well as of holy cenobites; in one single city there were twenty thousand such holy women, consecrated to Jesus Christ. Euphrasia’s mother chose to reside near a monastery of one hundred and thirty nuns, which she often visited, accompanied by Euphrasia. When the little girl, seven years of age, begged that she might be permitted to serve God in this monastery, the pious mother wept for joy.

Then the mother led her before an image of our Redeemer, and lifting up her hands to heaven said, Lord Jesus Christ, receive this child under Your special protection. It is You alone whom she loves and seeks; to You she recommends herself. Then leaving her in the hands of the abbess, she went out of the monastery weeping. She continued her life of prayer and mortification, and a few years later, when this good mother fell sick, she slept in peace.

On receiving the news of her death, Theodosius sent for the noble virgin to come to court, as he considered himself her protector, and already during her childhood had arranged for her to be married to a young senator of Constantinople, when she would reach a suitable age. But the virgin wrote him, refusing the alliance, repeating her vow of virginity, and requesting that her estates be sold and divided among the poor, and all her slaves set at liberty. The emperor punctually executed all her wishes, shortly before his death in 395.

Saint Euphrasia was a perfect pattern of humility, meekness, and charity. If she found herself assaulted by any temptation, she immediately sought the advice of the abbess, who often on such occasions assigned to her some humbling and painful penitential labor, which she would execute to perfection. Once she moved a pile of great rocks from one place to another, continuing for thirty days with wonderful simplicity, until the devil, vanquished by her humble obedience, left her in peace. She became powerful over the demons, and delivered many possessed persons. She cured a child who was paralyzed, deaf and dumb, making the sign of the cross over him and saying, May He who created you, heal you! She was favored with other miracles also, both before and after her death, which occurred in the year 412, the thirtieth of her age.

Reflection. Let us always remember our obligation to renounce ourselves and resist the desires of the flesh, fearing its constant seeking of self-satisfaction. In that way we will become docile rather to the Holy Spirit, and what the Apostle says will be realized: The one who adheres to God becomes one spirit with Him. (I Cor. 6:17) (Jean-Jacques Olier)

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). 

Meditations for Each Day of Lent – Saturday: The Grain of Wheat

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Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas

Saturday: The Grain of Wheat

Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone.–John xii. 24.

We use the grain of wheat in two ways, for bread and for seed. Here the word is to be taken in the second sense, grain of wheat meaning seed and not the matter out of which we make bread. For in this sense it never increases so as to bear fruit. When it is said that the grain must die, this does not mean that it loses its value as seed, but that it is changed into another kind of thing. So St. Paul (i Cor. xv. 36) says, That which then thou sowest is not quickened, except it die first.

The Word of God is a seed in the soul of man, in so far as it is a thing introduced into man’s soul, by words spoken and heard, in order to produce the fruit of good works, The seed is the Word of God (Luke viii. II). So also the Word of God garbed in flesh is a seed placed in the world, a seed from which great crops should grow, whence it is compared in St. Matthew’s Gospel (xiii. 31, 32) to a grain of mustard seed.

Our Lord therefore says to us, “I came as seed, something meant to bear fruit and therefore I say to you, Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone” which is as much as to say, “Unless I die the fruit of the conversion of the Gentiles will not follow.” He compares Himself to a grain of wheat, because He came to nourish and to sustain the minds of men, and to nourish and sustain are precisely what wheaten bread does for men. In the Psalms it is written, That bread may strengthen man’s heart (Ps. ciii. 15), and in St. John, The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world(John vi. 52).

2. But if it die it bringeth forth much fruit (John xii. 25). What is here explained is the usefulness of the Passion. It is as though the gospel said, Unless the grain fall into the earth through the humiliations of the Passion, no useful result will follow, for the grain itself remaineth alone. But if it shall die, done to death and slain by the Jews, it bringeth forth much fruit, for example:

(i) The remission of sin. This is the whole fruit, that the sin thereby should be taken away (Isaias xxvii. 9). And this is the fruit of the Passion of Christ as is declared by St. Peter, Christ died once for our sins, the just for the unjust that he might offer us to God (i Pet. iii. 18).

(ii) The conversion of the Gentiles to God. I have appointed you that you shall go forth and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain (John xv. 16). This fruit the Passion of Christ bore, if I be lifted tip from the earth, I will draw all things to myself (John xii. 32).

(iii) The fruit of Glory. The fruit of good labours is glorious (Wis. iii. 15). And this fruit also the Passion of Christ brought forth; We have therefore a confidence in the entering into the Holies by the blood of Christ: a new and living way which He hath dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh (Hebr. x. 19). 

Saint Mathilda

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Saint Mathilda

Empress
(† 968)

This princess, the greatest glory of her noble family, was the daughter of Theodoric, a powerful Saxon count, and Reinhilde, a princess of Denmark. Her parents placed her very young in the monastery of Erfort, of which her grandmother Maude had become the Abbess. The young girl became in that house an accomplished model of all virtues and domestic arts. She remained there until her parents married her to the virtuous and valiant Henry, son of Otto, Duke of Saxony, in 913. On the death in 919 of the Emperor of Germany, Conrad I, Henry was chosen by his troops to succeed him. Henry was a pious and diligent prince, and very kind to his subjects. By his arms he checked the insolence of invading neighboring armies, and enlarged his dominions by adding to them Bavaria.

