Saint Dominic – Watchdog of God
“I give you arms, with which throughout your life
you may fight against the devil.”
Reading the Lives of the Saints will bring you blessings! Bob and Penny Lord
Arming a young man with the double-edge sword of which St. Paul spoke, St. Dominic intoned these words, as he vested him in the habit of the Friars Preachers. This would be Dominic’s will and testimony, the legacy he would leave, to all the young and courageous who would pick up his torch and lead the way to Jesus.
The birth of a Saint
Our story takes us to Spain, a Christian part of Spain recently freed from more than four hundred years of cruel domination. The small, sleepy village of Caleruega, resting unnoticed between the lofty cities of Burgos and Segovia, will bring the world a treasury of Saints. If we travel back in time, we can see turrets and ramparts majestically dominating the horizon, proudly announcing the nobility who dwell within. Today, all that is left of the grandeur of yesterday, is the tower of the Guzmán palace, where a Saint and two Blesseds lived and loved. Our story is about the Saint – Dominic. In 1170, he was born into the nobility of this world; he and his family predestined to be part of that nobility; but instead that nobility would produce souls who would spend their life journeying toward eternal life with the nobility in Heaven.
This area was reconquered in 1040 A.D. The entire country was reconquered after 700 years of domination.
Saints beget Saints, as we will see in our story of one of the greatest Defenders of the Faith, Mother Church has ever raised to the Heavenly Halls of Canonized Saints, Saint Dominic – Founder of the Order of Friar Preachers.
Dominic’s father was Felix Guzmán, commander of knights, the brave and loyal knights who were instrumental in recovering Spain for Christ. During the stormy, bloody days of her resurrection from slavery, he and his army protected the borders of Christian Spain, defending her against the fierce and determined hordes of Moors advancing on Castille, where his palace was located.
Dominic’s mother Juana of Aza was also of an old Castilian family, of the nobility like her husband. But this mother because of the life she led and the great influence she had on her children would be declared Blessed. She would raise a future Saint – Dominic, and a Blessed – her oldest son Mannes; historians conjecture they wouldn’t be surprised if her other son Anthony would also be raised to a Blessed, as he died caring for victims of the plague.
Before Dominic was born, his mother Juana had a prophetic vision of a dog carrying a lit torch in his mouth, igniting everything in his path, as he sped throughout the world. She was confused and troubled by the vision and went to pray at the Shrine of St. Dominic of Silos, after whom she later named her third son, Dominic. [This is how we often see images of St. Dominic – accompanied by a dog with a lit torch in his mouth.]
There was another prophecy foretelling the destiny of this special child. When his godparents held the baby Dominic over the font to be baptized, his godmother saw a brilliant star shining on his forehead. When later writing of St. Dominic, authors and historians often recount these two incidents, the one with the dog and the one with the star. Almost everyone who knew him testified that a certain splendor always radiated from his face, as if from a star.
God, with His Eyes on those He has chosen, placed our future Saint into a home filled with virtue and piety, his mother praying with her children, bringing them closer to God and His Will for them. It will not come as a shock, therefore, when her child Dominic chooses the path to holiness and sainthood. The only problem is that before Dominic was born, his two older brothers were already preparing for the priesthood. The estate and the father’s responsibilities passed to the only son left, Dominic!
[With many Latin families, Mama rules, with the key she holds to their hearts. Juana was declared Blessed for the part she played in bringing about the miracle that came to pass in this noble house. Destined to produce brave knights for Spain, instead the House of Guzmán brought forth loyal knights to serve God in His royal Priesthood.]
What did Juana do? Knowing in her heart that this child, too, belonged to God, she sent Dominic at age seven, to her brother, who just happened to be a priest! Dominic studied under his uncle, learned how to serve as an altar boy, was made proficient in Latin and learned the tenets of our Faith. That might have been where it ended and Dominic would have grown into a very holy knight, in the world. But again God, the Master Chess-Player, has set His pieces in place strategically! Gumiel d’Izan, where Dominic was staying, was on the way to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims, on the way to the Shrine, to plead with Santiago (St. James) to intercede with God for deliverance from the Moors, always stopped in Gumiel d’Izan to rest. They recounted the torture and atrocities inflicted on those who dared practice their Catholic Faith, adding they were personally exposed to the Moors’ “conquer through terror” technique that was being carried out even in Christian Spain.
We never know what our children are taking to heart; was this when the seed was planted in Dominic’s heart to go and preach to the millions of pagans who did not know Jesus and the Church He founded? At age fourteen, Dominic left for Palencia to broaden his studies. We know little of those days, except it has been told that when Dominic encountered refugees who were starving and had no shelter, he sold all his books and gave them the money. Now, possibly today that might not mean much, but in those days, before the printing press, all books were copied by hand; so Dominic had no books to study and little or no opportunity to have them replaced. But when questioned he replied, “How can I study from dead skins when living men are starving?”
As his Lord before him, Dominic had an urgency about him – too much to do with too little time to do it. This and his thirst for knowledge, he would pass on to future preachers who would follow. He was charismatic and filled with compassion for those starving not only from lack of food but the Word of God. This passion for God and His children would draw many young men and women to him in the days ahead. His life, filled with days and nights of peaceful but exciting pursuits of holiness, was to come to full fruition, the day Dominic was ordained to the priesthood in around 1195.
Now 25 years old, Dominic realized his walk was not as a secular priest but as a religious. At that time, Dominic’s bishop Martin Bazan voiced a desire to bring about reform; he wanted the canons of his cathedral to live a shared life as religious, as part of a community. He and the new prior of the canons, Don Diego de Asevedo, had heard of Dominic’s piety and wisdom, and his desire to be a religious. Their hope was that he could convince these self-absorbed, strong-willed clerics into coming together and join the Canons Regular; they summoned Dominic! So after he was ordained a priest, Dominic was vested in the habit of the Canons Regular of Osma, made his profession to that Order, and for the next nine years faithfully followed the Rule of St. Augustine. One of his companions said of him, at this time,
“Now it was that he began to appear among his brethren like a bright burning torch, the first in holiness, the last in humility, spreading about him an odor of life which gave life, and a perfume like the sweetness of summer days. Day and night he was in the church praying without ceasing. God gave him the Grace to weep for sinners and for the afflicted; he bore their sorrows in an inner sanctuary of compassion which pressed on his heart, flowed out and escaped in tears. It was his custom to spend his nights in prayer and to speak to God behind closed doors.”
Dominic consecrated himself, dedicating his life to the salvation of souls for Christ. He was happy! He thought this was where God had placed him, but that was to come to an end, when Don Diego, now Bishop of Osma, chose him to accompany him on a mission to Denmark, which would be the first leg of a long journey of suffering, pain and torment. meaning he is always last to receive or taking the last place
As they traveled through southern France, Dominic’s heart felt like it would bleed to death, as he encountered the enormous suffering brought about by a new threat against the Church and her children – the Albigensian Heresy. The churches were empty; the bells no longer tolled; Sunday you could see people working in the fields. There was a funereal spirit over the villages, as if God Himself was moaning over the death of His children’s souls. They were like men, women and children walking in their sleep through a dark cloud shutting out all sun.
Tired and downcast, Dominic and the bishop stopped at an inn in Toulouse, only to discover that the innkeeper was a heretic. Dominic could not go peacefully to sleep, while there was the danger that a soul could be lost. He talked to the man throughout the night, showing him the error of this heresy and the long-range effects disobedience has first on one soul and then on those he encounters. Dominic, clarifying the errors put forth by the heretics, and bringing him the true teachings of the Faith, when dawn came peeking into the dark of night, the innkeeper’s heart and soul were filled with the same light which flooded the room; he renounced the heresy and pledged to follow the true teachings of Mother Church.
Was it here that the seed to start a religious Order, dedicated to defending the Church, correcting errors and bringing the Truth to the faithful, was planted in Dominic’s heart?
Dominic turns to Our Lady for help
Dominic always turned to his Heavenly Mother for help! When Dominic and the bishop visited the Court of France, they found the Queen grieving deeply because she had no children. Dominic told her to pray the Rosary. Not only did she adopt this prayer, she brought that devotion to all the citizens in her realm, asking them to join her in praying for a male child who would wear the crown of France, one day. A boy was born, the future St. Louis of France. They prayed the Rosary, softened the Heart of God, and a future Saint was born; a great Saint was given to the Church and to the world!
Their mission was successfully completed in Denmark. But God had a greater plan in mind. Seeing the death of faith overtaking the world, before they returned to Spain, the bishop and Dominic stopped in Rome. Bishop Diego asked to be relieved of his bishopric, so that he could spend the rest of his days correcting the heresies that were rotting away the very foundation of the Church. Both he and Dominic had been witnesses, seeing with their own eyes the devastating attacks upon Mother Church from all fronts, with hordes of heathens laying siege on Christ’s Kingdom on Earth on one front, and those within the Church attacking on another, the enemy of God flanking her on all sides with relentless attacks, leaving her, dear Mother that she is, bleeding.
Having seen the helplessness of the faithful in the Nordic countries, the bishop and Dominic asked Pope Innocent III for permission to go to Tartary and the Pope refused! They stopped at the Abbey of Citeaux with the idea of becoming Cistercians, then decided against it, as the bishop realized his first responsibility was to the diocese that had been entrusted to him. They had hoped to receive the deep scarlet crown of Martyrdom among the heathen in Tartary; that was not to come to pass. They had desired to live among the Cistercians; that was not to be. Eager to serve God and Church but not knowing how it would come to pass, they resignedly turned their eyes toward Spain, believing that God’s Will lay in their obedience to the Pope.
Dominic joins the battle to combat the Albigensian Heresy
On their way, they stopped at Montpellier. There, they discovered a pot of errors bubbling, spilling over dangerously into every walk of life. No one and nothing was free from the Albigensian Heresy10 which threatened to drown the Church. How were these heretics able to attract so many? First of all, like cults of today, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, they provided for their bodily needs. They gave people easy answers to the many evils in their lives, many of which they brought about themselves. The heretics delivered fiery, very dramatic sermons; in those days, our priests did not deliver any sermons. Many of our priests led lives of wealth and comfort, and their parishioners went hungry; whereas, the heretics gave generously to their followers, while leading a very austere lifestyle. Of course, everything they gave came from other followers. Was Jesus going to allow these misguided children of His be lost? No, He sends Saints into the melee to fight the good fight!
During the papacy of Innocent II, Albigensianism was spreading like wildfire throughout southern France. The Pope put the job in the hands of the Cistercians. First, he sent two; when they weren’t successful, he sent another two. Then he sent in thirty Cistercians, twelve of them abbots. These were the most disciplined, most learned religious of the times; but compared to the austerity of the heretics, their lifestyle was relaxed and easygoing. It became obvious that it would take more than these followers of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Now a new Pope in power, Innocent III turned to Dominic and the Bishop of Osma for help in erasing this threat from the Church. St. Dominic and the bishop went to the Cistercians and appealed to them to live a more heroic life, a life which more exemplified that of the Savior Whom they were called to imitate. St. Dominic and the bishop told them that the common folk joined the Albigensians more because of the life they saw them leading, than by their preaching. They asked the Cistercians to cease traveling by horse with an entourage, to no longer stay at comfortable inns, with servants to wait upon them. Dominic said that first they had to begin by truly living the Gospel, then the people would listen to gentle persuasion and loving dialogue. This, rather than intimidation and dictatorial pressure is what would bring heretics back to the Church. The Cistercians wanted no part of this so they left.
As Albigensianism was considered now more a religion than a heresy, it was extremely dangerous to evangelize and preach against it. The Heretics did not want to lose their brainwashed followers, who would do almost anything for their false gods, the Heretics. And so they were not above using force. At the recommendation of Don Diego, the Bishop of Osma, Dominic and his followers were sent into the area to live, much like Francis and his followers were living in central Italy. There were seventy two of them. They carried no money, no staff, no possessions. They truly lived the austere Gospel life, in an effort to convert by example. And against overwhelming odds, convert they did! The example they set bore fruit, and by the end of ten years, there were a great deal of conversions. But Albigensianism was still very strong and firmly entrenched.
Dominic begins to open houses for former heretics
Because so many noble families had lost all they had as a result of the horrible war which had stripped everyone of all their possessions, many of their children had no recourse but to attend schools provided by the Albigensianists. They were actually sold into slavery to the Heretics. Dominic combated this by setting up convent schools available to teach the True Faith. The Church was not proficient in the ways of the world, ill-equipped to combat this insidious poison, now being promulgated by some of the most respected families. Dominic knew the only answer was to organize the Church, and engage in a Gentle Revolution!
Where did Dominic go? Now Dominic had always had a deep devotion to the Mother of God. One evening, as he was praying on a hill in Prouille, overlooking the Shrine of Our Lady of Prouille, a church he frequented on his journeys through the southern part of France, he saw a globe of fire shoot down from the heavens and come to hover over the little chapel. Dominic took this as a sign from Heaven this was where he was to establish his first convent. The first nine sisters were converts from the Albigensian Heresy; they initially came to Dominic, seeking asylum from their families, who had been thoroughly indoctrinated into the Albigensian Cult. Like his dear friend Francis of Assisi with St. Clare, these nine had not only heard Dominic preach the Truth but most exemplify what he preached; their eyes were opened, and they wanted that Truth Who alone can make them free. They were to be a cloistered community devoted to the education of young women in danger of being exploited by the Albigensianists. At that time he also opened a friary for the brothers who came to serve.
Time came for his good friend and mentor, Bishop Diego to go back to Spain and his diocese. His promise to send reinforcements, to help Dominic, never came to pass, as he died soon after arriving home. With the news of his death, instead of more help, the few Dominic had, returned to Spain. Now, alone, with the monumental task God had given him, Dominic committed himself to the Lord as His solitary preacher, if need be. As if that was what God was waiting for, another friend and mentor entered into his life, Foulques, Bishop of Toulouse. Like Dominic, he had a fiery passion to serve Mother Church. This was truly a gift from God, for one of Dominic’s greatest crosses was the lack of courage and determination he found among the bishops and clergy, the absence of strength required to act upon and fulfill the Will of God. For the next ten years, this prelate would be Dominic’s benefactor, affirming him when he was in most need, the right arm Dominic needed in the face of endless adversity.
It was time! Dominic began the Order of Preachers, better known today as the Dominicans.11He founded a house for Albigensianists who wished to leave the sect. Everything was going fine, until the local Count of Toulouse tried to close the house down. The Count had allowed the heretics to operate freely, to serve his own political ends. The sect controlled a considerable voting block, and was very influential. St. Dominic was causing problems for the Count; he couldn’t allow him to continue.
A papal legate is assassinated, and war breaks out!
Pope Innocent III sent his papal legate Peter of Castelnau, to resolve the matter quickly. Peter tried to dissuade the Count from supporting the heretics, to no avail. As the Count would not cease his attack on the Church, Peter had no recourse but to excommunicate him. In addition, the Count, Raymond of Toulouse had broken every promise made to the Church. When the excommunication was announced, the Count sent two of his henchmen, who waylaid and killed the legate of Rome.
