Proper of the Saints and Feasts

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Proper of the Saints and Feasts

Wednesday, October 16:

    Feast of Saint Hedwig, Widow and Duchess of Poland and Saint Gerard Majella, Religious and Patron Saint of expectant mothers
      Semi-Double Feast. White Vestments.

Saint Hedwig

   This little known saint Saint Hedwig, who was known as the Duchess of Silesia, was the daughter of Count Berthold IV of Bavaria. Hedwig was born in 1174 into a very devout Catholic family with royal ties. Her two brothers were both bishops and one sister was an abbess while another, the mother of Saint Elizabeth was the queen of Hungary, and still another who was married to King Philip II of France. Hedwig had been educated by the Benedictine nuns in the Kitzengen Monastery in Franconia and developed a great love for the Word of God in Sacred Scripture.

   But the religious life was not meant for Hedwig and, at the age of 12, she was married to Duke Henry I of Silesia . They had seven children. When Henry's father died in 1202 he succeeded to the dukedom and at Hedwig's urging he built a Cistercian Monastery in Polish Trebnitz, which became the first monastery for nuns in Silesia. Hedwig, who was a devoted wife and mother and totally giving in her generosity of time and money, along with her husband, founded many more monasteries as well as hospitals.

   Two of their children Henry II and Conrad came to bitter blows over the division of territories made by their father in 1112. Though Hedwig prayed and tried to counsel them, they still resisted and war brokeout between Henry I and Swatopluk of Pomerania for territorial rights. Siding with Henry I was Duke Ladislaus while Conrad sided against Ladislaus, lusting after the latter's lands. When Ladislaus was slain by Ladislaus' men in 1227, Henry II waged war against his brother Conrad. It was only through Hedwig acting as a peacemaker that the two brothers were reconciled. Hedwig's husband Henry I died in 1238 and three years later her son Henry II was felled on the battlefield near Wahlstadt at the hands of the ruthless Mongol Tartars.

   With both her husband and son gone, Hedwig retired to the Monastery at Trebnitz in Poland where she lived for another three years, passing away peacefully on October 15, 1243. She was canonized less than a quarter of a century later by Pope Clement IV in 1267 with many miracles attributed to her. She is considered the Patroness of Silesia which is today western Poland. In many circles, she is also considered one of the Patron Saints of Poland.

Saint Gerard Majella

   Today is also the historical feast of Saint Gerard Majella a Redemptorist Coadjutor Brother. He is considered a Thaumaturge, a Saint who works miracles not just occasionally, but as a matter of course. It has been said that God raises up not more than one every century. He was born in Italy at Muro Lucano, south of Naples, in 1726. As a child of five, when he would go to pray before a statue of the the Blessed Virgin Mary with her Child, the Infant Jesus regularly descended to give him a little white bun. He took it home and naively told his mother, when she asked him, where he obtained it. His sister was sent to the church to observe in secret, and saw the miracle for herself. He wanted very much to receive Holy Communion at the age of seven and went to the Communion railing one day with the others; but the priest, seeing his age, passed him up; and he went back to his place in tears. The following night, Saint Michael the Archangel brought him the Communion he so much desired.

   As he grew older, when anyone spoke to him about marriage, he would answer: “The Madonna has ravished my heart, and I have made Her a present of it.” He desired to enter religion, but his health was unstable as a result of the mortifications he had constantly practiced as a young man. He had acquired a reputation of sanctity, and finally, when he was 23 years old, he obtained the aid of some missionaries to second his request, and was admitted as a Coadjutor of the newly founded Congregation of Redemptorists, in 1749.

   He showed himself to be a model of every virtue and he did the work of four, still finding time to take on himself that of others. He would say: “Let me do it, I am younger, take a rest.” He made the heroic vow of always choosing what appeared to him most perfect. He was perfectly obedient to his superior’s wishes, even when not expressed; and one day, to demonstrate this to a visiting authority who required a proof, his immediate Superior sent him out, saying: “I will tell him interiorly to return; he needs no other command than this.” Soon the Brother knocked on the door once more and said: “You sent for me to come back?” He conducted a group of students on a nine-day pilgrimage to Mount Gargano, where the Archangel Michael had appeared. They had very little money for the trip, and when they arrived at the site, there was none left. Gerard went before the tabernacle and told Our Lord that it was His responsibility to take care of the little group. He had been observed in the church by a religious, who invited the Saint and his companions to lodge in his residence. When the party was ready to start home again, Gerard prayed once more, and immediately someone appeared and gave him a roll of bills.

