Feast Day December 21
St. Thomas was a fisherman, born in Galilee. The divine Saviour received him among His Apostles, to announce His Gospel to the world, and to convert mankind. From the time that he was chosen to so high an office, Thomas followed his beloved Master everywhere, and feared no danger.
One day, when Jesus spoke of going to Judaea, to awaken Lazarus from the dead, some of His disciples opposed Him, saying: “Rabbi, the Jews but now sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?” They probably feared that they would have to suffer with Him. Thomas, however, more courageous than the others, said: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” By these words the Apostle manifested that no fear of death would separate him from Christ; and that, rather than leave Him, he would die with Him. It is true that later, with other disciples, he left Him on the Mount of Olives, when He was taken prisoner by the Jews; but he returned soon, and joined the rest of the Apostles.
On the day of His resurrection, Christ appeared to them. Thomas, however, was not with them. When they told him afterwards, that they had seen the Lord, he doubted, and said: “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” By this, Thomas meant that he did not believe the resurrection of the Lord, although he had several times heard from the lips of Jesus, not only a prophecy of His sufferings and death, but also of His resurrection; and although the Apostles and several pious women had repeatedly assured him that they had seen the risen Lord. The Holy Fathers say that Christ permitted this unbelief in Thomas, not only that from it we might learn our own weakness, but also that all who believe in Him might be so much better instructed in the mystery of His resurrection, and strengthened in their belief in it.
Hence, St. Gregory writes: “The unbelief of Thomas has been more useful to our belief than the belief of the other disciples of the Lord, who, without hesitation, received the news of His resurrection,” because the unbelief of Thomas gave occasion for new proofs of the resurrection of Christ.
The eighth day after that event, Christ came into the hall where Thomas was with the other Apostles, and greeted them with the words: “Peace be unto you.” Then, turning to Thomas, He said: “Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” What Thomas must have felt at these words, and at seeing his risen Saviour, each one may picture to himself.
He saw himself suddenly convinced, not only of the resurrection, but also of the omniscience of his dear Master. With shame and fear at the remembrance of his fault, but also with love and confidence at the thought of the meekness of the Saviour, he touched, with deep veneration, the holy wounds, and exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” In these few words he repented of his unbelief, and at the same time made a confession of his faith, in presence of those whom he had scandalized by his obstinacy.
He remained until his end, constant in his belief; and, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, announced, not only the glorious resurrection of the Lord, but also the other mysteries and articles of the faith. St. Thomas passed some time in Judaea, preaching the Gospel, and then went into distant countries, inhabited by savage races, as Parthia, Media, Persia, Hyrcania, and came, at last, to India. In all he preached the Gospel of the Lord, notwithstanding the manifold difficulties which the Evil One placed in his way, through the enemies of the faith, and the numerous persecutions which he everywhere endured.
How many thousand souls this holy Apostle converted to Christ is known only to Him from whom nothing is hid. The many miracles which he almost daily performed, persuaded the people that the faith which he preached was truly divine: hence his success with the most embittered pagans. He made the largest number of converts in India. This immense territory he traversed in every direction, and established Christianity in it so firmly, that traces of it were found there in the sixteenth century, fifteen hundred years after his death. Even in China, indubitable signs of it were discovered. He erected many churches, and placed Christian teachers in them, that the faith he had personally preached during his life might be preserved after his death. At the building of the church at Meliapor, one of the chief cities of India, a wonderful event took place.
The sea had cast ashore a very large tree, which the king desired to make use of for the palace he was just erecting. But neither men nor many elephants could move the tree. The holy Apostle, full of trust in the Almighty, offered to draw the immense burden all alone, if the king would make him a present of it for the Christian church he was about to build. The king consented, and St. Thomas, loosening his girdle, tied the end of it to one branch of the tree, made the sign of the Cross, and drew the tree away from the place where it was lying. All present were greatly astonished at this miracle, and many were converted, and assisted the Apostle in building the church. In this church the Saint erected a cross of stone, which, it is said, is still to be seen at this day.