Peter of Castelnau had spent his life preaching on the Word Who is God. Dying, he would end his life just as the Word before him, his last words, asking forgiveness for his murderers. Turning to the missionaries he was leaving behind, Peter told them to be strong and carry on this most solemn work of saving the lost lambs of the Church.
Peter of Castelnau was bitterly hated by the heretics. He often said: “Religion will not raise its head in Languedoc until it is watered by the blood of a martyr.” As he lay there, he fulfilled his own prophecy, the ground soaked by his blood, he was martyred for the Faith. Never compromising, this legate, named after our first Pope, died as he had lived, faithful to the Church, to the end!
When news of Peter of Castelnau’s death reached Pope Innocent III, he sent letters to the kings of France and Spain to lay aside their differences, their self-interests and unite behind the banner of the Church and fight this “rage of heresy.”12It was no longer a war between ideological differences; words were no longer the sole means of attack; the Church was being raided by armed thieves vandalizing and stripping churches and convents; then leaving nothing – burning them to the ground.
Maligned and defamed, Mother Mary cries for her Dominic
The man placed in charge of the Catholic combined forces, was the legate – Arnold of Citeaux; it was not Dominic! Dominic played a very minor role in this campaign, nothing more than that of a chaplain serving the crusaders’ souls: and yet after the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century the word was that it was Dominic, “the infamous preacher” who caused the bloodshed of the Albigensian war. This accusation is so against his most gentle character, his compassionate heart and soul, it makes one weep to hear him so maligned. But as always, from the time of Adam and Eve, when the father of lies called God a liar, the innocent have been attacked by the guilty, the holy by the wicked. It began in the Garden of Eden and witless instruments of the devil have carried on his work, and will, I am afraid, till the Lord comes again.
What was Dominic doing while this bloody encounter was going on? He and the small band who had remained with him, went around the countryside, barefoot, without roof over their heads, completely dependent on alms, preaching the Word of God; and if that makes him the “bloody Dominic” they called him, then please Lord allow us to walk beside such as he.
The mission bestowed upon him and Bishop Diego by Pope Innocent III never having been rescinded, Dominic continued to carry out the role of reconciling heretics to the Church and assigning them penances. For this he was given the name of “First Inquisitor,” which could not have been more misleading. There is no entry in history of Dominic’s participation in the Inquisition! Had he played the crucial role they have discredited him with, there assuredly would be some mention in the annals of that period. Furthermore, as no such office existed before the Lateran Council of 1215, and it was in 1230, nine years after Dominic’s death that the Council of Toulouse assigned a share of the governing body to the Friars Preachers, Dominic would have had to have exercised his duty from the grave.
In addition, when the jurisdiction was originally handed down, to judge and, upon finding guilty, denounce heretics, it was not assigned to the Dominicans but to the Cistercians! At that time, Dominic lived in Fanjeux and Carcassonne, more than one hundred miles from Toulouse, near his Lady of Prouille. He preferred to be known simply and humbly as the parish priest of Fanjeux. He would walk seventeen miles each day to Carcassonne to people who scoffed at him, leveled abuses at him, threw dirt and stones at him, all the time calling him foul names, making a sport of playing him for the fool; and he, the great fool of Christ came back for more.
One day, coming upon a gang of heretics, about whom he had been forewarned, he calmly passed through them joyfully singing hymns. Possibly stunned by his bravery, they did not carry out their plan to kill him. But later, having recovered, they confronted him, again, and challenged him, threatening, “So you’re not afraid to die. What would you have done if we began killing you?” Dominic replied, “I would beg you to not finish me with one quick blow but little by little.” They avoided him, from that time on, believing being killed was just what he wanted.
Our Lady gives St. Dominic the Rosary
The heresy of Albigensianism, which had started in Southern France in the Eleventh Century, had become a deadly cancer threatening the entire Church. Although he would fight with all his might to defeat this heresy, it was an uphill fight. He prayed for help. The Angels brought his prayer to the feet of Our Lady. One night in 1208, while St. Dominic was hard at prayer in the Chapel of Notre Dame de la Prouille,13Our Lady appeared to him. Holding the Rosary, She said,
“Be of good courage, Dominic; the fruits of your labor shall be abundant. The remedy for the evils which you lament will be meditation on the life, death and glory of my Son, uniting thereto the recitation of the Angelic Salutation (Hail Mary) by which the mystery of redemption was announced to the world.
“This devotion you are to inculcate by your preaching, is a practice most dear to my Son and to me – as a most powerful means of dissipating heresy, extinguishing vice, propagating virtue, imploring divine mercy, and obtaining my protection. I desire that not only you, but all those who shall enter your Order, perpetually promote this manner of prayer. The faithful will obtain by it innumerable advantages and will always find me ready to aid them in their wants. This is the precious gift which I leave to you and to your spiritual children.”
Dominic begins preaching on the Rosary
War and hate killing the innocent, who did not know why they were fighting, or for that matter being killed, it was time for the Mother of God to instruct Her children through Dominic as to the true meaning of the Rosary, Her Life and that of Her Son Jesus. She was calling them to meditate on what Mary and Jesus’ yes cost Them. Although the Rosary had been prayed for generations before the Blessed Mother came to Dominic, it was more of a vocal repetitious praying of Hail Mary’s, Glory be’s and Our Father’s fingering the beads of the Rosary. With Mother Mary giving him this new mission, he was able to have the whole Church participate with Her and Her Son in what They lived through, that we might be saved.
So, we see Dominic, in the midst of hell, with the rabid dog of war wildly, indiscriminately attacking the innocent along with the guilty, no one exempt; and he is preaching the Rosary! Does this sound incredulous? Do we not need to say the Rosary, today, meditating on how Our Lord and Our Lady walked to the Cross for us, how this Church which has been so under attack for the last 2000 years flowed from the pierced Heart of Jesus? Do we think about the price He paid for the Church? Is this what gave them the courage to climb insurmountable heights and face unbeatable foes?
Our Lady of the Rosary intercedes and the war is won!
When Dominic became vicar to the Bishop of Carcassonne. But his peace was to be short-lived. Things were out of hand, conditions deplorable. Life would again change for him, along with the course of the Albigensian war. As war is about power more than ideology, more sons would have to die to satisfy man’s gluttonous appetite for might. As this was a war over men’s souls, neither side would give up, the knowing ordering and the unknowing following, “Rachel was once more crying for her children.”
Peter, the King of Aragon, marched into Carcassonne with his massive forces and united them with the Albigensian soldiers. The defenders of Mother Church were so overwhelmingly outnumbered, only a miracle would save her. A council was called in Muret to determine what course to take. Dominic was summoned and went hurriedly to Muret; but on the way he stopped to pray before the tomb of St. Vincent the Martyr. When one of the canons sought him out, he beheld Dominic levitated in ecstasy before the altar.
September 10th, the King of Aragon converged on Muret with forty thousand men. The Count of Montfort was caught with only eight hundred men. With no other course possible, the Count advised his forces he was going to abdicate. He went into the chapel to prepare himself for the inevitable, his death. At the suggestion of Dominic, the Catholic forces began praying the Rosary. The Count of Montfort, fully clad in his resplendent knight’s armor knelt before the bishop and, after receiving his blessing, solemnly pledged his undying love and faithfulness to the God and Church through the Mother of God, “I consecrate my blood and life for God and His Faith.” The Rosary having been said, the troops marched out to battle and the priests retired to the church to pray.
The Count of Muret and his small army, first charged, then made as if to retreat, and then charged once again, only furiously this time, plowing right through the middle of the thousands of advancing soldiers, clear to the center of the camp, where King Peter of Aragon and his nobles were seated. Completely dazed and dejected by the unexpected coup, his army deserted, leaving the king dead.
And where was Dominic throughout the battle? He was not, as some very prejudiced historians like to write (fabricating for their own agendas), in front of the attacking forces leading them on to victory. This would have been impossible; he had absolutely no training in the art of war. More accurate and honest is that he was with other priests and the women praying for the brave men whom they believed were going to a certain death.
Innocent III calls the Council of Lateran
Dominic was returning to Rome with Bishop Foulques of Toulouse. It had been eleven years since his first visit with Bishop Diego of Osma. So much had happened! Innocent III was still the Pope and had called the Council of Lateran, which has gone down in history as second only to the Council of Trent in importance to our Faith. Hundreds and hundreds of bishops, abbots and friars, along with heads of all the Royal houses of Europe were there to discuss the condition of the world. This council defined some of the most important tenets of our Faith. From her very inception, Mother Church has called councils to declare dogmas which we have always believed from the very beginning, but have not defined until attacked. Thanks to the Heresy of Albigensianism, the Council defined Church doctrine addressing this and other heresies16which threatened to sink the Barque of Peter.17
Pope Innocent III recognizes Dominic and his brothers
Ten years before the commencement of the Council of Lateran, there had been a flurry of preachers, often uneducated, tickling the ears of the unknowing faithful with errors. They were, for the most part anti-clerical and anti-papal. So, it was with some apprehension and caution that Innocent, although he knew of Dominic’s reputation, opened himself to presenting Dominic’s brief to the bishops. As the Church had ruled no new Orders be founded, the Pope advised Dominic to return home and choose one of the older Rules. It was at this time that the Pope had a dream and recognized the two friars holding up St. John Lateran,18as Francis of Assisi and Dominic.
After much prayer, Dominic and the brothers decided they would follow the Rule of St. Augustine.19 But the Order of Preachers is not a duplication of any other Order; it is unique with its own charism and apostolate. Though affirmed by other Popes, we quote Pope Clement IV:
“Your Order is a fortified city which guards the truth and welcomes the faithful through its portals. It is the sun shining in the Temple of God, the cypress on the heights, lifting minds that regard it, the field of the Lord fragrant with celestial roses.”
Pope Innocent III dies; Dominic has a new friend and Pope
It was with a sad heart and more than a little concern that the brothers received the news that Pope Innocent III had died. He had been a good friend and supporter of Dominic and his friars. Nevertheless, Dominic set out for Rome, and approval of his new community. He arrived in September, only to find that the new Pope, Honorius was not in Rome. Considering the work-load awaiting the new Pope, you would think that Dominic would go home and come back after the Pope was settled. Not Dominic! He slept in the churches. Believing in the Son’s love for His Mother, Dominic prayed to his most precious Blessed Virgin for her intercession.
She came through! In December of that same year, just three short months after being elevated to the Chair of Peter, Pope Honorius issued the first Bull granting Dominic certain privileges and impunities, with rights to formerly held lands, churches and property which had been donated by Bishop Foulques of Toulouse. In the second Bull which was much shorter than the first, Honorius referred to them as “champions of the faith.” What an awesome privilege and opportunity, as well as responsibility, this heritage carries for all the men and women religious who make up the Order of Preachers.
Eager to get back to his family of preachers, and be about his mission of evangelizing to those who had left the Church, Dominic would have to wait once more upon the Lord’s timetable. Always believing that God speaks through the Pope, Dominic peacefully remained with the Holy Father, who, like his predecessor, had also grown fond of Dominic. He was commissioned to be the Pope’s theologian, where he was required to teach before the court and the Cardinals, and appointed as censor20 of all books, an office filled by a Dominican till today. While there Dominic made another friend, one who would become the future Pope Gregory IX. As Cardinal, he was familiar with the work of the two powerful living Saints the Lord had raised up for this crucial time in the Church, and loved Francis and Dominic.
Finally Dominic was able to return to Toulouse and his community. The whole village turned out! His friars were filled with joy! Their merriment was short-lived when the time came to tell them they must part. Dominic explained that the work was great and the laborers few; they would have to go out, two by twos, to countries near and far, to preach the Good News, strengthening those who had remained in the Catholic Church and bringing back those who had strayed. Everyone advised him against this move, but he insisted saying some of the wisest words I have ever heard:
“Do not oppose me, for I know very well what I am doing. The seed will moulder (decay) if it is hoarded up; it will fructify (bear fruit) if it is sown.”
It was the Feast of the Assumption in 1217, when Dominic chose to announce that this was to be the last time they would all be assembled under one roof. He celebrated the Mass. All the people of Languedoc were there. He preached, as he had never before. He told the parishioners because of their hard hearts, their blindness, he and the apostolate had come to realize that they would have to leave and settle elsewhere. Then he turned to his brothers and told them to always have the courage to speak the truth.
Dominic continued to live a simple life, wearing the same patched, worn tunic in the freezing winter and the suffocating summer. In the evening, after a hard day’s work, he would spend his evening hours praying at the different altars in the church, often found in the morning having fallen asleep on the altar steps. He would do penance, flagellating himself first for his sins, then for those of sinners, and third for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. He would get so involved with the ongoing Sacrifice of the Cross, the Sacrifice of the Mass that he would weep throughout the consecration when Jesus comes to us, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He was deeply involved in the formation of those in his care; as a holy father chastising his children when necessary, and then balancing with generous compassion at other times.
Pope Honorius gave them the church of St. Sixtus located on the Appian Way to use for a convent. Miracles began from the very beginning! They were digging beneath the old building when a huge mass of dirt fell smothering a worker beneath the rubble. The friars ran to save him, but saw it was too late! However not for Dominic; he began to pray, as he simultaneously instructed the brothers to dig! Imagine their amazement when having removed all the earth, there was the man alive and breathing.
The Pope and his predecessor Innocent III had been trying to reform the women religious in Rome to no avail. This would be the mission assigned to Dominic. It was no mean task; they had gotten used to this casual life and did not want anyone interfering, especially men. They were women of wealthy families who encouraged them to be independent; they had seriously relaxed the rules of cloister life, having visitors at all hours of the day or night; their superiors had little or no authority; they would not even listen to the Cardinals!
Dominic proposed giving up his convent to a group of Nuns, who were living in St. Mary on the Tiber convent. Although it met with fierce opposition initially, the abbess agreed, with the proviso that a miraculous picture of Our Lady come with them; Dominic agreed. All was in order when the Nuns repented of their promise and refused to move. Dominic went to their convent and celebrated Mass for them; as he spoke so compassionately, their hearts were moved, they agreed to move into the convent at St. Sixtus and go into deep cloister.
But Dominic, wise father that he was, took the keys to the convent and made the brothers porters of the door, with strict instructions the Nuns not be allowed to have families and friends visit, except at assigned times. Their piety and joy became well known in Rome and attracted more young women. This became the second convent under St. Dominic.
We would just like to share a miraculous occurrence that Dominicans speak of till today. One day the brothers had been unsuccessfully begging for alms all day and were dejectedly returning to the convent when they met up with a woman. Feeling compassion on them, she gave them a loaf of bread. They walked a few steps when they were stopped by a poor man begging; he asked them for their loaf of bread. They, at first, insisted that it was all they had, but upon his persisting pleading turned the bread over to him. Now, while this was happening, the Lord had enlightened St. Dominic what had come to pass, so when the brothers approached he asked them if they had returned with nothing! When they recounted what had transpired, he said, “Have no fear; it was an Angel of the Lord.”
