Just when you thought you were done with novenas (ha ha) here I am with St. Cyriacus.
This dear Saint was a Deacon who won the palm of martyrdom in the year 303 under Diocletian, along with two companions, Ss. Largus and Smaragdus (whom I’m including in this novena, firstly because their names were in the Collect for the Mass and secondly because, even if you’ve heard of St. Cyriacus [which would be really incredible] I doubt you’ve heard of Largus and Smaragdus, and since they accompanied Cyriacus to the death I think they certainly deserved to be honored and invoked alongside him in this novena. So there.)
St. Cyriacus is especially invoked for protection against sudden death.
O God, Who dost gladden us by the yearly festival of Thy holy Martyrs
Cyriacus, Largus, and Smaragdus: mercifully grant that we, who celebrate
their heavenly birthday, may also follow the example of the fortitude they showed in their martyrdom. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
“Let us all rejoice in the Lord, whilst we keep this day holy in honor of blessed Anne, on whose solemnity the Angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God./My heart hath uttered a good word; I speak my works to the King.”
Introit from the Mass of St. Anne
Yes indeed, today is a day to rejoice in honor of St. Anne! How very generously the intercession of her lips has poured the grace of clarity, of conversion, of patience into my heart through the praying of her novena. How she must have spoken to her Grandson the King on my behalf, just as she has for so very many others! From the depths of her holy heart, she has indeed uttered a good word.
This matriarch whose name is Grace was found so pleasing, so worthy in the sight of God that she alone was elected as the fertile garden wherein the Immaculate Conception, the very Woman full of Grace, could be conceived, taught, nurtured, and sheltered. With the generosity of the most indulgent grandmother (and I have two of the best!), she does not tire of pouring grace abroad for all the children of her Daughter, all the brothers and sisters of her Grandson. Let us invoke her with the greatest confidence! Let us rejoice in the Lord while we keep her day!
Dear Saint Anne, mother of her who is our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope,
pray to her for us, and obtain our request! Amen.
Today my heart is overflowing with gratitude to Our Lord for the way He tenderly lifts me every now and then from my complacency by giving me a glimpse of how much I have yet to learn, especially how very much He can teach me through others–and of how beautiful what He wants to teach me is.
I’m certainly not as avid and faithful of a reader in general as I should be, but when one of my dearest girl friends, during an absolutely delightful visit last weekend, handed me a lovely little book, Woman in Love by Katie Hartfiel, I knew I would read it. I didn’t know that I would have already devoured half of it by now; and I certainly wasn’t expecting for it to speak to me as deeply as it has.
More than a year ago, our Lady took my heart, young, passionate, flawed, impatient, but open to His Will, and turned it onto the road of discerning the sacrament of marriage. Ever since I was about six years old I had been dreaming of being a nun; I knew I wanted to be a saint, and I was convinced that the consecrated life was what my future held (maybe after a few years of professional barrel racing, though). Surely this desire was imperfect, hampered and used by my scrupulosity, tainted by vanity, and in need of spiritual direction and a dose of self-knowledge; simply speaking, I was young and needed to learn how to be content to grow and ripen under God’s loving gaze for however long He saw fit to send me somewhere else. I didn’t really want that.
This nebulous idea that one day I would most likely be in a convent somewhere grew with me, hopefully growing a little purer with time, and by the time I was sixteen (which seems like a lot longer than two years ago, by the way) I was ready to know.
In my road of vocational discernment thus far, I still count that day as one of the most significant. It was one of those moments of grace when you realize a very simple but peace-giving truth; a moment of encountering God’s gentle paternal grace in my impatient soul. I came to see that God would actually, actively lead me to the place (which, at the time, I was pretty darn sure would be a convent) He wanted me to be. All I had to do was follow.
This may seem overly simple, and there were certainly facets of discernment that I hadn’t discovered yet (and am still beginning to discover!), but it was a moment of surrender, of letting go, and trusting that God had the reins. Now, being apt to forget those sorts of really important things which you should not forget, I’ve had to be given reminders many a time since, particularly when tempted to be certain in myself of what I thought must be God’s will, because I was just tired of waiting. A lot of the time those reminders came in the form of my mom’s gentle, patient, and oft-repeated wisdom, “Just pray, ‘Jesus, I trust in You.'” I must admit I didn’t always want to hear that. But it was always good advice.
