A life of poverty, loving service and prayer

Today, 21 May 2012, is the memorial of Blessed Vivaldus (Vivaldo / Ubaldus / Ubaldo / Gualdo) of San Gimignano, a Third Order Franciscan who lived his holy life close to the borders of the Italian provinces of Siena and Florence. He lived an extraordinary, yet hidden, life of great holiness.

Blessed Vivaldus was born around 1260 in the Italian township whose name he bears. Even today its population is small, under 8000 people, located in the north eastern most point of the province of Siena. Of Vivaldus’ early life we know nothing, but we know that in his late teens or early twenties he was living under the protection of the parish priest of Peccioli, a priest of the Third Order of St Francis named Blessed Bartholomew Buonpedoni – himself a native of San Gimignano. Peccioli is about 25kms north east of San Gimignano as the crow flies.

Why Vivaldus was living a good 4 hours or more walk away from his birth place, we don’t know. From what comes next we can conclude that God brought the two together like Elijah and Elisha and that in Blessed Bartholomew young Vivaldus saw a spiritual father. Vivaldus himself joins the Third Order of St Francis, possibly after the example of Bartholomew.

Now Bartholomew had been on a rather long vocational journey himself and in years past had received a vision of Jesus Christ, wounded and risen, with the promise that he would fulfil God’s perfect plan through 20 years of suffering and not through monastic life. Around the year 1280 Bartholomew began to be visited by leprosy, or something very close to it. The goodness of God arranged that Vivaldus’s heart be moved with so much Franciscan spirituality (St Francis of Assisi spent some of his life caring for lepers) that he chose to go with Bartholomew to the little leper hospice about a mile outside San Gimignano and to minister to him throughout all twenty years of suffering. That is dedication and love of a very high order.

What Bartholomew went through in these years led him to be nicknamed ‘Tuscany’s Job’. Both physical and mental disorders are mentioned in the www.katolsk.no account, so it must have really tested Vivaldus’ patience, compassion and dedication to the limit. Most of us get squeamish watching the gore on cop shows, but Vivaldus ministered to ugly wounds day in and day out. By a special dispensation of God’s grace Bartholomew was still able to celebrate Mass as a priest, despite the depredations to his body. As Jesus promised, 20 years to the day that the leprous troubles started, He returned to take Bartholomew to his heavenly reward for being so closely united to His sufferings.

With his spiritual guide dead and buried, Vivaldus could have done almost anything, but he chose to withdraw even more from society and to serve God as a hermit with fasting, prayer and intercession. Retreating into the forest to the north, northeast of San Gimignano, near the town of Montaione, Vivaldus found a hollowed out chestnut tree to make his cell. This is where he offered up prayer, praise and entreaty to God on behalf of mankind. For twenty years Vivaldus served God in this way. When his death occurred in May 1320, Vivaldo’s body was found kneeling within the chestnut tree. The tree itself, sadly, is long gone, after the faithful kept on taking parts of it as relics.

At the site of the chestnut tree a small chapel was built early on, which led to the building of a bigger church later on. Around 200 years later a series of chapels closely modelling the holy places in Jerusalem were built in the same location that Vivaldus would have taken walks from his chestnut tree cell. It became, and still is, a place of recommended pilgrimage Around 400 years after Vivaldo’s death the monastery on the pilgrimage site, for a while was named a special retreat place for priests to do penance at. I very much doubt that these things happened by coincidence. It is not uncommon for Jesus to give His holy ones knowledge of far away places and insights into the places where His Passion took place and it is not far fetched to think that a good proportion of Vivaldus’ prayers would have been for the growth in holiness of the clergy.

For people to retain the memory of a holy hermit for some 600 years speaks volumes for the extent of Vivaldus’ intercessory powers. It was only in 1908 that he was formally inscribed upon into the Church’s list of Blesseds. Bartholomew received this recognition two years later.

We thank the Lord for the luminous witness of these two Francsican saints, and seek His blessings upon all those called by Him to tred similar paths in our day and age.

Blessed Vivaldus of San Gimignano, pray for us.

Blessed Bartholomew of San Gimignano, pray for us.

