Birth of St. John the Baptist


The birth of St. John was foretold by an angel of the Lord to his father, Zachary, who was offering incense in the temple. It was the office of St. John to prepare the way for Christ, and before he was born into the world he began to live for the Incarnate God. Even in the womb he knew the presence of Jesus and of Mary, and he leaped with joy at the glad coming of the Son of Man. In his youth he remained hidden, because He for whom he waited was hidden also. But before Christ’s public life began, a divine impulse led St. John into the desert.

As crowds broke in upon his solitude, he warned them to flee from the wrath to come, and gave them the baptism of penance, while they confessed their sins. At last there stood in the crowd one whom St. John did not know, till a voice within told him that it was his Lord. With the baptism of St. John, Christ began His penance for the sins of His people, and St. John saw the Holy Ghost descend in bodily form upon Him.

Then the Saint’s work was done. He had but to point his own disciples to the Lamb, he had but to decrease as Christ increased. He saw all men leave him and go after Christ. “I told you,” he said, “that I am not the Christ. The friend of the Bridegroom rejoiceth because of the Bridegroom’s voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled.”

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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Devotion to Mary – Part 4 of 8

Our Lord is our Advocate and Mediator of redemption with God the Father. It is by Him that we ought to pray, in union with the whole Church triumphant and militant. It is by Him that we have access to the Majesty of the Father, before whom we ought never to appear except leaning on the merits, and indeed clothed with the merits, of His Son.

But have we not need of a mediator with the Mediator Himself? Is our purity great enough to unite us directly to Him, and by ourselves? Is He not God, in all things equal to His Father, and by consequence the Holy of Holies, as worthy of respect as His Father?

Let us say boldly with St. Bernard, that we have need of a mediator with the Mediator Himself, and that it is the divine Mary who is the most capable of filling that charitable office. It is by her that Jesus Christ came, and it is by her that we must go to Him. If we fear to go directly to Jesus Christ our God, whether because of His infinite greatness, or because of our vileness, or because of our sins, let us boldly implore the aid and intercession of Mary our Mother. She is good, she is tender, she has nothing in her austere or repulsive, nothing too sublime and too brilliant. In seeing her, we see our pure nature. She is not the sun, who, by the vivacity of his rays, blinds us because of our weakness; but she is fair and gentle as the moon, which receives the light of the sun, and tempers it to render it more suitable to our capacity. She is so charitable that she repels none of those who ask her intercession, no matter how great sinners they have been; for, as the Saints say, never has it been heard since the world was the world, that any one has confidently and perseveringly had recourse to our Blessed Lady, and yet has been repelled.

All this is drawn from St. Bernard and from St. Bonaventure, so that, according to them, we have three steps to mount to go to God: the first, which is the nearest to us, and the most suited to our capacity, is Mary; the second is Jesus Christ; and the third is God the Father. To go to Jesus, we must go to Mary; she is our mediatrix of intercession. To go to God the Father, we must go to Jesus; for He is our Mediator of redemption.

Text from St. Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort, A Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, trans. Frederick William Faber (London: Burns and Lambert, 1863).

To be continued next Saturday . . .

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St. Etheldreda


Etheldreda had but one aim in life, to devote herself to His service in the religious state. Her parents, however, had other views for her, and, in spite of her tears and prayers, she was compelled to become the wife of Tonbercht, a tributary of the Mercian king. She lived with him as a virgin for three years, and at his death retired to the isle of Ely, that she might apply herself wholly to heavenly things.

This happiness was but short-lived; for Egfrid, the powerful king of Northumbria, pressed his suit upon her with such eagerness that she was forced into a second marriage. Her life at his court was that of an ascetic rather than a queen: she lived with him not as a wife, but as a sister, and, observing a scrupulous regularity of discipline, devoted her time to works of mercy and love. After twelve years, she retired with her husband’s consent to Coldingham Abbey, which was then under the rule of St. Ebba, and received the veil from the hands of St. Wilfrid.

As soon as Etheldreda had left the court of her husband, he repented of having consented to her departure, and followed her, meaning to bring her back by force. She took refuge on a headland on the coast near Coldingham; and here a miracle took place, for the waters forced themselves a passage round the hill, barring the further advance of Egfrid. The Saint remained in this island refuge for seven days, till the king, recognizing the divine will, agreed to leave her in peace.

In 672 she returned to Ely, and founded there a double monastery. The nunnery she governed herself, and was by her example a living rule of perfection to her sisters. Some time after her death, in 679, her body was found incorrupt, and St. Bede records many miracles worked by her relics.

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. Paulinus of Nola


Paulinus was of a family which boasted of a long line of senators, prefects, and consuls. He was educated with great care, and his genius and eloquence, in prose and verse, were more than doubled his wealth by marriage.

