St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

On May 25, the Catholic Church celebrates Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi, an Italian noblewoman of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries who became a Carmelite nun distinguished for her intense prayer life and devotion to frequent Holy Communion.In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI marked the 400th anniversary of St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi’s death in a letter to the Archbishop of Florence, her birthplace. He described her as “a symbolic figure of a living love that recalls the essential mystical dimension of every Christian life.�“May the great mystic,� the Pope wrote, “still make her voice heard in all the Church, spreading to every human creature the proclamation to love God.�Born on April 2, 1566, the future “Mary Magdalene� was given the name of Caterina at the time of her birth. She was the only daughter of her parents, who both came from prominent families. Caterina was drawn to the Holy Eucharist from a young age, and she resolved to serve God as a consecrated virgin shortly after receiving her First Communion at age 10.Late in the year 1582 she entered a strictly traditional Carmelite monastery, where Holy Communion was – unusually for the time period – administered daily. Receiving her religious habit the next year, she took the name of Mary Magdalene.From March to May of 1584, Mary became seriously ill and was thought to be in danger of death. On May 27 of that year she made her religious vows while lying sick upon a pallet. Her recovery marked the start of an extended mystical experience, which lasted 40 days and involved extraordinary experiences taken down by her religious sisters in a set of manuscripts.Mary served the monastery in a series of teaching and supervisory positions, while also contributing to her community through manual work. Her fellow Carmelites respected her strict sense of discipline, which was accompanied by profound charity and practical wisdom. Her experiences of suffering and temptation helped her to guide and inspire others.Extraordinary spiritual occurrences were a frequent feature of this Carmelite nun’s life, to a much greater degree than is typical in the tradition of Catholic mysticism. Many of her experiences of God were documented by others in her community, although Mary herself disliked the attention and would seemingly have preferred for these events to remain private.She did wish, however, to call attention to God’s love, which she saw as tragically underappreciated and unreciprocated by mankind. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi is remembered for making dramatic gestures – running through the halls of her monastery, or ringing its bells at night – while proclaiming the urgent need for all people to awaken to God’s love, and respond in kind.Her earthly life came to an end on May 25, 1607, after an excruciating illness lasting nearly three years. Pope Clement IX canonized St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi in 1669.

Feast of the Ascension

The Feast of the Ascension is the fortieth day after Easter Sunday, which commemorates the Ascension of Christ into heaven, according to Mark 16:19, Luke 24:51, and Acts 1:2. In the Eastern Church this feast was known as analepsis, “the taking up”, and also as the episozomene, the salvation, denoting that by ascending into His glory, Christ completed the work of our redemption. The terms used in the West, ascensio and, occasionally, ascensa, signify that Christ was raised up by His own powers. Tradition designates Mount Olivet near Bethany as the place where Christ left the earth. The feast falls on Thursday. It is one of the Ecumenical feasts ranking with the feasts of the Passion, of Easter and of Pentecost among the most solemn in the calendar. The feast has a vigil and, since the fifteenth century, an octave which is set apart for a novena of preparation for Pentecost, in accordance with the directions of Leo XIII.

St. Jane Antide Thouret

On May 23 the universal Church celebrates the feast day of St. Jane Antide (Jeanne-Antide) Thouret, a Sister of Charity who worked tirelessly for the faith amidst persecution during the French Revolution.

Jane was born in Sancey, France, in 1765 to a poor family. Her mother died when she was 16 years old. The Saint took on many family responsibilities until she joined the Vincentian Sisters in Paris at the age of 22, working among the sick in various hospitals.

On 15 August 1797 she returned to France in Besançon where she founded a school for poor girls. On 11 April 1799 she founded a new congregation in Besançon known as the Thouret sisters.

During the French Revolution, when many religious and priests were killed, she was ordered to return home to a secular life. Jane refused, and when she tried to escape the authorities, she was badly beaten.

St. Jane Antide Thouret finally returned to Sancey, where she cared for the sick and opened a small school for girls until she was forced to flee to Switzerland. She fled to Germany before returning again to Switzerland to found a school and hospital in 1799 and a congregation called the Institute of the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul. The community eventually expanded into France and Italy.

