John of the Cross, OCD, Priest Doctor (RM)
Born in Fontiveros, Spain, June 24, 1542; died 1591; canonized 1726; named Doctor of the Church in 1926. Feast day formerly on November 24.
Born Juan de Yepes the son of a silk weaver in Toledo, Spain, John was apprenticed to that trade in his youth. Soon he realized that this was not his calling and took a position at the hospital in Medina del Campo, where he worked for seven years as he studied at the University of Salamanca.
He became a Carmelite in 1563, was ordained in 1567, and had decided to join the Carthusians when he met Saint Teresa of Avila, who persuaded him to remain a Carmelite and reform the order from within, rather than running away.
In 1568, with two other Carmelites, he founded the first Carmelite reformed monastery at Duruelo, the beginning of the Discalced (shoeless) Carmelites, and took the name John of the Cross. At Teresa's request, he served as spiritual director of her Convent of the Incarnation at Avila from 1572 to 1577.
So powerfully did St. John support the attempts made by St. Teresa of Avila to reform the Carmelite monasteries of Spain that the general of the Carmelites had him imprisoned in 1577 and again in 1578. The first time, he had refused the order of the provincial of Seville to return to Medina, and was imprisoned in Toledo. He spent nine months there are was subjected to great pressure to repudiate the reform but he steadfastly refused and finally managed to escape.
While in prison, John experienced visions and began his writing. In intense poems and his other mystical writings, John of the Cross set out the schema of a Christian's mystical ascent to God. In his greatest work, The Dark Night of the Soul, the saint describes how a mystic loses every early attachment, passing through a personal experience of Jesus's crucifixion to a rhapsodic union with God's glory. To pass through this darkness is, he says, 'a fortunate adventure to union with the Beloved.' He also wrote Spiritual Canticle while in prison.
He, Teresa, and their fellow reformers were finally successful in their efforts, and the Discalced Carmelites were formally recognized as a separate province.
The saint never hesitated if one of his monks needed some remedy. While he was at Baeza a monk suffered from terrible attacks of nausea. John asked the doctor if there was any remedy to cure the man. Though the doctor said the expensive medicine would provide only relief and not a cure, John bought it at once and served it to the sick man himself (manuscript in the library of Madrid).
At the beginning of his priorship at Baeza, the community was in the grip of a malignant type of influenza. John's first act as prior was to order the purchase of meat. He served it himself to the sick people and reassured those whose consciences were upset at the thought of taking meat. He lengthened their hours of recreation and entertained them with amusing stories as well as with spiritual reflections, but excusing his levity by saying that he wanted to relieve their suffering (manuscript in the National Library in Madrid).
After serving as head of the college at Baeza, John was prior at Los Martires near Granada in 1581-84 and probably finished Living Flame of Love and Ascent of Mount Carmel while there.
In the fourth chapter of the first book of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross wrote: "Every appetite for the things of the world must be mortified, for in the eyes of God they are but darkness;" and being darkness they are obstacles and "screens" that shut out the divine light and prevent it from filling the Christian soul.
Indeed, when compared with the infinity of God, one's animal existence is nothing. The soul that loves nothingness will itself become nothing, for love is the principle of assimilation and resemblance. To love nothingness is to lower oneself to the level of nothingness. It is self-destruction.
The saintly and somewhat terrifying doctor developed his thought without making us the slightest concession--people who enjoy suffering will find plenty of opportunity in his works!
At the end of Chapter 13 he wrote: "If you wish to master all those passions which bind you to worthless things, you must unceasingly dedicate your soul not to that which is more enticing, but to that which is more insipid; not to that which pleases, but to that which displeases; not to that which consoles, but to that which gives sorrow; not to that which gives rest, but to that which gives work; not to that which is more, but to that which is less; not to that which is higher and more precious but to that which is lower and less precious; not to want something, but to not want anything; not to seek that which is better in things but that which is worse; and, for the love of Christ, to want to assume an utter nakedness, an absolute poverty, and a perfect indifference to everything that is in the world."
