Today, 16 Jul 2012, as well as being the feast day of Our Lady of Mt Carmel is also the anniversary of death of Blessed Bartholomew of the Martyrs Fernandes, (a.k.a. Bartholomew of Braga, Bartolomeu dos Martires, Bartolomeus a Martyribus) a Portuguese archbishop of the 16th century who had a big personal influence upon the Council of Trent and whose written works were background reading for the Councils of Vatican I and Vatican II. Even St Charles Borromeo was very impressed with him.
As we have seen with the other holy Bartholomews this year, the more you learn about them, the more impressive they are. The most detail about his life is found in the www.archive.org copy of the ‘Life of Dom Bartholomew of the Martyrs : Archbishop of Braga in Portugal’ which is very comprehensive, however you have to scroll down quite a way to find where the table of contents etc ends and the text begins. http://www.archive.org/stream/lifeofdombarthol00ladyuoft/lifeofdombarthol00ladyuoft_djvu.txt
Blessed Bartholomew of the Martyrs Fernandez was born in 1514 at a place called Verdela, near Lisbon in Portugal. His parents were rich in faith, in good example and in generosity to the needy, although not rich in resources. With this kind of good soil to grow in Bartholomew advanced in piety and purity. At the age of 14, in 1528 and with the blessing of his parents, Bartholomew sought entry to the Dominican Order and was accepted. After a spiritually fruitful novitiate he was professed on 20 November 1529. Proving to be a very adept student of philosophy and theology, it wasn’t long before Bartholomew was being asked to teach these subjects to others, becoming Professor of Philosophy at Lisbon College, and later on a Doctor of Theology. His talents, wisdom and knowledge came to the fore at the chapters the Order held.
The holiness and learning which drew people to Bartholomew was a source of great discomfort to him, because what he wanted was time with God, and more of it, and not dealing with the great personages who came to speak with him. When royalty wanted one of their sons, Antonio, prepared for service in the Church, they insisted that Bartholomew be the one to do it. So off to court at Ebora he was sent, unhappy at being so closely surrounded by world pomp and glamour. Whenever he had the opportunity to preach, he prepared diligently with prayer, taking as his motto ‘ arere et lucere’. Recalled to Lisbon to become prior of the Convent of Benfico, royalty thought so much of Bartholomew that they willingly sent Antonio to the same place, so that his studies could continue.
As Prior, Bartholomew was concerned primarily for the spiritual welfare of the monks and students entrusted to him. By not increasing the revenues of the monastery, by not erecting more buildings, and by being liberal in dispensing alms to the poor people who came to the monastery gate, he helped the monks focus on living the poverty they had vowed themselves to.
In 1558 the venerable see of Braga fell vacant. Queen Catherine wanted her confessor Ven. Louis of Granada to fill the post, but he refused. She only accepted his refusal on the proviso that he come up with an excellent candidate for the position. After much prayer, Luis put Bartholomew’s name forward, even though it would put many other high profile candidates noses out of joint and cause the Queen some difficulty. This was the absolute last thing that Bartholomew wanted, but this time the Queen could speak to those to whom he owed obedience,and out of obedience he had to accept.
Due to the enormity of what he was called to do, the risk to his soul and others if he didn’t do it well and the clamours of outrage from those who were unhappy with the method of selection, Bartholomew fell ill. Slowly he recovered, and the tide of public opinion began to swing more positively in his direction. Because the archdiocese had been without a bishop for a good year, as soon as he was consecrated Bartholomew set out to visit his flock and give them the blessing of God. The magnificence of the archbishop’s palace dismayed him, so he closed off the elaborate rooms and chose a simple suite of rooms that he could plainly adorn with the absolute minimum requirements.
Each day he would wake at 3am, pray, recite his Office and then dedicate himself to studying the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church. Following his Mass at 8am he would make himself available to everyone, but primarily to the poor. From then until lunchtime he attended to the meetings and business of the archdiocese. At the sound of the Angelus bell he would go off to his own rooms to renew his soul in prayer. After lunch he made himself available for anyone who wished to consult with him. He practised frugality with food and wore a hair shirt for mortification. With care he chose those who would look after the revenue of the archdiocese and who would be gentle in their dealings and with an eye to making the most money available to assist the poor.
The new archbishop visited his legal team, because as archbishop he was both a spiritual and a temporal leader of the region, and told them of the integrity he expected of them. Then he set himself to preaching frequently in the Cathedral, and especially at Advent, Lent and on major feast days. As soon as possible he undertook a visitation of his archdiocese, administering the Sacrament of Confirmation as he went. As he visited each priest and observed the conduct of their lives and the complaints and praises levelled against them, he made up his own mind and took notes in code as to his findings; encouraging the good and calling to order those acting unworthily.
After reflecting upon his experiences around the diocese, Bartholomew realised that the greatest need of his people was an antidote to the ignorance he had found. Forthwith he set about composing a Catechism in clear and simple language. If his priest were unable to preach, then it was their duty to read from this Catechism at homily time. Bartholomew also wrote some short and simple sermons that his less learned priests could use for major feast days. Knowing what good impact reading the lives of the Saints has on souls, the archbishop also set about putting together an easy to read book of the lives of the major Saints on the Church calendar and distributed them for free. The reform of an archdiocese requires a team of holy people, so Bartholomew established a local seminary and carefully chose the rector and teachers – preferring holiness of life over book learning. Next he invited the Jesuits to run a College, and to preach and teach to the people as often as possible. With the archdiocese lacking sufficient priests, Bartholomew was anxious to obtain new vocations to the priesthood, but at the same time he scrutinised every candidate ready for ordination very carefully searching for those who truly loved God and God’s people and he only ordained those who did.
Looking after the poor, the orphans and widows was a top priority. As well as his own observations he had a team of reliable people who would let him know of those who were in dire need but who were too proud to let their circumstances be known. To the hospitals and monasteries Bartholomew regularly sent large sums. Hospitality was also a special care, and he set up rooms where visiting clergy and religious could lodge.
In 1561 Bartholomew took part in the last sessions of the Council of Trent, and made significant contributions to it. When he returned home he organised a diocesan synod and then a regional synod as the best vehicle to pass on the teachings of the Council of Trent to priests and people.
In all his dealings with people, low or high, it was the health of their souls which concerned the good archbishop most, resulting frequently in deep and lasting conversions. From time to time every place on earth goes through hardships, and the people of Portugal experienced this in the famine of 1567. To assist his people the archbishop stopped all building projects so that more food could be provided for the hungry, and even went into debt to help them. The archbishop also had his detractors, and some of them complained to the Pope about him. Then in 1568 plague broke out, and Bartholomew stayed to help the dying and the suffering and he would not listen to those who advised him to save himself from the contagion.
At the age of 68 Bartholomew finally won permission to retire and to return to the quiet of monastic life to prepare his soul for death. His latter years were marked by increasing pains and infirmity. With joy he waited for the approach of death to bring him face to face with the God he loved so much. His holy death occurred on 16 July 1590, and the grief of the whole archdiocese was palpable, consoled in part by the miracles that began to flow from Bartholomew’s intercession.
Why it has taken more than 400 years for this holy prelate to be beatified is beyond comprehension, but at least Blessed Pope John Paul the Great rectified that on 4 November 2001. May it not be too long before we hear the happy news that a date for his canonization has been set.
Blessed Bartholomew of the Martyrs Fernandes, pray for us.