Blessed Alvarez of Cordova

Blessed Alvarez is claimed by both Spain and Portugal. He received the habit in the convent of Saint Paul in Cordova in 1368, and had been preaching there for some time in Castile and Andalusia when Saint Vincent Ferrer began preaching in Catalonia. Having gone to Italy and the Holy Land on a pilgrimage, Alvarez returned to Castile and preached the crusade against the infidels. He was spiritual advisor to the queen-mother of Spain, Catherine daughter of John of Gaunt, and tutor to her son John II. Alvarez had the work of preparing the people spiritually for the desperate effort to banish the Moors from Spain. He also opposed the Avignon pope Peter de Luna.

Blessed Alvarez is probably best remembered as a builder of churches and convents, an activity which was symbolic of the work he did in the souls of those among whom he preached. He founded, in one place, a convent to shelter a famous image of Our Lady, which had been discovered in a miraculous manner. Near Cordova he built the famous convent of Scala Coeli, a haven of regular observance. It had great influence for many years. His building enterprises were often aided by the angels, who, during the night, carried wood and stones to spots convenient for the workmen.

The austerities of Alvarez were all the more remarkable in that they were not performed by a hermit, but by a man of action. He spent the night in prayer, as Saint Dominic had done; he wore a hairshirt and a penitential chain; and he begged alms in the streets of Cordova for the building of his churches, despite the fact that he had great favor at court and could have obtained all the money he needed from the queen. He had a deep devotion to the Passion, and had scenes of the Lord’s sufferings made into small oratories in the garden of Scala Coeli.

On one occasion, when there was no food for the community but one head of lettuce left from the night before, Blessed Alvarez called the community together in the refectory, said the customary prayers, and sent the porter to the gate. There the astonished brother found a stranger, leading a mule; the mule was loaded with bread, fish, wine, and all things needed for a good meal. The porter turned to thank the benefactor and found that he had disappeared.

At another time, Blessed Alvarez was overcome with pity at a dying man who lay untended in the street. Wrapping the man in his mantle, he started home with the sufferer, and one of the brothers asked what he was carrying. “A poor sick man,” replied Alvarez. But when they opened the mantle, there was only a large crucifix in his arms. This crucifix is still preserved at Scala Coeli.

Blessed Alvarez died and was buried at Scala Coeli. An attempt was made later to remove the relics to Cordova, but it could not be done, because violent storms began each time the journey was resumed, and stopped when the body was returned to its original resting place.

Founded Escalaceli (Ladder of Heaven), a Dominican house of strict observance in the mountains around Cordova; it became a well known center of piety and learning. Alvarez spent his days there preaching, teaching, begging alms in the street, and spending his nights in prayer. In the gardens of the house he set up a series of oratories with images of the Holy Lands and Passion, similar to modern Stations of the Cross.

A bell in the chapel of Blessed Alvarez, in the convent of Cordova, rings of itself when anyone in the convent, or of special not in the order, is about to die (Benedictines, Dorcy).

There are many wonderful stories attached to Alvarez, which include:

Angels are reported to have helped built Escalaceli, moving stone and wooden building materials to the site during the night, placing them where workmen could easily get them during the day.
Once when the entire food stocks for the house consisted of a single head of lettuce, he gathered all the brothers at table, gave thanks for the meal, and sent the porter to the door; the porter found a stranger leading a mule loaded with food. After unloading the mule, the stranger and the animal disappeared.
Alvarez once found a beggar dying alone in the street. He wrapped the poor man in his own cloak, and carried him back to Escalaceli. When he arrived at the house and unwrapped the cloak, instead of man, he found a crucifix. It still hangs in Escalaceli.
A bell in the chapel with Alvarez’s relics rings by itself just before the death of anyone in the house.
Attempts were made to move Alvarez’s relics to Cordova, but each try led to violent storms that kept the travelers bottled up until they gave up their task, leave the bones where they are.

Born: Born about the middle of the 14th century in Cordova, Spain

Died: 1420

Beatified: Cultus confirmed September 22 by Benedict XIV in 1741

 

 

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Blessings and Woes ~ The Rt. Rev. Jay VanLieshout, OPI

Blessings and Woes

Luke 6:17-26

Like St. Matthew’s Sermon on the mount, St. Luke’s Sermon on the plain also tells of Jesus teaching His disciples an unexpected litany of who is blessed (the Beatitudes); though unlike St. Matthew’s version, St. Luke includes a list of 4 woes (vaes).  It is, therefore, understandable that more people gravitate towards St. Matthew’s rendition, after all, the beatitudes make us feel good about ourselves while the woes, not so much.  Of course Jesus’ teachings often juxtaposed the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the expected with the unexpected, God’s kingdom with the world, and these lessons were as challenging for the disciples then as they are for us today.

