Saint of the Day

April 21: Saint Malrubius

If you enjoy this daily blog of lesser-known saints, see my book, which contains short biographies of saints for every day of the year.

Saint Malrubis (d. 722) was born in Ireland, became a monk, and was about twenty-nine years old when he traveled to Scotland to bring the Gospel to the people there. He established a church in Applecross as his base of operations and preached up and down the Scottish coast for fifty-one years. He became widely known for his teaching and austere life, with many places in the area being named after this beloved and holy man.

Saint Malrubius, teach me your perseverance.

Saint of the Day

April 20: Saint Marcian

If you enjoy this daily blog of lesser-known saints, see my book, which contains short biographies of saints for every day of the year.

Saint Marcian was just a young man running away from the destruction caused by Visigoth armies when he entered a monastery at Auxerre, France. He was an obedient, devout novice when his abbot gave him a lowly task: caring for the cows and sheep of the abbey. It wasn’t long before everyone noticed that the animals were thriving under Marcian’s care. Not only domestic animals, but wild animals seemed to obey the humble monk. When he died, the monks changed the name of their abbey to honor Saint Marcian in death, around the year 488.

Saint Marcian, give me your tender devotion to God and His Creation.

Saint of the Day

April 19: Blessed James Duckett

If you enjoy this daily blog of lesser-known saints, see my book, which contains short biographies of saints for every day of the year.

James Duckett was a young apprentice to a printer in London, England, when he read a book that changed his life. The Firm Foundation of the Catholic Religion convinced him of the truth of the Catholic faith, and he refused to attend Protestant services anymore. He was sentenced to prison, but his former master intervened, got him released, but then sent him away to avoid the danger of being connected with James.

James was educated in the faith by an imprisoned priest, married a Catholic widow, and became a bookseller. But since he was a dealer in Catholic books in anti-Catholic England, he spent nine of the next twelve years in prison for his faith. A customer named Peter Bullock, who was in danger of death from the authorities for some other offense, decided to help his own prospects by turning in James as a Catholic. James was convicted solely on Bullock’s testimony and condemned to death. He told his wife to forgive Bullock, and—since Bullock was likewise convicted and sentenced to death—embraced the man before they died together.

Blessed James, help me to forgive my worst enemy.

Saint of the Day

April 18: Blessed Mary of the Incarnation Acarie

If you enjoy this daily blog of lesser-known saints, see my book, which contains short biographies of saints for every day of the year.

Barbara Avrillot was born in sixteenth century France. She was pious from a young age and wanted to be a nursing sister of the poor. But her parents wanted their only child to marry, so she did. Her husband, Peter Acarie, was a young lawyer from a noble family. He was, like Barbara, pious and charitable to the poor, but he was not always wise in his decision-making, which caused difficulties to their family.

Barbara became the devoted mother of six children; she was so attentive to their spiritual life that some asked her if she intended them for religious life. “I am preparing them to carry out God’s will,” was her reply. (Three daughters ultimately became nuns; one son became a priest.)

Barbara’s husband had incurred debts as a supporter of the Catholic League in France, and when a new king reigned, his property was seized, and he was forced to leave Paris in disgrace. Barbara and their children were so poor that at one point they didn’t have anything to eat. But she bravely stepped up to prove her husband’s innocence in the courts, recovered some of their property, and made it possible for Peter to return to Paris.

At this point, she became aware of the reformation of the Carmelite order under Saint Teresa of Avila and initiated multiple foundations of the Discalced Carmelites into France. Though still married, she became a sort of unofficial novice mistress to the Carmelite nuns and received advice from Saint Francis de Sales. No one was surprised when, at her husband’s death, she entered the Carmelite order herself and became known as Mary of the Incarnation. Though she had suffered for decades with a limp as a result of a broken leg, she cheerfully and humbly cleaned pots and pans and obeyed her own daughter, who was sub-prioress of the house. Despite her busy life, Mary had a deep spiritual life and was known for the spiritual truths that were revealed to her in her times of contemplative prayer. She died in 1618 on Easter Sunday at the age of fifty-two.

Blessed Mary of the Incarnation, teach me humility.

Saint of the Day

April 17: Blessed Clare of Pisa

If you enjoy this daily blog of lesser-known saints, see my book, which contains short biographies of saints for every day of the year.