She died 30 years after the founding of her community, in 1828 of natural causes.

In 1934, she was canonized by Pope Puis XI.

St. Rita of Cascia

On May 22, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Rita of Cascia, who the late John Paul II called “a disciple of the Crucified Oneâ€� and an “expert in suffering.â€�Known in Spain as “La Santa de los impossibilesâ€� (the saint of the impossible), St. Rita has become immensely popular throughout the centuries. She is invoked by people in all situations and stations of life, since she had embraced suffering with charity and wrongs with forgiveness in the many trials she experienced in her life: as a wife, widow, a mother surviving the death of her children, and a nun.Born in 1386 in Roccaparena, Umbria, St. Rita was married at the age of 12 to a violent and ill-tempered husband. He was murdered 18 years later and she forgave his murderers, praying that her twin sons, who had sworn to avenge their father’s death may also forgive. She was granted this grace, and her sons, who died young, died reconciled to God.The saint heard the call to become a nun in the Augustinian convent at Cascia, but was refused entry at first. She asked the intercession of Sts. Augustine, Mary Magadalene and John the Baptist and was finally allowed to enter the convent where she lived the last 40 years of her life in prayer, mortification and service to the people of Cascia.For the last 15 years of her life she received a stigmata-like thorn wound in answer to her prayers to be more profoundly conformed to the passion of the Lord Jesus. Rita was bedridden for the last four years of her life, consuming almost nothing except for the Eucharist. She died of tuberculosis at the age of 70 on May 22, 1456.On the 100th anniversary of her canonization in 2000, Pope John Paul II noted her remarkable qualities as a Christian woman: “Rita interpreted well the ‘feminine genius’ by living it intensely in both physical and spiritual motherhood.â€�St. Rita was canonized in 1900 by Pope Leo XIII. She is the patron saint of impossible causes, sterility, abuse victims, loneliness, marriage difficulties, parenthood, widows, the sick, bodily ills and wounds.

St. Christopher Magallanes and Companions

“Long live Christ the King and the Virgin of Guadalupe!â€�This was the slogan of the “Cristeroâ€� uprising in the 1920’s against the anti-Catholic government of Mexico which had instituted and enforced laws against the Church in an absurd attempt to eradicate the Catholic faith in Mexico, even going so far as to ban all foreign clergy and the celebration of Mass in some regions.St. Christopher Magallanes, along with 21 other priests and three lay companions, were martyred between 1915 and 1937, by shooting or hanging, throughout eight Mexican states, for their membership in the Cristero movement. Magallanes erected a seminary in Totatiche and he and his companions secretly preached and ministered to the faithful.The last words heard spoken by Magallanes were from his cell, when he shouted, “I am innocent and I die innocent. I forgive with all my heart those responsible for my death, and I ask God that the shedding of my blood serve the peace of our divided Mexico”.Pope John Paul II beatified the Cristero martyrs in 1992 and canonized them in 2000.

