St. Agnes

St. Agnes was but twelve years old when she was led to the altar of Minerva at Rome, and commanded to obey the persecuting laws of Diocletian, by offering incense. In the midst of the idolatrous rites she raised her hands to Christ, her Spouse, and made the sign of the life-giving Cross. She did not shrink when she was bound hand and foot, though the gyves slipped from her young hands, and the heathens who stood around were moved to tears.

When the judge saw that pain had no terrors for her, he inflicted an insult worse than death. Her clothes were stripped off, and she had to stand in the street before a pagan crowd; yet even this did not daunt her. “Christ,” she said, “will guard His own.” So it was. Christ showed, by a miracle, the value which He sets upon the custody of the eyes. Whilst the crowd turned away their eyes from the spouse of Christ, as she stood exposed to view in the street, there was one young man who dared to gaze at the innocent child with immodest eyes. A flash of light struck him blind, and his companions bore him away half dead with pain and terror.

Her fidelity to Christ was proved by flattery and offers of marriage. But she answered, “Christ is my Spouse: He chose me first, and His I will be.”

At length the sentence of death was passed. For a moment she stood erect in prayer, and then bowed her neck to the sword.

Reflection. — Her innocence endeared St. Agnes to Christ, as it has endeared her to His Church ever since. Even as penitents we may imitate this innocence of hers in our own degree. Let us strictly guard our eyes, and Christ, when He sees that we keep our hearts pure for love of Him, will renew our youth.

Illustration and text from Pictorial Lives of the Saints With Reflections for Every Day in the Year (New York: Benziger Bros., 1922).

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St. Sebastian

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

Light shone around him while he spoke; he cured the sick by his prayers; and in this divine strength he led multitudes to the faith, and among them the Prefect of Rome, with his son Tiburtius.

It was in a contest of fervor and charity that St. Sebastian found the occasion of martyrdom. The Prefect of Rome, after his conversion, retired to his estates in Campania, and took a great number of his fellow-converts with him to this place of safety. It was a question whether Polycarp the priest, or St. Sebastian should accompany the neophytes. Each was eager to stay and face the danger at Rome, and at last the Pope decided that the Roman Church could not spare the services of Sebastian. He continued to labor at the post of danger till he was betrayed by a false disciple. He was led before Diocletian, and, at the emperor’s command, pierced with arrows and left for dead.

But God raised him up again, and of his own accord he went before the emperor, and conjured him to stay the persecution of the Church. Again sentenced, he was at last beaten to death by clubs, and crowned his labors by the merit of a double martyrdom.

Reflection. — Your ordinary occupations will give you opportunities of laboring for the faith.

Text from Pictorial Lives of the Saints With Reflections for Every Day in the Year (New York: Benziger Bros., 1922).

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Contrary Vice

Never believe that you have acquired a virtue, if you have not made proof of it in resisting its contrary vice, and unless you practise it faithfully on suitable occasions. -St. Teresa

St. Vincent de Paul was not contented, as so many are, with knowing and loving virtues, but he applied himself continually to the practice of them. It was his maxim, that labor and patience are the best means of acquiring and planting them firmly in our hearts, and that virtues acquired without effort or difficulty can be easily lost, while those which have been beaten by the storms of temptation, and practised amid the difficulties and repugnances of nature, sink their roots deep into the heart. And so, on such occasions, instead of being sad, he appeared unusually cheerful.

By this same sentiment, St. Philip Neri encouraged his penitents not to grieve when they suffer temptations and trials, telling them that when the Lord intends to confer on any one some particular virtue, He is accustomed to permit him to be first assailed by the contrary vice.

Text from A Year With the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1891).

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Queen of Confessors

Faith, the root and basis of our justification, is a supernatural gift which God bestows upon the soul, to guide it toward the possession of His love upon earth and of Himself in heaven. By the theological virtue of faith, our intellect believes the truths of revelation, and although it does not comprehend them, it nevertheless assents to them freely, but at the same time most firmly, as though these truths were made evident to it. Faith also keeps us from error, and holds always before our eyes the last end for which we were created, thus guiding our steps in the way of salvation.

Faith is, then, a priceless gift; beyond all comparison more desirable than all the reasonings of philosophy, or the discoveries of men of science.

Mary’s faith was the most perfect that ever existed: it is consequently worthy to be proposed for our imitation. Jesus Christ by virtue of the hypostatic union, enjoyed continually the beatific vision of the Divine Essence. He could not consequently practice the virtue of faith. Preeminence, therefore, in the exercise of this virtue, belongs to Mary, who for this reason is called Queen of Confessors.

