Thursday, February 7, 2019

Saint Romuald, Abbot

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The calendar’s list of martyrs is interrupted for two days; the first of these is the feast of Romuald, the hero of penance, the saint of the forest of Camaldoli. He is a son of the great patriarch St. Benedict, and like him is the father of many children. The Benedictine family has a direct line from the commencement, even to this present time; but from the trunk of this venerable tree there have issued four vigorous branches, to each of which the Holy Spirit has imparted the life and fruitfulness of the parent stem. These collateral branches of the Benedictine Order are: Camaldoli, founded by Romuald; Cluny, by Odo; Vallombrosa, by John Gualbert; and Citeaux, by Robert of Molesmes.

The saint of this seventh day of February is Romuald. The martyrs whom we meet with on our way to Lent give us an important lesson by the contempt they had for this short life. But the teaching offered us by such holy penitents as the great abbot of Camaldoli is even more practical than that of the martyrs. “They that are Christ’s,” says the apostle, “have crucified their flesh, with its vices and concupiscences;” and in these words he tells us what is the distinguishing character of every true Christian. We repeat it: what a powerful encouragement we have in these models of mortification, who have sanctified the deserts by their lives of heroic penance! How they make us ashamed of our own cowardice, which can scarcely bring itself to do the little that must be done to satisfy God’s justice and merit His grace! Let us take the lesson to heart, cheerfully offer our offended Lord the tribute of our repentance, and purify our souls by works of mortification.

The Office for St. Romuald’s feast gives us the following sketch of his life.

Romualdus Ravennæ, Sergio patre nobili genere natus, adolescens in propinquum monasterium Classense, pœnitentiæ causa secessit: ubi religiosi hominis sermone, ad pietatis studium vehementius incensus, viso etiam semel et iterum per noctem in ecclesia beato Apollinari, quod Dei servus illi futurum promiserat, monachus efficitur. Mox ad Marinum, vitæ sanctitate ac severiore disciplina in finibus Venetorum eo tempore celebrem, se contulit, ut ad arctam et sublimem perfectionis vitam eo magistro ac duce uteretur.

Romuald was the son of a nobleman, named Sergius. He was born at Revenna, and while yet a boy, withdrew to the monastery of Classis, there to lead a life of penance. The conversation of one of the religious increased in his soul his already ardent love of piety; and after being twice favored with a vision of St. Apollinaris, who appeared to him, during the night, in the church which was dedicated to him, he entered the monastic state, agreeably to the promise made him by the holy martyr. A few years later on, he betook himself to a hermit named Marinus, who lived in the neighborhood of Venice, and was famed for his holy and austere life, that, under such a master and guide, he might follow the narrow path of high perfection.

Multis Satanæ insidiis, et hominum invidia oppugnatus, tanto humilior se assidue jejuniis et orationibus exercebat, et rerum cœlestium meditatione, vim lacrymarum profundens fruebatur: vultu tamen adeo læto semper erat, ut intuentes exhilararet. Magno apud principes et reges in honore fuit, multique ejus consilio, mundi illecebris abjectis, solitudinem petierunt. Martyrii quoque cupiditate flagravit, cujus causa dum in Pannoniam proficiscitur, morbo quo afflictabatur cum progrederetur, levabatur cum recederet, reverti cogitur.

Many were the snares laid for him by Satan, and envious men molested him with their persecutions; but these things only excited him to be more humble, and assiduous in fasting and prayer. In the heavenly contemplation wherewith he was favored, he shed abundant tears. Yet such was the joy which ever beamed in his face, that it made all who looked at him cheerful. Princes and kings held him in great veneration, and his advice induced many to leave the world and its allurements, and live in holy solitude. An ardent desire for martyrdom induced him to set out for Pannonia; but a malady, which tormented him as often as he went forward, and left him when he turned back, obliged him to abandon his design.

In vita et post mortem miraculis clarus, spiritu etiam prophetiæ non caruit. Scalam a terra cœlum pertingentem insimilitudinem Jacob patriarchæ, per quam homines in veste candida ascendebant et descendebant, per visum conspexit, eoque Camaldulenses monachos, quorum instituti auctor fuit, designari mirabiliter agnovit. Denique cum annos centum et viginti ageret, et centum ipsos in summa vitæ saperitate Deo servisset, ad eum migravit anno salutis millesimo vigesimo septimo. Ejus corpus quinquennio postquam sepultum fuerat, integrum repertum, Fabriani in ecclesia sui ordinis honorifice conditum est.

He wrought many miracles during his life, as also after his death, and was endowed with the gift of prophecy. Like the patriarch Jacob, he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, on which men, clad in white robes, ascended and descended. He interpreted this miraculous vision as signifying the Camaldolese monks, whose founder he was. At length, having reached the age of a hundred and twenty, after having served his God by a life of most austere penance for a hundred years, he went to his reward, in the year of our Lord one thousand and twenty-seven. His body was found incorrupt after it had been five years in the grave; and was then buried, with due honor, in the church of his Order at Fabriano.

Faithful servant and friend of God! how different was thy life from ours! We love the world and its distractions. We think we do wonders if we give, each day, a passing thought to our Creator, and make Him, at long intervals, the sole end of some one of our occupations. Yet we know how each hour is bringing us nearer to that moment when we must stand before the divine tribunal, with our good and our evil works, to receive the irrevocable sentence we shall have merited. Thou, Romuald, didst not thus waste life away. It seemed to thee as though there were but one thought and one interest worth living for: how best to serve thy God. Lest anything should distract thee from this infinitely dear object, thou didst flee into the desert. There, under the rule of the great patriarch St. Benedict, thou wagedst war against the flesh and the devil; thy tears washed away thy sins, though so light if compared with what we have committed; thy soul, invigorated by penance, was inflamed with the love of Jesus, for whose sake thou wouldst fain have shed thy blood. We love to recount these thy merits, for they belong to us in virtue of that communion which our Lord has so mercifully established between saints and sinners. Assist us, therefore, during the penitential season, which is soon to be upon us. The justice of God will not despise our feeble efforts, for He will see them beautified by the union He allows them to have with such glorious works as thine. When thou wast living in the Eden of Camaldoli, thy amiable and sweet charity for men was such that all who came near thee were filled with joy and consolation: what may we not expect from thee, now that thou art face to face with the God of love? Remember, too, the Order thou hast founded; protect it, give it increase, and make it ever, to those who become its children, a latter to lead them up to heaven.

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