Saint Mathilda, during those years, gained over the enemies of God spiritual victories yet more worthy of a Christian and far greater in the eyes of heaven. Blessed with five children, whom she raised in the fear of God, she nourished in their souls the precious seeds of devotion and humility through prayer and good works. It was her delight to visit, comfort, and exhort the sick and the afflicted; to serve and instruct the poor, and to afford her charitable assistance to prisoners. Her husband, edified by her example, concurred with her in every pious undertaking which she proposed, and his military victories served for the propagation of the Gospel in pagan lands. The two sovereigns labored concertedly for the reign of justice in all their domains, and for the happiness and welfare of their subjects, constructing hospitals, churches and monasteries. Their three sons became Saint Bruno, Archbishop of Cologne; Otto the Great, who succeeded his father as emperor of Germany; and Henry, Duke of Bavaria. The two daughters married Louis d’Outremer, King of France, and Hugh Capet, first of the Capetian race of French kings.

After twenty-three years of marriage God was pleased in the year 936 to call the king to Himself. Before his death, he thanked his worthy companion for having moderated his sometimes too-severe justice, and praised her in the presence of the entire court. Saint Mathilda persevered long in prayer, continuing her good works as before, but could not avoid the difficulties which jealousy of sovereigns almost invariably provokes. She was successfully accused to her own son, Otto, of concealing great riches, and he caused guards to be posted around her, and he led his brother Henry into his own error, to oblige her to leave the court. Without bitterness towards them, she took refuge elsewhere. Eventually Edith, wife of Otto, saw in the mortal illness threatening Henry, a sign of God’s anger provoked by their conduct toward their mother, and recommended the return of Saint Mathilda. Her sons begged her pardon with tears, and afterwards perfect understanding reigned between the mother and sons.

Henry died not long afterwards, and his mother thereafter retired almost completely from court life to concern herself with the care of prisoners, the poor and the sick, and the construction of a very large monastery for women at Nordhausen. Eventually she herself entered it, and on March 14, 968, after spending her final years in prayer and penance, she died lying on the floor, having spread ashes upon her head herself. She was venerated as a Saint immediately after her death.

Reflection. The beginning of true virtue is to desire it ardently, and to ask it of God with perseverance and earnestness. Fervent prayer, holy meditation, and reading of pious books are the principal means by which the interior life and virtue must be constantly strengthened.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 3; The Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by C. G. Herbermann with numerous collaborators (Appleton Company: New York, 1908); 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)

Meditations for Each Day of Lent – Friday After the Third Sunday

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Meditations for Each Day of Lent by St. Thomas Aquinas

Friday After the Third Sunday

It is by the Passion of Christ that we have been freed from the punishment due to sin

Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows.–Isaias liii. 4.

By the Passion of Christ we are freed from the liability to be punished for sin with the punish ment that sin calls for, in two ways, directly and indirectly.

We are freed directly inasmuch as the Passion of Christ made sufficient and more than sufficient satisfaction for the sins of the whole human race. Now once sufficient satisfaction has been made, the liability to the punishment mentioned is destroyed.

We are freed indirectly inasmuch as the Passion of Christ causes the sin to be remitted, and it is from the sin that the liability to the punishment mentioned derives.

Souls in hell, however, are not freed by the Passion of Christ, because the Passion of Christ shares its effect with those to whom it is applied by faith and by charity and by the sacraments of faith. Therefore the souls in hell, who are not linked up with the Passion of Christ in the way just mentioned, cannot receive its effects.

Now although we are freed from liability to the precise penalty that sin deserves, there is, nevertheless, enjoined on the repentant sinner a penalty or penance of satisfaction. For in order that the effect of the Passion of Christ be fully worked out in us, it is necessary for us to be made of like form with Christ. Now we are made of like form with Christ in baptism by the sacrament, as is said by St. Paul, We are buried together with him by baptism into death (Rom. vi. 4). Whence it is that no penalty of satisfaction is imposed on those who are baptised. Through the satisfaction made by Christ they are wholly set free. But since Christ died once for our sins (1 Pet. iii. 18), once only, man cannot a second time be made of like form with the death of Christ through the sacrament of baptism. Therefore those who, after baptism, sin again, must be made like to Christ in His suffering, through some kind of penalty or suffering which they endure in their own persons.

If death, which is a penalty due to sin, continues to subsist, the reason is this: The satisfaction made by Christ produces its effect in us in so far as we are made of one body with Him, in the way limbs are one body with the head. Now it is necessary that the limbs be made to conform to the head. Wherefore since Christ at first had, together with the grace in His soul, a liability to suffer in His body, and came to His glorious immortality through the Passion, so also should it be with us, who are His limbs. By the Passion we are indeed delivered from any punishment as a thing fixed on us, but we are delivered in such a way that it is in the soul we first receive the spirit of the adoption of sons, by which we are put on the list for the inheritance of eternal glory, while we still retain a body that can suffer and die. It is only afterwards, when we have been fashioned to the likeness of Christ in His sufferings and death, that we are brought into the glory of immortality. St. Paul teaches this when he says, If sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him (Rom. viii. 17)