St. Jerome

St. Jerome, who was born Eusebius Hieronymous Sophronius, was the most learned of the Fathers of the Western Church. He was born about the year 342 at Stridonius, a small town at the head of the Adriatic, near the episcopal city of Aquileia. His father, a Christian, took care that his son was well instructed at home, then sent him to Rome, where the young man’s teachers were the famous pagan grammarian Donatus and Victorinus, a Christian rhetorician. Jerome’s native tongue was the Illyrian dialect, but at Rome he became fluent in Latin and Greek, and read the literatures of those languages with great pleasure. His aptitude for oratory was such that he may have considered law as a career. He acquired many worldly ideas, made little effort to check his pleasure-loving instincts, and lost much of the piety that had been instilled in him at home. Yet in spite of the pagan and hedonistic influences around him, Jerome was baptized by Pope Liberius in 360. He tells us that “it was my custom on Sundays to visit, with friends of my own age and tastes, the tombs of the martyrs and Apostles, going down into those subterranean galleries whose walls on both sides preserve the relics of the dead.” Here he enjoyed deciphering the inscriptions.

After three years at Rome, Jerome’s intellectual curiosity led him to explore other parts of the world. He visited his home and then, accompanied by his boyhood friend Bonosus, went to Aquileia, where he made friends among the monks of the monastery there, notably Rufinus. Then, still accompanied by Bonosus, he traveled to Treves, in Gaul. He now renounced all secular pursuits to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to God. Eager to build up a religious library, the young scholar copied out St. Hilary’s books on and his Commentaries on the Psalms, and got together other literary and religious treasures. He returned to Stridonius, and later settled in Aquileia. The bishop had cleared the church there of the plague of Arianism and had drawn to it many eminent men. Among those with whom Jerome formed friendships were Chromatius (later canonized), to whom Jerome dedicated several of his works, Heliodorus (also to become a saint), and his nephew Nepotian. The famous theologian Rufinus, at first his close friend, afterward became his bitter opponent. By nature an irascible man with a sharp tongue, Jerome made enemies as well as friends. He spent some years in scholarly studies in Aquileia, then, in search of more perfect solitude, he turned towards the East. With his friends, Innocent, Heliodorus, and Hylas, a freed slave, he started overland for Syria. On the way they visited Athens, Bithynia, Galatia, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Cilicia.

The party arrived at Antioch about the year 373. There Jerome at first attended the lectures of the famous Apollinaris, bishop of Laodicea, who had not yet put forward his heresy1 With his companions he left the city for the desert of Chalcis, about fifty miles southeast of Antioch. Innocent and Hylas soon died there, and Heliodorus left to return to the West, but Jerome stayed for four years, which were passed in study and in the practice of austerity. He had many attacks of illness but suffered still more from temptation. “In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert,” he wrote years afterwards to his friend Eustochium, “burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome…. In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was.”

Jerome added to these trials the study of Hebrew, a discipline which he hoped would help him in winning a victory over himself. “When my soul was on fire with wicked thoughts,” he wrote in 411, “as a last resort, I became a pupil to a monk who had been a Jew, in order to learn the Hebrew alphabet. From the judicious precepts of Quintilian, the rich and fluent eloquence of Cicero, the graver style of Fronto, and the smoothness of Pliny, I turned to this language of hissing and broken-winded words. What labor it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it and began again to learn, both I, who felt the burden, and they who lived with me, can bear witness. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies.” He continued to read the pagan classics for pleasure until a vivid dream turned him from them, at least for a time. In a letter he describes how, during an illness, he dreamed he was standing before the tribunal of Christ. “Thou a Christian?” said the judge skeptically. “Thou art a Ciceronian. Where thy treasure is, there thy heart is also.”

The church at Antioch was greatly disturbed at this time by party and doctrinal disputes. The anchorites in the desert took sides, and called on Jerome, the most learned of them, to give his opinions on the subjects at issue. He wrote for guidance to Pope Damasus at Rome. Failing to receive an answer, he wrote again. “On one side, the Arian fury rages, supported by the secular power; on the other side, the Church (at Antioch) is being divided into three parts, and each would draw me to itself.” No reply from Damasus is extant; but we know that Jerome acknowledged Paulinus, leader of one party, as bishop of Antioch, and that when he left the desert of Chalcis, he received from Paulinus’ hands his ordination as priest. Jerome consented to ordination only on condition that he should not be obliged to serve in any church, knowing that his true vocation was to be a monk and recluse.

