Feb 4 - St. Joseph of Leonissa 1556-1612
In the year 1556, at Leonissa in the Abruzzi in the kingdom of Naples, the devout couple John Desiderius and Frances Paulina were blessed with a son, to whom they gave the name Euphranius at baptism. Under their faithful guidance the little boy made such progress in piety that at a very tender age he resolved upon certain feast days, and took the greatest pleasure in practices of piety.
Later on, pursuing his studies at Viterbo, he attracted the attention and admiration of everyone by his industry and virtuous life to such a degree that a nobleman in that city offered him his daughter in marriage together with a large dowry. But the Euphranius has already made a nobler choice. He left school and entered the Franciscan order among the Capuchins at Leonissa, in the year 1573, under the name of Joseph. Here he found happiness and peace in things which an effeminate age abhors most: mortification and penance.
His dwelling was a poor cell, so small and narrow that he could hardly stand, sit, or lie down in it. His bed was the bare earth, a block of wood was his pillow. He ate by preference food which the others could not or would not eat, such as stale beans and mouldy bread. In spite of the great strain associated with a life of preaching, he persevered in doing such penance even after he had been entrusted with the task. With works of penance he strove to win over those souls to God that he could not move with words.
In the year 1587, his zeal for souls urged him to go to Constantinople. He could not long conceal from the fanatical Turks the good that he was doing, especially among the Christian captives on the galleys. They seized him, pierced his right hand and right foot with sharp hooks, and hung him up on a high gibbet, then kindled a weak fire under him in order to roast him alive slowly. and gradually to suffocate him. He suffered untold tortures for three days. On the fourth day he was miraculously freed by an angel and received the command to return to Italy to preach the Gospel to the poor. From now on he traveled untiringly through all the villages and country towns of Umbria. He strongly denounced evils of that day, such as frivolous dances and plays. In his associations with the people, however, he resembled a lamb in his meekness and charity. His very bearing won for him the affection of the people, and effected the most remarkable reconciliations between persons who had been living in enmity for years, and between families and communities that had been at variance with each other.
Often while at work or at prayer he would be rapt in ecstasy. He wrought many miracles, and was vouchsafed the gift of prophesy and of reading human hearts. He also foretold the day of his death. It was February 4, 1612, when he entered into the joy of his Lord in the convent at Amatrice. His body was taken to his native town of Leonissa, and reposes there, glorified by many miracles.
Pope Clement XII beatified Joseph, and Pope Benedict XIV canonized him in the year 1745.
ON MORTIFYING THE APPETITE
1. Consider how at a very tender age St, Joseph of Leonissa mortified his appetite by voluntary fasting, and later went so far as to seek his necessary nourishment by preference only in food that was repugnant to the natural taste and might even have injured his health, if the Divine Spirit who urged him to do it had not protected him. Thus he proved himself a true son of St. Francis, of whom St. Bonaventure writes: "When he was well, he seldom ate cooked foods and when he was obliged to eat them, he would mix ashes and water with the food. He did not only abstain from wine, but never even desired to drink water." Our Seraphic Father did this because he had considered the words of the Apostle: "They that are Christ's have crucified their flesh" (Gal 5:24). -- According to their rule, Tertiaries are also required to be temperate in eating and drinking. In this matter, have you proved yourself a true child of St. Francis?
2. Consider how easily and in how many ways we can indulge the appetite: by eating too much, by eating too often, by eating too greedily, by eating too daintily. Many who guard against the first three instances, are caught in the meshes of the last. God has ordained that our food should naturally have a pleasing taste in order that it may be conducive to good health, and it is no fault if we relish our food. But fondness for delicacies serves merely to satisfy an inordinate desire for food and drink; as St. Chrysostom says, some people seem to live in order to eat instead of eating in order to live. -- Do you belong to this class?