Upon this cross he engraved the following words: “When the sea will have reached this spot, men will come from Europe to propagate the faith which I began to preach.” The sea was, at that time, far off, but at the time when St. Francis Xavier landed there, it had reached the cross, and the prophecy was fulfilled. The idolatrous priests who could not contradict the faith which St. Thomas preached, and which he verified by so many miracles, were enraged at his success, as they lost considerably in temporal goods by the conversions that took place.
They therefore endeavored to arouse the king’s wrath against him, or to make away with him in some other manner. Some write that they persuaded the king to pronounce his death-sentence, and that he was shot dead with arrows. Others relate that the Brahmins themselves took the life of the holy Apostle. They had ascertained that the Saint went every day, towards evening, to a cross which he himself had erected, and that he remained there a long time in prayer. This gave them a favorable opportunity to vent their wrath upon him. They came together silently to the place where, on bended knees, the Saint was saying his prayers. One of them thrust a lance into him so violently that he sank upon the ground; after which, the others continued to beat him and to trample on him until all signs of life ceased.
When St. Francis Xavier came to India, the signs of blood were still to be seen on the cross where this murderous deed was committed; and more than once drops of blood appeared on this cross during the celebration of Mass, when crowds of people were present. St. Xavier, shortly after his arrival in India, went to the tomb of St. Thomas, and passed many days and nights there in prayer. He begged God fervently to bestow upon him the Spirit and zeal of this holy Apostle, that he might be able to restore the Christian faith which St. Thomas had preached there, but which had gradually been entirely exterminated. Before undertaking any important work, he went, if possible, to the tomb of St. Thomas; and when this was impossible, he invoked the holy Apostle’s intercession, and endeavored to follow his example in all things.
I. St. Thomas, for three years, accompanied Christ our Lord; was present at His divine instructions; saw the many miracles He wrought; and yet became incredulous and remained so for eight days, and might have remained still longer, had not Christ mercifully restored his faith. Go, O man, and build upon your own strength, or if you have lived piously for some time, imagine you are secure against falling! Oh! how foolish, how presumptuous you are! That which happened to an apostle may surely happen to you.
The sad fall of our holy Apostle, ought not, however, to make you despondent or fearful; it ought only to incite you not to trust too much in your own strength, but to walk continually in the fear of the Lord, and to pray to Him daily, that He may give you the grace not to offend Him, but to remain constant in His service If you remain continually in the fear of the Lord, you will walk carefully and not fall into any great sin. For, it is written: “The fear of the Lord is unto life; and he shall abide in fulness without being visited with evil,” (without falling into sin.) (Proverbs, xix.) Tertullian writes: “Fear is the foundation of our salvation. Whoever fears is careful. Through fear we shall become careful, and through carefulness we shall be saved. Whoever is careful is sure.” If we cease to fear God, then we are near falling, even if we have reached the highest pinnacle of perfection.
This the Holy Ghost indicates in the following words: “Unless thou hold thyself diligently in the fear of the Lord, thy house shall quickly be overthrown.” (Eccles. xxvii.) II. Thomas is called unbelieving by Christ, although he disbelieved only one article, the resurrection. Hence, it is clear that he who doubts, or rejects only one article of faith, cannot be counted among true Catholics, although he believes all the others. A Catholic must believe every truth revealed by the Almighty, be it great or small, as God cannot fail either in small things or great. The offence which we do to God by denying even the smallest article of faith, is as great as if we denied an important one, or all of them together; for, it is just as if we said: God has been deceived, or He has deceived us in revealing this article.
Whether this is said of great and important articles, or of one that is small, makes but little difference; or if we desire to make a difference, we must say that it is a greater offence to God to ascribe to Him a fault in a small matter than in a great; for, what can be more blasphemous than to maintain that the Almighty has been deceived in a trifling matter, or that He intends to deceive us?
They should ponder on this, who sometimes entertain doubts about an article of faith, or even go so far as to say that in some matters, they agree with non-Catholics, and consider them right. These are no longer Catholics. Their faith is lost; and if they do not repent, as St. Thomas did, they will go to perdition, because they are incredulous. They are disobedient who obey nine of the Commandments but not the tenth.
