“There was a tiny whispering sound.”
“I will hear what God Proclaims; the Lord – for he proclaims peace.”
“…and from them, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”
“…my soul waits for his word. Alleluia, alleluia.”
“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
These snippets from today’s readings speak to me. Do they speak to you?
And a calm descended…that is what I feel as I hear these words spoken in today’s Mass. A calm that passeth all understanding.
Well, that is fine for all of the readings but the Gospel. There, we are told of a storm, a near drowning, a helping hand at the last moment. None of us who have been in a life-threatening situation feels calm afterwards. The adrenaline rush takes over and we are at the height of our senses. Life-threatening events evoke strong and heavy winds crushing rocks, and earthquakes, and fire.
But Jesus lays his hand on us and all is calm. Is that the tiny whispering sound?
This week, as I am wont to do, I pondered my role as a Dominican. “The Order of Preachers.” First, “Order” and second, “Preachers.” In my mind, that used to mean getting up on a soap box and spouting off to all who would listen. Winning souls to Christ.
But in Jesus’s teachings, do we ever find the concept of a battle to make others believe…or to help them believe? Don’t we just find Jesus speaking from the heart to our hearts?
“O, you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
An exhortation to arms? A call to battle? No, simply a question: can’t you already see that God is at hand? Right here, right now?
Of course, when we are in a calm place, a quiet retreat, we can hear the tiny voice. We can imagine and experience the calm. But what about when we are actually in the maelstrom? How easy it is to focus on that, on the danger, on the problems. We make plans, build barriers, put on the armor we need to fight the battle.
But then, as is also common with me…and maybe you…here comes St. Paul speaking to the Romans, and to me:
“…my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness that I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart.”
So how did the prophet, experiencing hunger, chains, prison, beatings, how did he keep hold of that tiny voice? Perhaps it was his direct experience with the Risen Christ. Surely it was his deep understanding of and attachment to the message of Jesus. Whatever it was, that tiny voice was all he needed to get him through his many trials.
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
So back to my “order” and “preacher” idea: There is nothing stern, no fire and brimstone, no mountains rending nor earth erupting. There is the simple message of Jesus inviting us to listen to the tiny voice that he says is already at work in us.
And although it is wrongly attributed to St. Francis, I still like the admonition: “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.” Which is to say, how I live my life is as much an act of preaching the Gospel as going from village to village proclaiming the Good News.
But it is not only to our role as Preachers that these readings speak. They also tell us that within ourselves, when we are in distress for whatever reason, there is comfort in knowing that the peace we seek is already within us, if only we could put aside the anxiety for a while and listen. And even if we begin to sink into the depths of despair, Jesus is there with his hand to hold us up, just as he held up St. Peter on the stormy waters.
Lord, open our ears that we may hear you calling to us. Help us to listen to your tiny voice amidst the noise and clamor of this world. Let us take comfort in receiving your benefits that are ours for the taking. In Jesus name, Amen.
In the Name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Scriptures, the word Hope is used over 200 times. But hope in the Bible is not the same as the word “hope” in our modern English dictionary. We use the word “hope” to describe our wants, desires and dreams. We hope that it will rain… We hope that the weather cools off soon… We hope this soon to be Deacon isn’t longwinded today! But as Christians we have another kind of hope. In fact, we have a better kind of hope. The hope that I speak of is not wishful thinking, rather it is a firm assurance of things to come. Hope is faith in the future tense. When faith looks to the future, it’s called hope.
The reason that we can have full assurance of what is to come, is because of the source of our hope. Our hope comes from the Lord. God alone has the right to promise hope and the power to keep the promise. I would like to take some time today and examine the hope that we possess in Christ and preach on “Hopes of the Christian.”
There are many things that we can have full assurance thanks to our relationship with Christ. I would like to start in verse 1 and see that as Christians:
- WE HAVE THE HOPE OF A REFUGE – v1
A refuge is a place of shelter, a place of protection, a place that we can run when the storms of life begin to rage. This was exactly what the Lord’s disciples needed at this very moment in their lives. In the previous chapter, Jesus told them that He would soon die. They also learned that one of them (Judas) would betray Christ. Peter was told that he would deny Jesus 3 times before the rooster crowed. Their lives had just taken a devastating turn and their hearts were greatly troubled.
Jesus knew how devastated they were and He was concerned about their “troubled hearts”. He said, “Let not your heart be troubled: believe in God, believe also in me”. He spoke words of comfort to them and He encouraged them to trust in Him.
In this life, we will face times of great trouble. Problems will come and as a result we will possess “troubled hearts”. Maybe you are at that point as we speak. I want to remind you of the hope you possess as a child of God. You have a refuge… When trouble comes…TURN TO JESUS!
Jesus made it clear that His followers would face trouble. But HE also reminds us that HE has the power over any circumstance that we face. John 16:33 “In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world”. If you heart is troubled today… you have a refuge and His name is Jesus!
Not only do we have the hope of a refuge… Jesus tells us in verse 2 that:
- WE HAVE THE HOPE OF A RESIDENCE – v2 “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you.”
