Anthony of Padua: The Wonder-Working Saint

 

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Originally posted in June 2016:

You’ve lost your wallet with your driver’s license, credit cards, and money just withdrawn from the ATM. Quick — who ya gonna call? Chances are, if you’re like most Catholics, you’ll enlist the aid of St. Anthony of Padua, renowned for his ability to recover everything from a missing child to a misplaced set of house keys. But this is only one of the many powers attributed to this extraordinary saint, acknowledged as one of the greatest miracle workers of all time.

He began his remarkable life at Lisbon, Portugal in 1195 and was christened “Fernando.” Little is known of his early years. Experts cannot even agree on his parents’ names, but it is generally believed they were wealthy members of the nobility. He was educated at the Cathedral school in Lisbon, and at the age of 15 joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. In 1212 he was transferred to Coimbra in order to devote himself more fully to prayer and study, away from the distraction of frequent visits by family and friends.

In 1220, Don Pedro, Crown Prince of Portugal, brought from Morocco the relics of the first Franciscan martyrs. Seized with a new zeal to be a missionary and martyr, he left the Augustinians to join the Franciscan Order, founded about a decade earlier in Assisi by Francesco Bernardone (who would become known as Francis of Assisi). He took the name Anthony after Antony of Egypt, founder and father of organized Christian monasticism. Shortly thereafter, he was permitted to go as a missionary to Morocco, but God had other plans for him.

Immediately upon his arrival, he became so ill with malaria that he was forced to return to Europe. The ship on which he booked passage was diverted off course by severe storms and docked in Sicily. He recuperated there for several months, then went to Assisi, where he was assigned to the hermitage near Forli, a town outside Bologna. Although a brilliant scholar with a profound knowledge of Scripture, his great humility caused him to say nothing of his scholastic achievements. He lived quietly, serving the other Brothers and working in the kitchen.

One day, he accompanied some other Friars to Forli for an ordination. At the last minute there was no one available to preach, and in desperation the Superior asked Anthony to speak whatever the Holy Spirit prompted. Things would never be the same again! Although timid at first, Anthony was soon preaching so eloquently and fervently that everyone was amazed. Thus began the aspect of his public life for which he would become the most renowned: preaching.  “When the Holy Spirit enters a soul,” he wrote, “He fills it with His fire and lets it enkindle others.”  He had all the qualities of a successful preacher: a charismatic presence, clear, resonant voice, attractive appearance and magnetic personality. Although the Franciscans were guarded in their attitude toward book learning, Francis was so impressed by Anthony’s newly-discovered ability that he appointed him as teacher of theology to the Franciscans.

During the remainder of his short life, Anthony’s achievements were astounding. Crowds numbering over 30,000 flocked to hear him speak. He preached so forcefully against heresy, he became known as malleus hereticorum, “Hammer of the Heretics.” Thousands of conversions followed his compelling sermons, and miracles abounded wherever he went. Many of these miracles are legendary: Along the coast of Rimini, fish rose out of the water as he preached. Poisoned food offered to Anthony by his enemies was rendered harmless after he made the sign of the cross over it. A young man’s amputated foot was miraculously restored at Anthony’s touch.

In 1226, after the death of Francis of Assisi, Anthony eventually made his home in Padua, where he was greatly revered. During Lent in 1231 he preached a powerful series of sermons that were to be his last. Shortly after Easter he became fatally ill with edema, and died in Vercelli on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36. Immediately after his death he appeared to Thomas Gallo, the Abbott at Vercelli. Numerous miracles followed, and he was canonized on May 30, 1232, less than a year later — one of the fastest canonization processes in the Church’s history! Pope Gregory IX, who had known him personally, called Anthony the “Ark of the Covenant,” because of his prodigious knowledge of Holy Scripture.

Thirty years later, Anthony’s body was exhumed and his tongue found to be perfectly preserved. It remains uncorrupt to this day. When St. Bonaventure beheld this miracle, he exclaimed, “O Blessed Tongue, that always praised the Lord and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit you have before God!”

So how did he come to be regarded as “Finder of the Lost?” It all began with a cherished book of Psalms belonging to Anthony, in which he kept written notes for use in teaching theology to the friars. One day a novice suddenly deserted the monastery, taking with him, for reasons unknown, Anthony’s precious Psalm book. Anthony pleaded with Heaven for its return. The novice soon had a change of heart and not only returned the book, but rejoined the Franciscan Order. After Anthony’s death, people invoked his help in finding lost and stolen things, and so many of these were recovered that he became known as the patron saint of lost articles.

His patronage also includes: amputees, animals, barrenness, boatmen, donkeys, the elderly, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mariners, Native Americans, the oppressed, the poor, Portugal, the Tigua Indian tribe, travelers, against shipwrecks and starvation. In paintings St. Anthony is often depicted holding the Child Jesus. This custom dates back to a 17th-century legend which says that while staying at a friend’s house, Anthony was spied on by his host, who found him in a state of rapture with the Christ Child in his arms.

Today, more than 750 years after his death, Anthony of Padua is one of the most popular and powerful saints of the Church, the many miracles attributed to him over the centuries earning him the title of “The Wonder-Working Saint.” His Feast Day is June 13th.

TRADITIONAL PRAYER TO ST. ANTHONY

Holy Saint Anthony, gentle and powerful in your help, your love for God and charity for His creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were always ready to request for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me (request). The answer to my prayer may require a miracle. Even so, you are the Saint of miracles. Gentle and loving Saint Anthony, whose heart is ever full of human sympathy, take my petition to the Infant Savior for whom you have such a great love, and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.

The Smiling Man

With love and praise to the Holy Spirit on this Pentecost Sunday

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Originally posted in 2016:

The 1990’s were for me a time of spiritual searching. I had always believed in God and had always been able to speak to Him as a Friend and Father. However, at this time I had many unresolved questions about destiny, my purpose, life in general. I was at the time of life that many of us eventually encounter, when we search for deeper meaning and purpose in our existence.

