April 18, 2008

Blessed Mary of the Incarnation

1566-1618 - Optional Memorial - April 18th

Barbe Avrillot was born in Paris in 1566. At the age of sixteen she married Pierre Acarie, by whom she had seven children. In spite of her household duties and many hardships, she attained the heights of the mystical life. Under the influence of St. Theresa's writings, and after mystical contact with the saint herself, she spared no effort in introducing the Discalced Carmelite nuns into France. After her husband's death, she asked to be admitted among them as a lay sister, taking the name of Mary of the Incarnation; she was professed at the Carmel of Amiens in 1615. She was esteemed by some of the greatest men of her time, including St. Francis de Sales; and she was distinguished by her spirit of prayer and her zeal for the propagation of the Catholic faith. She died in Ponoise on April 18, 1618.


Blessed Mary of the Incarnation was born in Paris in February 1566; both of her parents were members of the most ancient families of that great city. Before she was born, several other children had seen the light of day, but all died in their infancy. During the time her mother awaited this child, she vowed her to the Blessed Virgin and Saint Claude, promising to clothe her in white until the age of seven and to offer her in a church of the Blessed Virgin. She was born a very healthy babe, and baptized with the name of Barbara, on the day after the Purification of Our Lady. She was of a gentle temperament and an angelic modesty, and at the age of eleven was placed as an intern student in a religious house of the Order of Saint Clare near Paris, where she had a maternal aunt. She continually advanced in virtue and felt great distaste for all the things of this world, along with an insatiable ardor for those of heaven.

When she returned home at the age of fourteen, she wished to enter a religious Order for the care of the sick in Paris, but her parents opposed this plan. Her mother informed her she would never permit her to become a nun. The young girl believed God was speaking to her through her mother and obeyed.

Several offers of marriage were presented, and before her eighteenth birthday she married Pierre Acarie de Villemor, a man of great nobility, piety and charity. Six children were born to them, and their pious mother raised them with great care. She taught them never to complain of circumstances or persons, inspired in them horror for lying, and strove to make them recognize in their hearts any sentiments of vainglory. Her three daughters became Carmelites, and her three sons entered, in turn, the magistracy, the priesthood and the military career.

When her husband encountered difficulties of a political nature, his household was seized, and the very furniture where the family was seated at table was removed from beneath them. She accepted these circumstances without growing troubled, and in fact defended her husband in court, drafting memoirs, writing letters and furnishing proofs of his innocence. He was acquitted and enabled to return to the city after three years.

Blessed Mary was so sage in her almsgiving that during a famine the wealthy persons who desired to help the poor caused their alms to pass through her hands, and this holy woman was universally honored. She entered into the spirit of the current reforms of the religious Orders and the foundation of new Congregations which were reviving the spirit of piety in France. Through her efforts she merited the title of Foundress of the Carmelites in France. Six nuns from Spain brought the spirit of Saint Teresa with them, and soon the principal cities of France had a house of this Order. Blessed Mary of the Incarnation also contributed to the works of the first Ursulines in Paris for the education of youth, and to the establishment of the Oratorians of Italy in France.

Her worthy spouse died in 1613; she then requested admission to the Carmelite Order herself. She arrived saying, “I am a poor mendicant who begs of you the divine mercy, and that I may cast myself into the arms of religion.” At Amiens where she dwelt, her own daughter was Superior; and a perpetual contest in humility began, observed by all. She died in 1618, on Wednesday of Easter week, at the age of fifty-two years, loved and praised by all who had known her. She was beatified by Pope Pius VI; her mortal remains are in the chapel of the Carmelites of Pontoise.
Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 4.

April 17, 2008

Blessed John Baptist Spagnoli of Mantua

April 17, 1447 - March 20, 1516 - Optional Memorial - April 17

Blessed John Baptist Spagnoli of Mantua, was born at Mantua on April 17, 1447, son of the Spanish Peter Modover and of Constance Maggi, of Brescia., a Spanish nobleman assigned to the court in Mantua. He studied in Padua where a wild life put him briefly at the mercy of loan sharks, and got him thrown out of his father’s house. He then drifted through Venice and experienced a conversion.

He did his early studies in his native city, under the guidance of Gregory Tifernate and of George Merula, his former school-fellow, and later at Padua, at the school of Paul Bagelardi. While still very young (16), he entered the Mantuan Congregation of the Carmelite Order at Ferrara, where he made his religious profession in 1464. In 1469 he gained a bachelor's degree, and in 1475 that of master of theology at the university of Bologna.

His exceptional talents quickly gained for him the esteem and the trust of his superiors. Already in 1466, when he was not yet twenty years old, he was charged with giving the official discourse at the chapter of Brescia. He served as prior at Parma in 1471 and at Mantua in 1479, and in 1483 was entrusted with the highest responsibility of Vicar General of the Congregation, a total of 6 times until, in 1513, he was elected Prior General of the entire Order.

His activity was not limited to the confines of his own religious family. In 1481, while he was regent of studies at Bologna, he was a member of the juridical commission in the process against George Novara; in 1513 he was invited to participate in the Fifth Lateran Council; in 1515 he was charged by Pope Leo X with a mission of peace between the king of France and the duke of Milan.

