St. Donatus

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St. Donatus, Bishop of Fiesoli, in Tuscany, Confessor

HE was a pious and learned Scot, or Irishman, who, going a pilgrim to Rome, was stopped in Tuscany, and by compulsion made bishop of Fiesoli, in 816, which see he governed with admirable sanctity and wisdom. See his life compiled by Francis Callanius, bishop of Fiesoli; also the Roman Martyrology on this day; and Colgan, Act. SS. Hib. p. 237, n. 3.

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume X: October. The Lives of the Saints. 1866. October 22.

Saint Ursula and her Companions

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Saint Ursula and her Companions

Virgins and Martyrs at Cologne
(† 383)

Saint Ursula was born in Great Britain of Christian parents; her father, Maurus, was king of Cornubia in Scotland. Ursula was sought in marriage by a young pagan prince, but had already vowed her life and her heart to Jesus Christ.

In the year 383 she was boarded onto a boat with a large number of young girls and Christian women whom a Roman conqueror wished to give as wives to his soldiers, after having endowed them with rich terrains. But during the crossing of the Channel a storm arose, and the ships, instead of reaching western Gaul, were driven towards the mouth of the Rhine. The Huns who at that time were ravaging Europe saw the ships, and were making ready to pillage them and inflict on these virgins and women a dishonor more dreaded by them than death. Commanded by Ursula, they resisted heroically and so well that suddenly the sentiments of the barbarians changed. They took up their arms to be rid of this peaceful army. Soon the victims fell under the blows of the executioners, and their souls winged their way to heaven.

The prince of the Huns, struck by Ursula’s beauty, spared her at first; he tried to console her for the death of her companions and promised to marry her. When she did not assent he shot her with an arrow, and this consecrated virgin fell with the others. She was considered the leader of the eleven thousand brought by the Romans from Great Britain. Many churches have relics of this army of martyrs, but no region is more richly endowed than that of Cologne, since it is to that city that the Christians of the region devotedly carried the mortal remains of the martyrs.

In the seventh century a magnificent church rose over their tomb, whose walls itself served as reliquaries. This holy cemetery has been rendered illustrious by many miracles. Pilgrims and especially young girls have come from all over Europe, to beg protection for their virginity from Saint Ursula and her companions. The very arrow which pierced Saint Ursula is still conserved there. A religious, who had great devotion to these martyrs, had fallen dangerously ill; a virgin appeared to him and said: I am one of the virgins whom you honor. To reward you for the eleven thousand Our Father’s you recited to honor us, you will have our assistance at the hour of death. And soon the glorious troop came to escort his soul. Saint Ursula is the patron of young teachers, and many congregations of nuns, dedicated to education, bear her name.

Reflection: In the estimation of the wise man, to teach the safeguard of virtue is the most important part of the education of youth: My son, conserve thy soul in meekness, and render to it the honor it deserves… Who will honor the one who dishonors it? The poor man finds his glory in his instruction and in his fear of God. (Eccl. 10:31-33)

Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).

Saint Peter of Alcantara

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Saint Peter of Alcantara

Franciscan Priest, Reformer
(1499-1562)

Saint Peter was born in 1499 near the Portuguese border of Spain. While still a youth of sixteen, he left his home at Alcantara and entered a convent of Discalced Franciscans near Valencia. He rose quickly to high posts in the Order, as a guardian, a definitor, and then Superior of the Province of Saint Gabriel. But his thirst for penance was still unappeased, and in 1539, being then forty years old, he founded the Congregation of Saint Joseph of the Strict Observance, to conserve the letter of the Rule of Saint Francis. He suffered great tribulations to conserve that Rule in its integrity. Eventually Saint Peter himself, the year before his death, raised it to the status of a province under obedience to the Minister General of the entire Seraphic Order. The Reform he instituted has since been extended even to the farthest Orient and the Indies; it is believed God ordained that it repair the ravages to the faith of the sixteenth century.

The modesty of Saint Peter remains proverbial in the Franciscan Order; never did he raise his eyes to look at the non-essentials of his interior life with God. His fast was constant and severe; he lived perpetually on bread and water alone, even during his illnesses. He devised a sort of harness to keep him upright on his seat during the short hour and a half of sleep which he took every day, for forty years. He acknowledged to Saint Teresa of Avila that this mortification was the one which cost him the most. The cells of the friars of Saint Joseph resembled graves rather than dwelling-places. That of Saint Peter himself was four and a half feet in length, so that he could never lie down; his sackcloth habit and a cloak were his only garments; he never covered his head or feet. In the bitter winter he would open the door and window of his cell in order that, by closing them again, he might be grateful for the shelter of his cell. Among those whom he guided to perfection we may name Saint Teresa, who fully appreciated this remarkable director. He read her soul, approved her spirit of prayer, and strengthened her to carry out her reforms.