About 380 Jerome went to Constantinople to study the Scriptures under the Greek, Gregory of Nazianzus, then bishop of that city. Two years later he went back to Rome with Paulinus of Antioch to attend a council which Pope Damasus was holding to deal with the Antioch schism. Appointed secretary of the council, Jerome acquitted himself so well that, when it was over, Damasus kept him there as his own secretary. At the Pope’s request he prepared a revised text, based on the Greek, of the Latin New Testament, the current version of which had been disfigured by “wrong copying, clumsy correction, and careless interpolations.” He also revised the Latin psalter. That the prestige of Rome and its power to arbitrate between disputants, East as well as West, was recognized as never before at this time, was due in some measure at least to Jerome’s diligence and ability. Along with his official duties he was fostering a new movement of Christian asceticism among a group of noble Roman ladies. Several of them were to be canonized, including Albina and her daughters Marcella and Asella, Melania the Elder, who was the first of them to go to the Holy Land, and Paula, with her daughters, Blesilla and Eustochium. The tie between Jerome and the three last-mentioned women was especially close, and to them he addressed many of his famous letters.

When Pope Damasus died in 384, he was succeeded by Siricius, who was less friendly to Jerome. While serving Damasus, Jerome had impressed all by his personal holiness, learning, and integrity. But he had also managed to get himself widely disliked by pagans and evil-doers whom he had condemned, and also by people of taste and tolerance, many of them Christians, who were offended by his biting sarcasm and a certain ruthlessness in attack. An example of his style is the harsh diatribe against the artifices of worldly women, who “paint their cheeks with rouge and their eyelids with antimony, whose plastered faces, too white for human beings, look like idols; and if in a moment of forgetfulness they shed a tear it makes a furrow where it rolls down the painted cheek; women to whom years do not bring the gravity of age, who load their heads with other people’s hair, enamel a lost youth upon the wrinkles of age, and affect a maidenly timidity in the midst of a troop of grand children.” In a letter to Eustochium he writes with scorn of certain members of the Roman clergy. “All their anxiety is about their clothes…. You would take them for bridegrooms rather than for clerics; all they think about is knowing the names and houses and doings of rich ladies.”

Although Jerome’s indignation was usually justified, his manner of expressing it-both verbally and in letters-aroused resentment. His own reputation was attacked; his bluntness, his walk, and even his smile were criticized. And neither the virtue of the ladies under his direction nor his own scrupulous behavior towards them was any protection from scandalous gossip. Affronted at the calumnies that were circulated, Jerome decided to return to the East. Taking with him his brother Paulinian and some others, he embarked in August, 385. At Cyprus, on the way, he was received with joy by Bishop Epiphanius, and at Antioch also he conferred with leading churchmen. It was here, probably, that he was joined by the widow Paula and some other ladies who had left Rome with the aim of settling in the Holy Land.

With what remained of Jerome’s own patrimony and with financial help from Paula, a monastery for men was built near the basilica of the Nativity at Bethlehem, and also houses for three communities of women. Paula became head of one of these, and after her death was succeeded by her daughter Eustochium. Jerome himself lived and worked in a large cave near the Saviour’s birthplace. He opened a free school there and also a hospice for pilgrims, “so that,” as Paula said, “should Mary and Joseph visit Bethlehem again, they would have a place to stay.” Now at last Jerome began to enjoy some years of peaceful activity. He gives us a wonderful description of this fruitful, harmonious, Palestinian life, and its attraction for all manner of men. “Illustrious Gauls congregate here, and no sooner has the Briton, so remote from our world, arrived at religion than he leaves his early-setting sun to seek a land which he knows only by reputation and from the Scriptures. Then the Armenians, the Persians, the peoples of India and Ethiopia, of Egypt, and of Pontus, Cappadocia, Syria, and Mesopotamia!… They come in throngs and set us examples of every virtue. The languages differ but the religion is the same; as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations…. Here bread and herbs, planted with our own hands, and milk, all country fare, furnish us plain and healthy food. In summer the trees give us shade. In autumn the air is cool and the falling leaves restful. In spring our psalmody is sweeter for the singing of the birds. We have plenty of wood when winter snow and cold are upon us. Let Rome keep its crowds, let its arenas run with blood, its circuses go mad, its theaters wallow in sensuality….”