In fact, it did so happen that I began vocational discernment in earnest in the summer of my sixteenth year–or at least what I thought was earnest discernment. I was beginning to see signs of the Lord at work. I was already familiar with little reminders of His presence that were just too candid and perfect to be coincidence, which He treated me with to strengthen my weak faith. But during that summer there was an implosion of little signs everywhere that He was trying to get my attention, far too many to ignore. Excited, eager, and probably less than patient, I pursued them, eventually ending up visiting the nearest Residence run by the Little Sisters of the Poor. That weekend was the nearest thing I’ve ever had to a retreat; it was a beautiful chance to encounter Christ in the poor, in His lovely consecrated brides, in wholehearted, selfless service. In fact, the level of selflessness I beheld and began trying to picture myself into deeply disturbed my complacency (here we go again!), and that night we spend at the Residence I got a good look at the feebleness of my love and my willingness to sacrifice. Coupled with physical exhaustion and the pain of thinking about such a separation from my family (who were all also exhausted and thinking about me leaving them), it was a difficult night. I had come seeking (and expecting) an abundance of peace, joy, and perhaps even some incredible spiritual enlightenment that would terminate the period of waiting that I was suspended in. And I was confused, tired, aching, and weak. It became a real battle, as it sometimes does, to simply say the words, “Your Will be done.”
In the morning things did look brighter–they normally do–and I was greeted by even more little signs of God’s deep presence in the whole affair; although what I took them to mean then and what I see in them now are two very different things. I went home believing that the beautiful life I had seen, coupled with the signs I knew I had received from God, must amount to a vocation. What I didn’t realize then was that, rather than being a divine call, this was a conclusion born of my own desires and lack of patience. I wanted to do God’s will; but I wanted it now.
As the months went on and I turned from a darling-sixteen-going-on-seventeen into a seventeen-year-old, I waited for something else to happen. I didn’t really know what I was going to do next; I was doing school, enjoying family life, writing fiction. Every now and again, even before this time, when asked what I was going to do after graduation, I would become frightened. What was I going to do, exactly? Why didn’t I know yet? To which Mom would gently answer,
“You’re not supposed to know yet. Jesus, I trust in You. . . .” Which, again, didn’t satisfy me for long. In my naïve, youthful mind, I thought I was discerning, when really I was like a premature piece of fruit; in need of softening by the sun and rain, of growth, of ripening; essentially, of time and of having peace in the time it would take. My Gardener wasn’t in a hurry.
Time went on, and I began to be aware of an emptiness; yes, I was attracted to and desirous of the vocation of a Little Sister; yes, I knew God had given signs; but it was unclear what was next. My heart was being quiet, but I didn’t want it to be. With anxiety I listened for a sound from it. I was really beginning to hang on in trust to those signs, but with entirely the wrong sort of trust; instead of being open in heart and mind to what God might have meant by them, I stubbornly assumed that they meant that I was supposed to be a Little Sister of the Poor. Sooner or later, God would show me what to do next.
“the Lord hath always been compassionate and gentle with me, slow to punish and full of mercy.”
Thanks be to God that He did. Thank God that I thought of Father, that I eventually got tired enough of relying on my shaky self that I began to realize I was in need of spiritual direction. I know that it had something to do with Our Lady (as does everything good in my life, in a profound way). My spiritual director, besides having the patience of an angel with my girlish thoughts, my passionate nature, my ups and downs, has taken me lovingly and uncomplainingly as his spiritual daughter and has consistently been a vessel of grace for me. I can truly say that he was one of the first places I recognized in a powerful way the very Heart of Christ and recognized the joy of its charity; and I see now that it is no coincidence that he was the one who enthroned our home to the Sacred Heart, just over a year ago. Patiently, he has listened, counseled, prayed, and encouraged. God knew I needed him at this time in my life; Our Lady sent him as an anchor for her little vessel tossing about on the waters of growing up.
I only met with Father once before I turned our discussion from religious life to married life. It had happened to me; the crush that happens to most girls. I hadn’t expected it, but it made me think seriously of the vocation of marriage for the first time–“discerning” it, as I thought of discernment at the time. This change in thought occupied most of my mind and heart and our discussions for months. God had sent me just what I needed, but again, I didn’t take it as He intended it, but insisted on interpreting His messages into what I wanted them to mean. Again, I was flooded with signs; again, I allowed myself to go happily down the road of setting my heart on what I thought God wanted, on what I thought I wanted.