In church one day, during this period of questioning and searching, I found a prayer to the Holy Spirit written by Cardinal Mercier, a Belgian Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, who lived from 1851 to 1926. The prayer was short and simple and promised to be a life-changer if said faithfully every day. The prayer card quoted Cardinal Mercier as follows:

“I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to all the noises of the world. Then, in the sanctuary of your baptized soul (which is the temple of the Holy Spirit) speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:

‘O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me know only Your Will.’”

Cardinal Mercier went on to say that if you said the prayer daily, you would receive the serenity, consolation, grace and strength of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of trials.

I didn’t know much at that time about the Holy Spirit, except for what most Christians know: He is the Third Person of the Trinity, He came to the Apostles at Pentecost, and at Confirmation He infuses us with His gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord (awe). But all of these were only facts I had learned in Catechism class, not truths that I felt or understood on a deep, personal level. However, I decided to say the prayer every day and see what happened.

What gradually did occur when I put my trust in the Holy Spirit transformed my life and my relationship with God in ways I never imagined. I didn’t get all the answers to every question I had, but insights started to emerge – not the faltering human attempts at reason that the conscious mind produces, but serene, gracious, perfectly wise and loving answers that I knew were coming from a Source far greater than anything in my own power. I knew with deepest certainty that they were the true answers, because they reflected only the highest values and motives that I knew to be Truth, even at times when my human, conscious mind had been thinking just the opposite or had no answers at all.

Other changes began occurring. Because of the loving wisdom I was now perceiving in my life, God’s love became truly personal to me, a tangible thing, not merely the abstract concept I had grasped only partially before, which had consisted of thoughts like, “Yeah, I know God loves me. He has to love me, since God is Love and He created me.” Now God’s love and guidance became a real, vibrant force, not an idea or theory. Now when I heard Scripture being read or a sermon being given, I was grasping them with an understanding that really related them to my own life. I became aware that I was surrounded by love, protection and guidance from unseen sources that were as real as anything that existed in the material world – actually, more real! The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit took on meaning as powerful graces that were alive and working in my life and were mine for the asking, not just words to be memorized. I entrusted my life and my future to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and asked Him to bless me with the gifts necessary to do whatever work God had planned for me.

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At this time, I was also doing a lot of dream work, studying about dreams and keeping a dream journal. Many times, I would pray and meditate upon a question at bedtime and see what insights I might receive in my dreams. I was a vivid dreamer, and would often have detailed dreams full of personal symbolism and meaning, which I faithfully recorded and worked on interpreting (more about dreams in a future blog article)!

In March of 1995, I began praying to the Holy Spirit at bedtime, asking Him: “Please help my unbelief, and show me what serving You will mean to me.” I also requested that the Holy Spirit would show me a way to visualize Him that would be more personal than the customary depiction of Him as a dove, tongues of fire, or wind, which were hard for me to relate to. I asked Him to send me a “Divine dream.”

On the night of March 25, 1995, I received an answer in the form of the following dream, which I call “The Smiling Man:”

In the dream, I am in a building that resembled an office building. I don’t know where or why I am there. As I walk through this building, I pass a man who is looking at me with a big, friendly smile. I don’t recognize him as anyone I know. I am wondering who he is. He certainly seems to know me, since he is smiling at me in such a familiar way. So I ask a woman nearby who that man is. She replies, “Oh, that’s the Holy Spirit!” I am thrilled and awed to be seeing Him, yet I’m surprised that he looks like a mortal, human man.

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I don’t recall now exactly what He looked like, but the thing that stands out in my memory was that radiant smile He was directing at me. He looked like an ordinary person – no fanfare, no great rays of light beaming from Him, no resplendent garments, nothing “biblical” in the least – just an ordinary man with a beautiful smile.

In the next scene of the dream, I am starting a new job in that same office building, and I am introduced to the group of men for whom I will be working. They all look like the man who had been identified to me as the Holy Spirit! I remark to someone standing nearby, “Well, since they all resemble the Holy Spirit, at least I’ll get a chance to see what it’s like to work for Him! I’ll see what kind of a boss He is!” There the dream ended.

Upon awakening from this dream (it was the middle of the night), I immediately closed my eyes again to see if I could get back into the dream or see some imagery to expand upon the dream. After a few seconds of lying there with my eyes closed, I suddenly saw an image of a page with writing on it that looked like a piece of verse. I barely had time to read it before it faded and I woke up completely. I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the words of the verse:

“Every time you hear selfless human words,

Feel loving emotions,

Or help another soul,

I am there.

My Truth is in everything you do with high motives.

Live your life with spiritual Light –

You will know Me.”

These beautiful words made clear to me the meaning of the dream: The Holy Spirit had looked like an “ordinary person” because He wants me to know that God is within every person we meet. We don’t always recognize Him  — as I didn’t recognize the man in my dream as being the Holy Spirit — but He knows us intimately and loves us with an unsurpassed love, symbolized by the man’s bright, beautiful, loving smile.

In the dream I was working for men who also “resembled the Holy Spirit” and I was curious to see what working for Him would be like, what kind of “boss” He would be. To me this part of the dream symbolizes that when we serve our fellow humans, we are serving God as well.  The opportunities to serve God are often disguised as ordinary tasks of daily life.  This answered my bedtime prayer of asking the Holy Spirit to “show me what serving You would mean to me.” (Thank You, Holy Spirit!)

As Pentecost Sunday approaches, I share this dream as an encouragement to anyone who has not yet discovered what a wonderful Friend (and “Boss”) the Holy Spirit can be.  I urge you to seek Him out, ask Him to manifest in your life and draw you closer to Him. He will enlighten and guide You and share His marvelous gifts with you, if you will only open up and let His light in. As the dream symbolized, by serving our fellow humans and living in the light of the Holy Spirit, we will find true happiness and peace, and we will know God.