But when the Christian faith was threatened Jerome could not be silent. While at Rome in the time of Pope Damasus, he had composed a book on the perpetual virginity of the Virgin Mary against one Helvidius, who had maintained that Mary had not remained always a virgin but had had other children by St. Joseph, after the birth of Christ. This and similar ideas were now again put forward by a certain Jovinian, who had been a monk. Paula’s son-in-law, Pammachius, sent some of this heretical writing to Jerome, and he, in 393, wrote two books against Jovinian. In the first he described the excellence of virginity. The books were written in Jerome’s vehement style and there were expressions in them which seemed lacking in respect for honorable matrimony. Pammachius informed Jerome of the offense which he and many others at Rome had taken at them. Thereupon Jerome composed his , sometimes called his third book against Jovinian, in which he showed by quoting from his own earlier works that he regarded marriage as a good and honorable state and did not condemn even a second or a third marriage.

A few years later he turned his attention to one Vigilantius, a Gallic priest, who was denouncing both celibacy and the veneration of saints’ relics, calling those who revered them idolaters and worshipers of ashes. In defending celibacy Jerome said that a monk should purchase security by flying from temptations and dangers when he distrusted his own strength. As to the veneration of relics, he declared: “We do not worship the relics of the martyrs, but honor them in our worship of Him whose martyrs they are. We honor the servants in order that the respect paid to them may be reflected back to the Lord.” Honoring them, he said, was not idolatry because no Christian had ever adored the martyrs as gods; on the other hand, they pray for us. “If the Apostles and martyrs, while still living on earth, could pray for other men, how much more may they do it after their victories? Have they less power now that they are with Jesus Christ?” He told Paula, after the death of her daughter Blesilla, “She now prays to the Lord for you, and obtains for me the pardon of my sins.” Jerome was never moderate whether in virtue or against evil. Though swift to anger, he was also swift to feel remorse and was even more severe on his own failings than on those of others.

From 395 to 400 Jerome was engaged in a war against Origenism2, which unhappily created a breach in his long friendship with Rufinus. Finding that some Eastern monks had been led into error by the authority of Rufinus’ name and learning, Jerome attacked him. Rufinus, then living in a monastery at Jerusalem, had translated many of Origen’s works into Latin and was an enthusiastic upholder of his scholarship, though it does not appear that he meant to defend the heresies in Origen’s writings. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, was one of the churchmen greatly distressed by the quarrel between Jerome and Rufinus, and became unwillingly involved in a controversy with Jerome.

Jerome’s passionate controversies were the least important part of his activities. What has made his name so famous was his critical labor on the text of the Scriptures. The Church regards him as the greatest of all the doctors in clarifying the Divine Word. He had the best available aids for such an undertaking, living where the remains of Biblical places, names, and customs all combined to give him a more vivid view than he could have had at a greater distance. To continue his study of Hebrew he hired a famous Jewish scholar, Bar Ananias, who came to teach him by night, lest other Jews should learn of it. As a man of prayer and purity of heart whose life had been mainly spent in study, penance, and contemplation, Jerome was prepared to be a sensitive interpreter of spiritual things.

We have seen that already while at Rome he had made a revision of the current Latin New Testament, and of the Psalms. Now he undertook to translate most of the books of the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew. The friends and scholars who urged him to this task realized the superiority of a version made directly from the original to any second-hand version, however venerable. It was needed too for argument with the Jews, who recognized no other text as authentic but their own. He began with the Books of Kings, and went on with the rest at different times. When he found that the Book of Tobias and part of Daniel had been composed in Chaldaic, he set himself to learn that difficult language also. More than once he was tempted to give up the whole wearisome task, but a certain scholarly tenacity of purpose kept him at it. The only parts of the Latin Bible, now known as the Vulgate, which were not either translated or worked over by him are the Books of Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and the two Books of the Maccabees.3 He revised the Psalms once again, with the aid of Origen’s ,4 and the Hebrew text. This last is the version included now in the Vulgate and used generally in the Divine Office; his first revision, known as the Roman Psalter, is still used for the opening psalm at Matins and throughout the Missal, and for the Divine Office in the cathedrals of St. Peter at Rome and St. Mark at Venice, and in the Milanese rite.

