Sunday, November 01, 2020

All Saints

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

André de Soveral, Domingos Carvalho, and the Martyrs of Cunhau

Born in São Vicente in the Governorate General of Rio de Janeiro, André de Soveral joined the Society of Jesus in 1593 and was sent on the Jesuit mission to the Portiguar tribes of Rio Grande do Norte. Not long after, however, he was made pastor in the parish of Cunhau in Natal. Cunhau was a local hub of the sugar industry, and thus a major point of contention between the Portuguese and the Dutch. On July 16, 1645, a group of Dutch soldiers, accompanied by Dutch allies among the local tribes, came into the church while André was saying Mass and murdered him and the nearly seventy parishioners who were celebrating it with him. Of the lay martyrs, we know the name of only one: Domingos Carvalho. André de Soveral and Domingos Carvalho were beatified by St. John Paul II in 2000 and canonized by Francis in 2017. They are celebrated on October 3, the feast of the Holy Martyrs of Natal, along with other saints from the Natal region who were martyred by the Dutch and their allies.

Henry of Uppsala and Eric IX the Holy

Only the most basic lines of Henry's life are known. He was born in England in the twelfth century. He was an associate of Nicholas Breakspear, who later became Pope Adrian IV. At some point he ended up as a bishop in Sweden, but, because there was a civil war going on, he did a lot of missionary work toward converting Finland. Of Eric IX of Sweden we know almost as little. When King Sverker was murdered on Christmas Day in 1156, probably by servants of Magnus Henriksson, Sweden split, with Magnus getting the allegiance of some nobles and Eric getting the allegiance of others, and Sverker's son Karl getting the allegiance of yet others. According to legend, during a lull in conflicts, Eric and Henry entered the nearest regions of Finland to protect Christian Finns from pagan Finns; while there, they won battles, built churches, and consolidated the conversion of various areas. Eric returned to Sweden to look after his kingdom there; Henry, out of compassion for the Finns, remained in Finland. According to the legends again, Henry attempted to give a canonical punishment -- perhaps excommunication or required penance -- to a murderer named Lalli, who, angered at being punished, compounded his crime by murdering the bishop with an axe. Eric is popularly remembered as a major supporter of the Church, although there is record that he only consistently did so toward the end of his reign. Magnus and Karl seem to have joined forces against Eric and to have caught up with him on Ascension Day in 1160. Eric was attending Mass; he waited until Mass was finished, then went out to meet his enemies. According to legend, he was pulled from his horse, stabbed, and beheaded, and recent research on his bones has suggested that something like this was probably true. Henry's feast day is January 19 and Eric the Saint, patron saint of Sweden, is commemorated on May 18.

Adelaide of Burgundy

Adelaide was born the daughter of Rudolf II of Burgundy and Bertha of Swabia in about 931. Her family was engaged in an extremely complicated political struggle with Hugh of Provence and also with Berengar I over control of Lombardy. Eventually an arrangement was made in which Adelaide was married to Lothair II, Hugh's son, and thereby became, nominally, at least, queen of Italy. They had a daughter, Emma of Italy. Lothair, however, was assassinated, probably poisoned by Berengar, a few years later. Berengar attempted to force her to marry his own son, Adalbert, but Adelaide wasn't having it; she fled, and eventually was caught and imprisoned by Berengar. Somehow or other she escaped and appealed to Otto the Great for protection. Adelaide and Otto were soon married, and it seems to have been a very good marriage. Otto was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962 and insisted that Adelaide also be crowned Holy Roman Empress. Their son, Otto II, would eventually be crowned co-emperor. When her husband died, Adelaide had a rocky time for a while -- her son's wife, the Byzantine princess Theophanu, seems to have hated her and managed to get her removed from court -- but she eventually became regent for her grandson after Theophanu's death. When Otto III reached legal majority, she entered the convent at Selz, where she died December 16, 999. She was canonized by Urban II in 1097. Her feast day is December 16.