I often think about what Jesus’ message was to the disciples and those people who gathered about when He spoke of those who were blessed as well as those who inspired His woes.  Through the millenia , the church’s interpretation, and indeed general consensus on the meaning of being “blessed” is one of happiness and contentment; we use the term blessings to refer to those worldly situations and possessions which are thought to bring about the state of happiness.  Yet, as Jesus spoke to the diverse crowds of rich and poor, healthy and sick, popular and pariah, content and wanting, it seems that happiness would not have been such a universal truth.  In fact, to those who were poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded, insulted and denounced, it is doubtful they would describe their plight as being a state of happiness.  And to the rich, satisfied, cheerful, loved and accepted, praised and exalted, surely they would not  described their lives as woeful.  But the scripture is clear, the former are described as “blessed “and woe is given to the latter.

In this light to be “blessed” must imply something deeper, more spiritual, more meaningful then worldly happiness.  Clearly, the blessings that the Creator has laid upon those who are the world’s most afflicted do not involve the worldly ideals of riches and contentment but, instead, some state of being in an enviable relationship with God.  I liken this state to the relationship of a gravely ill child with their parent.  Though parents may equally and unconditionally love all their children, for those who bear illnesses or challenges beyond that of normal childhood, there is a special parent-child bond, a special celebration of existence which transcends the child’s corporal affliction.  To be blessed by God then, is to be part of this unique Creator-creation bond, a bond of unconditional love that is envied by all others.  When we are weighed down by our own plight, when the world seeks to subjugate us for our differences and humanity has abandoned us as unworthy of existence casting our frail bodies out into the dust of the streets, it is there that find ourselves in the arms of our Creator.  In the depths of human need and frailty, it is our heavenly Father who loves and provides for us and the Holy Spirit who fills our breasts with life, hope, strength and perseverance.  We are cleansed with holy tears shed by the Redeemer, our transgressions are washed away by the blood of God’s lamb and our inequities are erased by the most loving and gracious of sacrifices.  It is there in the Earth’s dust from which we were fashioned that we open our eyes to see the one who created us, the smiling face of our heavenly parent who sees through the veil of our imperfect physical shell seeing only the magnificence that is His creation.

It is no wonder Jesus said woe to those who have found happiness in worldly riches and power.  How He must have grieved to see those given so much by the world, always striving with each step to reach the apex of their ivory towers –steep rocky steps built on pride, greed, desire for power and concern for wordly acceptance.  Alas, if only they could find the humility to reach down and lift up those who lay in the dust, or break bread with those who had none or share a kind word and moment of recognition with the ostracized, then they might understand what it truly means to be “blessed”.

How can we receive God’s love and be so “blessed”?  Does our heavenly Father wish us to become like the poor, hungry, weeping, hated and excluded, insulted and denounced before we might receive His love?  Of course not!  Like any parent, our Father does not wish that we His children should suffer such a plight, but He does wish us to humble ourselves and reach out to those who are ignoble; to reach out to them, touch them, hold them, lift them up and so stand together as brothers and sisters.

There is a little story which I have stumbled upon that goes:

The old Rabbi said, “In olden days there were men who saw the face of God.”
“Why don’t they any more?” a young student asked.
“Because, nowadays no one stoops so low,” he replied.

Oh How true!  Remember Moses went up the mountain, only to be  near God when he knelt down in front of a burning bush and the disciples only began to see the true light of Jesus when they looked down as He washed their feet!  So we too must stoop down low, lower than those we once called our servants, and be servants to them, washing their feet, caring for their needs above our own, healing their wounds and comforting their souls.  For when we lower ourselves so that we might raise up others, it is then that we allow the blessings of God to flow through us and into others and in so doing we too become “blessed”.