What is the fate of the incredulous? Christ Himself pointed it out when He said: “Who believes not in the Son, will not see life, but the wrath of God will remain with him.” (John viii.)
Source: Lives of the Saints
by Rev. F. X. Weninger D. D., S. J.
Feast Day December 13
St. Lucy, one of the most renowned Christian heroines, first saw the light of the world at Syracuse, in Sicily. Her parents were of high rank and very rich; but Lucy cared not for temporal goods, and had already when quite young, vowed herself to the Lord.
As her father had died early, her mother desired that she should marry a youth, her equal in rank and fortune, but still a heathen. Lucy was horrified at this proposal; but not to displease her mother by a refusal, she endeavored to delay giving a decisive answer, praying meanwhile to God to aid her.
Her prayer was answered in an unexpected manner. Her mother became sick and needed her daughter’s assistance. Already four years had passed, and there was yet no hope of a recovery, when the mother, persuaded by Lucy, allowed herself to be carried to the tomb of St. Agatha, at Catania, which was celebrated for many miracles.
On arriving there, Lucy, after long prayers, was overcome by sleep, in which St. Agatha, accompanied by many Angels, appeared to her and said: “What do you request of me, dear sister? Behold your mother is cured! Your faith has worked this miracle. Know then, that as God, for my sake, made Catania glorious, so will He, for your sake, make Syracuse famous; for, you have prepared for Him an agreeable dwelling by vowing your virginity to Him.”
When Lucy awoke she found her mother, who had been sick so long, entirely restored. Joyfully embracing her, she warmly congratulated her, and after both had given due thanks to the Almighty, they also showed their gratitude to the virgin, St. Agatha.
After this, Lucy said to her mother: “I beg of you, dearest mother, speak not to me again of a mortal bridegroom, for I have long since united myself to One who is immortal. I pray you also to give me the portion you would have given me if I had married an earthly bridegroom.” The mother, thinking that her daughter would give all to the poor, replied: “If you will wait till after my death, you will be at liberty to do as you like with your inheritance.”
To this Lucy made answer: ” What we leave to the poor after our death is not so agreeable to God, nor so useful to us as what we give them during our life-time; just as a torch which is carried after us is not of the same service as one which is carried before.”
Moved by these words, the mother promised to accede to all her wishes. Hence, having returned home, she gave Lucy the portion which was due to her, and the holy virgin gave it immediately to the poor. When the youth who had asked her hand in marriage heard of this, his love was changed into hatred, and he accused her to the Governor, Paschasius, as well for refusing to become his wife, as also for being a Christian and despising the gods.
Paschasius called Lucy into his presence, and admonished her to sacrifice to the gods, as well as to keep her promise to the young nobleman. “Neither will be done,” replied the virgin;” I sacrifice only to the true God; to Him have I given my faith; not to any man.” “I obey the command of the Emperor,” replied Paschasius; “you must sacrifice to the gods, and keep your word.”
“You obey the command of the Emperor,” said Lucy, “and I obey the command of God. You fear a mortal man; I fear an immortal God, and Him I will obey.” “Your brave words will cease,” said Paschasius, “when your fortitude is tried by tortures.” “No,” said Lucy, “they will not. The servants of the Lord are never in want of words; for Christ has said to them ‘When you speak to kings and magistrates, do not long consider what and how you say it, for it will be given you what to speak. It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of God speaking through you.’” “Do you pretend to say by this, that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” asked Paschasius.
The holy virgin replied: “Those whose life is pure and chaste are a temple of the Holy Ghost.” “I shall take care that you be not much longer such a temple,” said the Governor; “I will send you into a brothel where you will soon be deprived of your purity.” “If my will is not in it,” said the chaste virgin, “my purity will be undefiled, even as you can force me to cast incense on the altar before the gods. God judges not by the violence which is done to the body, but by the will. If you cause such violence to be done to me, my chastity will earn a double crown.”
Paschasius, enraged at these words, commanded her to be taken to a house of iniquity, and there exposed to the wickedness of men. Lucy went forth courageously, full of trust in God, whose aid she implored, into the street; where, suddenly, by the power of the Almighty, she became immovable, so that they could not remove her from the spot notwithstanding all their efforts. They fastened ropes around her, and even yoked several pairs of oxen to them, but all was useless; she stood like a rock and could not be moved.