Again, thanks be to the Lord who has faithfully been compassionate and gentle with me, especially when I least deserve it and most try His divine patience. In the midst of these months, He spoke directly to my heart one day when I was struggling, mostly because of my impatience, with doubts about my “discernment” and how it was going. While flipping through a Catholic magazine one morning before showering, I stumbled across an article in which bits of marriage advice had been compiled from many couples from various times of life. I began to read, and something inside of me clicked, so powerfully that as I read, and then mulled over what I had read in the shower, I was filled with a joy that took my breath away. For the first time, it felt right, it fit me, everything I knew about me. It was the first time I understood how important self-knowledge is in discernment; that a vocation doesn’t happen arbitrarily to you, but that you are designed for it; and I could see how very much marriage could aid me in my journey to heaven. I need constant mutual assistance in my spiritual life, the companionship of someone much steadier, wiser, and simple than I am; I need the hiddenness, the sacrifice, the humility that being a wife brings. I already could see how the habit would not form in me the humility it is intended for; so very easily it could feed my self-righteousness and vanity, my complacency. I need a loving husband who will continue to unveil to me the Heart of Christ; I need children to teach but more importantly to teach me the patience and wisdom that I am so lacking in. I need the longer, slower, more difficult path of marriage to slowly uncover and grind away the faults most prominent in me, my pride, my selfishness, my laziness.
I was so happy that day, and for days after I was skipping around the house with a grin on my face that literally had my younger siblings asking what was wrong with Lena. But nothing was wrong; I was just hitting upon true discernment for the first time.
Now, of course, I wasn’t ready to learn from my past yet. I was meant to be married, and so obviously I should count on what all the signs that had turned me from thinking about the religious life and led me to this point seemed to be alluding to. And so I did, letting my impatience for the future get me more and more emotionally involved in what truly was my first girlish crush until the day that I found out (again, thanks be to God for those blessings in disguise) that it wasn’t exactly requited as I’d assumed it was. There was no blame or wrongdoing at all in the whole thing, except in the fact that I had seen what I wanted to see and projected my expectations, even when they weren’t really the deepest desires of my heart, onto “God’s will”.
And so I did what girls do; I cried, I ate chocolate, I thought the sun would never come out again. But I prayed and tried to surrender and offer what, although it felt like the end of the world, was really such a small thing. There was a lot of self-caused embarrassment and disappointment I experienced at first, and it took a while before I was able to really be honest enough with myself to take my crush for what it was, and to let go of it.
And so there I was, two years older than when I first began and again waiting for something to happen. My life was overflowing with innumerable blessings, and very, very slowly I had been growing and ripening, although hampered greatly by my own confounded, childish theme of I-want-it-now!; but still I struggled with letting go of the same old impatience as I waited for my vocation to begin. Faithfully, my sister and I prayed (and still do!) night and morning to St. Raphael, the Angel of Happy Meetings, to be led to our future husbands and for them to be led to us. We spent nights talking and dreaming and together refining our dreams of God’s plan for wifehood, motherhood, and life in the little future domestic churches of our own. My sister, ever so much wiser, humbler, and patient than I, was getting it, but I just wasn’t.
Truth be told, only as I’ve written this (incredibly long!) post have I begun to see clearly the things I am writing about, and it is a clarity that both humbles me and fills me with gratitude to the Gardener who has not thrown his hoe to the ground in frustration and left his stubborn piece of fruit to harden, wither, and decay.
“Oh, would that I could proclaim throughout the whole world the mercy Thou hast shown to me! Would that everyone might know that I should be already damned, were it not for Mary! Would that I might offer worthy thanksgiving for so great a blessing!”
-St. Louis de Montfort
So what’s happened to me? To what severe lengths did God and Our Lady have to go to stop me in my impatient tracks and make me see my own blindness for what it is?
They handed me a little book in the hands of my smiling sister in Christ.
Woman in Love, in just what I have read of it so far, is the honest story of a woman so in love with God, so passionate to glorify Him, so grateful for His abundant blessings in her life, that she couldn’t help but reflect His Love like a mirror in what she writes. The way that Katie Hartfiel describes her journey in learning to move beyond her own wounds to both receive and give Christ-like love again, to put it simply, has already changed me. Gradually, reading chapter by chapter, I have begun to realize:
First, that God’s most important instruction often comes to me from places I don’t expect it to. Second, that I have not been praying enough, not really stopping to speak and listen to God and encounter His love, and in particular not praying for the safety and strengthening of my future husband enough. Thirdly, that I have forgotten again, as I so easily do, that the Heart of Christ is love, a passionate, burning, tender, patient love for me that drove Him to the Cross and to the Altar every single day, and which I have not stopped and taken the time to truly contemplate in such a very long time.
And finally, it has made me realize that my dreams of love with my husband all this time were not the Love I thought they were. Even as I understood and believed that being a saint meant dying to yourself; even as I saturated my writing with the idea and talked about it; even as I knew that I truly wanted and needed marriage because of the very sacrificial nature of it that would make me holy, there was a creeping selfishness that kept sneaking into my dreams, and I know now that it was because of my impatience.