Blessed Reginald of Orleans

In calling the subject of this sketch Reginald of Saint Gilles, as he himself admits, Father Touron only follows the custom of his day, which was established by Anthony of Sienna, a native of Guimaraens, Portugal, Anthony stated in his Chronicles that Reginald was born at Saint Gilles, a small town in the Department of Gard, southern France. Most later writers think this honor more probably belongs to Orleans, and therefore give our blessed the name of Reginald of Orleans. In so designating him, we follow these authors rather than Touron, who also says that some are of the opinion that the early Friar Preacher first saw the light of day at Orleans. Mortier (I, 96) gives the year 1183 as the date of his birth.(1)

Few of the early members of the Order are mentioned so often, or in terms of such high praise, as Blessed Reginald. No doubt the historians take their cue from Blessed Jordan of Saxony, who knew him personally. Albeit, it is certain that he was one of the most distinguished among Saint Dominic’s first disciples. He sanctified his great learning and rare talent by prayer and an insatiable zeal for the salvation of his fellowman. Renowned canonist and forceful, eloquent preacher though he was, he gloried only in being an ambassador of Christ and a harvester of souls. Doubtless these qualities helped to bring Reginald and Dominic together so quickly and to unite them so closely.

Our future Friar Preacher was sent to the University of Paris in early manhood, where he not only met with signal success in his studies, but also (in 1206) obtained the doctor’s degree with applause. Then he taught canon law for some five years in his alma mater, being considered one of the bright lights of the institution. The high esteem which all showed him did not cause him to be any the less a man of God. His great devotion to the Blessed Virgin stood him in good stead; for, we are told, it acted as a safeguard against the snares of pride, luxury, and ambition. He gave much time to meditation on things divine. One of his pronounced traits was love for the poor; another was humility. Whilst kind to others, he practised great austerity with himself. Thus we are not surprised to learn that his progress in virtue was as rapid as that which he made in knowledge; or that, when the post of dean for the canons at Saint Aignan’s, Orleans, became vacant, all eyes were turned towards the model professor as the best man for the place.

The canons elected Reginald their dean without delay. One of the things which specially recommended him for the position was the fact that he did not desire it. Just when he received this promotion we do not know. But (on page 82 of his Antiquities of the Church and Diocese of Orleans — Antiquities de 1’Eglise et Diocese d’Orleans) Francis Lemaire says that the subject of our sketch was dean of Saint Aignan’s in 1212. Here he found himself bound to the service of God and His altar by new bonds, which gave a fresh impulse to his zeal to walk in the path of justice and to carry on his good works.

History tells us that the life of our dean was most edifying. It was hidden, as the apostle expresses it, in that of Christ our Lord. His charity towards those in need was almost boundless. He showed himself a model in all things. Yet he felt that something more was demanded of him. He feared the malediction which our Lord placed on the rich, reflected on the number of those who die impenitent after lives spent in sin, or without a knowledge of God’s justice, and trembled lest he should be condemned for burying the talent given him. Without any suspicion of the designs of heaven on him, the holy man longed to dispose of all he possessed and to go about the world poor and preaching Christ crucified. This he believed was his vocation; and he doubled his prayers and penances that he might learn the divine will.

At this juncture, providence came to Reginald’s assistance. The Right Rev. Manasses de Seignelay, bishop of Orleans, determined to visit Rome and the Holy Land. As the prelate was a close friend of the young dean, and enjoyed his enlightened conversation, he requested Reginald to accompany him on this journey. The subject of our sketch readily accepted the invitation, for it would give him an opportunity of satisfying his devotion at the places rendered sacred by the tread of our Lord and the blood of His martyrs.

The two travelers arrived in the Eternal City shortly before Easter, or in April, 1218. In a conversation with Cardinal Ugolino di Segni Reginald spoke of his ardent desire to imitate the apostles, and to go from place to place as a poor ambassador of Christ preaching the Gospel. As yet, however, he did not know how he was to put his wish into execution. His eminence (later Gregory IX) then proceeded to tell the pious dean that the way was already open to him; that a new religious order had just been instituted for that very purpose; and that its founder, who was renowned for his miracles, was actually in Rome, where he preached every day with marvelous effect. Filled with joy at the prospect of realizing his design in the near future, Reginald made haste to meet the harvester of souls, of whom he had been told. Charmed with Dominic’s personality and sermons, he determined to become one of his disciples without delay.