Dominic summoned the whole community to come and eat in the refectory. He insisted, over their protests, they prepare the tables for their nightly meal. They were all seated; Dominic gave the blessing and one of the brothers began to read, aloud. Dominic prayed! Suddenly two handsome young men appeared and began distributing bread. After the last loaf was dispensed, they disappeared. Then Dominic instructed the community to eat the bread the Lord had provided. Dominic then charged the brothers to pour the wine; and when they said there was none, he insisted they obey him, take the vessels and pour the wine which the Lord has provided. They obeyed and they not only filled all the glasses, they had enough wine and bread for three days! The third day, Dominic instructed them to keep none, but give the rest to the poor.
The Friar Preachers had worn the habit of the Augustinians when the Mother of God appeared and gave them the habit they wear till today. A new brother was entertaining joining the Order; he had just met Dominic when he fell seriously ill. The young man, Reginald, was on his death bed; Dominic began pleading for the healing of this child whom the Lord had just given him, only to be taken away from him so quickly. Our Lady answered Dominic’s plea by appearing to Reginald, the ailing young man, accompanied by two breathtakingly beautiful handmaidens from Heaven. She told him to ask what he willed and she would grant it. Just as he began searching in his heart what to ask for, one of the maidens suggested he leave it up to Our Lady. Our Lady anointed his head, “his eyes, nostrils, mouth, hands and feet.”21As she anointed his feet, She said, “Let your feet be shod for the preaching of the Gospel of Peace.” Then she showed him the habit the Order was to wear. No one would have known of Our Lady’s appearance, if it had not been Her wish the Order know of the habit she had chosen for them to wear. Reginald begged Dominic not to tell the brothers what had happened till after he was dead. Dominic did as he had requested, then gave the Order the habit; but did not disclose the origin till one year later, when Reginald went to dwell with his Fair Lady, his Mother Mary.
A tradition that has transcended time states that Dominic was a man who went preaching through the cities drawing hearts to him like a magnet. Dominic visited all his communities. He left Rome to visit Bologna and remained a short time; then he was on his way to Spain. Dominic arrived in Segovia! He was so happy; this was his native land; they understood him! But there was a sadness that crippled the people of Segovia; they were starving; a drought had robbed them of their crops. One day, as they were all gathered around, he exclaimed: “Fear not, my brothers, but trust in God’s Divine Mercy. I bring you Good News. Today the Lord will shower rain down from Heaven and the drought will be no more.” It came to pass that very afternoon; the people were drenched before they could arrive home! In Segovia, he formed a Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, and is known there as the Saint of the Preachers of the Rosary.
Dominic went to Paris, to direct those working in the apostolate, and to draw others to join. Then he was off to Italy and on May 27, 1220 Dominic arrived in Bologna, to attend the first General Chapter, which was called to define the rules of the Order. Dominic proposed a democratic form of government. The friars did not always agree with him; for example they all voted for Dominic as Master General, against his will. They addressed the slaughter of brothers by heretics against whom they were preaching.
At night, when Dominic walked through the halls, looking in on the friars, he would sometimes encounter the devil walking as well, trying to distract the brothers when they were praying. He would sometimes take on the form of the Blessed Mother and pretending to be her, tell a brother who was disobeying his superiors, or not studying, that he was holy and the Lord was pleased with him. The devil told Dominic that he liked coming to the convent, but disliked the chapter room because of the good accomplished there.
Many times, Dominic would meet up with Blessed Mother, just walking around the convent, checking in on her little chicks, sometimes sprinkling them with holy water as they were sleeping. Mother Mary would most often appear with beautiful young women, accompanying Her. This one night Dominic saw Mary sprinkling water on the friars and making the Sign of the Cross on each: but then he noticed she did not bless one of the friars. When he asked her why, she said that the friar wasn’t in a state of grace.
Dominic went off to pray and suddenly he went into ecstasy and had a vision of Jesus with the Blessed Mother standing on His right; looking around he saw every Order but his standing before the throne of God. He began to weep, as if his heart would break; the Lord asked him why he wept; to which Dominic replied, “I weep because I see every Order before You but mine.” The Lord said that that was because He had entrusted his Order to His Mother. Then when the Lord asked him if he desired to see his Order, Mother Mary opened her mantle wide so that it covered all the heavens and underneath were friars extending beyond where the eye could see. With that he awakened from his ecstasy; he called the friars to prayer and began instructing them on the love and veneration owed to the Mother of God, Mary most holy.
It is time for Dominic to go Home
The friars saw Dominic shaky from the fevers that had attacked his already weakened body. They knew the end was near, but they refused to accept it. But Dominic had been foretold by a voice from Heaven that his journey on earth was coming to an end; and that he would serve the Church in Heaven. This did not deter the work he had to do; he spent every drop of energy in his body. But when he returned to Bologna, the friars were alarmed; he had aged so rapidly in the two months he had been on the road. They begged him to go to bed. He insisted on praying the Office with the friars, but could barely stand after the matins22were over. His head was swimming.
They tried to put him to bed, but he insisted on being laid on the ground. Then they knew, their father was going Home! He had the friars summoned. His joy belied the drawn lifeless look of death on his face. The brothers tried to keep from crying but failed miserably. The tears streamed down their cheeks; their beloved father was leaving them for the last time. They carried him to a hilltop (thinking the air would help him). He called them to draw near and gave them his last will and testament: “Have charity toward one another; Guard humility; Make your treasure out of voluntary poverty. You know to serve God is to reign; but you must serve Him in love and with a whole heart. It is only by a holy life and by fidelity to your rule that you can do honor to your profession.”
They carried Dominic back to the convent. He was losing ground; one of the brothers wiped the sweat that was pouring down his face. A brother cried out; “Dear Father, you leave us desolate and afflicted; remember us, and pray for us to God.”
Then Dominic, summoning his last ounce of strength, lifted his eyes and hands to Heaven and prayed:
“Holy Father, since by Thy mercy I have ever fulfilled Thy will, and have kept and preserved those whom Thou hast given me; now I recommend them to Thee. Do keep them; do Thou preserve them.”
Then he turned to his children: “I shall be more useful to you where I am going, than I have ever been in this life.”
He confessed some small sin he thought he had committed and then, arms outstretched to Heaven, he breathed his last breath for Church and community. It was 6 P.M. the 6th of August, 1221. Friars in different parts of Italy and the world reported having seen visions of Dominic rising to Heaven at the time he died.
As the church, where St. Dominic’s body was entombed, had need of repair, St. Dominic’s remains had to wait to be translated. When the church was in readiness, the Cardinal who had been Dominic’s friend was now Pope Gregory IX and he gladly gave permission. May 24, 1223, hundreds of friars, with all the Fathers of the Order, bishops, prelates and men of every rank were there solemnly awaiting the translation and subsequent opening of the coffin.
As the dirt parted, and the cement fell away from the tomb, a deep sweet fragrance began to emanate from the sarcophagus; the perfume filled the church when Dominic’s coffin was carried in. Tears began to flow from the loving bystanders, as the lid was lifted to reveal their Father just as he had looked two years before when he died. When John of Vicenza, a friar dear to Dominic made way for the bishop, Dominic’s body turned to face John; and when John moved again, the body turned once again to face him. With this sign Dominic was saying that he treasured his friars and their love above all honors that could be bestowed upon him.
Miracles upon miracles were reported and verified, far more than was required. It gave Pope Gregory IX the deepest joy to issue a Bull raising Francis, founder of the Friars Minor and Dominic, founder of the Friars Preachers, to the altars of the Church during his pontificate – On July 16th, 1228, Francis was canonized and on July, 1234, Pope Gregory IX declared Dominic a Saint!
Through all the battles, victories and defeats, the Lord used St. Dominic and his followers to save the southern part of Europe from the spreading Albigensianist heresy. The tide turned in 1229 when the University of Toulouse was opened, and the Dominicans became the major teaching influence in the University. It was also at that time, that the Council of Toulouse instituted an Inquisition, unlike the one in Spain, some three hundred years later, which, due to the State’s interference with the Church, became more political than religious. The Dominicans were put in charge, a post they handled with the real spirit of Christianity that their Father and Founder St. Dominic had projected when alive. The Order of Preachers grew and grew, so that in less than a hundred years, they had close to 400 convents in the area that had been infested by the heretics.
The Albigensian heresy was finally put down. If we were to pick one shining light responsible for the ultimate demise of the Albigensian heresy, it would have to be St. Dominic. Our Lord knew who to put in the right place, at the right time, to keep His promise that the forces of hell would not prevail against His Church. Once Dominic and his friar preachers showed that they truly lived what they preached, the heretics were open to hearing the truth: The Church does not depend on man and his way of life, but on the infallible Word of God, entrusted to the Church by Jesus Himself. Through their witness they were able to knock down the massive walls blocking the faithful from the Truth, the whole Truth Who dwells in the One, Holy and Apostolic Roman Catholic Church.
God chose a man and filled him with urgency, and Dominic used that urgency to found an Order, which would live on after him. For five years after he saw his dream complete, he died, passing on the torch to others.
p.6 Saint Dominic by Sister Mary Jane Dorcy. O.P. – TAN Publications
10 “This heresy gathered all the heresies of the past and put them into one presentation. Their philosophy or false theology used Paganism as well as Christianity to entice the unsuspecting looking for something new! Those within the Church, who are spreading errors today, are doing the very same thing as the Albigensians before them.” From Bob and Penny Lord’s book, “Scandal of the Cross and Its Triumph, Heresies throughout the History of the Church.” You will find this heresy and other heresies that have attacked the Church for the last 2000 years, in this book.
11Dominicans or Domine Cane which means God’s Watchdogs.
12quoting Pope Leo III – Saint Dominic by Sister Mary Jane Dorcy. O.P. – TAN Publications
13to whom St. Dominic had a great devotion
14 Taken from Bob and Penny Lord’s book, “The Rosary, the Life of Jesus and Mary” pgs 182-183
the Albigensianism heresy was finally defeated, Dominic gave full credit to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary.
15 Mt 2:18
16For more heresies that have attacked the Church and been dispelled by Councils, read Bob and Penny Lord’s book: “Scandal of the Cross and Its Triumph”-Heresies throughout the History of the Church.
17 Ship of the Church
18the Pope’s church as Bishop of Rome
19 the oldest Rule of the Church
20 to determine which books were in agreement with the Magisterium and which contained serious errors.
21Saint Dominic by Sister Mary Jane Dorcy. O.P. – TAN Publications
22the first and chief hour of the Divine Office
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”
They encouraged all Catholics to Study the lives of the Saints!
Saint Vincent de Paul
Apostle of the Poor and Homeless
Our cry rings out to the whole world. Take notice! We are in the times of great Saints in the making. We are in the times of unequaled sinners. Enemies of God, we put you on notice: We’ve been there before; we’ve suffered the arrows of persecution in times past and we are still here. We are not finished. For the last 2000 years, just as it appeared the end was near, the Church was about to collapse, the world was coming to an end, God raised up Super Saints, those who said Yes to God’s call to holiness. One such great Saint in the making, one soul who reached for and received the crown of glory in Heaven, was St. Vincent de Paul.
In the history of the Church, we find The Lord very often raising the lowly to confound the proud. The Church is in need! All of Europe is being devastated by the onslaught of Calvinism and Lutheranism. The Heresy of Albigensianism that had its beginning in Albi, the south of France, had left its scars of division, even hundreds of years after it was condemned. Now, there was the threat coming from their neighbors to the north – Germany, Switzerland and the Nordic countries. People were confused; often their priests did not live what they preached and so the faithful stopped going to church. Would He lose these precious souls? God raised up another Saint and, through his living out of the Gospel, a Defender of the Faith. France, eldest daughter of the Church, would give the world and the Church a Seventeenth Century Mother Teresa.
A farmer’s son sows seeds which will grow into a beautiful spiritual bouquet in the garden of the Lord.
In southern France, close to the Spanish border, in the small village of Pouy, the family of a future Saint was expecting the birth of their third child. This day, a little bitter from the cold and dampness, would be brightened by the cry of a baby boy, as he takes his first peek at the world outside the safety of his loving mother’s womb. The Saint, we want to tell you about, our dear St. Vincent de Paul, was that baby! Born under humble circumstances, into a family of poor farmers, St. Vincent would always have a special place in his heart and his vocation for the poor, whether physically or spiritually deprived.
God placed this special child in the hands of holy parents, poor in the foolish eyes of the world, but rich in their faith. Vincent’s parents did not wait to have their baby baptized! Instead, a few short days after he was born, they brought him to their local parish to be initiated into the Church, receiving the first of the seven Sacraments, the Sacrament of Baptism. These parents of a future Saint were eager to have their newborn son begin his life not only as their son, but more importantly as a son of God; and to insure this, their focus was to have the priest quickly wipe him clean of the stain of Original Sin, that he would be ready to begin his journey on earth leading to Paradise and eternal life with a Heavenly Family.
The seed of faith, which had been planted by God would now be nurtured by this holy family. Holiness was evident in Vincent Defender of the Faith from infancy; his family said that from his earliest years, he would become elated when he was praying. As a child, he could be heard singing and praying the psalms, as he tended the cattle in the fields.
Jean de Paul, little Vincent’s father, had to work hard; the land was dry and parched when there was too little sun and did not yield a good crop; and when there was too much rain and not enough sun the crops were flooded and the results were always the same; too much work for too little return. Often the land did not yield enough to feed the livestock, no less the family. Out of necessity, the boy Vincent, along with his five brothers and sisters helped out the family, by working on the farm.
Vincent was assigned to watch over the sheep. As a young shepherd he early devised a way to tend his charges, even during the rainy season. When the land became so soaked, he could not walk without sinking up to his knees in the mud, Vincent improvised! He took some sticks of wood and made them into stilts; they raised him about three feet from the ground. His life story does not go into how many times he fell and got up again; all we do know is that he learned to balance himself and joyfully went about his appointed responsibilities. Through his new-found elevation, he not only remained dry, he was able to care for his flock, surveying the fields, guarding and counting each head, lest one should wander off and get lost. We can see God preparing Vincent for the walk he would have as pastor of a human flock.
Young Vincent and his love for the poor
What is one man’s suffering is another man’s joy; for as God, the Author of life, can turn dead seeds into sweet smelling blooms, God can turn what would appear a distasteful situation into an asset. There are times when out of necessity, if compromise is inevitable, farmers will build the barn better than the house. With the de Paul family, the barn was attached to the house, with only a split door separating the members of the barnyard family from the human family. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, the body heat of Saint Vincent de Paul the cows and other livestock furnishing much needed warmth in the winter; and when it was too inclement for man or beast in the yard, the family was able to feed their four-legged friends through the upper opening in the split door.
The de Paul family took care to not only labor earnestly to provide for the needs of the flesh, but at day’s end, to provide food for the soul. After the meal was over, all gathered around the fireplace in the kitchen (where they also slept); the father told them stories of the lives of the Saints; they all prayed together, offering praise and thanksgiving for their daily bread and supplicating the Lord to continue granting them what they need. As their parents tucked them into bed, the children would ask them for their blessing. [Do we bless our families before they go to sleep? Is our blessing the last thing our families bring with them when they leave the house?]