3. Consider the means to overcome the inordinate desire for eating and drinking. It is related of St. Adelgundis that upon reflecting how difficult it is to satisfy the needs of the body without yielding to sensual pleasure, she asked God to deprive her of all pleasure in eating and drinking. Then St. Peter appeared to her and gave her a piece of bread from heaven. Thereafter no earthly food could again rouse her appetite. If we, too, partake of heavenly food, that is, if in the frequent contemplation of the joys of heaven we gain a foretaste of their sweetness, and if we recall that it was through eating of forbidden fruit that heaven was closed to be reopened only when Christ drank the bitter chalice of His Passion and the nauseous gall, then perhaps earthly food will tempt us less than before. We will be glad daily to offer a sacrifice to God by mortifying our appetite as did St. Joseph of Leonissa, so that we may grow in the relish of pious practices and hereafter be made partakers of heavenly sweetness.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, Thou rewarder of faithful servants, who didst make of blessed Joseph an extraordinary laborer in preaching the Gospel, mercifully grant us through his intercession that we may never cease to serve Thee in a pleasing manner here on earth, and may finally receive from Thee the full reward in heaven. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Feb 6 - Sts Peter Baptist, and Companions d. 1597
About the year 1592 Hideyoshi, the military dictator of Japan, planned to invade and conquer the Philippine Islands, situated near his domain but belonging at the time to the Spanish crown. To negotiate peace, King Philip II of Spain delegated Father Peter Baptist Blasquez, a Franciscan of Manila, as his ambassador to Hideyoshi.
Peter Baptist, who came from an ancient Spanish family of the nobility, was learned, capable, and known for his holy life. He arrived in Japan with three companions at the end of the month of June, 1593. He succeeded in winning the dictator to terms of peace, and even obtained permission to spread Christianity throughout Japan without interference.
So Peter Baptist founded several convents of his order, built churches and hospitals, and in company with his associates converted hundreds of pagans to Christianity. Hideyoshi even offered them a neglected temple in his capital city Miyako, with permission to rebuild it as a church.
The Japanese bonzes were much incensed at the turn of events. They got the dictator to believe that the missionaries had in mind to dethrone him and deliver up the country to the Spaniards. Enraged, Hideyoshi ordered the Franciscan missionaries and their helpers to be imprisoned and put to death as offenders against the crown. Forthwith the soldiers invaded the friars convents in December, 1596, and imprisoned the inmates. Peter Baptist was among the prisoners, together with his companions, the two priests Martin of the Ascension and Francis Blanco, the cleric Philip of Jesus, who was a native Mexican, the two lay brothers Francis of St. Michael and Gonsalvo Garcia. Included were also 17 Tertiaries who rendered services to the missionaries as catechists, teachers, sacristans, and infirmarians; likewise three Jesuits.
On January 3, 1597, they were all led out of their cruel prison to the public square at Miyako. Here they were informed that they were to be crucified, and as a mark of dishonor a portion of their left ear was cut off. Then they were driven through the city on hurdles, while the sentence of death was carried on a pole at the head of the procession, and the rabble was given free hand to illtreat and insult them.
On January 4 they were again bound and thrown on hurdles, to be taken to Nagasaki for execution. The sad journey lasted 4 weeks, which in itself was cruel martyrdom because of the brutality of the bailiffs and the fury of the people in the towns and villages through which the martyrs passed. To this were added cold, hunger, and privations of every sort.
They arrived at Nagasaki on the morning of February 5th. The crosses on which the glorious confessors were to die had been prepared on a hill outside of town. The martyrs were immediately taken there and each one was bound to his cross. With loud voices they thanked God for the grace of being permitted to die like Christ their Lord, and they praised Him with psalms and hymns. As the martyrs hung crucified, executioners ran the body of each one through transversely with two spears, Father Peter Baptist being the last.
Hardly had the martyrs breathed forth their souls when God glorified them with extraordinary signs and marvels. In consequence, Pope Urban VIII beatified them in the year 1627 and permitted the annual celebration of the feast of the Japanese martyrs. In the feast of Pentecost, June 8, 1862, in presence of a great number of bishops assembled from all parts of the world, Pope Pius IX inscribed them in the catalog of the saints as powerful intercessors against enemies of the holy cross.
ON VENERATING THE HOLY CROSS
1. Consider how the cross became a mark of honor through the death of Christ. Before that time it was the tree of shame for the execution of the basest of criminals, so that it was said: "Cursed is everyone that hangs on a tree" (Gal 3:13). Today it gleams high up on the towers of our churches, it glitters on the crowns of princes; bishops wear it as a sign of their great dignity, and not only do women wear it as an ornament, but even men are proud to wear a cross as a badge of honor. At the last judgement the cross will shine in the heavens and precede the true adorers of the cross to never ending honors of heavenly glory. -- Oh, that we may then be among its followers!