In the sixteenth century the great Council of Trent pronounced Jerome’s Vulgate the authentic and authoritative Latin text of the Catholic Church, without, however, thereby implying a preference for it above the original text or above versions in other languages. In 1907 Pope Pius X entrusted to the Benedictine Order the office of restoring as far as possible the correct text of St. Jerome’s Vulgate, which during fifteen centuries of use had naturally become altered in many places. The Bible now ordinarily used by English-speaking Catholics is a translation of the Vulgate, made at Rheims and Douay towards the end of the sixteenth century, and revised by Bishop Challoner in the eighteenth. The Confraternity Edition of the New Testament appearing in 1950 represents a complete revision.

A heavy blow came to Jerome in 404 when his staunch friend, the saintly Paula, died. Six years later he was stunned by news of the sacking of Rome by Alaric the Goth. Of the refugees who fled from Rome to the East at this time he wrote: “Who would have believed that the daughters of that mighty city would one day be wandering as servants and slaves on the shores of Egypt and Africa, or that Bethlehem would daily receive noble Romans, distinguished ladies, brought up in wealth and now reduced to beggary? I cannot help them all, but I grieve and weep with them, and am completely absorbed in the duties which charity imposes on me. I have put aside my commentary on Ezekiel and almost all study. For today we must translate the precepts of the Scriptures into deeds; instead of speaking saintly words, we must act them.” A few years later his work was again interrupted by raids of barbarians pushing north through Egypt into Palestine, and later still by a violent onset of Pelagian heretics, who, relying on the protection of Bishop John of Jerusalem, sent a troop of ruffians to Bethlehem to disperse the monks and nuns living there under the direction of Jerome, who had been opposing Pelagianism5 with his customary truculence. Some of the monks were beaten, a deacon was killed, and monasteries were set on fire. Jerome had to go into hiding for a time.

The following year Paula’s daughter Eustochium died. The aged Jerome soon fell ill, and after lingering for two years succumbed. Worn with penance and excessive labor, his sight and voice almost gone, his body like a shadow, he died peacefully on September 30, 420, and was buried under the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem. In the thirteenth century his body was translated and now lies somewhere in the Sistine Chapel of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore at Rome. The Church owes much to St. Jerome. While his great work was the Vulgate, his achievements in other fields are valuable; to him we owe the distinction between canonical and apocryphal writings; he was a pioneer in the field of Biblical archeology, his commentaries are important; his letters, published in three volumes, are one of our best sources of knowledge of the times.

St. Jerome has been a popular subject with artists, who have pictured him in the desert, as a scholar in his study, and sometimes in the robes of a cardinal, because of his services for Pope Damasus; often too he is shown with a lion, from whose paw, according to legend, he once drew a thorn. Actually this story was transferred to him from the tradition of St. Gerasimus, but a lion is not an inappropriate symbol for so fearless a champion of the faith.

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel – Feast day – September 29th The name Michael signifies “Who is like to God?” and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as “one of the chief princes,” and leader of the forces of heaven in their triumph over the powers of hell. He has been especially honored and invoked as patron and protector by the Church from the time of the Apostles.