Although poor, Vincent’s parents were generous. Each Sunday, during the Sacrifice of the Mass when the time came for the Offertory, they placed what little money they had in the basket. In addition, no matter how hard the times, they always found money to give to those less fortunate than they. Vincent grew up with this holy example, always remembering Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do to the least of My brothers, that you do unto Me.”
From the time he was a young boy, Vincent saw Jesus in the faces of the poor. This would mold his noble heart into the life he would be called to, as advocate of the poor. One time, Vincent had saved thirty pieces of silver. He had dreamed about what he would buy for his family to make life a little easier. Then one day, Vincent encountered a poor beggar on the road; without a moment’s hesitation Vincent gave the poor soul all the silver he had. Had he seen Jesus? Was this his way of placing no one before the Lord. Whoever gives up mother and father…
At an early age, his mother instructed Vincent to turn to his Heavenly Mother, sharing all his joys and sorrows, his wounds and his triumphs, confident She would never let him down. As was the custom of other children of the area, Vincent built a little shrine to Mother Mary in a tree. There he would pour out his heart to her. He and his family would go on pilgrimage once or twice a year to a shrine to Notre Dame, in Buglose. On the way they would encounter other Frenchmen going to venerate their Mother; some petitioning and others responding with thanksgiving for prayers answered. Vincent remarked, later in life, that he could not remember Our Lady not answering his prayers. He taught that the more we love the Blessed Mother, the more we love Jesus, the happier we will be.
Vincent begins his journey to the priesthood
Vincent showed a thirst and aptitude for learning, which was further enhanced by a truly virtuous soul. When he was interviewed by the Bishop, to see if he qualified to receive First Holy Communion, he answered so brilliantly and authentically, the Bishop not only said he was ready, but encouraged the parents to send him to the city to further his education. His father responded by scraping together what little he had, to secure an education for this special son, with the Cordeliers or Franciscan Recollects.
Life at the college for Vincent was like a dream come true; he absorbed Grammar and Latin like a sponge; he excitedly looked forward to each day, like a child awaiting Christmas. What with his remarkable ability to learn and his humble and always eager desire to help, his joyful Yes to all in need, he became a friend and example to the other students at the College.
As you cannot hide a light under a bushel basket; he came to the attention of Mr. Commet, a nobleman of the village who asked him to tutor his children This overjoyed Vincent as what little he earned would enable him to cease being a financial burden on his parents. After four years he shared with Mr. Commet that he found himself drawn to the priesthood. Monsieur encouraged him to go answer the Lord’s call to serve Him as an “alter Christus.” Mr. Commet advised Vincent’s father of his son’s desire to become a priest, and he immediately sold two of his steers.
In 1596, at sixteen years of age, Vincent entered the University of Toulouse, where he studied and prepared for the priesthood. Shortly after entering, he received the tonsure. He was among the young men who that day were vested in the Franciscan habit and received into the Order of St. Francis. The Bishop cut his hair along with that of the other future priests present, and Vincent was no longer a lay man; he had taken his first step; he was now a cleric! After receiving minor orders, the Subdiaconate and then the Diaconate, on September 23, 1600, at less than twenty years old, Vincent realized his dream; he was ordained a Priest; he was no longer Vincent, but Father Vincent. He returned to the little chapel at the beginning of the woods, where he prayed as a little boy, and fervently celebrated his first Mass there.
St. Vincent’s walk was the living out of the Gospel. Like St. Francis, his focus in life was to be more like Jesus. But initially he sought Jesus, studying the Word of God and the Traditions of the Church. The more he did, the more he became the Gospel. Although he desired to continue his studies, the lack of funds and the debt he had incurred, when he was preparing for the priesthood, did not permit him to do so. But his holiness and generosity toward the poor came to the attention of a good woman who bequeathed her estate to him. Upon her death, he would receive 500 crowns of silver!
Now, the only problem was that this sum was owed to the departed by an unscrupulous debtor. He had fled to Marseille in
In this ceremony the Bishop cuts snips of hair from the front, back, two sides and the crown, as an invitation by the candidate to accept the Lord as his only portion. In some orders the top of the head leaving a crown of hair solely on the top of the head. This is a permanent sign of his commitment.
Today, a priest is not ordained until close to twenty seven years old, but in the days of Vincent de Paul the age was more like twenty four.Saint Vincent de Paul order to avoid paying the woman. Vincent knew that the only way he could hope to collect his inheritance was to seek out the debtor and appeal to him to pay. In 1605, Vincent left for Marseille to retrieve his inheritance!
In Marseille, he found the scoundrel, only to have him offer far less than the debt he owed; but having wisdom, St. Vincent accepted the paltry sum and prepared to return to Toulouse. A young gentleman staying in the same inn as Vincent, suggested he book passage on the boat he was taking to Narbonne. As this fit his budget and would save him time, Vincent joyfully accepted.
Vincent is sold into slavery
The two new-found friends boarded the ship; the voyage began smoothly; the sun was shining; the Mediterranean Sea was calm; all was well aboard the ship. But suddenly, ominously in the horizon loomed three ships carrying the colors of the Saracens. They signaled the ship, advising the French to prepare for them to board her. No sooner had they finished coming aboard, the Saracen pirates began fighting immediately. Although the French sailors, along with Vincent who joined in, fought bravely, they were greatly out-numbered and the ship was soon taken over. Vincent’s dream of returning home was now a horrible nightmare; the deck, brilliantly lit earlier by the rays of the sun, was now covered with blood and lifeless bodies. The wounded Vincent and those not killed were taken prisoners and placed in chains for the rest of the voyage.
At the end of eight days, after the pirates had satisfactorily benefited from other piracies, they arrived in Tunisia. Now, Vincent was penniless, the Saracens having stripped him and all aboard of all their possessions. When they landed, in order to not be challenged by the French authorities, the pirates falsely claimed they had taken the slaves (Vincent was one of them) from a Spanish ship. They paraded them around the port, offering them for sale. Having no takers, they brought them to the livestock auction here animals were bought and sold. The prospective buyers probed and inspected the Christians, just as they would animals. They opened their mouths, inspected their teeth; they looked them over, as they would a steer or goat. When the auctioneer asked for bids, the buyers offered less than for a beast of burden.
Finally, Vincent was bought by a fisherman. As Vincent was not a good sea traveller, he soon became sick and useless to the fisherman, and was returned to the market, to once again suffer the humiliation of being auctioned off like a side of beef. Vincent was sold to an elderly physician. Now the physician was kind and quickly learned to love Vincent, like a son. He paid him a fair wage and did not treat him as a slave. There were some problems; the good doctor was deeply interested in magic and wanted to ingrain this sorcery in Vincent; in addition, he tried to share all the knowledge he had amassed, his fifty years of research in alchemy; and if that was not bad enough, being a Moslem, he tried endlessly to convert Vincent to Islam! Vincent prayed to Our Lady, tirelessly begging to be delivered from the temptations that were assailing him; it would be so easy to give in; he was so tired of fighting. But he had his Mother Mary! Later speaking of this time, he gave full credit for his victory over the seductions that lambasted him to Mary.
The doctor was invited by the Grand Sultan to visit him in Constantinople. In spite of his age, this was an invitation, the good doctor could not refuse. The old man died enroute and Vincent was now the chattel of the doctor’s nephew who had inherited him as part of the legacy. It was August, 1606, and Vincent had lost the only kind person he had met, since being taken prisoner. The nephew was as cruel and heartless, as his uncle had been kind and generous. But God is always listening and never gives us more than we can bear. The nephew wanted no part of his uncle’s businesses and sold all he had inherited, including Vincent.
The nephew heard that the French ambassador to Turkey was arriving with an authorization to free all the French citizens who had been sold into slavery, so he quickly sold Vincent to Niçois, a former Christian who had become an apostate to escape the fate of Christian captives. To avoid being sold into slavery or sentenced to death, Niçois had renounced his religion and became a follower of Mohammed. Now, the Sultan was generous to the apostate; he rewarded him for his apostasy by presenting him with property and a grand vacation home in the mountains. But none of this made Niçois happy. He wandered aimlessly, seeking some peace in his soul.
Niçois brought Vincent to the desert where he worked under the broiling heat, radiated by the sun on the white sand. Although he was not mistreated, his food and lodging were very poor. But Vincent offered up all his suffering for the conversion of the apostate. As he worked, Vincent unceasingly sang to the Blessed Mother, invoking her aid.
Niçois had three wives, one of whom was Moslem. In her own right, she was very spiritual, praying to Allah five times a day. As she watched Vincent laboring under the hot sun, her heart was moved to pity. She silently grieved over his captivity and the conditions he lived under. She could see he was a good and holy man, and was impressed by his peace, the peace her husband did not have. She could not help marveling at Vincent’s strength, his acceptance of his state in life.
She found herself drawn to Vincent’s holy demeanor, as she listened to his chanting of the Psalms, the Salve Regina, and the Divine Office, as he went about doing his work. She asked Vincent to translate the chants, especially the Salve Regina. Vincent, with all the ardor he had stored up, began to teach her about Jesus and the Catholic Faith. The woman would look into Vincent’s tear-filled eyes, as he spoke of his Lord Who came to the earth to save all men, and she could feel all the love he had for his God. One night, she excitedly recounted to her husband, all that Vincent had told her. Then she began scolding her husband for having left his religion, saying she could not understand how he could deny such a loving God and abandon a beautiful religion which teaches love and compassion. She was to be the instrument which God would use to release her husband from the bondage of apostasy.
The following morning, the apostate sought out Vincent; he fell down on his knees, confessed all that he had done and told Vincent he wanted to return to his Faith. Vincent said the only way he would achieve peace was to return to France where Niçois could do penance for his sins. Months later the two, under the cover of night, clandestinely escaped to France, landed in Marseille and finally arrived in Avignon. It just happened to be that the vice-legate of the Pope lived in Avignon. There, in the church of St. Peter, the fallen Christian made peace with the Church. Niçois shared his desire to make penance for his grave sins. The legate, impressed by his sincerity helped him to enter the Monastery of the Brothers of Charity, where he remained serving the sick in the hospital, until his death. Vincent left for Rome.
Vincent having gained the patronage of the vice-legate, who gave him letters of introduction, remained in Rome for quite a time. The Vatican was awesome for Vincent; here was the holy land upon which the center of his Faith rested, his Church nourished by the blood of Martyrs. His eyes welled up with tears, and his voice choked with emotion, as he filed past the tombs of Popes, who had served the Church in unbroken succession, beginning with the first Pope – St. Peter.
St. Vincent returns to Paris and knows persecution.
He could have stayed and basked in the glory that was Rome, but knew he had to go on to Paris. News of Vincent de Paul’s involvement in the conversion of the apostate came to the attention of Pope Paul V10 and in 1608, Vincent was commissioned to go to Henry IV on a confidential mission. Vincent departed for Paris, poste-haste.
Because Vincent was not otherwise employed, the King asked him to be the Queen’s chaplain. The Queen told the King she sincerely repented her past conduct and wanted to change her life, and that she gladly accepted Father Vincent as her Spiritual Director and confessor. The Queen became very devoted; soon everyone looked upon her with admiration. Her selfishness replaced by selflessness, her life became filled with great acts of mercy and charity.
Queen Margot entrusted Father Vincent with the task of distributing great sums of silver to the poor and visiting the sick in the Hospital of Charity. Now, although Father preferred visiting the poor, he obeyed the Queen and ministered to the nobility. It was on such an occasion, he met King Henry IV’s son, the Dauphin and future King Louis XIII. While in the service of Queen Margot, Father Vincent returned to his interrupted studies and followed the lessons being given at the Sorbonne, with the idea of receiving a degree in Canon Law. He studied industriously, but never at the expense of his duty to the Queen and the poor. He distributed large sums to the poor, never keeping a coin for himself. He refused to live in the Palace.
Vincent chose to board, out of humility, in a modest lodging in the area of St. Germain. It was owned by a Judge of the Tribunal, Monsieur de Sore. Vincent was so happy, but his peace was to be short-lived. One day, when Vincent was sick in bed, with a fever (from an illness contracted in Africa), the Judge entered the room and, as was his custom, placed a large sum of money in the safe. But in a hurry and somewhat distracted, instead of leaving the key in a safe place, he left it on the server. Later the delivery boy from the pharmacy brought medicine to Father Vincent. Upon seeing him sound asleep, and noticing the key, he opened the safe and stole all the contents. On his return, the judge seeing the safe ajar and his money gone, accused Vincent.
Although Vincent calmly protested he was innocent, he was not able to prove it; he was not believed and was to bear the stigma of being a thief for six years. During the six long years, without friends, and anyone who believed in him, he never endeavored to defend himself. He just bore the scandal, resignedly repeating over and over again, “God knows the truth.” Finally six years after the fact, the truth always surfacing, the criminal was arrested for another crime and, wanting to clear his conscience, confessed to the crime Vincent had been accused of. St. Vincent never told anyone of his ordeal. Instead he used this as a teaching on retreats. Without using any names, he stressed the positive rather than remember and dwell on the negative, teaching that we can sustain the pain of false accusations, which pierce our hearts, by remembering always that God in His timetable will reveal the truth, if it is His Will. Thank God, even if it was after six years, that in Vincent’s case, it was God’s Will!
Vincent meets a holy priest and his life takes a new course
Not all was sad in Paris, for St. Vincent. There he met up with a holy priest, Father de Bérulle, who would later become a Cardinal. Again we see God the Omnipotent Chessman putting His chess pieces in position, lining them up to serve Him and His Church. Father De Bérulle asked St. Vincent to serve as Curé of a small parish outside Paris. Then he commissioned him to be Spiritual Director to Countess Joiguy and serve as teacher to her children.
St. Vincent was a champion of the Sacraments, preaching often on most especially the Sacrament of Penance. One day, when the countess was away on a trip, someone came to St. Vincent and asked him to hear the confession of a man who was dying. Before administering Extreme Unction (or the Sacrament of the Sick as it is now called), St. Vincent asked the man to make a general confession. When he helped the man examine his conscience, St. Vincent discovered the man had previously made imperfect confessions. Because he had not properly examined his conscience, this rendered his former confessions sacrilegious.
When Countess Joiguy returned and her subject told her that he might have died with sins on his soul, had St. Vincent not prepared him, she begged St. Vincent to preach that Sunday in their country church on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. After his homily, the people flocked in such great numbers to have their confessions heard, St. Vincent had to ask the local Jesuits for help.
The time came when Father de Bérulle told Vincent it was time to leave the countess’ home and serve the common people who were in such dire need of spiritual nourishment. Gathering five other priests, Vincent formed a little community and they began converting many back to the true Faith, calling them (including royalty) to cease living scandalous lives painful to God. Countess Joiguy was in full accord with the great work that Vincent was doing; but she made him promise he would always be available, he would never abandon the care of her soul, and he would be there to help her at the moment of her death. Always devoted to those whom God entrusted to her, the countess convinced her husband to support Vincent’s Company of missionaries who would help their peasants and teach them how to live a better life.