Though the Disciples were facing the toughest time of their lives, Jesus promised them of a better day and a better place. As His followers, we can cling to that same promise today. We are given a glimpse into that residence in Revelation 21. There we are told of Golden streets, Jasper walls, Gates of pearl and a crystal river. The foundation of that city is made up of precious gemstones.
The beauty of our Heavenly Home is literally indescribable. Our finite minds cannot comprehend the brief glimpse of this place provided in the scriptures. The indescribable beauty of Heaven is summed up in the story of A little girl who was taking an evening walk with her father. Wonderingly, she looked up at the stars and exclaimed; “Oh, Daddy, if the wrong side of heaven is so beautiful, what must the right side be!” (Source: Charles L. Allen in Home Fires.)
Dear brothers and sisters, you may live in a home that creaks and leaks, rust and rot may have taken its toll, but you can rest assured that there is a home waiting for you on the other side!
Some of you may never own a home of your own in this life, but if you have been born again, YOU HOLD A CLEAR TITLE TO A MANSION! No landlord will ever bother you for the rent. There will be no mortgage to pay and no one will ever foreclose on the home that is waiting for you. The Bible also tells us that we have the hope of rest in the residence that is waiting for us. Revelation 21:4 “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” What is not going to be in that land is just as exciting as what is going to be there!
I am looking forward to that wonderful residence that Jesus has waiting for us in Heaven. Jesus also tells us in verse 1 that:
III. WE HAVE THE HOPE OF REDEMPTION – v2 “I go to prepare a place for you.”
This is one of the most popular passages of scripture in the Bible, but it is also one of the most misunderstood. Jesus was not telling His followers that He was going to “build them a mansion”. He just asserted the fact that the mansions are already there. “In my Father’s house ARE many mansions” We are also told in scripture that when Jesus ascended, He SAT DOWN in His rightful place at the right hand of the Father. Hebrews 1:3 “When he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
When Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place” He was saying I am going to make a way for you. He was referencing the Cross. Our entrance into Heaven was secured by Christ on the Cross at Calvary. He was telling His disciples that HE was going to do what we could not do. Jesus went to Calvary, shed His blood and gave His life as a sacrifice for you and me. Because of His finished work there on the Cross we have the hope of redemption. Without redemption, we would not have hope of the residence or refuge that we have already considered.
– Also, seen in this verse is the fact that:
- WE HAVE THE HOPE OF A RELATIONSHIP – v3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again.”
This is a very personal promise. Jesus was saying “what I am about to do, I am doing for you”. What He did for Peter, James, John, Andrew, Matthew and the others… HE DID FOR YOU!
– Luke 19:10 Jesus said in Luke 19:10 that He came “to seek and to save that which was lost”.
– Romans 5:8 also tells us that “God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.
Because of Jesus’ work on the Cross we have the blessed privilege of having a personal relationship with Almighty God. And we don’t have to wait for Heaven for this to occur. You can have a personal relationship with Jesus HERE and NOW! Those that have this relationship will tell you that there is nothing any sweeter than communing with the Savior of the World!
– We are also promised that there is coming a day when Jesus will return for His own. This means that:
- WE HAVE THE HOPE OF A RETURN – v3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again.”
Jesus told His Disciples that though He may go away for a time, HE WILL COME AGAIN! Jesus has ascended…. He is in Heaven as we speak. But soon and very soon He will split the eastern sky and come for His Children. This is one of the most prominent promises in the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 4:16 “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”
As Christians, we are to be “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13)
Jesus is coming back, this is not wishful thinking on our part, this is our hope… this is a firm assurance of things to come. And when Jesus returns there will be a great reunion. Consider:
- WE HAVE THE HOPE OF A REUNION – v3 “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
There is going to be a reunion one day that is beyond anything we can imagine. All those heroes of the faith that we read about on the pages of God’s Word will be there. (Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Elijah, John, Peter, Paul etc.)
Some of you have parents waiting for you there. Others have spouses who have already gone on. Some have children in that wonderful land. We all have family and friends that have already stepped out into eternity. We are assured that we will see them again and we long for that blessed reunion.
We are all excited about the beauty of Heaven, we are all excited about the residents of Heaven and we look forward to seeing loved ones who have gone on. But greater than the reunion with our loved ones is the fact that one day we will stand face to face with our Heavenly Father. Revelation 22:3 “The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: 4 And they shall see his face.”
We will spend eternity in the presence of our Heavenly Father. On top of this fact, we are also longing for the day when our Savior wraps His arms around us and welcomes us to our eternal home. We will see our Savior face to face. We will see the scars on His brow, His hands and His feet. We will be reminded that He is the only reason that we made it to that place. On that day, we will shout for joy and we will humbly bow at His precious feet and we will worship Him for making a way for us to enter that promised land.
There is much hope for those who have been born again but for those who are lost, things are much different. Instead of hope, they are living in despair.
One of the most devastating things you will ever hear in this life is “there is no hope”. I am here to tell you, if you are not a child of God you have NO HOPE! You can claim none of the promises that we have examined today.
But I have good news, THERE IS HOPE FOR YOU, and that hope is only found in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! If you will surrender to Him and accept his offer of eternal life, then you too can have hope!