Happy Pentecost!

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Bernadette of Lourdes: Saint of Simplicity

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Bernadette Soubirous

PART ONE OF TWO

On January 9, 1844 in Lourdes, a town at the foot of the Pyrenees in southwest France, two-day-old Bernadette Soubirous was being baptized. Much to the embarrassment of her relatives, she wailed incessantly throughout the entire ceremony. “All she does is cry,” her godfather complained on the way home. “She’ll be a bad one!”

Bernadette, the first child of the miller François and his wife, Louise, spent the first 10 years of her life at the Boly Mill, which her father operated. Then, in 1854, the business fell on hard times. The family, which now had grown to six, was evicted and forced to move into the dungeon room of a former prison, considered too damp and unhealthy to house criminals any longer. Despite their extreme poverty and deplorable living conditions, the Soubirous were devout and close-knit family.

Spirited, fun-loving Bernadette was petite and pretty, with a round face, beautiful chestnut hair and gentle, velvety dark-brown eyes. As the eldest daughter, she cheerfully and efficiently performed all the traditional family duties expected of her. Although of delicate health, she was to all outward appearances an ordinary, unremarkable young girl. But on February 11, 1858, when Bernadette was 14, she had an experience that would change her life beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

While gathering wood in the grotto at Massabielle, she saw an indescribably beautiful young lady dressed in a white veil and a white gown tied with a blue sash, standing in a niche above her. The Lady had a rosary on her arm and golden roses on her bare feet. She smiled at Bernadette and held out her arms in welcome. The astonished girl fell to her knees, instinctively reached for her rosary, and began to pray.

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The Lady of Lourdes (“Aquero”) as described by Bernadette

This was the first of 18 apparitions occurring over a five-month period. During the third apparition, the Lady spoke for the first time. With a tender smile, she asked Bernadette, “Would you have the kindness come here for 15 days?” At Bernadette’s consent, the Lady added, “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.”

For many weeks, Bernadette had no idea who the Lady was; she referred to her simply as “Aquero” (“that one”). When, at the urging of her companions, Bernadette offered the Lady pen and paper to write her name, the Lady laughed gently and replied, “It is not necessary.” On February 25, at the Lady’s direction, Bernadette unearthed an underground spring, which ever since has been a miraculous source of spiritual and physical healing.

“Aquero” finally revealed her identity during the 16th apparition on March 25, feast of the Annunciation. Folding her hands and raising her eyes to heaven, she said: “Que soy era Immaculada Counchetsiou (I am the Immaculate Conception).” So as not to forget, Bernadette silently repeated the unfamiliar words all the way to the rectory, where she dutifully reported them to the pastor, Fr. Peyramale. It was only after the priest explained the meaning of the words to her that Bernadette finally knew that “Aquero”  was the Blessed Virgin Mary.

In July 1866, Bernadette left Lourdes forever to join the order of the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, where she took the name Sr. Marie-Bernarde and served as Infirmarian and Sacristan. Her health continue to decline steadily, and she died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. She was beatified on June 14, 1925 and canonized on December 8, 1933. She is buried at the Convent of St. Gildard at Nevers. Her body remains mostly incorrupt to this day.

THE SPIRITUALITY OF BERNADETTE

Bernadette’s holiness was humble, straightforward, and unpretentious. She possessed no great knowledge of theology; she was, in fact, a poor student who struggled to memorize her lessons. Her nurse, Marie Lagues, became so frustrated trying to teach the young Bernadette catechism, she threw a book across the room and shouted at the crying girl, “You’ll never know anything!”

Bernadette did not perform heroic deeds or suffer martyrdom; she died quietly in a French convent after a long and painful illness. She did not seek out suffering or extreme mortification, but accepted with grace and courage the many trials, pain, and humiliations life handed her.

She has been compared with St. Therese of Lisieux, who was 6½ years old when Bernadette died in 1879. In actuality, Bernadette was living the “Little Way” years before Therese was born. Yet, unlike Therese, who left such prolific spiritual writings that she was declared a Doctor of the Church, Bernadette has been called “the most secretive of all the saints,” because she was not given to deeply analytical, sentimental, or effusive discourses on spiritual matters. She lived her faith naturally and instinctively.

In this simplicity lies Bernadette’s appeal. She is a model we can emulate, someone whose common-sense spirituality is down-to-earth and approachable. In fact, Bernadette herself insisted on learning about the faults and spiritual trials of the saints, which humanized them and inspired her to overcome her own shortcomings. Similarly, in this series we will explore the virtues and struggles of this charmingly simple, humble saint.

Mirror of Mary

Like Mary of Nazareth, Bernadette’s life was one of poverty, humility, obedience, fortitude, and total dedication to doing the will of God. In his excellent biography, Bernadette Speaks, Fr. Rene Laurentin writes: “Chosen by God, Bernadette splendidly demonstrated the happiness of the poor. This child, unknown or disregarded, would be proclaimed blessed by all.” Father Raffin, a witness at Bernadette’s beatification process, stated: “She delighted in saying that if she had been chosen…by the Blessed Virgin, it was because of her littleness, her lowliness, so that all honor would revert to the Blessed Virgin and to the glory of God.”

Humility

Bernadette did not take pride in the great spiritual favors she had been accorded or feel she deserved them; yet neither did she resort to contrived displays of false humility. Her attitude was well-balanced and tinged with good-natured humor. “The Blessed Virgin picked me up like a pebble,” she would remark. Bernadette’s humility was the result of her awareness of being only an instrument of the Divine, of being nothing without God’s great love. “I was like a broomstick for the Blessed Virgin. When she no longer needed me, she put me in my place behind the door,” she said, adding happily, “Here I am and here I’ll stay!”

