Monday, November 27, 2006

Christina the Astonishing

Christina, considered by some to be a saint, is as much remembered for her faith as she is for her bizzare and sometimes violent behaviour.
She was born in Belgium in 1150, and was orphaned soon after. Around the age of 21 she suffered a massive seizure , which resulted in a condition so severe that everyone assumed she was dead. During the funeral service, she awoke and it is said she levetated over the crowd. A priest in attendance ordered her to decend, and she did so upon the altar of the church and proclaimed to all that she had witnessed Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.

After that incident, Christina exhibited more strange behaviour. She had many more severe seizures. It is thought today that she suffered from an extreme form of epilepsy. She claimed that she could 'smell sin' on people and in order to escape the smell she would climb trees and rooftops and one time even hid inside an oven. Other times she would levetate to extreme heights.

Christina chose to live in poverty, and exhibited it in ways that were considered extreme even by 13th century standards. She slept on rocks, wore rags, and begged for her food. She often fell into "ecstasies" where she would lead the souls of the recently dead to purgatory, and those from purgatory to Heaven. During which, Christina would roll in fire or handle it without harm, stand in freezing water in the winter for hours, spend long periods in tombs, or allow herself to be dragged under water by a mill wheel, and it is claimed she never sustained injury.

The people of the day were divided in their opinions: Some said she was a holy woman, touched of God, and that her actions and torments were simulations of the experiences of the souls in purgatory, and that she was suffering the torments of devils - Others believed she was completely insane. However, the prioress of Saint Catherine's convent testified that no matter how bizarre or excessive Christina's reported actions, she was always completely obedient to the prioresses orders. She was a good Friend of Louis, Count of Looz, whose castle she visited, and whose actions she rebuked. Blessed Marie of Oignies thought well of her, and Saint Lutgardis sought her advice.

She passed away at the age of 74 due to natural causes.

No formal beatification has taken place. Christina is sometimes referred to as Blessed or as a Saint and her patronage is considered to include insanity; lunatics; madness; mental disorders; mental handicaps; mental health caregivers; mental health professionals; mental illness; mentally ill people; psychiatrists; and therapists.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows

Francesco Possenti was born on March 1, 1838 the eleventh of thirteen children. He led a relatively normal life, becoming popular for his warm and outgoing personality. His interested included dancing, hunting and the theater. Twice he fell seriously ill as a child, and promised his life to God if he became well, and twice was healed. Both times he put off his promise.

During a procession of an icon of the Mother of Sorrows, Francesco felt her call to him and say that he was not meant for this world, and he should join the seminary. On the night his father had arranged for him to become engaged, he left for the Passionist novitiate. His journey there was delayed by well-meaning relatives who, on his father's direction, attempted to turn him from joining the order. He was able to overcome all their arguments and persuade them that his desire was genuine.

Francesco took vows in the Passionist community, and took the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, reflecting the devotion that he always had to Our Lady of Sorrows. Gabriel attained holiness in a very short space of time, he was consumed with love for Christ, through Our Lady of Sorrows. As well as the vow made by all Passionists to spread devotion to Christ, Gabriel took an additional vow to spread devotion to Our Sorrowful Mother. His writings reflect his close relationship and devotion with God and Saint Mary.

The Saint Gabriel Possenti Society has recently been promoting the idea of having Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows designated as the Patron Saint of Handgunners. The story says that in 1860, a band of soldiers from the army of Garibaldi entered the mountain village of Isola, Italy where Saint Gabriel was staying at the time. They began to burn and pillage the town, killing and otherwise terrorizing the villiagers.

Saint Gabriel walked into the center of town, unarmed, to face the terrorists. One of the soldiers was dragging off a young woman he intended to rape when he saw the monk and made a remark about the young man being all alone.
Saint Gabriel quickly took the soldier's revolver from his belt and ordered him to let the woman go. Gabriel also grabbed the revolver of another soldier who walked by, and the man let the woman free. The other soldiers started to gather at that point, with the intent of stopping Saint Gabriel. At that moment a small lizard happened to run across the road between Saint Gabriel and the band of soldiers. When the lizard briefly paused, the Saint took careful aim and killed the lizard with one shot. Turning his two handguns on the approaching soldiers, He then commanded them to drop their weapons. After seeing his marksmanship with a pistol, the soldiers complied. Saint Gabriel then ordered them to put out the fires they had set, and otherwise clean up the mess they had caused, and upon finishing, marched the whole lot out of town, ordering them never to return. The grateful townspeople thereafter referred to him as "the Savior of Isola".