1) You can have the Hope of a Refuge
2) You can have the hope of a Residence
3) You can have the hope of Redemption
4) You can have the hope of a Return
5) You can have hope of a Reunion
These are just a few of the facts concerning “The Christian’s Hope”. I pray that you have that hope today. If not, pray now with me.
Oh Lord, for too long I have hoped for the wrong things in this life. I now put my hope fully in You. I hope for a refuge when life is rough, for redemption for all my sins, for your return that I may be taken with You, for a reunion with all those who I have loved and lost, and for a residence in Your Heavenly Kingdom. For all my sins Lord I am sorry. Forgive me Lord, forgive me. Create in me a clean heart oh Lord, and fill me with hope everlasting. Amen.
Last week, during the Mass of Easter Sunday, we learned that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb where Jesus was buried and found it empty. She went and told Simon Peter and John and returned with them to the tomb. After they left, she stayed behind weeping. She looked again into the tomb and saw two angels who asked her why she was weeping. “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they laid him. Then, seeing a person whom she thought was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
“Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher.
“Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” and what he told her.
What was their reaction?
They went into a room and locked the door!
Mary was the first person to proclaim the resurrection and she was not believed, even by those who had been told by Jesus what would happen in these times.
What’s with us? Why do we need proof? Why do we always need proof?
Now in this week’s Gospel, Jesus himself comes into the room where the disciples were cowering and says, “Peace be with you” and shows them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced. Jesus makes no mention that we know of about their fear and hiding, but instead breaths the Holy Spirit upon them and exhorts them to their mission as ministers of the Word. In John’s Gospel, this is all quite matter of fact.
So let me ask you, did they all believe at that time? We know that Thomas didn’t since he wasn’t present on that day and since he was a no-nonsense and fatalistic kind of guy anyway. (Remember when Jesus was going to Judea to raise Lazarus, Thomas says “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”) But what about the others? Don’t we all know some people, who, when presented with the facts, say, “Well, maybe it’s true, but probably not…” I’m thinking specifically about some people and current scientific knowledge.
But back to the disciples…my guess is that it took Thomas to challenge the Lord, the physical Lord, to come and show him his wounds for some of those disciples to come around. “Show it to me in black and white!” How many of us base our beliefs on evidence, like these disciples?
And here is Thomas. This is a comforting person, in my mind. You always know where you stand with him. In the Gospels, he’s always jumping right in and telling you what he thinks. No beating about the bush.
Proof? I’ll give you proof!
And then he believes. Remember that movie that had the line “show me the money!”? That’s Thomas. And unlike those of us, myself included, who hang back, once he is shown the money, he’s off and running. What a gift that must be, to have all your doubts cast aside and then immediately to go out and get on with the job.
So let me ask you about Mary Magdalene. All she has to hear is Jesus speak her name and she knows what’s up. She proclaims the faith, the risen Lord, and does so fearlessly. In the Gospels, she is mentioned more than many of the Apostles. She was a person of some means, since we are told she is one of the women to provide for Jesus and his disciples. And unlike Thomas, she doesn’t demand anything. She simply sees, believes, and acts.
Why isn’t she one of the bigger names in the Bible? Why isn’t she one of the leaders?
Let’s go back to today’s second reading where Peter is proclaiming the new faith. He is talking about Mary Magdalene. Simple, committed, rejoicing, willing to accept trials, and rejoicing with an indescribable and glorious joy.
And the Responsorial Psalm. Mary has recognized Jesus from the beginning as the cornerstone.
And the first reading from Acts. Who provided all the meals and needs of the Apostles and disciples from the beginning, to the time when they set out to preach the good news? Mary Magdalene.
Thomas and Mary Magdalene.
Which one are we imitating? Which one do we resemble? Is it one or the other? Or is it both? Or neither?
I’ll be glad to have either’s way of thinking, because it is plain to see. Plain both before we believe, and plain after we believe. It is a direction. There’s no middle ground.
As someone once told me, being a Dominican Friar is not a matter of taking it up when you think about it. It’s not a matter of study during the week. It’s not a matter of prayer or meditation. It’s everything you do. There’s no time off.
And I believe that person was telling me that to be a Christian, to believe in the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, you must live it every moment. Not in big ways, not in momentous acts, not in fiery exhortations, not in anything that looks like some big deal. Just in the simple day to day experience of knowing that we are attaining the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
We are true brothers and sisters of Jesus who will go with him to his Father and to our Father. And as brothers and sisters today, we say “Rabbouni!”
Lord, teach us today the simple pleasure of membership in your family. Teach us the true meaning of your death, burial, and resurrection. And make us worthy of the coming of the Paraclete so that we may also be comforters to our earthly brothers and sisters.
Sybillina’s parents died when she was tiny and as soon as she was old enough to be of use to anyone, the neighbors, who had taken her in at the time she was orphaned, put her out to work. She must have been very young when she started to work, because at the age of 12, when she became blind and could not work any more, she already had several years of work behind her.
The cause of her blindness is unknown, but the child was left doubly destitute with the loss of her sight. The local chapter of the Dominican tertiary sisters took compassion on the child and brought her home to live with them. After a little while of experiencing their kind help, she wanted to join them. They accepted her, young though she was, more out of pity than in any hope of her being able to carry on their busy and varied apostolate.