The value of asking ‘Why?’

Today, 20 May 2012, throughout Australia we are celebrating Ascension Sunday. In numerous other parts of the world they celebrated it a few days ago on Ascension Thursday. Have you ever wondered why this event in the life of Jesus was deemed so important that we mention it each time we pray the Creed? And why some countries where respect for Holy Days of obligation is weaker than others make sure a Feast Day like this is remembered by everyone who comes to church on Sundays?

These questions only raised themselves a few years back when, as part of the preparation of a small group of First Communicants, I was studying side by side the prayer immediately after the Consecration in all four Eucharistic prayers. In Eucharistic Prayers I, III and IV the Ascension is deliberately mentioned, but not in quickie No. II. It’s worth typing them out, so as to get the full impact.

I. Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into Heaven of Christ, Your son, Our Lord, we, Your servants and Your holy people, offer to Your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.

III. Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the saving Passion of Your Son, His wondrous Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, and as we look forward to His second coming, we offer You in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice.

IV. Therefore, O Lord, as we now celebrate the memorial of our redemption, we remember Christ’s Death, and His descent to the realm of the dead, we proclaim His Resurrection and His Ascension to Your right hand, and, as we await His coming in glory, we offer You His Body and Blood, the sacrifice acceptable to You which brings salvation to the whole world.

How come, I asked myself, I was conscious that at this point in the Mass that we offer to God the life, death and resurrection of His Son, but had failed to listen to the Ascension? It’s in all three Eucharistic Prayers, so it has to be far more important than I realise and on a par with ‘life, death and resurrection’ and not an optional extra.

Resolved to understand the importance of the Ascension better, I studied how the Church Herself saw it by looking at the the Office of Readings; the prayers and antiphons for Morning and Evening Prayer; the Opening prayer and other Proper prayers for the Mass of the Ascension, and what the Catechism of the Catholic Church had to say (passages 659-667).

One of the Opening prayers speaks of the Ascension being ‘our glory and our hope’.

Pope St Leo the Great helped us to understand this when he wrote, ‘When the Lord departs for heaven, they (the Apostles and disciples) are not saddened but filled with joy. And did they not have great cause for joy? As the disciples looked on, man was ascending beyond the angelic orders, beyond archangelic heights. Having been united to God’s nature in His Son, man now shared the Son’s glory at the Father’s throne.’

St Augustine put it this way, ‘Christ descended from heaven out of mercy to us, and though He alone ascends, we also ascend, for we are one with Him through grace. We are not claiming for the Body the dingity of the Head, but we are assured that the Body is inseparable from the Head’ and ‘ Though He is there, He is also with us; though we are here, we are also with Him. He is with us though divine power and love; we have no divine power, but we can be with Him through love.’ 

The Catechism, referring to one of the Prefaces for the Ascension, paragraph 661 says, ‘Left to its own natural powers humanity does not have access to the ‘Father’s house’, to God’s life and happiness. Only Christ can open to man such access that we, his members, might have confidence that we too shall go where He, our Head and our Sources, has preceded us.’

The Reading for Evening Prayer 1 is from Ephesians 2:4-6 gives us a glimpse of the greatness of the promise that Jesus has given us in His Ascension. ‘God’s Mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great, that while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience He brought us to life with Christ; it is by God’s grace that you have been saved. In our union with Christ Jesus He raised us up with Him to rule with Him in the heavenly world.’

So the Ascension truly is our glory, our hope and cause for great joy. I remain ever so thankful to God for raising the ‘Why?’ question in me, because the answers continue to blow my mind with God’s love, providence, generosity and mercy; and because I will never celebrate the Ascension in a ‘ho-hum’ way ever again.

Thank you, Jesus for remaining with us, as you promised, to the end of days through Your presence in the Blessed Sacrament and in Your priests.

Our Lady, and all the holy Apostles and early disciples who witnessed the wonder of the Ascension of Jesus, pray for us.

God’s plan can take you on an extraordinary journey.

