Willing to lay down his life

Today, 21 Mar 2012, is the 425th anniversary of the death of Blessed Thomas Pilcher, ( Pilchard / Pritchard / Pylcher) an English diocesan priest and martyr. To answer God’s call to priesthood in his day meant the acceptance of a high probability of martyrdom, and yet Blessed Thomas was willing to answer that call.

Blessed Thomas Pilcher was born around 1557 at Battle in Sussex. He was sufficiently clever to be accepted at Balliol College, Oxford, as a student. Whether the call to priesthood came before he went to university, or whether it came as he studied, sought truth and debated with other scholars is not clear. Thomas completed his Master of Arts degree in 1579 and very soon after this he enrolled in Douai College – the seminary in France that trained English men as priests for the English mission during times of persecution. In 1853 he was ordained and within a few weeks he was back in England ministering to souls.

From the accounts that have come down to us, Thomas seems to have been a very gentle, learned and holy man who had a recognizable squint. Having this squint meant that he was going to have trouble blending in with the crowd and that the officials on the lookout for priests were going to find him easily. It is not surprising then that he was arrested in London after only two years ministry, if that, and exiled.

Thomas was not deterred. The needs of English souls for the sacraments and for the truth gave him the courage to return within months. Back in England by January 1586, this time he seems to have exercised his priestly ministry in more rural areas. He didn’t last long. In early March 1587, at the age of 30, he was caught and arrested in Dorchester for exercising his priesthood. Thomas had a gift of drawing souls gently to Jesus. While he was in prison he led 30 souls to conversion – something the patron of Balliol College, St Catherine of Alexandria, would have greatly rejoiced in. 

On the day set down for his execution, Thomas was very roughly dragged to the appointed place. He was to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but the rope around his neck broke when they tried to hang him. Instead they stabbed him. Throughout this ordeal, Thomas remained calm, so calm that he even assisted his executioners with the task of drawing out his intestines. With prayers seeking God’s mercy, Thomas yielded up his soul on 21 March 1587. Either Thomas had a sense of humour about his fishy name, or God did, or they both did, because following his death when people invoked his intercession often a pilchard-fishy smell was noticed. This particularly helped a layman four years later, being held in the same prison, to choose death rather than deny his Catholic faith. On 22 Nov 1987 he was beatified with 84 other British martyrs by Blessed Pope John Paul the Great.

Blessed Thomas Pilcher, please pray for us, that we may be as utterly convicted of God’s truth as you were. 


Born with a mission from God

Today, 20 Mar 2012, is the 725th anniversary of death of Blessed Ambrose Sansedoni, (Ambrogio Sansedone) an Italian Dominican priest, priest and peace maker. Just as there are child prodigies in music, art, maths and other skills, there are children who display extraordinary sensitivity to the things of God from an early age. Blessed Ambrose was one of these.

Blessed Ambrose was born into the Sansedoni family in 1220, one of Siena’s leading aristocratic dynasties during the Middle Ages. His father was a book illuminator. Hoping for a strong and healthy boy, his parents were dismayed at the physical deformity he was born with. From his earliest days, rejection was his lot, and a nurse was assgned to take care of him. The love that was denied him at home, he found in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in nearness to the relics of those who had loved Jesus with all their hearts. As you know little ones have very open spirits, and this little one drank in the loving presence of Jesus from babyhood. His nurse noted that being in church was the only place that the little one was peaceful. Ambrose’s sensitivity to all things holy now set for life, Jesus came and cured him so that he might fulfill the mission that God had for him.

Now his parents took an interest in him again, and found that hope could be renewed for all the plans that they had for this son prior to his birth. Ambrose meanwhile was drawn to prayer, to works of charity, to works of mercy and to the reading the Lives of the Saints. When he entered the Dominican Order at the age of 17, all of those parental dreams died again. The Order soon recognised his intellectual gifts and sent him off to Paris and then to Cologne to study. If one of his teacher’s hadn’t been St Albert the Great and his fellow students St Thomas Aquinas and the future Blessed Pope Innocent V, perhaps he would have been more widely known to Christians of our times. It wasn’t just a theological school, it was a school for saints; and Ambrose thrived, although overshadowed by these greater minds.