Junípero Serra y Ferrer

Born on the island of Mallorca, Miquel Josep Serra i Ferrer  joined the Franciscans and took his religious name after Brother Juniper, the 'jester of the Lord', who had been one of the companions of St. Francis of Assisi. He became a priest in 1737 and at the age of 35 petitioned to be sent on foreign missions. By 1749 he was in Mexico. Almost immediately he received an injury to his foot and leg that required him to spend some time recuperating. His first major task was to organize the Sierra Gorda mission in Querétero, which was in complete disarray. This took eight years of hard work. In 1767, however, King Carlos expelled the Jesuits from the entire Spanish empire. As the Jesuits had had extensive missions in Baja California, this left a major vacuum that had to be filled, and Serra was appointed president of the missions of Baja California. It was not an easy position; Serra had already had trouble with the interference of the colonial government in Sierra Gorda, but it was nothing compared to the strict military control of Baja California. He was not in the position long, though, since a new line of missions was being opened up in Alta California and he was appointed to take charge of them. The expedition had to set off without him, as his foot and leg, which had never been quite right since he had been in Mexico, again began causing him severe pain. He slowly followed after, however, and on the way founded his first mission, Misión San Fernando Rey de España de Velicatá, the only Franciscan-founded mission in Baja California. He eventually reached San Diego in 1769 and founded his the first Spanish mission in upper California, Misión San Diego de Alcalá. Life was very hard at the mission, but by perseverance over time twenty-one missions would be founded under Serra's presidency. His leg continued for the rest of his life to give him serious problems, often nearly crippling him, but he continually traveled in order to see to the missions. He died on August 28, 1784 at Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo in what is modern Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. He was beatified by St. John Paul II and canonized by Pope Francis. His feast day is usually the day of his death, but in the United States is July 1, in memory of his first arrival at what would become San Diego.

Maria Restituta Kafka

Helena Kafková was born in an area in modern-day Brno in the Czech Republic on May 1, 1894; her father was a shoemaker. The family moved to Vienna when she was very young, and once she was old enough, she entered employment, first as a housemaid, then as a salesgirl for a tobacconist, then finally as a nurse in Lainz Hospital. It was there that she met the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, with whom she was immediately impressed. She entered the order at the age of twenty, and took the name of Maria Restituta, after the Christian martyr, St. Restituta. She continued to work at the municipal hospital until 1919, when she was transferred to a nearby hospital in Mödling. She became known for her quality surgical work. She was there when, in 1938, Nazi Germany annexed Austria. She became known for criticizing the authorities, but the authorities were slow to move directly against someone who was known to be so essential to the functioning of the hospital. However, on Ash Wednesday, 1942, after having been formally denounced by a local doctor, she was arrested by the Gestapo while leaving the operating theater. On October 29, she was convicted of conspiracy to commit treason and sentenced to death. She was sent to the guillotine on March 30, 1943. She was beatified by St. John Paul II.

Venantius Fortunatus, Radegund, Junian of Maire, and Gregory of Tours

Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus was born in the sixth century in Treviso in Italy. We don't know a lot about his early life, but he had a classical education and eventually made his way to Metz in 566, where he arrived just in time to recite his poetry for the wedding of King Sigibert and Queen Brunhild. He was instantly famous. He eventually moved to Paris where Sigibert's brother, Charibert, was king. He had to flee after Charibert's death, and arrived in Poitiers, where he met Radegund. She was a Thuringian princess, daughter of Bertachar, who eventually married, largely through having no choice, the Frankish king, Clotaire I, as one of his six wives. When Clotaire had her brother murdered, she had fled to Poitiers, where she founded the abbey of Sainte-Croix and devoted herself to caring for the sick. She became good friends with Junian, who had been gifted a set of lands by Clotaire to found a Benedictine monastery, which he called Mariacum (later 'Maire'). Radegund managed to obtain a relic of the True Cross from the Emperor Justinian II, and Venantius Fortunatus wrote a series of hymns for her to celebrate the occasion. One of these is among the most famous hymns of all time, the Vexilla Regis, which was first sung at a procession for the relic on November 19, 569:

Vexilla regis prodeunt:
Fulget crucis mysterium
Quo carne carnis conditor,
Suspensus est patibulo.

O Crux ave, spes unica,
Hoc passionis tempore
Auge piis justitiam,
Reisque dona veniam.

Te, summa Deus Trinitas,
Collaudet omnis spiritus:
Quos per crucis mysterium
Salvas, rege per saecula.