Today, 19 May 2012, is the memorial of Blessed Augustine Novello (a.k.a. Agostino Novellus, Matthew of Taormina, Matteo de Termini), who lived most of his life in the 13th century. When ever Blessed Augustine may have thought he knew how the story of his life would pan out, the good Lord took him in an unexpected direction.

The person we would one day honour as Blessed Augustine Novello started out as Matteo de Termini, born in a village in Sicily into a family of noble Spanish origins between 1210 and 1240. When he was a child perhaps Matteo thought he’d live all of his life in Sicily. That didn’t happen. Matteo proved to be so good at learning that he was sent to the University of Bologna. On his return Matteo put his extensive legal skills to good use in various government appointments until King Manfred of Sicily thought so much of Matteo that he made him one of his counselors.

The King had a reign troubled with squabbles over his legitimacy as ruler, and during the 1260s had diplomatic and military battles with Charles, the Count of Anjou. At the battle of Benevento the King died and Matteo was so wounded that he was left for dead. He expected death, but God kept him alive. Pondering on this defeat, his near death experience and upon the frailty of human life, Matteo decided to dedicate the rest of his life to God as an Augustinian lay brother.

He was accepted into the Augustinian monastery in Tuscany, far from his native home and native language. For the love of Jesus, Matteo sought positions of humility and hiddenness beyond all else. From now on he was known as Brother Augustine. Again, Augustine might have expected his life to continue along this regular religious life. Because God needed his talents elsewhere in the Church, He permitted that the ownership of the monastery lands was called into question by an eminent lawyer. In love for his confreres, Augustine put together a written defence for the monastery which amazed the eminent lawyer. Intrigued, the lawyer asked to meet Augustine and immediately recognised him as a fellow classmate from the Bologna days.

With his cover well and truly blown, Augustine was directed forthwith – under obedience – to prepare for ordination. The task to which he was now put required all the talents and experience God had given him: the careful reformation of Constitutions of the Order. This work needed to be done in Rome. Not surprisingly it didn’t take long for the then Pope, Nicholas IV to put such a talented and holy man to work in the Curia. The Pope saw in him a good personal confessor and someone well equipped to serve as Grand Penitentiary. Only with great reluctance and under obedience did Augustine serve in these roles. Not to be outdone, the Augustinian Order recalled him to serve as General of the Order.

From wounded in battle to serving popes and leading a religious Order, who could ever have thought that possible for Augustine back in 1266? When this time of service was done, Augustine sought the solitude he had been longing for and found it in a monastery near Siena. His time there was anything but restful, because there were major works of charity to be done. An orphanage, and a hospital/hospice were brought into full working order through his fund raising (seeking donations) efforts, ability to manage the projects and talent with prepare rules that can stand the test of time.

The end came in 1309, and this time Augustine was well prepared for it. At his tomb many miracles happened, and were thoroughly documented. 

Augustine knew which path he wanted to travel in life, but God had an extraordinary plan for him that was well beyond any expectations He might have had. Under Augustine’s plan a much fewer number of conversions would have resulted, under God’s plan a vastly higher number. What matters above all else is to attain heaven, and to bring as many people with you as you can. God’s plan did that for Augustine, and can do the same for us. Let us place our trust in Him each some things don’t go quite our way in life

Blessed Augustine Novello, pray for us.

To remind souls of eternity

Today, 18 May 2012, is the memorial of Blessed William of Toulouse (a.k.a. William of Naurose) , a priestly preacher, spiritual director and exorcist who brought many souls back to God in 14th century France. His spiritual effectiveness seems to stem from his deep prayer life and his willingness to remind souls of the things of eternity : heaven, hell and purgatory.

Blessed William of Toulouse was born around 1297. Why Naurose is linked to his name, I haven’t been able to find out. It doesn’t seem to be a current place name, nor a word easily translate-able from French to English. As with many saints, the interesting details about how he came to enter religious life have not come down to us. What we do know is that by the age of 19 William had entered the Order of Hermits of St Augustine at Toulouse. His superiors must have thought highly of him and of the intellectual gifts God had given him, because after his ordination they sent him to do further studies at the University of Paris.   