Everywhere he could do so, he planted crosses, for the Passion of Our Lord was engraved in his heart. Wherever they were to be placed, even on mountains, and however heavy they might be, he went to the destined sites carrying them on his shoulders. From these heights he would then preach the mysteries of the Cross, afterwards remaining in prayer there. Shepherds saw him several times in the air, at the height of the highest trees of the forests. Never did he go anywhere except on foot, even in his old age. He was often seen prostrated before a large crucifix, shedding torrents of tears; and he was found in ecstasy once at the height of the traverse of a crucifix. Saint Peter died at the age of sixty-three, repeating with the Psalmist, I rejoiced when it was said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord! The date was October 18, 1562; he was kneeling in prayer.

Reflection: If men do not go about barefoot now, nor undergo sharp penances as Saint Peter did, there remain many ways of trampling on the spirit of the world; and Our Lord teaches them, when He finds in souls the necessary courage.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 12; 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).

Saint John Cantius

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Saint John Cantius

Priest
(1403-1473)

Saint John was born at Kenty in Poland in 1403. He studied philosophy and theology at the University of Cracow with great intelligence, industry, and success, while his modesty and virtue drew all hearts to him. After earning his degrees, he was appointed to the Chair of Theology at the university. He inflamed his hearers with the desire of every kind of piety, no less by his deeds than by his words. He was ordained a priest and was for a short time in charge of a parish, where he manifested great concern for the poor, at his own expense. At the University’s request, he resumed the professor’s Chair and taught there until his holy death.

He found a poor man on the snow one day, dying of hunger and cold; he clothed him in his own frock and took him to the rectory, to eat at his table. Afterwards, for many years, every professor of the College of Varsovie was obliged, once every year, to invite a poor man to dine with him.

He made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, preaching along the way to the Turks, and hoping for the grace of martyrdom. He went four times to Rome to visit the tombs of the Apostles and pay honor to the Holy See, desiring thereby to be spared the pains of purgatory. He always traveled on foot, carrying his own effects. Robbed one day by bandits, he forgot he had a few gold pieces sewn into his cloak; he soon remembered and called them back to give them to his benefactors. They were so astonished they refused to accept the offering, and even returned to him what they had taken.

Saint John Cantius wrote on the walls of his residence some verses which showed the horror he had for the vice of backbiting or detraction, talking without cause of our neighbor’s faults. He slept very little and often spent entire nights praying before a crucifix. After his classes he went to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in a church. Before his death, he gave absolutely everything he still had to the poor. He died in 1473, at the age of seventy-six years. The purple robe which he had worn as a Doctor was religiously conserved and always given to the venerable Head of the School of Philosophy on the day of his reception; and a promise was required of the teachers there, to imitate the virtues of this beloved Saint. He is a patron of both Poland and Lithuania; Clement XIII canonized him in 1767.

Reflection: He who orders all his doings according to the Will of God may often be spoken of by the world as simple, even stupid; but in the end he wins the esteem and confidence even of the world itself.

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 12

Mater Admirabilis

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Mater Admirabilis

It was May 1989, thirteen years ago, and a small group of pilgrims stood at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in Rome. It was a hot afternoon, right after lunch, “siesta” time when no Roman with any sense would be found traipsing the streets sightseeing. Italians have the very Catholic custom of taking naps after the midday meal. One lady in our group was insisting that we climb that mountain of stairs to see the beautiful fresco of Mater Admirabilis which is housed at the top in the Trinita dei Monti, a convent of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. And so we climbed.

The image of Mater admirabilis is housed in a convent at the top of the Spanish Stairs in Rome
The little nun who ushered us in took us straight to the small convent chapel. My first impression was astonishment at the great number of beautiful ex voto silver hearts that lined the walls, almost one on top of another. (An ex voto is an offering made by a petitioner to fulfil a promise or as a token of gratitude for favors and miracles granted, another most excellent Catholic custom). Then my attention turned to an image of a serene and gracious young woman wearing a soft rose dress and ivory veil. She was seated on a simple wooden chair between a distaff and a lily in a vase placed on the floor. In her hand, folded in a meditative calm on her knee, she held a spinning spindle. At the side of her footstool rested a basket of books. Twelve gold stars elegantly encircled her slightly bowed head. I was taken aback. I had never seen a portrait of Our Lady like this, portrayed as “working” – spinning, and at the same time, in calm meditation.

Here before me was a model of Our Lady I had never considered before: Our Lady showing us the perfect balance of work and prayer, an archetype par excellence for young girls and women who live in the world, not in Carmelite convents. Our Lady spins – and prays. One is not neglected for the other. Her meditative spirit makes her work itself a prayer.

What also impresses the viewer is her great serenity. Her eyes are lowered, her soft lips are composed and set. Her gravity of bearing is the opposite of what the Revolution presents as an ideal for today’s modern woman, who is trained to celebrate spontaneity, action, and levity of spirit. Her gravity indicates a mentality and way of being habitually turned toward high thoughts. We can have the wrong idea of gravity as something oppressive or sad. True Catholic gravity, like the kind the Virgin Mary displays in this fresco, confers serenity. Such a person is not the prisoner of her moods, but her sensibilities are in perfect harmony with her will. She has an ordered way of being, thinking, and acting. If something unexpected happens, she already has all the interior resources ready to face it, analyze it, and act in face of it. She has a repose that is not nervous or anxious. Here, in this simple picture, one realizes that the Wise and Immaculate Heart of Mary is an abyss of serene gravity. Continue reading