Study concluded, God’s mission for Ambrose began to unfold. Firstly he was sent to teach in Dominican schools – and the teacher always learns more than the students. This apprenticeship over, in 1260 he went with a Dominican team to assist the evangelisation of Hungary. Preaching gifts grew within him. Skills as an effective peace maker were noticed in Ambrose, so he began to be sent on missions of reconciliation ( eg between Pope Clement IV and King Conradin of Germany) and intercession (eg twice obtaining pardon from the Holy Father for the city-state of Sienna for its disloyalty and rebellion). Later on Ambrose was appointed as papal legate to Tuscany, a diffcult and delicate position requiring his peace making talents.

In between these special tasks Ambrose preached with great effectiveness. The Roman Martyrology speaks of his eloquence, sanctity and miracles. All of these missions were underpined by Ambrose’s prayer life – a strong one accompanied by ecstascies, visions and even levitation. Sadly no collections of his sermons remain extant, although if we are fortunate perhaps the good Lord will arrange for some to be discovered in a forgotten corner of a monastic library somewhere.

Preaching in the 13th century was an effort of the whole body, without the benefit of microphones. Great force was needed to project a human voice into a sizeable crowd. It is nort surprising, then, that one source has his death occuring while he preached, and another source has his death occuring as he prepared his homily on 20 March 1287 – around half-way through a Lenten series of sermons.

What Blessed Ambrose Sansedoni achieved with God’s grace wasn’t as tangible as a written book or treatise, only God knows how many lives were spared deaths in wartime due to his efforts as peace maker,and how many had the opportunity to repent from their evil ways and to produce masterpieces because of the times of peace which he negotiated. We thank God today for all of the good that came from Ambrose’s ‘yes’ to each and every mission God arranged for him to do.

Blessed Ambrose Sansedoni, please pray for us and for all those peace makers that God is raising up in our troubled times.

NB The Dominicans celebrate Blessed Ambrose’s feast day in October, on the anniversary of his beatification. It is not unusal for a feast day to be tranferred from the date of death in the Lenten season to a date of some significance to the Saint in Ordinary time (eg St Benedict, St Gregory the Great, Blessed John Paul the Great) because feast days are rarely celebrated in Lent.

Someone to turn to with confidence

Today, 19 Mar 2012, is the happy solemnity of St Joseph, whom God chose to be the foster father of Jesus and the chaste spouse of Mary. God entrusted to St Joseph’s care His greatest treasures, so we should joyfully follow such good example and entrust our cares to St Joseph’s powerful intercession.

At last, an opportunity to publicly thank St Joseph for all that he has done and arranged on my behalf, and for so many answers to prayer. It was on the eve of St Joseph’s feast day 20 years ago that rather amazing things happened to bring my wonderful husband into my life. Many were the novenas offered up over the years seeking the aid of St Joseph in this most important matter of the heart. St Raphael, Our Lady, our guardian angels and the Holy Spirit all played their parts, too. It came as no surprise that my beloved had chosen St Joseph as his confirmation patron.

When it has been time to seek a new home, St Joseph has been a major helper. When praying for those close to death, he has been a major helper as well. When seeking to come closer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, he has been a great ally. ‘St Joseph, model and patron of those who love the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us.’  As Sr Emmanuel reminded us recently in the 15th March newsletter from the Children of Medjugorje, St Joseph has a particular gift for helping people find jobs.

I feel rather ashamed, now, that I haven’t invoked St Joseph’s aid more consistently in the needs of our everyday lives. This is especially so because I should know better. St Joseph is THE one to turn to if you want to make progress in the interior life of prayer. Looking at the lives of St Teresa of Avila, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, St Isidore of St Joseph, Blessed Josephina Gabriella Bonino, St Andre Bessette and Blessed Maria  Repetto, this is obvious. With great ease we ask our friends on earth to pray for us and with us in our difficulties, but we often forget to ask our great friends in heaven – who can do so much more for us.