St. Bernardine of Siena

The Catholic Church honors St. Bernardine of Siena on May 20. A Franciscan friar and preacher, St. Bernardine is known as “the Apostle of Italyâ€� for his efforts to revive the country’s Catholic faith during the 15th century.Bernardine Albizeschi was born to upper-class parents in the Italian republic of Siena during 1380. Misfortune soon entered the boy’s life when he lost his mother at age three and his father four years later. His aunt Diana cared for him afterward, and taught him to seek consolation and security by trusting in God. Even at a young age, Bernardine demonstrated a remarkable concern for the poor as an outgrowth of his love for God. Having become accustomed to fasting, he preferred at times to go without any food in order to help someone in greater need. From the ages of 11 to 17 he focused on his studies, developing the eloquence and dedication that would serve his future work as an evangelist. Before becoming a preacher, however, Bernardine spent several years ministering to the sick and dying. He enrolled in a religious association that served at a hospital in the town of Scala, and applied himself to this work from 1397 to 1400. During that time, a severe plague broke out in Siena, causing a crisis that would eventually lead to the young man taking charge of the entire hospital. Inside its walls, up to 20 people were dying each day from an illness that also killed many of the hospital workers. The staff was decimated and new victims were coming in constantly.Bernardine persuaded 12 young men to help him continue the work of the hospital, which he took over for a period of four months. Although the plague did not infect him, the exhausting work left him weak and he contracted a different sickness that kept him in bed for four months. After recovering, he spent over a year caring for his aunt Bartholomaea before her death. Then the 22-year-old Bernardine moved to a small house outside the city, where he began to discern God’s will for his future through prayer and fasting. He eventually chose to join the Franciscans of the Strict Observance in 1403, embracing an austere life focused on poverty and humility. During this time, while praying before a crucifix, Bernardine heard Christ say to him: “My son, behold me hanging upon a cross. If you love me, or desire to imitate me, be also fastened naked to your cross and follow me. Thus you will assuredly find me.â€� After Bernardine was ordained a priest, his superiors commissioned him to preach as a missionary to the Italians who were falling away from their Catholic faith. The Dominican evangelist St. Vincent Ferrer, just before leaving Italy, preached a sermon in which he predicted that one of his listeners would continue his work among the Italians –  a prophecy Bernardine heard in person, and went on to fulfill.Bernardine’s personal devotion to God, which amazed even the strict Franciscans, made his preaching extremely effective. He moved his hearers to abandon their vices, turn back to God, and make peace with one another. He promoted devotion to the name of Jesus as a simple and effective means of recalling God’s love at all times. When other priests consulted him for advice, Bernardine gave them a simple rule: “In all your actions, seek in the first place the kingdom of God and his glory. Direct all you do purely to his honor. Persevere in brotherly charity, and practice first all that you desire to teach others.â€�“By this means,â€� he said, “the Holy Spirit will be your master, and will give you such wisdom and such a tongue that no adversary will be able to stand against you.â€� Bernardine’s own life attested to this source of strength in the face of trials. He patiently suffered an accusation of heresy –  which Pope Martin V judged to be false – and refused to abandon his bold preaching when a nobleman threatened him with death.But Bernardine was also widely admired throughout Italy, and he was offered the office of a bishop on three occasions. Each time, however, he turned down the position, choosing to fulfill the prediction of St. Vincent Ferrer through his missionary work. Bernardine preached throughout most of Italy several times over, and even managed to reconcile members of its warring political factions. Later in his life, Bernardine served for five years as the Vicar General for his Franciscan order, and revived the practice of its strict rule of life. Then in 1444, forty years after he first entered religious life, Bernardine became sick while traveling. He continued to preach, but soon lost his strength and his voice. St. Bernardine of Siena died on May 20, 1444. Only six years later, in 1450, Pope Nicholas V canonized him as a saint.