Yes, it's terrifying, even if it is exalting--terrifying for our poor little souls. Many say that St. John is obviously writing only for great and noble souls; but, perhaps, they are intended for all except those who abdicate greatness in advance.
As prior of Los Martires, St. John chose for himself the worst room in the oldest part of the monastery. Apart from the boards on which he slept, the only things in his cell were a wooden cross, a picture of Our Lord, a Bible, and a breviary. But the cell also had a little window looking out onto the garden, and St. John would often stand there for a long time in prayer. Father Louis de Saint-Ange often found him there admiring the flowers in the garden by day and the stars in the sky by night (manuscript in the Vatican).
Brother Brocard of St. Peter's relates that St. John enjoyed the beauties of nature and often took his monks with him out into the open countryside, either to pray among the rocks and woods or to relax by working in the fields, or simply just to go for a walk, for John was very human. Everybody would set out together across the fields, along with a few lay friends and benefactors. They usually stopped by a small spring and had a light picnic on the grass. John generally took nothing, but he liked to entertain his monks (manuscript at Ubeda).
To a monk who asked him why he sent them out so often, John replied: "I'm afraid that you might want to run away if I left you shut up in the monastery for too long." But these outings were contemplative. Both by word and example, St. John led his monks in prayer. As soon as they arrived at a beautiful place John began to sing the praises of the wonders of creation that were spread out before him. He went into raptures over the beauties of nature, which were a reflection of divine beauty. He saw God reflected in the flowers of the field (manuscript in the Vatican). And yet he later wrote: "It is all ugliness."
One day he took his monks to the bank of a river, and while they enjoyed themselves in cheerful recreation, St. John sat at the water's edge and watched the little fish flashing about in the clear water. Suddenly he called to his companions: "Come and see these little creatures of God. How well they worship the Almighty!" Seized with divine enthusiasm, the saint gradually lost consciousness and went into ecstasy. The monks withdrew in silence (manuscript in the Vatican).
This austere saint--"terrible, bleeding, his eyes cold and dry"-- nevertheless pampered his brothers when they were sick. If one of them had no appetite, John would at once buy the finest delicacies and try to tempt him with them. While prior at Granada, he offered a convalescent all sorts of tidbits, and when the patient refused them, he said: "Very well, my son. I'll prepare something special for you myself and use one of my own recipes." He sent for a small fowl, which he lovingly prepared himself and then served it to the sick man. "I'm sure you'll find it good," he said. The patient devoured the dish with a good appetite (History, Fr. Jerome of St. Joseph).
For a time St. John was reconciled to the general of his order. He became vicar provincial of Andalusia in 1585 and three years later prior at Segovia, and established several new monasteries in the next few years.
St. John also loved the little people. The barber of Segovia, an honest man who was deeply impressed by the poverty of the monks, refused any payment for his services and was even reluctant to take a meal at the monastery, fearing that his portion might belong to one of the monks. One day he tried to leave before he could be invited to join them for a meal, but John caught up with him, urged him to stay and eat, and added with a touch of mischief: "Unless you are forbidden to eat fish." When he left Segovia John insisted on paying a farewell visit to the devoted barber (manuscript in the library of Madrid).
John even looked after his saintly mother by entrusting her to the care of the Carmelite nuns. Catalina Alvarez died and was buried at the Carmel of Medina del Campo. With her son Francis, she had helped John from the very first in his reform of the Carmel at Duruelo and assisted him in restoring the ruins of the first monastery of the Discalced Carmelites.
John was very fond of his brother Francis. He kept him at his side and relied heavily on him. When he went to preach and hear confessions in the poor and deserted parishes in the neighborhood-- which he did quite often--he took Francis with him as his travelling companion. He made Francis his confidant, and it is thanks to him that we know of John's vision in which he asked Christ to "let us suffer, be despised and held as nothing for your sake."
A short while before his death, Francis returned to Segovia. John had sent for him, for he knew that they would not see each other again on this earth and so he wanted to spend a few days with him. They spent long hours talking together, and when after two or three days Francis decided to return to Medina, John said: "Don't be in such a hurry. Who knows when we'll ever see each other again?"