For Bernadette, poverty was a means of preserving humility. “I want to stay poor,” she told a journalist who was laying out before her the prospect of wealth. She repeatedly turned down gifts of money that well-meaning people tried to press on her and her family. “It burns me!” she would say.

Even in the convent, she received many visitors who wanted to see her and hear about her extraordinary experiences. These visits became a great trial to Bernadette, who wanted nothing more than to remain hidden and be just an ordinary nun. She did, however, dutifully see visitors when directed to do so by her superiors.

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Illustration of the grotto and miraculous spring at Lourdes during an apparition of the Blessed Virgin to Bernadette Soubirous

One evening, a woman named Felicitie Benoit visited the convent and hoped to meet the famed visionary. While taking a walk with a short, unfamiliar nun, Felicitie asked if she could see Bernadette. “Oh, Mademoiselle!” the sister replied, “Bernadette is just like everyone else!” Felicitie later repeated to another nun her request to see Bernadette. “What?” the sister said in surprise. “You didn’t recognize her? Why, just a little while ago you were strolling with her!”

Sr. Marthe du Rais, a contemporary of Bernadette’s, described her humility: “When she received undeserved reprimands, she would say, ‘The good Lord sees my intentions. Fiat!’ and preserve the same serenity of soul. She remained friendly as before towards people who had caused her pain.” But Bernadette was realistic enough to know that pride is an elemental part of human nature. During a discussion on self-esteem, she made a circle with her thumb and forefinger and said, “Let her who doesn’t have any, put her finger here.”

Acceptance

What hurt Bernadette most was feeling useless and being called “good for nothing.” But she accepted this without bitterness, remaining always grateful to God for the many graces she had received, and to the Congregation at Nevers, whom she felt had accepted her out of charity. Like Therese of Lisieux, she wanted to do great and wonderful deeds for God, but was prevented from doing much because of poor health. She once referred to being sick as “her job.” Believing she was a burden on the motherhouse, especially as her health deteriorated, she would say, “I’m good for nothing. The only thing I can do is pray.”

Obedience

Obedience did not come easily to Bernadette, because of her quick temper, strong will, and exuberant personality. She found it hard to adjust to the strict and confining life of the convent, and sometimes reacted spontaneously despite her best efforts to conform. She would get discouraged, but this only caused her to depend more totally on God’s grace. “How I need the help of God!” she would exclaim.

Perhaps the hardest test of Bernadette’s obedience was the strict order of her superiors at Nevers not to speak to her fellow nuns about the visions of Lourdes. She naturally would have longed to share her extraordinary experience, and the other sisters were bursting with curiosity. Yet, with unflinching  obedience, she kept silent about it.

“Above all, the depth of her obedience was dependent on its relationship to God,” writes René Laurentin. “He is the one whom she obeyed in all things.”

(In Part Two: Bernadette’s characteristics and challenges)

 

 

Catherine Laboure: Saint of the Miraculous Medal-Part 1

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Part 1: Zoe, “A Good Village Girl”

Although most Catholics, and some non-Catholics, are familiar with the Miraculous Medal and its origin, few know much about St. Catherine Laboure´ (pronounced Lab-oh-ray), the woman to whom the medal was first manifested by the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is not surprising, however, when one considers the personality of Catherine herself and the humility and restraint that characterized her entire life. Yet, she is the woman whose visions ushered in what Pope Paul VI called “the Marian Age,” and she was privileged to enjoy the longest audience with Our Lady of any visionary.

Born on May 2, 1806 in Fain-les-moutiers, France, to Pierre and Madeline Laboure, she was baptized Catherine, but was rarely called by that name. Instead, she was nicknamed “Zoe” after a locally popular saint on whose feast day she was born. The Laboures were a hard-working family who lived comfortably, if not luxuriously, in a spacious house on a large and prosperous farm. Zoe’s father, Pierre, had entered the seminary in his teens, but later changed his mind and became a farmer instead. Though devout, he was a silent, gruff perfectionist who ruled the family with an iron hand. By contrast, Madeline Louise Gontard was from a cultured, respected family and was genteel and saintly. She bore 17 children, 10 of whom survived their first year.

Zoe possessed the best characteristics of each parent — Pierre’s strong will and capability, and Madeline’s gentle, pious nature. Zoe was very close to her mother, their shared deep piety and love of God creating a strong bond between them. But on October 9, 1815, when Zoe was only 9, her mother died of unknown causes at the age of 42. Shortly thereafter, little Zoe climbed up on a chair and took down the family statue of the Blessed Virgin. Hugging it close to her, she whispered, “Now, dear Blessed Mother, you will be my mother!” The deep, loving, close relationship with her heavenly Mother had begun, and would grow and endure for the rest of Zoe’s long and extraordinary life.

In 1816, Pierre’s sister Marguerite and her husband, Antoine Jeanrot, who owned a vinegar distillery in St. Remy, offered to take in Zoe and her younger sister Tonine. Aunt Marguerite and Uncle Antoine were kind and charitable, and the girls were very happy there.  During the two years she lived with them, Zoe continued to grow spiritually and nurture her devotion to Mother Mary. In St. Remy she had plenty of opportunity for spiritual growth. The village had a resident priest, so she was able to attend more services than she had back home. In church, Zoe didn’t fidget and grow distracted like the other children. Kneeling with her hands joined in prayer, she gazed at the altar with a rapt devotion far beyond her years. Her cousin Claudine was amazed at Zoe’s devotion in church and sought to imitate her. “What a pleasure it is to watch Zoe in church,” she often remarked. “How alert she is when she prays!”

Young Zoe was a natural leader and peacemaker among her playmates, yet she was never bossy or arrogant. Though not a pretty child, she was sweet and pleasant. When teased, she would laugh and shrug it off, never taking revenge or feeling sorry for herself. On feast days, the children had the rare treat of candy, which in those days was made at home and considered a luxury. Yet on several occasions Zoe gave her own share to the poor children, who otherwise would never enjoy such a treat. 