2. Consider how Holy Church venerates the cross. She instituted two feasts in its honor: the feast of the Finding of the Holy Cross, and the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. She assigns to it the most honorable place on her altars; she dispenses all her means of grace and her blessings with the Sign of the Cross because it is the source of all blessings for us. Thus should we honor it: we should celebrate the two feasts with special devotion, assign the cross and the crucifix the most honorable place as ornaments of our rooms, erect it in our gardens and along the highways as a guidepost to heaven, and plead for the blessing of God through the Sign of the Cross, making it not only before and after prayer, but also while at work and in all our undertakings. -- Have you been honoring the holy cross properly, and have you gladly signed yourself with this means of blessing?
3. Consider that the best and most salutary way to venerate the cross consists in willingly bearing for the love of God the suffering, the neglect, the hardships, in short, the cross which falls to our lot in life. Only in this way can we be united with Him who died on the cross out of love for us, for He says: "Whosoever does not carry his cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:27). Our holy martyrs of Japan counted it a reward for their labors in the missions that God so honored them as to allow them to die on the cross. Does our Lord not, perhaps, reward many of His faithful servants by permitting them to live under the cross? That will be made known on the day of final retribution. Then, just as the cross was changed through Christ from a mark of disgrace to a mark of honor, so will all the contempt which we have borne out of love for Christ appear as a great honor. -- Who will then not wish to have carried his cross cheerfully? Happy he who has persevered under the cross until death!
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O Lord Jesus Christ, who in imitation of Thy painful death on the cross didst sanctify the first-born of the faith among the people of Japan in the blood of the holy martyrs Peter Baptist and his companions, grant, we beseech Thee, that we who today celebrate their feast, may be spurred on their example. Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.
Feb 7 - St. Colette 1381-1447
In the little town of Corbie, France, Colette was born on January 12, 1381, of exemplary working people. She was a child of grace, an answer to her mother's incessant prayers, for the latter was already 60 years old then and had been childless up to that time.
The little girl took great pleasure in prayer, in compassion for the poor, and in rigorous mortification, making of her soul and of her tender body a sacrifice to God. Up to her 14th year she remained unusually small in stature; the was a great grief got her father. Colette begged God to console her father in this matter, and then she began to grow very rapidly to normal height. On the other hand, she asked God to deprive her of the rare beauty she possessed, which she believed might be the occasion of danger to herself and others; that request, too, was granted, and Colette developed features of a severe cast which inspired great respect.
When both her parents had died, Colette, at the age of 22, obtained the permission of the Church authorities to shut herself up in a small abode directly adjoining the church; from a small window in it she could see the Blessed Sacrament. There she expected to spend the remainder of her life as an anchoress. She had embraced the rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, in accordance with which she endeavored to live in perfect poverty, severe mortification, and constant prayer in order to become daily more and more like the Seraphic Father. She received many consolations from heaven, but on the other hand she also experienced severe temptations and even corporal abuse from the spirits of darkness.
Almighty God had destined Colette for something extraordinary. He excited in her the desire to re-introduce the strict observance of the rule of St. Clare, which many convents of Poor Clares then observed in a modified form. The humble virgin recoiled at the thought, which she tried to persuade herself was an illusion of the proud spirit of darkness. But the inspiration returned again and again, and when she continued to resist it, she was struck dumb and later on blind, until she finally resigned herself to the will of God, like Saul before Damascus. "Lord," she sobbed in her heart, "what wilt Thou have me do? I am ready to do anything Thou desirest of me." At once her speech and her sight were restored. The Lord sent her a special director under whose guidance she was to perform extraordinary things. And so, after spending four years in her retreat, and with the authority and the blessing of the pope, she established one convent of Poor Clares after another, so that the number reached 17 during her lifetime. After her death similar foundations were established in countries other than France, in which the primitive rule of St. Clare began to flourish anew.
St. Colette endured untold hardships in fulfilling the task assigned to her, but heaven supported her even in visible ways; numerous miracles, including the raising to life of several dead persons, occurred in answer to her prayers and in confirmation of her work. So, the great foundress remained ever humble, regarding everything as the work of God, who often chooses the lowliest of people as His instruments.
On this foundation of humility she endeavored to foster in her convents the spirit of prayer and simplicity of heart, She placed great value on the recitation of the Divine Office in choir, undoubtedly in remembrance of the practice existing in her native town, and infused this esteem into her fellow sisters. She was also filled with zeal for the salvation of souls, and once in a vision she saw souls falling into hell more swiftly than the snowflakes in a winter's storm.
After laboring for 40 years, she was to receive her eternal reward. She died in her convent at Ghent on March 6, 1447. At the moment of her departure from this world she appeared to several sisters in different convents. Pope Urban Viii beatified her, and Pope Pius VII solemnly canonized her in 1807.