Gabriel died of tuberculosis in 1860.
Pope Benedict XV canonized Gabriel in 1920 and declared him a patron saint of Catholic youth. In 1959, Pope John XXIII named him the patron of the Abruzzi region, where he spent the last two years of his earthly life. His patronage is also invoked by the Church for students, seminarians, novices and clerics. Saint Gemma Galgani held that it was St. Gabriel who had cured her of a disease and led her to a Passionist vocation. Millions of pilgrims visit St. Gabriel's shrine each year in Teramo, Abruzzi to see the burial place of the Saint and the monastic house in which he lived out his final years. The cult of St. Gabriel is especially popular amongst Italian youth. Every March, thousands of high school students from Abruzzo and the Marche reions of Italy visit his tomb 100 days before their expected graduation.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick is sometimes referred to as "Maewyn Succat" which some believe to be his birth name.
Patrick was born somewhere along the west coast of Great Britain or the north coast of France. The location has never been identified, and many places along both coasts claim to be his birthplace.

Although Patrick reportedly came from a Christian family , he was not particularly religious. As a young man, he was captured and sold as a slave to a Druidic high priest and was put to work tending sheep on Slemish Mountain in present day Ireland. During his 6 years of enslavement, Patrick became very devout. He also learned about the Druidic faith and how to speak Celtic. He escaped, under the direction of God's voice, and returned home. There he lived happily until one night when he dreamed that the children of Ireland were begging for him to return.
Great Britain at this time was undergoing turmoil following the withdrawal of Rome. First with the troops in 407 and then the Roman central authority in 410.

Patrick returned to Ireland and began work as a missionary. His first convert was Saint Dichu, who made a gift of a large sabhall (barn) for a church sanctuary. This first sanctuary dedicated by St Patrick became his retreat when he aged. A monastery and church were erected there, as well. The site, Saul, County Down, retains the name Sabhall (pronounced "Sowel").
While Patrick encouraged the Irish to become monks and nuns, it is not known if he ever was a monk himself. It is even less likely that in his time the monastery was a principal unit of the Irish Church, although it became so in later years. The choice of its location may have been determined by the presence of a powerful king. Patrick built a school and probably had a small residence, so from this base he could make his missionary journeys.

One famous story tells about a time at the annual vernal fire that was to be lit by the High King, a custom where all the fires in the land were extinguished so they could be renewed in a Druidic ceremony from a single sacred fire. Patrick lit a rival, miraculously inextinguishable Christian bonfire on a hill at the opposite end of the valley. This struck a major blow to the ruling Druids. Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, as men such as Secundus and Palladius were active there before him. However, tradition credits him with the most impact, and his missions seem to have been concentrated in the provinces of Ulster and Connaught which had never received Christians before. He established the Church throughout Ireland on lasting foundations: he travelled throughout the country preaching, teaching, building churches, opening schools and monasteries, converting chiefs and bards, and everywhere supporting his preaching with miracles.

Patrick was very much against slave trading, for obvious reasons. He wrote that he daily expected to be violently killed or enslaved again. Patrick gathered many followers, including Saint Benignus, who would become his successor. His chief concerns were the raising up of native clergy, and abolishing Paganism, and Sun-worship. He was the first christian writer to condemn all forms of slavery, long before the papacy did so in the late 19th century.

One of Patrick's surviving letters is addressed to Coroticus, a king of Alt Clut, and his soldiers. It is the oldest surviving and identified literature of the British or Celtic Catholic Church. Coroticus and his army had attacked a band of newly baptized Gaels, killing some and taking the rest as captives to sell as slaves to the Picts. In the letter, Patrick requests that his messenger read aloud in the presence of Coroticus and all his people, "so that on no account it be suppressed or hidden by anyone," He goes further on to mention his hope that his words would inspire Coroticus and his soldiers to repent and to release their captives.

In his writings, Patrick describes how he used various symbols from Druidism to illustrate Christian ideas and made subtle changes to doctrine. For example, the Sun was associated with the deity Lugh, but Patrick reinterpreted it as certainly being a symbol of a deity, but that deity was the Christian God.

Most famously, Patrick is credited with banishing snakes from the island of Ireland, though the post-glacial island never actually had snakes. It is suggested that snakes referred to the serpent symbolism of the Druids. Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by using the shamrock, a 3-leaved clover. Whether or not these legends are true, it goes to show how important his ministry was to Ireland.

Patrick died in AD 493 according to the latest reconstruction of the old Irish writings, a date accepted by some modern historians. Prior to the 1940's it was believed without doubt that he died in 461 and thus had lived in the first half of the 5th century.
The reputed burial place of St. Patrick in Downpatrick

March 17, the day celebrated as St. Patrick's Day, and is also his feast date, is believed to be date of his death.
For most of the first thousand years of Christianity, canonizations were done on a regional level. Relatively soon after the death of people considered to be very holy, the local Church would affirm that they could be celebrated as saints. As a result, St. Patrick has never been formally canonized by a Pope, but he is still widely venerated in Ireland and around the world today.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Saint Hubert

Hubert was born the son of a Merovingian Duke. When he was a child, Hubert was sent to the court of Theuderic the third at Paris, where his charm earned him the title "count of the palace". Like most nobles, Hubert was addicted to hunting. He killed everything a young noble should, and apparently spent all his free time doing so. Hubert married a girl named Floribanne, the daughter of Dagobert, Count of Leuven. They had a son named Floribert would later become bishop of Liège.