Paschasius ascribed this miracle to witchcraft, and commanded pitch and boiling oil to be poured over her, and set on fire; but she remained unharmed in the midst of the flames. The tyrant could no longer endure to see the fearlessness of the Christian heroine, much less listen to the admonitions which she gave to those around her to forsake idolatry; hence he commanded that a sword should be thrust into her throat to end her life.
Sinking to the ground, the Saint closed her eyes in death, and received the crown of martyrdom, in the year of our Lord, 303. The prophecy that the persecution of the Christians would soon cease, with which she had comforted the faithful shortly before her end, became true. Her holy body was buried at Syracuse. She was honoured at Rome in the sixth century among the most illustrious virgins and martyrs, whose triumphs the church celebrates, as appears from the Sacramentary of St. Gregory, Bede, and others. Her festival was kept in England, till the change of religion, as a holiday of the second rank, in which no work but tillage or the like was allowed. Her body remained at Syracuse for many years; but was at length translated into Italy. It is there exposed to public veneration in a rich chapel of St. Vincent’s church. A portion of her relics was carried to Constantinople, and brought thence to Venice, where it is kept with singular veneration
Lucy is often painted with the balls of her eyes laid in a dish: perhaps her eyes were defaced or plucked out, though her present acts make no mention of any such circumstance. From time immemorial this holy virgin and martyr has been invoked by those who suffer from diseases of the eyes.
Impress deeply into your heart three memorable sayings of St. Lucy. The first regards almsgiving before death. This is much more agreeable to the Almighty, and much more useful to you than to give after your death. May you choose what is most agreeable to God and most useful to yourself.
The second is the answer which she gave to Paschasius: ” You obey the command of the Emperor, and
I, the command of God. You fear a mortal man, and I fear the immortal God; Him I must obey.” May you act according to these words. Keep the commandments of the Lord, for He can truly be more useful to you, and harm you more than all mortal men.
The third is comprised in the following words: “Those whose life is chaste, are a temple of the Holy Ghost.” For whom then are the unchaste a dwelling. Surely, for no one else than the spirit of hell. Should not this thought alone awaken in you the greatest horror for the vice of unchastity, and an especial love for the virtue of purity.
Besides these three maxims, consider how miraculously St. Lucy was strengthened and protected by
the power of God, in such a manner that no force could move her from where she stood. Endeavor,
at least, to be immovable in your intention, to live more piously, and to shun sin, especially that sin to
which you are most addicted. In order not to become guilty of it again, you ought to stand as immovable
as a rock in the sea. Let prayer and trust in God be your help, as they were St. Lucy’s. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and immovable,” says St. Paul, (i Cor. XV.)
Source: Lives of the Saints
by Rev. F. X. Weninger D. D., S. J.
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints
by Rev. Alban Butler
Volume XII: December 1866
Feast Day December 8
The name of this festival is sufficient to awaken delight in the hearts of all true children of Mary, and to incite them to the most tender devotion; but its grandeur demands to be spoken of in particular, and recommended to the special attention of the faithful. Joachim and Anna, the holy parents of the Blessed Virgin had been united almost twenty years, without having been blessed with a child to inherit their temporal possessions or their virtue. This barrenness, which in ancient times was considered a great dishonor, and a curse of the Almighty, saddened the holy couple greatly; but they submitted to the divine will and bore with patience the shame which was attached to it.
The Almighty, however, who had chosen them to become the parents of the most blessed child, after having tried their patience for twenty years, sent an angel to them, who announced that Anna would give birth to a daughter, who was destined to become the mother of the long-promised Messiah. Joachim and Anna, greatly rejoicing continued the prayer which they had until then offered to God to ask His blessing, and to thank Him for His grace.
The angel’s words were fulfilled, St. Anna, in due time, brought forth the pure, unspotted daughter, who was destined to become the Mother of God, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Several centuries ago, the question arose whether the Blessed Virgin was conceived, like all other human beings, in original sin, or if she had been exempted from it. No one doubted that she was free from original sin at her birth, and sanctified before she was born, as it is known from Holy Writ that the same grace was bestowed on the holy prophet Jeremias, and on the forerunner of Christ, St. John the Baptist, who surely cannot be compared in dignity with the Mother of the Saviour.
