Archive for January, 2011

The Conversion of St. Paul

Feast Day January 25

THIS great apostle was a Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin. At his circumcision, on the eighth day after his birth, he received the name of Saul. His father was by sect a Pharisee, and a denizen of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia: which city had shown a particular regard for the cause of the Cæsars; on which account Cassius deprived it of its privileges and lands; but Augustus, when conqueror, made it ample amends by honoring it with many new privileges, and with the freedom of Rome, as we read in the two Dions and Appian.

Hence St. Paul, being born at Tarsus, was by privilege a Roman citizen, to which quality a great distinction and several exemptions were granted by the laws of the empire. His parents sent him young to Jerusalem, where he was educated and instructed in the strictest observance of the law of Moses, by Gamaliel, a learned and noble Jew, and probably a member of the Sanhedrim; and was a most scrupulous observer of it in every point.

He appeals even to his enemies to bear evidence how conformable to it his life had been in every respect. He embraced the sect of the Pharisees, which was of all others the most severe, though by its pride the most opposite to the humility of the gospel. It was a rule among the Jews that all their children were to learn some trade with their studies, were it but to avoid idleness, and to exercise the body, as well as the mind, in something serious. It is therefore probable that Saul learned in his youth the trade which he exercised even after his apostleship, of making tents.

Saul, surpassing all his equals in zeal for the Jewish law and their traditions, which he thought the cause of God, became thereby a, blasphemer, a persecutor, and the most outrageous enemy of Christ. He was one of those who combined to murder St. Stephen, and by keeping the garments of all who stoned that holy martyr, he is said by St. Austin to have stoned him by the hands of all the rest; to whose prayers for his enemies he ascribes the conversion of St. Paul:” If Stephen,” said he, “had not prayed, the church would never have had St. Paul.”

After the martyrdom of the holy deacon, the priests and magistrates of the Jews raised a violent persecution against the church at Jerusalem, in which Saul signalized himself above others. By virtue of the power he had received from the high priest, he dragged the Christians out of their houses, loaded them with chains, and thrust them into prison. He procured them to be scourged in the synagogues, and endeavored by torments to compel them to blaspheme the name of Christ. And as our Saviour had always been represented by the leading men of the Jews as an enemy to their law, it was no wonder that this rigorous Pharisee fully persuaded himself that he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

By the violences he committed, his name became everywhere a terror to the faithful. The persecutors not only raged against their persons, but also seized their estates and what they possessed in common, and left them in such extreme necessity, that the remotest churches afterwards thought it incumbent on them to join in charitable contributions to their relief. All this could not satisfy the fury of Saul; he breathed nothing but threats and the slaughter of the other disciples.

Wherefore, in the fury of his zeal, he applied to the high priest and Sanhedrim for a commission to take up all Jews at Damascus who confessed Jesus Christ, and bring them bound to Jerusalem, that they might serve as public examples for the terror of others. But God was pleased to show forth in him his patience and mercy; and, moved by the prayers of St. Stephen and his other persecuted servants, for their enemies, changed him, in the very heat of his fury, into a vessel of election, and made him a greater man in his church by the grace of the apostleship, than St. Stephen had ever been, and a more illustrious instrument of his glory.

He was almost at the end of his journey to Damascus, when about noon, he and his company were on a sudden surrounded by a great light from heaven, brighter than the sun. They all saw the light, and being struck with amazement, fell to the ground. Then Saul heard a voice, which to him was articulate and distinct; but not understood, though heard by the rest: Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me? Christ said not: Why dost thou persecute my disciples? but me: for it is he, their head, who is chiefly persecuted in his servants. Saul answered: Who art thou, Lord? Christ said: Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad: “to contend with one so much mightier than thyself. By persecuting my church you make it flourish, and only prick and hurt yourself.”