When William returned to Toulouse he devoted himself to the ministry of preaching, having his base at the Augustinian monastery of St Stephen at Toulouse. It seems that he was quite eloquent when it came to preaching about religious life, speaking of obedience to the Father, poverty to the Son who became poor for us, and chastity to the Holy Spirit the spouse of Our Lady and all holy souls.

Apparently a written work entitled ” Vision of the Punishments in Purgatory and Hell” remains extant, but not online. To write something like this either he gathered together accounts of private revelation OR he was given a special revelation from God or perhaps both. People only bother to write about things that are close to their hearts or because they have been put under obedience. In his preaching William must have often reminded his listeners of the horrors of hell and the sufferings of the Holy Souls in Purgatory. With ardour he invited souls to seek the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows and to pray sincerely for the Holy Souls in Purgatory. Both these devotions are well known for the holiness they grow in souls.

When it came to preparing to preach, William used the motto, ‘Pray, look, speak of God’. Without prayer a person cannot receive God’s messages and inspirations. Without looking for the action of God’s grace, how will you be able to find it and cooperate with it? Without speaking of God all preaching is worthless, so speak only of Him.

Following a fruitful life as an instrument of God’s grace for souls, William entered into his eternal reward on 18th May 1369. Numerous miracles and answers to pray were received by those who visited his grave, so his body was exhumed and interred within the local church. Even when the devastations of the French Revolution rumbled through Toulouse, the people never lost their devotion to St William – which is high praise indeed for the enduring power of his intercession before the throne of God.

May the good Lord grant to modern preachers the courage and strength to remind souls of the eternal realities, heaven and hell and of the needs of those in Purgatory.

Blessed William of Toulouse, pray for us.

Tested many times, he stayed true to God

Today, 17 May 2012, is the 60th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Ivan Ziatyk (a.k.a. John Zyatyk), a priest of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church and a member of the Redemptorist Order. While some of us might be able to remain true to our Faith after two or three torture sessions, it takes a whole lot more tenacity, courage and heroism to undergo over 38 interrogations with their associated beatings and deprivations and remain true to God. This is what Blessed Ivan did.

Only someone already far advanced along the road of holiness would be able to do that. So Blessed Ivan’s life must be remarkable for holiness, despite the trials of his long martyrdom. 

Blessed Ivan Ziatyk was born towards the end of 1899 into a peasant family of Odrekhova, which is now found in south eastern Poland. During his early teenage years Ivan’s father died, and his elder brother Mykhalio saw to the rest of his upbringing. Quiet, prayerful and obedient, Ivan proved to be a very able student. At the age of 20 he entered the local Ukranian Catholic seminary in Przemysl, and so excelled at his studies that soon after his ordination in 1923 he was called upon to teach at the same seminary and give spiritual direction to students.

There is something about teaching a subject that helps you grasp it at greater depth than any student. So it seems the more Ivan taught catechetics and theology the deeper conviction he felt about God and the more he desired to grow closer to God. By 1935 this desire had matured into a religious vocation with the Redemptorists. As soon as Ivan had completed his notivitate, this gifted teacher was assigned to the Redemptorist seminary at Holosko. His kindness, obedience and closeness to God made Ivan as easy choice for increasingly more important roles of service within the monastery, firstly looking after the temporal needs of the monastery and later as superior.

By the end of WW2 a terrible persecution by the Soviet secret police broke out against the Church. Initially only bishops were targeted. This persecution soon spread to religious orders. Ivan was one of those rounded up from several places in 1946, taken to Holosko, and imprisoned in a wing of a monastery without any heating. That area of the world is bitterly cold for most of the year. All of them suffered the intense cold as well as constant surveillance and many interrogations. In October of 1948 all of the Redemptorists in that place were moved to another guarded monastery in Univ.

How Ivan handled himself under these conditions must have been exemplary, because when the Provincial was forcibly deported to Belgium this man chose Ivan to take his place as both provincial of the Redemptorists and vicar general of that region of the Church. Naturally this choice made the communist authorities take a closer look at Ivan. Extraordinary spiritual leaders like Ivan couldn’t be tolerated for long, and so in early 1950 he was arrested and charged with spreading the Catholic faith. For two years he endured the prisons of Lviv and Zolochiv, together with the interrogations, tortures and appeals to forsake his faith that went with it.