When Theodora (known to her family as Thora) was born in 1362, her father was the leader of the republic in the city of Pisa, Italy. As such, he betrothed her to the son of a wealthy family when she was only seven years old. Thora was deeply devout, practiced personal mortifications, and clearly desired religious life. But she acquiesced to her father’s wishes and was married at the age of fifteen. Her in-laws were not overjoyed with Thora’s generosity to the poor and her decision to join other ladies in caring for the sick. But an epidemic took the life of her husband soon after she was married.

Seeing that her family was planning a second marriage for her and with the encouragement of her contemporary, Saint Catherine of Siena, Thora stole out of the house one night and entered an enclosed convent of Poor Clare nuns. She took the name in religious life of Clare, but her brothers showed up at the convent soon afterward and demanded her release. The nuns were afraid of violence and dropped her over the wall to her waiting relatives. Clare spent five months in her father’s house, alternately threatened and starved, as they tried to make her give in and remarry. She refused. Finally, her father relented. He not only allowed her to join the Dominicans as a nun, he even built another house for the order.

Clare spent the rest of her life as a nun and later prioress of her house. She was a good administrator of her convent’s finances and even founded a hospital with donations she was given.

In addition to her wisdom, her willingness to forgive her enemies was one of the reasons she’s now known as Blessed Clare. Her own brother showed up at the door of the convent, being pursued by enemies of their family. Opening the door to her brother would put all the nuns under her care in certain danger. She kept the convent’s entrance closed to protect them, but her brother was killed on her front doorstep. Clare became ill was a result. She not only forgave her brother’s killer but later provided for the man’s widow and daughters when they became poor. Clare died peacefully but in great suffering in 1419.

Blessed Clare, help me to forgive.

Saint of the Day

April 15: Saint Abundius

For the next month, there will be a daily post of a lesser-known saint each day. These are saints who aren’t in my book but who are still saints of the Church, as listed in the 2004 Martyrologium Romanum, the official list of saints published by the Vatican. These daily posts will give you a feel for my book, which is still slated to be released in May, 2020.

We know very little about Saint Abundius (sometimes spelled Acontius). We know that he has been remembered for centuries on this date. We know that he died in the late sixth century. And we know that Pope Saint Gregory the Great thought Abundius’ Christian example was worth describing in his work, the Dialogues, a collection of contemporary miracle stories that he wrote down to encourage the faithful that miracles still happen. According to Saint Gregory, Abundius served as sacristan at a church in Rome, perhaps a few decades before Gregory became pope. Everyone remembered Abundius as possessing “extraordinary humility and gravity” in fulfilling his duties.

The miracle story recounted by Saint Gregory the Great is as follows. A girl who lived in Saint Abundius’ parish was paralyzed. She prayed fervently to Saint Peter the Apostle to be cured for some time, until one night when she had a vision of Saint Peter. In the vision, Saint Peter told her to go speak to the sacristan Abundius, instead of himself, to be healed. The girl obediently went to Abundius and relayed the message from the saint. Abundius told the girl that, if she had been sent by Saint Peter, “get up on your feet”. Which the girl did.

Saint Abundius, pray for me to be humble, and, if it is God’s will, pray for ____ to be healed.

The Lost Saint of Easter

Solemn feast days of our Lord trump every other feast, most particularly Easter, which is why we won’t be celebrating Saint Joseph Moscati (or any of the other saints commemorated on April 12) this year. But in this year of COVID-19, perhaps we can think of him all the same on Easter.

Joseph (1880-1927) was born into a large Catholic family and grew up in Naples, Italy. He became a brilliant medical doctor, researcher, and hospital administrator, but above all, he was able to combine personal holiness and his vocation in caring for the sick in a remarkable way. He treated and cured many patients, but he also prayed with them. Sometimes he seemed to know how to diagnose and treat a patient without even having seen him; other times he cured patients by gently encouraging them to seek the sacraments, as well as medicine, for healing. While caring for his patients one day, he took a short break and died of a stroke. The miracle that was cited in his canonization was the complete cure of a young man fatally ill with leukemia; the man’s mother saw a doctor in a white lab coat in a dream and, after her son was healed, only recognized Joseph as the doctor who had healed her son when she saw a photograph of him.

As so many people suffer from sickness and so many medical professionals spend themselves to serve the sick, we can ask our Lord to bless us with a few more miracles this Easter, through the intercession of the gentle doctor-saint, Joseph Moscati.

