St. Gregory VII
The 10th century and the first half of the 11th were dark days for the Church, partly because the papacy was the pawn of various Roman families. In 1049, things began to change when Pope Leo IX, a reformer, was elected. He brought a young monk named Hildebrand to Rome as his counselor and special representative on important missions. He was to become Gregory VII.
Three evils plagued the Church then: simony (the buying and selling of sacred offices and things), the unlawful marriage of the clergy and lay investiture (kings and nobles controlling the appointment of Church officials). To all of these Hildebrand directed his reformer’s attention, first as counselor to the popes and later (1073-1085) as pope himself.
Gregory’s papal letters stress the role of bishop of Rome as the vicar of Christ and the visible center of unity in the Church. He is well known for his long dispute with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV over who should control the selection of bishops and abbots.
Gregory fiercely resisted any attack on the liberty of the Church. For this he suffered and finally died in exile. He said, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore I die in exile.” Thirty years later the Church finally won its struggle against lay investiture.
The Gregorian Reform, a milestone in the history of Christ’s Church, was named after this man who tried to extricate the papacy and the whole Church from undue control by civil rulers. Against an unhealthy Church nationalism in some areas, Gregory reasserted the unity of the whole Church based on Christ and expressed in the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter.
Gregory's words still ring true today when civil or national religion is making subtle demands: “In every country, even the poorest of women is permitted to take a lawful husband according to the law of the land and by her own choice; but, through the desires and evil practices of the wicked, Holy Church, the bride of God and mother of us all, is not permitted lawfully to cling to her spouse on earth in accordance with divine law and her own will” (A Call to the Faithful).
Also in the Latin Calendar there is commemorated Pope S. Urban I, martyr.
Born in Rome, Italy, Pope Urban I was elected pope after the death of Callixtus I on October 14, 222, and died on October 19, 230. He served during the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus and was succeeded by Pontian.
He is mentioned by Eusebius in his church history and is named in an inscription in the Coemeterium Callisti, but little is known of his life and works outside of later legendary accounts.
The Roman Church seems to have enjoyed a period of peace during his reign, as the emperor allowed various sects to flourish and his mother was favorably disposed toward the Christians in particular. Nevertheless, tradition holds that Urban I was martyred during a persecution by a Roman governor in which Saint Cecilia also lost her life.
Although there is some confusion between this Urban and another saint of the same name who also died at Rome, his feast is celebrated on October 19. Seven of Urban's successors as pope have taken his name.
According to the Liber Pontificalis, Urban was a Roman and his father's name was Pontianus. Beyond this, nothing is known of his early life. After the death of Callixtus I on October 14, 222, Urban was elected bishop of Rome, where he would serve for eight years, according to Eusebius (Hist. eccl., VI, 23).
The Liber Pontificalis portrays Urban as an effective preacher who converted many by his sermons. Another report tells us that Urban ordered the making of silver liturgical vessels.
The dissension produced in the Roman Church by Hippolytus, the bitter opponent of Pope Callixtus I, continued to exist during Urban's pontificate. Hippolytus and his adherents persisted in this schism, with Hippolytus as their antipope. It was probably during the reign of Urban that Hippolytus wrote his Philosophumena, in which he criticized heresy of all types but also attacked Callixtus, as well as his predecessor Zephyrinus, severely. Urban maintained the same attitude toward the schismatic party and its leader that his predecessor had adopted. Later, during or shortly after the papacy of Pontian (230–235), Hippolytus would reconcile himself to the main body of the Church and would eventually be recognized himself as a saint.
The historical sources give no specific details concerning the other factions troubling the life of the Roman Church during this specific era, but it is certain that they existed. Gnosticism, Montanism, Sabellianism, and Novatianism, for example, all continued to challenge the Church both before and after Urban's papacy.