On 21 November 1951, Ivan was given an official sentence of 10 years imprisonment and he was sent to a prison camp near Bratsk in the Irkutsk region of Russia to serve it. At this new prison Ivan attracted particular brutality from the overseers. On Good Friday according to the Ukranian liturgical calendar Ivan was viciously beaten and then soaked in water before being left outside in the Siberian cold. When at last Ivan was found in this condition, he was taken to the prison hospital where he died soon after on Easter Sunday, 17 May 1952.

The life and death of Ivan made a deep impression on everybody. In 2001, Ivan was declared Blessed by Blessed John Paul the Great on a papal visit to the Ukraine. May the Lord God grant that he may soon be declared a Saint. We have need of witnesses like Ivan who were willing to say Yes to God continuously in conditions of great hardship and suffering.

Blessed Ivan Ziatyk, pray for us.


Unconquered Athlete of Christ

Today, 16 May 2012, is the 355th anniversary of the death of St Andrew Bobola (a.k.a. Andreas, Andrzej), a Polish martyr and priest of the Society of Jesus. By God’s grace he conquered his own temperament, conquered souls with the love of Jesus and conquered the tortures of one of the most brutal martyrdoms on record.

St Andrew Bobola was born in 1591 in the Polish district of Sandomira, into a family with noble roots. From them he received excellent Christian example and a thorough education. He was sent to the Jesuit school near Vilnius. The holiness of the lives of the Jesuits who taught there must have made a good impression upon Andrew, because by the time he was 20 he had entered the novitiate. Interested not only in the studies for the priesthood, but also in attaining holiness, Andrew sought to grow closer to God through prayer and the acquisition of humility. Growing in humility wasn’t an easy task for Andrew because naturally he was inclined to pride, impatience and obstinacy.

Step by step he grew closer to the Heart of Jesus, through long hours before the tabernacle and generous service to the needy. In 1622 Andrew was ordained to the priesthood and with increasing ardour sought to bring as many souls as possible back to the Divine Redeemer. The closer his union with Jesus, the more effective his ministry was to souls. To which ever parish or Jesuit centre he was send, Andrew brought about spiritual renewal and called forth the laity to prayer and fellowship in the sodalities of the time and to service as catechists and as visitors to the poor and sick. Thus when plagues hit the region in 1624 and 1629 Andrew had a ready army of holy helpers to lead in ministering to those struck by these sicknesses.

By 1630 Andrew’s thirst to bring souls back into full communion with the Catholic Church was gathering pace. At the parish of Bobruisk he got stuck into building a church, because the lack of one was drawing people over to the Orthodox Church. From 1636 he was released from parish work and started missionary work, with the prime focus of helping people return to the Catholic faith. Often whole villages returned to the Catholic faith through his zeal and preaching. 

Around the age of 52, Andrew’s health deserted him, and he wasn’t able to minister to as many souls. For someone as on fire for the salvation of souls as he was, this would have been a great trial. By the age of 58, (1649), Andrew was healthy enough to return to preaching. Not only did he get them to reconcile with God, but also with each other – thus diffusing disputes and healing divisions.

Meanwhile the Cossacks were mustering on the borders and eager to wipe out Jews and Catholics. When the Cossacks came, the Jesuits had to leave all their buildings and retreat into swampy districts. Andrew didn’t go with them, but returned to places he had visited urging the people to keep the fullness of faith that they had embraced. Where ever he went souls returned to God, and this earned him hostility from several quarters.

With the Cossacks working hard to eradicate Catholicism and Russian troops invading, it was inevitable that Andrew would one day be arrested. It happened at Pinsk  in 1657 that he was taken into custody shortly before the Ascension. He was 76 yeas old and about to undergo a long and savage martyrdom. To his torturers he witnessed his faith in Jesus and his immense desire that their souls be saved from hell. Reading the lives of the early martyrs of Christianity, modern ears tend to discount the extent of the tortures they went through. This cannot be the case for Andrew because God decided to preserve his body incorrupt as a witness to the horrible things done to him and as a witness to His own almighty power to suspend the normal laws of decomposition. Andrew was burned, half- strangled, mutilated, partly skinned alive, an eye torn out, stabbed in the chest and finally dispatched with the sword.