Radegund and Venantius Fortunatus became good friends, and it is perhaps through Radegund, who seems to have had a knack for making friends, that Fortunatus became friends with Gregory of Tours. Born Georgius Florentius, eventually adding 'Gregorius' to his name in honor of his grandfather, Gregory had become bishop of Tours and the foremost historian of his day, and is our primary historical for the Merovingian dynasty. Radegund and Junian died on the same day, August 13, 587, and August 12 became the feast day for both. Both Fortunatus and Gregory attended her funeral. Gregory died in the 590s, and his feast day is November 17. Fortunatus eventually became bishop of Poitiers. It's uncertain exactly when he died but it was probably after 600, and his feast day is December 14.

Magdalene of Nagasaki

In 1606, the persecution of Christianity in Tokugawa Japan formally began; Christianity had been illegal for some time before, but the decrees against it had not been consistently enforced. That would change, and the Catholics of Japan would enter one of the most severe persecutions in history. It was in this context that Magadurena was born in Nagasaki in 1611, and it would characterize her entire life. Her parents were martyred when she was nine. Magdalene became attached to the Augustinian Order, and became a tertiary, catechist, and translator assisting the Augustinian fathers. It was a constantly changing task because the Augustinian priests she assisted were repeatedly captured and killed by Japanese authorities until there were none left. She then spent some time helping a Dominican priest. At some time in 1634 she dressed herself in her Augustinian habit and turned herself in to the authorities, declaring herself a Christian. She was subject to the tsurushi torture in an attempt to make her repudiate the faith. In this form of torture, the victim was hung upside-down in a pit whose bottom was covered with excrement. Over time, blood would begin pooling in the head as the heart could not pump it back up the rest of the body efficiently enough. A cut was put on the forehead or behind the ear to provide some release to reduce the chances of the victim becoming unconscious, and over time the victim would begin to bleed, painfully, out of the membranes of their eyes, ears, and mouth. Strong men were known to break in a matter of hours. St. Magdalene hung in the tsurushi pit for thirteen days, slowly dying by bleeding in the most painful way, and she did not break before her death on October 15. She was beatified and canonized by St. John Paul II, and is commemorated on October 20 with the rest of the Holy Martyrs of Japan.

Jeanne-Antide Thouret

Born on November 27, 1765 in Sancey-le-long, France, Jeanne-Antide eventually joined the The Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, where she worked at several hospitals run by the Vincentians. It was the time, however, of the French Revolution and the forcible dissolution of Catholic religious orders and societies in France; Thouret was at one point beaten on order of the secular authorities because she refused to stop participating in the work of the society. She was eventually forced into exile in Switzerland. She attempted to continue her work for the sick, but Protestant anti-Catholic sentiment eventually forced her to move around for the next several years. The Vincentians eventually asked her to return to France to found a school and hospital. The rise of Napoleon opened up opportunities that had not previously existed, and Thouret founded her own congregation of sisters, usually known as Thouret Sisters, in the Vincentian tradition of devotion to the sick. While they got papal approval, they had problems with the local bishop at Besançon and had to move to Naples. There Thouret died, on August 24, 1826. She was beatified and canonized by Pius XI. Her feast is August 24 on the general calendar, but the Thouret Sisters themselves celebrate it on May 23, the anniversary of her beatification.

Louis IX 

Born to Louis the Lion and Blanche of Castile in 1214, he was crowned king at the age of twelve, after his father died. In practice, of course, his mother served as regent until about 1234. He married Margaret of Provence, with whom he got along very well, and they both engaged in extensive public works and support of the Church. In 1248, however, King Louis resolved to go on crusade. At the time, the Holy Land itself was regarded as something of a military mire; Louis decided to aim a little higher instead, at Cairo, where the Ayyubid powerbase was located. The Seventh Crusade did cause a considerably degree of disruption, in part due to coming at an awkward time for the Sultanate, which was undergoing a major power shift; but time worked for the Ayyubids, as well, since the season of summer heat and Nile floods is just the wrong time for a military campaign in Egypt. Final disaster occurred at the Battle of al-Mansurah, where the Mamluks, just coming to power, showed their military savvy as their general, Baibars, set a trap and ambushed the Crusaders. Caught in a bad position, the French army was no match for Egyptian numbers, and Louis was captured and had to be ransomed. He spent some time helping the Crusader Kingdoms build up their defenses in Syria and finally returned home in 1254. He spent most of his remaining years focusing on charitable works and diplomacy, but in 1266 he got the crusading bug again, and set out on the Eighth Crusade. The original plan was to support the Crusader Kings by going through Cyprus, but a last-minute change of plans, whose rationale has never been fully understood, led them to head to Tunis first. Militarily there was no problem, but it was bad timing again, as it was summer and a pestilence was sweeping through the area. King Louis died of dysyntery on August 25, 1270. His brother Charles managed to withdraw everyone and even get a favorable trade treaty out of it, but there's no question that it was almost as much of a military disaster as the previous crusade. St. Louis was canonized by Boniface VIII, and is the only king of France ever to have been canonized. His feast is August 25.