Violence deals a blow to France which leaves her lamenting!
May 14, 1610, was a sad day in the history of France, for on this day, King Henry IV was assassinated. The whole world was shocked and grief-stricken. Cardinal de Bérulle asked Father Vincent and another holy priest to come and study with him, how to restore France to her heritage as a holy Christian country. For fifteen years France had been suffering terribly from the devastating religious wars which had attacked and were now crippling her. Upon carefully studying the problem, the Cardinal, decided to found a Society of the Oratory in France, fashioned after that of Philip Neri in Italy.
Vincent spent a year at the Oratory, when he was asked by the Curé of the church in Clichy to take over as pastor. On May 2, 1612, Vincent became Curé of this parish outside Paris. The parish was badly neglected, with few attending Mass. Vincent recalled the original peasants with whom he had felt so at home, the simple believers who loved their church. Now the church was in great need of repair, the parishioners as well as the church building which was falling down. His first sermon was on his plans to restore the church and as the parish grows to build a larger one to accommodate the additional believers. St. Vincent began to teach catechetics; the congregation joined him singing beautiful chants during the Mass, and before you knew it the church was too small!
One day, on his way to pay a visit to a family living in a château, Vincent met the lady who would before too long, become co-founder of his Daughters of Charity, Louise de Marillac.12 Wherever he went, he was well-loved by the people; he was bringing to them, the Jesus for Whom they had been starving, without knowing it. But that too was to come to an end, when in less than a year, he was asked by Cardinal de Bérulle to move on. His parishioners accompanied him out of town, weeping at their loss; and he for his part, said he would never forget them and his time with them. He never did!
St. Vincent is again taken away from his beloved poor
Cardinal de Bérulle advised Vincent that his new mission was of paramount importance, as it concerned Monsieur de Gondi, the Commander in Chief of the Navy and Prince of the realm. When he asked the Cardinal for an outstanding tutor for his children, he had recommended Father Vincent. Now, although he had left his heart with the peasants in Clichy and his life to serve the poor and disadvantaged, he obeyed! Although he did not initially understand this latest Will of the Lord, he would in time see His plan; Father Vincent, through his relationship with the royal family would meet the wealthy and influential who would become patrons of what he would begin later.
In the beginning his time was spent mainly with the children, but soon he was speaking to the servants about Jesus their Savior.
Then it was time for the master of the château! Watching his dedication, his goodness, the influence he had on his children and others of his household, the Count’s respect for Vincent grew so much that he began to count on him for guidance.
Before going to engage in a duel, one day, the Count asked Father Vincent if he could attend his Mass. When the Mass was over, Father Vincent went down on his knees and told the Count that he knew he was going to engage in a duel. Vincent demanded, in the Name of the Lord, he desist from this act of violence; and should he not obey, the good Lord would bring down His justice upon the Count and his posterity. What Vincent was proposing was contrary to the lifestyle required of a noble, as part of the royal family and the King’s Court. Monsieur de Gondi had never heard anyone speak to him in this fashion, with such strength and courage. Right there, he pledged to God to never duel again. The Count spoke of this incident and soon the entire court was talking about the Curé. They followed the Count’s example and became benefactors of St. Vincent’s apostolate.
Soon, his wife asked Father Vincent for Spiritual Direction. Although she was well known for her piety, her spirit was disquieted. After she confessed to Father Vincent, she had peace. She asked him to guard her soul, from that time on, by giving her direction. Now, Madame de Gondi had peasants in Picardie and unhappily they were much neglected. With no priests, there was no Mass, no Sacraments, no guidance; God was no longer Someone, He became something of the past. Madame asked Father Vincent to preach to her people. He did with such force and fire, soon there were long lines waiting to go to confession.
Vincent goes to the physically and spiritually impoverished.
All in order, Father Vincent knew it was time to follow his heart and organize missions to the poor. He felt an excitement and it was with much urgency that he asked Cardinal de Bérulle for his blessing. He came just as the Cardinal received a communication begging for help in an important parish in the region of Châtillon les-Dombes. Vincent was sent! He said au revoir to his tearful charges and assured them he would pray for them, and that they needed no one but the Good Lord Who is watching over them. It was with mixed feelings he was on his way; he had grown to love this little family and would miss them; but his heart was beating wildly in anticipation of his new assignment; he was on his way to serve the poor, at last!
What this Curé found was a foretaste of what St. John Vianney walked into in Ars, in a later century. There was no one to greet him; the people had become impious, indifferent to the Church and finally to God. The parish church was in horrible disrepair; no more was it used by man to worship his Lord; instead the four-legged animals were making God’s home, their home. The Curé of Ars, said, “Take away the priest and the people will worship animals.” Father Vincent found the Catholics in the village were few; whereas the Protestants were many. The few Catholics he met were unfriendly, without compassion, weak and self-seeking. The village, like many in Europe, was fractured by the division that had come about through the influx of Calvinism into a once Catholic community. The new Curé would have his hands full!
As the rectory was occupied by the poor and homeless who had no other home to go to, Father went over to the hotel, looking for a place to stay. Jean Beynier, the owner was friendly and Protestant! Respecting his wishes, the new Curé guarded what he said. But the owner, seeing over the weeks the abundance of the Curé’s kindness to all, and his deep sincerity, was won over by him, converted to the Faith and became one of the Curé’s staunchest supporters. Father Vincent did not look upon the Protestants as enemies but as brothers.
Father did the same as he had done in Clichy; he taught them catechism with so much ardor and passion the Catholics were proud to be Catholic; the Protestants began coming to the little church, converted and the numbers grew and grew! No more baying and mooing of four-legged creatures inside the sanctuary; those whom God had created in His Image now sang. The church sounded as if it was filled with the voices of Angels mingling with those of humans. People, as in Clichy, came from far and near to attend the Mass and participate in all the activities of this church which was alive!
One Sunday morning, just as Father was about to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass, someone ran in and told him that there was a family who was very ill, with no one to care for them. With no one to cook for them, the children were starving! Father Vincent spoke so passionately of the plight of the family, that very afternoon what should he see, from these former apathetic villagers, but families going back and forth bringing help and provisions to the family in need. Father Vincent commended them, but said now they had to devise a system where they would continue to care for the family until they were able to care for themselves. And the people responded, Parishioners and Protestants, alike. The house of God was no longer divided; almost all in the village, in less than five months became Catholic.
When he instructed the people how to serve the poor, he said it is not what you give but how you give it. When you give, see Jesus before you and then serve His children how you would serve Him. At last, Vincent was doing what he was born to do! Then he received word from his good friends, the de Gondi family, that they needed him. As he had heard no word from the Bishop of Paris, before responding, the Curé asked Cardinal de Bérulle for permission. That granted, once again Vincent obeyed! Those who had been touched by him were saddened by his departure, but they were changed; he had touched their lives, given them a new way to live, and they would not forget!
St. Francis de Sales enters St. Vincent de Paul’s life.
It’s 1618, and as the Lord would have it, St. Vincent de Paul made the acquaintance of St. Francis de Sales. Now, St. Francis de Sales, had become known as the holy Bishop of Geneva. He and the faithful of Switzerland had suffered greatly when his diocese became the cradle of Calvinism.13Years before the enemy struck, first ideologically and that failing – physically – St. Francis de Sales had founded the Order of the Visitation whose charism was to visit the poor and the sick. He had shared this dream with St. Jane Frances de Chantal. But as it was not permitted, at that time, for sisters to come and go from their convents, there was nothing St. Francis could do, but forsake his project. The sad truth is, should the Church have granted the sisters leave to visit the poor and infirmed, it would not have been prudent in any case, what with the violence being visited upon those who resisted the zealot Calvinists, in Geneva.
The sisters being cloistered, could not leave the convent. What were the options? Open a boarding schools for girls! But who was to teach them? The holy bishop and St. Jane Frances de Chantal asked St. Vincent de Paul to be the Spiritual Director of the Visitation of Paris, the school where the daughters of the nobility would board and receive an education. Although eager to be with the poor, St. Vincent agreed, out of obedience to the bishop and respect of their friendship. For the most part, the students, touched by his strong witness grew more fervent, in some cases, than his strongest collaborators. The young socialites went out on missions of mercy and God’s plan began to take form. St. Francis de Sales died the 29th of December, and St. Vincent de Paul became St. Jane Frances’ Spiritual Director. But his commitments to the Visitation Sisters and their foundress, did not deter St. Vincent from serving the sick and the poor.
St. Vincent de Paul never stopped taking seriously his mission to distribute resources to the poor, and offer hope and shelter to the homeless and forgotten. When men became rare, who would work at shoveling coal into the furnaces of ships, the French navy took prisoners and, under the most inhumane conditions, subjected them to forced labor aboard the ships. Hearing of their plight, St. Vincent visited them. He went into the holds of the ships where they suffocated from the heat and lack of air; into the prisons, cold and dank, where they hopelessly awaited their fate, as slaves on board the ships, working in the holds shoveling coal into hungry furnaces.
St. Vincent de Paul not only ministered to them, the abandoned; but upon seeing the deplorable conditions, the rats and vermin in the jails, the lack of sanitation, St. Vincent fought, crying out vehemently against man’s total inhumanity toward his fellow man. He reached the ears of his powerful benefactors; who thereupon visited the jails, and conditions were improved! The prisoners, seeing the kindness and real caring of St. Vincent went to confession and began their walk back to God and His Church; St. Vincent had shown them there is a God of love and they had hope!
An old friend goes Home
In 1625, his loyal friends Count and Countess de Gondi made a will leaving the budding Society of St. Vincent de Paul a considerable inheritance: 45,000 books.14In addition to this, at their bidding, the Count’s brother, Archbishop John Francis Gondi of Paris, gave the new community a college to house their new institution, with the Count and Countess generously providing the necessary funds. The Archbishop had only one condition, he required that the new Congregation commit to providing relief to the needy out in the countryside, as well as in Paris, and spiritual assistance to convicts, all at no charge. In April, 1625, St. Vincent and his company took possession and St. Vincent was on his way.
A good friend goes Home! On the 23rd of June, 1625, two months after the founding of the Mission, the Countess de Gondi went to her Lord, at forty two years of age. She had tried to do God’s Will as she understood His Will, and now the Lord, in response to her generous heart took His daughter by the hand and led her peacefully Home. She had her wish; she died, comforted by the presence of her beloved Spiritual Director Father Vincent de Paul. True to his promise, he had attended the countess right to the last moments of her life; having done so, he was free to join his congregation.
Her husband was not with her when the Countess closed her eyes for the last time. It fell to Father Vincent to bring him the sad news. Now, the Count, like his wife, had become very spiritual; he resignedly accepted his wife’s death as God’s Will. But this premature death of his dear wife showed him how meaningless the treasures of this world were and he asked to be admitted into the newly founded Congregation of Priests of the Mission. As Father Vincent de Paul had not the authority to grant this, he suggested instead that the Count become a disciple of Cardinal de Bérulle and priest of the Oratory.
The work greater than the workers, God sends help!
Many houses opened, all over France, in Montpellier, Périqueux, Montauban, Troyes, Annecy, Marseille and too many to list here. God blessed this selfless work. Members of the Royal Court took up where the Countess de Gondi had left off; so many of the houses of our Daughters of Charity were run by these ladies. They visited the sick and the abandoned, offering solace and compassion. They went into hospitals totally lacking any semblance of hygienic practice; because help was scarce they often changed beds of patients who had not been given fresh linens, but rather were using the soiled bedding of the sick person before them. They went into the poorest of areas and entered homes unlike any they had ever seen.
The roster of volunteers of the Daughters of Charity read like a royal Who’s Who, with Marie de Gonzague, future queen of Poland; Charlotte de Montmorency, mother of Henry II, third prince of the Condé family (with roots tracing back to the Bourbon family); Madame Fouquet, mother of the Superintendent; Madame de Lamoignon, wife of the President of Parliament; Madame Séguier, wife of the Grand Chancellor. But soon, the work grew faster than the help; many of these volunteers from the Royal houses needed to spend time with their families and attend to affairs of state, befitting their station in life.
God always forms holy clusters, putting together people He has chosen to do His Will. We can see, with all the diversions placed in our Saint’s path, he needed help. Besides, God never wants any of us to think it is we who are responsible for the conversion and healing that comes about, so he chooses others to help us. And so, it was with St. Vincent de Paul. God brought Margaret Naseau into the picture. She had been working on a farm and after milking the cows would teach the illiterate of the farm, the catechism and how to read and write. Hearing of St. Vincent, she set out to join him.
Though she and her lady friends were of good intention, they lacked the necessary direction and leadership to do the work. And so a lady of the nobility, well educated and talented, Louise de Marillac comes back into St. Vincent’s life. She had known him in Clichy. She had been married a short time when her spouse died. Having heard of St. Vincent and his work with the poor and sick, she left Clichy where she was from, and set out for Paris to meet him. In 1625, she met with St. Vincent and told him her heart’s desire was to serve the poor. In 1630, she made a vow to serve the poor, the rest of her life. Serving in the new society of the “Servants of the Poor” was all she could think about.
God’s Will be done, eight years later, in 1633 Margaret Naseau and her ladies came together in Louise de Marillac’s home and the congregation of the Sisters of Charity, also called the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul was founded.15
In 1642, the little company was actively attending the sick, when their beloved Margaret Naseau went to her reward, having contracted the dreaded plague from the sick she so loved. So, she died as she lived, her loins girded, serving the least of God’s children, ready to help one more soul, no matter the cost.
This is the congregation that Catherine Labouré belonged to when Our Lady appeared to her as Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and asked her to have a medal struck which became the Miraculous Medal.
The Daughters of Charity continued to multiply. Their beginnings humble, they were now traveling to the whole world, propagating the Faith through acts of mercy, as well as by lessons on the catechism. Wherever you found the sick and suffering, you were sure to find St. Vincent’s Daughters, with one mind and heart; caring for the infirmed in hospitals, visiting and serving the poor, mothering orphans, educating young girls, directing soup-kitchens, running dispensaries and homes for the old and infirmed, the mentally ill. Acting as missionaries in distant countries, they have over 40,000 Daughters spread over the face of the earth, today.
The joy and the agony of growing pains
St. Vincent de Paul drew up a Rule which was approved by Pope Urban VIII in 1632, with King Louis XIII giving his added support. The Lord had blessed the Mission so powerfully and quickly that soon the buildings could not hold all the young men seeking to serve the Lord in His royal Priesthood. God’s instrument needed help! In 1633, the Lord sent the Prior of the regular canons of St. Victor who, upon hearing of St. Vincent’s plight, offered the Priory of St. Lazarus to the new community. Owing to the spaciousness of the Priory, it became the mother house of the Congregation. It had originally housed lepers, but as there was no further need, it would be utilized to house future priests, those who, spreading the Word of God, would bring healing to the leprosy of the soul! This is how the first Fathers of the Mission got the name: Lazarites or Lazarians.
