I am deep in my February volume from the Bulter’s Lives of the Saints, given to me by my darling husband so that I may not be at the mercy of Google when it comes to learning about our saintly brothers in Christ.
The February 27th entries sparkle from the page, each saint or blessed’s life a little jewel reflecting the great light of God’s mercy and love. There’s St. Julian and Companions, Martyrs (250): “After lamenting the fact that so many fell away from the faith in the face of threats and torture, Dionysius describes those who stood firm, among whom was an old man named Julian, so crippled with gout that he could not stand, let alone walk. Two friends had to carry him to his trial; one of these renounced his faith and was released, but the other stood firm with Julian and was condemned. They were ‘taken right through the city, which as you all know is immense, mounted on camels and whipped while perched aloft. Finally, while the whole population milled around, they were burnt up with quicklime.’”
I look up quicklime and view pictures of gout—a better use of Google—imagine the temptation to renounce the faith at the first lick of the whip, and marvel at their courage.
Next is St. Baldomerus (c. 660): a locksmith in Lyons. “He lived devoutly and austerely, giving away all he could afford—and sometimes what he could not afford, such as the tools of his trade—to the poor. He greeted everyone he met with an ‘arrow-prayer’—In nomine Domini gratias semper, “In the name of God, let us give thanks always.”
I think, too, of St. Baldomerus’s bravery. Would I ever have the courage to praise God so freely in polite conversation? Or to give away my KitchenAid stand mixer?
Next in line the also-brave St. Anne Line, Martyr (c. 1565-1601): Born to staunch Calivinists, Anne and her brother converted to Catholicism by the age of 20 and were disinherited. Anne later married Roger Line, also a disinherited convert who would eventually become imprisoned for attending Mass and later exiled. Anne, despite suffering from great poverty and ill health, gave the rest of her life to helping fellow Catholics and on February 26, 1601 “she was charged with harboring a priest…she spent her last night in prayer and was taken to Tyburn to be hanged on 27 February 1601. There she kissed the gallows and prayed till her last moments.”
I wonder if I would pray, too, before my death. I wonder if I would panic and doubt in the prison cell, tempted to believe that I somehow had done something wrong to deserve this punishment, that God had left me. I know I would not have kissed the gallows.
Then, Blesseds Mark Barkworth and Roger Filcock: “Mark Barkworth, venerated as the first English Benedictine martyr, and Roger Filcock, a Jesuit priest, were executed immediately after Anne Line (above). Mark kissed the hem of her dress and her hand as she hung from the gallows, saying, ‘Thou hast got the start of us, sister, but we will follow thee as quickly as we may’ (otherwise reported as, “Ah, sister, you’ve got ahead of us but we’ll soon catch you up’). Roger: “As he watched Barkworth die, Filcock cried out, “I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ.”
The clear theme of how Christ’s burning love animated these men and women, inspiring them to see a bargain in dying a grisly death in return for eternity with Him, deeply impresses itself on me. I feel keenly that Christ’s love must be so much stronger, passionate, intense, and irresistible than I know now.
St. Gabriel Possenti comes next: “He was born the eleventh of thirteen children of a distinguished lawyer who held a succession of official posts in the Papal States and was christened Francesco…he was a bright student and by all accounts a cheerful youth with a reputation of being something of a ‘ladies man’–damerino.” He later joined the Passionists, and “the rest of his short life was one of scrupulous attention to duty and to the needs of others in every tiny action—redeemed from excessive piety by his unfailing cheerfulness,” and this, too, and the massive effort it must’ve required sober me. I feel my vocation as a wife and mother can benefit from his example and intercession, and I resolve to commit his life and name to memory.
And finally I come across Blessed Mary Deluil-Martiny, Martyr (1841-84): She helped found the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus in February 1876 and “on Ash Wednesday, 27 February 1884, she was attacked by the convent gardener, Louis Chave, who was fanatically anti-religious. She died from her wounds, being heard to exclaim, ‘I forgive him…for the work…for the work!’” Such a strange and awful death and it, too, is made beautiful by her sacrifice, not outside the realm of God’s love.
Gout and quicklime, gallows, whips, and death-by-gardener–I love my Butler’s because God is there in every page. Nothing is too evil or ugly for Him. Indeed, the darker the circumstances, the greater His desire must be to rescue us from them. He is with us, come what may.
Copyright 2013 Meg Matenaer