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St. Cecilia

Name: St. Cecilia
Date: 22 November

It is under the emperor Alexander Severus that this young Saint, one of the most fragrant flowers of Christian virginity and martyrdom, suffered for the Faith she had chosen; to choose it was at that moment as certain an end to earthly felicity as it is a guarantee, at every epoch, of the eternal felicity of those who remain faithful to it. Cecilia was the daughter of anillustrious patrician, and was the only Christian of her family; she was permitted to attend thereunions held in the catacombs by the Christians, either through her parents’ condescension or out of indifference. She continually kept a copy of the holy Gospel hidden under her clothingover her heart. Her parents obliged her, however, despite her vow of virginity, which mostprobably they knew nothing of, to marry the young Valerian, whom she esteemed as noble andgood, but who was still pagan.

During the evening of the wedding day, with the music of the nuptial feast still in the air,Cecilia, this intelligent, beautiful, and noble Roman maiden, renewed her vow. When the newspouses found themselves alone, she gently said to Valerian, “Dear friend, I have a secret to confide to you, but will you promise me to keep it?” He promised her solemnly that nothing would ever make him reveal it, and she continued, “Listen: an Angel of God watches over me, for I belong to God. If he sees that you would approach me under the influence of a sensual love, his anger will be inflamed, and you will succumb to the blows of his vengeance. But if you love me with a perfect love and conserve my virginity inviolable, he will love you as heloves me, and will lavish on you, too, his favors.” Valerian replied that if he might see this Angel, he would certainly correspond to her wishes, and Cecilia answered, “Valerian, if you consent to be purified in the fountain which wells up eternally; if you will believe in the unique, living and true God who reigns in heaven, you will be able to see the Angel.” And to his questions concerning this water and who might bestow it, she directed him to a certain holyold man named Urban.

That holy Pontiff rejoiced exceedingly when Valerian came to him the same night, to be instructed and baptized; his long prayer touched the young man greatly, and he too rejoicedwith an entirely new joy in his new-found and veritable faith, so far above the religion of thepagans. He returned to his house, and on entering the room where Cecilia had continued topray for the remainder of the night, he saw the Angel waiting, with two crowns of roses andlilies, which he would place on the head of each of them. Cecilia understood at once that ifthe lilies symbolized their virginity, the roses foretold for them both the grace of martyrdom. Valerian was told he might ask any grace at all of God, who was very pleased with him; andhe requested that his brother Tiburtius might also receive the grace he had obtained; and theconversion of Tiburtius soon afterwards became a reality.

The two brothers, who were very wealthy, began to aid the families which had lost their support through the martyrdom of the fathers, spouses, and sons; they saw to the burial of the Christians, and continually braved the same fate as these victims. In effect they were sooncaptured, and their testimony was such as to convert a young officer chosen to conduct themto the site of their martyrdom. He succeeded in delaying it for a day, and took them to hishouse, where before the day was ended he had decided to receive Baptism with his entirefamily and household. The two brothers offered their heads to the sword; and soon afterwardthe officer they had won for Christ followed them to the eternal divine kingdom. It wasCecilia who saw to the burial of all three martyrs. She then distributed to the poor all thevaluable objects of her house, in order that the property of Valerian might not be confiscatedaccording to current Roman law, and knowing that her own time was close at hand.

She was soon arrested and arraigned, but having asked a delay after her interrogation, sheassembled those who had heard her with admiration and instructed them in the faith; thePontiff Urban baptized a large number of them. The death appointed for her was suffocationby steam. Saint Cecilia remained unharmed and calm, for a day and a night, in the calderium, or place of hot baths, in her own palace, despite a fire heated to seven times its ordinary violence. Finally, an executioner was sent to dispatch her by the sword; he struck with trembling hand the three blows which the law allowed, and left her still alive. For two daysand nights Cecilia would lie with her head half severed, on the pavement of her bath, fullysensible and joyfully awaiting her crown. When her neophytes came to bury her after thedeparture of the executioner, they found her alive and smiling. They surrounded her there, notdaring to touch her, for three days, having collected the precious blood from her wounds. Onthe third day, after the holy Pontiff Urban had come to bless her, the agony ended, and in theyear 177 the virgin Saint gave back her glorious soul to Christ. It was the Supreme Pontiffwho presided at her funeral; she was placed in a coffin in the position in which she had lain, aswe often see her pictured, and interred in the vault prepared by Saint Callixtus for the Church’spontiffs. The authentic acts of her life and martyrdom were prepared by Pope Anteros in theyear 235. When the tomb was opened in 1599 her body was entirely intact still.

Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vie des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral; Paris, 1882). The account is based on a Histoire de Sainte Cécile, by Dom Guéranger, Abbot of Solemnes.

St. Clement I of Rome

Name: St. Clement I of Rome
Date: 23 November

Saint Clement is a Roman of noble birth, the son of the Senator Faustinian. Saint Paul speaks of him in his Epistle to the Philippians, chapter 4, assuring that Clement had worked with him in the ministry of the Gospel, and that his name was written in the Book of Life. Later Saint Clement was consecrated bishop by Saint Peter himself. He succeeded in the supreme office to Saint Linus, the immediate successor to Saint Peter, and the Liber Pontificalis says that “he reigned nine years, two months and ten days, from 67 to 76, ...until the reign of Vespasian and Titus.”

It was, we may say, with the words of the Apostles still resounding in his ears that he began torule the Church of God; he was among the first, as he was among the most illustrious, in thelong line of those who have held the place and power of Peter. Living at the same time and inthe same city with Domitian, persecutor of the Church, and having to face not only externalfoes but to contend with schism and rebellion from within, his days were not tranquil. TheCorinthian Church was torn by intestine strife, and its members were defying the authority oftheir clergy. It was then that Saint Clement intervened in the plenitude of his apostolicauthority, and sent his famous Epistle to the Corinthians. He reminded them of the duties of charity, and above all of submission to the clergy. He did not speak in vain; peace and orderwere restored. Saint Clement had done his work on earth, and shortly after sealed with hisblood the Faith which he had learned from Peter and taught to the nations.

Sources: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of t

St. John of the Cross

Name: St. John of the Cross
Date: 24 November

Saint John of the Cross was born near Avila in Spain. As a child, he was playing near a pondone day. He slid into the depths of the water, but came up unharmed and did not sink again. A tall and beautiful Lady came to offer him Her hand. “No,” said the child, “You are toobeautiful; my hand will dirty Yours.” Then an elderly gentleman appeared on the shore andextended his staff to the child to bring him to shore. These two were Mary and Joseph. Another time he fell into a well, and it was expected he would be retrieved lifeless. But hewas seated and waiting peacefully. “A beautiful lady,” he said, “took me into Her cloak andsheltered me.” Thus John grew up under the gaze of Mary.

One day he was praying Our Lord to make known his vocation to him, and an interior voice said to him: “You will enter a religious Order, whose primitive fervor you will restore.” Hewas twenty-one years old when he entered Carmel, and although he concealed his exceptionalworks, he outshone all his brethren. He dwelt in an obscure corner whose window openedupon the chapel, opposite the Most Blessed Sacrament. He wore around his waist an ironchain full of sharp points, and over it a tight vestment made of reeds joined by large knots. His disciplines were so cruel that his blood flowed in abundance. The priesthood onlyredoubled his desire for perfection. He thought of going to bury his existence in theCarthusian solitude, when Saint Teresa, whom God enlightened as to his merit, made him theconfidant of her projects for the reform of Carmel and asked him to be her auxiliary.

John retired alone to a poor and inadequate dwelling and began a new kind of life, conformedwith the primitive Rules of the Order of Carmel. Shortly afterwards two companions came tojoin him; the reform was founded. It was not without storms that it developed, for hell seemedto rage and labor against it, and if the people venerated John as a Saint, he had to accept, fromthose who should have seconded him, incredible persecutions, insults, calumnies, and evenprison. When Our Lord told him He was pleased with him, and asked him what reward hewished, the humble religious replied: “To suffer and to be scorned for You.” His reform,though approved by the General of the Order, was rejected by the older friars, who condemnedthe Saint as a fugitive and an apostate and cast him into prison, from which he only escaped,after nine months’ suffering, with the help of Heaven and at the risk of his life. He tookrefuge with the Carmelite nuns for a time, saying his experience in prison had been anextraordinary grace for him. Twice again, before his death, he was shamefully persecuted byhis brethren, and publicly disgraced.