So great was his work, Pope Alexander VII wrote a brief declaring that all receiving Holy Orders, must first make a ten day retreat under the spiritual direction of the Fathers of St. Vincent’s Congregation. In his lifetime, this priest from the most humble of backgrounds, without earthly riches, without high position in society was to touch not only the world of the Seventeenth Century but to continue long after he went to the Father.
It is time to train those who bring the Lord in the Word
and in the Holy Eucharist to the faithful.
St. Vincent de Paul could no longer supervise the development of the Daughters of Charity, as his obligation was to the world, not only supplying to the hungry, the bread which feeds the body, but the Bread Who is the Life of the world, Jesus in His Eucharistic Presence. To bring Jesus to the world, that they might know Him and love Him, Father Vincent would need priests! He set about preparing seminarians for the priesthood.
Now they did not have plentiful seminaries like we have, today. Father Vincent used the house of Saint-Lazar for fifteen day retreats, which would prepare young men for the Priesthood, after they had completed their studies of Theology in the Sorbonne. He gave these retreats five times a year. It grew till he was having retreats in all the dioceses of France, then on to other countries and finally Rome.
The seminarians had all of fifteen days to prepare for their ordination to the priesthood, that which makes them priests forever. So, St. Vincent had all his Priests of the Mission speak to their bishops about the problem, and that was the beginning of seminaries and the many years the future priests would study in preparation of so important an apostolate.
The work of St. Vincent comes to the attention of the King
King Louis XIII heard of St. Vincent and his work. He asked if the Daughters of Charity could be nurses in his armies, and the Priests of the Mission – military chaplains. St. Vincent de Paul and the King became close friends, and the King began to consult St. Vincent. Because of his intervention, the King reconciled with the community.
February 11, 1638 the King consecrated France to the Blessed Mother and decreed that in memory of that event each year, on August 15th, a procession be made in her honor. The Holy Virgin granted the King his petition; a few weeks after the consecration, the enemy forces that had attacked France retreated! And if that was not enough, as he had prayed for an heir to succeed him to the throne, a son was born, who would be the future King Louis XIV.
In 1643, the King became seriously ill and called for St. Vincent. He prepared his friend, the King, for death. After Father finished chanting the Te Deum, King Louis XIII commended his soul to God and the King was dead.
The King was dead; now, as the heir apparent, the little Prince was not quite five years old, his mother the Queen became the Regent of France. She chose St. Vincent to be her Spiritual Director. This was a great honor, and St. Vincent accepted humbly. Under his influence, she changed her frivolous lifestyle and became interested in the plight of her country and the critical crisis attacking her subjects. She sold her jewelry and gave the money to the poor.
The Queen named St. Vincent – Secretary to the Council of Conscience (The Congregation of Faith), which in essence is the Grand Council which determines the outcome of all religious matters, settles all questions concerning the Faith and generally resolves everything pertaining to the Church. Since Cardinal Mazarin was the President of the Council, St. Vincent immediately set out, on horseback, for Mazarin’s château in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Now, the Cardinal was one of the most powerful men in France; he knew most of the clergy of France; he was named head of all the dioceses of important Bishops who contributed generously and were great influences on civil as well as church matters. Unfortunately Cardinal Mazarin, not satisfied or secure in his position and power, even as Prime Minister of the Realm, was jealous of the influence St. Vincent had over the Queen.
Every time St. Vincent tried to speak, the Cardinal interrupted him. When he was allowed to speak, the Cardinal mocked him – in front of all the members of the Court! Then the final blow, Mazarin finally ended by ridiculing the poverty of his cassock. St. Vincent responded: “I am poor, it is true, because all that I have goes to the poor, but I am proper and my cassock is not class, but neither is it torn, nor is it spotted.”
A short while later, Mazarin discharged St. Vincent from the Court and demanded that the Queen cease receiving him. The Queen was torn, for, on one hand, she had confidence in her Prime Minister Mazarin; but on the other hand, she looked upon St. Vincent as a Saint and selfless benefactor to his country. Although she saw in St. Vincent only holiness, and in Mazarin only shrewdness, she made the hard decision to deny St. Vincent de Paul entry to the palace.
St. Vincent de Paul, the Don Bosco of the 17th Century
There is only one God, and St. Vincent made no one on earth God; so although he loved his Queen, he could go on, as his Savior before him, alone, without man’s approval or recognition, to do the Father’s Will.
St. Vincent, our Apostle of Charity, never lost sight of the poor and never stopped trying to help them rise from their utter desolation. In France, the situation was so dire, mothers were abandoning their babies, leaving them on the steps of churches and convents, and worse on street corners. Then there were those who, out of desperation, sold their babies into slavery, to professional beggars, who would later use the innocent children to soften the hearts of passers-by, so that they would give them money.
This deplorable condition came to St. Vincent’s attention; he vowed to gather up all the forsaken babies, get back those who were being used as slaves, and provide a home for them. He approached the Daughters of Charity. At first, they were hesitant; this would be a monumental undertaking! But then the Apostle of Love was love itself, and they could not resist St. Vincent or his impassioned cries in the Name of the Baby Jesus, Who was refused a place in the inn.
They gathered all the lost children and gave them food and lodging; they taught them how to read and write, as well as a trade they could work at the rest of their lives. With this ammunition and newly gained confidence they would never be sold into slavery, again. But all this cost great sums of money! The wealthy Daughters of Charity, stripped of their farms and much of their wealth by the many religious wars France had suffered, were about to give up. St. Vincent called an assembly of all the Dames of Charity. He told them that the lives of these children were in their hands; he reminded them that they had had mothers to save them, if need be. Who would save these children; were they, by their exodus condemning them to die? The women burst into tears; they did not have silver but they could sell their jewelry and fine clothes. The Queen donated a château. The Foundling home was solidly established and that worry was behind St. Vincent.
Violence and anarchy bring death to the streets
The greatest festering sore on humanity was the violence which plagued mankind, with no one safe to walk the streets of Paris. Not only thousands of the poor, and unfortunate, but malcontents, professional beggars and vagrants who did not want to work, entrenched themselves on the steps of the churches and in the town square, demanding alms. Occasionally some beggars became thieves and even killers, accosting passers-by in the evening. They became a danger to the citizenry, and the ministers not knowing how to provide for them, had no recourse but to incarcerate them.
Now, St. Vincent had had a similar problem in Mâcon, with the beggars becoming a veritable curse. When they were rounded up and thrown in jail, he was able to secure the release of those who were truly poor and not bandits, and find work for them. But in Paris his course would not be as simple, with her more than 40,000 beggars. St. Vincent began by founding a home!
The Queen donated the grand Hospital of Salpêtrière. The Daughters of Charity organized a work-house. Now, the idea was that the beggars would move into the house and remain voluntarily, without any restraints; but the minister of justice, because of the great number of vagabonds, insisted the whole lot be interred in prison, the truly poor along with the indigents. St. Vincent was very upset about this treatment of the helpless, but he knew all he could do was try to ease the pain and bring some solace to the prisoners by having the Daughters of Charity visit and look after their needs. After he got them released from prison, not all took him up on his generous offer; they had become too dependent on begging and went on with their profession of the street. But when they were in need, they knew they could find a warm welcome in the the houses founded by St. Vincent.
More misery and fire ignite the countryside of France
It seems, when one problem is solved another crops up. Poor Belle France,18during the Thirty Years War,19 was laid waste by the pillaging and plundering of her fields and countryside! Soldiers ravaged her once beautiful provinces. No one group – neither French nor foreigners invading France – could take all the blame for what happened. Soldiers, not having received pay for months, were starving and helped themselves to anything in their path. When the peasants tried to stop them from stealing what little they had, they killed the men, raped the women and took the children, leaving behind only the smoke of burning homes, as evidence of their cruelty.
Now there were those who survived. If what they had gone through was not enough, a great famine covered the land. People were desperate; there was nothing to eat. Some searched the fields and the forests for what Mother Nature would yield; they tried to subsist on herbs; they peeled bark from the trees. Hearing of these new victims, St. Vincent organized, poste-haste, a traveling soup- kitchen; with this he provided enough nourishment for the peasants to survive, until they could take care of themselves.
There was the caring for the ill and wounded! St. Vincent set up camps with make-shift hospitals in tents, out in the fields. When they ran out of cloth for bandages, they used the fine silks and brocades, donated by the Crown, which had been gowns for special state occasions and fabric used for the grand royal funerals of Richilieu and Louis XIII! The haves gladly gave all they had to the havenots; although some who write would like to say otherwise. But as we have said before, history is history; this is what the Saints have reported and that’s good enough for us.
The Lazarites came, along with doctors and surgeons, armed with medicines for the sick and victims of the epidemic that was spreading across France. They cleared away the bodies of the dead, giving them all proper Christian burials. Those who transported the provisions, had to travel past enemy encampments, risking their lives with each mile, to bring succor to suffering brothers and sisters; but the Priests of the Mission went all the way, from beginning to end, with courage their shield and love their sword. The entire country wrote to St. Vincent thanking him for all he did. They dubbed St. Vincent “Father of the Country.” St. Vincent truly epitomized the foundation he begun, “Secours National.”21 He saved from death or desperation, hundreds of thousands of homeless poor who came to him for help.
Most of the provinces of the North and the East of France benefited from the genius of the charitable St. Vincent. But from 1648 on, there was over the entire region of Paris, dire and desperate consequences resulting from the Civil War, called “la Fronde” or the Catapult. And catapult it did, to more and more wars and divisions. This war was primarily between the princes and the parliament, jealous of Mazarin’s power. But always, although the battle is among the few, with the few benefiting, it is the people at large, the poor people who suffer.
Although Cardinal Mazarin, now a refugee in Saint-Germaine-en-Laye, had released him from the Court, hearing of the famine in Paris, St. Vincent did not hesitate to render service to the Court, disregarding the apparent danger confronting him enroute. He had to pass the lines of Clichy and thanks to these old parishioners who remembered him, they came to his aid and sent him off with provisions.
Peace at last, but not for all!
Saints and Saint makers. Show me a Saint and I will show you instruments in his or her life who formed their Sainthood whether through love or hatred, jealously or generosity, avarice or selflessness. All these Our Saint Vincent de Paul knew and had in his life.
Going before the Queen, St. Vincent reported the bread had arrived at the capital. A little later, thanks partly to his intervention, a treaty was signed with her adversary Ruell. Peace at last! But the peace was to be short-lived. Once again, Mazarin would make trouble through his deviousness; he convinced the Queen that Condé22 wanted to dethrone the young Prince, and arrest the young heir to the throne and his friends.
She ordered the army to prepare for war! Full of fear, his dirty work complete, Mazarin fled for his life! The Queen manning one of the cannons, gave the command for the gates to be opened! She would greet the unsuspecting Condé when he returned to Paris. He entered the gates, with his men, and because he was innocent, he never expected the reception of cannon balls aimed at him and his troops.
Violence begets violence; the war was on and the people went mad! Incensed by the famine, the wars, the unending loss of lives, the poverty they were enduring, a mob attacked the Hotel de Ville,23 setting it on fire and a senseless massacre ensued with the crowd haphazardly killing everyone in sight.
St. Vincent transformed the Saint-Lazare into a shelter for refugees from the entire countryside. He made provisions for those who were homeless, as a result of the flames sweeping through Paris. But not many came, because not many survived the lunacy that turned the people against themselves.
With courage and fire, but above all with the immense love he had for the poor people, innocent victims of the disputes of the mighty, St. Vincent wrote firmly to the Queen, sharing his thoughts of her and Mazarin. With the throne’s interest, primary, the Queen took St. Vincent’s advice and the Prince returned alone to Paris. He was greeted by cheers and great acclamation, “Long live King Louis XV!” Only he was able to end the war and maintain the peace! One of his first acts was to dismiss Mazarin!
St. Vincent de Paul, Founder and Defender of the Faith
Founder! St. Vincent de Paul founded twenty five houses that stretched to the far corners of Europe from France to Piedmont, Italy, Poland and beyond. Never satisfied, St. Vincent founded other confraternities and called them Charity; they were dedicated to attending the needs of the sick; then another branch of Charity, called Dames of the Cross was dedicated to the schooling of young girls; and another was created to care for orphan children, most of whom had been abandoned by their parents.
A Priest, forever! Though these corporal acts of mercy were paramount in his mind and heart, he relentlessly pursued his vocation of bringing the Sacrament of Penance to everyone. This Saint cared for the poor and rich equally, the famous and the infamous, Kings and Queens as well as paupers without homes, none more important than that he or she was a child of God. Amidst all the blows, slanders, and controversy which colored his life, this true son of Jesus kept his eyes on the cross; often, especially at the strike of each hour, making the Sign of the Cross on his chest (secretly with his thumb). No matter what happened in his life, good or bad, he always attributed it to the Will of God. Although he longed to be united with His Lord in Heaven, he was sensitive to the suffering of those on earth, and peacefully served them.
Defender of the Faith! St. Vincent never shrunk from telling the truth as he knew it. Now, there was a controversy splitting the Church concerning “Divine Grace.” Michael Baius was a professor and doctor of Divinity at Louvain, the world renowned university which has been attended by many famous priests like Archbishop Sheen. Baius proposed a theory concerning the Grace bestowed upon man before and after the fall, and other speculations which, among seventy six other hypothesis, were condemned by Pope Pius V in 1567. Baius accepted the Pope’s decision and disavowed all that he had written, including his theory on Grace.
Cornelius Jansenius and John Verger, students at Louvain, years later, came up with theories on Divine Grace, based on the errors of Baius that had been condemned. They were so committed to their new theory, Jansenius was convinced to write a book containing his theories on Divine Grace. Later, Jansenius became a Bishop and never published the book. Before his death, he said that he waited upon the judgment of Mother Church regarding his writings.
But sadly, after Jansenius died his friend Verger had the book published with some embellishments of his own. He became the foremost and most articulate proponent of Jansenism. He was so eloquent that initially even St. Vincent was taken in by him. But when he heard Verger express some of his errors and teach that the Church had failed five or six hundred years before, St. Vincent renounced him and his false brand of Theology. Feeling the weight of responsibility that we all have, to speak the truth and defend the Church against her defectors, St. Vincent used every means at his disposal to expose these errors.
The Sacraments! St. Vincent loved the Sacraments and stressed the importance of all seven Sacraments on the Mystical Body of Christ. He emphasized especially, the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. When he taught on confession, he repeated over and over again the importance of making a sincere and perfect confession, being truly sorry for our sins; the danger being those who pretend true remorse are more accountable for this sin than all the sins they may have eliminated from their confession; for this sin is not only against the Sacrament of Penance, but against the Eucharist, the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ Whom they are receiving unworthily.
St. Vincent de Paul prepares to go Home
At the end, good and worthy father, his thoughts were of those he was leaving behind. It was 1658! Knowing they would need direction after he went to the Father, St. Vincent left each of his sons a small book of rules he had written for them, and pleaded with them to earnestly live by them. His congregation was again affirmed and confirmed by two more popes: Alexander VII and Clement X. Like the other great Saints before him, he gave to the last ounce of his blood. Eighty years old, his body racked with fever, drenched with sweat, awake most of the night, sleep impossible due to his uncontrollable shaking, he awakened, as always, at four in the morning. He did as he had done his sixty years of priesthood; he spent his first three hours praying; then celebrated Mass; then after Mass prayed for those in the last throes of agony that they might have a peaceful death.