ON CORPORAL BEAUTY
1. The Holy Spirit says: "For many have perished by the beauty of a woman" (Eccli 9:9). St. Colette reflected on this truth, and fearing nothing more than to give anyone occasion to sin, she asked God, as did also St. Lidwina, to deprive her of her corporal beauty; God heard her prayer by means of a miracle. How different is the example of the young women who not only prefer to be beautiful to plain-looking, but endeavor in every possible way to enhance their imaginary beauty and to make themselves more attractive. Such persons lay snares for souls and draw down upon themselves sin and misery. A Christian young woman will not act in that way; whoever does do it does not deserve the name Christian any more. Moreover it is not the Christian fashion to make little girls conscious of their beauty; it is in this way that we nourish that evil propensity for personal admiration. -- Have you need to reproach yourself of these points?
2. Consider that we should place little stock in personal beauty. "Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain," says the Wise Man (Prov 31:30). How little, oftentimes, does interior merit conform with the external beauty, and how soon the latter disappears! Hence Thomas a Kempis (1,7) admonishes us: "Boast not of your stature or beauty of body, which, with a little sickness, is spoiled and disfigured; but glory in God, who gives all things and desires to give Himself above all things." "The woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised" (Prov 31:30). -- Have you perhaps also paid much attention to corporal perfections?
3. Consider, that if you possess personal beauty, it should urge you to achieve beauty of soul through purity of heart, sincerity, modesty, piety, genuine love of God and neighbor; otherwise your beautiful body will be but the fair peel of a rotten apple. On the other hand, even if you are not now possessed of bodily beauty, you can possess it later if you now beautify your soul; for then even your body will be beautiful in the resurrection and throughout eternity. For "one is the glory of the celestial, and another of the terrestrial" (1 Cor 15:40). The one is a gift of nature, the other is the result of the virtue which a person has acquired on earth. Impelled by virtuous motives, St. Colette asked almighty God to deprive her of bodily beauty, and so the beauty of her glorified body will be the greater on the last day.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O Lord Jesus Christ, who didst overwhelm St. Colette with heavenly gifts, grant, we beseech Thee, that we may zealously imitate her virtues here on earth and deserve to share with her the eternal joys of heaven. Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.
Feb 15 - Transfer of the Body of St. Anthony of Padua
When St. Anthony died on June 13, 1231, his body was buried in the little Franciscan Church of St. Mary in Padua. By 1263, the building of the present great basilica was advanced far enough so that his remains could be placed beneath the high altar. When the coffin was opened on the occasion, it was found that the saint's body had been reduced to ashes except for a few bones, but his tongue was intact and life-like. St. Bonaventure, who was present as minister general of the Friars Minor, took the tongue reverently into his hands and exclaimed, "O blessed tongue, which has always blessed God and caused others to bless Him, now it appears evident how great were your merits before God!" The tongue of St. Anthony was placed in a special reliquary, and can still be seen today in a separate chapel on the epistle side of the basilica. In 1310 the basilica was almost finished, and the remains of St. Anthony were transferred to a tomb in the middle of the nave. The final transfer of the relics of St. Anthony to their present chapel on the Gospel side of the basilica took place in 1350. It is the latter transfer that is commemorated on February 15.
Feb 19 - St. Conrad of Piacenza 1290-1351
Conrad was born at Piacenza, Lombardy, in the year 1290, of a very noble family, and while still quite young, he married Euphrosyne, the daughter of a nobleman of Lodi. He had a great fondness for chivalrous sports and was an eager hunter.
One time when out hunting, his quarry hid itself in dense underbrush. To force it into the open, Conrad directed his attendants to set fire to the brushwood. The wind, however, drove the flames upon a nearby grain field, where it continued to spread, destroying the entire crop and a large forest besides. The governor of Piacenza at once sent out armed men to apprehend the incendiary.
Filled with consternation at the unfortunate turn of the conflagration, Conrad meanwhile fled into the city along certain lonely roads. The posse, however, came upon a poor peasant who had gathered a bundle of charred sticks and was carrying them into the city. Believing him to be the guilty person, the men seized him. He was tortured on the rack until they wrung from the poor man a statement that he had set fire to the woods out of sheer spite. He was condemned to death.
