St. Raymond Nonnatus

Raymond became a priest due to his quiet persistence in prayer and study. He was born to a noble Spanish family in 1204. His mother died during child birth and his father had high expectations for Raymond to serve in the country’s Royal Court.  However, the young Raymond felt drawn to religious life. In an attempt to dissuade him, his father ordered him to manage one of the family farms. However, Raymond spent his time with the workers, studying, and praying. His father finally gave up and allowed Raymond to enter the Mercederians. Fr. Raymond spent his entire estate ransoming slaves. He even offered himself as a hostage to free another. He was sentenced to death but was spared because his ransom would bring in a large amount of money. During his imprisonment, he succeeded at converting some of his guards. To keep him from continuing his preaching, his captors bored a hole through his lips with a hot iron, and attached a padlock. He was eventually ransomed, and he returned to Barcelona in 1239. That year, he was named a cardinal by Pope Gregory IX.  The following year, in 1240, he was summoned to Rome, but barely made it out of Barcelona before he died at the age of 36. St. Raymond is the patron saint of pregnant women, childbirth, and newborn infants.

Saint Jeanne Jugan

On Aug. 30, the Catholic Church celebrates Saint Jeanne Jugan, also known as Sister Mary of the Cross. During the 19th century, she founded the Little Sisters of the Poor with the goal of imitating Christ’s humility through service to elderly people in need. In his homily for her canonization in October 2009, Pope Benedict XVI praised St. Jeanne as “a beacon to guide our societiesâ€� toward a renewed love for those in old age. The Pope recalled how she “lived the mystery of loveâ€� in a way that remains “ever timely while so many elderly people are suffering from numerous forms of poverty and solitude and are sometimes also abandoned by their families.â€� Born on Oct. 25, 1792 in a port city of the French region of Brittany, Jeanne Jugan grew up during the political and religious upheavals of the French Revolution. Four years after she was born, her father was lost at sea. Her mother struggled to provide for Jeanne and her three siblings, while also providing them secretly with religious instruction amid the anti-Catholic persecutions of the day. Jeanne worked as a shepherdess, and later as a domestic servant. At age 18, and again six years later, she declined two marriage proposals from the same man. She told her mother that God had other plans, and was calling her to “a work which is not yet founded.â€� At age 25, the young woman joined the Third Order of St. John Eudes, a religious association for laypersons founded during the 17th century. Jeanne worked as a nurse in the town of Saint-Servan for six years, but had to leave her position due to health troubles. Afterward she worked for 12 years as the servant of a fellow member of the third order, until the woman’s death in 1835. During 1839, a year of economic hardship in Saint-Servan, Jeanne was sharing an apartment with an older woman and an orphaned young lady. It was during the winter of this year that Jeanne encountered Anne Chauvin, an elderly woman who was blind, partially paralyzed, and had no one to care for her. Jeanne carried Anne home to her apartment and took her in from that day forward, letting the woman have her bed while Jeanne slept in the attic. She soon took in two more old women in need of help, and by 1841 she had rented a room to provide housing for a dozen elderly people. The following year, she acquired an unused convent building that could house 40 of them. During the 1840s, many other young women joined Jeanne in her mission of service to the elderly poor. By begging in the streets, the foundress was able to establish four more homes for their beneficiaries by the end of the decade. By 1850, over 100 women had joined the congregation that had become known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. However, Jeanne Jugan – known in religious life as Sister Mary of the Cross – had been forced out of her leadership role by Father Auguste Le Pailleur, the priest who had been appointed superior general of the congregation. In an apparent effort to suppress her true role as foundress, the superior general ordered her into retirement and a life of obscurity for 27 years. During these years, she served the order through her prayers and by accepting the trial permitted by God. At the time of her death on Aug. 29, 1879, she was not known to have founded the order, which by then had 2,400 members serving internationally. Fr. Le Pailleur, however, was eventually investigated and disciplined, and St. Jeanne Jugan came to be acknowledged as their foundress.

The Beheading of John the Baptist

On this day, the universal Church marks the beheading of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus. As an adult, he lived as a hermit in the wilderness. After the Spirit inspired him, he went about preaching that the people should repent of their sins and be baptized in order to prepare for the Messiah. Herod imprisoned John because he had condemned Herod for committing adultery by living with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  At he celebration for Herod on his birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for him, and Herod was so impressed that he said he would offer her anything she liked. She consulted with Herodias who told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Herod did not want to kill John for fear or what his follwers might do, but because of his promise to the girl he could not refuse, and so John was beheaded.