It was 40 years after Andrew’s death that God permitted him to appear to the rector of a school for the purpose of showing the rector where his body was. From then on his incorrupt body was several times moved from place to place and now resides in a Jesuit church at Cracow, Poland. Over 400 miracles have been attested through Andrew’s intercession. May his prayers help us to conquer our weaknesses and to draw many souls back to Holy Mother Church and the successor of St Peter.


Saint Andrew Bobola, in this Hour of Darkness – Pray for us. We pray for your intercession before our Most Glorious Lord Jesus Christ that we may have the strength to endure the unendurable…the protection of the Great God Almighty in the midst of persecution and the grace to accept His will.. whatever that may be. St Andrew stand with me, give me fortitude and peace of soul, let not my faith waiver. Let me stand faithfully in union with the Sacred Heart of Christ, under the protection of His Immaculate Mother, always trusting in the Infinite Mercy and Love of God – Our Father. Amen


A well lived short life

Today, 15 May 2012, is the memorial of St Rupert of Bingen, one of the important Patron Saints in the life of - soon to be officially recognised as a saint – Hildegard of Bingen. To find out how an 8th century Saint, who only lived to the age of 20, had a major impact upon a 12th century holy abbess and her followers Saint, read on…

St Rupert was born in 712 into a noble German family with a pagan father and a Christian mother. When Rupert was still young, perhaps 3 years old, his father died. Diligently his mother undertook to educate her son, particularly in those things necessary for a thorough Christian education: prayer, the practice of Christian virtue, the celebration of the Sacraments, and knowledge of the Bible and Church teachings.

At the age of 15 the question, ‘God, what do you want me to do with my life? How do you want me to serve You?’ looms large. It’s also the age when a parent is looking to expose her child to the wonders of the wider world, before the child takes on the burdens of adulthood. Long before the ‘Grand Tour’ became a fashionable way to conclude the education of young nobles, Rupert and his mother Bertha began a pilgrimage to Rome. As the Eternal City of the Apostles, Rome is the perfect place to go to complete a Christian education. It gives the pilgrim the opportunity to visit the relics of the Apostles and to see the sites where the early Christian martyrs died. A pilgrimage like this makes the reality of the Apostles and Martyrs concrete in a way that nothing else can. So it is not surprising that Rupert and Bertha were drawn to dedicate themselves more completely to God’s service, being surrounded by the reminders of these great heroic witnesses of Faith.

When they returned home, Rupert and Bertha set about divesting themselves of their inherited wealth and putting it to Godly use via the building of churches, the establishment of hospices and the alleviation of the sufferings of the poor. Bertha embraced a life devoid of the trappings of wealth and served God with fasting, vigils, prayer and almsgiving. Rupert felt the additional call to seek God for Himself alone as a hermit.

The place he settled upon was a hill to the west of the Nahe River near where it joins the Rhine River in west-central Germany. Because Rupert attained such holiness there the locals renamed the hill Rupertsberg in his honour. The good God decided to shorten the time of Rupert’s earthly sojourn to 20 years so that their mutual longings to be united forever could be satisfied. A fever was the cause of death. Successfully, Rupert had used the few years given him to attain the true goal of life’s labours - sanctity. On the same hill Bertha asked to be buried some 25 yeas later. 

As with all Saints, the story doesn’t end with death. Believers find that when they seek the intercession of this deceased youth who was on fire with the love of God, that wonderful explosions of grace and healing occur.

Fast forward 400 years and God decides to honour the zeal of St Rupert even further by directing Hildegard of Bingen to settle on the site previously sanctified by St Ruperts prayers and mortifications. There the women religious under the Rule of St Benedict who gather around Hildegard become known as the sisters of St Rupert. For her part Hildegard does her best to keep the memory of the holy life of Rupert alive in the Church, she writes about him and she composes music in his honour. The sequence, “O Jerusalem city of gold” she sees the holy life of St Rupert as the true foundation of the building of the convent, just as the Apostles were the the true foundation of the Church universal.