In 222, shortly before Urban's election, Alexander Severus became Roman emperor. He favored a religious eclecticism and also protected Christianity. His mother, Julia Mammaea, was reputed to be a Christian, and was clearly a friend of the Alexandrian Christian teacher Origen, whom she summoned to Antioch. Hippolytus dedicated his work on the Resurrection to her.
The result of the favorable opinion of Christianity held by the emperor and his mother was such that Christians enjoyed nearly complete peace and were not persecuted, although their legal status was not changed. The major exception to this, if historically accurate, is the story which explains why Urban's election became necessary: the martyrdom of his predecessor Calixtus in an act of mob violence. The legendary accounts of the persecution of Urban and his fellow saint, Cecelia, (see below) are unconfirmed and considered unlikely by most scholars.
In fact, the historian Lampridius (Alex. Sever., c. xxii) says emphatically that Alexander made no trouble for the Christians: "Christianos esse passus est."
Alexander Severus even sided with the Roman Christians in a legal dispute over the ownership of a piece of land. When they wished to build a church on a lot which was also claimed by tavern-keepers, the matter was brought before the imperial court, and Severus decided in favor of the Christians, declaring it was better that even the Christian god should be worshiped on that spot, than that it be devoted to revelry (Lampridius, "Alex. Sever.," c. xlix). The increase in the extent of various Roman catacombs in the first half of the third century shows that Christians grew substantially in numbers during this period.
The Acts of Saint Cecilia connect this saint with Urban, who is said to have baptized her husband and her brother-in-law. The story of the martyrdom of Urban himself, which are of a still later date than the legend of St. Cecilia, must be considered apocryphal.
The Liber Pontificalis states that he became a confessor during the reign of Diocletian. However, since this would mean Urban was still alive at the time of his supposed martyrdom with Cecilia, we must conclude that the true particulars of the death of Urban are unknown.
Two different possibilities exist as to the grave of Urban. In the Acts of Saint Cecilia and the Liber Pontificalis, it is said that Urban was buried in the Catacomb of Praetextatus on the Via Appia. Moreover, the itineraries of the graves of the Roman martyrs in the seventh century all mention the grave of a person named Urban who is among those buried in the Catacomb of Praetextatus. These itineraries gives this Urban the title "Bishop and Confessor." Consequently Roman tradition venerated the pope of this name as the Bishop Urban of the Catacomb of Praetextatus. The second possibility results from later evidence indicating that Pope Urban may have been buried in the nearby cemetery of Saint Callixtus while the Urban buried at Saint Praetextatus was the bishop of another see who died at Rome.
Unfortunately, Pope Urban left no known personal writings. However, the following decree was attributed to him, concerning the donations of the faithful at Mass:
"The gifts of the faithful that are offered to the Lord can only be used for ecclesiastical purposes, for the common good of the Christian community, and for the poor; for they are the consecrated gifts of the faithful, the atonement offering of sinners, and the patrimony of the needy."
The story that was once included in the Catholic Church's Breviary on May 25 speaks of Urban's numerous converts, among whom were Valerianus, husband of Saint Cecilia, and his brother Tiburtius. However, his feast as a saint is celebrated on May 19 while it is another Saint Urban—possibly the one buried in the Catacomb of Praetextatus—whose feast is on May 25.
The story of Urban's supposed martyrdom has been preserved in association with the life of Saint Cecilia. Although it is considered legendary, it is worth repeating here:
A certain Almachius, a provost of Rome, was the principal governor of the city. Although the emperor himself was tolerant of Christianity, Almachius had persecuted them, especially Cecelia, whom he had beheaded. Almachius' servant, Carpasius, discovered Urban hiding in a dark and secret place with three priests and three deacons. Urban was accused of conspiring with Cecelia to deceive 5,000 persons to join the Christian faith, including the noblemen Tiburtius and Valerianus. Almachius demanded that Urban yield to him the treasure of Saint Cecilia and of the church. Urban replied: "I see now that covetousness moves you more to persecute the Christians than does the sacrifice of your gods. The treasure of Saint Cecilia is ascended into heaven by the hands of poor people."