Indeed, the attraction between the two holy men was mutual. Meantime, however, Reginald became so ill that the physicians despaired of his life. In this extremity Dominic had recourse to his usual remedy, prayer; and in a few days his new friend was again in perfect health. In their piety both attributed the miraculous cure to the intercession of the Mother of God. Jordan of Saxony assures us that the Blessed Virgin appeared to Reginald in his sickness, told him to enter the new Order, and showed him the distinctive habit which the Friars Preacher should wear. Until this time they had dressed like the Canons Regular of Osma, of whom Dominic had been a member. Practically all the historians tell us that, in consequence of Reginald’s vision, the saint now adopted the garb which his followers have worn ever since, and that the former dean of Saint Aignan’s was the first to receive it from his hands.

Reginald was clothed in the religious habit immediately after the recovery of his health. At the same time, or very shortly afterwards, he made his profession to Dominic. However, this new allegiance did not prevent his journey to the Holy Land; for the saint permitted him to continue his way with Bishop de Seignelay. On his return to Italy from Jerusalem, perhaps in the middle fall of 1218, Dominic, who was still at Rome, sent the former dean to Bologna, which he reached in December. The high opinion which the patriarch had conceived of Reginald is shown by the fact that he appointed him his vicar (some say prior) over the incipient convent in that university city.

More than one thing evidently contributed to this immediate promotion to leadership. The house in Bologna had been started in the spring of the same year. While the first fathers stationed there were very cordially received, and were given Santa Maria della. Mascarella for a convent by Bishop Henry di Fratta, they found it hard to make the rapid headway which both they and Dominic evidently desired to see in the noted educational center. Reginald’s reputation, ability, eloquence, and experience at the University of Paris, it was felt, would combine with his rare virtue to bring about this desideratum. Nor were these expectations disappointed.

Hardly, indeed, had the former dean of Saint Aignan’s arrived at his destination, before the entire city was flocking to hear him preach. The effect of his sermons was marvellous. Hardened sinners gave up their evil ways; inveterate enemies buried their differences of long standing; the religion and moral tone of the people changed notably for the better. None seemed able to resist the attraction of the orator’s personality, or the persuasion of his burning eloquence. All felt that a new Elias had come among them. He held the place, as it were, in the palm of his hand. No one could doubt but that he had found his vocation.

Reginald drew the clergy as well as the laity; those of the university, whether professors or students, as well as the citizens. His example quickened the zeal of his confrères, for he preached every day-sometimes twice or even thrice. Vocations to the Order were so frequent that, within a few weeks, Santa Maria della Mascarella was overcrowded. They came from every walk in life. The university contributed a large number of both students and masters, some of whom were among the brightest lights of the institution with worldwide fame.

Bishop di Fratta and the papal legate, Cardinal Ugolino di Segni, were so pleased with the good effected by Reginald and his Friars Preacher that they gave him the Church of Saint Nicholas of the Vines, in order to enable him to receive more subjects. This was in the spring of 1219. Here a much larger convent was built at once. Rudolph of Faenza, the zealous pastor of Saint Nicholas, not content with surrendering his church to the Order, also received the habit from our blessed Reginald that he might join in the harvest of souls. He helped to erect the Convent of Saint Nicholas, now known as Saint Dominic’s, to which the community was transferred as soon as ready for occupation.

In his government of the large Bolognese community Blessed Reginald combined great charity and gentleness with a wise strictness. He did not suffer even slight transgressions to go uncorrected. Yet he was so skillful in his management of men and in his administration of punishment that his confrères, for they knew he ever acted for their good, held him in even greater affection than those not of the Order. All regarded him as a true man of God seeking to lead them to heaven. His every word, his very silence, bespoke virtue. With profound humility and a rare spirit of recollection he joined an extreme personal austerity.

The days the holy man spent in preaching to the people and spiritual conferences to his religious. The nights he gave largely to prayer. God blessed his efforts. Scarcely nine months had he been superior. Within that brief time Saint Nicholas’ had become not merely a large community; it was a famed sanctuary of prayer, the zeal of whose members recalled that of the apostles. Far and wide they bore the message of salvation with wonderful effect.

Such was the status, in point of size, discipline, and labors, in which Saint Dominic found the Bolognese institution on his arrival in the city, after his return from Spain, via Prouille, Toulouse, and Paris. This was late in the summer of 1219. The patriarch’s heart rejoiced at the sight of what had been accomplished. At Paris, owing to a strong opposition, the crooked paths had not yet been straightened, nor the rough ways made smooth. If, thought Dominic, Reginald had done so well in Bologna, why would he not be invaluable to Matthew of France in ironing out the difficulties at Paris. Besides, the saint had determined to make the Italian city the center of his own spiritual activities. So off to the French capital the subject of this sketch now went. His departure was keenly regretted by the community which he had governed so happily. But the voice of God spoke through the Order’s founder, and all bowed in humble submission. To Reginald’s brief sojourn in those far-flung days is due, in no small measure, the bond of regard that has ever since existed between the citizens of Bologna and the Friars Preacher.