The only doubt was, whether Mary had been defiled, at least for a short time, by original sin, and had afterwards been purified; or if her blessed soul had been created in sanctifying grace, and had thus been so entirely exempted from original sin that she had not been for one moment defiled by it. There were several who, in their zeal for the honor of the Redeemer of mankind, maintained the former, without sinning by this against their faith, as the Church had not yet pronounced the latter as an article of faith.
There were, however, a great many more who taught the latter, and confirmed it by many reasons. The latter were supported by several universities, religious societies, entire countries and kingdoms, ecclesiastical and temporal authorities; and the doctrine became so firmly established, that it was strictly forbidden, under pain of severe punishment, to teach or maintain the contrary.
The principal of these reasons is drawn from the high dignity to which Mary was chosen by God, when He elected her to become the mother of His only Son. This dignity is so high, that it is but right to recognize Mary as free from original sin.
“It is but just,” says St. Anselm,” that the Blessed Virgin should shine with a purity which, after that of God, must be recognized as the greatest.” Had Mary been defiled with original sin, and then purified from it, how much greater would her purity have been than that of St. Jeremias and St. John, who also were sanctified before they were born? It would not then have been the greatest, which, after God, we can imagine.
The souls of Adam and Eve would have been more stainless in their creation. St. Bonaventure says: “It is but fit that the Blessed Virgin should be without any stain, and that she should so entirely conquer Satan, that she was not even for one moment subject to him.” If Mary’s soul had been, only for one moment, spotted with original sin, she would have been subject to Satan for that length of time; she would have been a seat, a dwelling of the devil, a slave to him, and a child of divine wrath. Would it have been suitable that the only Son of God should dwell nine months in the womb of a created being, who before, though for ever so short a space of time had been a dwelling of Satan?
Can we think, without trembling, that she, who was chosen from all eternity to become the mother of our Lord, had been a slave of the devil, an object of divine wrath? If this had been the case, Satan could have boasted that, before Christ, he had inhabited the Ark which was destined by the Almighty, not to preserve manna, or the lifeless tablets of the law, but to keep, during nine months, the holy Law-giver Himself.
Would this have been worthy of Christ?
No one will dare to say it. Hence, the honor of Him, whom Mary gave to the world, demands that she should have been conceived immaculate. The high dignity to which Mary was raised allows not the thought that she, even for one moment, was defiled with original sin.
St. Augustine, when expounding to some heretics that nobody had lived on earth without sin, added: “Except the Blessed Virgin, whom, out of reverence to her Son, I will not allow to be named, when there is question of sin.” This holy teacher believed Mary exempt from all sin, and although he was discussing actual sin, yet the reason which he gives for her being pure from all actual sin is as strong when applied to original sin.
The honor of our Lord, that is of our Saviour, demands that we recognize Mary as having been free not only from actual, but also from original sin. We honor Christ by believing that He had a mother always immaculate. To say that His Mother ever was defiled with sin, and hence that, at least for a time, she was a slave of Satan, cannot but dishonor Him.
Besides this, it is certain that God loved Mary more than all other creatures, as He raised her above them all by choosing her to become the Mother of his only Son. We cannot therefore doubt that He was more liberal to her in bestowing graces than He was to others.
He created the Angels and our first parents in sanctifying grace; why should we not then believe that He created Mary also thus, and that He bestowed upon her the grace of never being defiled by sin? God could give her this grace; who dares to doubt it? He preserved her from the stain of original sin, because He is Almighty. It was also right that He should impart such grace to her, because He had chosen her as His mother.
Why should we not then be convinced that He imparted this grace at the moment of her creation, since we know that He bestowed more graces upon her than upon other creatures? The Angelic doctor says: “We believe rightfully that she who gave life to the only Son of the Father, received greater graces than all others.” Thence we must also believe that she received the grace of exemption from original sin.