   The most famous of Saint Gerard’s miracles occurred when a mason fell from a scaffolding during the construction of a building. Gerard had been forbidden by his Superior to work any more miracles without permission. He stopped the man in mid-air, telling him to wait until he had obtained permission to save him. He received it, and the man descended gently to the ground. When a plague broke out, he had the gift of bilocation; he was seen in more than one house at the same time, assisting the sick. Not a page of his life, it is said, was without prodigies, all tending to the glory of God and motivated by prodigious charity towards his neighbor. He was condemned falsely at one time, as a result of a connivance between two individuals; the Superior General, Saint Alphonsus Liguori himself, who did not know Gerard personally, was induced to believe the black calumny. Later the guilty ones wrote him a letter confessing their fault, and Gerard, who had said nothing at all when relegated into solitude, was asked why he had not said he was innocent. He replied that the Rule required that the religious not defend themselves.

   He died in 1755 at the age of 29 years, was beatified in 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and canonized in 1904 by Pope Saint Pius X.

Source: Biography of St. Gerard Majella, text by A. R. Levebvre, in Un Saint pour chaque jour du mois (Paris: 1932), Vol. 10, October.

Thursday, October 17:

    Traditional Feast of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin and "Apostle of Devotion to the Sacred Heart"
      Double Feast. White Vestments.

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

   This simple Visitation nun was born Margaret Mary Alacoque on July 22, 1647 to Claude Alocoque and his wife Philiberte Lamyn Alacoque at L'Hautecour in Burgundy, France. When Claude died in 1655, Margaret was sent by her mother to the Poor Clares' school in Charolles where she stayed with her uncle who mistreated her badly. This in turn translated into rheumatic fever that found her bedridden for five years until she was 15. During this time she developed a special devotion for the Blessed Sacrament. Though she was courted by suitors, she declined all invitations to marriage and instead longed to be a bride of Christ as a Visitation nun at their convent at Paray-le-Monial and became a professed nun the following year. In 1667 she experienced her first mystical vision of Jesus. On December 27, 1673, when she was 26, Our Lord began the series of revelations to her that would last over a year and a half. Jesus confided to her that she was His chosen instrument to convey to the world all He revealed to her including Devotion to His Sacred Heart and the devotion of Nine First Fridays and Holy Hour and the graces inherent from observing these as well as establishing a feast specifically for His Most Sacred Heart. St. Margaret Mary in obedience went to her superior Mother de Saumaise but she was strongly rebuffed as all this being superstitious.

   St. Margaret was obedient, but continued to pray that Mother Superior would see the light as Jesus continued to appear to her offering her guidance and a reassurance she was doing the right thing. Even though a group of theologians were called in to investigate, they refused to accept any of it as valid and this further alienated her from the members of her community and Mother de Saumaise who all thought Sr. Margaret was making a circus out of all of this. The only one who believed was her confessor Blessed Father Claud La Colombiere, who declared the visions genuine and valid. St. Margaret Mary's prayers were answered when Mother de Saumaise was replaced in 1683 by Mother Melin, a dear friend who believed. She in turn selected Sr. Margaret as her assistant. Because of this appointment and the support of both the Father Confessor and Mother Superior the rest of the community changed their tune and began to believe. Shortly after that Sr. Margaret Mary was appointed Mistress of Novices and was overjoyed to see Mother Melin ordain that the Feast of the Sacred Heart would be officially celebrated at the convent on June 21, 1686.

   Two years later a chapel honoring the Sacred Heart was built at Paray-le-Monial with a beautiful painting commissioned to be painted on the standard of the king of France King Louis XIV. This was later adopted in France, Spain and in the western Alps. Soon the observation of this feast was spread to other convents throughout the Visitandine network and to other Orders. On October 17, 1690, with her work for Jesus complete, and at the fairly early age of 43, Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque, while in prayer at her convent, closed her eyes for the final time on this earth to be forever with Jesus in Heaven. 75 years later devotion to the Sacred Heart was officially recognized by Holy Mother Church and approved by Pope Clement XIII in 1765.

   In 1920 Pope Benedict XV canonized Sr. Margaret Mary along with her spiritual advisor and Saint John Eudes, all of whom the Holy Father proclaimed as "Saints of the Sacred Heart." Her visions and the subsequent embracing of all Jesus conveyed is another example of how private revelation is so slow to be received, yet when surviving the test of time and bearing good fruit, can add greatly to Holy Mother Church as God wills.

    REFLECTION: Love for the Sacred Heart especially honors the Incarnation, and makes the soul grow rapidly in humility, generosity, patience, and union with its Beloved.

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