Who better, when looking for a new place to live, than to turn to St Joseph? He knows what it is like to seach for lodgings and to receive a crushing number of knockbacks. He knows what it is like to seek accommodation in a foreign country (Egypt). Because we love Jesus, St Joseph has great tenderness towards us, and he is always ready to obtain from God the material and spiritual aid we need.

Here are some excerpts from the private revelations made to Carmela Carabelli in 1968 that always reawaken my devotion to St Joseph (From ‘The Message of Merciful Love’ 1991 edition):

Jesus speaks of Joseph 30 Nov 1968 : ‘…Make St Joseph intervene on your behalf in your necessities and in those of others who recommend themselves in your prayers, especially for the gravely ill who will be assisted by him; and if they do not obtain a cure, they will have much peace and their passing will be secure in his and Our arms. Never forget this powerful Saint, patron of the Universal Church which, at this present moment, so much under attack, finds in him a strong defender. Never forget that all that is evil fears St Joseph and that the invocation of his name saves one from dangers and misfortunes. Blessed are the families who honour him and give his name to their children. He cherishes and protects them, lavishing providential gifts upon them and a very particuilar goodness….’

Joseph speaks of the Immaculate 3 Dec 1968 : ‘…I assure you of my special and continual protection. Recommend to me your little children whom I particularly love, for in them I see again my Jesus. I shall teach you to love Mary, my sweet spouse…I am going to ask you for a favour. On my feast day, bring many people to me. I shall teach them many things and you will be happy for it…’ 

And a short excerpt from’An Unpublished Manuscript on Purgatory’ : ‘God never allows a soul that has been devoted to Him during life to perish at the last moment. Those souls who have loved the Blessed Virgin and invoked her all their lives receive from her many graces in their last struggles. It is the same for those who have been really devout to St Joseph, to St Michael, or to any of the saints. I have already said one is glad to have an intercessor with God in those dreadful moments. Some souls die quite tranquilly without experiencing any of those trials. God has His designs in everything. He does or permits all for the good of each particular soul.’

What the holy scripture says in speaking of Joseph son of Jacob, ‘Go to Joseph’ also applies to Joseph, spouse of Mary Immaculate. In all of your family needs and troubles, go to St Joseph, turn to his tender heart with confidence, and you will be helped.

St Joseph, pillar of families, pray for us. 






Surrounded by battle

Today, 18 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Anselm II, bishop of Lucca, Italy. Around him conflict between the Pope and the Emperor raged, in decision making and in the battle field, and several times this conflict impacted upon his life. However, he managed to keep his eyes fixed on God and serving God’s people.

St Anselm II (or ‘the Younger’) was born in Milan in 1036. His uncle, whom he was named after, was bishop of Lucca. In 1861 this uncle became Pope Alexander II, thus involving young Anselm in the great questions of the day. Anselm followed his uncle into holy orders and proved himself to be a most capable student. Such was his knowledge that others came to consult him. When his uncle was elected Pope, Anselm who had only been ordained a few years went with him to Rome.

After about 10 years in papal service, Alexander II – perhaps sensing that his health was failing, - appointed his nephew as bishop of Lucca. In this time of conflict, Alexander II sent Anselm to the emperor Henry IV for investure. Sensing that lay investure was wrong, Anselm went to Germany to the court of the Emperor and returned without being invested. On the death of Alexander II, the new Pope, Gregory VII, again appointed Anselm as bishop of Lucca. This time he did receive investure from Henry IV (against papal advice)and regretted doing so. Troubled so much by this, he resigned his bishopric and sought a life of penance in the Benedictine order. As a monk Anselm had time to work on his relationship with God and to ponder and study the whole question of the validity of lay investure.