To quote Katie:
“You see, the lesson is this: the pursuit of discovering our vocation does not simply rest in finding a man that is best for us. The journey is also about becoming the woman that the Lord longs to give to a son that He loves recklessly. . . “. . .in the process. . .I was the one who was revealed. I discovered less about the essential qualities I wanted in a spouse and more about the spouse I wanted to become. . .
“We all know that you ‘can’t give what you don’t have’. I know that you want to love your HTB in the best possible way you can. Yes, often times you will fail, just as we are all less than perfect. Yet, there is a way that you can offer him the best love there is to give. This is when you go to the source.”
This is just a little sample of what has spoken to me in this book, and I wish I could find the eloquence to glorify God for what He has shown me. But in simple words, I can tell you that I began to see I hadn’t been dreaming as much of giving my husband-to-be the best possible love I could as much as I had dreamed of less important things.
And now, once more, my unwearied Lord has led me back to encountering His most loving and gentle Heart, overflowing with the joy of loving. He is purifying my dreams, my understanding of discernment and of marriage and of who I am. He is unveiling to me how faithfully He has loved me, nurtured me, led me and waited for me just to be content to wait with Him, resting in His Heart, dreaming together of His plans, slowly ripening in the gentle rays of His light.
So, with tears of love and gratitude, what can I say now but, “Here I am, Lord; I come to do Your will. Jesus, I trust in you!”
Sometimes it can seem as though the very idea of a hero or heroine is something that belongs purely to fairy tales, wishful thinkers, and idealists. As we grow older we often find that the men and women we once lionized in our imagination were deeply, disappointingly flawed in one way or another, until finally it’s all too easy to accept the cynical point of view that there just can’t be, and never have been, heroes worth our while. Sure, there are plenty of noble deeds that dot history here and there, but a real hero? Come on. It just isn’t realistic to expect human nature to produce someone as thoroughly heroic as, say, Captain America.
But I beg to differ.
As sometimes happens, while reading today’s propers for St. Jerome Emilian, I fell in love with a saint I had never prayed to or really thought of before. The missal’s simple description of him stated: “St. Jerome, of the noble Venetian family of Emiliani, left everything and became the Father of orphans and of the poor. He founded the Order of Somascha for the education of children. He died a victim of the plague in 1537.” But in the propers of the Mass, I felt as though I met St. Jerome Emilian in a powerful sort of way. I would quote everything here, except it would be kind of ridiculously long, so I’ll just share a bit of the Epistle, from Isaias:
“When thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul, then shall thy light rise up in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday. And the Lord will give thee rest continually, and will fill thy soul with brightness, and deliver thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail.”
This little passage paints the life of a Saint; “When thou shalt pour out thy soul. . .thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail.” To me it truly seems that sainthood, although hard, is very simple; when we leave behind ourselves because we love God more than anything, we are given everything; we are given Him. This total, divine, heroic charity is what we are baptized into, this is why we spend our lives for God, learning how to die to self. And we have Martyrs like St. Margaret of Antioch, Confessors like St. Jerome, the Apostles, Doctors, Virgins all to look to as brilliant lights, to run to as fountains of heavenly water, as, like “grains of sand before mountains” we try to follow their example. What a comfort!
When I heard people say that biographers of the saints shouldn’t make them seem so perfect, should show all their faults so people won’t feel discouraged, I can’t help but to disagree. In this fallen, pride-inflated world, the last thing we need is to feel more comfortable about ourselves and to try to belittle the glorious achievements of those great souls who truly have fought the good fight and finished the race, who suffered so much, prayed so faithfully, toiled so vigorously to rid themselves of vice, who were unafraid to sacrifice themselves to the heights of heroic virtue. No, our problem is that we are far too comfortable with the way we are; we are too soft with ourselves, too used to our sins, too prideful in our blindness, that even supposing that someone could (and, hmm, that maybe we should) be as holy on earth as the Saints truly were wounds our pride, challenges our softness, makes us uncomfortable; and we don’t like it.
The luminous examples of the saints should never discourage us, and we shouldn’t forget that they fought the same concupiscence, suffered the same frustrations, and fell into sin as we do. On the contrary, we should behold what they became in all its fullness and glory, and be filled with both great hope and great determination to amend our lives and reform ourselves. It should drive us to look seriously at our soul and recognize what we are in true humility, and, blazing with love, courage, and zeal, to throw ourselves totally into the invisible but immensely real battle to save our souls and the souls of others.
And so, I do believe that there are real heroes and heroines to honor, celebrate, and imitate in the history of our world. Thousands upon thousands of them.