This mild expostulation of our Redeemer, accompanied with a powerful interior grace, strongly affecting his soul, cured his pride, assuaged his rage, and wrought at once a total change in him. Wherefore, trembling and astonished, he cried out: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? What to repair the past? What to promote your glory? I make a joyful oblation of myself to execute your will in every thing, and to suffer for your sake afflictions, disgraces, persecutions, torments, and every sort of death.

The true convert expressed this, not in a bare form of words, nor with faint languid desires, nor with any exception lurking in the secret recesses of his heart; but with an entire sacrifice of himself, and an heroic victory over the world with its frowns and charms, over the devils with their snares and threats, and over himself and all inclinations of self-love; devoting himself totally to God. A perfect model of a true conversion, the greatest work of almighty grace!

Christ ordered him to arise and proceed on his journey to the city, where he should be informed of what he expected from him. Christ would not instruct him immediately by himself, but, St. Austin observes, sent him to the ministry which he had established in the church, to be directed in the way of salvation by those whom he had appointed for that purpose. He would not finish the conversion and instruction of this great apostle, whom he was pleased to call in so wonderful a manner, but by remitting him to the guidance of his ministers; showing us thereby that his holy providence has so ordered it, that all who desire to serve him, should seek his will by listening to those whom he has commanded us to hear, and whom he has sent in his own name and appointed to be our guides.
So perfectly would he abolish in his servants all self-confidence and presumption, the source of error and illusion.

The convert, rising from the ground, found that, though his eyes were open, he saw nothing. Providence sent this corporal blindness to be an emblem of the spiritual blindness in which he had lived, and to signify to him that he was henceforward to die to the world, and learn to apply his mind totally to the contemplation of heavenly things. He was led by the hand into Damascus, whither Christ seemed to conduct him in triumph.

He was lodged in the house of a Jew named Judas, where he remained three days blind, and without eating or drinking. He doubtless spent his time in great bitterness of soul, not yet knowing what God required of him. With what anguish he bewailed his past blindness and false zeal against the church, we may conjecture both from his taking no nourishment during those three days, and from the manner in which he ever after remembered and spoke of his having been a blasphemer and a persecutor.

Though the entire reformation of his heart was not gradual, as in ordinary conversions, but miraculous in the order of grace, and perfect in a moment; yet a time of probation and a severe interior trial (for such we cannot doubt but he went through on this occasion) was necessary to crucify the old man and all other earthly sentiments in his heart, and to prepare it to receive the extraordinary graces which God designed him.

There was a Christian of distinction in Damascus, much respected by the Jews for his irreproachable life and great virtue; his name was Ananias. Christ appeared to this holy disciple; and commanded him to go to Saul, who was then in the house of Judas at prayer: Ananias trembled at the name of Saul, being no stranger to the mischief he had done in Jerusalem, or to the errand on which he was set out to Damascus. But our Redeemer overruled his fears, and charged him a second time to go to him, saying: Go, for he is a vessel of election to carry my name before Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: and I will show him how much he has to suffer for my name. For tribulation is the test and portion of all the true servants of Christ. Saul in the mean time saw in a vision a man entering, and laying his hands upon him, to restore his sight.

Ananias, obeying the divine order, arose, went to Saul, and laying his hands upon him, said: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to thee on thy journey, hath sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he recovered his eyesight. Ananias added: The God of our fathers hath chosen thee that thou shouldst know his will and see the just one, and shouldst hear the voice from his mouth: and thou shalt be his witness unto all men to publish what thou hast seen and heard. Arise, therefore, be baptized and washed from thy sins, invoking the name of the Lord.

Saul then arose, was baptized and took some refreshment. He stayed some few days with the disciples at Damascus, and began immediately to preach in the synagogues, that Jesus was the Son of God, to the great astonishment of all that heard him, who said: Is not this he who persecuted at Jerusalem those who invoked the name of Jesus, and who is come hither to carry them away prisoners? Thus a blasphemer and a persecutor was made an apostle, and chosen to be one of the principal instruments of God in the conversion of the world. St. Paul never recalled to mind this wonderful conversion, without raptures of gratitude and praise to the divine mercy.