Therefore the holy Fathers say that she was pure from all sin, entirely free from every spot, and that she was always more holy than the angels. “Who is now more holy than she? Not the Prophets, not the Apostles, not the Martyrs, not the Patriarchs, not the Angels, not the Cherubim or Seraphim,” says St.Chrysostom.
St. Ephrem writes: “Mary the Virgin, Our Lady, is undefiled and far from a stain of sin.” St. Ambrose, also, calls the Blessed Virgin “free from every stain of sin.” St. Epiphanius has these words: “She stands higher than them all, except God. She is by nature more beautiful than the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and all the heavenly hosts.” How could all this be said truthfully of her, if she had not been free from original sin?
Other holy Fathers, and celebrated Doctors of the Church, speak still more clearly. We will cite only a few. St. Peter Damian says: “The flesh which Mary took of Adam refused to take the stain of Adam.” St. Anselm writes: “If Jeremias, the prophet, was sanctified before he was born, and if the forerunner of Christ, St. John, was filled with the Holy Ghost: who will dare to say that Mary, in her conception, was deprived of the grace of the Holy Ghost?”
And again : “If God preserved the good Angels from sin, while others fell, could He not preserve His future mother from all sin? He had decreed from all eternity that she should become the Queen of Angels: how can we then believe that she was put lower than the Angels?”
And again: “My tongue dares not utter, and my mind is loath to think that Our Lady, who has been raised so high by the power of the Almighty, on whom the wisdom of the Most High bestowed so many graces, and whom the mercy of God chose as Mother, that she in her conception was burdened with sin, brought by jealousy into the world.”
St.Ildephonsus speaks as follows: “It is known that she was free from original sin, through whom not only the curse resting upon the children of Eve was dissolved, but through whom, also, blessing was imparted to all.”
Omitting other declarations, I will only add the words with which the learned and pious Thomas a Kempis addresses the Blessed Virgin: “Thou art most beautiful in thy Conception: thou who art created to be the tabernacle of the Most High! Thou art, O glorious Virgin, not only partly beautiful, but wholly. In thee is no spot of sin, neither of a venial, nor of a mortal, nor of original sin. Never has a spot been in thee, never will one cast a shadow upon thee!”
It is true that, according to the general law, all men descending from Adam are conceived and born in original sin. But could not He who gave this law, exempt Mary, as He exempted Her from other general laws? The law of God was given to Eve, for all mothers, in these words: “In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” and yet Mary was excepted from this law, as she not only brought forth her Son without pain, but with inexpressible joy.
Assuerus, the King, had forbidden, under pain of death, that any one should come into his presence uncalled; but he excepted his beloved Esther from this command. “Not for thee, but for all others exists this command,” said he.
Why should we not believe that Christ the Lord exempted His mother from a general law, since He loved her more than Assuerus loved Esther? It is true, all men are conceived in original sin, according to the general law. Mary alone is exempted, by a special grace, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and Redeemer.
Jesus Christ redeemed all mankind, hence also Mary; but He redeemed Mary in a special and peculiar manner. “Other men,” says St. Bonaventure, “have been raised from their fall by the Saviour; but Mary has been upheld by Him, that she should not fall.”
And again: “He redeemed her from original sin, not as if she had been defiled by it; but He preserved her by an especial grace, so that she should not be stained by it.” In a similar manner David thanked the Lord for having released him from the sword of the wrathful Saul, by preserving him from it.
Hence, it is evident, as we have said before, that Mary was conceived without original sin. To teach the contrary was, in former times, forbidden by several decrees of the Apostolic See. At present, it would be an error against the Faith; for although the holy Church believes only what God has revealed, and what, from the beginning of Christianity, was taught by Christ and His Apostles, she does not always pronounce these truths in the same solemn and explicit manner.
The Apostles placed only twelve articles of faith in the general creed; but later, the errors which, at various times, were broached by heretics, required that the articles of faith should be more defined and made more explicit.
In regard to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was not a heresy against it that occasioned the solemn declaration, but the universal desire of the Christian world, and the many miracles which had taken place by invoking Mary’s assistance, in virtue of this prerogative.