They were soon agreeably surprised to find out how much she could do. She learned to chant the Office quickly and sweetly, and to absorb their teaching about mental prayer as though she had been born for it. She imposed great obligations of prayer on herself, since she could not help them in other ways. Her greatest devotion was to Saint Dominic, and it was to him she addressed herself when she finally became convinced that she simply must have her sight back so that she could help the sisters with their work.
Praying earnestly for this intention, Sybillina waited for his feast day. Then, she was certain, he would cure her. Matins came and went with no miracle; little hours, Vespers–and she was still blind. With a sinking heart, Sybillina knelt before Saint Dominic’s statue and begged him to help her. Kneeling there, she was rapt in ecstasy, and she saw him come out of the darkness and take her by the hand.
He took her to a dark tunnel entrance, and she went into the blackness at his word. Terrified, but still clinging to his hand, she advanced past invisible horrors, still guided and protected by his presence. Dawn came gradually, and then light, then a blaze of glory. “In eternity, dear child,” he said. “Here, you must suffer darkness so that you may one day behold eternal light.”
Sybillina, the eager child, was replaced by a mature and thoughtful Sybillina who knew that there would be no cure for her, that she must work her way to heaven through the darkness. She decided to become a anchorite, and obtained the necessary permission. In 1302, at the age of 15, she was sealed into a tiny cell next to the Dominican church at Pavia. At first she had a companion, but her fellow recluse soon gave up the life. Sybillina remained, now alone, as well as blind.
The first seven years were the worst, she later admitted. The cold was intense, and she never permitted herself a fire. The church, of course, was not heated, and she wore the same clothes winter and summer. In the winter there was only one way to keep from freezing–keep moving–so she genuflected, and gave herself the discipline. She slept on a board and ate practically nothing. To the tiny window, that was her only communication with the outside world, came the troubled and the sinful and the sick, all begging for her help. She prayed for all of them, and worked many miracles in the lives of the people of Pavia.
One of the more amusing requests came from a woman who was terrified of the dark. Sybillina was praying for her when she saw her in a vision, and observed that the woman–who thought she was hearing things–put on a fur hood to shut out the noise. The next day the woman came to see her, and Sybillina laughed gaily. “You were really scared last night, weren’t you?” she asked. “I laughed when I saw you pull that hood over your ears.” The legend reports that the woman was never frightened again.
Sybillina had a lively sense of the Real Presence and a deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. One day a priest was going past her window with Viaticum for the sick; she knew that the host was not consecrated, and told him so. He investigated, and found he had indeed taken a host from the wrong container.
Sybillina lived as a recluse for 67 years. She followed all the Masses and Offices in the church, spending what few spare minutes she had working with her hands to earn a few alms for the poor (Attwater2, Benedictines, Dorcy).
Born: 1287 at Pavia, Lombardy, Italy
Died: 1367 of Natural Causes: Her body remains Incorrupt
Beatified: 1853 (Cultus confirmed); 1854 beautified
Patronage: Children whose parents are not married, illegitimacy, loss of parents
- Orphaned when very young.
- Worked as a domestic servant by age 10.
- Blind by age 12; the cause of her blindness has not come down to us.
- Adopted by a community of Dominican tertiaries at Pavia.
- Developed a devotion to Saint Dominic in hopes that his intervention would return her sight; when it didn’t she came to accept it as her lot in life.
- Received a vision of Saint Dominic as confirmation of her desire to join the order.
- At age 15 she became a recluse, living in a walled up cell.
- She spent her time in prayer and devotion, and her cell soon became a point of pilgrimage for Pavians seeking advice and healing; she lived there for over 60 years, doing penance, performing miracles, and spreading devotion to the Holy Spirit.
- Sybillina could sense the Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
- Once a priest passed her window on his way to a sick call.
- She told him that the host was not consecrated; he checked and found he had taken a host from the wrong container.
Blessed Isnard is another very distinguished and saintly first disciple of Saint Dominic whom Father Touron somehow overlooked. Of Isnard’s life up to the time he entered the Order practically nothing is known with certainty; whilst some of the statements anent his debut as a Friar Preacher are irreconcilable among themselves, and contrary to facts which have been ascertained in later years. Chiampo, a small town not far from Vicenza, Italy, was most likely the place of his birth; yet there are those who give the latter city this honor. Some think he was born of poor parents, and spent his youth in poverty. Others suggest that he belonged to a wealthy family by the name of Isnardi, which has been long extinct.(1)
It is beyond doubt that the future wonder-worker received the habit in Bologna, from Saint Dominic, in 1219; for this is a point on which nearly all the early authors are in accord. This truth seems certainly to prove that he was a student at the university there, and far advanced in his studies, At that time only such applicants were accepted; and this fact is a strong proof that his parents were well-to-do, for only the sons of this kind were given a higher education. Without exception the writers tell us of his singular purity of heart and religious disposition. His mind had been carefully guarded against the evils of the day, and in Bologna he proved faithful to the lessons of his earlier youth. Association with the holy man from Caleruega quickened his efforts for holiness of life and the salvation of souls.