* * * * *

The church, in thanksgiving to God for such a miracle of his grace, from which it has derived such great blessings, and to commemorate so miraculous an instance of his almighty power, and to propose to penitents a perfect model of a true conversion, has instituted this festival, which we find mentioned in several calendars and missals of the eighth and ninth centuries, and which pope Innocent III. commanded to be observed with great solemnity. It was for some time kept a holy day of obligation in most churches in the West; and we read it mentioned as such in England in the council of Oxford in 1222, in the reign of king Henry III.

Source: Pictorial Lives of The Saints
Compiled from “Butler’s Lives” and Other Approved Sources
1887

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St. Timothy, Bishop and Martyr

Feast Day January 24

ST. TIMOTHY, the beloved disciple of St. Paul, was of Lycaonia, and probably of the city of Lystra. His father was a Gentile, but his mother Eunice was a Jewess. She, with Lois his grandmother, embraced the Christian religion, and St. Paul commends their faith. Timothy had made the Holy Scriptures his study from his infancy.

When St. Paul preached in Lycaonia, in the year 51, the brethren of Iconium and Lystra gave him such an advantageous character of the young man, that the apostle, being deprived of St. Barnaby, took him for the companion of his labours, but first circumcised him at Lystra. For though the Jewish ceremonies ceased to be obligatory from the death of Christ, it was still lawful to use them (but not as precept or obligation) till about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem with the temple, that the synagogue might be buried with honour.

Therefore St. Paul refused to circumcise Titus, born of Gentile parents, to assert the liberty of the gospel, and to condemn those who erroneously affirmed circumcision to be still of precept in the New Law. On the other side, he circumcised Timothy, born of a Jewess, by that condescension to render him the more acceptable to the Jews, and to make it appear that himself was no enemy to their law.

St. Chrysostom admires the prudence, steadiness, and charity, of St. Paul; and we may add the voluntary obedience of the disciple. St. Austin extols his zeal and disinterestedness in immediately forsaking his country, his house, and his parents, to follow this apostle, to share in his poverty and sufferings.

After he was circumcised, St. Paul, by the imposition of hands, committed to him the ministry of preaching, his rare virtue making ample amends for his want of age. From that time the apostle regarded him not only as his disciple and most dear son, but as his brother and the companion of his labours.  He calls him a man of God, and tells the Philippians, that he found no one so truly united to him in heart and sentiments, as Timothy.  This esteem of the apostle is a sufficient testimony of the extraordinary merit of the disciple, whose vocation and entrance into the ministry was accompanied with prophecies in his behalf.
 
St. Paul traveled from Lystra over the rest of Asia, sailed into Macedon, and preached at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berœa, in the year 52. Being compelled to quit this last city by the fury of the Jews, he left Timothy behind him, to confirm the new converts there.

On St. Paul’s arrival at Athens he sent for him, but being informed that the Christians of Thessalonica lay under a very heavy persecution for the faith, he soon after deputed him to go thither, to comfort and encourage them under it; and he returned to St. Paul, then at Corinth, to give him an account of his success in that commission. Upon this the apostle wrote his first epistle to the Thessalonians.

From Corinth St. Paul went to Jerusalem, and thence to Ephesus, where he spent two years. Here he formed a resolution of returning into Greece, and sent Timothy and Erastus before him through Macedon, to apprize the faithful in those parts of his intention, and to prepare the alms intended to be sent the Christians of Jerusalem.  

 Timothy had a particular order to go afterwards to Corinth, to correct certain abuses, and to revive in the minds of the faithful there the doctrine which the apostle had taught them; who, writing soon after to the Corinthians, earnestly recommended this disciple to them.

St. Paul waited in Asia for his return, and then went with him into Macedon and Achaia. St. Timothy left him at Philippi, but rejoined him at Troas. The apostle on his return to Palestine was imprisoned, and after two years custody at Cæsarea, was sent to Rome.  Timothy seems to have been with him all or most of this time, and is named by him in the titles of his epistles to Philemon, and to the Philippians and Thessalonians, in the years 61 and 62.