In time, Gregory VII used the powers of papal persuasion to get Anselm to return to Lucca as bishop. Returning full of monastic zeal, Anselm came into conflict with the canons of his cathedral who definitely did not want lives of greater religious discipline. The conflict between the pope and the emperor was leading towards pitched battle. When the papal forces were defeated in 1080, the excommunicated canons obtained from the emperor the exile of Anselm. With Countess Matilda of Tuscany, leader of the papal forces, Anselm withdrew and prepared spiritually and materially for the next encounter. The city of Mantua now became his home.

Soon Gregory VII appointed Anselm as papal legate to Lombardy, a task that involved much preaching, letter writing, looking after dioceses that had been left without a bishop and quelling of factions that wished to rebel against papal authority. For Gregory VII Anselm wrote arguments against lay investure and others in support of Gregory against the antipope. While Henry IV had the ascendancy he appointed his own anti-pope, and forced Gregory VII into exile, where he died in 1085. Matilda had a miltary victory in 1084 with Anselm as the spiritual powerhouse behind it, but it was not enough to change the situation much.  

All through this unsettled life Anselm sought God in prayer for several hours each day, and kept himself attuned to God’s presence in whatever task he was immersed in. News of Gregory VII’s death in 1085 affected him deeply, and within a few months on 18 March 1086 Anselm worn out with fatigue entered eternity. So great was the veneration that the people of Mantua had for Anselm that they would not permit his body to leave them. Many miracles occurred at his final resting place in the cathedral, and even today his body is incorrupt. 

The battles of Anselm’s life put into sharp relief the great harm that giving lay people any kind of authority over ordained people causes. They don’t give that power up without a bitter fight. With the sacrament of ordination God grants to those men who lay down their whole lives for Him the charisms of leadership in both the spiritual and temporal realms of church life. Whenever the non ordained usurp those God-given roles great disorder follows. In our own times we need to remain vigilant so that new forms of the lay investure scourge, like lay people running the parish plant and directing the ministry of the priests in the parish, do not reappear. 

St Anselm II of Lucca and Mantua, pray for us.




Our missionary hero

Today, 17 Mar 2012, those places in the world that have ancestral links back to Ireland rejoice in the great feast day of St Patrick. In our parish even those without ancestral links to Ireland choose to wear the green today in his honour. Why? Because there very few Saints who have converted so many people, as well as a whole nation, to faith in Jesus Christ.

We believe that St Patrick was born around 389 to Christian Roman parents living in Britain. At 16 he was captured by pirates, taken to Ireland and sold as a slave. He worked for his master as a shepherd. It was a hard, lonely life, but it made Patrick turn to prayer and to learn to love Jesus and Mary in a special way. In this harsh school of prayer Patrick began to develop that dependance on God and that certainty of God’s power from which, years later, would spring forth his great prayer of a spiritual warrior: St Patrick’s breastplate www.stpatricksday.com/history/stpatrick/breastplate.shtml .

Eventually with God’s aid he escaped from Ireland, and began studies to become a priest. Patrick was ordained about 417. He believed that God wanted him to go back to Ireland some day to bring the Good News of Jesus to them. At this point we can see his readiness to forgive those who had enslaved him, and the desire to save souls that burned within him. Prayer, study and patience were God’s tools for getting Patrick prepared for this significant mission. 

After a very long wait, in 431, Patrick finally got his desire to go back to Ireland, and in 432 was made a bishop. Gifted with prophecy, miracles and the gift of preaching, Patrick was spiritually equipped by God for this ministry. He traveled from village to village, preaching to local chieftains and anyone he could find, bringing the gift of faith to many people. He visited Rome in 442, where Pope St Leo the Great asked him to organize the Church in Ireland into dioceses. He built many churches and many monasteries.

Through his witness many were inspired to give their lives totally to God. He prayed and did great penances to win from God the gift of conversion of Irish souls, and God performed many miracles through him.  One time he prayed and fasted for 40 days for the Irish people. Thankfully much is known about St Patrick from a book he wrote called his ‘Confessions’ www.confessio.ie/etexts/confessio_english#01 and several Lives that have been written about him www.gutenberg.org/files/18482/18482-h/18482-h.htm#chap6012 . (These texts are very inspiring to read.) After a long life of prayer and work for Jesus, Patrick died on March 17, 461.  When he died the whole Irish nation was Christian.