The holy Father, Pius IX., found himself therefore, at last, induced to ask the opinion of the bishops of the entire Catholic World. Having obtained this, he invited many of them to Rome, where in the Church of St. Peter, on the 8th December, 1854, surrounded by two hundred Prelates of the Church, and a large number of the faithful, after invoking the Holy Ghost, the Pope, as successor of St. Peter, and head of the Church, with tears of emotion and piety, solemnly declared that, “It is a truth revealed by God that Mary was conceived without original sin.”
Rome and the entire Catholic World celebrated amid rejoicings this definition, so consoling to us and so glorious to the Blessed Virgin. We do not believe anything new by this, but we believe it now with that authority which the holy Church, built upon a rock, has given it as to an undoubted truth.
Hence, pay a special devotion to this article of faith, and honor it by saying the office of the Immaculate Conception, or at least to say a short prayer in honor of the Blessed Virgin every day.
Only one request more: Endeavor, above all things, by frequent invocations of the spotless Virgin, to obtain grace from God, to continue without sin, a life which you began in original sin, and to close it without sin, whenever it shall please the Almighty to call you.
To the faithful of the United States of America, this devotion is so much more earnestly to be recommended, as Mary in her Immaculate Conception has been solemnly chosen as their patroness, whom they are exhorted to invoke as their special advocate at the Throne of the Almighty.
I. The Blessed Virgin was exempted by special grace from original sin. Her soul was created in sanctifying grace, and constantly remained in it. Although you have not received a like favor, but were conceived and born in original sin, the merciful God ordained that you should be cleansed from it by holy baptism.
Thousands and thousands of persons had not this grace. They died, and daily die, in original sin without holy baptism. These can never go to heaven, as nothing unclean can enter there, if they have not at least desired to be baptized.
Why then has the Almighty conferred upon you, in preference to so many thousands of others, the grace of holy baptism? Why did He not let you die in original sin, like so many others?
Ah! There is no other cause to be found but the infinite mercy of God towards you. On this day, give fervent thanks to the Almighty for so great, so inestimable a grace which has drawn so many other graces after it, and will still draw many more.
But remember that baptism alone is not sufficient for salvation. “To holy baptism must be joined a Christian life,” says St. Augustine; “for he who said, ‘unless ye are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,’ has also said, ‘If your justice is not greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye can in no wise enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
II. As the Blessed Virgin was exempted from original sin, so also did she remain free from all actual sin. She never offended God, and never lost the grace which she received in her Immaculate Conception. There are several Saints, who during their lives committed no great sin. It is also known, that many earnestly endeavored to avoid the least evil; but it is not known of any Saint that he never committed a venial sin, at least by imprudence or surprise.
Only of the Holy Mother are we assured that, by special grace, she remained free from all, even the slightest sin. How is it with you? How long did you preserve the sanctifying grace received at baptism?
No longer than until you committed your first mortal sin. And how soon after baptism, and how often have you been guilty of it! how horribly have you defiled your soul! Repent, today, with your whole heart, of your misdeeds; seek to cleanse your soul most perfectly from every stain of sin, and to keep it henceforth unspotted.
For those defiled with mortal sin, heaven will be closed as surely as for those who are not cleansed by baptism from original sin.
Pray today that the Immaculate Virgin may obtain for you from God the grace to cleanse your conscience perfectly, and to keep it pure in future. You can do nothing more agreeable to her, and you cannot more surely gain her protection, than by following her example, and guarding yourself against all sin.
“For,” says St. John of Damascus, “she abhors sin, and delights in virtue.”
Feast Day December 2
In the fourth century, there lived at Rome a virgin celebrated among the Christians for her beauty and her modesty, named Bibiana. Flavian, her father, was, in the reign of the godless Emperor Julian, dispossessed of all his honors and banished from his country on account of his faith. He ended his life in misery, a true martyr for Christ’s sake. Dafrosa, her mother, was for the same reason, after her husband’s banishment, locked up in her own house, that she might starve. Bibiana and Demetria, the two daughters, shared their mother’s imprisonment.