Although he is always called “the Archangel,” the Greek Fathers and many others place him over all the angels – as Prince of the Seraphim. St. Michael is the patron of grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police and sickness.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz

Lorenzo Ruiz is the first Filipino saint. He is also the first Filipino martyred for the Christian Faith. Lorenzo Ruiz was a layman, married, and had two sons and a daughter. Born in Binondo, Manila, about 1600’s, he was educated in the school of the Dominicans there. He served as an altar boy and later was a helper and clerk-sacristan in the church of Binondo. He was a member of the Confraternity of the Rosary. He made his living probably as a calligrapher, one who renders documents in beautiful penmanship for private or official use. To be sure, that work denoted an accomplished and educated person, especially at a time when many an illustrious personage were far from excelling in this art. An adverse event made him leave the Philippines in 1636. When he was in his late twenties or early thirties, he became involved or was accused of being involved in a criminal case, the circumstances of which are far from clear. Whether he was involved or not, one thing was clear, he was afraid that, as a consequence of a trial or mistrial, he might be given a death sentence. Upon landing in Japan where Christians were being persecuted, he was arrested and imprisoned together with his companions. He underwent inhuman tortures and valiantly confessed his Christian Faith. Refusing to renounce his Faith, he told his executioner that he was ready to die for God and give himself for many thousands of lives if he had them. On September 27, 1637, he was hung from a gallows by his feet, his body falling into a pit. After two days of agony, he died of bleeding and suffocation. His body was cremated and the ashes thrown into the sea. He and fifteen companions, martyred in the same persecution, were beatified by Pope John Paul II in Manila on February 18, 1981 and elevated to full honors of the altar by canonization on October 18, 1987 in Rome. Their feast day is on September 28th.

St. Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent was born of poor parents in the village of Pouy in Gascony, France, about 1580. He enjoyed his first schooling under the Franciscan Fathers at Acqs. Such had been his progress in four years that a gentleman chose him as subpreceptor to his children, and he was thus enabled to continue his studies without being a burden to his parents. In 1596, he went to the University of Toulouse for theological studies, and there he was ordained priest in 1600.

In 1605, on a voyage by sea from Marseilles to Narbonne, he fell into the hands of African pirates and was carried as a slave to Tunis. His captivity lasted about two years, until Divine Providence enabled him to effect his escape. After a brief visit to Rome he returned to France, where he became preceptor in the family of Emmanuel de Gondy, Count of Goigny, and General of the galleys of France. In 1617, he began to preach missions, and in 1625, he lay the foundations of a congregation which afterward became the Congregation of the Mission or Lazarists, so named on account of the Prioryof St. Lazarus, which the Fathers began to occupy in 1633.

It would be impossible to enumerate all the works of this servant of God. Charity was his predominant virtue. It extended to all classes of persons, from forsaken childhood to old age. The Sisters of Charity also owe the foundation of their congregation to St. Vincent. In the midst of the most distracting occupations his soul was always intimately united with God. Though honored by the great ones of the world, he remained deeply rooted in humility. The Apostle of Charity, the immortal Vincent de Paul, breathed his last in Paris at the age of eighty. His feast day is September 27th. He is the patron of charitable societies.

Sts. Cosmas & Damian

Sts. Cosmas and Damian were brothers, born in Arabia, who had become eminent for their skill in the science of medicine. Being Christians, they were filled with the spirit of charity and never took money for their services. At Egaea in Cilicia, where they lived, they enjoyed the highest esteem of the people. When the persecution under Diocletian broke out, their very prominence rendered them marked objects of persecution. Being apprehended by order of Lysias, governor of Cilicia, they underwent various torments about the year 283. Their feast day is September 26th. They are patron saints of pharmacists.

St. Finbar

He was the son of an artisan and a lady of the Irish royal court. Born in Connaught, Ireland, and baptized Lochan, he was educated at Kilmacahil, Kilkenny, where the monks named him Fionnbharr (white head) because of his light hair; he is also known as Bairre and Barr. He went on pilgrimage to Rome with some of the monks, visiting St. David in Wales on the way back. Supposedly, on another visit to Rome the Pope wanted to consecrate him a bishop but was deterred by a vision, notifying the pope that God had reserved that honor to Himself, and Finbar was consecrated from heaven and then returned to Ireland. At any rate, he may have preached in Scotland, definitely did in southern Ireland, lived as a hermit on a small island at Lough Eiroe, and then, on the river Lee, founded a monastery that developed into the city of Cork, of which he was the first bishop. His monastery became famous in southern Ireland and attracted numerous disciples. Many extravagant miracles are attributed to him, and supposedly, the sun did not set for two weeks after he died at Cloyne about the year 633. His feast day is September 25th.