St. Timothy himself suffered imprisonment for Christ, and gloriously confessed his name, in the presence of many witnesses; but was set at liberty.  He was ordained bishop by a prophecy, and a particular order of the Holy Ghost.  He received by this imposition of hands, not only the grace of the sacrament, and the authority to govern the church, but also the power of miracles, and the other exterior gifts of the Holy Ghost.

St. Paul being returned from Rome into the East, in the year 64, left St. Timothy at Ephesus, to govern that church, to oppose false teachers, and to ordain priests, deacons, and even bishops.  For St. Chrysostom and other fathers observe, that he committed to him the care of all the churches of Asia: and St. Timothy is always named the first bishop of Ephesus.

St. Paul wrote his first epistle to Timothy from Macedon, in 64; and his second, in 65, from Rome, while there in chains, to press him to come to Rome, that he might see him again before he died. It is an effusion of his heart, full of tenderness towards this his dearest son. In it he encourages him, endeavours to renew and stir up in his soul that spirit of intrepidity, and that fire of the Holy Ghost, with which he was filled at his ordination; gives him instructions concerning the heretics of that time, and adds a lively description of such as would afterwards arise.

We learn that St. Timothy drank only water: but his austerities having prejudiced his health, on account of his weak stomach and frequent infirmities, St. Paul ordered him to use a little wine. The fathers observe that he only says a little even in that necessity, because the flesh is to be kept weak, that the spirit may be vigorous and strong. St. Timothy was then young: perhaps about forty. It is not improbable that he went to Rome to confer with his master.

In the year 64 he was made by St. Paul bishop of Ephesus, before St. John arrived there, who resided also in that city as an apostle, and exercising a general inspection over all the churches of Asia.  St. Timothy is styled a martyr in the ancient martyrologies.

His acts, in some copies ascribed to the famous Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, but which seem to have been written at Ephesus, in the fifth or sixth age, and abridged by Photius, relate, that under the emperor Nerva, in the year 97, St. John being still in the isle of Patmos, St. Timothy was slain with stones and clubs, by the heathens, whilst he was endeavouring to oppose their idolatrous ceremonies on one of their festivals called Catagogia, kept on the 22nd of January, on which the idolaters walked in troops, every one carrying in one hand an idol, and in the other a club.

St. Paulinus, Theodorus Lector, and Philostorgius, informs us, that his relics were with great pomp translated to Constantinople in the year 356, in the reign of Constantius. St. Paulinus witnesses, that the least portion of them wrought many miracles wherever they were distributed. These precious remains, with those of St. Andrew and St. Luke, were deposited under the altar, in the church of the apostles in that city, where the devils, by their howlings, testified how much they felt their presence, says St. Jerome;  which St. Chrysostom also confirms.

Pious reading was the means by which St. Timothy, encouraged by the example and exhortations of his virtuous grandmother and mother, imbibed in his tender years, and nourished during the whole course of his life, the most fervent spirit of religion and all virtues; and his ardour for holy reading and meditation is commended by St. Paul, as the proof of his devotion and earnest desire of advancing in divine charity.

When this saint was wholly taken up in the most laborious and holy functions of the apostolic ministry, that great apostle strongly recommends to him always to be assiduous in the same practice, and in all exercises of devotion.

A minister of the gospel who neglects regular exercises of retirement, especially self-examination, reading, meditation, and private devotion, forgets his first and most essential duty, the care he owes to his own soul. Neither can he hope to kindle the fire of charity in others, if he suffer it to be extinguished in his own breast.

These exercises are also indispensably necessary in a certain degree, in all states and circumstances of life; nor is it possible for a Christian otherwise to maintain a spirit of true piety, which ought to animate the whole body of all his actions, and without which even spiritual functions want as it were their soul. 