Reginald’s arrival in Paris was a source of great joy to his confrères there — especially to the superior, Matthew of France. The newcomer bad been one of the university’s most beloved professors, and had had the only Friar-Preacher abbot as a pupil. Much was expected of his virtue, personality, and eloquence. Unfortunately, these hopes were realized only in part. As he had done in Bologna, so in Paris he began to preach incessantly. Together with this apostolate, he taught at the Convent of Saint James, whilst he relaxed not in the least his penances, or his nightly vigils.

Zeal for the salvation of souls, all the writers assure us, simply consumed the holy man. Enormous numbers flocked to his sermons. Vocations to the Order increased. Many came from among the students at the university. But such labors and mortification were too much for his strength. His health began to fail, and kindly Matthew of France ventured to warn him that he should be more moderate. Yet, as no positive order was given, the relaxation was not sufficient. http://www.willingshepherds.org/Dominican Saint February.html – 8 Possibly Matthew afterwards intervened more sternly. However, it was too late. The fire of life had burned out, and Reginald surrendered his pure soul to God in the first days of February, 1220. In his death the Friars Preacher nearly everywhere mourned the loss of one whom they considered, next to its founder, the strongest support of their new Order.

Had he lived, Reginald would most likely have succeeded Saint Dominic as Master General. In the language of Jordan of Saxony, Reginald lived a long life in the span of a few years. He spent less than two years in the Order; yet he left a memory that still seems fresh after a lapse of more than seven centuries. One of the things which continued to be denied the fathers by the ecclesiastical circles of Paris, at the time of his death, was the right of burial for the community in their Church of Saint James. Accordingly, his remains were laid to rest in that of Our Lady of the Fields (Notre Dame des Champs). The faithful soon began to visit and pray at his grave. Several miracles were reported. When, between 1605 and 1608, his body was taken up to be placed in a shrine, it was found to be incorrupt. This served to increase the devotion towards the man of God.

A few years later (1614), Our Lady of the Fields became the property of the Carmelite Sisters. Thus the tomb of Saint Dominic’s early disciple, because in their cloistered church, ceased to be visited by the people at large, who had been accustomed to seek his intercession for nearly four hundred years. The holy sisters, however, held him in the deepest veneration, and poured out their hearts in prayer before his sacred remains. In 1645, they had Father John Francis Senault, general of the Oratorians, write his life. His relics remained in this secluded place, ever an object of devotion for Christ’s cloistered spouses, until they were desecrated and destroyed by the villains of the terrible French Revolution.

Fortunately, as is proved in the process of his beatification, devotion to Reginald had become too deeply rooted to be annihilated by even such a catastrophe. This was particularly the case in the Order of Preachers, whose members had ever cherished an undying affection and veneration for him. In 1875, Pius IX, after a thorough examination of the matter by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, approved his cult, and granted the divine office and mass of Reginald to the Friars Preacher and the dioceses of Paris and Orleans. http://www.willingshepherds.org/Dominican Saint February.html – 9 February 12 was set aside as his feast, but in late years it has been transferred to the seventeenth day of the same month.

Born: at Saint-Gilles, Languedoc, France, c. 1183

Died: 1220

Canonized: Pius IX confirmed his cult in 1875.

Blessed Nicholas Palea

Born of a noble Neapolitan family, Nicholas was named for the great wonder-worker who had once lived in the kingdom. At 8 he was already practicing austerities. He would not eat meat, even on feast days, because he had been favored by a vision of a young man of great majesty who told him to prepare for a lifetime of mortifications in an order that kept perpetual abstinence.

Sent to Bologna for his studies, he met Saint Dominic and was won by him to the new order. He was the companion of Saint Dominic on several of the founder’s journeys to Italy, and warmed his heart at the very source of the new fire which was to mean resurrection to so many souls.

Saint Nicholas of Bari had been noted for his astounding miracles, and his young namesake began following in his footsteps while yet a novice. When on a journey with several companions, he met a woman with a withered arm. Making the Sign of the Cross over her, he cured her of the affliction.