Not until the unfortunate victim was passing Conrad's house on the way to execution, did Conrad learn why the sentence of death had been imposed on the peasant. Driven by his conscience, Conrad rushed out, saved the man from the hands of the bailiffs, and before all the people acknowledged that he was the guilty person. He went to the governor and explained that the conflagration was the result of a mishap; that he was willing to repair all the damage done. His wife joined him in his good will and sacrificed her dowry to assist in making restitution.
The incident taught Conrad the vanity of the goods of this world, and he resolved to give his attention only to eternal goods. He communicated his sentiments to his wife, and found that she entertained the same ideas. She went to the convent of Poor Clares and received the veil there, while Conrad, who was only 25 years old, left his native town and joined a group of hermits of the Third Order.
In a very short time he made such progress in virtue that the fame of his sanctity attracted many of his former friends and acquaintances to his hermitage. But it was Conrad's wish to forsake the world completely; so he slipped away to Rome, and from there went to Sicily, to the Noto valley, near Syracuse, where he hoped he could remain unknown and in utter seclusion. He lived there for 36 years, the last of which he spent in a lonely cave on a height since named Mount Conrad.
There Conrad lived an extremely penitential life, sleeping on the bare earth and taking only bread and water with some wild herbs for nourishment. Nevertheless, he was subjected to some of the most terrible assaults of the devil. But by means of prayer so pleasing to God that he was granted the gifts of prophesy and miracles.
When Conrad perceived that his end was drawing near, he went to Syracuse to make a general confession of his life to the bishop. On the way flocks of birds flew about him and perched on his shoulders as they used to do to St. Francis, and on the way back to his solitude they accompanied him again, to the astonishment of all whom he met. On the very same day he was seized with a fever, which resulted in his death a few days later. He was kneeling before an image of the Crucified when he peacefully passed away on February 19, 1351. In accordance with his wishes he was buried in the church of St. Nicholas at Noto, where his remains still repose in a silver shrine. Many miracles have taken place there. In the year 1515 Pope Leo X permitted his feast be celebrated at Noto. Urban VIII canonized him in 1625.
ON MAKING RESTITUTION
1. Conrad and his wife generously put up their entire fortune to repair the damage caused, without even stopping to think whether they were really bound to make restitution. As a matter of fact the damage was the result of a mischance rather than of any guilt on Conrad's part. But the spirit of God urged him, after overcoming his first fear, to do rather too much than too little, as Zacheus said to our Lord: "If I have wronged any man of anything, I restore him fourfold" (Luke 19:8). And how did almighty God reward Conrad's magnanimity? The apparent misfortune turned out to be his greatest fortune. Without doubt he would have lived as an ordinary distinguished gentleman, and as such he would have died and appeared before the judgement-seat of God. True, he now led a hard life of severe penance, but at heart he was much happier than before, and he is today numbered among the saints of heaven. Thus are sacrifices, made for conscience' sake, rewarded by God a thousand times.
2. Consider that it is a strict duty to restore what one has unjustly acquired, and to repair the damage one has caused, be it through malice or through guilty carelessness. "If the sinner do penance for his sins," says the Holy Spirit, "and do judgment and justice, and restore the pledge and render what he has robbed, he shall surely live and shall not die" (Ezech 33:14-15). To regret the wrong done and to confess it, is not sufficient; even if you have prayed much and given plenteous alms on that account, it does not help. "The sin will not be remitted," says St. Augustine, "if that which has been taken is not restored." If you are not in a position to restore, or to restore to the full extent, or if you fear the loss of your good name in consequence, then consult your confessor; he will be able to point out means and ways of fulfilling your obligation and of quieting your conscience. -- In serious matters of this nature, have you perhaps set your conscience at rest by means of empty excuses?
3. Consider that in cases where it is entirely impossible to make restitution, a Christian that is interested in his salvation will strive to repair the injustice of which he has been guilty, according to his means and as well as he is able. He can do that, for instance, by prayer, by offering up holy Masses, by penance and other good works, applying the merits to the injured person. In this way he can hope that God will restore what he is physically unable to restore. -- In a similar way we must all make restitution to God for whatever we enjoyed against the will of God and His commandments by intemperance, sensuality, and the like, making amends by mortification and renunciation for sins committed by indulging the senses. May the example and intercession of St. Conrad animate us in such atonement.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
Grant, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that as Thou wert pacified by the penance of Blessed Conrad, so we may imitate his example and blot out the stains of our sins by crucifying our flesh. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
from THE FRANCISCAN BOOK OF SAINTS
edited by Marion Habig, ofm
Copyright 1959 Franciscan Herald Press