Mar 2 - Blessed Agnes of Prague 1205-1282
On the eve of the feast of the holy virgin and martyr Agnes, in the year 1205, a daughter was born to the king of Bohemia, Primislaus Ottokar I. She also received the name Agnes in baptism. Her mother, who was an aunt of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, rejoiced when she noticed an admirable seriousness in her infant. At times she saw how the child folded its little hands in the form of a cross, and then, as if absorbed in deep devotion, would lie quite still.
According to the custom of the time, the king's daughter was betrothed at the age of three years to the son of the duke of Silesia, and hence was sent to the Silesain convent at Trebnitz, where St. Hedwig was superior at that time, to be educated there. Her betrothed died after three years, and she was then taken to the convent at Doxan in Bohemia, where the seeds of sanctity which had been sown by St. Hedwig budded forth in marvelous bloom. The child appeared to be destined for the heavenly Spouse rather than for an earthly one; but earthly monarchs renewed their suit for her hand.
Emperor Frederick II desired to secure her as the bride of his son and successor to the throne, Henry, and Agnes, who was now a mature young woman, was sent to the court of the German emperor. But when the union with Henry came to naught as the result of the prayers of the virgin, King Henry III of England sought her hand in marriage, and finally, even Emperor Frederick II himself, whose consort had meanwhile died. All the opposition raised by Agnes, who desired to belong entirely to the Divine Bridegroom, seemed in vain. Then she begged Pope Gregory IX to intervene, and as a result she obtained her freedom. The emperor declared himself satisfied since Agnes chose not a human being but the God of heaven in preference to him.
Now, however, Agnes strove to embrace the religious state in order to achieve her union with the Divine Bridegroom. The fame of Poor Clare convents had reached Bohemia, and Agnes resolved, with the assistance of her brother, who had meanwhile ascended the royal throne, to establish a convent of Poor Clares in the capital city of Prague. Pope Gregory cheerfully gave his consent, and, at his command, St. Clare sent five sisters from the convent of St. Damian in Assisi, to Prague. Agnes and seven other young women of the highest ranks of society entered the new convent together with these sisters.
Within a short time Agnes distinguished herself among them as a model of virtue; in fervor at prayer, in obedience, in religious discipline, in self-denial, and in humility. The command of the pope to accept the position of abbess was a great trial for her humility; however, she obtained permission not to carry the title, but rather to be known as the "senior sister." Holy zeal, similar to that of her holy mother St. Clare, characterized her vigilance regarding the observance of holy poverty; she declined the royal gifts sent to her by her brother, and would not tolerate that any sister possess anything of a personal nature. God blessed her with the gift of miracles; she recalled to life the deceased daughter of her brother.
Enriched with heavenly merits, she departed from this life in the odor of sanctity, to enter into eternal union with her Divine Bridegroom, on March 6, 1282, having served Him for forty years in the religious state. Devotion to her, which has existed since time immemorial, received apostolic sanction from Pope Pius IX, and her feast, which has long been celebrated in Prague on March 2nd, has been extended to the entire Franciscan Order.
SPOUSE OF CHRIST
1. Consider how Blessed Agnes treasured the honor of being chosen by Christ as His spouse. She rejected the crowns of emperors, and kings, the emperor himself admitted that he could not take it ill of her to prefer the King of heaven to himself. Indeed, there can be no other honorable union, and every Christian family should consider itself highly honored if one of its members is called to this distinction. One may not, however, choose the vocation arbitrarily and from any human considerations, for here the word of the Apostle is applicable: "Neither does any man take the honor to himself, but he who is called by God as Aaron was" (Heb 5:4). -- Let no one insist on following the vocation without being called to it, and on the other hand, let no one who is called be prevented from following it.
2. Consider that every Christian should, in a certain sense, be a spouse of Christ. By the mouth of the prophet the Lord says to every soul devoted to Him: "And I will betroth you to Me in faith" (Os 2:20), and concerning heaven, to which every one of us is called. He speaks in terms of the parable of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom (Matt 25:1). No matter in what state you are living, or what your associations are with other people, your soul is a spouse of Christ ever since the day of your baptism, and it must persevere until death in fidelity to Him. All the love and attachment we feel for human beings must be idealized and ennobled by out love for Christ, and at no time may human affections make us swerve in out fidelity to Him. -- Have you persevered in your loyalty to Him?
3. Consider how easily the glamor, the honors, and the riches of the world delude us and shake our fidelity towards Christ. We are not all so strong as Blessed Agnes was. Hence, we should be on guard, and not direct our glance to this alluring glamor. Rather, we should pray with the Psalmist: "Turn away my eyes that they may not behold vanity" (Ps 118:37), and if the devil endeavors to lure us, and if he offers all the riches of this world as a reward for yielding to him, then we should say with Christ: "Begone, Satan, for it is written, the Lord you God shall you adore and Him only shall you serve" (Matt 4:10).
