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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


St. Thomas, Apostle

 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.

 PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS.

 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.
Vol 11
1877


St. Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

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.

Practical Considerations

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.
Vol 11
1877

The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints
by Rev. Alban Butler
Volume XII: December 1866


Immaculate Conception of The Blessed Virgin Mary

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.

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

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.”