Although Zoe had a rich spiritual life, she was sorely lacking in formal education. This is strange, because her mother had been a schoolteacher, her father had pursued graduate studies at the seminary, and her seven oldest siblings had all received a good education. But God used the limited circumstances of Zoe’s life to bring about His perfect plans. From an early age, she aspired to a religious vocation. During her childhood, she did not receive any formal spiritual direction, and was unable to study spiritual matters through books because she had never been taught to read. But because of her constant, deep communion with God, it is obvious that He guided her in the absence of human teachers.

After a couple of years, Zoe’s Aunt Marguerite became increasingly involved in the Jeanrot’s successful distillery business, and Zoe’s oldest sister, Marie-Louise, was preparing to leave home to join the Sisters of Charity. So Pierre decided to bring Zoe and Tonine back home so that Zoe, now 12, could take over Marie-Louise’s task of running the large household. It was a formidable responsibility for such a young girl to care for the household, which consisted of Zoe’s father, sister, and several brothers — one of whom was an invalid — as well as the dozen hired farm hands who had to be fed. Although she was assisted by one servant, Pierre made it clear from the beginning that to Zoe alone fell the duty of ordering the household. All day long, she made beds, washed dishes, did laundry, ironing, sewing and mending, cooked meals, and carried food out to the workers in the fields at midday. Zoe’s favorite household chore was feeding the hundreds of pigeons in the Laboure´ dovecote. The birds loved her and would swirl around her as she laughingly scattered grain on the ground for them.   

On January 25, 1918, Zoe received First Holy Communion in the village church. This event served to deepen and strengthen her devotion and virtue, and from that point on Zoe became, in the words of her sister Tonine, “entirely mystic.” Every day she attended 6:00 a.m. Mass, which meant a half-hour walk in all kinds of weather and often in darkness, to get to the church in Fain, as there was no daily Mass in her own village church. Throughout the day she would go to a corner and take a few moments to commune with God. She sometimes slipped across the street to the village church for the Stations of the Cross (one of her favorite devotions) or a quick prayer in her preferred spot before a painting of the Annunciation. In the evening she would return to church to end her busy day in quiet reflection.

Zoe often visited her sick neighbors, a harbinger of the work she would later do as a Sister of Charity. She fasted every Friday and Saturday, despite the objections of her family. This is one of the first indications of her iron will and determination when she believed herself to be directed by God. Zoe instinctively understood her need for prayer and self-denial. It was as if deep in her soul she knew she was preparing for a great mission.

One night in 1824, Zoe dreamed that she was attending Mass in the village church. The elderly priest saying Mass turned and looked deeply into her eyes. Zoe blushed and looked away, because the old priest’s eyes were so compelling. After Mass, he turned towards the sacristy and motioned to Zoe to follow. Frightened, she turned and ran from the church. On her way home, she stopped to visit a sick woman of the village. Entering the sickroom, she again encountered the old priest. She backed away in fright, but he said to her, “You do well to visit the sick, my child. You flee from me now, but one day you will be glad to come to me!” With these words, Zoe suddenly awakened; but now, instead of fear, she felt a great sense of peace and joy. She was puzzled by the strange dream, however, and would not discover its significance for several years. 

Shortly after this dream, Zoe received the first of several marriage proposals from young men of the district. She was now 20 years old, and although not beautiful, she was pleasant-looking, strong, well-built, nicely groomed, sweet and innocent. Wisdom and kindness shone out of her large, solemn, cornflower-blue eyes, her best feature. She was extremely capable and already highly skilled in the running of a country home — all desirable qualities for a future wife and mother. Zoe’s father was very pleased and tried to persuade her to accept one of the proposals, but since she had plans for the religious life, Zoe naturally turned them all down.

At age 22, feeling that she had fulfilled her responsibility to her family, and knowing that Tonine was quite capable of taking over, she told Pierre of her desire to enter a convent.  Surprisingly, he refused to give his consent. At this time, Zoe’s brother Charles, who lived in Paris and had recently lost his wife, wrote to Pierre that he desperately needed help running his successful restaurant. Pierre felt that this was a perfect opportunity to dissuade Zoe from the religious life. Living in Paris for a while and tasting its delights would show her what she would miss by shutting herself from the world in a convent! After much strong persuasion, Zoe finally agreed to go to Paris. Although she could have run away to a convent and would probably have been accepted, obedience and respect for her father kept her from acting on her own wishes.

The Paris of 1828 was a sparkling, exciting city, a world of art and culture far removed from the sleepy villages where Zoe had spent her early life. Charles’ bistro, however, was a humble establishment, frequented mostly by rough workmen who talked, joked, and quarreled raucously, loudly calling for service from their waitress, Zoe. Not by nature a timid person, she was unafraid of them; nonetheless, she found their vulgarity and bold advances offensive. Her decisive firmness in dealing with them earned her the eventual respect of the clientele, who recognized her goodness and altered their crude manners somewhat in her presence. Without a doubt, this was the lowest point in Zoe’s life. Charles sympathized with his sister’s feelings and tried to shield her as much as possible from any unpleasantness. But as the months wore on, Zoe’s patience was wearing thin and giving way to panic at the prospect of being trapped in her seemingly hopeless situation.

At this point, her brother Hubert’s wife, Jeanne, persuaded Zoe’s father to let Zoe live with them in Chatillon, where Jeanne conducted a boarding school for wealthy young ladies. Although Pierre consented, Zoe did not fit into this environment much better than she did at Charles’ restaurant. Being a 23-year-old unschooled, simple country girl, she was totally out of place among her refined, fashionable, well-educated and much younger schoolmates. 