By Inviaggio – w:it, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6499420

April 2020: The Saints’ Secrets to Facing Calamities

Attributed to Joshua Benoliel. This file has been extracted from another file: ChildrensofFatima.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56150014

Since the COVID-19 virus has begun to spread globally, many Catholics have remembered the two young visionaries of Fatima in Portugal: Saints Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Both died during the Spanish flu pandemic in the early twentieth century, so they are great intercessors to help us pray for an end to our own pandemic. But there’s much more that the saints can do besides praying for us from Heaven: we can learn from them while here on earth. More specifically, the saints from the month of April can teach us many lessons to help us respond to the problems that we’re currently facing.

People like to focus on the fact that Saint Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), whose feast day is April 29, influenced the decisions of popes. But she was still only an unknown young woman living in her hometown when she began serving the sick. Catherine had no illusions that she would be safe from contracting the diseases of those she cared for, and she later told her followers that, while daily attending a woman with leprosy, she saw the signs of the disease on her own body. But she accepted this horrifying disease with peace before (according to her) God miraculously and completely healed her. We can thank God for that too, because sparing Catherine from an early death gave her time to deepen in her spiritual life. This not only blessed the people of her time through her personal example but has helped generations of future Catholics through the writings she left behind.

There are many reasons to consider Pope Saint Pius V (1504-1572) one of our greatest popes. But as we remember him on April 30, perhaps we can focus on his strength and leadership in the face of a seemingly impossible problem: the imminent invasion of Europe by Muslims. We may remember the Battle of Lepanto as a great victory that saved Europe and Christianity from invasion, but the battle was far from an easy one. Virtually everyone in Europe thought they were outmanned and outgunned by Islamic forces, and when the Christians later claimed the victory was a miracle, that’s because it was. This victory was primarily the result of one man negotiating, pleading, and working for years to unite the many different and disorganized leaders of Christian nations to fight together and protect their people. That one man’s secret was his rock-solid faith in God. On the day of battle, Pius V united all of Christendom by asking them to pray for the intercession of the Blessed Mother, and the impossible became possible.

Saint Lidwina of Schiedam in Holland (1380-1433), while not a commonly known saint, shouldn’t be overlooked on her feast day, April 14. After a fall on the ice at the age of fifteen (depicted below), she suffered from many incurable and painful medical problems throughout her life. At the same time, God blessed her with visions and miracles. Modern studies point out that her symptoms sound a lot like multiple sclerosis, an unknown disease at the time, but the inexplicable nature of her condition led to vicious rumors that she was not sick but possessed by the devil. Lidwina could have been bitter or angry over her pain, her illness, and her social isolation; instead, she patiently waited for God to sort out truth from fiction. And, of course, He did, since she’s now considered a saint of the Church.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=245090

Saint Francisco Marto’s feast day is April 4, the date of his death at the age of ten. Francisco and his sister aren’t considered saints merely because they saw apparitions; they were recognized as saints because of the holy, penitential way they lived and died during their short lives. Most particularly, Francisco took to heart the message he had heard and seen directly from Our Lady of Fatima, and he willingly accepted little penances, even while he was sick and dying, for his own salvation and for the sake of sinners.

Fear of contracting an illness, fear of a seemingly impossible situation, fear of isolation, and fear of death are not modern inventions. They’re as old as Adam and Eve. But our all-too-human fears of today deserve Christian responses, as the saints have taught us in the past. What all four of these saints possessed in abundance—and what the world will always lack—is what will help us face COVID-19 and every other calamity. That “something” is as simple and as profound as one little word: trust. When we place our trust in God—while humbly accepting the help provided by medicine, technology, and other people—we will not only know the secrets of the saints, we will know the peace that God gives to those who love Him.

Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?

James 2:5

COVID-19 Versus the 14 Holy Helpers

By © Ralph Hammann – Wikimedia Commons – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16543825

Sooner or later, every adult has this experience. What appeared to be a routine doctor’s visit turns out to be something life-changing. Or a meeting with the boss ends with a layoff notice. Or a conversation with a friend or family member goes horribly wrong. You walk away in a daze, with the world turned upside down. It’s as if the guard rails on life itself are no longer there, or as if the next step you take might be out in midair, with nothing to catch you.

COVID-19 has done something very similar to all of us. Our ordinary lives have been turned upside down, seemingly overnight. Fortunately, as Catholics, we can say with the author of Ecclesiastes (1:9) that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Whatever might seem new to us has already been encountered by faithful believers who lived before us, and we can learn from them.