Peter Nolasco

Peter Nolasco was possibly born in Mas-des-Saintes-Puelles, but we find him very early on living in Barcelona. While there, he seems to have joined the army. We know almost nothing else until about 1203, when he began his charitable work of ransoming captives of war. He and St. Raymond Pennafort eventually formalized this work, and in 1218, Peter founded the Royal and Military Order of Our Lady of Mercy of Redemption of Captives, more commonly known as the Mercedarians. When they were given final papal approval in 1230, Peter became the first Superior and Ransomer of the order. Most of the members of the order were either knights or friars. St. Peter himself was never ordained; given the nature of the order, while priests did become involved, the most important participants were primarily laymen of the knightly layers of society. All members took the standard three vows, but added another: to devote their substance and even their liberty to the ransoming of slaves. They took this quite seriously; many Mercedarians volunteered to trade themselves as hostages in order to make it possible to free those who had been taken prisoner or enslaved. St. Peter Nolasco died in 1253. He was canonized by Urban VIII and his current feast is May 6, which is currently thought to have been the day of his death. 

Tarasios of Constantinople

From a noble family in Constantinople, Tarasios eventually became imperial secretary in the court of Constantine VI. He flirted with iconoclasm for a while, but repented and became a monk and a defender of icons. Probably through the influence of the Empress Irene he was selected to become the new Patriarch of Constantinople in 784. He was not a priest at the time. He accepted, but only on the condition that efforts be made to heal relations with the other patriarchates, particularly Rome. On Tarasios's advice, Irene wrote to Pope Hadrian I in order to invite him to a church council on the disputed subject of icons. Hadrian agreed. The council had a rocky start; troops in favor of iconoclasm broke up the first attempt in 786, and it had to be reopened a year later in Nicaea. Once it managed to begin, however, things went more smoothly, and the Second Council of Nicaea condemned iconoclasm. Things afterward were mostly quiet for Tarasios, although there were still pro-iconoclasm flare-ups, and Tarasios was generally considered too indulgent to inconoclasts. In 795, Constantine VI decided he would divorce his wife, Maria of Amnia, and marry Theodote. Tarasios, who did not support this and refused to officiate at the new wedding, looked at his options and decided that of all the bad options on the table, not interfering was the least bad. This led to major protests, headed by St. Theodore the Studite and others. He managed to weather this, but also spent the last years of his last constantly criticized for what was seen as his excessive tolerance of corruption and simony. Perhaps there was no avoiding it; it was a time of endless controversy and trying to be gentle and merciful was bound to look weak even to many reasonable and decent people. There are times when it's hard even for saints to draw that line correctly. He died on February 25, 806, which is his feast on the Julian calendar in the East (which would be about March 10 on the Gregorian calendar these days), but his feast is celebrated on February 18 in the West.

 Albert Chmielowski

Born in Poland in 1845, Adam Chmielowski joined the January Uprising, in which Polish insurgents attempted to break from the Russian Empire and restore the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In a battle in 1863, a Russian grenade severely wounded him in the leg, forcing him to undergo an amputation without anesthesia. He would live the rest of his life with a wooden leg. Chmielowski had to leave Poland; he went to Belgium and discovered there that he had a talent for painting. He gained a fair amount of fame as a painter, but when he resettled in Poland, he found that the fame just depressed him. To try to work his way out of this depression, he began helping out at homeless shelters, and eventually began to consider the possibility of a religious vocation. He eventually became a Third Order Franciscan, taking the name 'Albert', and in 1888 founded the Servants of the Poor, also known as the Albertine Brothers. The community grew very slowly, but St. Albert spent the rest of his life devoted to it. He died of stomach cancer on Christmas in 1916. He was beatified and canonized by St. John Paul II, whose own decision to enter the priesthood had been partly inspired by St. Albert's story. His feast day is June 17.

Painting by St. Albert Chmielowski, Ecce Homo (1881)


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