A few weeks after her arrival in Chatillon, while visiting the Sr. Superior at the Hospice, Zoe noticed a portrait of a priest on the wall of the parlor. With shock, she recognized him as the same man who had appeared in her dream four years earlier! Upon inquiry, she was told that he was St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Sisters of Charity. Her confessor, upon hearing of this, told Zoe, “St. Vincent de Paul calls you! He wishes you to be a Sister of Charity.”

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St. Vincent de Paul, founder of the Sisters of Charity

Now that Zoe’s vocation seemed clear, she set about dealing with the obstacles in her way — namely, gaining the consent of her father and that of the Sr. Superior of the Hospice. Again, Zoe enlisted the aid of Jeanne, who because of her similarity to Zoe’s mother (her cousin), was a great favorite of Pierre’s. Somehow Jeanne convinced him to allow Zoe to enter the convent. He did, however, extract a petty revenge by denying Zoe her dowry. Though this must have hurt Zoe tremendously, she never at any time spoke ill of her father. Fortunately for Zoe, Hubert and Jeanne generously assured her that they would supply the dowry she needed to enter the convent.

Now Zoe had to convince the Sisters of Charity to accept her as a postulant. To all outward appearances, Zoe had little to offer them. She was illiterate and her personality was of the shy, calm, silent type that was often misconstrued as cold and apathetic. But the Assistant Superior, Sr. Francoise Victoire Sejole, who would later become Zoe’s closest friend in the religious life, had gotten to know Zoe well, because Zoe often accompanied her on calls to the sick poor. Sr. Sejole saw past outward appearances to the beauty and depths of Zoe’s soul. She convinced the Sr. Superior Josephine Cany that Zoe was “a good village girl, the kind St. Vincent loved,” and offered to teach Zoe everything she required to enter the seminary in Paris. Sr. Cany agreed, and at last Zoe was free to follow the path God had laid out before her so many years ago.

(Coming up in Part 2: The Visions & Catherine’s Mission)

 

The Traveler

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At a time of my life when I was facing a lot of changes and adjustments as well as new opportunities and possibilities, including a new job, I naturally was feeling excited yet stressed, encouraged yet confused. I was praying about it all, of course, but still felt somewhat overwhelmed. I asked for a sign to help me know what direction to take with some of my goals.  One night, I had the following dream:

Dream: “The Unknown Road”

I am driving my car along a beautiful but unfamiliar country road. I am alone, with no particular destination in mind – just going for a ride on a beautiful summer day. I am driving carefully, especially at intersections, although there is little traffic in that rural area. The scenery is gorgeous, with gentle, rolling green hills in the distance, and the sky is a lovely blue with some puffy cumulus clouds. But then I notice some wisps of black in the sky and became frightened, thinking a storm is approaching. Then I see some men fixing the road up ahead and realize that what I had seen is not black clouds, but smoke coming from a machine that is mixing hot asphalt.

The road then ends at a “T”-type intersection. I don’t know whether to turn left or right. I pull over to the side, stop the car and get out, looking for a street or destination sign, but see none. The scenery here is breathtaking, because up ahead I see beautiful mountains and an enormous cathedral, bigger than any building I’ve ever seen, with the ornate, beautiful architecture common in old cathedrals. As I scan the panorama, I’m dismayed to see some ugly industrial buildings to the right and left in the distance. I think what a shame it is that they’re spoiling the beautiful landscape. The sight of them lends an eerie, desolate aspect to the scenery, giving me a creepy feeling. I wonder if I should ask someone where I am, so that I can figure out how to get back home. At first I resist, because I really had wanted to figure it out for myself, but with no signs to guide me, it doesn’t seem possible. I realize that I’ll have to ask for directions.

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When I awoke, I realized how perfectly symbolic this dream was of my current situation. Roads, of course, symbolize the path we are taking in life. The road I was on, though beautiful, was rather narrow, which brought to mind “the narrow way” mentioned in the Gospels, and it was long and winding, showing that I still have far to go. The black clouds that I saw, which turned out to be harmless smoke from a truck doing street repairs, seemed to mean that some of my fears were groundless, and that my attempts to “repair” the things that are wrong in my life might be scary and upsetting sometimes, but necessary.

The T-intersection symbolized the fact that I can’t travel in the same direction forever; eventually I will come to a crossroads and have to make a decision and choose a new direction. I believed that the great cathedral in the distance represented my spiritual aspirations, and its huge size showed that it was an extremely important aspect of my life. The industrial buildings made me feel “creepy” and also angry at the way they ruined the beautiful landscape. Since industry is another word for work, I felt that they symbolized my fear of being overwhelmed with work to the point where I’d be unable to fulfill my higher ambitions and spiritual growth.

The dream was inconclusive, because it ended with my still being at the crossroads. To get more insight into this dream and what it might be trying to tell me, I put my mind into a passive, receptive state and did some journaling, which often results in spontaneous words and insights flooding into my mind (I call this “The Writing”). I received the following inspiration about my dream:

Become as a traveler who is not totally sure of the way, so he asks Someone who knows the area well to guide him. From the traveler’s viewpoint, sometimes the road will be deceptive. He might think one direction will lead him where he wants to go, only to find that it winds around and around, and he ends up back where he started. The wise traveler will admit his ignorance of the way and seek help. He will follow the direction of a knowledgeable person, even though sometimes the road that is pointed out seems like it could not possibly be the right one. The shortest path is sometimes the wrong one, and the experienced guide will know this, but the traveler, who is unfamiliar with the territory, will not.

“If sometimes the road ahead looks deceptively easy and you are fooled into thinking it is the right one, you might get lost. But if you seek the help of God, Who knows the way, you will never go wrong. You still might have to travel a great distance, go over many obstacles and follow a very tortuous road, but in the end you will reach your goal.

“The traveler who goes nowhere is the one who is too proud to ask directions, who goes his own way no matter what the circumstances. Do not be like this traveler, but like the one who is humble enough to know when he needs guidance.