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who didst raise the virgin, Blessed Agnes, to the heights of heaven through her contempt of the pleasures of life at the royal court and her humble following of Thy cross, grant, we beseech Thee, that by her intercession and imitation, we may merit to be partakers of eternal glory. Who livest and reignest forever and ever. Amen.
Mar 9 - St. Frances of Rome 1384-1440
Born in 1384, Frances belonged to a noble Roman family, and at the age of 12 she married another Roman noble, Lorenzo Ponziani. She would have preferred to become a nun, but obeyed her father and became an exemplary wife and the mother of three children. Soon after her marriage she fell seriously ill. Her husband called a man in who dabbled in magic, but Frances drove him out of the house in no uncertain terms. St. Alexis then appeared to her and cured her. From that time she began to be conscious of the presence and assistance of her guardian angel. He would give her a little nudge when she fell into any fault.
The Ponziani palace was in the Trastevere section of Rome, and just around the corner was the little church of San Francesco a Ripa. This church had been given in 1212 to St. Francis by the Roman lady Giacoma di Settesoli (Brother Jacoba), who in 1226 was present at the death of the Poverello. By 1414 at least, the adjoining friary was one of 34 belonging to the Observant reform movement in the First Order of St. Francis, which was begun in 1368 by Brother Paul or Paoluccio of Trinci and in the following century was promoted by such saints as St. Bernardin and St. John Capistran. It was at San Francesco a Ripa that Frances Ponziani was received into the Third Order of St. Francis; and one of the priests there, Father Bartholomew Bondi, became her spiritual director.
Living at the Ponziani palace with Frances was Vanozza, the wife of her oldest brother. She too had entertained thoughts of entering a convent before her marriage, and she joined Frances in her works of piety and charity. Together they spent hours of prayer in a disused attic or an old summer cottage in the garden. At seventeen Frances gave birth to her first son, John Baptist; and shortly afterwards her mother-in-law died. Frances was then placed in charge of the household; and she carried out her duties, not only efficiently, but also in a genuinely Christian manner. During a famine she gave away corn and wine to the poor so lavishly that her husband began to object; but when he found an empty granary miraculously filled with forty measures of wheat and an empty cask filled with wine, he allowed his wife full freedom.
Rome was invaded in 1410; and during the civil war which followed, a series of calamities befell the Ponziani family. Lorenzo, who fought with the papal troops, was wounded; and after Frances had nursed him to health, he went back to the war. John Baptist, the oldest son, was taken hostage, and did not return until peace was restored. A plague followed in the wake of the war, and Frances' second son and a daughter died of the disease. The peasants from the wasted Ponziani farm came to Frances, begging for food. Frances heroically devoted herself to the care of the sick, the starving, and the dying, and organized a group of Roman ladies to assist her in this work. For a time she too was stricken by the plague, but after she was suddenly cured she at once resumed her works of charity.
After his death, Frances' second son appeared to her and brought her an archangel to take the place of her guardian angel. The archangel's light was visible to her so that she could read by it. When she committed a slight fault, the archangel would hide himself, and his light would not shine again until she had made an act of contrition.
Shortly after his return, John Baptist married a flighty young lady, who took a strong dislike to Frances. But in the midst of one of her tempers, she was afflicted with a strange illness; and after Frances' hand calmed and cured her, she became a changed person. Frances placed the household in her care, and devoted herself henceforth entirely to works of charity in the city. In 1425, she and a half dozen other Roman ladies, her companions, were clothed as oblates of St. Benedict. This apparently did not cancel her membership in the Third Order; for, at this time she and Vanozza made a pilgrimage to Assisi, walking the one hundred miles from Rome to the city of St. Francis. Near Assisi St. Francis himself appeared to them, and provided the hungry and thirsty pilgrims with fresh, juicy pears by striking a wild pear tree with his stick.
In 1433, after Lorenzo's death Frances and her companions founded a religious community of Oblates. There they worked and prayed for the Holy Father and the peace of Rome, for the city was once more in turmoil. Returning to this convent after a visit to her sick son, Frances suddenly became ill and was taken back to the Ponziani palace. There she died after seven days, on March 9, 1440. Pope Paul V canonized her in 1608. Her tomb is beneath the high altar in the crypt of the Roman church which is now called Santa Francesca Romana in her honor. She is honored as the principal patron of all Benedictine oblates, but she is also one of the greatest saints who wore the habit of the Third Order of St. Francis.
ON VALUING ETERNAL POSSESSIONS
1. Consider how well St. Frances acted when she used her ample wealth, not to provide a life of luxury for herself, but in doing good to others and thereby accumulating heavenly treasures. Even in this life she enjoyed many nobler pleasures, and now the heavenly treasures which she acquired constitute her bliss in eternity. Our Lord exhorts us also to direct our attention more to these imperishable possessions than to perishable ones. "Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth where the rust and moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up to yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither the rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matt 6:19). -- Which kind of treasures have you been intent on acquiring?