Though he was the chosen friend of Saints; and had a great devotion to St. Felix of Nola, he was still only a catechumen, trying to serve two masters. But God drew him to Himself along the way of sorrows and trials. He received baptism, withdrew into Spain to be alone, and then, in consort with his holy wife, sold all their vast estates in various parts of the empire, distributing their proceeds so prudently that St. Jerome says East and West were filled with his alms.

He was then ordained priest, and retired to Nola in Campania. There he rebuilt the Church of St. Felix with great magnificence, and served it night and day, living a life of extreme abstinence and toil. In 409 he was chosen bishop.

St. Gregory the Great tells us that when the Vandals of Africa had made a descent on Campania, Paulinus spent all he had in relieving the distress of his people and redeeming them from slavery. At last there came a poor widow; her only son had been carried off by the son-in-law of the Vandal King. “Such as I have I give thee,” said the Saint to her; “we will go to Africa, and I will give myself for your son.” Having overborne her resistance, they went, and Paulinus was accepted in place of the widow’s son, and employed as gardener. After a time the king found out, by divine interposition, that his son-in-law’s slave was the great Bishop of Nola. He at once set him free, granting him also the freedom of all the townsmen of Nola who were in slavery.

One who knew him well says he was meek as Moses, priestlike as Aaron, innocent as Samuel, tender as David, wise as Solomon, apostolic as Peter, loving as John, cautious as Thomas, keen-sighted as Stephen, fervent as Apollos.

He died A.D. 431.

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. Aloysius Gonzaga


St. Aloysius, the eldest son of Ferdinand Gonzaga, Marquis of Castiglione, was born on the 9th of March, 1568. The first words he pronounced were the holy names of Jesus and Mary. When he was nine years of age he made vow of perpetual virginity, and by a special grace was ever exempted from temptations against purity. He received his first communion at the hands of St. Charles Borromeo.

At an early age he resolved to leave the world, and in a vision was directed by our Blessed Lady to join the Society of Jesus. The Saint’s mother rejoiced on learning his determination to become a religious, but his father for three years refused his consent. At length St. Aloysius obtained permission to enter the novitiate on the 25th of November, 1585. He took his vows after two years, and went through the ordinary course of philosophy and theology.

During his last year of theology a malignant fever broke out in Rome; the Saint offered himself for the service of the sick, and he was accepted for the dangerous duty. Several of the brothers caught the fever, and Aloysius was of the number. He was brought to the point of death, but recovered, only to fall, however, into slow fever, which carried him off after three months. He died, repeating the Holy Name, a little after midnight between the 20th and 21st of June on the octave-day of Corpus Christi, being rather more than twenty-three years of 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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The Quality of Good Works

Be not of those who think perfection consists in undertaking many things, but of those who place it in doing well what little they do. For it is much better to do little and do it well, than to undertake much and do it ill. -St. Francis de Sales

The Lord measures our perfection not by the number and greatness of the works we do for Him, but by our manner of doing them. And this manner is only the love of God with which, and for which, we do them. They are more perfect as they are done with more pure and perfect love, and as they are leas mingled with the thoughts of pleasure or praise in this life or the other. -St. John of the Cross

St. Francis Borgia said that though his sermons often pleased neither himself nor others, through a wrong choice or arrangement of subject, yet they always produced fruit, because he did all he could for his own part, and always purely for God.

The same truth is illustrated by the incident of the two little copper coins which the widow in the Gospel cast into the treasury. Our Lord declared that she had put in more than the others, though perhaps there were some who gave gold or silver pieces. There could be no reason for this, except that she must have given that small amount with more love than the rest, who, as the Lord Himself added, gave out of their superabundance, while she, on account of her poverty, was obliged to subtract the little she gave, from her daily living.

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

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St. Romuald

In 976, Sergius, a nobleman of Ravenna, quarrelled with a relation about an estate, and slew him in a duel. His son Romuald, horrified at his father’s crime, entered the Benedictine monastery at Classe, to do a forty days’ penance for him. This penance ended in his own vocation to religion. After three years at Classe, Romuald went to live as a hermit near Venice.

St. Romuald founded many monasteries, the chief of which was that at Camaldoli, a wild desert place, where he built a church, which he surrounded with a number of separate cells for the solitaries who lived under his rule. His disciples were hence called Camaldolese. He is said to have seen here a vision of a mystic ladder, and his white-clothed monks ascending by it to heaven.

Among his first disciples were Sts. Adalbert and Boniface, apostles of Russia, and Sts. John and Benedict of Poland, martyrs for the Faith. He was an intimate friend of the Emperor St. Henry, and was reverenced and consulted by many great men of his time.

He once passed seven years in solitude and complete silence. In his youth St. Romuald was much troubled by temptations of the flesh. To escape them he had recourse to hunting, and in the woods first conceived his love for solitude.

He died, as he had foretold twenty years before, alone, in his monastery of Val Castro, on the 19th of June, 1027.

Reflection. — Our own sins, the sins of others, their ill-will against us, or our own mistakes and misfortunes, are equally capable of leading us, with softened hearts, to the feet of God’s mercy and love.

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

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