For ten years after he entered the Order of Saint Dominic, we have no positive knowledge of where Isnard made his home. Yet the indications are that he spent this time between Bologna and Milan. In which case, of course, he labored energetically in those parts of Italy. Although a quite corpulent man, we are told, he was endowed with extraordinary energy, and was very gracious in action as well as in word. San Eustorgio, Milan, was most likely his convent for the greater part of this decade. So at least thinks Rudolph Majocchi, Blessed Isnard’s latest hagiographer.(2)
In more than one of our sketches, but especially in that of Saint Peter of Verona, we have seen how the Albigenses and kindred sects overran northern Italy at that date. Milan was one of the centers of Dominican activity against them; and it was from Milan that the convent of the Order in Pavia was founded. At Pavia the heretics were long in the ascendancy. The city was also a stronghold of Frederic II, whose Ghibellines, always opposed to the Holy See, constantly persecuted those who favored the authority of the Church. When, in 1230, zealous Rodobald Cipolla became bishop of Pavia, he found religion in a sad plight in his diocese, and began at once to seek means for a reformation.
Blessed Isnard’s reputation for holiness of life, zeal, eloquence, power over the souls of others, and fearlessness was broadcast. Most likely he had already preached in the Diocese of Pavia — perhaps many times; for the Friars Preacher of Milan carried their work in every direction. Possibly, too, he and Bishop Cipolla, himself an energetic character, had become friends at a prior date. Anyway, one of the new prelate’s first steps for the spiritual betterment of his flock was to invite the subject of our narrative from Milan, that he might establish a house of the Order at Pavia. This was in 1231; and before the close of the year we find the fathers actively engaged in their apostolate under the leadership of the man of God from Chiampo.(3)
The convent, which Rodobald Cipolla generously helped to erect, stood in the little village of Ticino, a short distance outside the walls of Pavia, and was given the name of Saint Mary of Nazareth. Throughout Italy the Friars Preacher were known as an effective aid to the hierarchy against the evils of the day. Thus Bishop Cipolla felt that, at least under Isnard, they would be an immense help to him in putting an end to the inroads of the enemy, and in freeing his diocese from the many ills in which it was enmeshed. He had not long to wait before he saw that his choice of auxiliaries was no mistake.
However, the task proved difficult, trying, and full of danger. On the one hand, the faithful, through long bad associations, had become so cold, careless, and wayward in the practice of their religious duties that it was exceeding hard to arouse them to a sense of their obligations. On the other, the Ghibellines and sectarians, ever of stubborn mood as well as violent in their methods, were even less subject to management. These possessed little or no faith. Besides they were loath to change their views, to amend their lives, or to part with the earthly goods which they had obtained by robbery or dishonesty.
As is ever the case in such conditions, the Friar Preacher’s success began with the poor and the laboring classes. For these he had a special love. He gathered them around him at the conventual church, instructed them in their religion, and inspired them with a love of its practice. Although he met with much opposition at first, it was not long before he had completely changed their lives. Reports of the good thus effected soon spread near and far. Meanwhile, he and his confrères preached throughout the City of Pavia and its environments — in churches, public squares, market places, or wherever they could find a space large enough for an audience. Gradually the wealthier Guelfs, and even not a few of the Ghibellines, began to harken to the call of grace and to receive the sacraments.
Among the little band of missioners Isnard shone with special brilliancy for his saintliness, zeal, and eloquence. The influence which he soon began to wield over the people caused the leaders of the heretics to single him out for their hatred. They mocked and ridiculed him, publicly spurned him, laughed at his corpulent figure, defamed him, threatened him, did everything in their power either to bring him into disrepute or to make him desist from his tireless apostolate. All was in vain. His sermons were incessant. He challenged his enemies wherever he met them. If they undertook to answer him, his inexorable logic put them to shame, or reduced them to silence. Never was he known to be ill natured, or to lose his patience; yet he showed the fire of divine love that glowed within his breast.
No doubt as much to demonstrate the holiness of His faithful servant as for the benefit of those to whom he preached, God blessed Isnard with the gift of miracles. The early writers mention many wrought by him both before and after his death.(4) These, quite naturally, quickened and strengthened the faith of the Catholics. They also gradually undermined the influence and broke the spirit of the heretics, many of whom were brought into the Church. By the time of the holy man’s death, the Diocese of Pavia was free from attacks by Albigenses, Catharists, and similar sects. They bad gone to other parts, been converted, or held their peace. No one could be found who would profess their principles. It was a glorious apostolate brought to a successful termination.
The Ghibellines, or adherents of Emperor Frederic II, gave Christ’s ambassador no end of worry and trouble. These were the rich who were not guided by their consciences in the acquisition of wealth; politicians without scruples; and soldiers of fortune, whose restless spirits ever led them into the service in which they might expect the greatest booty, license, and excitement. The machinations of the German monarch helped to keep them in keen antagonism to ecclesiastical authority and the interests of religion; which, of course, rendered them less responsive to our blessed’s impelling eloquence or the strong influence of his holiness and miracles. We may judge of the contempt of these friends of Frederic for the Holy See from the fact that their acts more than once led to a papal interdict on Pavia.