When he fell ill, he was given a choice of monasteries to which he might go; he chose the one governed by a religious whom he had once reprimanded and who could never pardon him for it. In effect, he was left untended most of the time, during his last illness. But at his death the room was filled with a marvelous light, and his unhappy Prior recognized his error, and that he had mistreated a Saint. After a first exhumation of his remains, they were found intact; many others followed, the last one in 1955. The body was at that time found to be entirely moistand flexible still.

Saint John wrote spiritual books of sublime elevation. A book printed in 1923 which has now become famous, authored by a Dominican theologian,* justly attributed to Saint John and to Saint Thomas Aquinas, whom the Carmelite Saint followed, the indisputable foundations for exact ascetic and mystical theology. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1926 by Pope Pius XI.

*Rev. Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., Perfection chrétienne et contemplation, selon S. Thomas d’Aquin et S. Jean de la Croix (Éditions de la vie spirituelle: Saint-Maximin, 1923

St. Catherine of Alexandria

Name: St. Catherine of Alexandria
Date: 25 November

Catherine was a noble virgin of Alexandria, born in the fourth century. Before her Baptism,she saw in a dream the Blessed Virgin asking Her Son to receive her among His servants, butthe Divine Infant turned away, saying she was not yet regenerated by the waters of Baptism. She made haste to receive that sacrament, and afterwards, when the dream was repeated,Catherine saw that the Saviour received her with great affection, and espoused her before thecourt of heaven, with a fine ring. She woke with it on her finger.

She had a very active intelligence, fit for all matters, and she undertook the study of philosophy and theology. At that time there were schools in Alexandria for the instruction of Christians, where excellent Christian scholars taught. She made great progress and became able to sustain the truths of our religion against even very subtle sophists. At that timeMaximinus II was sharing the empire with Constantine the Great and Licinius, and had as hisdistrict Egypt; and this cruel Christian-hater ordinarily resided in Alexandria, capital of theprovince. He announced a gigantic pagan sacrifice, such that the very air would be darkenedwith the smoke of the bulls and sheep immolated on the altars of the gods. Catherine beforethis event strove to strengthen the Christians against the fatal lures, repeating that the oraclesvaunted by the infidels were pure illusion, originating in the depths of the lower regions.

She foresaw that soon it would be the Christians’ turn to be immolated, when they refused toparticipate in the ceremonies. She therefore went to the emperor himself, asking to speak withhim, and her singular beauty and majestic air won an audience for her. She said to him that itwas a strange thing that he should by his example attract so many peoples to such anabominable cult. By his high office he was obliged to turn them away from it, since reasonitself shows us that there can be only one sovereign Being, the first principle of all else. Shebegged him to cease so great a disorder by giving the true God the honor due Him, lest hereap the wages of his indifference in this life already, as well as in the next. The consequencesof her hardy act extended over a certain time; he decided to call in fifty sophists of his suite, to bring back this virgin from her errors. A large audience assembled to hear the debate; theemperor sat on his throne with his entire court, dissimulating his rage.

Catherine began by saying she was surprised that he obliged her to face, alone, fifty individuals,but she asked the grace of him, that if the true God she adored rendered her victorious, hewould adopt her religion and renounce the cult of the demons. He was not pleased and repliedthat it was not for her to lay down conditions for the discussion. The head of the sophistsbegan the orations and reprimanded her for opposing the authority of poets, orators andphilosophers, who unanimously had revered Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, Minerva and others. Hecited their writings, and said she should consider that these persons were far anterior to thisnew religion she was following. She listened carefully before answering, then spoke, showingthat the ridiculous fables which Homer, Orpheus and other poets had invented concerning theirdivinities, and the fact that many offered a cult to them, as well as the abominable crimesattributed to them, proved them to be gods only in the opinion of the untutored and credulous. And then she proved that the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures had clearly announced thetime and the circumstances of the life of the future Saviour, and that these were now fulfilled. Prodigy; the head of the sophists avowed that she was entirely correct and renounced hiserrors; the others said they could not oppose their chief. Maximinus had them put to death byfire, but the fire did not consume their remains. Thus they died as Christians, receiving theBaptism of blood.