Disputes broke out once again among the Spanish Carmelites, and St. John withdrew to complete solitude during the last year of his life (1591). The Madrid chapter general deprived him of all his offices and sent him as a simple monk to La Penuela because of his support of the moderate faction in the Discalced Carmelites. John had been threatened by expulsion from the new order he had so tenaciously fought to establish.
Worn out, John was sent to the monastery of Ubeda. On the way his travelling companion, alarmed at seeing that the old man could not eat anything, said: "But what would you like to eat, Father?" "Nothing," replied John, "or perhaps some asparagus, if you have any." Think of it! Asparagus! It's a luxury in Spain. John, the "Doctor of Nothing" was asking, almost challenging God to send him his treat. And there, upon the parapet of a bridge, was a bunch of asparagus. Someone must have left it there providentially or lost it. John, in a gesture of supreme delicacy, told his companion to leave some money in payment.
And so what are we to conclude? What John wanted to say when he wrote in the prologue to The Living Flame of Love: "O Lord, you love discretion, light and love more than works. Therefore these pages will give discretion to those who wish to advance, light to lighten the way, and above all, they will give love."
Discretion, common sense, balance. The uncomfortable but vital balance of the man who, with God's help, detaches himself from the world but without becoming attached to his own detachment. The balance of the man who, with God's help, sees God in nature and loves Him through it. The balance of John who found everything in God:
Mine are the heavens and the earth,
Mine are the people,
The just and the sinners are mine;
The angels are mine
And the Mother of God
And all things are mine
God himself is mine
For Christ is mine.
(Bentley, Encyclopedia, McDonnell).
In art St. John is represented as a Carmelite writing before the crucifix. There is a cross in the heavens from which light descends. Sometimes the picture will show (1) an eagle at his feet with a pen in its beak; (2) him blessed by the Virgin and Child; (3) him kneeling before the picture Ecce Homo, which speaks to him; or (4) him holding a statue of the Virgin (Roeder).
Mary di Rosa (Maria Crocifisa di Rosa) V (RM)
Born in Brescia, Italy, November 6, 1813; died December 15, 1855; canonized 1954.
Maria di Rosa, nee Paula Francesca Maria, quite simply wore out her frail body serving those in need in her native Brescia from the age of 17 until she died at 42.
Maria was one of nine children born to Countess Camilla Albani and Clement di Rosa, an industrialist who owned a large spinning mill and a bench in the church. It was a happy family, whose religious devotions were regular and well-balanced. The countess died when Maria was 10, but life didn't change much for the family routine was well-established. The Visitandine sisters took charge of the di Rosa sisters and taught them the catechism, sewing, cooking, music, poetry, manners, and introduced the girls to the Introduction to the Devout Life.
When she was older, Maria took charge of her father's house and servants. She often invited her confessor, Msgr. Faustino Pinzoni, to dinner. Out of concern that she was becoming too religious, her father set about finding her a husband. Maria told her confessor, who in turn convinced Clement to leave her in peace until she was ready for marriage.
Caring for her father's home was not enough. Maria longed to take seriously Jesus's words that whoever helped the least of his brethren did it for him. "I suffer from seeing suffering," she once said. Mary began to help in any way she could the downtrodden factory workers of Brescia, especially women and children whose working conditions were atrocious. Her father did nothing to prevent Maria from attending to the spiritual and material needs of his underpaid workers. She was daily visiting the hospitals, taking special care for the deaf and dumb.
And at age 27 she set herself to put all this work on a properly organized basis. Together with the widow Gabriela Bornati she founded the society of Handmaids of Charity. The sole purpose of the Handmaids was to minister to the material needs of those afflicted by poverty or disease. Maria forsook her life of luxury and worked day and night, while heading a school for abandoned girls and tending to the sick of the hospital by cleaning rooms and caring for souls.
Her father was upset at seeing Maria so ill-housed in a hut by the hospital and offered the women a pleasant house, where Gabriela died in 1843. Within three years of the founding of the order, the women had more work than they could have imagined.