The most obvious historical corollary to our current pandemic is the “Black Death”, the bubonic plague which devastated Europe in the fourteenth century and periodically recurred in other centuries up until the twentieth. Thirty to sixty percent of Europe died during the largest outbreaks, and it took a few centuries for the world’s population to recover. Those statistics sound frightening, but how did the Catholics of that time handle this terrible event?

The people of that time didn’t have our modern medical knowledge to combat this deadly disease, but they used what they had. Other people turned to superstition, pagan practices, and mob violence. Some chose the “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” (see Luke 12:19) approach, which never solves anything, except as a general anesthetic. Some simply despaired.

But not the saints.

In all times and places, the saints of the Church can serve us as guard rails when there seem to be none, guiding hands when we’re lost, and intercessors for us with the God who has already counted every hair on our heads and knows exactly how all this will play out in the end.

In our modern world, opponents of Catholicism commonly characterize the Church as a male-dominated, insensitive hierarchy out of touch with ordinary people. The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a perfect example of how that characterization is perfectly wrong.

It wasn’t a bishop or a pope who came up with the idea of the Fourteen Holy Helpers—fourteen particular saints to call upon for help from the unknown and deadly disease—it was ordinary Catholics. That is, men and women who were in fear for their lives turned to the lives of the saints to seek help from God during a difficult time. The names and number of saints wasn’t magic or the result of an apparition; it was the heartfelt prayers of faithful Catholics who knew their saints as real people and who needed help with specific problems.

Bubonic plague is not only a deadly disease; it’s a painful one. Who would understand the aches and pains of the Black Death better than these early Church martyrs who died in excruciating pain?

  • Saint Eustace was a second century convert to the faith from paganism before dying a martyr by being burned alive in a bronze bull.
  • Saint Denis was a third century bishop of Paris whose success at converting pagans caused him to be arrested, tortured, and executed.
  • Saint Blaise was a fourth century bishop and martyr; his most famous miracle involved saving a boy from death who had a fishbone stuck in his throat.
  • Saint Erasmus was fourth century bishop and martyr who was tortured by having his intestines wound around a windlass.
  • Saint Vitus was a fourth century Christian with a reputation for being a wonderworker who was executed by being boiled to death in oil.
  • Saint Margaret of Antioch was a virgin-martyr who may also have been tortured by being thrown into boiling oil; the year of her death is uncertain, but tradition says that when she survived the burning oil, she was beheaded.
  • Saint Barbara was a third century woman who was killed by her own father with a sword for daring to become a Christian.
  • Saint Catherine of Alexandria was a fourth century virgin-martyr who was tortured on a toothed wheel before being killed.

It’s obvious that most of these saints were chosen because of the pain they endured during martyrdom. What about the others?

Who would know courage in the face of sudden, unexpected death better than a soldier? Then ask for help from Saint Acacius, a Roman soldier who was martyred in the early fourth century. Or Saint George, a fourth century martyr, probably from modern Palestine. Although we don’t have writings from ancient times indicating that George was also a knight, medieval stories of his life say that he was, so medieval Catholics would have considered him a perfect intercessor.

If you’re sick, why not ask Saint Pantaleon, a third century physician who died a martyr for the faith, for his professional help? If you’re afraid of a disease that can harm anyone, powerful or poor, why not ask Saint Christopher? According to tradition, he was a third century martyr who wanted to serve the greatest king in the world, even serving the devil himself until he found out that Jesus was even stronger. If you’re afraid of the devil’s power to cause sickness, why not ask Saint Cyriacus, a fourth century nobleman-turned-deacon who performed exorcisms before he was martyred?

The only saint among the Fourteen Holy Helpers who was not an early Church martyr is Saint Giles. He was an eighth century hermit who was crippled by an injury, yet he became known as a wonderworker during his own lifetime through his prayers. After his death, the monastery built in his name became a famous shrine for the handicapped and poor.

Medieval Catholics knew that they were in a great battle with a silent killer, a disease that not only robbed them of their loved ones and their lives, but which created great fear, suffering, and hopelessness. They responded by begging God for help, particularly through faithful saints who could relate to their own current problems. They took courage from the example of saints of great courage and recognized that the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick—all men and women—were in a bigger battle than the one with a physical illness.

In the end, they recognized that their lives were in God’s hands and that, whether life seemed certain or uncertain, the goal of very Christian is to end up with Him and in the company of the saints.

March 2020: A Month for Martyrs

Wikimedia Commons, National Museum in Warsaw / Public domain

The above painting shows our Blessed Mother with two women who were also mothers: Saints Perpetua and Felicity. These two women, along with many other men and women, died during the first four centuries after the birth of Christ and are commemorated during the month of March. What can we, as Christians, learn from the martyrs this month?