Almachius severely tortured Saint Urban and his fellows, but when he saw that he could not overcome Urban's faith, he commanded him to be sent again to prison. There, Urban converted and baptized three captains of the town and the keeper of the prison, Anolinus. When the tyrant heard that Anolinus had become a Christian, he attempted to force him to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and beheaded him when he declined to do so. He then brought Urban and his comrades before the Roman idol, whereupon Urban began pray to the true God. The idol immediately fell down and slew 22 pagan priests. The Christian confessors were then cruelly beaten and brought again to engage in pagan sacrifice. They spit at the idol, made the sign of the cross in their foreheads, and kissed each other. Urban and his friends finally received the ultimate penalty and were beheaded.
Saint Urban is invoked against storm and lightning. He is represented in art by:
Vine and grapes
A fallen idol beneath a broken column
A stake at which he is scourged
His severed head.
St. Bede the Venerable
Bede is one of the few saints honored as such even during his lifetime. His writings were filled with such faith and learning that even while he was still alive, a Church council ordered them to be read publicly in the churches.
At an early age Bede was entrusted to the care of the abbot of the Monastery of St. Paul, Jarrow. The happy combination of genius and the instruction of scholarly, saintly monks produced a saint and an extraordinary scholar, perhaps the most outstanding one of his day. He was deeply versed in all the sciences of his times: natural philosophy, the philosophical principles of Aristotle, astronomy, arithmetic, grammar, ecclesiastical history, the lives of the saints and, especially, Holy Scripture.
From the time of his ordination to the priesthood at 30 (he had been ordained deacon at 19) till his death, he was ever occupied with learning, writing and teaching. Besides the many books that he copied, he composed 45 of his own, including 30 commentaries on books of the Bible.
Although eagerly sought by kings and other notables, even Pope Sergius, Bede managed to remain in his own monastery till his death. Only once did he leave for a few months in order to teach in the school of the archbishop of York. Bede died in 735 praying his favorite prayer: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As in the beginning, so now, and forever.”
His Ecclesiastical History of the English People is commonly regarded as of decisive importance in the art and science of writing history. A unique era was coming to an end at the time of Bede’s death: It had fulfilled its purpose of preparing Western Christianity to assimilate the non-Roman barbarian North. Bede recognized the opening to a new day in the life of the Church even as it was happening.
Though his History is the greatest legacy Bede has left us, his work in all the sciences (especially in Scripture) should not be overlooked. During his last Lent, he worked on a translation of the Gospel of St. John into English, completing it the day he died. But of this work “to break the word to the poor and unlearned” nothing remains today.
“We have not, it seems to me, amid all our discoveries, invented as yet anything better than the Christian life which Bede lived, and the Christian death which he died” (C. Plummer, editor of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History).
Patron Saint of:
St. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi
Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint."
She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there.
Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths.
As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, Admonitions, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious.
The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people.
It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.
Intimate union, God's gift to mystics, is a reminder to all of us of the eternal happiness of union he wishes to give us. The cause of mystical ecstasy in this life is the Holy Spirit, working through spiritual gifts. The ecstasy occurs because of the weakness of the body and its powers to withstand the divine illumination, but as the body is purified and strengthened, ecstasy no longer occurs. On various aspects of ecstasy, see Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, Chapter 5, and John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 2:1-2.
There are many people today who see no purpose in suffering. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi discovered saving grace in suffering. When she entered religious life she was filled with a desire to suffer for Christ during the rest of her life. The more she suffered, the greater grew her desire for it. Her dying words to her fellow sisters were: "The last thing I ask of you—and I ask it in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—is that you love him alone, that you trust implicitly in him and that you encourage one another continually to suffer for the love of him."
Christ Loves You:
All He wants you to do is be kind to one another in every circumstance in life; whether it be in death, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, or whatever. Death is not the end, it is just the beginning.
Quote by S. Padre Pio:
While God tries us by his crosses... He also leaves us a glimmer of light... to have great trust in Him.