Let us follow her example and find out for ourselves just how powerful St Rupert’s intercession is before the throne of the good God.

St Rupert of Bingen, pray for us.





Early Martyrs of Sardinia

Today, 14 May 2012, is the memorial of three early martyrs whom we know extremely little about, St Justa, St Justina and St Henedina. They died witnessing to Jesus on the island of Sardinia, off the west coast of Italy in the second century.

Because their names end in ‘a’, we know that they were all women, but nothing is known of their ages or status in life. They were martyred around the year 130 AD, in the reign of the Emperor Hardian. Either they entered eternity from the city of Cagliari on the south of the island or from the city of Sassari in the north of the island.

Given that the protomartyrs of Sardinia, St Gabinus and Crispulus, are also supposed to have died around 130 AD, it makes these three valiant women close to protomartyrs themselves.

Perhaps these three women were related, or one was noble and the rest were servants. It is entirely possible that they came to the attention of the local authorities for refusing to marry and being generous with family wealth on behalf of the poor. Other women saints of this era were martyred for these reasons or for doing remarkable acts of charity which upset the status quo – ministering to prisoners, giving a dishonoured slave’s remains honourable burial. In this era, it was normally men who were martyred, so we can presume that the lives of Justa, Justina and Henedina must have been conspicuous for Christian virtue.

The greatest testimony to these three holy women martyrs is the township of Santa Giusta in Sardinia, (about half-way up the western side of the island), named after St Justa and containing a Cathedral of the same name together with the popularity of Enedina ( a derivative of Henedina) as a woman’s name in Spanish speaking lands. You only name towns, cathedrals and daughters after Saints with impressive intercessory power before God. 

May these three holy women, St Justa, St Justina and St Hendina of Sardinia, pray for us that we may become worthy of the promises of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

With a heart aflame for Jesus

Today, 13 May 2012, is the feast day of St Peter Regalatus (a.k.a. Pedro Regalado) according to the anniversary of the translation of his relics. From an early age this Spanish saint of the 15th century desired to give his life to God as a Franciscan monk. Several aspects of his life are comparable to St Padre Pio’s, but St Peter Regalatus is not well known.

St Peter Regalatus was born in 1390 at Valladolid, in north-western Spain. At a young age his wealthy father died, leaving his devout wife to raise Peter in faith and virtue. By the age of 10 he was begging his mother to let him enter the Conventual Franciscan Order. Since youngsters tend to change their minds a lot at that age, his mother listened to him and asked him to wait. Patiently Peter waited, and when his vocational desire hadn’t altered in three years, his mother permitted him to seek admission to this Order.

It happened that God arranged for Peter to come into relationship with Pedro de Villacreces, who was vigorously promoting a return to greater austerity in the Franciscan life. Young Peter was an ardent youngster with high ideals, and the holy challenge of this austerity attracted him. Taking Peter under his wing, Pedro took him off to the convent at Aguilar in southern Spain. There Peter grew in Franciscan spirituality and studied for the priesthood in its quiet surrounds. Once he had settled into the graces of ordination, Pedro appointed Peter as the superior at Aguilar – a role which he fulfilled admirably.

The good God was pleased to lead Peter along the path of the extraordinary. Our Saviour cannot resist loading with graces all those who generously seek Him in prayer, meditation upon the Passion, fasting, poverty and humility. Peter was no exception. Each time he responded with swift fidelity to the Will of God expressed in the Rule, Peter’s heart grew in resemblance to the Heart of Jesus. In order to reach more souls with the love of Jesus, God gave to Peter charisms of bi-location, levitation, prophecy and miracle working.

Peter’s love expressed itself particularly in caring for the religious souls entrusted to him and for the poor and the sick. At times God multiplied bread to feed the hungry poor when Peter interceded. To obtain graces of conversion for souls Peter went on long fasts of bread and water, used instruments of bodily penance and kept night vigils of prayer. As far as possible Peter kept himself in silence and recollection and celebrated Holy Mass with intense devotion.  