How dangerous would it be for six people to present themselves at your local church and say they wanted to become Catholic? In the year 203, in the city of Carthage (in modern Tunisia), that was not a safe request. Although the law against being a Christian was not always enforced at every time and place in the Roman empire, at this time and in this place, it was.

During a roundup of Christians in Carthage, a group of four men and two women were only catechumens when they were arrested. One of the four men wrote an account of their arrest and imprisonment, and a witness later added a description of the deaths of all six. The account that has come down to us over the centuries is particularly moving, as it describes how one of the women, Perpetua, was visited by her father while she was in prison. Her father pleaded with her to renounce her faith in Christ, broke down in tears, and pointed out that her baby would never even know his own mother if she continued to persist in calling herself a follower of Jesus Christ. Perpetua loved her family, but she loved God too, and she knew that He deserved all her heart. She and her companions remained faithful throughout their imprisonment and were executed by being thrown into an arena with wild animals. The crowds in the amphitheater cheered while they were killed; Perpetua and Felicity were gored by a wild bull before being beheaded with their companions. The biography of Saint Perpetua and her companions was so widely-read by early Christians that Saint Augustine of Hippo later had to remind people that it was not part of Sacred Scripture. The feast day of this group of martyrs is March 7.

During the reign of the Roman emperor Valerian, the Roman empire was under attack by various armies. Valerian probably thought he was just being a good Roman, a good pagan, and a good emperor when he demanded that all citizens, even Christians, offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. Priscus, Malchus, and Alexander were Christian hermits living in the desert of Caesarea (modern Israel) when they heard about the persecution. In the year 260, they entered the nearby city to encourage the Christian faithful, proclaimed themselves to be Christians, and peacefully faced torture and martyrdom. They are remembered on March 28.

A few decades later, in the year 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian unleashed one of the most bitter and violent persecutions that the Church ever faced. We know that a group of Christians living in Caesarea (modern Israel) died together in that year (and presumably on their feast day, March 24), but we only know the names of six of them: Agapius, Alexander, Dionysius, Pausis, Romulus, and Timolaus.

Although the Roman emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity in the year 313, his co-emperor, Licinius, reversed that order in the part of the empire that he ruled in the year 320. Licinius was about to fight an unsuccessful war for control of the empire against Constantine, but his word was law in his own territory. So when the local ruler ordered the Roman army stationed in Sebaste, Armenia, to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, forty Christian soldiers of the Thunderstruck Legion refused. In the bitter cold, the men were ordered to strip off their clothes and lie on a frozen lake, with a huge bath of hot water waiting temptingly for them nearby. One man gave in, raced to the bath, and died instantly. Another soldier, seeing the bravery of the Christians, stepped forward to replace the dead man. All forty men are commemorated as martyrs on March 9.

In the year 339, Christians living in Alexandria, Egypt, were put to death because of the persecution of Christians ordered by the Roman emperor Constantius; their feast day is March 21. In the year 392 in the same city of Alexandria, a group of Christians were attacked and killed by a mob of pagans who were outraged that the Christians refused to worship the god Serapis; their feast day is March 17.

What do we learn from this random sampling of Christian martyrs who died together for their faith in the same month but centuries apart? Perhaps most obviously, we’re struck by the fortitude of these Catholic men and women, despite the incredible brutality inflicted upon them by their own rulers and neighbors for the crime of being Christian.

On the other hand, it may surprise some people to learn that the deaths of many of these martyrs was unexpected. While there were certainly times when persecution was so pervasive that becoming a martyr was a constant threat, many men and women probably entered the Church in hopes that the violence would pass them by. Arrest came for each of them on a seemingly ordinary day, when there were so many good things to live for. But, of course, there was a better world waiting for them than the one they left behind.

Perhaps one of the best lessons to take from the stories of the martyrs is given to us by the world of art. While the lovely painting of Saints Perpetua and Felicity in Heaven with the Blessed Mother shown above is gorgeous and inspires us to want to join them in the beauty of their new home, a more realistic image of martyrdom (below) provides a different sort of inspiration. It helps us remain thankful for the much smaller sufferings that we undergo in our daily lives and to ask the martyrs to help us face those pains with the peace of Christ.

Wikimedia Commons, Foxe’s Christian Martyrs, Foxe, John, 1516-1587 / No restrictions