St. Jerome Emilian, St. Margaret of Antioch, and all ye Saints of God,
And here is our third Holy Helper of the month, St. Pantaleon. In my missal it describes this holy martyr simply as a doctor and patron of doctors, who died in the persecution of Diocletian in the year 303. I had to do some digging to find further information and even an image for him (well, really, I got my generous older sister to do some digging for me; I’m still inexperienced and shy of doing too much perusing of the internet), and she came up with the biography which I’ve quoted below from Wikipedia (which page had a lot of references, so hopefully is trustworthy!).
“According to the martyrologies, Pantaleon was the son of a rich pagan, Eustorgius of Nicomedia, and had been instructed in Christianity by his Christian mother, Saint Eubula; however, after her death he fell away from the Christian church, while he studied medicine with a renowned physician Euphrosinos; under the patronage of Euphrosinos he became physician to the Emperor Maximian or Galerius.
“He was won back to Christianity by Saint Hermolaus (characterized as a bishop of the church at Nicomedia in the later literature), who convinced him that Christ was the better physician, signalling the significance of the exemplum of Pantaleon that faith is to be trusted over medical advice, marking the direction European medicine was to take until the 16th century.
“St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote regarding this incident:
He studied medicine with such success, that the Emperor Maximian appointed him his physician. One day as our saint was discoursing with a holy priest named Hermolaus, the latter, after praising the study of medicine, concluded thus: “But, my friend, of what use are all thy acquirements in this art, since thou art ignorant of the science of salvation?
“By miraculously healing a blind man by invoking the name of Jesus over him, Pantaleon converted his father, upon whose death he came into possession of a large fortune, but freed his slaves and, distributing his wealth among the poor, developed a great reputation in Nicomedia. Envious colleagues denounced him to the emperor during the Diocletian persecution. The emperor wished to save him and sought to persuade him to apostasy. Pantaleon, however, openly confessed his faith, and as proof that Christ is the true God, he healed a paralytic. Notwithstanding this, he was condemned to death by the emperor, who regarded the miracle as an exhibition of magic.
“According to the later hagiography, Pantaleon’s flesh was first burned with torches, whereupon Christ appeared to all in the form of Hermolaus to strengthen and heal Pantaleon. The torches were extinguished. Then a bath of molten lead was prepared; when the apparition of Christ stepped into the cauldron with him, the fire went out and the lead became cold. Pantaleon was now thrown into the sea, loaded with a great stone, which floated. He was thrown to wild beasts, but these fawned upon him and could not be forced away until he had blessed them. He was bound on the wheel, but the ropes snapped, and the wheel broke. An attempt was made to behead him, but the sword bent, and the executioners were converted to Christianity.
“Pantaleon implored Heaven to forgive them, for which reason he also received the name of Panteleimon (“mercy for everyone” or “all-compassionate”). It was not until he himself desired it that it was possible to behead him, upon which there issued forth blood and a white liquid like milk.
“St. Alphonsus wrote:
At Ravello, a city in the kingdom of Naples, there is a vial of his blood, which becomes blood every year [on his feastday], and may be seen in this state interspersed with the milk, as I, the author of this work, have seen it.
There is such a tremendous wealth hidden in the forgotten stories of saints like this! I just love discovering it, saint by saint.
So here is his novena. I’m planning to invoke this “all-compassionate” saint and patron of doctors on behalf of the sick mother of a priest I know. May you be richly blessed by the intercession of this saint who was so Christ-like he could show “mercy for everyone” even as he died.
Novena to St. Pantaleon
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God: that through the intercession of blessed Pantaleon, Thy Martyr, we may be delivered from all harm to the body and all uncleanness of mind. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who livest and reignest with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
No, I was not kidding when I said you were about to be bombarded with novenas! This novena in particular is very special to me, and as it comes around year after liturgical year, it is an occasion for much joy and hopefulness.
Long before I was even contemplating marriage, when I was just a little girl with a ponytail who dreamed of habits and convents, I somehow got into the habit of going into the little side-chapel of our old parish and praying at the statue of St. Anne before Mass each Sunday. Someone had taped a novena prayer to the kneeler, and so that was how St. Anne and I first spoke to each other.
Now, as a young woman waiting for (God willing) marriage with a good and holy man, devotion to St. Anne is even more meaningful and necessary than the happenstance devotion of my childhood, which I do not doubt was a grace. St. Anne is universally invoked by young women as the patroness of those waiting for a husband, as well as those who are already blessed to be homemakers and housewives and those who are waiting to have children. How can anyone be afraid to approach with confidence this mother of the Mother of God, this dear grandmother of Christ and mother-in-law of St. Joseph, especially concerning matters and needs of one’s family (or future family)? Surely she understands every one of these needs, understands our struggle for patience, understands how to truly desire and will to be conformed to God’s will in all things. And, after all, she did find St. Joseph for Our Lady, and thus should be considered the matchmaker of matchmakers. You don’t get much better than that.