REFLECTION. St. Paul, in writing to Timothy, a faithful and well-tried servant of God, and a bishop now getting on in years, addresses him as a child, and seems most anxious about his perseverance in faith and piety. The letters abound in minute personal instructions for this end. It is therefore remarkable what great stress the apostle lays on the avoiding of idle talk, and on the application to holy reading.

These are his chief topics. Over and over again he exhorts his son Timothy to “avoid tattlers and busybodies; to give no heed to novelties; to shun profane and vain babblings; but to hold the form of sound words; to be an example in word and conversation; to attend to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine.”

Source:
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume I: January.
The Lives of the Saints.  1866.


St. Agnes, the Roman Virgin Martyr

Feast Day
January 21

ST. JEROME says, that the tongues and pens of all nations are employed in the praises of this saint, who overcame both the cruelty of the tyrant and the tenderness of her age, and crowned the glory of chastity with that of martyrdom. St. Austin observes, that her name signifies chaste in Greek, and lamb in Latin. She has been always looked upon in the church as a special patroness of purity, with the immaculate Mother of God and St. Thecla. Rome was the theatre of the triumph of St. Agnes; and Prudentius says, that her tomb was shown within sight of that city. She suffered not long after the beginning of the persecution of Dioclesian, whose bloody edicts appeared in March in the year of our Lord 303.

We learn from St. Ambrose and St. Austin, that she was only thirteen years of age at the time of her glorious death. Her riches and beauty excited the young noblemen of the first families of Rome, to vie with one another in their addresses, who should gain her in marriage. Agnes answered them all, that she had consecrated her virginity to a heavenly spouse, who could not be beheld by mortal eyes. Her suitors finding her resolution impregnable to all their arts and importunities, accused her to the governor as a Christian; not doubting but threats and torments would overcome her tender mind, on which allurements could make no impression. The judge at first employed the mildest expressions and most inviting promises; to which Agnes paid no regard, repeating always, that she could have no other spouse than Jesus Christ. He then made use of threats, but found her soul endowed with a masculine courage, and even desirous of racks and death. At last, terrible fires were made, and iron hooks, racks, and other instruments of torture displayed before her, with threats of immediate execution. The young virgin surveyed them all with an undaunted eye; and with a cheerful countenance beheld the fierce and cruel executioners surrounding her, and ready to dispatch her at the word of command. She was so far from betraying the least symptom of fear, that she even expressed her joy at the sight, and offered herself to the rack. She was then dragged before the idols, and commanded to offer incense: “but could by no means be compelled to move her hand, except to make the sign of the cross,” says St. Ambrose.

The governor seeing his measures ineffectual, said he would send her to a house of prostitution, where what she prized so highly should be exposed to the insults of the debauchees. Agnes answered that Jesus Christ was too jealous of the purity of his spouses, to suffer it to be violated in such a manner; for he was their defender and protector. “You may,” said she, “stain your sword with my blood, but will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ.” The governor was so incensed at this, that he ordered her to be immediately led to the public brothel, with liberty to all persons to abuse her person at pleasure. Many young profligates ran thither, full of the wicked desire of gratifying their lust; but were seized with such awe at the sight of the saint, that they durst not approach her; one only excepted, who, attempting to be rude to her, was that very instant, by a flash, as it were, of lightning from heaven, struck blind, and fell trembling to the ground. His companions, terrified, took him up, and carried him to Agnes, who was at a distance, singing hymns of praise to Christ, her protector. The virgin by prayer restored him to his sight and health.