The faith of no other confessor was ever put to such severe proof as Mary’s. On the one hand, the lowly esteem she had of herself might well engender in her, doubts as to the reality of her titles of Mother of God and co-Redemptress of the human race; on the other hand, the self-abasement of Jesus, His labors and opprobrium might have been for her, as they were for so many, an occasion of scandal. Nothing, however, was able to shake her faith in her Son’s divine origin and her belief in the office she herself was fulfilling in the work of our redemption. Thus she took her stand by the cross of the dying Jesus, and remained an unshaken witness both to the divinity and to the humanity of Jesus and of the truth of His supernatural mission.

This faith of the Virgin Mother, which shone out with such brightness amid the darkness of an unbelieving world, is indeed worthy of our admiration. Like a brilliant light-house placed upon a firm rock, Mary withstood the fiercest tempests, illuminating the world with the splendor of her faith.

She had the happiness of seeing accomplished in her the promises made by the Angel, promises which she herself, with prophetic insight, celebrated in her triumph-song, the “Magnificat.” This faith was, besides, the principle of her exaltation and the source of that singular power of intercession she was to possess forever in heaven.

Let us appeal to Mary, asking her to intercede for us, that the lamp of our faith may never be put out, but that on the contrary this holy virtue may ever go on growing and increasing in our souls.

Text from Alexis M. Lepicier, The Fairest Flower of Paradise (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1922).

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Lord, What Wilt Thou Have Me to Do?

Here is the true token of a soul absolutely perfect, — when one has succeeded in leaving behind his own will to such a degree as no longer to seek, to aim, or to desire to do, what he would will, but only what God wills. -St. Bernard

These were the first words of the Apostle St. Paul as he recognized the Lord: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” And they were uttered by him with so much sincerity of affection, and with such submission of will, that from that day forward he had no other desire than to do God’s will in all things. Nor in all the adversities, labors, sufferings, and torments, which he encountered, was there ever a thing sufficient to diminish, or even in the least to shake, his constancy and fidelity.

St. Jane Frances de Chantal had so great a desire to know and follow the Divine will, that on merely hearing those words, “Divine will,” she felt all on fire.

We read of St. Francis Xavier that he was stung with shame and self-reproach when he found that merchants had gone to Japan with their merchandise, sooner than he himself with the treasure of the Gospel, to spread the Faith and extend the kingdom of heaven.

Text from A Year With the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1891).

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St. Antony of Egypt

St. Antony was born in the year 251, in Upper Egypt. Hearing at Mass the words, “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give to the poor,” he gave away all his vast possessions. He then begged an aged hermit to teach him the spiritual life. He also visited various solitaries, copying in himself the principal virtue of each.

To serve God more perfectly, Antony entered the desert and immured himself in a ruin, building up the door so that none could enter. Here the devils assaulted him most furiously, appearing as various monsters, and even wounding him severely; but his courage never failed, and he overcame them all by confidence in God and the sign of the Cross.

One night, whilst Antony was in his solitude, many devils scourged him so terribly that he lay as if dead. A friend found him thus, and believing him dead carried him home. But when Antony came to himself he persuaded his friend to carry him, in spite of his wounds, back to his solitude. Here, prostrate from weakness, he defied the devils, saying, “I fear you not; you cannot separate me from the love of Christ.” After more vain assaults, the devils fled, and Christ appeared to Antony in glory.

Many souls flocked to him for advice, and after twenty years of solitude he consented to guide them in holiness: thus founding the first monastery.

His numerous miracles attracted such multitudes that he fled again into solitude, where he lived by manual labor. He expired peacefully at a very advanced age.

Illustration and text from Pictorial Lives of the Saints With Reflections for Every Day in the Year (New York: Benziger Bros., 1922).

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Consolations

Two mistakes I find common among spiritual persons. One is that they ordinarily measure their devotion by the consolations and satisfactions which they experience in the way of God, so that if these happen to be wanting, they think they have lost all devotion. No, this is no more than a sensible devotion. True and substantial devotion does not consist in these things, but in having a will resolute, active, ready, and constant not to offend God, and to perform all that belongs to His service. The other mistake is, that if it ever happens to them to do anything with repugnance and weariness, they believe they have no merit in it. On the other hand, there is then far greater merit; so that a single ounce of good done thus by a sheer spiritual effort, amidst darkness and dulness, and without interest, is worth more than a hundred pounds done with great facility and sweetness, since the former requires a stronger and purer love. -St. Francis de Sales

St. Philip Neri, in order to save his penitents from the first of these mistakes, used to tell them, that in the spiritual life there are three degrees. The first, which is called animal, includes those who follow the sensible devotion, which God usually gives to beginners, in order that, drawn by this delight as animals are by sensible objects, they may give themselves to the spiritual life. The second, which is called the life of man, is led by those who without sensible consolation fight for virtue against their own passions, which is the true characteristic of man. The third is called the angelic life. Those have arrived at it, who after long struggles in subduing their own passions, receive from God a life calm and tranquil, and, as it were, angelic even in this world. And if any one perseveres in the second degree, God will not fail, in His own time, to raise him to the third.

Text from A Year With the Saints (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1891).

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