At one time, as he entered his native Bari, he found a woman weeping beside the body of her child, who had been drowned in a well. He asked the woman the name of the child, and being told it was Andrew, he replied, “After this, it’s Nicholas. Nicholas, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, arise!” The little one revived, alive and well. The child of his sister Colette, mute from birth, brought her famous uncle a basket of bread. “Who sent the bread, child?” Nicholas asked her. “My mother,” she replied, and from then on she was cured.

As provincial of the Roman province, Nicholas was wise, prudent, and kind. He established priories in Perugia in 1233 and Trani in 1254. He received many novices and did much of his work among the young religious. Once he was called to the assistance of a novice who had been deceived by the devil and would not go to confession. He showed the young man the true state of his soul and undid the work of the evil one.

Nicholas earned great fame as a preacher. On one occasion, when he was preaching in the cathedral of Brescia, two irreverent young men began disturbing the congregation and soon made such a commotion that Nicholas could not make himself heard. Nicholas left the cathedral to a neighboring hill and there called to the birds to come to listen to him. Like the birds in the similar story of Saint Francis, flocks of feathered creatures fluttered down at his feet and listened attentively while he preached. At the end of the sermon they flew away singing.

After a lifetime of preaching and miracles, Nicholas, forewarned of is death by a visit from a brother who had been dead many years, went happily to receive the reward of the faithful. Miracles continued to occur at his tomb and through his intercession. Among these was the miracle by which life was given to a baby born dead. His parents had promised to name the baby Nicholas if the favor were granted, and to their great joy their child lived (Benedictines, Dorcy).

Born: Giovinazzo near Bari, Naples (year unknown)

Died: died in Perugia, Italy, in 1255

Beatified: Leo XII confirmed his cult in 1828

Representation: In art, Saint Nicholas is presented as a Dominican with a birch and a book (Roeder). He is venerated in Giovinazzo and Perugia, Italy (Roeder).

 

Saint Catherine of Ricci

Alexandrina dei Ricci was born of a patrician family, but Catharine Bonza died leaving her motherless in her infancy. She was trained in virtue by a very pious godmother. The little girl took Our Lady as her mother and had for her a tender devotion. The child held familiar conversations with her guardian angel, who taught her a special manner of saying the rosary and assisted her in the practice of virtue.

As soon as Alexandrina was old enough to go away from home (age 6 or 7), she was sent to the convent school of Monticelli, where her aunt, Louisa dei Ricci, was the abbess. Besides learning her lessons for which she was sent, the little girl developed a great devotion to the Passion. She prayed often before a certain picture of Our Lord, and at the foot of a crucifix, which is still treasured as “Alexandrina’s crucifix.” Returning from the monastery when her education was completed according to the norm for girls, she turned her attention to her vocation.

In her plans to enter a monastery of strict observance, she met with great opposition from her father Peter. She loved the community life that had allowed her to serve God without impediment or distraction. She continued her usual exercises at home as much as she was able, but the interruptions and dissipations that were inseparable from her station, made her uneasy.

Finally, Peter allowed her to visit St. Vincent’s convent in Prato, Tuscany, which had been founded by nine Third Order Dominicans who were great admirers of Savonarola. Alexandrina begged to remain with them; however, her father took her away, promising to let her return. He did not keep his promise, and the girl fell so ill that everyone despaired of her life. Frightened into agreement, her father gave his consent; Alexandrina, soon recovering, entered the convent of Saint Vincent.

In May 1535, Alexandrina received the habit from her uncle, Fr. Timothy dei Ricci, who was confessor to the convent. She was given the name Catherine in religion, and she very happily set about imitating her beloved patron. Lost in celestial visions, she was quite unaware that the sisters had begun to wonder about her qualifications for the religious life: for in her ecstasies she seemed merely sleepy, and at times extremely stupid. Some thought her insane. Her companions did not suspect her of ecstasy when she dozed at community exercises, spilled food, or broke dishes.

Neither did it occur to Sister Catherine that other people were not, like herself, rapt in ecstasy. She was about to be dismissed from the community when she became aware of the heavenly favors she had received. From then on there was no question of dismissing the young novice, but fresh trials moved in upon her in the form of agonizing pain from a complication of diseases that remedies seemed only to aggravate. She endured her sufferings patiently by constantly meditating on the passion of Christ, until she was suddenly healed. After her recovery, she was left in frail health.