And so, while I ask Our Lady for the graces I need to be humble and full of love for God’s will (and for every grace, really), St. Joseph for his fatherly protection over both me and the man who will become my husband one day, and St. Raphael to guide “my beloved to me and I to him”, I beg St. Anne for her twofold intercession: that she will be my veritable matchmaker from above and let nothing stand in the way of God’s will for my vocation, and that I may have some share in her admirable patience!
So here is the novena I will praying over the next nine days, the same one that led me to St. Anne long ago. If you are in need of grace in the area of family life, if you are waiting for your man to come along, if you are struggling with patience, I encourage you to turn without hesitation to this matriarch of such a holy lineage, whose maternal heart will be unable to refuse help in your needs.
Prayer to St. Anne
(To Obtain Some Special Favor)
Glorious St. Anne, filled with compassion for those who invoke thee, and with love for those who suffer, heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at thy feet and humbly beg of thee to take the present affair which I recommend to thee under thy special protection.
Vouchsafe to recommend it to thy Daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and lay it before the throne of Jesus, so that He may bring it to a happy issue. Cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace of one day beholding my God face to face, and with thee and Mary and all the Saints, praising and blessing Him to all eternity.
Good St. Anne, mother of her who is our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope, pray to her for us, and obtain our request. (3 times.)
Hello and happy Sunday! Here I am, as promised, with the next Holy Helper novena for whoever is interested.
According to my Missal, St. Christopher suffered martyrdom at Lycia in Asia Minor, under Decius in A.D. 250. Like many of the early martyrs, he is surrounded by legend, such as the one we’re all familiar with, in which he bore the Christ Child on his shoulders across a river, which action earned him the name of Christ-bearer and crowned him the patron saint of travelers. His feast is coming up on the twenty-fifth of the month, also St. James’ day. He is also invoked against sudden death, plagues, and epilepsy and fainting.
Novena to St. Christopher
Grant, we beseech Thee, almighty God: that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of blessed Christopher, Thy Martyr, may, through his intercession, be strengthened in the love of Thy name. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Back when I posted briefly about Saint Vitus, I promised that I would be sure in the future to put a novena out here leading up to each of the Holy Helpers’ feast days. Well, naturally I didn’t notice then that the next three chronological Holy Helpers’ feasts all occur within a week of one another (which week also happens to include the beginning of St. Anne’s novena, and I’m sure I’ll also be posting about that). So I hope you’re ready for some novenas, folks. 🙂
Today is the start of the novena to Saint Margaret of Antioch, whose feast day is coming up on July 20th. St. Margaret was martyred by the sword during the persecution of Decius in the year 257, and besides being numbered among the Fourteen Holy Helpers, she was also one of the three saints who appeared and spoke to St. Joan of Arc (the others being St. Catherine of Alexandria and St. Michael). She is the patroness of safe pregnancy, childbirth, and mothers who struggle with nursing among other things (I think I know who I’ll be invoking often in my future pregnancies, God willing!) Below is her lovely image from Portraits of Saints along with the brief bio provided there.
Saint Margaret of Antioch’s life is shrouded in legend. When her father, a pagan priest, found out that Margaret converted to Christianity, he cast her out of the home. She became a shepherdess and attracted the attention of a Roman Prefect whom she rejected. He then had her tortured and she was eventually martyred. It is said that while she was in prison the devil appeared as a serpent and swallowed her but spit her out because of the cross she held. She is one of the popular Middle Ages 14 Holy Helpers and was one of the voices St. Joan of Arc heard.
And now for the actual novena. . .it’s not easy to find novenas to less-than-widely-known saints like St. Margaret, but just yesterday while browsing on Fish Eaters (my go-to reference whenever I’m seeking Catholic information) I came across her suggestion of using the collect of your child’s patron’s Mass as a prayer on their name day. I thought that was brilliant; and so, why not a novena, too?
I hope that this novena blesses you richly and that St. Margaret will always intercede for you before the throne of God.
May blessed Margaret, Thy Virgin and Martyr, we beseech Thee, O Lord, obtain pardon for us: for she merited Thy constant good pleasure by her life of chastity, attributed by her to Thy power. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
I always love the feast days of martyrs, and could probably just post about that, given the abundance of their feasts in the old calendar; but today’s joint feast that includes nine martyrs in all was just so special I had to share it.
