Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Saint Laurence Justinian, Bishop and Confessor

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“Come, all ye who are drawn by the desire of unchangeable good, and who seek it in vain in this passing world; I will tell you what heaven has done for me. Like you, I once sought with feverish eagerness; and this exterior world could not satisfy my burning desire. But, by the divine grace, which fed my anguish, at length she, whose name I then knew not, appeared to me, more beautiful than the sun, sweeter than balm. As she approached, how gentle was her countenance, how peace-inspiring her voice, saying to me: O thou, whose youth is all full of the love wherewith I inspire thee, why dost thou thus pour out thy heart? The peace thou seekest by so many different ways, is with me; thy desire shall be amply fulfilled, I promise thee, if only thou wilt take me for thy bride. I acknowledge that at these words, my heart failed, my soul was all pierced with the dart of her love. As I wished to know her name, her dignity, her origin, she told me she was called the Wisdom of God; and that, at first invisible in the Bosom of the Father, she had taken of a mother a visible nature, in order to be more easily loved. Then, with great delight, I gave my consent; and she, kissing me, departed full of joy. Ever since then, the flame of her love has been growing within me, absorbing all my thoughts. Her delights endure for ever; she is my well-beloved bride, my inseparable companion. Through her, the peace I once sought is now the cause of my joy. Hear me then, all of you: go to her in like manner; for she makes it her happiness to reject no one.” —Laurence Justinian, Fasciculus amoris, chapter xvi

Let us read the history of him who, in the foregoing lines has given us the key to his life.

Laurentius, ex illustri Justinianorum familia Venetiis natus, eximiam vel puer morum gravitatem præ se tulit. Exacta inter petatis officia adolescentia, ad castum Verbi et animæ connubium a divina Sapientia invitatus, de religiosæ vitæ instituto capessendo deliberare cœpit. Novæ itaque militiæ clam proludens, præter alias corporis afflictationes, super nudos cubabat asseres, sedensque velut arbiter hinc inter sæculi blandimenta, paratasque a matre nuptias, illinc claustrales inter austeritates, oculis in Christi patientis crucem conversis: Tu, inquit, es Domine spes mea: ibi posuisti certissimum refugium tuum: ad canonicorum sancti Georgii in Alga congregationem convolabit: ibu novis excogitatis cruciatibus scrius is seipsum, veluti in hostem infensissimum, instaurans bellum, nullam adeo sibi oblectationem indulgebat, ut ne in domesticum imquam hortum, nec in paternam quidem domum, nisi cum morienti matri extrema pietatis officia siccis oculis persolvit, exinde intraverit. Par erat obedientiæ, mansuetudinis, ac præcipue humilitatis studium, cum abjectissima quæque cœnobii munia sibi ultro desumeret, celeberrima per urbus loca, non tam victum, quam ludibria emendicaret, illatasque contumelias ac calumnias immotus ac silens perferret; assidue præsertim orationis subsidio, qua sæpe per mentis excessum rapiebatur in Deum; tantoque cor ejus æstuabat ardore, ut nutantes etiam sodales ad perseverantiam ac Jesu Christi amorem inflammaret.

Laurence was born at Venice of the illustrious family of the Justiniani, and while still a child was remarkable for the seriousness of his character. He spent his youth in exercises of piety, and then being attracted by divine Wisdom to the chaste espousals of the Word and the soul, he began to think of embracing a religious state. As a prelude to this new warfare, he secretly undertook many bodily austerities, such as sleeping upon bare boards. Sitting, as it were, as judge, he placed the pleasures of the world and the marriage prepared for him by his mother on the one hand, and on the other the austerities of the cloister; then casting his eyes on an image of Christ crucified, he said: “Thou O Lord, art my hope: there thou hast placed thy most secure refuge,” and he betook himself to the congregation of Canons of St. George in Alga. Here he invented fresh torments, and waged war with even more vehemence than before, against himself, as if against his greatest enemy. So far from allowing himself the least gratification, he would never set foot in the garden belonging to his family nor in his paternal home, except when without a tear he performed the last offices of piety towards his dying mother. He was equally zealous in the practice of obedience, meekness, and especially of humility. He would choose of his own accord the humblest duties of the monastery, and begged his bread in the most crowded parts of the town, seeking rather mockery than alms, He bore insults and calumnies unmoved and in silence. His great support was assiduous prayer, wherein he was often rapt in God in ecstasy. The love of God burnt so brightly in his heart that it kindled a like ardour in the hearts of his companions and encouraged them to perseverance.

Ab Eugenio Quarto patriæ episcopus designatus, quem magna contentione honorem detrectaverat, majori gessit cum laude. Nam consueta vivendi ratione nihil admodum immutata, paupertatem, quam semper coluerat, in mensa, supellectili ac lecto perpetuo retinuit. Modicam domi alebat familiam, quod grandem alteram sibi esse diceret, pauperes Christi significans. Quacumque adiretur hora, præsto omnibus erat, paterna omnes caritate allevabat, non renuens vel ære se alieno gravare, illorum ne inopiæ deesset. Rogatus qua spe id faceret? Domini mei, qui pro me dissolvere facile poterit, respondebat. Spem autem non confundere divina Providentia submissis inopinato subsidiis jugiter declarabat. Plura virginum monasteria construxit, quas etiam ad perfectioris vitæ rationem sua vigilantia composuit. Matronis a sæculi prompis et ornatus vanitate revocandis, ecclesiasticæ disciplinæ ac moribus reformandis maximopere studiot; dignus sane qui ab eodem Eugenio gloria et decus præsulum coram cardinalibus vocaretur, et qui a Nicolao Quinto ejus successore, translato e Gradensi civitate titulo, primus Venetiarum patriarcha renuntiaretur.