But in a special way he dedicated the fruitfulness of an uncommon literary genius to the service of his Order and of the Church. As the principal proof of his love for Carmel there remains the Apologia pro Ordine Carmelitano; and testimony of his complete devotion to the Church are not only his poems in honor of Popes Innocent VIII, Julius II and Leo X, but also all those writings like the Objurgatio cum exhortatione ad capiendo, arma contra infideles ad reges et principes Christianas /An objurgation with an exhortation to taking up arms against the infidels, to Christian kings and princes/. They reveal his active participation in the most significant problems of Christianity at that time. The events which were then disturbing the life of his nation stirred his spirit. His poems Pro pacata Italia post helium ferrariense /For a peaceful Italy, after the war of Ferrara/, In Romam bellis tumultantem /To Rome tumultuous with wars/, De hello veneto commentariolus /Commentary on the Venetian war/, his Trophaeus pro Gallis expulsis pro duce Mantuae/ A memorial for the Duke of Mantua, after the expulsion of the French/ and, above all, De calamitatibus temporum /About the calamities of the times/ — reprinted about thirty times between 1489 and 1510 alone — show how Bl. Baptista, even when his vision was at times restricted by political interests bound up with certain courts and when he wrote in the courtly style proper to so many humanists, deeply felt the drama that was upsetting Italy in those days. The friendship that bound him to John Pico della Mirandola, to Pomponius Leto, to Jovian Pontano, to Philip Beroaldo, to John Sabbadino degli Arienti, to Andrew Mantenga and to other distinguished personages of the epoch, is proof of his high prestige in the world of culture. He was, in fact, one of the most famous protagonists of the humanistic movement, especially because of that Bucolica seu adolescentia in decem aeglogas divisa /Pastoral or youthful poems, divided into ten eclogues/. About one hundred and fifty editions of this work can be listed, over a hundred of which were published in the XVI cent. alone. This poem induced his contemporaries, even Erasmus of Rotterdam, to proclaim him the Christian Vergil.

The influence of his poetry — the fame of which is acknowledged even by Shakespeare, who repeats some lines of Baptist in Love's Labours Lost — was felt especially in English literature: Alexander Barclay paraphrased his Eclogues, Edmund Spencer imitated him in his Shepheardes Calender, John Milton did the same in his Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity.

The labors resulting from the tasks assigned to him and his intense literary activity did not take him away from the Carmelite ideals of the interior life and from his special devotion to Our Lady. The exercise of the virtues and the renunciation of the world were the themes of De Beata Vita /About a happy life/, a dialogue that he wrote when he was just sixteen years old. His aspiration to solitude and his desire for the presence of God were constantly found in his successive works and in his correspondence. He composed various poems in honor of Our Lady, and one poem in three books — Parthenices Mariana /On Mary's Virginity/ — which had a rapid diffusion throughout Europe (in some seventy editions, fifteen of which appeared in the XV cent. and about fifty in the XVI). He labored to have the custody of the sanctuary of Loreto entrusted to his Congregation; in 1489 he obtained this custody, though only for a few years.

The six Parthenices /Books on virginity/ composed in honor of the martyrs Catherine, Margaret, Agatha, Lucy, Apollonia and Cecilia, and the poems in honor of St. John Baptist, of St. George and of other saints, together with the twelve books De sacris diebus /On the holy days/, are other indications of his religious piety.

Struck by the spreading corruption of the clergy and of the people, he expressed his anxiety for reform, not only with apposite literary means — as in his ninth eclogue De moribus curiae romanae /On the habits of the Roman Curia/ — but also with a vibrant discourse pronounced in 1489 in the Vatican basilica before Pope Innocent VIII and the cardinals. Some particularly severe phrases led Luther himself to depend upon the authority of the blessed in taking a position against Rome; and in an Anthologia... sententiosa collecta ex operibus Baptistae Mantuani /A sententious anthology... collected from the works of Baptist of Mantua/, published at Nürnburg in 1571, the Protestants even pointed to the Carmelite as a precursor of the German reformation. It is superfluous to note the essential difference between the spirit of reform of Bl. Baptist, who intended to work within the Church, and the Lutheran reform, which was to lead to schism.

Bl. Baptist died in his native city on March 20, 1516; and his cult, which began immediately after his death, was approved by Pope Leo XIII on Dec. 17, 1885. He was beatified in 1890. His body is preserved in the cathedral of Mantua; and his memorial is observed on April 17.

Note: While not a poet of genius, he was a superb Latin stylist, imitating Virgil. He wrote over 55,000 lines of Latin verse; has been criticized for excessive use of pagan mythological images in his work. But was referred to as the Good old Mantuan by Shakespeare in Love’s Labour Lost (Act IV, scene 2, line 95ff.). His eclogues were used in European schools for a century and a half after his death as a model of style. Besides Shakespeare, Boswell and Nashe quoted him. He used his friendship with scholars as an opportunity of encouraging them to live a Christian life. He was a friend with many of the leading Renaissance humanist, including the two Pico della Mirandolas, with whom some correspondence survives.