St Patrick was an extraordinarily successful missionary. This was firstly because he placed such a high priority on prayer, especially intercessory prayer. Secondly he had diligently studied theology, to prepare for priesthood but also to seek out those Christian teachings which would resonate most with the Irish peoples. Thirdly, he knew their language, customs and how Irish society ticked. He was also utterly convinced that God’s will for him was the evangelisation of Ireland, which was confirmed by Rome appointing him as a bishop for this purpose. Lastly, he was gifted by God with significant charismatic gifts, -including holy boldness in God’s service, and even gifts of administration - which greatly aided this purpose. He is a role model and hero to all of those who desire to co-operate with God in the salvation of souls.

St Patrick, pray for us.

Novena to St Patrick

Blessed St Patrick, glorious Apostle of Ireland, who became a friend and father to me for ages before my birth, hear my prayer and accept, for God, the sentiments of gratitude and veneration with which my heart is filled. Through you I have inherited that faith which is dearer than life. I now make you the representative of my thanks, and the mediator of my homage to Almighty God. Most holy Father and patron, despise not my weakness; remember that the cries of little children were the sounds that rose, like a mysterious voice from heaven, and invited you to come among the Irish peoples. Listen, then, to my supplication; may my prayer ascend to the throne of God, with the praises and blessings which shall ever sanctify your name and your memory. May my hope be animated by the patronage and intercession of our forefathers, who now enjoy eternal bliss and owe their salvation, under God, to your courage and charity. Obtain for me grace to love God with my whole heart, to serve Him with my whole strength, and to persevere in good purposes to the end, O faithful shepherd of the Irish flock, who would have laid down a thousand lives to save one soul, take my soul, and the souls of my countrymen, under your special care. Be a father to the Church and her faithful people. Grant that all hearts may share the blessed fruits of that Gospel you planted and watered. Grant that, under your guidance we may learn to consecrate all Christian duty to the glory of God. Protect my native land, and direct its chief pastors, particularly those who teach us. Give them grace to walk in your footsteps, to nurture the flock with the Word of Life and the Bread of Salvation, and to lead the heirs of the Saints you have formed to the possession of that glory which they, with you, enjoy in the kingdom of the Blessed: we ask this through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.



A holy heritage upheld

Today, 16 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Eusebia, Benedictine abbess of Hamage. She grew up in a noble and saintly family, and made her own the choice to serve God in holiness.

St Eusebia was born around the year 637 to St Adalbald (a Belgian noble) and St Rictrudis (a French noble). Several of her siblings are also Saints. Living close to the border between France and Belgium, the noble families were often in dispute as to who owned which parcel of land. Together her parents gave generously of themselves and of their funds to holy projects like building monasteries and the relief of the poor. When her father was murdered around 651, her mother refused to marry and sought entry to the Benedictine monastery at Marchiennes. There her mother was in due time elected abbess.

In the meantime her great grandmother St Gertrude was abbess of the Benedictine monastery of Hamage, a place on the French side of the border. Upon her father’s death Eusebia was sent to live in this more established monastery. After only a few years St Gertrude entered into her happy eternity and a new abbess was selected. Eusebia, still only a young teenager was chosen. Whether this was because Eusebia had already proved herself to be a good model of religious life or because the nuns were concerned that the military border campaigns might get too close to them if they didn’t have an abbess of noble birth as a protectress, or both, we don’t know.

Her mother, St Rictrudis, could see problems with one so young and inexperienced running a monastery, so she merged the two communities and presided as abbess over the united group. It was a difficult transition for the Hamage nuns, especially since they had not been able to fully carry out St Gertrude’s wishes before the big move. The loss of the particular character, tradition and charisms of the Hamage monastery was at stake. After lengthy negotiations over a period of time, the Hamage nuns were permitted to return to their monastery of origin.