But as neither the mother nor her daughters became emaciated by the hunger they suffered, and, on the contrary, appeared more vigorous than before, and could not be frightened into denying Christ, the mother, by the order of the governor Apronianus, was banished from the country and then beheaded.
Bibiana and Demetria were, at the same time, deprived of all their possessions, in the hope that poverty would cause them to abandon their faith. But the Christian heroines regarded it as little as those to whom St. Paul writes: “You have received the loss of your possessions joyfully, because you know that you have to expect greater goods in heaven. They said cheerfully “It is better to lose the temporal goods, which we cannot possess long, than the eternal.”
The Governor, after a time, called both of them, and promised that all that had been taken from them would be restored, if they would only worship the gods; but if they refused, he threatened them with imprisonment, a cruel martyrdom and the most painful death. The Christian virgins were as unmoved by the flatteries and promises of the tyrant, as by his menaces. “We worship the true God,” said Bibiana, “and are ready to die rather than to stain our souls by sacrificing to the gods.” Demetria spoke in the same manner, but hardly had the words left her lips, when she sank down and expired.
Bibiana was given into the charge of a wicked and cunning woman, named Rufina, who was to cause her to abandon her faith; for, the heathens knew, by experience, that none more easily denied Christ than those who had lost their purity. Rufina, the wicked woman, left nothing untried. She represented the pleasures of the world to Bibiana in such a manner, that she thought the virgin would surely drink the poison thus put to her lips; but all her wiles were of no effect. Although the maiden was kept like a prisoner by Rufina and could not escape, yet she remained unharmed by the fire of temptation.
Calling ceaselessly to God for aid and strength, she was so graciously sustained, that she not only manifested not the least pleasure at Rufina’s wicked behavior, but was more and more strengthened in virtue. Rufina, enraged at this, maltreated the innocent virgin by beating her most violently. All that her rage suggested was employed to gain her end; but the virgin, upheld by the Almighty, remained true to her resolution, rather to lose her life by the most cruel martyrdom, than to stain her purity.
When, at length, Rufina saw to her great chagrin that her endeavors were entirely useless, she informed the tyrant Apronianus of her failure, and persuaded him immediately to sentence Bibiana to death. The tyrant, without delay, ordered her to be tied to a column, and beaten to death. The order was executed, and Bibiana repeatedly declared that she regarded it as a high honor to be thought worthy to die for Christ’s sake.
With her eyes raised to heaven, she stood motionless during her martyrdom, until her whole body was one mass of bloody wounds, and she gave her unspotted soul to the keeping of her heavenly Bridegroom. According to the tyrant’s command, her holy body was left on the public road, to serve as a prey to the dogs but it remained untouched, until a pious priest carried it secretly away, and buried it beside the grave of her mother and sister.
The Christians built a chapel over her tomb which Pope Simplicius changed into a church in 465. This church was called Olympia from the name of a pious lady who had contributed largely towards it’s erection. repaired by Honorius III, it was rebuilt in 1628 by Urban VIII, who placed in it the remains of the saints Bibiana, Demetria, and Dafrosa.
The danger in which St. Bibiana found herself, was great beyond expression, and the more so, because it lasted for a long time. Yet the chaste virgin committed no sin, because she was in danger without her consent, and could not save herself by flight. She did all in her power to guard herself against sinning, and God gave her His special aid. It must ever afford great consolation to those who against their will, are exposed to great danger, and who are unable to escape, that God will surely assist them, when, like St. Bibiana, they do all in their power to help themselves.
Such help, however, cannot reasonably be expected by those who imprudently cast themselves into danger of sin, or who voluntarily remain in it. “Divine assistance will surely be given us, if we do not neglect to do all that is in our power,” says St. James of Nisibis. Many persons, however, will not do this, but clearly show that it is not their earnest wish to avoid sin, since they do not employ the necessary means. And for the same reason, they are in danger of going to eternal ruin. Why? Take the following words well to heart. To gain heaven, nothing is so necessary as a truly sorrowful confession.
Pray for a fidelity and patience like Bibiana’s under all trials, that neither convenience nor any worldly advantage may ever prevail upon you to transgress your duty.
Source: Lives of the Saints
by Rev. F. X. Weninger D. D., S. J.