St. Augustine

Today, August 28, the Church honors St. Augustine. St. Augustine was born at the town of Thagaste (now Souk-Ahras in modern day Algeria) on November 13, 354 and grew to become one the most significant and influential thinkers in the history of the Catholic Church. His teachings were the foundation of Christian doctrine for a millennium.The story of his life, up until his conversion, is written in the autobiographical Confessions, the most intimate and well-known glimpse into an individual’s soul ever written, as well as a fascinating philosophical, theological, mystical, poetic and literary work.Augustine, though being brought up in early childhood as a Christian, lived a dissolute life of revelry and sin, and soon drifted away from the Church – thinking that he wasn’t necessarily leaving Christ, of whose name he acknowledges “I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away” (Confessions, I, iv).He went to study in Carthage and became well-known in the city for his brilliant mind and rhetorical skills and sought a career as an orator or lawyer. But he also discovered and fell in love with philosophy at the age of 19, a love he pursued with great vehemence.He was attracted to Manichaeanism at this time, after its devotees had promised him that they had scientific answers to the mystery of nature, could disprove the Scriptures, and could explain the problem of evil. Augustine became a follower for nine years, learning all there was to learn in it before rejecting it as incoherent and fraudulent.He went to Rome and then Milan in 386 where he met Saint Ambrose, the bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose sermons inspired him to look for the truth he had always sought in the faith he had rejected. He received baptism and soon after, his mother, Saint Monica, died with the knowledge that all she had hoped for in this world had been fulfilled.He returned to Africa, to his hometown of Tagaste, “having now cast off from himself the cares of the world, he lived for God with those who accompanied him, in fasting, prayers, and good works, meditating on the law of the Lord by day and by night.”On a visit to Hippo he was proclaimed priest and then bishop against his will. He later accepted it as the will of God and spent the rest of his life as the pastor of the North African town, where he spent much time refuting the writings of heretics.  Augustine also wrote, The City of God, against the pagans who charged that the fall of the Roman empire, which was taking place at the hands of the Vandals, was due to the spread of Christianity.  On August 28, 430, as Hippo was under siege by the Vandals, Augustine died, at the age of 76. His legacy continues to deeply shape the face of the Church to this day.

St. Monica

On August 27, one day before the feast of her son St. Augustine, the Catholic Church honors St. Monica, whose holy example and fervent intercession led to one of the most dramatic conversions in Church history.Monica was born into a Catholic family in 332, in the North African city of Tagaste located in present-day Algeria. She was raised by a maidservant who taught her the virtues of obedience and temperance. While still relatively young, she married Patricius, a Roman civil servant with a bad temper and a disdain for his wife’s religion.Patricius’ wife dealt patiently with his distressing behavior, which included infidelity to their marriage vows. But she experienced a greater grief when he would not allow their three children – Augustine, Nagivius, and Perpetua – to receive Baptism. When Augustine, the oldest, became sick and was in danger of death, Patricius gave consent for his Baptism, but withdrew it when he recovered.Monica’s long-suffering patience and prayers eventually helped Patricius to see the error of his ways, and he was baptized into the Church one year before his death in 371. Her oldest son, however, soon embraced a way of life that brought her further grief, as he fathered a child out of wedlock in 372. One year later, he began to practice the occult religion of Manichaeism. In her distress and grief, Monica initially shunned her oldest son. However, she experienced a mysterious dream that strengthened her hope for Augustine’s soul, in which a messenger assured her: “Your son is with you.â€� After this experience, which took place around 377, she allowed him back into her home, and continued to beg God for his conversion.But this would not take place for another nine years. In the meantime, Monica sought the advice of local clergy, wondering what they might do to persuade her son away from the Manichean heresy. One bishop, who had once belonged to that sect himself, assured Monica that it was “impossible that the son of such tears should perish.â€� These tears and prayers intensified when Augustine, at age 29, abandoned Monica without warning as she passed the night praying in a chapel. Without saying goodbye to his mother, Augustine boarded a ship bound for Rome. Yet even this painful event would serve God’s greater purpose, as Augustine left to become a teacher in the place where he was destined to become a Catholic.Under the influence of the bishop St. Ambrose of Milan, Augustine renounced the teaching of the Manichees around 384. Monica followed her son to Milan, and drew encouragement from her son’s growing interest in the saintly bishop’s preaching. After three years of struggle against his own desires and perplexities, Augustine succumbed to God’s grace and was baptized in 387.Shortly before her death, Monica shared a profound mystical experience of God with Augustine, who chronicled the event in his “Confessions.â€� Finally, she told him: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here.â€� “The only thing I ask of you both,â€� she told Augustine and his brother Nagivius, “is that you make remembrance of me at the altar of the Lord wherever you are.â€� St. Monica died at age 56, in the year 387. In modern times, she has become the inspiration for the St. Monica Sodality, which encourages prayer and penance among Catholics whose children have left the faith.