By this time Eusebia had sufficient age and experience to take on the mantle of abbess at Hamage. As her great grandmother and the nuns had suspected years before, Eusebia made an outstanding abbess. Around the year 680, when Eusebia was still nudging 40, the Redeemer she had served so well decided to bring her into eternity to be with Him for ever. The nuns honoured her with burial in the abbey church and with fruitful recourse to her intercession for personal and community needs.

So easily Eusebia could have totally rejected the example of holiness of her family and the demands of Benedictine life – as so many young people trying to find their own feet in life do – but she didn’t. Although we don’t have those precious details that help us judge her holiness for ourselves, this taking on of responsibility and commitment to preserving holy traditions at a young age speaks powerfully of the virtuous character she must have possessed. We can ask her to pray for the teenagers in our lives, that they may choose life, choose God and choose holiness for themselves.

St Eusebia, pray for us

A chosen witness

Today, 15 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Longinus, one of the Roman executioners who witnessed the death of Jesus on the Cross. To him was given the task of piercing the heart of Jesus with a lance, which proved that Jesus truly died upon the Cross because blood and water poured out of the wound. In St Longinus many of us find great hope in obtaining pardon from God for our sins.

St Longinus was definitely a Roman soldier who served under orders on Calvary that first Good Friday. He could also be the centurion who declared that ‘In truth this was a son of God.’ (Matt 27:54). For us, the important thing was that he was involved in crucifying Jesus our Saviour, and that the death of Jesus made such an impact upon him that he became a Christian.

St Longinus has had a special place in my heart ever since I read Maria Valtorta’s account of him in ‘The Poem of the Man God’ Volume 5. In more recent times the pro-life movement has seen in St Longinus a model and heavenly patron for all of those who have killed innocent life and who now wish to serve Jesus to the best of his or her ability. At the Cross Our Lady represents all those who mourn a loved one, St John represents the innocent and pure among us, St Mary Magdalene represents all repentant sinners and St Longinus represents all of those going about their own business without a thought of God until He intervenes (usually with a tragic event) and offers them the grace of pardon and conversion.

Following the Resurrection of Jesus, the story goes that Loginus sought out the apostles to learn about Jesus from them and was of great assistance to the fledgling Church. Retiring to Caesaria in Cappadocia, Longinus lived a long life of almsgiving and penance that brought many others to accept the grace of conversion. Eventually he was arrested for not sacrificing to the gods and had his teeth pulled out. Freed for a short time, he was arrested a second time and brought before the provost again. This time Longinus’ arrest ended with his beheading, and his death led to the conversion of the provost.

Longinus is proof that the prayer of Jesus, ‘Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:24) was answered in his case, and that whatever horrible crimes we have committed Jesus will continue to plead for our forgiveness and complete conversion. 

St Longinus, pray for us.


For Jesus, he gave everything

Today, 14 Mar 2012, we recall the life of Blessed Dominic Jorjes (aka Domingos Jorge/Jories/George), a layman who was martyred in 17th century Japan. He layed everything on the line to serve Jesus and to be counted worthy to die for him.

Blessed Dominic was beatified as one of the 205 Blessed Martyrs of Japan by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1867. The date Dominic gave his life was 18 Nov 1619, so I am a little puzzled why he is listed on 14 March on the Saints.SPQN.com website. Nevertheless his story deserves to be told. From St Alphonsus Liguori’s ‘Victories of the Martyrs’ Part II, Chapter11 comes the best information about him.

Although he died in Japan, Dominic was born in San Roma, Portugal. He had been a soldier and had settled in a suburb of Nagasaki, Japan. We know that his faith was strong because he was a member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary. During the persecutions this lay group encouraged each other and formed a network of safe houses for the missionary priests.  