Precious Saint, servant of God, Father Vincent received the last Sacraments, gave his last words of direction to his missionaries gathered around him; then his head gently fell back and he peacefully went to the Lord and His Mother Who I am sure were there waiting to take him home. Well done, little son. Welcome Home! On the 27th of September, 1660, after having labored on earth eighty years, he was gone. His congregation buried him in the church of St. Lazarus in Paris, with much ceremony. They all came, those he had touched who had not preceded him Home! They were an amazing bouquet of the Church, all sizes, all colors, nobles and peasants, brothers and sisters, all, filing by his tomb, bidding their friend goodby, for awhile.
Miracles started immediately!
The cause for his Beatification was opened. In 1712, investigating his remains, they found his body beautifully intact, incorrupt. A heavenly aroma rose from the open casket. His clothes were as fresh and unsoiled as the day he had been buried, fifty two years before. The coffin was solemnly closed, and although the people had already proclaimed him a Saint, now all waited for the findings of the Church. Upon carefully, scrupulously going into his life, his writings, investigating miracles attributed to him, Vincent de Paul was declared Blessed in 1729; and in 1742, Pope Clement XII declared him a Saint.
Au revoir, sweet apostle of Charity; we hate to say au revoir
In this dark world where the enemy of God is trying to block out the Light Who is Jesus, where the devil, in his furtive fight to gain men’s souls for Gehenna, has deluded everyone into thinking there is no such thing as sin; in this world where people have become amoral, not knowing right from wrong, a voice still cries out, like St. John the Baptist “Repent and be saved!”
Like his Savior Who died and had pity for all, even those crucifying Him, like His Savior Who was born to save mankind, like He Who healed the lame and gave sight to the blind, St. Vincent never sacrificed his Father in Heaven and his vocation on earth, that of a priest of the altar as he served the physical needs of the faithful. He never compromised his love for the Church out of love for the poor and the rich; to him they were all one and the same, loving his God through his neighbor. He was available; no hours too many, no sacrifice too great. Like Jesus, born of the lowest of estates, he came to serve not to be served. Like Jesus he too walked the Way of the Cross, persecuted, abandoned, and humiliated.
There is so much to learn about this Super Saint. To most he is remembered solely for his acts of mercy and charity. But like that other Saint of mercy, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he was devoted to the Eucharist and the Church, and like her it was the Eucharist Which sustained him in his work and love for the poor. The picture I think we will have forever when we think of this Super Saint is, more than anything else, he was a priest, a true alter Christus, another Christ.
More on this heresy and other heresies the Church fought and won, throughout her 2000 year history, read Bob and Penny Lord’s book: Scandal of the Cross and It Triumph, Heresies throughout the history of the Church.
another Christ in Latin
the science of changing metal into gold
via his vice-legate from Avignon
St. Vincent’s Congregation has celebrated January the 15th as a solemn Feast Day from that day till today, in commemoration of this momentous occurrence in their community’s history.Saint Vincent de Paul 18
12 Her tomb is in the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in Paris.
13read more on Calvin and Calvinism in Bob and Penny Lord’s book: Tragedy of the Reformation
14 a large inheritance for that time, as books were so rare
16This community is not composed of order priests but secu¬lar priests who take the four vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. They are committed to (1) labor among the poor, feeding their souls as well as their bodies (2) the sanctification of their own souls through spiritual exercises prescribed by their founder St.Vincent de Paul (3) the conversion of sinners and (4) preparing men for the priesthood.
Queen, Anne of Austria.
17This building is located near the train station, La Gare d’Austerlitz.
18 beautiful France
19 read Bob and Penny Lord’s book: Tragedy of the Reforma¬tion
20 the other name for the Fathers of the Mission
21 help of the nation
22 the one with whom she had reconciled through St. Vincent
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”
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Saint Rita of Cascia – Miracles of the Rose and the Fig
All the years of fasting, subsisting at times on so little (the Nuns judged she lived solely on the Holy Eucharist), began to take a toll on St. Rita. After four years of intense suffering, she lay dying, her last winter on earth, the land she had so dearly loved covered with a blanket of snow.
We are told that although St. Rita had lived the life of an obedient Nun these last years, the wife and mother asked the Lord for a sign that her husband and sons were with Him in Heaven. One of Rita’s relatives from Roccaporena came to see her and asked her if there was anything she could do for her. “Yes,” replied the dying Nun, “I would like a rose from my garden, at home.” As the thick snow of winter would have killed any roses had they survived the bitter cold, her cousin was disheartened. Judging Rita was delirious and she would never see her alive again, the relative wearily returned to Roccaporena. Upon approaching St. Rita’s garden, what should she discover but a rose shooting up from the soft, white mound of earth.
It is said in the Bible that Moses never realized his dream to reach the Promised Land because he struck the rock twice. Be that as it may, Rita asked the Lord for yet another sign. No sooner had the relative returned to Rita with the rose than Rita, showing not the least bit of surprise, asked for two figs from her fig tree at home, another impossible feat for the middle of winter. Now, no longer doubting, the relative rushed off and joyfully returned with the two figs.
I sometimes marvel at the relationship we dare to have with the Lord. One time, I had shared with Bob how amazed I was that this man, whose home I had visited, had placed a bag over the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus because he and Jesus had a fight, Bob said, “What a personal God, Jesus is to him. He trusts the Lord enough to argue with Him!”
Another time, when in Lourdes, we came upon an Italian Pilgrimage celebrating Mass at the outside Chapel of St. Bernadette. We could hear what sounded like “We forgive You, Lord.” I thought I must have misunderstood; they could not be saying what I thought I heard them say, but there it was again, “We forgive You, Lord.” Bob and I approached, moving up the steps, the area surrounding the altar in plain view. There were over one hundred litters of obviously dying children, waiting, dressed in white to receive their first Communion, possibly their last Communion. I cry till today when I remember the words and those who said them. Have I forgiven You, Lord? If not, please forgive me.
Three days before St. Rita died, she had a Vision of our Lord Jesus and our Lady. The room, so often Calvary for Rita, was now flooded with a beautiful, bright light. “You will be with Me in Paradise, in three days,” our Lord told her, and three days later, on May 22nd, 1457, Rita was to join the annals of those who have lived for God; she was with Him.
The ugly wound she had borne uncomplainingly over the years, healed as she breathed her last, only to be replaced by a ruby spot. A strong fragrance, sweet and heavenly, poured forth from where the wound had been, replacing the stench she had lived with those many years. This fragrance continued over many years, for St. Rita was never buried!
Originally, the plan had been to have the body of St. Rita laid out in a Chapel in the Monastery. There were so many of the faithful who wanted to say a last good-by to Rita, whom the townspeople had already proclaimed a Saint, that the Nuns placed St. Rita in the parish Church. All the townspeople processed past her body, paying their last respects. The fragrance continued to emanate from the body. The Nuns decided to place St. Rita in a glass urn (coffin) under the main altar for the faithful to venerate until such time as the body would show signs of decomposition and then they would bury it. There is only one problem. It has been in a glass urn, on view to the faithful, exposed to all the elements, for over six hundred years and it has never decayed or shown any of the ravages of death.
Veneration to this gentle lady who had experienced all that life can possibly throw at us, began almost immediately. Down through the centuries, the power of intercession to St. Rita has been confirmed by a multitude of miracles. Most of these have been granted to those on the brink of despair, who felt their petitions were impossible. St. Rita has been given the name, “Saint of the Impossible”. While the favors granted have not been solely to women in distress, she has become known as “The Woman’s Saint.” There are those, ourselves included, who believe that St. Rita is one of the most touchable Saints for the women of today. Millions of pilgrims climb the mountain to Cascia every year, in petition or thanksgiving to this humble Saint, whose greatest asset has been obedience and faith in her God. Many more millions who cannot physically go to Cascia, pray to St. Rita for help.
Somewhere out there, many Ritas are searching for help, but don’t know where to look. Help is there; it has always been there. We have just been looking in the wrong places. While we believe the Lord has given us marriage counselors and psychologists as a means to help us through the trials of life, the answer is not in the horizontal. It’s in the vertical. The horizontal by itself is a minus (-). But when you put it with the vertical, looking up to Heaven for help, it becomes a plus (+). It is also the Sign of the Cross.
Till today when you visit St. Rita, there is a feeling of family; she’s one of us. Here, in a glass urn, honored by God and her brothers and sisters in Christ, the mystical body of Christ, lies a daughter, an obedient daughter whose parents did not make the wisest of decisions by man’s standards, but possibly by God’s; a wife of an alcoholic, an abuser, a carouser, a man easily provoked whose deadly silence could erupt into rage; a widow who loved her husband before and after his conversion only to lose him by an act of violence; a mother who watched her children grow up taking on the violent, non-Christian personality of their father, afraid they might commit murder, only to lose them to death through illness; a Nun who was rejected, judged, ostracized, laughed at, tested and glorified. Here lies our sister, Rita, a Saint, a woman of our time. And I, Penny, love her and thank God for the gift of her to remind me what I can be.
Related Items Saint Rita of Cascia
The Road to Happiness is studying the Catholic Saints
We believe the Saints are so powerful, and their heroic contribution so great, we want to focus on them and their lives. As some of them are new to many of you, we believe you will be happily surprised to learn about such heroes in our Church.
As we have said so many times before, our Church is perfect – perfect because she was founded by the Perfect One – Jesus Christ. Our Church is precious, more precious than the most beautiful, costly diamond in the world; because the cost was, and continues to be so high – higher than any price ever paid for a priceless jewel. And why is she so precious? What was the cost? Our Church flowed from the very Heart of Jesus, pierced out of love for us.
We are told that the Church is nourished by the blood of the martyrs. But there are many types of martyrs, many who lived and died for Mother Church – the Names of Jesus and Mary on their lips. Many of those Saints you will read about could have touched the world without being part of Mother Church, could have been accepted by the world solely by their merits. Then why did they choose to serve God, often suffering the malignant slings of slander, the judgments of those who misunderstood them and mistreatment at the hands of those they trusted? Why? The answer can be found in any Catholic Church – in the Tabernacle – on the Altar during any Holy Mass. It is He, Our Savior, Who is with us, as He promised, to the end of time. It is He Who is in the Church He founded, never leaving her an orphan, as He promised. This Savior stole their hearts and they would never be the same – suffering any cost, any wounds, any attacks – all for the Mother (Church) they fell in love with, as their hearts were being won by her Founder.
We are told that many of the great writers or artists, for that matter, were not accepted in their lifetime. Then why did they do it? We believe the answer can be found in the lives of the Saints you will be reading about, because they were compelled to; there was a wind at their backs propelling them forward to their writing pads or canvases. The best way to explain why they chose the path they did is to go to Hebrews 11:13, “All of these (Saints) died in faith. They did not obtain what had been promised but saw and saluted it from afar.” For us, the key words here are “…saw and saluted it from afar.” They trusted in God; they had Faith in God, and while possibly everyone else in the world let them down, He did not disappoint them.
There is a love story that has to be told. For us, the love story is about Mother Church, her founder Jesus Christ, His Mother Mary, all the Saints and the Angels. They are like photos on the wall, or in an album, that have no meaning unless they are shared.
We want to shout from the roof tops, from the mountain peaks – We are in love! And because we are in love, we write. And because they were in love, they served Jesus through Mother Church, without looking at the end of the story, without any promises, sometimes lonely and forsaken – always faithful.
The greatest betrayals, the ones that wound the most, are the attacks from within the family. We, who are part of the Body of Christ, are part of a large beautiful family. Only sometimes members of the family forget to look into the mirror Jesus holds up to all of us and they give in to the traps of the world; the result – good people doing bad things. Now, don’t get us wrong. We are not excusing or downplaying the iniquities suffered by our Saints, at the hands of those who promised to be faithful and lost their ways. Nor are we judging those who inflicted the mortal wounds borne by our Saints. Sometimes, even for us, as writers, it is hard to separate the act from the actor. If we looked at the guilty, with the loving Eyes of Jesus, most likely we would see those who have fallen, as they once were, full of innocence and dedication – commitment and truth their standard. Sadly they forgot that the deeds that man does live after him.
Get to know the Saints. Get inside their souls. Let them influence you on your Journeys of Faith They are there for you; they will help you; they will take you gently by the hand and walk you right past St. Peter through the Pearly Gates, to the Kingdom of God. And you will at last be with Family. You will be Home! Come! Let us begin!
Saint Peregrine, Servite and priest – returns to Forli and is Miraculously Cured of Cancer
After approximately five years, his superiors sent Sant Peregrine, now a priest, back to Forli, to open a house, there. He was available to everyone who called on him, never too tired to counsel whoever came to him. Because of this, he earned the name, “Angel of Good Counsel.”
An authentic and outstanding priest, he approached all the works of his vocation as gifts and privileges. His life was salvation of souls, and consolation to the suffering and impoverished. And this, he did not only with much devotion, but delight!
He was fervent, as he celebrated the Sacrifice of the Mass. Beginning reverently with the Word, he went on to passionately relive the Eucharistic Prayer. He was back in Capharnaum, with Jesus, as He is telling his followers, He will give them bread and they will never die; he is in the Upper Room with Jesus, as He is giving us the means by which we could have Him until the end of the world; and Peregrine is saying yes, to being that means through which Jesus would be brought to life, to the faithful of his day.
We know Peregrine was a zealot, but he was first and foremost, a servant of God. Jesus said, “Feed My lambs,” and that, Peregrine did with the last ounce of his strength. The same qualities, he had shown as a brash young man, fighting against the Church, he now used fighting for that Church’s people.
He ministered tirelessly to the sick. A plague had broken out in Italy and had spread to Forli. No one was safe, or excused, from the spreading ravages of the disease. Saint Peregrine would not even take time out to be sick. Now, a very tired and sick sixty years old, he could barely stand. A cancerous growth, on his right leg, had spread dangerously, and there was no way out. He had to be operated on!
He had worked among the sick, ignoring his own pain and the seriousness of his illness, for years. Now, it seemed, the Lord was saying, through the doctors, there was nothing that could be done; the leg had to be amputated! Or was that the Lord talking?
All his life, his greatest struggle had been obedience. That was the room of his heart, he would have to hand over to Jesus, again and again. No sooner did he allow the Lord into that part of his will, he would, at the next crisis, shut him out again. He always judged himself the reluctant giver. But the Lord really does not care how you do it; He loves reluctant and willing, the same.
The Lord was waiting for his total surrender! Peregrine turned the entire matter over to Jesus. But, it wouldn’t hurt to pray! If, the next day, when he awakened from the operation, he was to be in the Presence of Jesus and Mary, in his Heavenly home, what better way to prepare for the journey? They would not reject him, as even those he’d helped had. The sight of his sore, and the stench emanating from it, repulsed them. Did he surrender all those hurts over to the Lord and His Mother?