Of course it’s almost impossible to come up with much information on these hidden heroes, these early Church martyrs, but according to my treasured 1962 Missal, the Seven Holy Brothers whom we honor today were the sons of St. Felicitas (also a martyr, feast day November 23rd), and they were all martyred on the same day in the year 150 before their mother’s eyes. Their names were Januarius, Felix, Philippus, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis. (I was so excited when I discovered that their names are actually known. I know, geeky pleasures. . . If in my future marriage I’m ever blessed with septuplets who all happen to be boys, you can probably guess what their names will be. I can just hear one of my friends right now: I’d hate to be your child!)
It’s difficult to fathom the suffering their saintly mother endured, which I imagine had something to do with the reason today’s long epistle focused entirely on the virtuous woman. Surely she had a share in our Sorrowful Mother’s sufferings at the foot of the cross, and was strengthened by the same Mother to sacrifice not only her own life but that of each of her seven precious sons for the Lord they prized above all things.
Then, as if the feast of this glorious family was not enough to gladden the heart of the Church, on this day we are also given to celebrate the sister martyrs Sts. Rufina and Secunda, who died rather than relinquish their virginity, a little more than a hundred years after Sts. Felicitas & Sons. What a shining image we find in these two bands of siblings, what an example of what fraternal charity should be; a bond that binds us firmly to Christ in each other and to each other in Christ. What a strength these siblings were to each other in their own Calvarys.
Christ Himself speaks in loving recognition of these families of saints in today’s Gospel when He says, “Behold my Mother and My brethren: for whosoever shall do the will of My Father that is in heaven, he is My brother, and sister, and mother.” Just yesterday, the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, the Church was admonished by St. Paul to “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood. . .because the eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and His ears unto their prayers. . .And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good?” and by Christ when He says, “But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. . .If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thine offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother; and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.”
Fraternal charity always seems to be the theme that the Holy Ghost brings me back to in my prayers. As some very wise saint (whose name I cannot remember and who of course I cannot quote verbatim because I have a mortal memory) said, we may not be sure if we are truly loving God, but it is easy to know whether or not we are truly loving our neighbor. And again, another saint: You love God as much as the person you love the least. (Sorry for the sketchy details 🙂 ).
Daily life within a family (especially when you are homeschooled and spend most of your waking time in the company of your siblings) certainly has its rough places, challenges, frictions, fallouts, and just plain aggravations. All of us, at one time or another, have felt that we’d really be happier living on a island somewhere in the middle of the Pacific ocean. But as a child, as a young woman, and, God willing one day, as a wife and mother, I still consider my home and my family to be my joy, my treasure, my garden of virtue, my path to sainthood, my veritable battleground.
It is here, and nowhere else, that I fight each day to crown Christ as the King of my time, my energies, my tongue, my eyes, my hands, my feet. It is here that I, slowly and doggedly, work away at rooting up my vices and cultivating virtues. It is here that I encounter the living God in both contemplative and active prayer. It is here that He allows me to serve him with a humble and joyful heart. It is here, with the members of my family, and only here, that I can begin to see, to understand, and to strive for fraternal charity.
We never know the hour when we may be called to lay down our lives for Christ, to reach for the palm and red crown as St. Felicitas, her seven sons, and Sts. Rufina and Secunda did. But we are all summoned to a daily martyrdom, a continual death to self without respite, a joyful laying down of our lives for the Lord Who calls us His family. And this living death, this joyful decreasing so that Christ may increase, is nowhere more plain to see for Catholic families than in the struggle to turn every facet of daily life amid the family into virtue, merit, a prayer, an offering to God. For, in studying the resplendent example of today’s saints, we find that the ultimate destiny of the family is to spend our lives utterly for Christ, and, upon reaching the Eternal Shore, to hear together the voice that proclaims,
“This is the true brotherhood, which overcame the wickedness of the world: it followed Christ, holding fast to the glorious kingdom of heaven. Alleluia.”
Sts. Felicitas, Januarius, Felix, Philippus, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalis, Martialis, Rufina, and Secunda, pray for us and our families! Amen.
It’s rare when you find a TV show or movie depicting wifehood and motherhood in its truest sense, but they are out there, especially in what most people nowadays would consider ancient film. But, among those few, there are three TV mothers in particular who captured the essence of their characters (and their characters’ vocations) so brilliantly that I hold them up as role models for myself in my future (God willing!) marriage and motherhood.
In a few words, this is really just an excuse to post a bunch of pictures from my favorite movies and gush about them! So here goes. . .