At some point during late 1618 or early 1619 Dominic had been arrested for sheltering Fr Spinola, a Jesuit priest in his home. In prison Dominic’s faith was supported by the amazing Brother Leonard Guimara S.J. who converted all of his cell mates and led them in an extensive routine of prayer and fasting. Dominic’s arrest was all the more poignant because he left behind a wife, Elizabeth, and an infant son. In 1622, when his son, Ignatius, was aged 4, these two joined him in martyrdom. This indicates that Dominic has to have been of virile age at the time of his public witness to Jesus. 

When Dominic was condemned to death together with Brother Leonard and three others, he replied to the judge, ‘I prefer this sentence to the possession of the whole Japanese Empire.’. They were led to the five stakes amid a crowd of spectators. To each stake a martyr was bound and then the fire was lit that would burn them to death. The joy with which Dominic, Brother Leonard and the other three faced this torture converted many bystanders and ignited in others a desire for martyrdom.

For Jesus, Dominic gave up his safety, putting himself and his family at risk by sheltering priests. For Jesus, he stood firm and was parted from his wife and baby son. For Jesus, he faced prison and death by burning. May he help us to place Jesus into the first place of our lives.

Blessed Dominic Jorjes, pray for us.

True father to his flock

Today, 13 Mar 2012, is the day the Church remembers St Ansovinus of Camerino, a holy Italian bishop who ministered in the first part of the 9th century. He is particularly invoked when crops need protecting, although it seems he went out of his way to protect everyone who was entrusted to his care.

Camerino, Italy is a regional centre to the east of Assisi, and it was there that St Ansovinus was born. What happened in his childhood is a mystery, but he must have received an education sufficient for him to have been ordained a priest. The reality of God’s love must have truly captured his heart, because he left his home land and travelled to Torcello and near there began to live the life of a hermit. Torcello is an island of Venice. After growing in holiness through prayer, solitude, poverty and spiritual battle, the good Lord determined that Ansovinus was needed as a holy witness to the secular world. When God makes miracles happen after you intercede before Him, people take notice and spread the word far and wide.

In those days the emperors and rulers were quite smart, and made sure that instead of pollsters and spin-doctors they had people of true holiness near them. These they regularly consulted because someone close to God is filled with heavenly wisdom. An arrangement like this would be very beneficial to the ruler or emperor, but would have been a great trial to the subject who wanted to seek God and God alone. So when Emperor Louis the Pious heard about Ansovinus he appointed the latter as his confessor.

Again, back in those days, there was a great effort made to seek out truly holy men and to constrain them to accept episcopal responsibilities, which is why monasteries were seen as training places for wise and holy leaders. When the bishopric of Ansovinus’ home town became vacant, the Emperor wanted to get Ansovinus appointed as the next bishop. The man of God was not interested. The average emperor is not used to getting refusals, so he tried more persuasive methods. To obtain agreement from Ansovinus, the Emperor promised that the new bishop would not ever have to act as a recruitment officer for the imperial army. Already Ansovinus was thinking of the welfare of the families to be placed under his care; absent conscripted fathers are not good for them.

Those who are unwilling to accept the office of bishop often prove to be excellent choices for that role. And so it was with Ansovinus. He was wise. He was prudent. He was generous in almsgiving to the needy. It is quite probable that he had the gift of healing and the gift of miracles. At least once when there  was a famine, bishop Ansovinus prayed and God filled the empty granary with grain to feed the poor. For St Ansovinus’ intercession to be invoked for the protection of crops tends to imply that when adverse weather conditions approached he prayed from his heart for the welfare of his people and the weather conditions eased and didn’t destroy the crops that had been threatened.

Towards the end of his life Ansovinus was called to Rome for inevitable meetings in 840. While he was there he took sick with fever and realised that his days were numbered. Despite his ill health he hurried back to his flock, just in time as it turns out for him to invoke a last blessing upon the people of the diocese and to receive holy Communion for the last time. 

Ansovinus loved his flock and cared assiduously for them, modelling himself upon the great love that Jesus the Saviour had for each and every one of them.