When Pedro passed to his eternal reward (around 1422), Peter was entrusted with the additional oversight of the convent at Tribulos. Often it was the necessary duties at both convents which prompted the bilocation. After a lifetime of closely imitating the divine Master, Peter entered into his eternal reward on 30 March 1456. Miracles happened at his tomb and when his body was exhumed decades later it was found to be incorrupt.  

When we need help to follow Jesus more closely along the roads of prayer and penance, let us turn to St Peter Regalatus for aid. With his prayers our hearts will begin to reflect more of burning love of the Heart of Jesus.

St Peter Regalatus, pray for us.

On this day, 13 May 2012, we also offer our heart felt thanks to God for the gift of the start of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima 95 years ago. May He help us take Our Lady’s requests for prayer, penance and the Rosary more seriously.



The Saints are not inactive in Heaven

Today, 12 May 2012, is the memorial of St Gemma of Goriano Sicoli, the patron Saint of that Italian township in the Abruzzo region of central Italy. The memory of her holy life has been kept alive over many centuries due to the annual festival in her honour and the accompanying rituals.

St Gemma was born around 1372-1375 at San Sebastiano dei Marsi, and lived there until an epidemic of some kind made her an orphan. From her home town she went to seek out her godmother at Goriano Sicoli, and lived there for the rest of her days. She grows into a beautiful young woman, not just on the outside but also on the inside due to her ardent love for God. To earn a living, Gemma works as a shepherdess.

It was while pasturing the sheep that the next part of Gemma’s story starts. Attracted by her beauty, a local nobleman – Count Roger of Celano – tries in vain to win her interest. Given her beauty, he was probably not the first to try, but he was the one who had the boldness to attempt to seduce her. He failed, but something dramatic and Godly must have happened for him to do what he did next. Whatever happened in those moments gave Gemma the courage to ask Count Roger to build her an anchoress’ cell attached to the church of St John the Baptist. He complies.

Gemma may have already had this deep desire for solitude and prayer. There again, she might also have realised that the only way to prevent her beauty from inflaming other men with desire was to seek a holy enclosure like this. Perhaps both things happened, and more. When the cell is built, with its little window to receive the necessities of life from the street side and its window that looks directly towards the altar of the church, Gemma enters and spends the next 40 or so years of her life there in penance and prayer.

As Gemma’s holiness grows, the locals begin to realise what a treasure of grace God has given them in her. They begin to bring to her their troubles and concerns, and she prays for them. Whatever bread is given to her, she shares with the poor who also come to her window seeking the solace that only people close to God can give. When Gemma dies around 1426 -1439 the bells of the whole region are rung to tell everyone of the news. Miracles begin to happen when people seek St Gemma’s intercession.

In the years that follow the local Bishop investigates and finds that Gemma’s body is incorrupt. Over the centuries that follow the locals have recourse to Gemma in their needs, and in thanksgiving for graces received they develop the yearly festival in her honour. The festival has two major elements: A pilgrimage from San Sebastian to Goriano Sicoli with a young woman in traditional dress (representing Gemma) to replicate Gemma’s journet and the welcome of the town. The baking of bread by the local women in vigil during the night, which is then blessed by the priests and distributed to everyone.

During WW2 St Gemma came to the aid of Goriano Sicoli more than once. When a soldier decided to use the church building as a weapons depot, St Gemma appeared to him and told him to go away. A little later in the War, the town was about to become the location for the front line of the war. With confidence the locals prayed to St Gemma, asking that the town be spared, and 2 metres of snow fell causing the front line to go into a different direction. As late as 2009, a rather big earthquake hit the region and only the church and the place where the fiesta bread is baked were damaged. Those with faith believe that St Gemma did a deal with God, and offered these buildings in exchange for the preservation of the rest of the town.

St Gemma takes her patronage of this township seriously, and shows that her love for its people remains active even almost 600 years later. We, too, seek the prayers of this woman of great intercessory prayer and generous love.

St Gemma of Gorano Sicoli, pray for us.