May 25, 2008

Saint Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi

Carmelite Virgin - 1566-1607 - Memorial - May 25

     Born in Florence on April 2, 1566, Mary Magdalene (baptized Catherine) was taught mental prayer when she was nine years old at the request of her mother. Her introduction at this age, to this form of prayer, which involves half an hour of meditation, did not seem to be unusual. And yet today we often believe children incapable of all but the simplest prayers.
     At twelve years old she experienced her first ecstasy while looking at a sunset which left her trembling and speechless. With this foundation in prayer and in mystical experience, it isn't surprising that she wanted to enter a contemplative monastery of the Carmelite Order. She chose the monastery of St. Mary's of the Angels because the nuns took daily Communion, unusual at the time.
     In 1583 she had her second mystical experience when the other nuns saw her weeping before the crucifix as she said, "O Love, you are neither known nor loved." Mary Magdalene's life is a contradiction of our instinctive thought that joy only comes from avoiding suffering. A month after being refused early religious profession, she fell deathly ill. Fearing for her life the convent had her professed from a stretcher at the altar. After that she experienced forty days of ecstasies that coexisted with her suffering. Joy from the graces God gave were mixed with agony as her illness grew worse. In one of her experiences Jesus took her heart and hid it in his own, telling her he "would not return it until it is wholly pure and filled with pure love." She didn't recover from her illness until told to ask for the intercession of Blessed Mary Bagnesi over three months later.

     Her lifelong devotion to Pentecost can be easily understood because her trial ended in ecstasy in 1590. At this time she could have asked for any gifts but she wanted two in particular: to look on any neighbor as good and holy without judgment and to always have God's presence before her. Far from enjoying the attention her mystical experiences brought her, she was embarrassed by it. For all her days, she wanted a hidden life and tried everything she could to achieve it. When God commanded her to go barefoot as part of her penance and she could not walk with shoes, she simply cut the soles out of her shoes so no one would see her as different from the other nuns. If she felt an ecstasy coming on, she would hurry to finish her work and go back to her room. She learned to see the notoriety as part of God's will. When teaching a novice to accept God's will, she told her, "I wanted a hidden life but, see, God wanted something quite different for me."
     Some still might think it was easy for her to be holy with all the help from God. Yet when she was asked once why she was weeping before the cross, she answered that she had to force herself to do something right that she didn't want to do. It's true that when a sister criticized her for acting so different, she thanked her, "May God reward you! You have never spoken truer words!" but she told others it hurt her quite a bit to be nice to someone who insulted her.
     Mary Magdalene was no pale, shrinking flower. Her wisdom and love led to her appointment to many important positions at the convent including mistress of novices. She did not hesitate to be blunt in guiding the women under her care when their spiritual life was at stake. When one of the novices asked permission to pretend to be impatient so the other novices would not respect her so much, Mary Magdalene's answer shook this novice out of this false humility: "What you want to pretend to be, you already are in the eyes of the novices. They don't respect you nearly as much as you like to think." Mary Magdalene's life offers a great challenge to all those who think that the best penance comes from fasting and physical discomfort. Though she fasted and wore old clothes, she chose the most difficult penance of all by pretending to like the things she didn't like. Not only is this a penance most of us would shrink from but, by her acting like she enjoyed it, no one knew she was doing this great penance!
     In 1604, headaches and paralyzation confined her to bed. Her nerves were so sensitive that she could not be touched without agonizing pain. Ever humble, she took the fact that her prayers were not granted as a sure sign that God's will was being done. For three years she suffered, before dying on May 25, 1607 at the age of forty-one. She was beatified in 1626 and canonized on 22nd April 1669.

May 22, 2008

Saint Joachina de Vedruna de Mas

Also known as Joachima de Vedruna & Joaquina de Vedruna
1783-1854 - Optional Memorial, May 22

    Saint Joachina, was born on 16th April 1783 in Barcelona, Spain. She married a Spanish nobleman, Theodore de Mas in 1799, with whom she had nine children, but was widowed in 1816, when Theodore was killed in the Napoleonic wars. In 1826, Ten years later, after ensuring that her children were provided for, the 42-year-old Joachina retired to Vich.

     Guided by the Holy Spirit, she founded the Congregation of Carmelite Sisters of Charity. In spite of serious challenges posed by civil war and secular opposition, the institute soon spread into Catalonia, opening numerous houses for the care of the sick and to help and look after those who suffered from poverty and a lack of education. Thereafter communities were established throughout Spain and South America.
     She found her inspiration in the mystery of the Holy Trinity and the distinguishing features of her spirituality were her love of prayer, self-denial, detachment, humility and her love for others. She died at Vich on August 28th, 1854. Although she died during a cholera epidemic, she was slowly dying of paralysis for four years. Nevertheless, Joachina portrayed the highest level of trust in God, selflessness, and prayer. She was beatified on 19th May 1940 and canonized on 12th April 1959.

May 16, 2008

Saint Simon Stock

Optional Memorial - May 16

Not very much is known about the early life of St. Simon Stock, although there are stories, which may or may not be true. One story is that he got his surname, Stock, from the fact that as a young man he used to sleep in a hollowed out log. It is believed that from an early age, St. Simon led a very holy life.

He was born in Aylesford, Kent, England. The year of his birth is thought to be 1165, although that would have made him 82 when he was elected Superior General, and 100 the year of his death. He led the life of a hermit and went on many pilgrimages. It was during one of these pilgrimages to Jerusalem that he joined the Carmelites. He returned to Kent when Sir Richard de Grey brought the Carmelites to England. St. Simon was elected Superior General in 1247. He established new many foundations including in England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, and France. St. Simon also revised the rule of Carmel, approved by Pope Innocent IV. Despite the wonderful leadership from St. Simon, the Carmelites began to suffer from persecution from without by the English as well as other religious orders. The Order was almost wiped out by the plague, was not getting enough vocations, and was in danger of dying out. In desperation, St. Simon pleaded with Our Lady to save the Carmelites, HER ORDER, and to show them a sign of her favor. Simon's beautiful prayer to Mary, which he composed as a hymn, is known as the Flos Carmeli, and is to this day sung by the Carmelites throughout the world.

The Blessed Virgin listened to St. Simon's prayer. On July 16, 1251 the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Simon Stock and gave him the scapular as her special protection. Her promise to St. Simon and to the world was: "Whosoever dies wearing this scapular shall not suffer eternal fire."

St. Simon Stock died at Bordeaux on May 16, 1265. The Vatican approved that the Carmelites may celebrate his feast day on May 16.