Your Carmelite library may contain a beautiful 1502 edition of his poetry!

April 1, 2008

Blessed Nuno Alvares Pereira

1360-1431 - Optional Memorial - April 1st

Nuno Alvares Pereira was born in 1360 near Lisbon, Portugal. He married at age 17, and was named commander of Portugal’s armies when he was 23 by the Grand Master of the Knights of Aviz, who became King John I. These Portuguese knights took up arms to keep from falling under Spanish domination. Under Blessed Nuno’s command, the tide was turned and Portugal triumphed at the Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, when a smaller but better-organized Portuguese army defeated the Castilian forces. After the death of his wife, Nuno became a Carmelite monk in a monastery he had founded in Lisbon. Called the Constable, he is one of the great heroes of Portugal. The first military campaigns of Nuno Alvares Pereira were, according to his own words, simple skirmishes on the borders of Portugal. He was an impetuous and brave young man who soon showed himself to be an excellent leader. On a certain occasion, for example, a great Castilian fleet had appeared in Lisbon to blockade its port and invade the city. One day Nuno Alvares came upon 250 Castilians who were coming ashore from their boats. He gathered 60 men and went to face them. He and a few knights charged them in an attack, but the rest of his company remained behind in fear.

His horse was wounded and fell on his leg, trapping him. When the Castilians saw the Portuguese commander is this position, they took courage and made a strong counter-attack. But when the rest of the Portuguese combatants saw that Nuno had continued to attack the enemy, even from the ground, they took courage and began to fight, entering the fray with great fury. Although the Portuguese were outnumbered four to one, under Nuno’s command they put the Castilians to flight and killed almost all. On August 15, 1243, Nuno was admitted in the Carmelite Order as a simple monk under the name of Nuno de Santa Maria. He became a great religious, just as he was a great soldier. With him in the monastery was a priest who, before his ordination, had been a soldier and served under Nuno’s command. When he used to pass, the monk Nuno would kiss the mantle of the priest as a sign of respect for his dignity. In his turn, the priest used to say that one of the greatest honors of his life had been to serve as a page of the Constable. During the last year of his life, King John I went to visit and embrace him for the last time. He wept, for he considered Nuno his closest friend, the one who had put him on the throne and established with him the Royal House of Bragança. When Nuno realized his last hour had had arrived, he asked that the Passion of Our Lord from the Gospel of St. John be read aloud. He expired as the lector pronounced Our Lord’s words from the Cross: "Ecce Mater Tua." [Behold Thy Mother] Blessed Nuno was renowned for his devotion to the Our Lady and did much to spread the devotions of the rosary and scapular in Portugal. On his tomb one can read this epitaph: "Here lies that famous Nuno, the Constable, founder of the House of Bragança, excellent general, blessed monk, who during his life on earth so ardently desired the Kingdom of Heaven that after his death, he merited the eternal company of the Saints. His worldly honors were countless, but he turned his back on them. He was a great Prince, but he made himself a humble monk. He founded, built and endowed this church in which his body rests."

In the monastery, there was the beautiful reciprocity of respect between the Constable – now a monk – and the priest. When the priest used to pass, Nuno would rise and go to pay homage to him as a priest. The latter was honored to have been a page of Dom Nuno Alvares Pereira when they were in the world. The Catholic spirit is often manifested in signs and addresses of mutual respect and admiration, which adds great valor to Christian Civilization.

One can see how Dom Nuno went to battle with the energy of his whole personality, communicating his courage to all the others. Dom Nuno, as warrior fought with courage, communicating strength to his companions.

The goodbye of the King to Blessed Nuno was magnificent. At that time you can see that persons had no fear of death. It was frequent for a man to have a presentiment of his approaching end. If he were strong enough, he would visit his close friends and relatives to say farewell. Likewise, the persons who knew him would be advised so that they could come to visit and say a final goodbye. Everyone took this naturally, because people had faith. The persons who would remain in this life used to ask favors of the one who was dying: "I ask that you recommend me to Our Lady." "When you will see my patroness, please remind her that I still need this and that." If someone was leaving this earth, the polite thing to do was to visit him and say farewell. He would express his gratitude, give or receive some good counsel, show his esteem for the last time. This was why the King went to visit Blessed Nuno. Dom John wanted to manifest his friendship for Blessed Nuno Alvares Pereira. Seeing him, the King wept, they embraced, and then each one went his own way. Nuno Alvares died, and in Heaven prayed for the King, his friend. It was a time of graceful manners. You can see how such elegance and virtue go well together and bestow a mutual excellence, one to the other. This excellence comes from the tranquility that exudes from a society of souls that lives with its eyes directed to Heaven. Let us ask Blessed Nuno Alvares Pereira to give us his courage and his piety to fight for the cause of Our Lady and the Holy Church so threatened in our days, even when we must fight against great odds. Also let us ask Our Lady to restore Christendom and establish her Reign, so that those magnificent values that existed in the time of Blessed Nuno can once again shine in society.