Like Saint John of Egypt and Saint Antony, Catherine met Philip Neri in a vision while he was still alive and in Rome. They had corresponded for a long time and wanted to meet each other but were unable to arrange it. Catherine appeared to Philip in a vision and they conversed for a long time. Saint Philip, who was also cautious in giving credence to or publishing visions, confirmed this. This blessed ability to bilocate, like Padre Pio, was confirmed by the oaths of five witnesses. Also like those desert fathers, Antony and John, she fasted two or three times weekly on only bread and water, and sometimes passed an entire day without taking any nourishment.

Like Saint Catherine of Siena, she is said to have received a ring from the Lord as a sign of her espousal to him–a mysterious ring made of gold set with a diamond, invisible to all except the mystic. Others saw only a red lozenge and a circlet around her finder.

Sister Catherine was 20 when she began a 12-year cycle of weekly ecstasies of the Passion from noon each Thursday until 4:00 p.m. each Friday. The first time, during Lent 1542, she meditated so heart-rendingly on the crucifixion of Jesus that she became seriously ill, until a vision of the Risen Lord talking with Mary Magdalene restored her to health on Holy Saturday.

She received the sacred stigmata, which remained with her always. In addition to the five wounds, she received, in the course of her Thursday-Friday ecstasies, many of the other wounds which our Lord suffered. Watching her face and body, the sisters could follow the course of the Passion, as she was mystically scourged and crowned with thorns. When the ecstasy was finished, she would be covered with wounds and her shoulder remained deeply indented where the Cross had been laid.

Soon all Italy was attentive and crowds came to see her. Skeptics and the indifferent, sinners and unbelievers, were transformed at the sight of her. Soon there was no day nor hour at which people did not come, people in need and in sin, people full of doubt and tribulation, who sought her help, and, of course, the merely curious. Because of the publicity that these favors attracted, she and her entire community asked our Lord to make the wounds less visible, and He did in 1554.

Her patience and healing impressed her sisters. While still very young, Catherine was chosen to serve the community as novice- mistress, then sub-prioress, and, at age 30, she was appointed prioress in perpetuity, despite her intense mystical life of prayer and penance. She managed the material details of running a large household well, and became known as a kind and considerate superior. Catherine was particularly gentle with the sick. Troubled people, both within the convent and in the town, came to her for advice and prayer, and her participation in the Passion exerted a great influence for good among all who saw it. Three future popes (Cardinals Cervini later known as Pope Marcellus II, Alexander de Medici (Pope Leo XI), and Aldobrandini (Pope Clement VIII)) were among the thousands who flocked to the convent to beseech her intercession.

Of the cloister that Catherine directed, a widow who had entered it observed: “If the world only knew how blessed is life in this cloister, the doors would not suffice and the thronging people would clamber in over all the walls.”

A contemporary painting of Catherine attributed to Nardini (at the Pinacoteca of Montepulciano) shows a not unattractive, though relatively plain woman. Her eyes protrude a bit too much and her nose is too flared to account her a classic beauty, but she possessed high cheekbones, dark hair, widely spaced eyes, and full lips. Her mein is that of a sensitive woman who has experience pain and now has compassion.

Catherine’s influence was not confined within the walls of her convent. She was greatly preoccupied by the need for reform in the Church, as is apparent from her letters, many of them addressed to highly-placed persons. This accounts, too, for her reverence for the memory of Savonarola, who had defied the evil-living Pope Alexander VI and been hanged in Florence in 1498. Saint Catherine was in touch with such contemporary, highly-orthodox reformers as Saint Charles Borromeo and Saint Pius V.

After Catherine’s long and painful death in 1589, many miracles were performed at her tomb. Her cultus soon spread from Prato throughout the whole of Italy and thence to the whole world. The future Pope Benedict XIV, the “devil’s advocate” in Catherine’s cause for canonization, critically examined all relevant claims. As in the case of her younger contemporary, Saint Mary Magdalene de’Pazzi, canonization was not granted because of the extraordinary phenomenon surrounding her life, but for heroic virtue and complete union with Christ (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Dorcy, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth, Schamoni, Walsh).