Hubert's wife died giving birth to their son, and Hubert left the court, withdrew into the forest of Ardennes, and buried himself entirely in the hunt. One Good Friday morning, when everyone else was going to church, Hubert instead set out to hunt deer. Soon he was pursuing a magnificent stag, some legends claim it was a rare white stag. Suddenly, the animal turned and Hubert was amazed to see a crucifix standing between its antlers. He heard a voice saying: "Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell". Hubert immediately dismounted, prostrated himself and said, "Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?" He received the answer, "Go and seek Lambert, and he will instruct you."

The story of the stag seems to have been appropriated from the legend of Saint Eustace or Placidus. It was first attributed to St. Hubert in the 15th century. The apparition may hark back to an even older Celtic tale, recorded in the Mabinogion, where Arawn, Lord of the Underworld, is crowned with antlers.

Hubert set out immediately to find Saint Lambert who was bishop. Saint Lambert received Hubert kindly, and became his spiritual director. Hubert renounced all his honors, and gave up his birthright to the Aquitaine to his younger brother Odo, whom he also made guardian of his infant son, Floribert. He distributed all his personal wealth among the poor, then studied for the priesthood, and was soon ordained. Shortly afterwards Saint Hubert became one of St. Lambert's chief associates in the administration of his diocese. Taking the advice of St. Lambert, Hubert made a pilgrimage to Rome in 708. During his absence, Lambert was assassinated by the followers of Pippin. According to legend, the assassination was revealed to the pope in a vision, together with instructions to appoint Hubert bishop of Maastricht, which he did.

Hubertus died peacefully in Fura, Brabant, May 30, 727 or 728. He was first buried in the collegiate church of St. Peter, Liège, but his bones were exhumed and moved to the Ardennes in 825. The abbey became a focus for pilgrimages, until the coffin disappeared and likely became a casualty of the Reformation. His feast day is the 3rd of November.

Saint Hubert is traditionally the Patron Saint of hunters and in relation to this is invoked against dog bite and rabies, two very real threats in medieval times. Throngs of believers made pilgrimages to Leige to pray for his prevention and cure. The common cure for rabies was the use of the "Saint Hubert's keys". This was an iron bar or cross that was carried or hung on the wall of a home for additional protection against rabies. If bitten, the peasant would take the key and heat it then apply it to the wound. Surprisingly, this cure often worked. If heated and applied immediately the key would cauterize and sterilize the wound, effectively killing all of the rabies virus. This belief and practice continued well into the 19th century and really only faded into obscurity when Louis Pasteur invented the Rabies vaccine.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Saint Polycarp of Smyrna

Saint Polycarp is a celebrated figure in the history of Christianity, and one of the few martyrs from the first centuries who's story has been proven to be historically accurate. A direct pupil of the apostle John, Polycarp lived between 70 and 155 A.D., connecting him to both the biblical apostles and the early church fathers. Several ancient sources document the contributions of Polycarp to Christianity. These include his letters written to the church at Philippi, in which he encourages the members to remain strong in their faith and to flee from materialism and instructs the members in the proper handling of financial dishonesty, which was apparently an issue creeping into the church.
Polycarp served as the bishop at Smyrna (in modern day Syria), and was recognized as one of the early combatants of Christian heresies, namely the Gnostics and the theologian Marcion.

Some argue that Polycarps greatest contribution to Christianity was his martyred death. His martyrdom is one of the most well documented events of antiquity. The emperors of Rome recorded many of the persecutions and deaths from this era that resulted from the widespread crackdown on Christianity, which was viewed as a dangerous cult that needed to be stopped.

At 86 years of age, Polycarp was arrested on the charge of being a Christian. Amidst an angry mob, the Roman proconsul took pity on the gentle old man and urged Polycarp to proclaim, "Caesar is Lord". If only Polycarp would make this declaration and offer a small pinch of incense to Caesar's statue he would escape torture and death.
To this Polycarp responded, "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and He never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?" Steadfast in his stand for Christ, Polycarp refused to compromise his beliefs, and was burned alive at the stake. The date of Polycarp's death is disputed. The historian Eusebius dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, circa 166 – 167. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, February 23 in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus—which works out to be 155 or 156. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and John the Evangelist.