Martyrs of Chalcedon

A group of forty-nine Christians slain in Chalcedon during the reign of Emperor Diocletian . Records indicate that the martyrs were members of the choir in the church of Chalcedon.

St. Padre Pio

Francesco, named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, was born to Giuseppa and Grazio Forgione, peasant farmers, in the small Italian village of Pietrelcina on May 25, 1887. From his childhood, it was evident that he was a special child of God. Francesco was very devout even as a child, and at an early age felt drawn to the priesthood. He became a Capuchin novice at the age of sixteen and received the habit in 1902. Francesco was ordained to the priesthood in 1910 after seven years of study and became known as Padre Pio.

On September 20, 1918, Padre Pio was kneeling in front of a large crucifix when he received the visible marks of the crucifixion, making him the first stigmatized priest in the history of Church. The doctor who examined Padre Pio could not find any natural cause for the wounds. Upon his death in 1968, the wounds were no longer visible. In fact, there was no scaring and the skin was completely renewed. He had predicted 50 years prior that upon his death the wounds would heal. The wounds of the stigmata were not the only mystical phenomenon experienced by Padre Pio.

The blood from the stigmata had an odor described by many as similar to that of perfume or flowers, and the gift of bilocation was attributed to him. Padre Pio had the ability to read the hearts of the penitents who flocked to him for confession which he heard for ten or twelve hours per day. Padre Pio used the confessional to bring both sinners and devout souls closer to God; he would know just the right word of counsel or encouragement that was needed. Even before his death, people spoke to Padre Pio about his possible canonization. He died on September 23, 1968 at the age of eighty-one. His funeral was attended by about 100,000 people.

On June 16, 2002, over 500,000 Padre Pio devotees gathered in Rome to witness Pope John Paul II proclaim Padre Pio, Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. The Padre Pio Foundation and many benefactors traveled to Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, Pietrelcina, Piana Romana and many other holy places to celebrate Padre Pio’s Canonization.

Pope John Paul II – Homily at the Canonization of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Capuchin Priest – 16 June 2002

1. “For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11,30).

Jesus’ words to his disciples, which we just heard, help us to understand the most important message of this solemn celebration. Indeed, in a certain sense, we can consider them as a magnificent summary of the whole life of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, today proclaimed a saint.

The evangelical image of the “yoke” recalls the many trials that the humble Capuchin of San Giovanni Rotondo had to face. Today we contemplate in him how gentle the “yoke” of Christ is, and how truly light is his burden when it is borne with faithful love. The life and mission of Padre Pio prove that difficulties and sorrows, if accepted out of love, are transformed into a privileged way of holiness, which opens onto the horizons of a greater good, known only to the Lord.

2. “But may I never boast except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6,14).

Is it not, precisely, the “glory of the Cross” that shines above all in Padre Pio? How timely is the spirituality of the Cross lived by the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina. Our time needs to rediscover the value of the Cross in order to open the heart to hope.

Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, since he was very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.

In God’s plan, the Cross constitutes the true instrument of salvation for the whole of humanity and the way clearly offered by the Lord to those who wish to follow him (cf. Mk 16,24). The Holy Franciscan of the Gargano understood this well, when on the Feast of the Assumption in 1914, he wrote: “In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross” (Epistolario II, p. 155).

3. “I am the Lord who acts with mercy” (Jer 9,23).

Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all by welcoming them, by spiritual direction and, especially, by the administration of the sacrament of Penance. I also had the privilege, during my young years, of benefitting from his availability for penitents. The ministry of the confessional, which is one of the distinctive traits of his apostolate, attracted great crowds of the faithful to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo. Even when that unusual confessor treated pilgrims with apparent severity, the latter, becoming conscious of the gravity of sins and sincerely repentant, almost always came back for the peaceful embrace of sacramental forgiveness. May his example encourage priests to carry out with joy and zeal this ministry which is so important today, as I wished to confirm this year in the Letter to Priests on the occasion of Holy Thursday.

4. “You, Lord, are my only good”.

This is what we sang in the responsorial psalm. Through these words, the new Saint invites us to place God above everything, to consider him our sole and highest good.