Saint Celestine V, Pope

Celestine is a saint who will always be remembered for the unique manner in which he was elected Pope, for his spectacular incompetence in that office, and for the distinction of being the first pontiff ever to have resigned.Pietro di Murrone was born in born 1215 in the Neapolitan province of Moline to a poor family. He became a Benedictine monk at the age of seventeen and was eventually ordained priest at Rome. His love of solitude led him first into the wilderness of Monte Morone in the Abruzzi, whence his surname, and later into the wilder recesses of Mt. Majella. He was strongly influenced by the life of John the Baptist, and took him as his model in his religious life. His hair-cloth was roughened with knots, he wore a chain of iron encompassing his emaciated frame, and he fasted every day except for on Sunday. Each year he kept four Lents, passing three of them on bread and water only, and he consecrated the entire day and a great part of the night to prayer and labour. As generally happens in the case of saintly anchorites, Peter’s great desire for solitude was not destined to be gratified. Many kindred spirits gathered about him eager to imitate his rule of life, and before his death there were thirty- six monasteries, numbering 600 religious, and bearing his papal name, Celestini. The order that developed amongst those that gathered around him was approved as a branch of the Benedictines by Urban IV in 1264. This congregation of Benedictine Celestines must not be confused with other Celestines, Franciscans, who are extreme Spirituals that Pope Celestine permitted to live as hermits according to the Rule of St. Francis in 1294, but were pendent of the Franciscan superiors. In their gratitude they named themselves after the pope (Pauperes eremitæ Domini Celestine), but were dissolved and dispersed (1302) by Boniface VIII, whose legitimacy the Spirituals contested. In 1284, Pietro, weary of the cares of government, appointed a certain Robert as his vicar and plunged again into the depths of the wilderness. It would be well if some Catholic scholar would devote some time to a thorough investigation of his relations to the extreme spiritual party of that age, for though it is certain that the pious hermit did not approve of the heretical tenets held by the leaders, it is equally true that the fanatics, during his life and after his death, made copious use of his name.In July 1294, his pious exercises were suddenly interrupted by a scene unparalleled in ecclesiastical history. Three eminent dignitaries, accompanied by an immense multitude of monks and laymen, ascended the mountain, and announced that Pietro had been chosen as the new Pope by a unanimous vote of the Sacred College and humbly begged him to accept the honor. Two years and three months had elapsed since the death of Nicholas IV on April 4, 1292 without much prospect that the conclave at Perugia would unite upon a candidate. Of the twelve Cardinals who composed the Sacred College six were Romans, four Italians and two French. The factious spirit of Guelph and Ghibelline, which was then epidemic in Italy, divided the conclave, as well as the city of Rome, into two hostile parties of the Orsini and the Colonna, neither of which could outvote the other. During a personal visit to Perugia in the spring of 1294, Charles II of Naples, who needed the papal authority in order to regain Sicily, only exasperated the situation. Hostile words were exchanged between the Angevin monarch and Cardinal Gaetani, who was at that time the intellectual leader of the Colonna, and later, Pope Boniface VIII, their bitter enemy. When the situation seemed hopeless, Cardinal Latino Orsini admonished the fathers that God had revealed to a saintly hermit that if the cardinals did not perform their duty within four months, He would visit the Church with severe chastisement. All knew that he was referring to Pietro di Murrone. The proposition was seized upon by the exhausted conclave and the election was made unanimous. Pietro received the news of his elevation with tears, but after a brief prayer, obeyed what seemed the clear voice of God, commanding him to sacrifice his personal inclination on the altar of the public welfare. Flight was impossible, even if he had contemplated it, for no sooner did the news of this extraordinary event spread abroad than multitudes (numbered at 200,000) flocked about him. His elevation was particularly welcome to the Spirituals, who saw in it the realization of current prophecies that the reign of the Holy Spirit ruling through the monks was at hand, and they proclaimed him the first legitimate Pope since Constantine’s donation of wealth and worldly power to “the first rich father” (Inferno, Canto XIX). King Charles of Naples, upon hearing of the election of his subject, hastened with his son Charles Martel, titular King of Hungary, to present his homage to the new Pope, but, in reality, to take the simple old man into honourable custody. Had Charles known how to preserve moderation in exploiting his good luck, this windfall might have brought him incalculable benefits. As it was, he ruined everything by his excessive greed.In reply to the request of the cardinals, that he should come to Perugia to be crowned, Pietro, at the instigation of Charles, summoned the Sacred College to meet him at Aquila, a frontier town of the Kingdom of Naples. Reluctantly they came, and one by one, Gaetani being the last to appear. Seated humbly on a simple donkey, the rope held by two monarchs, the new pontiff proceeded to Aquila, and although only three of the cardinals had arrived, the king ordered him to be crowned, and the ceremony had to be repeated in traditional form some days later, instancing the only double papal coronation. Cardinal Latino was so grief- stricken at the course which affairs were evidently taking that he fell sick and died shortly after the coronation. Pietro took the name