Eugenius IV appointed him bishop of his native city. He made great efforts to decline the dignity, but when obliged to accept it, he so discharged its obligations as to win the praise of all. He changed nothing of his former manner of life, practicing holy poverty, as he had ever done, in what regarded his table, his bed, and his furniture. He kept but few persons in his house or service, for he used to say that he had another large family, meaning Christ’s poor. Everyone had free access to him at any hour; he helped and consoled all with fatherly charity, even burdening himself with debts in order to relieve the necessitous. When he was asked on whose help he counted in such cases, he answered: “On my Lord’s help, and he can easily pay for me.” And divine Providence always justified his confidence by sending him help in the most unexpected manner. He built many monasteries for nuns, whom he trained with great vigilance to the life of perfection. He devoted himself zealously to withdrawing the ladies of Venice from worldly pomp and vanity of dress, and to the reformation of ecclesiastical discipline and Christian morals. Thus he truly deserved the title of “honour and glory of prelates,” which Eugenius IV applied to him in presence of the cardinals. Nicholas V, the next Pope, translated the Patriarchate from the See of Grado to that of Venice, and proclaimed him first Patriarch.

Lacrimarum dono insignitus, omnipotenti Deo pracationis hostiam quotidie offerebat. Quod cum aliquando nocte Dominicæ Nativitatis perageret, Christum Jesum sub pulcherrimi infantis specie videre promeruit; tantumque in eo erat commissi gregis præsidium, ut cœlitus aliquando acceptum fuerit, pontificis sui intercessione ac meritis stetisse rempublicam. Prophetiæ spiritu afflatus, plura humanæ cognitioni prorsus impervia prædixit: morbus ac dæmones suis precibus sæpe fugavit: libros etiam cœlestem doctrinam ac pietatem spirantes, grammaticæ pene rudis, conscripsit. Denique cum lethalem incidisset in morbum, et commodiorem domestici lectum seni atque ægro pararent, aversatus ejusmodi delicias, tamquam a durissima morientis Domini sui cruce plus nimio abhorrentes, consueto in stramine se jussit deponi, et finem vitæ suæ adventare prænoscens, sublatis in cœlum oculis: Venio, inquit, ad te, o bone Jesu; ac die octava januarii obdormivit in Domino. Pretiosam ejus mortem testati sunt angelici concentus, a Carthusianis quibusdam monachis auditi, et sacrum cadaver per duos ultra menses inhumatum, suavi fragrans odore, et rubescente facie, integrum atque incorruptum, ac nova post mortem patrata miracula: quibus permotus Alexander Octavus Pontifex Maximus eum sanctorum numero adscripsit. Innocentius vero duodecimus quintam septembris diem qua vir sanctus ad pontificam primo cathedram fuerat evectus, celebrando illius festo assignavit.

He was honoured with the gift of tears, and daily offered to Almighty God the Victim of propitiation. Once when saying Mass on the night of our Lord’s Nativity he saw Christ Jesus under the form of a most beautiful Infant. Great was his care for the flock entrusted to him; and on one occasion it was revealed by heaven that Venice owed its safety to its pontiff’s prayers and merits. Filled with the spirit of prophecy, he foretold many events which no human mind could have foreseen; while his prayers often put the devils to flight and healed diseases. Though he had made but little study of letters, he wrote books full of heavenly doctrine and piety. When his last illness came on, his servants prepared a more comfortable bed for him on account of his sickness and old age; but he, shrinking from such a luxury which was too unlike his Lord’s hard death-bed, the Cross, bade them lay him on his usual couch. Knowing the end of his life had come, he raised his eyes to heaven, and saying: “I come to thee, O good Jesus!” he fell asleep in the Lord on the 8th of January. The holiness of his death was attested by angelic harmonies heard by several Carthusian monks; as also by the state of his body, which during the two months that it lay unburied, remained whole and incorrupt, of a lively colour and breathing a sweet fragrance. Other miracles, worked after his death, also gave proof of his sanctity; on which account, Pope Alexander VIII, enrolled him among the Saints. Innocent XII assigned for his feast the 5th of September, on which day the holy man had been raised to the pontifical dignity.

“O Wisdom, who sittest on thy lofty throne; O Word, by whom all things were made, be propitious to me, in this manifestation of the secrets of thy holy love.” Such O Laurence, was thy prayer, when, fearing to be responsible for the hidden talent, if thou shouldst keep to thyself what might profit others, thou didst resolve to make known august mysteries. We thank thee for having given us to share in these heavenly secrets. By the reading of thy devout works, and by thy intercession with God, draw us to the heights of holiness, like the purified flame which can but mount upwards. Man falls from his inborn nobility if he seeks rest in aught save him to whose image he is made. All things here below are reflections of God’s eternal beauty; they teach us to love him, and help us to sing our love.

What delights were thine, on those lofty summits of charity so nigh to heaven, which are to be reached by the paths of truth, i.e. the virtues. It is indeed thy own portrait thou drawest, when thou sayest of the soul admitted to ineffable intimacy with the Wisdom of the Father: “All things are profitable to her; which way soever she turns, she perceives but the gleams of love. Sights and sounds, sweetnesses and perfumes, delicate viands, concerts of earth, brightness of the skies: all that she hears, all that she sees in the whole of nature, is a nuptial harmony, the beauty of the banquet wherein the Word has espoused her.” Oh! may we walk, like thee, by the light of God, live in desire and in union, love ever more and more, that ever more and more, we may be loved!

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