Thursday, April 24, 2014

Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Martyr

Our Risen Lord would have around him a bright phalanx of martyrs. Its privileged members belong to the different centuries of the Church’s existence. Its ranks open today to give welcome to a brave combatant, who won his palm not in a contest with paganism, as those did whose feasts we have thus far kept, but in defending his mother, the Church, against her own rebellious children. They were heretics that slew this day’s martyr, and the century that was honored with his triumph was the seventeenth.

Fidelis was worthy of his beautiful name. Neither difficulty nor menace could make him fail in his duty. During his whole life, he had but the glory and service of his divine Lord in view: and when the time came for him to face the fatal danger, he did so, calmly but fearlessly, as behooved a disciple of that Jesus who went forth to meet his enemies. Honor, then, be today to the brave son of St. Francis! truly he is worthy of is seraphic Patriarch, who confronted the Saracens, and was a martyr in desire!

Protestantism was established and rooted by the shedding of torrents of blood; and yet Protestants count it as a great crime that, here and there, the children of the true Church made an armed resistance against them. The heresy of the sixteenth century was the cruel and untiring persecutor of men whose only crime was their adhesion to the old faith—the faith that had civilized the world. The so-called Reformation proclaimed liberty in matters of religion, and massacred Catholics who exercised this liberty, and prayed and believed as their ancestors had done for long ages before Luther and Calvin were born. A Catholic who gives heretics credit for sincerity when they talk about religious toleration proves that he knows nothing of either the past or the present. There is a fatal instinct in error which leads it to hate the Truth; and the true Church, by its unchangeableness, is a perpetual reproach to them that refuse to be her children. Heresy starts with an attempt to annihilate them that remain faithful; when it has grown tired of open persecution it vents its spleen in insults and calumnies; and when these do not produce the desired effect, hypocrisy comes in with its assurances of friendly forbearance. The history of Protestant Europe, during the last three centuries, confirms these statements; it also justifies us in honoring those courageous servants of God who, during that same period, have died for the ancient faith.

Let us now respectfully listen to the account given us in the Liturgy of the life and martyrdom of St. Fidelis; we shall find that the Church has not grown degenerate in her Saints.

Fidelis in oppido Sueviæ Sigmaringa ex honesta Reyorum familia natus, ab inuente ætate singularibus naturæ et gratiæ donis ornatus præfulsit. Egregiam quippe sortitus indolem, morumque optima imbutus disciplina, dum Friburgi Philosophiæ et juris utriusque lauream emeruit, in schola etiam Christi ad perfectionis apicem sedulo virtutum exercitio contendere cœpit. Nobilium exinde virorum, varias Europæ provincias lustrantium comes adscitus, eos ad christianam pietatem sectandam tam verbis quam operibus excitare non destitit. Quinimo in eodem itinere crebris austeritatibus desideria carnis mortificare at ita seipsum regere studuit, ut in tanta rerum vicissitudine nullo unquam visus fuerit iræ motu perturbari. Juris præterea et justitiæ strenuus propugnator, post reditum in Germaniam celebre sibi nomen qcquisivit in advocati munere: in quo tamen, cum fori pericula esset expertus, tutiorem æternæ salutis viam ingredi deliberavit, et superna vocatione illustratus, paulo post Ordini Seraphico inter fratres minores Capuccinos adscribi petiit.

Fidelis was born at Sigmaringen, a town of Swabia. His parents, whose name was Rey, were of a respectable family. He was remarkable, even when a child, for his extraordinary gifts both of nature and grace. Blessed with talent of a high order, and trained to virtue by an excellent education, he received at Freiburg the well-merited honors of Doctor in Philosophy and in Civil and Canon Law, at the same time that, in the school of Christ, he strove to attain the height of perfection by the assiduous practice of all virtues. Being requested to accompany several noblemen in their travels through various countries of Europe, he lost no opportunity of encouraging them, both by word and example, to lead a life of Christian piety. In these travels, he moreover mortified the desires of the flesh by frequent austerities; and such was the mastery he gained over himself, that in the midst of all the trouble and excitement, he was never seen to lose his temper in the slightest degree. He was a strenuous upholder of law and justice, and, after his return to Germany, he acquired considerable reputation as an advocate. But finding that this profession was replete with danger, he resolved to enter on the path that would best lead him to eternal salvation. Thus enlightened by the divine call, he shortly afterwards asked to be admitted into the Seraphic Order, among the Capuchin Friars.

Piæ petitionis compos redditus, mundi suique contemptor insignis, in ipso statim tyrocinio, magisque cum solemnis professionis vota in gaudio spiritus Domino nuncupasset, in regulari observantia omnibus admirationi fuit ac exemplo. Orationi maxime, et sacris litteris vacans, in verbi quoque ministerio singulari gratia excellens, nedum Catholicos ad meliorem frugem, verum etiam heterodoxos ad veritatis cognitionem attraxit. Pluribus in locis cœnobii præfectus constitutus, prudentia, justitia, mansuetudine, discretione et humilitatis laude, munus sibi demandatum exercuit. Arctissimæ paupertatis zelator egregius, quidquid vel minus necessarium videretur, e cœnobio penitus eliminavit. Inter austera jejunia, vigilias et flagella, salutari seipsum prosequens odio, in alios amorem, quasi mater in filios, ostendit. Cum pestifera febris Austriacas militares copias dire affligeret, ipse in extremis infirmorum indigentiis ad assidua charitatis officia toto spiritu incubuit. In componendis etiam animorum dissidiis, aliisque proximi necessitatibus sublevandis, consilio et opere adeo præclare se gessit, ut Pater patriæ meruerit appellari.