The story of Saint Catherine continues during the time of the emperor’s efforts to persuade herto marry him; he put to death his converted wife and the captain of his guards who hadreceived Baptism with two hundred of his soldiers. He delivered Catherine up to prison andthen to tortures as a result of her firmness in refusing his overtures. The famous wheel ofSaint Catherine — in reality several interacting wheels — which he invented to torment her, was furnished with sharp razor blades and sharp points of iron; all who saw it trembled. Butas soon as it was set in movement it was miraculously disjointed and broken into pieces, andthese pieces flew in all directions and wounded the spectators. The barbaric emperor finallycommanded that she be decapitated; and she offered her neck to the executioner, after prayingthat her mortal remains would be respected.

The story of Saint Catherine continues with the discovery of the intact body of a young and beautiful girl on Mount Sinai in the ninth century, that is, four centuries later. The Church, in the Collect of her feast day, bears witness to the transport of her body. A number of proofs testified to the identity of her mortal remains found in the region of the famous monasteryexisting on that mountain since the fifth century. Her head is today conserved in Rome.

Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13.

St. John Berchmans

Name: St. John Berchmans
Date: 26 November

Born in 1599 in Diest, a town of northern Belgium near Brussels and Louvain, this angelic young Saint was the oldest of five children. Two of his three brothers became priests, and his father, after the death of John’s mother when he was eleven years old, entered religion and became a Canon of Saint Sulpice.

John was a brilliant student from his most tender years, manifesting also a piety which farexceeded the ordinary. Beginning at the age of seven, he studied for three years at the localcommunal school with an excellent professor. And then his father, wanting to protect thesacerdotal vocation already evident in his son, confided him to a Canon of Diest who lodgedstudents aspiring to the ecclesiastical vocation. After three years in that residence, the family’sfinancial situation had declined owing to the long illness of the mother, and John was told hewould have to return and learn a trade. He pleaded to be allowed to continue his studies. And his aunts, who were nuns, found a solution through their chaplain; he proposed to takeJohn into his service and lodge him.

Saint John was ordinarily first in his classes at the “large school,” a sort of minor seminary,even when he had to double his efforts in order to rejoin his fellow students, all of excellenttalent, who sometimes had preceded him for a year or more in an assigned discipline. He oftenquestioned his Superiors as to what was the most perfect thing to say or do in the variouscircumstances in which he found himself. Such was the humility which caused the young toadvance without ceasing on the road to heaven. Later he continued his studies at Malines, alsonot distant from Diest, under the tutelage of another ecclesiastic, who assigned to him thesupervision of three young boys of a noble family. In all that John did he sought perfection,and he never encountered anything but the highest favor for his services, wherever he wasplaced.

He found his vocation through his acquaintance with the Jesuits of that city, and manifested hisdetermination to pursue his course, although his father and family opposed it for a time. It hadbeen decided that he would continue his studies at the Jesuit novitiate of Malines, with about70 other novices. With another young aspirant, he was waiting in the parlor to be introduced,when he saw in the garden a coadjutor Brother turning over the ground in the garden. Heproposed to his companion to go and help him, saying: “Could we begin our religious lifebetter than with an act of humility and charity?” And with no hesitation, both went to offer their assistance. How many young persons in that situation would have thought of such anoffer? This incident reveals the profound charity and interior peace which characterized thisyoung religious at all times.

