Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Saint Angela de Merici, Virgin

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This last day of May, which is honored by the virginal triumph of Aurelia Petronilla, in the first Age of the Church, is also fragrant with the lilies that wreathe the brow of Angela de Merici. The 16th Century, which, a few days back, offered to our Risen Lord the seraphic Magdalene de Pazzi, now presents him with this second fruit of heroic Sanctity. Angela realized the whole meaning of her beautiful name. In a mortal body, she possessed the purity of the blessed Spirits, and imitated their celestial energy by the vigorous practice of every virtue. This heroine of grace trampled beneath her feet everything that could impede her heavenward march. Gifted at an early age, with the highest contemplation, she bravely travelled to Palestine, there to venerate the footsteps of her Divine Spouse Jesus. After this, she visited the new Jerusalem—Rome—and offered up her fervent prayers at the Confession of Saint Peter. She then entered into her rest, and founded a Religious Order, which is, and will be to the end of time, one of the glories and aids of the Holy Church.

The thought of the great St. Ursula and her virginal Legion made a deep impression on Angela’s soul, and she too would form to our Lord an army of valiant women. Ursula confronted the barbarian host; Angela would give battle to the world and to its seductions, which are so dangerous to young girls. God blessed her with victory. As a trophy of her combats, she can point to the countless generations of young people, whom her Order has saved during the last three Centuries, by giving them a solid Christian education.

The Liturgy thus speaks of the virtues and actions of St. Angela.

Angela Mericia, Decentiani Veronensis direcesis oppido ad lacum Benacum, in ditione Veneta, piis orta parentibus, a prima ætate virginitatis lilium, quod perpetuo servare statuerat, sedula sepsit. Ab omni muliebri ornatu abhorrens, egregiam vultus formam, pulchram cæsariem studiose iredavit, ut cœlesti duntaxat animarum sponso placeret. In ipso autem adolescentiæ flore parentibus orbata, austerioris vitæ desiderio in desertum locum aufugere tentavit; sed ab avunculo prohibita, novit præstari domi, quod in solitudine non licuit. Cilicio ac flagellis frequenter usa; carnem non nisi infirma valetUdine, vinum in Nativitatis et Resurrectionis Dominiciæ tantum celebritate, complures vero dies nihil omnino degustavit. Orationi dedita brevissimum humi carpebat somnum; dæmonem vero sub lucentis angeli forma sibiilludere conantem agnovit protinus, et conjecit in fugam. Tandem paternis bonis abdicatis, et habitum ac regulam tertii Ordinis sancti Francisci amplexa, evangelicam paupertatem virginitatis laudi conjunxit.

Angela de Merici was born of virtuous parents at Decenzano, a town in the diocese of Verona, near lake Benago, in the Venetian territory. From her earliest years she kept the strictest guard over the lily of her virginity, which she had resolved should never be taken from her. She had a thorough contempt for those outward deckings on which so many women set their hearts. She purposely disfigured the beauty of her features and hair, that she might find no favor save with the Spouse of our souls. Whilst yet in the bloom of youth, she lost her parents; whereupon she sought to retire into a desert, that she might lead a life of penance; but being prevented by an uncle, she fulfilled at home what she was not permitted to do in a wilderness. She frequently wore a hairshirt, and took the discipline. She never ate flesh-meat, except in case of sickness; she never tasted wine, except on the Feasts of our Lord’s Nativity and Resurrection; and, at times, would pass whole days without taking any food. She spent much time in prayer, and exceedingly little in sleep, and that little on the ground. The devil having once appeared to her in the form of an angel of light, she at once detected his craft, and put him to flight. At length, having resigned her right to the fortune left her by her parents, she embraced the rule of the Third Order of St. Francis, received the habit, and united evangelical poverty to the merit of virginity.

Nullum pietatis officium erga proximos omittens, pauperibus quidquid sibi ex emendicato victu superesset, largiebatur. Libenter ministrabat ægrotis, pluraque cum magna sanctitatis fama peregravit loca, ut vel solatio esset afiiictis, vel reis vemam impetraret, vel infensos invicem reconciliaret animos, vel e vitiorum cœno scelestos revocaret. Angelorum pane, quem unice esuriebat, frequentissime refecta, tanti charitatis vi ferebatur in Deum, ut sæpius extra sensus raperetur. Sacra Palæstinal loca summa cum religione obivit. Quo in itinere, et visum quem ad Cydonias appulsa oras amiserat, eodem regressa recuperavit, et barbarorum captivitatem ac naufragium imminens divinitus evasit. Romam denique firmam Ecclesiæ petram veneratura, et amplissimæ Jubilæi veniæ percupida, sedente Clemente Septimo accessit, quam summus pontifex aliocutus, ejusdem sanctimoniam suspexit, et commendavit summopere; nec ab Urbe ipsam abire ante permisit quam alio cœlitus vocatam agnovit.

She showed her neighbor every kind office in her power; and gave to the poor a portion of her own food, which she procured by begging. She gladly served the sick. She gained the reputation of great sanctity in several places, which she visited either that she might comfort the afflicted, or obtain pardon for criminals, or reconcile them that were at variance, or reclaim sinners from the sink of crime. She had a singular hunger for the Bread of Angels, which she frequently received; and such was the vehemence of her love of God, that she was often in a state of ecstasy. She visited the Holy Places of Palestine with extraordinary devotion. During her pilgrimage, she lost her sight on landing on the isle of Candia, but recovered it when leaving. She also miraculously escaped shipwreck and falling into the hands of barbarians. She went to Rome during the Pontificate of Pope Clement the Seventh, in order to venerate the firm Rock of the Church, and to gain the great Jubilee Indulgence. The Pope had an interview with her, at once discovered her sanctity and spoke of her to others in terms of highest praise; nor would he have allowed her to leave the city, had he not been convinced that heaven called her elsewhere.