of Celestine V. As one of his first acts of Pope, being urged by the cardinals to cross over into the States of the Church, Celestine, at the behest of the king, ordered the entire Curia to repair to Naples. It is wonderful how many serious mistakes the simple old man crowded into five short months. We have no full register of them, because his official acts were annulled by his successor. On September 18, he created twelve new cardinals, seven of whom were French, and the rest, with one possible exception, Neapolitans, thus paving the road to Avignon and the Great Schism. Ten days later he embittered the cardinals by renewing the rigorous law of Gregory X, regulating the conclave which Adrian V had suspended. He is said to have appointed a young son of Charles to the important See of Lyons, but no trace of such appointment appears in Gams or Eubel. At Monte Cassino on his way to Naples, he strove to force the Celestine hermit-rule on the monks, which they humoured him with while he was with them. At Benevento he created the bishop of the city a cardinal, without observing any of the traditional forms. Meanwhile he scattered privileges and offices with a lavish hand. Refusing no one, he was found to have granted the same place or benefice to three or four rival suitors. He also granted favours without a second thought. In consequence, the affairs of the Curia fell into extreme disorder. Upon his arrival in Naples, he took up his abode in a single apartment of the Castel Nuovo, and on the approach of Advent had a little cell built on the model of his beloved hut in the Abruzzi. But he was ill at ease. Affairs of State took up time that ought to be devoted to exercises of piety, and he feared that his soul was in danger. The thought of abdication seems to have occurred simultaneously to the pope and to his discontented cardinals, whom he rarely consulted.That the idea originated with Cardinal Gaetani, the latter vigorously denied, and maintained that he originally opposed it. But a serious canonical doubt arose: Can a pope resign? As he has no superior on earth, who is authorized to accept his resignation? The solution of the question was reserved to the trained canonist, Cardinal Gaetani, who, basing his conclusion on common sense and the Church’s right to self-preservation, decided affirmatively.It is interesting to notice how curtly, when he became Boniface VIII, he dispatched the delicate subject on which the validity of his claim to the papacy depended. In the “Liber Sextus” I, vii, 1, he issued the following decree: “Whereas some curious persons, arguing on things of no great expediency, and rashly seeking, against the teaching of the Apostle, to know more than it is meet to know, have seemed, with little forethought, to raise an anxious doubt, whether the Roman Pontiff, especially when he recognizes himself incapable of ruling the Universal Church and of bearing the burden of the Supreme Pontificate, can validly renounce the papacy, and its burden and honour: Pope Celestine V, Our predecessor, whilst still presiding over the government of the aforesaid Church, wishing to cut off all the matter for hesitation on the subject, having deliberated with his brethren, the Cardinals of the Roman Church, of whom We were one, with the concordant counsel and assent of Us and of them all, by Apostolic authority established and decreed, that the Roman Pontiff may freely resign. We, therefore, lest it should happen that in course of time this enactment should fall into oblivion, and the aforesaid doubt should revive the discussion, have placed it among other constitutions ad perpetuam rei memoriam by the advice of our brethren.”When the report spread that Celestine contemplated resigning, the excitement in Naples was intense. King Charles, whose arbitrary course had brought things to this crisis, organized a determined opposition. A huge procession of the clergy and monks surrounded the castle, and with tears and prayers implored the Pope to continue his rule. Celestine, whose mind was not yet clear on the subject, returned an evasive answer, whereupon the multitude chanted the Te Deum and withdrew. A week later, on December13, Celestine’s resolution was irrevocably fixed. Summoning the cardinals on that day, he read the constitution mentioned by Boniface in the “Liber Sextus”, announced his resignation, and proclaimed the cardinals free to proceed to a new election. After the lapse of the nine days enjoined by the legislation of Gregory X, the cardinals entered the conclave, and the next day Benedetto Gaetani was proclaimed Pope as Boniface VIII. After revoking many of the provisions made by Celestine, Boniface brought his predecessor, now in the dress of a humble hermit, with him on the road to Rome. He was forced to retain him in custody, lest an inimical use should be made of the simple old man. Celestine yearned for his cell in the Abruzzi, and managed to escape at San Germano, and to the great joy of his monks reappeared among them at Majella. Boniface ordered his arrest, but Celestine evaded his pursuers for several months by wandering through the woods and mountains. Finally, he attempted to cross the Adriatic to Greece but, driven back by a tempest, and captured at the foot of Mt. Gargano, he was delivered into the hands of Boniface, who confined him closely in a narrow room in the tower of the castle of Fumone near Anagni (Analecta Bollandiana, 1897, XVI, 429-30). Here, after nine months passed in fasting and prayer, closely watched and attended by two of his own religious, though rudely treated by the guards, he ended his extraordinary career in his ninety-first year. That Boniface treated him harshly, and finally cruelly murdered him, is a calumny. Some years after his canonization by Clement V in 1313, his remains were transferred from Ferentino to the church of his order at Aquila, where they are still the object of great veneration. His feast is celebrated on May 19.