His pious wish being granted, he showed from the very commencement of his novitiate how thoroughly he despised the world and himself; and when, with spiritual joy, he had offered to God the vows of solemn profession, his regular observance was such as to make him the admiration of, and a model to, all around him. He devoted himself to prayer and to sacred studies; as also to preaching, for which he had a special grace, and by which he not only converted Catholics from a life of wickedness to one of virtue, but also drew heretics to a knowledge of the truth. He was appointed superior in several convents of his Order, and fulfilled his office with admirable prudence, justice, meekness, discretion and humility. His zeal for strict poverty was so great, that he would allow nothing to be in the convent which was not absolutely necessary. He practiced severe fasting, watching and disciplines, out of holy hatred against himself; whereas his love towards others was that of a mother for her children. A contagious fever having broken out among the Austrian soldiers, causing frightful mortality, he devoted his whole energies to untiring acts of charity in favor of the sick, whose sufferings were extreme. So admirable was he, both in advice and action, in settling disputes, and relieving everyone in trouble or trial, that he won for himself the name of the Father of his country.

Deiparæ Virginis et Rosarii cultor eximius, illius præcipue, aliorumque sanctorum patrociniis a Deo postulavit, ut in catholicæ fidei obsequium, vitam sibi et sanguinem fundere liceret. Cumque ardens hoc desiderium in quotidiana Sacri devota celebratione magis accenderetur, mira Dei Providentia factum est ut fortis Christi athleta præses eligeretur illarum missionum quas Congregatio de Propaganda fide pro Rhætia tunc temporis instituerat. Quod arduum munus prompto hilarique animo suscipiens, tanto fervore executus est, ut pluribus hæreticis ad orthodoxam fidem conversis, spes non modica effulserit totius illius gentis Ecclesiæ et Christo reconciliandæ. Prophetiæ dono præditus, futuras Rhætiæ calamitates suique necem ab hæreticis inferendam sæpius prædixit. Postquam vero, insidiarum probe conscius impendenti agoni se præparasset, die vigesima quarta aprilis anno millesimo sexcentesimo vigesimo secundo, ad ecclesiam loci Sevicium nuncupati se contolut: ubi ad hæreticis, qui pridie conversionem simulantes, eum dolose ad prædicandum invitaverant, concione tumultuarie interrupta, per verbera et vulnera eidem crudeliter inflicta, gloriosam mortem magno et alacri corde perpessus, primitias martyrum memoratæ Congregationis proprio sanguine consecravit; pluribus signis et miraculis exinde clarus, præsertim Curiæ et Velkirchii, ubi summa populi veneratione illius reliquiæ asservantur.

He was extremely devout to the Virgin Mother of God, and a zealous promoter of the Rosary. He besought of God, through the intercession of this Blessed Mother firstly, and then through that of all the Saints, that he might be allowed to shed his blood and lay down his life for the Catholic faith. This ardent desire was increased by the daily and devout celebration of the Holy Sacrifice; and at length , by the wonderful providence of God, this valiant soldier of Christ was placed at the head of the missions recently established among the Grisons, by the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. Fidelis undertook this arduous task with a ready and cheerful heart, and labored in it with such earnestness, that he converted many heretics to the true faith, and inspired the hope that the whole of that people would be reconciled to the Church and to Christ. He had the gift of prophecy, and frequently predicted the calamities that were to befall the Grisons, as also his own death by the hands of the heretics. Being fully aware of the plot laid against him, he prepared himself for the combat, and, on the twenty-fourth day of April, in the year 1622, he repaired to the church of a place called Seewis. Hither had the heretics, on the previous day, invited him to come and preach, pretending that they wished to be converted. While he was preaching, he was interrupted by their clamors. They rushed upon him, cruelly struck and wounded him even to death. He suffered it with courage and joy, thus consecrating by his blood the first-fruits of the martyrs of the Congregation of the Propagation of the Faith. His name was rendered illustrious by many miracles, especially at Voire, and Veltkirch, where his relics are kept, and honored by the people with exceeding great veneration.

How truly couldst thou, O Fidelis! say with the Apostle: I have finished my course! Yea, thy death was even more beautiful than thy life, holy as that was. How admirable the calmness wherewith thou didst receive death! how grand the joy wherewith thou didst welcome the blows of thine enemies—thine, because they were those of the Church! Thy dying prayer, like Stephen’s, was for them; for the Catholic, while he hates heresy, must love the heretics who put him to death. Pray, O holy martyr, for the children of the Church. Obtain for them an appreciation of the value of faith, and of the favor God bestowed on them when he made them members of the true Church. May they be on their guard against the many false doctrines which are now current through the world. May they not be shaken by the scandals which abound in this age of effeminacy and pride. It is faith that is to bring us to our Risen Jesus: and he urges it upon us by the words he addressed to Thomas: Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed! Of this number we wish to be: and therefore is it that we cling to the Church, the sovereign mistress of faith. We wish to believe her, and not human reason, which has neither the power to fathom the word of God, nor the right to sit in judgment over it. Jesus has willed that this holy faith should come down to us bearing on itself the strengthening testimony of the martyrs; and each age has had its martyrs. Glory to thee, O Fidelis, who didst win thy palm by combating the errors of the pretended Reformation! Take a martyr’s revenge, and pray without ceasing to our Jesus, that he would bring all heretics back to the faith and to union with the Church. They are our brethren by baptism; pray for them, that they may return to the Fold, and that we may one day celebrate with them the true Paschal banquet, wherein the Lamb of God gives himself to be our food, not figuratively, as in the Old Law, but really and truly, as fits the New Covenant.

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