Still these men, who could laugh at an excommunication and interdict from the highest authority in the Church, perforce loved and admired Father Isnard. His charity, his zeal, his gentle goodness, his purity of heart, his constant efforts for the right, which they witnessed day by day, simply wrung respect from them. His dealings with Frederic II must have been much like those of John of Wildeshausen. Even when Bishop Cipolla was driven into exile, Isnard and his band of missionaries were left to continue their fruitful labors. In the absence of the ordinary, the clergy who still remained in the diocese seem to have gathered around the subject of our sketch for guidance. Possibly the saintly prelate, at the time of his departure, placed him in charge of his spiritual vineyard.(5)
Despite the turbulence and the anti-ecclesiastical spirit of the day, the holy Friar Preacher from Chiampo effected untold good even among this class of citizens. Documents which have escaped the ravages of time show that some, who deferred conversion until on their deathbeds, made him the instrument of their restitution. Others entrusted him with their charity and benefactions. Historians call him an apostle of Pavia, and largely attribute the preservation of the faith in the city to his zeal.
Another proof of the respect and confidence which Isnard enjoyed among all classes, as well as of his reputation abroad, is found in the incident which we have now to tell. From early times the Diocese of Tours, France, possessed landed estates in and around Pavia. Because of the political disturbances and the Ghibelline spirit, to which we have referred, the canons of the Tours cathedral found it impossible to collect their rents. In this dilemma, they appointed our Friar Preacher their agent; for they felt that he was the only man in northern Italy who either could obtain their dues for them, or would dare undertake the task. This was in 1240, the year after the historic excommunication of Frederic 11 by Gregory IX. The affair shows bow wisely Isnard steered his course, how all venerated him at home, and how well his courage and prudence were known even in France.(6)
Like a number of the early disciples of Saint Dominic whose lives we have outlined, the apostle and reformer of Pavia did not feel that he had done his all for the benefit of religion until he established a community of Dominican Sisters. These he placed in the immediate vicinity of his own convent, that he might the better look after their spiritual welfare. Their house bore the same name as that of the fathers — Saint Mary of Nazareth. Although he had perhaps never seen Prouille, his double institution at Pavia must have been much like that with which the Order started in southern France. The dowries of many of these sisters indicate that he founded them, in part, so that wealthy worldly dames, whom he had converted, might have a place in which they could more completely give themselves to the service of God. Saint Dominic, it will be recalled, established the community of Prouille principally with women converted from Albigensianism. When, some years after our blessed’s death, the fathers moved into the city proper, the original Saint Mary of Nazareth was turned over to the sisters.
Isnard had a profound devotion towards the Mother of God. He perpetually preached her protection over the faithful. In every way he propagated love and veneration for her. Father Majocchi thinks that this apostolate was of immense aid to him in his work of reformation; for no other piety seems to be more congenital to the affectionate Italian character. He labored zealously on almost to the very last. At least the Lives of the Brethren (Vitae Fratrum) say his final sickness was a matter of only a few days. The manuscript annals, or chronicles, of the old Friar-Preacher convent at Pavia tell us that he surrendered his pure soul to God on March 19, 1244. He knew that the end was near, prepared for it, and died as holily as he had lived.(7)
We have no account of the funeral of the man of God. Yet the great love and admiration in which he was held justify one in the belief that the Pavians attended it in immense numbers. Perhaps the sad event plunged the city in no less grief than his own community. He was buried in the Church of Saint Mary of Nazareth, where his tomb became at once a place of pilgrimage for the city and province of Pavia. Not a few miracles were wrought in answer to prayers to him. The name Isnard was often given to children at their baptism.
Later, for various reasons, the fathers moved into the city proper. First (1281), they took possession of San Marino, but gave up this place the next year for Saint Andrew’s. There they remained until 1302, when they exchanged Saint Andrew’s for Saint Thomas’, which was better suited to their purposes. At this last location they at once began a splendid temple of prayer, which was completed between 1320 and 1330. The body of Blessed Isnard, which had been brought from the extra-urban Church of Saint Mary of Nazareth to Saint Andrew’s, while the fathers lived in the latter convent, was again translated and enshrined in a marble sarcophagus built for the purpose in a chapel of the new Saint Thomas’ Church. The devotion of the people followed his relies to both of these places of rest. Nor is it any stretch of fancy to imagine that the two translations were times of great fervor for all Pavia.
Unfortunately, in a spirit of zeal and friendship, the fathers gave the use of Blessed Isnard’s Chapel, as it was called, to the University of Pavia for religious functions. Although its walls were afterwards decorated with paintings commemorative of the chief events in his life, these academic associations tended rather to decrease veneration for the saintly Friar Preacher. The misfortunes of Pavia during the Spanish-Austrian reigns of Charles V and Philip III, which lasted almost throughout the sixteenth century, well-nigh caused him (or rather his final resting-place) to be forgotten even by some members of his own Order, and his relies to be scattered to the winds. Happily the researches of Pavian historians helped to avert such a disaster.