1. Maria von Trapp
from The Sound of Music
Maria von Trapp is my heroine. I see so much in this character that I wish to see in myself as a wife and mother. Even long before she finds her vocation, even as the misfit of the abbey, she knows that the most important thing is to “Find what is the will of God, and to do it wholeheartedly.” Simple and pure, this is her only intention in obeying the Reverend Mother and taking her position as governess to the von Trapp children. She knows she is far from perfect, but she is continuously presents beautiful model of the maternal love, gentleness, and affection that the seven children entrusted to her are so thirsty for. She throws her heart, soul, voice, stubbornness, and sewing abilities into healing the broken von Trapp family.
She is exactly what Georg needs; humble but tenacious, a woman but perfectly childlike, a faithful daughter of the Church with a heart of gold. She never asserts herself above her place unless she has to for the sake of the children, out of respect and love for the whole family.
And she is fantastic at dancing the Lindler.
Once they are married, her bloom is complete, and although this period of the movie is relatively brief, it is easy to see what a wonderful wife Maria makes, humble and submissive to Georg’s opinions about his children singing in public, happy to do what makes him happy, courageously accepting God’s will and supporting Georg in the collapse of their country and confiscation of their freedom. She doesn’t rebel against the dangerous and heartrending circumstances, even when they return home from their honeymoon to find they have to leave Austria. She quietly and bravely organizes and guides the children, following Georg’s lead through the varying, terrifying different levels of their escape (I’ve watched this movie a hundred times, and the climax never fails to get me.)
And oh, these looks they give each other. . .
And, after all, what girl wouldn’t want seven children and a husband like Georg? I certainly do.
2. Mary Hatch Bailey
from It’s a Wonderful Life
This movie has to be somewhere very close to The Sound of Music on my list of favorites, just as Mary Bailey has to come very near Maria. (Only as I was preparing to make this post did I realize that my first two couples’ names are Georg and Maria and George and Mary, respectively. Coincidence?)
I can see a combination of what I am and what I hope to be in Mary Bailey. A little girl at a soda shop with fluffy hair, an eighteen-year-old schoolgirl with stars in her eyes at a dance, she was ready for George Bailey even before the memorable Charleston and the rock-throwing. Ready to love him, to be his wife and the mother of his children.
George, on the other hand, needed some time. So Mary had to give it to him. When he was finally ready, finally hers, their married life had to begin with a sacrifice, much like Georg and Maria.
But Mary was ready for the challenge, ready to set herself aside for George’s sake. And that should have been plenty of proof to both George and the happy viewer that she was prime wife material.
I can imagine most brides being pretty upset (or at least ruffled) if their wedding day turned out like Mary Bailey’s. But not she. Brimming with love, she decided to try to alleviate George’s troubles by going an extra mile.
Yes, George had found himself the treasure of his life.
Through all of his ensuing years of frustration and struggle at work and giving up what he thought were his dreams, she was there, a faithful, supportive wife; a pair of open, warm arms to come home to; a gorgeous mother to their four children; a homemaker in the truest and most noble sense of the word.
Through his veritable dark night of the soul, she not only remained faithful, but consoled the children, offered fervent prayers for him, and found a way to organize the relief of his crushing financial problems.
And she did it because she loved, truly, faithfully, with the wifeliest of loves, loved George Bailey. Because she held firmly to the promise she had first whispered in his bad ear as a girl, the wish she had broken the window with, the vows she had made to him at the altar. And what husband could expect more than that?
3. Caroline Ingalls
from Little House on the Prairie
Little House on the Prairie is our family’s favorite TV series. Its makers just had a knack for producing quality stories and especially heartwarming scenes of family life, of the pains and beauties therein. And so it’s no surprise that I love Caroline Ingalls so much.
Like Maria and Mary, I love Caroline because she is just what she should be, and is truly happy and honored to be it. Like the others, she knows that the language of love is sacrifice. She is unafraid of facing hard times, unafraid of working hard for her family, unafraid of poverty. She knows Charles’ dreams and is ready to sacrifice for them, because she loves and respects him, and is willing (and, over their lifetime, practically has to) follow him to the ends of the earth. In the very first installment of the show she told Charles, “My home is where you are,” and you know she meant it. She is his leaning post, his strength in sorrows, his calm in storms, his joy in the everyday. And they are just the most adorable TV couple ever!
She is a caring, attentive mother who feels deeply all the hurts, joys, and growing pains of her girls. She knows how to grieve yet keep the world going, and how to delight in the little daily joys that sprout like wildflowers in her vocation as a wife and mother.
And just look at the mother-love in those eyes!
So there you have it, my three film models of wifehood and motherhood. These three beautiful ladies embody the self-sacrificial love, the joy, the simplicity that I aspire to and dream of in whatever God’s plans are for my future. Without women like this, I daresay that even the best of television programs and movies would be very empty indeed.