The night before he was scheduled to be operated on, he went into the chapter room of the Priory. He was all alone. He prayed before a fresco of Jesus Crucified. He fell into a deep sleep. He had a vision of the Lord. Our Lord came down from His Cross and reaching out to his cancerous leg, He touched it, ever so gently, with His Healing Hand.
The next morning, he awakened, resigned to the operation. Like with so many of us, the Lord had been just waiting for his yes. Peregrine was amazed! His leg didn’t hurt. He could stand, he could walk, without pain! He was completely healed!
The operation never took place. When the surgeons investigated the leg, they reported there was not a trace of the illness. As Bob likes to say, tell an Italian and you tell the world; news of this miracle spread. People, who knew and loved him, had been following anxiously the progressive deterioration of Peregrine’s health. Imagine when they heard, he had been completely cured! And overnight!
Peregrine lived for another twenty years. People continued to come to him, for help. Before, it had been for spiritual direction and healing of the soul; now they came seeking miracles of the body. Like with his Lord, he didn’t care why they came, he said yes!
There were miracles, even before his death. As we say, in Lourdes, no one went away disappointed. Many were healed of the cancer that attacked their bodies, but we are sure as many, if not more, left cured of the cancer that spreads and kills the soul. Through the Sacrament, he so lovingly administered, that of Reconciliation, they went away with new life. Remembering that Jesus first said, before healing physically, “Your sins are forgiven you,” imagine the next twenty years for Peregrine in the confessional. It had to be the culmination of this faithful priest’s life!
Peregrine was eighty years old, but when he looked upon his Lady, it was like the first time; he was young! The young cavalier in the old priest’s body was ready to ride gallantly forth with his Lady. On May 1st, 1345, consumed now by fever, with his last spark of life, Peregrine’s spirit soared, like a rocket of fire, to his Lord and to the Lady he so loved. She had called him from the world, to life as a religious. Now, Mary was calling him out of the world, to live eternally with her and her Son, Jesus.
All his life as a religious, had been a preparation for this, his entrance into eternal life. We know, as Peregrine called out, “Jesus! Mary!” They lifted him and carried him Home.
Envision in your mind’s eye, a pitch black sky. As far as the eye can see, there is not the tiniest glimmer of light. All is dark! Then, in an instant, without warning, the entire sky is ablaze with hundreds of thousands of small lights which form a massive sphere of brilliance. The brightness of that light reaches out to every corner of the earth. Gone is the darkness. All is light! That is our own vision of how the Angels may have been created. In what is humanly referred to as the blink of an eye, the Angels were. God anticipated the creation of man. In His great benevolence, He knew we would need help from above, and so in less than an instant, the Angels were created.
God is so good. He knows how little of our brains we use. We cannot possibly understand His Ways. God knows we could not comprehend the concept of Angels as invisible beings. We have to see Angels to understand them. So, for us, when they are manifested in human forms, He gives them powerful, muscular bodies, with gentle, beautiful feminine faces. He incorporates the best of male and female and puts all of it into one form. He gives them wings, for strength, speed and majesty. But the decision as to whether they have wings, or take on the appearance of cherubs, or mighty soldiers, none of that has anything to do with us. We don’t determine it, and it really is not for us to conjecture. God makes those decisions. If we decide whether God can give Angels wings, or cannot give them wings, or muscular bodies, or whatever, we limit His power and abilities. And I don’t think God is going to put up with too much of that. We cannot lose our perspective of who is the Creator, and who are the created.
There was such an important reason for the creation of Angels. He made them a significant part of our lives. He gave them power to help us through this journey to Heaven. They’re there by our side at the drop of a hat. And yet, we don’t use them. A common expression today is, “Take the Angels off the unemployment line.” We have either forgotten about them, lost faith in the ability of the Angels to help us, or are too embarrassed by our peers to mention Angels, fearing we’ll be ridiculed as old-fashioned. Many of us have joined the ever-growing number of people searching for a better mousetrap. We’re in the age of progress; there has to be something better, more powerful, more helpful, in the latest bag of tricks offered us by the world. What our Faith has given us down through the centuries is the same old thing. But it works! If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it!
St. Paul went right to the heart of our belief in Angels, and the battle for our souls, when he warned his followers,
“Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high.”
Paul was one of the most brilliant men our Church has ever known. He never wasted words on niceties, when it was important to get to the heart of a subject. But he also didn’t go out of his way to antagonize people, unless he had a strong purpose. Why would he make this statement, he, who’d had visions of Heaven, who was so close to Jesus and the Angels, if it were not true? We find it so easy today to dismiss the notion of Angels and devils. We categorize demons as psychological. A Catholic priest, chairman of the Theology department of a major American Catholic University,
“dismissed the idea of a personal archdemon as `premodern and precritical’. Individuals tend to personify evil, `because we see it in people.’ But for sophisticates acquainted with sociology and other disciplines, `sin is now seen as something systemic, institutional and structural, as well as personal.'”
Was Paul a seer? Did one of his Angels bring this atrocious attack against our beliefs to Paul, two thousand years ago, so he could warn us (in Ephesians 6: 11-12) about these blasphemies which are so chic and sophisticated today? Did he know that the day would come when his very words would be contradicted and held up to ridicule by those who are supposed to be on our side? Can you picture St. Paul, one of the most brilliant men our Church has ever known, being reduced to a first century witch doctor? What do the illustrious theologians of this final decade of the twentieth century, have to say about St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anthony of Padua, St. John of the Cross, St. Bonaventure, and all the other Doctors of the Church, who always admitted to having used the teachings of St. Paul as a basis for their own writings?
Last year, we were giving a talk in a small southern town. The hostess had asked her brother to introduce us. He opened his remarks by saying, “I like what I read in Bob and Penny Lord’s books. I’ve been to their talks, and they remind me of things my second grade teacher, Sister Mary Regina taught us as children.” We thanked the man for his generous comments, but shared with the group present, we don’t mean to talk like Sister Mary Regina did forty years ago, just for the sake of bringing you down the path of Memory Lane. The only reason, our master of ceremonies mentioned that our comments are reminiscent of something his grade school teacher might have said, is because he doesn’t hear these things any more. And that’s sad! We don’t try to bring you back to another time. We’re re-focusing on values that should never have been given up. We’re not trying to go backward. We’re trying to steel up for what’s ahead.
The gifts of power the Lord gave us, and continues to give us, should not be categorized as simply childhood memories. They are current, as modern and touchable as the Word, itself. We are the losers when we allow ourselves to be influenced by respected scholars who would put these gifts on the back burner, or infer mockingly that they are throwbacks to a less informed, less scientifically based medieval church who needed magic and symbols to survive. Demons have been replaced by neuroses. That is certainly Satan’s joke. And he’s laughing very loudly. If there are no demons, well then, naturally, there can be no Angels! Then, is there a God?
But there are so many gifts the Lord has given us, to help us through this journey, this pilgrimage to the Kingdom. And one of the greatest aids we have, is the gift of the Angels. However, very few know anything about them. Don’t feel bad. I never knew anything about them! Oh, I always knew there were Angels. They have been a part of my Catholic upbringing for as far back as I can remember. I said the Guardian Angel prayer on and off until I was about eight or nine years old. I’m sure the good Nuns told us stories about the Angels in grammar school. But I never really thought anything about Angels. They were there, but they didn’t mean anything to me. It took me until I was almost forty years old to realize how important the Angels are, how much power the Lord has given them, and how they are literally there to help us get through this pilgrimage of life.
It began on a Labor Day weekend party in 1975. Penny and I went to a friend’s house for a barbecue. We had returned to the Church in January of that year, after having left for over three years. Our life was now very exciting. Church was the major focus of everything we did. We surrounded ourselves with members of our Parish, who felt the same way we did about Church, Marriage and Family.
We had gone on a Marriage Encounter weekend in May 1975, which had changed our lives. The very next month, Fr. Chuck Gallagher and 2,000 couples left for a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Rome. Penny and I just couldn’t come up with the $500 each it cost to go, and so we missed it. But when they came back and shared the glory, and the majesty, and the excitement of our Church, through their experiences in Lourdes and Rome, Penny and I vowed the next year, we would go on our own pilgrimage, even if we had to hock everything to get the money.
So we really looked forward to this Labor Day party. A cousin of the host had been to Europe, and he was going to tell us about some of the shrines he had visited. He began by sharing about Padre Pio and San Giovanni Rotondo, in Italy. Now, we had never heard of either Padre Pio, or San Giovanni Rotondo, but we listened intently as he explained about this Franciscan Capuchin priest who had the Stigmata of Jesus for fifty years of his priesthood. We were completely overwhelmed by the miracles and spiritual gifts attributed to Padre Pio. So we decided, on the spot, that we would visit San Giovanni Rotondo.
Sort of as an aside, the cousin of our host mentioned that just about ten miles from San Giovanni Rotondo was the cave of St. Michael the Archangel. In 490 A.D., Michael had appeared in that cave, and claimed the cave and the mountain for himself and the Heavenly Hosts of Angels. We will go into more detail on the cave of St. Michael in a later chapter. That was the first mention of an Angel I had heard since my childhood, when Sister Dolores used to tell us stories about the Angels. But I hadn’t even thought about Angels since I “grew up”. After having heard about the cave, Penny and I looked excitedly at each other. We decided we would visit there, too.
Not two weeks later, our pastor, Monsignor Tom O’Connell, asked Penny and me to join him and a group, mostly ladies, to go to the San Fernando Mission church. It was the Holy Year, and we would all get the same blessings if we made a pilgrimage to the Mission church, as if we had been in Rome, at St. Peter’s Basilica. So Penny and I jumped at the opportunity. We even brought our eight year old grandson, Rob, with us. It was the first time Rob was an Altar Server. He had always yearned for that gift, and it was given to him that day, unofficially.
After the Mass, we were given a tour of this, one of California’s famous missions. The tour ended, naturally enough, in the gift shop. I was excited about all the beautiful religious articles there, but I found myself drawn to a little statue of St. Michael the Archangel. It took my breath away. It wasn’t one of those great Italian alabaster or marble statues. It was a little painted plaster statue, probably made in Spain. But to me, it was the most magnificent image I had ever seen. With the exception of Our Lord Jesus, this was the first time I had ever seen what I would call a beautiful man! I couldn’t take my eyes off it. He had all the rippling muscles of a powerful man; but his face was soft and gentle, almost feminine. He stood with his sword poised, ready to attack Satan, whose head he was crushing under his feet. His red cape flowed gently around him, and his wings were majestic. He held Satan at bay with such ease.
This was the beginning of my love affair with the Angels. I had to know more about them. I began reading books on the Angels, everything and anything I could get. When Penny and I began our sixteen years of pilgrimages, we visited every shrine known to man, that had anything to do with an Angel. In 1976, we visited the Cave of St. Michael in Italy. In 1977, we visited the Mountain of St. Michael in France. We found out that St. Michael was the Patron Saint of Belgium. It went on and on. I photographed every Angel I could find, from the great Bernini Angels in St. Peter’s Basilica, to little cherub Angels in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Los Angeles.
Little by little, the Lord has been revealing to us the role of the Angels in our lives, the power they have been given by God, how much they want to help us. I like to call the Angels our cousins. I’m not sure if that’s Biblical, or liturgically correct, but I feel such a closeness to them, I believe they are directly related to us.
I need to feel the power that I know the Lord has given the Angels. I need to feel it in a physical way. I love to drive on the highway on a windy, cloudy day, and see what I like to call sculptures in cloud, images of Angels following my car, protecting me. I can see their great wingspan, the majestic flow of their bodies as they move through the sky. We’re in a time when hope, morals, all the values we have held dear, are being smashed against the rocks, destroyed, in order to make way for a new world order, a new age that will send us right down to the bowels of hell. I need to know that there is strength, there is power, there is hope for me and my family and my church. The Angels, from the sweet little cherubs to the mighty warriors, their muscles rippling, their swords drawn and ready, are just one more way Our Lord tells us loud and clear that He is in charge; He is with us always; He has not left us orphans.
We want to share that gift with you. We believe you need it as much as we do, and as much as we want to share it with you. But don’t keep it to yourselves. We’re in a time when the power and availability of the Angels, to help us get through the rough periods, to counsel and comfort us when we need it, and to finally escort us to meet Our Lord and Our Lady when our time comes, must be shared. You’ve got to get out there and spread the word. Share some of the stories we’re going to tell you in this book.
You know what the most frustrating part of all this is? We have this real urgency to impress on you how powerful the Angels are in our lives. We use all kinds of poetic language to stress this point, but it just doesn’t seem to be enough. For those of you who have followed our writings, in the past two years, we have been stressing power, the power the Lord gives us. We have written about powerful men and powerful women; now we’re writing about an Army of Angels. Can you see the point the Lord is trying to make through all of this? He wants you and me to understand the power He has given us, because we’re going to need it, especially in this last decade of the second millennium, what may possibly be the end times.
We don’t really expect to fully understand, in our lifetime, the full nature or role of the Angels. But we know what we know. We can feel, deep down inside of us, how crucial it is that we reach out to the Angels now for help. The Lord has given them to us; we must use them.
We’re in a time when everything we have ever held sacred, is being taken away from us in a very sinister, subtle, organized way. That’s the enemy’s modus operandi, subtle and sinister. And we’re falling for it. It’s crept into our churches, our seminaries, our schools, our homes. We are all becoming victims of a ravenous hunger for knowledge, cleverly packaged for human consumption, with a promise to prove everything beyond a shadow of a doubt, or it does not exist. Faith has gone out the window. Either prove it or get rid of it. Tradition is dwindling. Show it to me on television, or on a printout sheet, a hard copy, or on a digital display. We’re being overpowered by technology.
We’re told the concept of Angels is ridiculous. “Give me a break. Get out of the middle ages. Forget that witchcraft. Get into the twentieth century.” We defend the Angels with the fact that Angels are mentioned in just about every other page of Scripture. We ask, almost afraid of the answer, “You do believe in Scripture, don’t you?” So the next attack is on Scripture. It’s taken Satan two thousand years to build up enough false courage to attack the credibility of Sacred Scripture. But he’s out to destroy everything that makes us a church, and a people. The latest heresy is, Jesus didn’t say the words that are in the Gospels. The Gospel writers put the words into his mouth! Can you understand why we contend it’s so important that we have a strong Army to protect us? We’re not only getting clobbered from the bad guys, and the world; now we’re getting it from the good guys, our own. We pray to the Angels to give us the words to say, that will touch your heart, and compel you to turn in the direction of the Angels, for strength. They function best when they have a strong prayer cover. You must be a prayer warrior to give them the power they need to help you. But before you can do any of that, you must get to know them.
So come with us now. Get to know your cousins, and your very best friends, God’s Angels. Find out who they are, what their role in Salvation history has been, how they fit into your life, and form a part of your life, how you can accomplish great things for God and yourself, how you can turn it all around, to the point of being able to change the course of history, by appealing to your Angels for help. Learn how you are not hopeless or helpless. You have strength; you have power; you have family and friends in God’s Heavenly Army of Angels.