“Ignore those who will tell you that sometimes you must hurt others to get ahead. If you aspire to this sort of success, you are on the wrong path. ‘Getting ahead’ this way is only a euphemism for selfishly grasping at things that are only temporary. This will give you nothing but grief. You will ponder on what you achieved and find it empty. Honor first what God has asked of you — to use your gifts for the benefit of others and to glorify God. If you do this, you will achieve your goals, find true contentment, and overcome the obstacles which hinder your growth. This will give you a freedom that no earthly success can ever give. Do not heed the discordant voices that try to lead you astray. They are only empty noise in a space that is devoid of any true peace or happiness.

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God’s Peace

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Some years ago, a friend confided that she had a lot of trouble praying and meditating in her house, because her husband had retired and was home much of the time. Their house was small, and he often had the TV or radio on, and so there was always background noise, even if she went into another room. She did not drive, so she couldn’t go to a quieter place except for the times that I took her with me to attend a Holy Hour in my parish’s 24-hour chapel, or on Sundays when she and her husband went to Mass. I said I understood, because although my husband worked, on the days he was home I had much the same situation. Neither of our husbands was the type to engage in shared prayer sessions, and besides, there are times when one needs to have private time with God.

Shortly after this discussion, during my meditation time I heard the following words in my mind: “Better to get God’s peace in a noisy house than to go without it in silence.” (I modified it somewhat in the above picture quote to make it more generally applicable).

I shared this message with my friend, and we had to admit the truth of it. God’s peace and presence must be found in our hearts and souls; it is not dependent on anything external. There are many people who live busy lives and work amid much commotion and noise, and yet they manage to maintain their inner composure and have a wonderful relationship with God and other people. On the other hand, many of us know reclusive people who live alone in what are probably very quiet homes, yet they are bitter, lonely and isolated, empty of any inner serenity or joy.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t seek solitude and silence, ideally on a regular basis. Our minds and souls need this rest, this respite from noise, confusion, interruptions, and the many demands of modern life with its overload of information and dependence on electronic devices. It is essential that we disconnect from our devices for a period of time each day, take a break from work, from TV, video games, social media and other diversions, and spend some quiet time with God in prayer and meditation. But for some people, it can be very difficult to find a few quiet minutes of uninterrupted solitude.

Moms with babies and toddlers, people with demanding careers, busy students, caregivers for the seriously ill or disabled, or even retired people like my friend who find that the unaccustomed constant presence of their spouse takes a good deal of adjustment — these are some of the circumstances that can make quiet time with God a real challenge. As much as we might crave God’s peace in our hearts, we all have times when this seems difficult to find. But if we realize that we can still attune our minds and hearts to God, no matter what our surroundings or circumstances, we won’t need to feel upset or guilty when life doesn’t give us many moments of privacy and silence.

We can take advantage of every moment — waking or sleeping — by making our very lives a prayer. Here are some tips:

  • While doing repetitive chores like housework, gardening, bathing or feeding a baby, etc., talk inwardly to God about your feelings, problems, challenges, goals, and your concern for family, friends, and the troubles in the world.
  • Take advantage of commuting time to pray or listen to inspiring, soothing music or audiobooks that make you feel more peaceful and closer to God. If you’d like to read the Bible but find it too time-consuming to sit down and read it every day, you can find a good recorded Bible and listen to it during your commute. If you’re in your car, any of this can be done without jeopardizing your safety — listening to a recording or speaking to God is no more distracting than talking to someone in the passenger seat or on a hands-free cell phone. If you’re on public transit, you can put on your headset, close your eyes, and immediately be transported mentally to another, more peaceful place.
  • Before starting your workday, during which you know you will have no time to pray or quiet your mind, silently offer to God as a prayer all the day’s work, the little successes as well as the annoyances and irritations. God will take them all and use them for your greater good. He will guide your efforts and decisions throughout the day, if you ask Him.
  • You don’t have to be down on your knees or in a church, or even in a quiet room to talk to God. God has no hearing problem; He can hear you even in the midst of a noisy crowd or while you’re running the vacuum cleaner!
  • If you are able to drive or are within walking distance of a park, a nature trail, or a church or chapel, take advantage of this change of scenery to put you back in touch with your inner life. It’s hard not to feel close to God when you are out in the beauty of nature, or in the peaceful hush of a chapel. Even if you just walk or sit without words, God will know what is in your heart.
  • Years ago I used to do a lot of embroidery, and I found this a wonderful time to pray silently or listen to inspirational music or prayer recordings. My personal favorites at that time were the wonderful music of John Michael Talbot, or praying along with a rosary cassette tape. Whenever I was working on an embroidery project that I intended to give someone as a gift, I thought about and prayed for the recipient as I stitched. I always liked to think that I was stitching lots of “good vibes” into it along with the thread, and that these would bless the person who would eventually receive the gift. You might try this if you are a “crafty” person who likes to make things for other people.
  • If you live in a noisy environment, get yourself a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. You can listen to non-distracting background music, soothing sound effects (water, birdsong, wind chimes, etc.), or white noise while you pray, and the noise of your surroundings will be much less intrusive.
  • Remember to listen as well as talk when you dialogue with God. We need to create a quiet space in our minds for God’s still, small voice to get through. Although it is much easier in a quiet environment, of course, it can be done anywhere. God can speak to us in many ways, and He will use any opportunity. So invite Him to do so, and then be alert for the many ways God will use to answer you!
  • Not only our waking moments can become a prayer — even our sleeping hours can be a means of attunement to God. Before you go to sleep at night, take a few moments to talk to God and ask for guidance and enlightenment while you sleep. This can come in the form of a helpful dream, or you might wake up with the answer to a difficult decision or situation clear in your mind.