The chief prosecutor of the saint, who at first sought to gratify his lust and avarice, now labored to satiate his revenge, by incensing the judge against her; his passionate fondness being changed into anger and rage. The governor wanted not others to spur him on; for he was highly exasperated to see himself baffled, and set at defiance by one of her tender age and sex. Therefore, resolved upon her death, he condemned her to be beheaded. Agnes, transported with joy on hearing this sentence, and still more at the sight of the executioner, “went to the place of execution more cheerfully,” says St. Ambrose, “than others go to their wedding.” The executioner had secret instructions to use all means to induce her to a compliance: but Agnes always answered she could never offer so great an injury to her heavenly spouse; and having made a short prayer, bowed down her neck to adore God, and receive the stroke of death. The spectators wept to see so beautiful and tender a virgin loaded with fetters, and to behold her fearless under the very sword of the executioner, who with a trembling hand cut off her head at one stroke. Her body was buried at a small distance from Rome, near the Nomentan road. A church was built on the spot in the time of Constantine the Great, and was repaired by pope Honorius in the seventh century. It is now in the hands of Canon-Regulars, standing without the walls of Rome; and is honored with her relics in a very rich silver shrine, the gift of pope Paul V., in whose time they were found in this church, together with those of St. Emerentiana. The other beautiful rich church of St. Agnes within the city, built by pope Innocent X., (the right of patronage being vested in the family of Pamphili,) stands on the place where her chastity was exposed. The feast of St. Agnes is mentioned in all Martyrologies, both of the East and West, though on different days. It was formerly a holyday for the women in England, as appears from the council of Worcester, held in the year 1240. St. Ambrose, St. Austin, and other fathers have wrote her panegyric.

St. Martin of Tours was singularly devout to her. Thomas à Kempis honored her as his special patroness, as his works declare in many places. He relates many miracles wrought, and graces received through her intercession.

Source: The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs Vol. 1
by Rev. Alban Butler
1866


St. Sebastian, Martyr

Feast Day
January 20

St. Sebastian was an officer in the Roman army, esteemed even by the heathens as a good soldier, and honored by the Church ever since as a champion of Jesus Christ. Born at Narbonne, Sebastian came to Rome about the year 284, and entered the lists against the powers of evil.

He found the twin brothers Marcus and Marcellinus in prison for the faith, and, when they were near yielding to the entreaties of their relatives, encouraged them to despise flesh and blood, and to die for Christ. God confirmed his words by miracle: light shone around him while he spoke; he cured the sick by his prayers; and in this divine strength he led multitudes to the faith, among them the Prefect of Rome, with his son Tiburtius. He saw his disciples die before him, and one of them came back from heaven to tell him that his own end was near.

It was in a contest of fervor and charity that St. Sebastian found the occasion of martyrdom. The Prefect of Rome, after his conversion, retired to his estates in Campania, and took a great number of his fellow-converts with him to this place of safety. It was a question whether Polycarp the priest or St. Sebastian should accompany the neophytes.

Each was eager to stay and face the danger at Rome, and at last the Pope decided that the Roman church could not spare the services of Sebastian. He continued to labor at the post of danger till he was betrayed by a false disciple. He was led before Diocletian, and, at the emperor’s command, pierced with arrows and left for dead.

Irene, the widow of St. Castulus, going to bury him, found him still alive, and took him to her lodgings, where, by care, he recovered of his wounds, but refused to fly, and even placed himself one day by a staircase, where the emperor was to pass, whom he first accosted, reproaching him for his unjust cruelties against the Christians.

This freedom of speech, and from a person too whom he supposed to have been dead, greatly astonished the emperor; but recovering from his surprise, he gave orders for his being seized and beat to death with cudgels, and his body thrown into the common sewer.

A pious lady called Lucina, admonished by the martyr in a vision, got it privately removed, and buried it in the catacombs, at the entrance of the cemetery of Calixtus. A church was afterwards built over his relics, by Pope Damasus, which is one of the seven ancient stationary churches at Rome.

St. Sebastian has been always honoured by the church, as one of her most illustrious martyrs. We read in the life of Paul the deacon, in what manner, in the year 680, Rome was freed from a raging pestilence, by the patronage of this saint. Milan, in 1575, Lisbon, in 1599, and other places, have experienced, in like calamities, the miraculous effects of his intercession with God in their behalf.

Source:
Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January.
The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

Pictorial Lives of The Saints
Benziger Brothers 1878