2. Consider that the possession of temporal goods can not make us happy. Of course, people who do not possess them consider the possessors very fortunate. "They have called the people happy who have these things" (Ps 143:15). But he who possesses them and enjoys them is ill at ease. Solomon reveled in temporal goods, in a life of luxury, nevertheless he said, "And therefore I was weary of my life when I saw that all things under the sun are evil, and all vanity and vexation of spirit (Eccles 2:17). It is quite different with heavenly treasures. Once we possess them, they set our hearts at rest. "I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear (Ps 16:15). Even the expectation of them gives the true servant of God such a delightful foretaste, that amid temporal wants he is happy and content. Hence Tobias could say to his family: "We lead indeed a poor life, but we shall have many good things if we fear God and depart from all sin, and do that which is good" (Tob 4:23). -- Should you not aim to acquire such happiness?
3. Consider that most people do not put the proper value on heavenly possessions. Day and night they are busy planning how to acquire temporal possessions, and perhaps weeks go by without one thought about heavenly treasures. They hasten to obtain temporal possessions and expend all their strength in acquiring them, but they put forth no effort to obtain the treasures of heaven. They will even relinquish their rights to heaven because of some momentary pleasure. Is it not to be feared that our Lord's words to the wicked will apply to them: "I have sworn in My wrath: they shall not enter into My rest" (Heb 3:11). -- But there is still time. Implore God's mercy.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O Lord, who didst honor Thy servant Frances with the friendly companionship of an angel, among other gifts, grant, we beseech Thee, that by the aid of her intercession we may deserve to be admitted to the company of the angels. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
See also http://www.olisfo.cqc.com/cal.htm
March 24 - Blessed Didacus Joseph of Cadiz 1743-1801
This humble Capuchin, who could make no progress at school, this "dunce of Cadiz" was later on admired by the world as the savior of the Faith in Spain, as a second Paul, as the apostle of his century. His lineage dated from the Visigoth kings. After he had taken the habit of St. Francis with the Capuchins in Seville, had been ordained to the priesthood, and had prepared himself by a holy life, he was appointed to the task of preaching. Everybody marveled at the singular power and unction of his words, which swayed his audiences and left an impression on their lives. But most astonished of all was the venerable Dominican, Antonio Querero, a fellow student of Didacus, who knew how difficult study had been for him. A child, however, solved the problem one day during a sermon, when he shouted aloud in the church: "Mother, mother, see the dove resting on the shoulder of Father Didacus! I could preach like that too if a dove told me all that I should say!"
And there was the secret. Because of his humility and virtue, the Holy Spirit had converted this unlearned man into the most celebrated preacher in Spain. But how Father Didacus prayed before his sermons! How he scourged himself even unto blood, in order to draw down God's mercy upon the people!
Once when his superior chided him because of the austerity of his life, the saint replied: "Ah, Father, my sins and the sins of the people compel me to do it. Those who have been charged with the conversion of sinners must remember that the Lord has imposed upon them the sins of all their clients. By means of our penances we should atone for the sins of our fellowmen and thus preserve ourselves and them from eternal death. It would hardly be too much if we shed the last drop of our blood for their conversion."
In this disposition he journeyed through all Spain and infused new Catholic life wherever he went. In a very pronounced way he preached the praise of the most Holy Trinity and of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Honors did not escape him. He was appointed extraordinary consultor of the Church, synodal examiner in almost all the Spanish dioceses, honorary canon, and honorary doctor of several universities. He died in 1801, in the 58th year of his highly blessed life, and was beatified by Pope Leo XIII.
ON THE NECESSITY OF PENANCE
1. Consider the rigorous penance of Blessed Didacus. We do not need, nor are we permitted to imitate him in it. But it would be well if we strove to cultivate the spirit which prompted him to undertake it. Not without reason does the holy council of Trent explain: "The whole life of a Christian should be one continuous act of penance." We are sinners, and the first requisite of true penance is the acknowledgment and confession of our sinfulness and hearty sorrow for our offenses. -- Do you possess at least this kind of contrition?
2. Consider the admonition of our Lord: "Except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5), that is to say, by sudden death. Our Lord spoke these words after it had been reported to Him that a number of persons had died a sudden death. But who is there who would care to be surprised in his sins by sudden death? Let us, therefore, heed that other word also: "Today, if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb 3:8). -- Should you not long ago have followed the call to penance?
3. Consider penance as atonement for the sins of others. What fruitful penance Blessed Didacus took upon himself in order to atone for the sins of the people. Hence, his sermons produced "fruits worthy of penance" (Luke 3:8). He who seriously considers how frequently our good God is offended every day, will count it as a sweet obligation to impose small mortifications upon himself by way of atonement. -- Have you ever thought of doing that? On Fridays? During Lent? During the Ember weeks?
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
Oh God, who did endow Thy blessed confessor, Didacus, with the science of the saints and didst work wonders through him for the salvation of his people, grant us through his intercession to think those things that are right and just, so that we may arrive safely at the kingdom of Thy glory. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
from THE FRANCISCAN BOOK OF SAINTS
edited by Marion Habig, ofm
Copyright 1959 Franciscan Herald Press
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