Most of all, if we realize that God’s peace is a matter of openness, an attitude of being willing to unite every moment of our lives with the One who created us, who knows and loves us more intimately than any human ever could, we won’t have to become frustrated or anxious when our outer world does not align with our idea of a peaceful life. God’s presence, love, comfort and serenity don’t require ideal situations to permeate the mind and soul. Although we should never stop trying to find peaceful moments in our daily routines, just invite God in and He will make Himself at home — even in your noisy house!

 

Anthony of Padua: The Wonder-Working Saint

 

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You’ve lost your wallet with your driver’s license, credit cards, and money just withdrawn from the ATM. Quick — who ya gonna call? Chances are, if you’re like most Catholics, you’ll enlist the aid of St. Anthony of Padua, renowned for his ability to recover everything from a missing child to a misplaced set of house keys. But this is only one of the many powers attributed to this extraordinary saint, acknowledged as one of the greatest miracle workers of all time.

He began his remarkable life at Lisbon, Portugal in 1195 and was christened “Fernando.” Little is known of his early years. Experts cannot even agree on his parents’ names, but it is generally believed they were wealthy members of the nobility. He was educated at the Cathedral school in Lisbon, and at the age of 15 joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. In 1212 he was transferred to Coimbra in order to devote himself more fully to prayer and study, away from the distraction of frequent visits by family and friends.

In 1220, Don Pedro, Crown Prince of Portugal, brought from Morocco the relics of the first Franciscan martyrs. Seized with a new zeal to be a missionary and martyr, he left the Augustinians to join the Franciscan Order, founded about a decade earlier in Assisi by Francesco Bernardone (who would become known as Francis of Assisi). He took the name Anthony after Antony of Egypt, founder and father of organized Christian monasticism. Shortly thereafter, he was permitted to go as a missionary to Morocco, but God had other plans for him.

Immediately upon his arrival, he became so ill with malaria that he was forced to return to Europe. The ship on which he booked passage was diverted off course by severe storms and docked in Sicily. He recuperated there for several months, then went to Assisi, where he was assigned to the hermitage near Forli, a town outside Bologna. Although a brilliant scholar with a profound knowledge of Scripture, his great humility caused him to say nothing of his scholastic achievements. He lived quietly, serving the other Brothers and working in the kitchen.

One day, he accompanied some other Friars to Forli for an ordination. At the last minute there was no one available to preach, and in desperation the Superior asked Anthony to speak whatever the Holy Spirit prompted. Things would never be the same again! Although timid at first, Anthony was soon preaching so eloquently and fervently that everyone was amazed. Thus began the aspect of his public life for which he would become the most renowned: preaching.  “When the Holy Spirit enters a soul,” he wrote, “He fills it with His fire and lets it enkindle others.”  He had all the qualities of a successful preacher: a charismatic presence, clear, resonant voice, attractive appearance and magnetic personality. Although the Franciscans were guarded in their attitude toward book learning, Francis was so impressed by Anthony’s newly-discovered ability that he appointed him as teacher of theology to the Franciscans.

During the remainder of his short life, Anthony’s achievements were astounding. Crowds numbering over 30,000 flocked to hear him speak. He preached so forcefully against heresy, he became known as malleus hereticorum, “Hammer of the Heretics.” Thousands of conversions followed his compelling sermons, and miracles abounded wherever he went. Many of these miracles are legendary: Along the coast of Rimini, fish rose out of the water as he preached. Poisoned food offered to Anthony by his enemies was rendered harmless after he made the sign of the cross over it. A young man’s amputated foot was miraculously restored at Anthony’s touch.

In 1226, after the death of Francis of Assisi, Anthony eventually made his home in Padua, where he was greatly revered. During Lent in 1231 he preached a powerful series of sermons that were to be his last. Shortly after Easter he became fatally ill with edema, and died in Vercelli on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36. Immediately after his death he appeared to Thomas Gallo, the Abbott at Vercelli. Numerous miracles followed, and he was canonized on May 30, 1232, less than a year later — one of the fastest canonization processes in the Church’s history! Pope Gregory IX, who had known him personally, called Anthony the “Ark of the Covenant,” because of his prodigious knowledge of Holy Scripture.

Thirty years later, Anthony’s body was exhumed and his tongue found to be perfectly preserved. It remains uncorrupt to this day. When St. Bonaventure beheld this miracle, he exclaimed, “O Blessed Tongue, that always praised the Lord and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit you have before God!”

So how did he come to be regarded as “Finder of the Lost?” It all began with a cherished book of Psalms belonging to Anthony, in which he kept written notes for use in teaching theology to the friars. One day a novice suddenly deserted the monastery, taking with him, for reasons unknown, Anthony’s precious Psalm book. Anthony pleaded with Heaven for its return. The novice soon had a change of heart and not only returned the book, but rejoined the Franciscan Order. After Anthony’s death, people invoked his help in finding lost and stolen things, and so many of these were recovered that he became known as the patron saint of lost articles.

His patronage also includes: amputees, animals, barrenness, boatmen, donkeys, the elderly, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mariners, Native Americans, the oppressed, the poor, Portugal, the Tigua Indian tribe, travelers, against shipwrecks and starvation. In paintings St. Anthony is often depicted holding the Child Jesus. This custom dates back to a 17th-century legend which says that while staying at a friend’s house, Anthony was spied on by his host, who found him in a state of rapture with the Christ Child in his arms.

Today, more than 750 years after his death, Anthony of Padua is one of the most popular and powerful saints of the Church, the many miracles attributed to him over the centuries earning him the title of “The Wonder-Working Saint.” His Feast Day is June 13th

TRADITIONAL PRAYER TO ST. ANTHONY

Holy Saint Anthony, gentle and powerful in your help, your love for God and charity for His creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were always ready to request for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me (request). The answer to my prayer may require a miracle. Even so, you are the Saint of miracles. Gentle and loving Saint Anthony, whose heart is ever full of human sympathy, take my petition to the Infant Savior for whom you have such a great love, and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.