Born: April 23rd 1522 at Florence, Italy

Died: February 2, 1590 at Prato, Italy

Beatified: November 23, 1732 by Pope Clement XII

Canonized: June 29, 1746 by Pope Benedict XIV

Patronage: bodily ills; illness; sick people; sickness

Let Down Your Net Into the Water ~ The Rev. Dcn. Scott Brown, OPI

Gospel      LK 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

 

As Christians we face many challenges in these uncertain times. We want to enjoy life, we want to do things that provide us pleasure and act as if we answer to no one. Unless we are spiritually dead we also experience that vague feeling that we should be doing something that makes a difference in the world, something that lightens someone else’s burden or somehow indicates that we are Christians and care about our fellow man.  Our drive to enjoy life and our drive to help our fellow man come together and challenge us to think about what is important to us. On the surface Luke’s story is about fishing, but I believe it is telling us to move out of our comfort zone and sail into uncharted waters for the sake of Christ and his Kingdom. Jesus instructed the fishermen to take their boats to deeper water and cast their nets out for a catch. These fishermen have been fishing all night with nothing to show for their effort, they were tired, and the last thing they needed was fishing advice from a carpenter. These times were much simpler than today, no fish meant no food to these people. They obeyed Jesus and were pleasantly surprised to catch so many fish that their nets were starting to tear. We assume they were greatly pleased.

You may think of this as one of Jesus’s miracles, but in reality, this is more of a physical lesson than a miracle. The lesson I believe he wished to teach us is that we need to leave our comfort zone (the shallow waters) and venture out into the deeper waters to bring people to Jesus. We like to fish in the shallow familiar waters, seeking like minded people, people who have similar experiences, and share our thoughts and feelings. Jesus wants us to venture into the deeper waters and minister to the people who are on the edge of society, those who are under water and feel as if they are drowning in life. As the song “Let Down Your Net, Down into The Water” says:

Verse: 1
There is some of you diseased and afflicted
and sickness reigns in your mind,
you’ve let the prophets of doubt and unbelief convince you
that Jesus don’t heal the sick and blind. 

Jesus does heal the sick and the blind, we just need to find them, take their hands and lead them to the Lord. Where do we find the sick and the blind? Look around you while swimming in the deeper water. You can most likely find them already in your everyday life, at work, at school, or even in your church. Yes some people are just going through the motions, and hoping they are doing it correctly by attending church. Take their hands, answer their questions, listen to their concerns and lead them to our Lord.

Verse: 2
Your soul is so thirsty, your so battle weary
your body’s weak and tired from the pain,
well it’s time to get up stand up on the bible
he’s pouring out that latter rain. 

Come to the lord and be refreshed, be rejuvenated, and be replenished. The Lord will fill your soul with joy and peace, quench that thirst and take away your pain once and for all.

Don’t worry about the water being too deep, Jesus is your lifesaver!

Lord, in your mercy guide us to the deeper water so that we, with your guidance, may bring others to know your love and peace. Allow us to make ourselves available to you so that you can work miracles through us. Help us to make your church flourish by making us into a lighthouse in our community, guiding others to you. Amen

Blessed Bernard Sammacca

Born in Catania, Sicily; died 1486; cultus approved 1825. Born of wealthy and pious parents, Bernard was given a good education. In spite of this good training, he spent a careless youth. Only after he was badly injured in a duel was he brought back to his senses. His long convalescence gave him plenty of time to think, and once he was able to go out of the house, he went to the Dominican convent of Catania and begged to be admitted to the order.

Bernard, as a religious, was the exact opposite of what he had been as a young man. Now he made no effort to obtain the things he had valued all his life, but spent his time in prayer, solitude, and continual penance. There is little recorded of his life, except that he kept the rule meticulously, and that he was particularly kind to sinners in the confessional. Apparently, he did not attain fame as a preacher, but was content to spend his time in the work of the confessional and the private direction of souls.

One legend pictures Bernard as having great power over birds and animals. When he walked outside in the gardens, praying, the birds would flutter down around him, singing; but as soon as he went into ecstasy, they kept still, for fear they would disturb him. Once, the porter was sent to Bernard’s room to call him, and saw a bright light shining under the door. Peeking through the keyhole, he saw a beautiful child shining with light and holding a book, from which Bernard was reading. He hurried to get the prior to see the marvel.

Bernard had the gift of prophecy, which he used on several occasions to try warning people to amend their lives. He prophesied his own death. Fifteen years after his death, he appeared to the prior, telling his to transfer his remains to the Rosary chapel. During this translation, a man was cured of paralysis by touching the relics (Benedictines, Dorcy).

Born: Catania, Sicily (year unknown)

Died: 1486

Canonized: Leo XII confirmed cultus in 1825