In spite of the most thorough identification, however, and to the great sorrow of the fathers, the rector and senate of the university, though without authority in the matter, later compelled our blessed’s sarcophagus to be taken from the chapel and destroyed. This was in 1763. But, before its removal, the community reverently gathered up his relies and placed them in a wooden chest. All this was done in the presence of Cardinal Charles Francis Durini, who then closed the box, and fastened it with his seal. Thence until the suppression of Saint Thomas’ Convent by Emperor Joseph II, in 1785, Isnard’s relies were carefully preserved in the archives. The fathers then took the chest, with its precious contents, to Saint Peter’s. When, in 1799, they were also forced to leave this abode, they gave their spiritual treasure to Bishop Joseph Bertieri, O. S. A. This prelate, after an official examination, not only entrusted Isnard’s relies to the Church of Saints Gervasius and Protasius, but even ordered them to be exposed for public veneration.
It looks providential that, under all these changes and difficulties, popular devotion for Saint Dominic’s early disciple did not completely die out. That it continued to exist shows the unalterable love in which the Pavians held him. Bishop Bertieri’s act gave it new life. In 1850 portions of his relies were given to Chiampo and Vicenza. Old paintings of him here and there, which represented him as a saint, also helped the cause. In 1907 the diocesan authorities of Pavia approved of his cult, and requested the Holy See to accept their decision. The late Benedict XV, of happy memory, after a thorough investigation by the Sacred Congregation of Rites (that is, in 1919), granted his office and mass to the Friars Preacher and the Diocese of Pavia. March 22 was appointed as his feast day.
Isnard is the last of the original disciples of Dominic to be accorded the honors of the altar. The late date of his beatification affords the hope that several others of them may yet he similarly dignified by the Church.
Ambrose was born at Siena on 16 April 1220, of the noble family of Sansedoni. When about one year old, Ambrose was cured of a congenital deformity, in the Dominican church of St. Mary Magdalene. As a child and youth he was noted for his love of charity, exercised especially towards pilgrims, the sick in hospitals, and prisoners. He entered the novitiate of the Dominican convent in his native city at the age of seventeen, was sent to Paris to continue his philosophical and theological studies under Albert the Great and had for a fellow-student there, St. Thomas Aquinas.
In 1248 he was sent with St. Thomas to Cologne where he taught in the Dominican schools. In 1260 he was one of the band of missionaries who evangelized Hungary. In 1266 Sienna was put under an interdict for having espoused the cause of the Emperor Frederick II, then at enmity with the Holy See. The Siennese petitioned Ambrose to plead their cause before the Sovereign Pontiff, and so successfully did he do this that he obtained for his native city full pardon and a renewal of all her privileges. The Siennese soon cast off their allegiance; a second time Ambrose obtained pardon for them. He brought about a reconciliation between King Conradin of Germany and Pope Clement IV.
About this time he was chosen bishop of his native city, but he declined the office. For a time, he devoted himself to preaching the Eighth Crusade; and later, at the request of Pope Gregory X, caused the studies which the late wars had practically suspended to be resumed in the Dominican convent at Rome. After the death of Pope Gregory X he retired to one of the convents of his order, whence he was summoned by Innocent V and sent as papal legate to Tuscany. He restored peace there between Florence and Pisa and also between the dogal republics of Venice and Genoa, another pair of commercial rivals within Italy.
He died at Sienna, in 1286. His name was inserted in the Roman Martyrology in 1577. His biographers exhibit his life as one of perfect humility. He loved poetry, and many legends are told of victories over carnal temptations.
He was renowned as a preacher. His oratory, simple rather than elegant, was most convincing and effective. His sermons, although once collected, are not extant
Born Guido di Pietro, Fra Angelico was an Early Italian Renaissance painter described by Vasari in his Lives of the Artists as having “a rare and perfect talent”. He was known to his contemporaries as Fra Giovanni da Fiesole (Brother John from Fiesole) and by Vasari as Fra Giovanni Angelico (Brother John the Angelic One).
Fra Angelico is known in Italy as il Beato Angelico, the term “Il Beato” (“Blessed One”) being already in use during his lifetime or shortly thereafter, in reference to his skills in painting religious subjects. In 1982 Pope John Paul II conferred beatification, in recognition of the holiness of his life, thereby making this title official. Fiesole is sometimes misinterpreted as being part of his formal name, but it was merely the name of the town where he took his vows as a Dominican friar, and was used by contemporaries to separate him from other Fra Giovannis. He is listed in the Roman Martyrology as Beatus Ioannes Faesulanus, cognomento Angelicus—”Blessed Giovanni of Fiesole, nicknamed Angelico”.
Vasari wrote of Fra Angelico: But it is impossible to bestow too much praise on this holy father, who was so humble and modest in all that he did and said and whose pictures were painted with such facility and piety.
Early life, 1395–1436
Fra Angelico was born Guido di Pietro at Rupecanina, in the Tuscan area of Mugello, near Fiesole towards the end of the 14th century and died in Rome in 1455. Nothing is known of his parents. He was baptized Guido or Guidolino. The earliest recorded document concerning Fra Angelico dates from October 17, 1417 when he joined a religious confraternity at the Carmine Church, still under the name of Guido di Pietro. This record also reveals that he was already a painter, a fact that is subsequently confirmed by two records of payment to Guido di Pietro in January and February 1418 for work done in the church of Santo Stefano del Ponte. The first record of Angelico as a friar dates from 1423, when he is first referred to as Fra Giovanni, following the custom of those entering a religious order of taking a new name. He was a member of the Dominican community at Fiesole. Fra, an abbreviation of frate (from the Latin frater), is a conventional title for a friar or brother.