St. Jeanne Elizabeth des Bichier des Anges

St. Jeanne was born July 1773 at La Blanc, France and died August 26, 1838. She was canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII.Born to nobility and educated in a convent school, Jeanne Elizabeth witnessed closely and was personally affected by the events of the French Revolution which shook France when she was just 16 years old. Upon the death of her father, she moved to La Guimetiere with her mother, and in 1796, realizing that she needed to do something to defend the Church and keep the faith alive amidst the attacks of the revolutionaries, she decided to begin a ministry of teaching and serving the poor.She gathered groups of faithful in the town – which was at this point without a priest or community of religious – and organized meetings of prayer, studying of the Scriptures, and singing hymns.She entered a Carmelite convent upon her mother’s death in 1804, and later the Society of Providence, with the advice of Saint Andrew Fournet, an underground priest who was forced to remain clandestine because he refused to make a pledge of allegiance to the government of the new republic.He realized that she was the one God had called to lead a community of women he had gathered, and she cofounded the Daughters of the Cross with him in 1807 to care for the sick and poor, and to teach the faith.By the time of her death in 1838, the community had more than 60 houses all over France.

St. Louis IX of France

St. Louis was born to King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile, at Poissy on April 25th 1215. Louis was made King at only 11 years of age, and was the father of 11 children. He led an exemplary life, bearing constantly in mind his mother’s words: “I would rather see you dead at my feet than guilty of a mortal sin.” His biographers have written of the long hours he spent in prayer, fasting, and penance, without the knowlege of his people. The French king was an avid lover of justice, who took great measures to ensure that the process of arbitration was carried out properly. All of 13th century Christian Europe willingly looked upon him as an international judge. He was renowned for his charity. “The peace and blessings of the realm come to us through the poor,” he would say. Beggars were fed from his table; he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses: the House of the Felles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes, the Quinze-Vingt for 300 blind men (1254),  as well as hospitals at Pontoise, Vernon, Compiégne. St. Louis was a patron of architecture. The Sainte Chappelle, an architectural gem, was constructed in his reign as a reliquary for the Crown of Thorns, and it was under his patronage that Robert of Sorbonne founded the “Collège de la Sorbonne,” which became the seat of the theological faculty of Paris, the most illustrious seat of learning in the medieval period.St. Louis died of the plague near Tunis, August 25th, 1270, during the Second Crusade.  He is the patron of masons and builders.

St. Nicholas of Myra

St. Nicholas of Myra

On Dec. 6, the faithful commemorate a bishop in the early church who was known for generosity and love of children. Born in Lycia in Asia Minor around the late third or fourth century, St. Nicholas of Myra is more than just the inspiration for the modern day Santa.

As a young man he is said to have made a pilgrimage to Palestine and Egypt in order to study in the school of the Desert Fathers. On returning some years later he was almost immediately ordained Bishop of Myra, which is now Demre, on the coast of modern day Turkey. The bishop was imprisoned during the Diocletian persecution and only released when Constantine the Great came to power and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

One of the most famous stories of the generosity of St. Nicholas says that he threw bags of gold through an open window in the house of a poor man to serve as dowry for the man’s daughters, who otherwise would have been forced into prostitution. The gold is said to have landed in the family’s shoes, which were drying near the fire. This is why children leave their shoes out by the door, or hang their stockings by the fireplace in the hopes of receiving a gift on the eve of his feast.

St. Nicholas is associated with Christmas because of the tradition that he had the custom of giving secret gifts to children. It is also conjectured that the saint, who was known to wear red robes and have a long white beard, was culturally converted into the large man with a reindeer-drawn sled full of toys because in German, his name is “San Nikolaus” which almost sounds like “Santa Claus.” In the East, he is known as St. Nicholas of Myra for the town in which he was bishop. But in the West he is called St. Nicholas of Bari because, during the Muslim conquest of Turkey in 1087, his relics were taken to Bari by the Italians. St Nicholas is the patron of children and of sailors. His intercession is sought by the shipwrecked, by those in difficult economic circumstances, and for those affected by fires. He died on December 6, 346.

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa

The son of two saints, Basil and Emmilia, young Gregory was raised by his older brother, St. Basil the Great, and his sister, Macrina, in modern-day Turkey. Gregory’s success in his studies suggested great things were ahead for him. After becoming a professor of rhetoric, he was persuaded to devote his learning and efforts to the Church. Although married by then, Gregory went on to study for the priesthood and become ordained, as at that time celibacy was not a matter of law for priests.