Whether you are fortunate to have a local bishop as extraordinarily good as Ansovinus or someone who seems to have lost the Gospel plot, or anything between those two extremes, it makes sense right now to start praying for whoever will be his successor. Sudden changes of bishop are not uncommon, and it is true that we get the bishop we pray for. To explain that a little: some time ago now I visited Wollongong diocese, for some reason, in the interregnum period where their bishop had retired and they were awaiting a new one. They didn’t just wait, at every Mass they also prayed that God would grant them a wise and holy bishop. Answered prayer came in the appointment of Bishop Philip Wilson. Soon after his appointment they had a Marian Congress and Eucharistic Adoration was greatly encouraged. He was so good that after a few very spiritually fruitful years in Wollongong they made him Archbishop of Adelaide and then the President of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference. Our local diocese did not storm heaven with prayers that we be granted a wise and holy bishop, and so we received someone lesser.

Whoever the priest or current auxilliary bishop is who will succeed your local bishop, he needs your prayers right now. Prayers begging the Lord to grant him graces of deeper conversion. Prayers asking the Blessed Trinity to prepare him well for his future ministry. Prayers to win him the grace to say ‘yes’ to God’s call when it comes. One relatively easy way of doing this is to add a short mental prayer when that point in the Eucharistic Prayer comes to pray for your local bishop. “and for …….. our Bishop, dear Lord please guide, direct and convert Bishop ……. and all of his successors more and more deeply to You.’

St Ansovinus, please pray for us and for all bishops of rural communities.

St Ansovinus, please pray for all bishops and their successors that they may truly be fathers to the flocks of souls that are ( and will be) entusted to their care. 


With joyful courage

Today, 12 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Pionius, valiant priest and martyr of Smyrna, who gave his clear witness for Jesus about the year 250.  In the accounts of his martyrdom the most striking thing is his joy at being given the opportunity to publicly witness to his love for Jesus.

While there seems to be a little confusion as to the date of his memoral (1 Feb vs. 12 Mar ), I am going with my 1999 edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints which gives 12 March.

Pionius served as priest in the same place that St Polycarp did, and had great veneration for this early martyr. When the imperial edict of Decius was announced, that all should sacrifice to the gods of the empire or face punishment, Pionius knew that his days were numbered. What did he do? He didn’t run and hide. He stayed, redoubled his prayers seeking God’s aid and continued to minister to his flock. When God warned him in a dream that his arrest was imminent, he informed the Christians of his household, led them in prayer and to show how willingly they embraced this particular will of God for them they placed chains around their necks.

After a short public interrogation, Pionius and his two companions were sent to prison. There they greatly encouraged other Christians who had been arrested. Then Pionius and his companions were forcibly dragged into the temple, but could not be persuaded to renounce the one true God. Back to prison they went. While in prison many people came to visit Pionius. Among them were those ashamed because they had given in and sacrifced to idlos. Pionius advised them to do penance and to hope for pardon from the immense Mercy of God. So many came to visit the martyrs-to-be that the guards transferred them to a more remote place.This did not phase Pionius and his little band, they were happy to devote more time to prayer in preparation for the spiritual battle to come.

Soon enough the proconsul arrived and took charge of what to do next with them. Firstly, Pionius was interrogated again, and then tortured, but his faith in the one true God and in the Catholic Church could not be broken, so he and his companions were condemned to execution. The punishment, much like Polycarp’s, was to be burned at the stake. When taken to the place of execution, Pionius quickly and joyously disrobed and willingly permitted himself to be nailed to the stake. Despite last ditch efforts of people to get him to save himself by sacrificing to idols, Pionius remained firm. As the pyre was lit, he closed his eyes in prayer and only opened them again to pray like Jesus did, ‘Amen. Lord Jesus, receive my soul.’, before surrendering his soul to God.

May St Pionius help us to remain firm in our Lenten commitments and to be willing to stand up for God’s holy laws rather than take the easy way out of conformity to the public (im)morality of the day.

St Pionius, pray for us.