According to Vasari, Fra Angelico initially received training as an illuminator, possibly working with his older brother Benedetto who was also a Dominican and an illuminator. San Marco in Florence holds several manuscripts that are thought to be entirely or partly by his hand. The painter Lorenzo Monaco may have contributed to his art training, and the influence of the Sienese school is discernible in his work. He had several important charges in the convents he lived in, but this did not limit his art, which very soon became famous. According to Vasari, the first paintings of this artist were an altarpiece and a painted screen for the Carthusian Monastery of Florence; none such exist there now.
From 1408 to 1418 Fra Angelico was at the Dominican friary of Cortona where he painted frescoes, now destroyed, in the Dominican Church and may have been assistant to or follower of Gherardo Starnina. Between 1418 and 1436 he was at the convent of Fiesole where he also executed a number of frescoes for the church, and the Altarpiece, deteriorated but restored. A predella of the Altarpiece remains intact in the National Gallery, London which is a superb example of Fra Angelico’s ability. It shows Christ in Glory, surrounded by more than 250 figures, including beatified Dominicans.
San Marco, Florence, 1436–1445
In 1436 Fra Angelico was one of a number of the friars from Fiesole who moved to the newly-built Friary of San Marco in Florence. This was an important move which put him in the centre of artistic activity of the region and brought about the patronage of one of the wealthiest and most powerful members of the city’s Signoria, Cosimo de’ Medici, who had a large cell (later occupied by Savonarola) reserved for himself at the friary in order that he might retreat from the world. It was, according to Vasari, at Cosimo’s urging that Fra Angelico set about the task of decorating the monastery, including the magnificent Chapter House fresco, the often-reproduced Annunciation at the top of the stairs to the cells, the Maesta with Saints and the many smaller devotional frescoes depicting aspects of the Life of Christ that adorn the walls of each cell.
In 1439 he completed one of his most famous works, the Altarpiece for St. Marco’s, Florence. The result was unusual for its times. Images of the enthroned Madonna and Child surrounded by saints were common, but they usually depicted a setting that was clearly heavenlike, in which saints and angels hovered about as divine presences rather than people. But in this instance, the saints stand squarely within the space, grouped in a natural way as if they were able to converse about the shared experience of witnessing the Virgin in glory. Paintings such as this, known as Sacred Conversations, were to become the major commissions of Giovanni Bellini, Perugino and Raphael.
The Vatican, 1445–1455
In 1445 Pope Eugenius IV summoned him to Rome to paint the frescoes of the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament at St Peter’s, later demolished by Pope Paul III. Vasari claims that at this time Fra Angelico was offered by Pope Nicholas V the Archbishopric of Florence, and that he refused it, recommending another friar for the position. While the story seems possible and even likely, if Vasari’s date is correct, then the pope must have been Eugenius and not Nicholas. In 1447 Fra Angelico was in Orvieto with his pupil, Benozzo Gozzoli, executing works for the Cathedral. Among his other pupils were Zanobi Strozzi.
From 1447 to 1449 he was back at the Vatican, designing the frescoes for the Niccoline Chapel for Nicholas V. The scenes from the lives of the two martyred deacons of the Early Christian Church, St. Stephen and St. Lawrence may have been executed wholly or in part by assistants. The small chapel, with its brightly frescoed walls and gold leaf decorations gives the impression of a jewel box. From 1449 until 1452, Fra Angelico was back at his old convent of Fiesole, where he was the Prior.
Death and beatification
In 1455 Fra Angelico died while staying at a Dominican Convent in Rome, perhaps in order to work on Pope Nicholas’ Chapel. He was buried in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
When singing my praise, don’t liken my talents to those of Apelles.
Say, rather, that, in the name of Christ, I gave all I had to the poor.
The deeds that count on Earth are not the ones that count in Heaven.
I, Giovanni, am the flower of Tuscany.
—Translation of epitaph
Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico on October 3, 1982 and in 1984 declared him patron of Catholic artists.
Angelico was reported to say “He who does Christ’s work must stay with Christ always”. This motto earned him the epithet “Blessed Angelico”, because of the perfect integrity of his life and the almost divine beauty of the images he painted, to a superlative extent those of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
—Pope John Paul II
From various accounts of Fra Angelico’s life, it is possible to gain some sense of why he was deserving of canonization. He led the devout and ascetic life of a Dominican friar, and never rose above that rank; he followed the dictates of the order in caring for the poor; he was always good-humored. All of his many paintings were of divine subjects, and it seems that he never altered or retouched them, perhaps from a religious conviction that, because his paintings were divinely inspired, they should retain their original form. He was wont to say that he who illustrates the acts of Christ should be with Christ. It is averred that he never handled a brush without fervent prayer and he wept when he painted a Crucifixion. The Last Judgment and the Annunciation were two of the subjects he most frequently treated.
—William Michael Rossetti