He was elected Bishop of Nyssa (in Lower Armenia) in 372, a period of great tension over the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. After being briefly arrested under the false accusation of embezzling Church funds, Gregory was restored to his see in 378; an act met with great joy by his people.

It was after the death of his beloved brother, Basil, that Gregory really came into his own. He wrote with great effectiveness against Arianism and other questionable doctrines, gaining a reputation as a defender of orthodoxy. He was sent on missions to counter other heresies and held a position of prominence at the Council of Constantinople. His fine reputation stayed with him for the remainder of his life, but over the centuries it gradually declined as the authorship of his writings became less and less certain. But, thanks to the work of scholars in the 20th century, his stature is once again appreciated. Indeed, St. Gregory of Nyssa is seen not simply as a pillar of orthodoxy but as one of the great contributors to the mystical tradition in Christian spirituality and to monasticism itself.

St. Anthony of Egypt

St. Anthony of Egypt

On his Jan. 17 feast day, both Eastern and Western Catholics celebrate the life and legacy of St. Anthony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism whose radical approach to discipleship permanently impacted the Church.

In Egypt’s Coptic Catholic and Orthodox Churches, which have a special devotion to the native saint, his feast day is celebrated on Jan. 30.

Anthony was born around 251, to wealthy parents who owned land in the present-day Faiyum region near Cairo. During this time, the Catholic Church was rapidly spreading its influence throughout the vast expanses of the Roman empire, while the empire remained officially pagan and did not legally recognize the new religion.

In the course of his remarkable and extraordinarily long life, Anthony would live to see the Emperor Constantine’s establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman empire. Anthony himself, however, would establish something more lasting – by becoming the spiritual father of the monastic communities that have existed throughout the subsequent history of the Church.

Around the year 270, two great burdens came upon Anthony simultaneously: the deaths of both his parents, and his inheritance of their possessions and property. These simultaneous occurrences prompted Anthony to reevaluate his entire life in light of the principles of the Gospel– which proposed both the redemptive possibilities of his personal loss, and the spiritual danger of his financial gains.

 
Attending church one day, he heard –as if for the first time– Jesus’ exhortation to another rich young man in the Biblical narrative: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” Anthony told his disciples in later years, that it was as though Christ has spoken those words to him directly.

He duly followed the advice of selling everything he owned and donating the proceeds, setting aside a portion to provide for his sister. Although organized monasticism did not yet exist, it was not unknown for Christians to abstain from marriage, divest themselves of possessions to some extent, and live a life focused on prayer and fasting. Anthony’s sister would eventually join a group of consecrated virgins.

 
Anthony himself, however, sought a more comprehensive vision of Christian asceticism. He found it among the hermits of the Egyptian desert, individuals who chose to withdraw physically and culturally from the surrounding society in order to devote themselves more fully to God. But these individuals’ radical way of life had not yet become an organized movement.

After studying with one of these hermits, Anthony made his own sustained attempt to live alone in a secluded desert location, depending on the charity of a few patrons who would provide him with enough food to survive. This first period as a hermit lasted between 13 and 15 years.

Like many saints both before and after him, Anthony became engaged in a type of spiritual combat, against unseen forces seeking to remove him from the way of perfection he had chosen. These conflicts took their toll on Anthony in many respects. When he was around 33 years old, a group of his patrons found him in serious condition, and took him back to a local church to recover.

 
This setback did not dissuade Anthony from his goal of seeking God intensely, and he soon redoubled his efforts by moving to a mountain on the east bank of the Nile river. There, he lived in an abandoned fort, once again subsisting on the charity of those who implored his prayers on their behalf. He attracted not only these benefactors, but a group of inquirers seeking to follow after his example.

 
In the first years of the fourth century, when he was about 54, Anthony emerged from his solitude to provide guidance to the growing community of hermits that had become established in his vicinity. Although Anthony had not sought to form such a community, his decision to become its spiritual father – or “Abbot”– marked the beginning of monasticism as it is known today.

 
Anthony himself would live out this monastic calling for another four decades, providing spiritual and practical advice to disciples who would ensure the movement’s continued existence. According to Anthony’s biographer, St. Athanasius, the Emperor Constantine himself eventually wrote to the Abbot, seeking advice on the administration of an empire that was now officially Christian.

“Do not be astonished if an emperor writes to us, for he is a man,” Anthony told the other monks. “But rather: wonder that God wrote the Law for men, and has spoken to us through his own Son.”

Anthony wrote back to Constantine, advising him “not to think much of the present, but rather to remember the judgment that is coming, and to know that Christ alone was the true and Eternal King.”

 
St. Anthony may have been up to 105 years old when he died, sometime between 350 and 356. In keeping with his instructions, two of his disciples buried his body secretly in an unmarked grave.

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