As a novice he taught catechism to the children in the regions around Malines. He made his instructions so lively and interesting that the country folk preferred his lessons to the ordinary sermons. The children became attached to him, and in a troop would conduct him back to the novitiate, where he distributed holy pictures, medals and rosaries to them. At the end of his novitiate in 1619 he was destined to go to Rome to begin serious application to philosophy,but his superiors decided to send him home for a few days first. A shock awaited him at thetrain station of Malines, where he was expecting to meet his father; he had died a week earlier. John was given time to take the dispositions necessary to provide for the younger brothers andsister. When he departed, it was apparently with a premonition that he would perhaps neversee them again, for he said in a letter to the Canon of Diest with whom he had dwelt, to tellthe younger ones for him: “Increase in piety, in fear of God and in knowledge. Adieu.”

With a fellow novice he began the two months’ journey on foot to Rome, by way of Paris, Lyons and Loreto, where the two assisted at the Christmas Midnight Mass. Both of these two young Jesuits would die within three years’ time, his companion in a matter of several months. John had time during these three years to give unceasing proofs of his already perfected sanctity; nothing that he did was left to chance, but entrusted to the intercession of his Heavenly Mother, to whom his devotion continued to increase day by day. He made anextraordinary effort during an intense heat wave in the summer of 1621, participating splendidly in a debate, which took place at a certain distance from the Jesuit residence, despite thefact he did not feel well. Two days later he was felled by a fever, which continued implacablyto mine his already slight resistance, and he died in August of that year, after one week ofillness. The story of his last days is touching indeed; in a residence of several hundred priestsand students, there was none who did not follow with anxiety and compassion the progress ofhis illness. When the infirmarian told his patient that he should probably receive Communionthe next morning — an exception to the rule prescribing it for Sundays only, in those times — John said, “In Viaticum?” and received a sad affirmative answer. He himself was transported with joy and embraced the Brother; the latter broke into tears. A priest who knew John well went to him the next morning and asked him if there was anything troubling or saddening him, and John replied, “Absolutely nothing.”

He asked that his mattress be placed on the floor, and knelt to receive his Lord; when the Father Rector pronounced the words of the Ritual: “Receive, Brother, in viaticum, the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ,” all in attendance wept. Their angelic, ever joyous and affectionate young novice was called to leave them; no clearer tribute than their tears could have been offered to the reality of his sanctity, his participation in the effusive goodness of the divine nature. Devotion to his memory spread rapidly in Belgium; already in 1624 twelve engraving establishments of Anvers had published his portrait. He was canonized in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII, at the same time as two other Jesuits who lived during the first century of that Society’s existence, so fruitful in sanctity — Peter Claver and Alphonsus Rodriguez.

Sources: Saint Jean Berchmans, by Hippolyte Delehaye, S.J. (J. Gabalda: Paris, 1922); Saint Jean Berchmans: Ses écrits, by Tony Severin, S.J., (Museum Lessianum: Louvain, 1931).

Other Highlights
»The Eternal Father
»The Circumcision of Our Lord
»St. William Berruyer
»St. Theodosius
»St. Alfred or Aelred
»St. Margaret Bourgeois
»St. Veronica of Milan
»The Baptism of Our Lord
»St. Hilary of Poitiers
»St. Paul the First Hermit
»St. Honoratus
»St. Marcellus, Pope
»Blessed Stephanie Quinzani
»St. Anthony Abbott
»St. Peters' Chair at Rome
»St. Canutus
»St. Fulgentius
»St. Macarius
»St. Fabien
»St. Sebastian
»St. Agnes
»St. Vincent, martyr
»St. Raymond of Pennafort
»St. Timothy
»St. Paul, The Conversion of
»St. Polycarp
»St. John Chrysostom
»St. Peter Nolasco
»St. Francis de Sales
»St. Genevieve
»St. Martina
»St. John Bosco
»St. Gregory, Bishop of Langres
»St. Angela of Foligno
»St. Simeon Stylites
»The Epiphany of Our Lord
»St. Lucian
»St. Claude Apollinaire
»St. Julian the Hospitalarian
»St. Basilissa
»St. Remi or Remigius
»St. Francis Borgia
»St. Tarachus
»The Divine Maternity of Mary
»St. Wilfrid
»Bl. Jane Leber
»St. Edward
»St. Callistus I
»St. Teresa of Avila
»St. Gall

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