First, northern Italy was brutally punished by the Austrians when it revolted in 1852. The Handmaids cared for the soldiers of both sides. The order flourished and soon there were 25 sisters to help in their mission under the spiritual direction of Father Luigi Bianchini, successor to Msgr. Pinzoni. On October 24, 1850, they were received and approved by Piux IX; another two years of red tape and, at age 39, Miss di Rosa adopted the name of Maria Crocifissa. The Austrian war was soon followed by the disastrous cholera epidemic of 1852, which gave the members of the order as much work as anyone could bear.
The order worked in schools, orphanages, and hospitals. Three years later Maria, who had always neglected her health to care for others, changed places with them and died (Attwater, Bentley, Encyclopedia).
Matronianus of Milan, Hermit (RM)
Dates unknown. A native of Milan, Italy, who became a hermit, and whose relics are said to have been enshrined by Saint Ambrose in the church of San Nazario (Benedictines).
Pompeius of Pavia B (RM)
Died c. 290. Bishop of Pavia (Benedictines).
Venantius Fortunatus B (AC)
Born near Treviso, Italy, c. 535; died c. 605.
Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus spent his childhood in Aquileia, Italy, which had been ravaged the century before by Attila the Hun. He was educated in grammar, rhetoric, and law at Ravenna, Italy, and, when he completed his studies about 565, went on a two-year trek to Tours via Germany. In Tours he became a friend of Bishop Euphronius.
Venantius then moved on to the Loire Valley, where the air is sweet, the wine good, and finally ended up in Poitiers. For some 20 years (567-87) he lived at Poitiers, putting aside his pilgrim's staff and bag at the Convent of the Holy Cross. He became both spiritual and temporal counselor to the community of nuns. There he was ordained and became adviser and secretary of King Clotaire I's wife, Radegund, and her adopted daughter at their convent there. In about 600 Venantius was appointed bishop of Poitiers. Once in the episcopal seat he became a model of temperance
Venantius was a happy man with an easy sense of humor. Prior to his ordination frequently rhymed to pay for his dinner, following the customs of the troubadours. Venantius lived with verve. His writings exhibit a man of good cheer, pure charity, gratitude, and a humble heart. He sang of the Cross which is "the instrument of our health," but the gallows of torture erected on Golgotha on Good Friday are fully radiant with the light of Easter. "The happy tree on the arms of which hung the ransom of the world" became the tree of liberty to the children of God, the emblem of health. The holy man who loved food and joy and whose virtues have been celebrated in a continuous cultus, died "in the midst of universal regret" at Poitiers.
A fluent versifier, he wrote voluminously. Among his works were metrical lives of Saints Martin of Tours, Hilary of Poitiers, Germanus of Paris, Albinus of Angers, Paternus of Avranches, Marcellus of Paris, Radegund, and other religious figures.
His life of St. Martin includes the stories of Sulpicius Severus and Paulinus of Perigeux in 2,243 hexameters. Prolific! This was actually a paen to the saint who restored his failing sight. It is said that he made a pilgrimage to St. Martin's tomb, prayed for the saint's intercession, and his blindness was completely cured.
Additionally, he wrote poems about a trip on the Mosel, on church construction, and on the marriage of King Sigebert and Brunehilde in 566; elegies on the deaths of Brunehilde's sister, Queen Galeswintha, and Radegund's cousin, Amalafried.
He is also the composer of several outstanding hymns, notably Pange Lingua gloriosi, Vexilla Regis prodeunt, Agnoscat omne saeculum, and, possibly, Ave Maris Stella and Quem terra, pontus, aethera.
His poems revealed much valuable information about his times, Merovingian figures and customs, family life, descriptions of buildings, works of art, and the status of women (Delaney, Encyclopedia).
Viator of Bergamo B (RM)
Died c. 378. Said to have been one of the first bishops of Brescia, and later of Bergamo, during the first century. Probably he never was bishop of Brescia, but only of Bergamo, from 344 to 378 (Benedictines).
About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.