Brixiam itaque, ubi domum ad sanctæ Aphræ templum conduxit, reversa, novam ibi virginum societatem, sicut cœlesti voce ac visione mandatum sibi fuerat, sub certa disciplina sanctisque vivendi regulis constituit, quam sanctæ Ursulæ invictæ virginum ducis patrocinio ac nomine insignivit, eam vero perennem futuram morti proxima prædixit. Tandem prope septuagenaria, dives meritis avolavit in cœlum sexto kalendas februarias anni millesimi quingentesimi et quadragesimi cujus cadaver per ipsos triginta dies inhumatum, flexibile ac vivo simillimum perseveravit. Demum in sanctæ Aphræ templo inter cæteras quibus illud abundat sanctorum reliquias reposito, plurima ad ejus sepulchrum agi statim crepere miracula: quorum fama late diffusa non Brixiæ modo, et Decentiani, sed alibi etiam vulgo cœpit nuncupari Beata, ejusque imago aris imponi. Imo sanctus ipse Carolus Borromæus non multis post annis dignam, quæ ab Apostolica Sede in sanctorum virginum album referretur, Brixiæ palam asseruit. Cultum vero illi jamdiu a populis exhibitum, et tum locorum ordinariis probatum, tum pluribus etiam summorum pontificum indultis munitum, Clemens papa Tertius Decimus solemni decreto ratum habuit et connrmavit. Eam tamdem, novis miraculis rite probatis insignem, Pius papa Septimus solemni canonizatione in vaticana basilica peracta, die vigesima quarta Maii, anno millesimo octingentesimo septimo sanctarum virginum catalogo adscripsit.

Having returned to Brescia, she took a house near the church of Saint Afra. There, by God’s command, which was made known to her by a voice from heaven and by a vision, she instituted a new society of virgins under a special discipline, and holy rules, which she herself drew up. She put her Institute under the title and patronage of Saint Ursula, the brave leader of the army of virgins: she also foretold, shortly before her death, that this Institute would last to the end of the world. At length, being close upon seventy years of age, laden with merit, she took her flight to heaven in the year 1540, on the sixth of the Calends of February (January 27). Her corpse was kept thirty days before being put in the grave, and preserved the flexibility and appearance of a living body. It was laid in the church of Saint Afra, amidst the many other relics wherewith that church is enriched. Many miracles were wrought at her tomb. The rumour of these miracles spread not only through Brescia and Decenzano, but also in other places. The name of Blessed was soon given to Angela, and her image used to be placed on the altars. St. Charles Borromeo affirmed, whilst preaching at Brescia, a few years after Angela’s death, that she was worthy of canonization: Clement the Thirteenth ratified and confirmed the devotion thus paid her by the faithful, which had already received the approbation of several bishops, and the encoumgement of several Indults of Sovereign Pontiffs. Finally, after several new miracles had been juridically proved, Pius the Seventh enrolled Angela in the list of holy virgins, in the solemn canonization celebrated in the Vatican Basilica, on the 24th of May, in the year 1807.

Thou didst fight the battles of our Lord, 0 Angela, and thy holy labors merited for thee a glorious rest in the mansions of eternal bliss. An insatiable zeal for the honor of Jesus whom thou hadst chosen as thy Spouse, and an ardent charity for the creatures redeemed by his precious Blood—these were the characteristics of thy whole life. This love of thy neighbor made thee the mother of a countless progeny; for who can number the young children that have been educated, in sound doctrine and piety, by thy Daughters? Thou didst powerfully contribute to the welfare of Christian Society, by thus preparing so many for the duties of domestic life; and how many other Congregations, in imitation of thy Ursulines, have taken up the same admirable work, and have brought consolation to the Church, and happiness to the world? The Sovereign Pontiff has ordered that thy Feast should be kept throughout the whole Church. He declared, in issuing this Decree, that he wished to put under thy maternal protection the young girls who are nowadays exposed to such fearful dangers by the enemies of Christ and his Church. They have formed the project of undermining the faith of women, that so their good influence may be destroyed in their families. Disconcert these impious plans, 0 Angela! Protect thy sex; nourish within it the sentiment of the dignity of Christian Woman,—and Society may still be saved.

We address ourselves to thee, 0 Spouse of Christ, that thou wouldst aid us to fervor in the Liturgical Year, wherein we are made to follow in the path that was so dear to thee. Thy devotion in following the Divine Mysteries, which are successively brought before us, led thee to visit the Holy Land. Thou didst long to see Nazareth and Bethlehem, to traverse Galilee and Judea, to give thanks in the Cenacle, to weep on Calvary, and to adore the glorious Sepulcher. Deign to bless our feeble desires and efforts to tread in these same holy paths. We have still to follow thee to Mount Olivet, whence our Redeemer ascended into heaven; we have to return to the Cenacle, which the Holy Ghost is preparing to light up with his divine Fire. Obtain for us, 0 Angela, that we may follow thee to these hallowed spots, which made thee quit thy country and undertake a long and perilous pilgrimage. Oh! prepare our hearts for the sublime Mysteries which are to crown our Paschal season!

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