In fact, the ultimate reason for the apostolic effectiveness of Padre Pio, the profound root of so much spiritual fruitfulness can be found in that intimate and constant union with God, attested to by his long hours spent in prayer and in the confessional. He loved to repeat, “I am a poor Franciscan who prays” convinced that “prayer is the best weapon we have, a key that opens the heart of God”.

This fundamental characteristic of his spirituality continues in the “Prayer Groups” that he founded, which offer to the Church and to society the wonderful contribution of incessant and confident prayer. To prayer, Padre Pio joined an intense charitable activity, of which the “Home for the Relief of Suffering” is an extraordinary expression. Prayer and charity, this is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio’s teaching, which today is offered to everyone.

5. “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because … these things … you have revealed to little ones” (Mt 11,25).

How appropriate are these words of Jesus, when we think of them as applied to you, humble and beloved Padre Pio.

Teach us, we ask you, humility of heart so we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel, to whom the Father promised to reveal the mysteries of his Kingdom.

Help us to pray without ceasing, certain that God knows what we need even before we ask him. Obtain for us the eyes of faith that will be able to recognize right away in the poor and suffering the face of Jesus.

Sustain us in the hour of the combat and of the trial and, if we fall, make us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness.

Grant us your tender devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother.

Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the blessed homeland, where we hope to arrive in order to contemplate forever the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

St. Thomas of Villanueva

Augustinian bishop. Born at Fuentellana, Castile, Spain, he was the son of a miller. He studied at the University of Alcala, earned a licentiate in theology, and became a professor there at the age of twenty-six. He declined the chair of philosophy at the university of Salamanca and instead entered the Order of St Augustine at Salamanca in 1516. Ordained in 1520, he served as prior of several houses in Salamanca, Burgos, and Valladolid, as provincial ofAndal usia and Castile, and then court chaplain to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r. 1519-1556). During his time as provincial of Castile, he dispatched the first Augustinian missionaries to the New World. They subsequently helped evangelize the area of modern Mexico. He was offered but declined the see of Granada, but accepted appointment as archbishop of Valencia in 1544. As the see had been vacant for nearly a century, Thomas devoted much effort to restoring the spiritual and material life of the archdiocese. He was also deeply committed to the needs of the poor. He held the post of grand almoner of the poor, founded colleges for the children of new converts and the poor, organized priests for service among the Moors, and was renowned for his personal saintliness and austerities. While he did not attend the sessions of the Council of Trent, he was an ardent promoter of the Tridentine reforms throughout Spain.

St. Matthew

St. Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles, is the author of the first Gospel. This has been the constant tradition of the Church and is confirmed by the Gospel itself. He was the son of Alpheus and was called to be an Apostle while sitting in the tax collectors place at Capernaum. Before his conversion he was a publican, i.e., a tax collector by profession. He is to be identified with the “Levi” of Mark and Luke.

His apostolic activity was at first restricted to the communities of Palestine. Nothing definite is known about his later life. There is a tradition that points to Ethiopia as his field of labor; other traditions mention of Parthia and Persia. It is uncertain whether he died a natural death or received the crown of martyrdom.

St. Matthew’s Gospel was written to fill a sorely-felt want for his fellow countrymen, both believers and unbelievers. For the former, it served as a token of his regard and as an encouragement in the trial to come, especially the danger of falling back to Judaism; for the latter, it was designed to convince them that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus, our Lord, in Whom all the promises of the Messianic Kingdom embracing all people had been fulfilled in a spiritual rather than in a carnal way: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” His Gospel, then, answered the question put by the disciples of St. John the Baptist, “Are You He Who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Writing for his countrymen of Palestine, St. Matthew composed his Gospel in his native Aramaic, the “Hebrew tongue” mentioned in the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Soon afterward, about the time of the persecution of Herod Agrippa I in 42 AD, he took his departure for other lands. Another tradition places the composition of his Gospel either between the time of this departure and the Council of Jerusalem, i.e., between 42 AD and 50 AD or even later. Definitely, however, the Gospel, depicting the Holy City with its altar and temple as still existing, and without any reference to the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy, shows that it was written before the destruction of the city by the Romans in 70 AD, and this internal evidence confirms the early traditions.