Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Saint Peter Celestine, Pope


Our Paschal Season, which has already given us the admirable Doctor, St. Leo, brings before us today the humble Peter Celestine—Sovereign Pontiff, like Leo, but who was no sooner throned on the Apostolic See, than he left it and returned to solitude. Among the long list of sainted men, who compose the venerable series of Roman Pontiffs, our Lord would have one, in whose person was to be represented the virtue of humility;—that honor was conferred on Peter Celestine. He was dragged from the quiet of his solitude, compelled to ascend the throne of St. Peter, and made to hold, in his trembling hand, the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. The holy Hermit, whose eyes had been ever fixed on his own weakness, had then to provide for the necessities of the whole Church. In his humility, he judged himself to be unequal to so heavy a responsibility. He resigned the Tiara, and begged to be permitted to return to his dear hermitage. His Divine Master, Christ, had, in like manner, concealed his glory, first, in a thirty years of hidden life, and then, later on, under the cloud of his Passion and Sepulcher. The sunshine of the Pasch came; the gloom was dispersed, and the Conqueror of Death arose in all his splendor. He was have his Servants share in his triumph and glory; but their share is to be greater or less, according to the measure in which they have, here on earth, imitated his humility. Who, then, could describe the glory which Peter Celestine receives in heaven, as a recompense for his profound humility, which made him more eager to be unknown, than the most ambitious of men could be for honor and fame? He was great on the Pontifical Throne, and still greater in his solitude; but his greatness, now that he is in heaven, surpasses all human thought.

Holy Church speaks his praise in these few lines; their simplicity admirably harmonizes with the Hermit Pope, whose life they narrate.

Petrus, a nomine quo Pontifex est appellatus, Cœlestinus dictus, honestis; catholicisque parentibus Æserniæ in Samnitibus natus, adolescentiam vix ingressus, ut animum a mundi illecebris custodiret, in solitudinem secessit. Ibi contemplationibus mentem nutriens, corpus in servitutem redigens, ferream catenam ad nudam carnem adhibebat. Congregationem, quæ postea Cœlestinorum dicta est, sub Regula sancti Benedicti instituit. Hinc quasi lucerna supra canelabrum posita, quum abscondi nequiret (Romana Ecclesia diu viduata Pastore) in Petri cathedram ignorans, et absens, ascitus, magna novitatis admiratione non minus quam repentino gaudio conctos affecit. Cum autem in Pontificatus sublimitate collacatus, variis distentus curis, assuetis incumbere meditationibus vix posse cognosceret; oneri pariter et honori voluntariæ cessit; indeque priscam vitæ rationem repetens, obdormivit in Domino, ejusque pretiosam mortem crux præfulgens in aere ante cubiculi ostium reddidit amplius gloriosam. Miraculis multis tam vivens quam post obitum claruit, quibus rite examinatis, Clemens Quintus, anno postquam decessit undecimo, Sanctorum numero adscripsit.

Peter, who from the name he took as Pope was called Celestine, was born at Isernia, in the Abruzzi, of respectable and Catholic parents. When quite a boy, he retired into solitude, that he might be out of the reach of the world’s vanities. There he nourished his soul with holy contemplations, bringing his body into subjection, and wearing an iron chain next to his skin. He founded, under the Rule of St. Benedict, the congregation which was afterwards called the congregation of Celestines. The Roman Church having been for a long time widowed of its Pastor, Celestine was chosen, unknown to himself, to occupy the Chair of Peter, and was therefore compelled to quit his solitude, for he was a lamp that was set upon a candlestick, and could not be hid. All men were filled with joy as well as with surprise at this unexpected choice. But when thus exalted to the Pontificate, he found that the multiplicity of cares rendered it almost impossible for him to continue his wonted contemplations, and resigned, of his own accord, the onerous honors of the Papal throne. He therefore resumed his former mode of life, and slept in the Lord by a precious death, which was rendered still more glorious by the apparition of an exceedingly bright cross, which hovered over the door of his cell. He was celebrated for many miracles both before and after his death; which being authentically proved, he was canonized, eleven years after his departure from this world, by Pope Clement the Fifth.

Thou obtainedst, O Celestine, the object of thy ambition. Thou wast permitted to descend from the Apostolic Throne, and return to the quiet of that hidden life which, for so many years, had been thy delight. Enjoy, to thy heart’s content, the holy charm of being unknown to the world, and treasures of contemplation in the secret of the face of God. But this life of obscurity must have an end; and then, the Cross—the Cross, which thou hast loved above all earthly possessions—will rise up in brightness before thy Cell door, and summon thee to share in the Paschal Triumph of Him who came down from heaven to teach us this great truthhe that humbleth himself, shall be exalted. Thy name, O Celestine, will forever shine on the list of Roman Pontiffs; thou art one of the links of that glorious chain which unites the Holy Church with Jesus, her Founder and her Spouse; but a still greater glory is reserved for thee—the glory of being forever with this same Risen Jesus. Holy Church, which, during the short period of thy holding the Keys of Peter, was obedient to thee, has now for centuries paid, and will continue, to the end of the world, to pay thee, the tribute of her devotion, because she recognizes in thee one of God’s Elect—one of the Princes of the heavenly Court. And we, O Celestine, we also are invited to ascend where thou art, and contemplate, together with thee, the most beautiful among the children of men, the Conqueror of sin and hell. But there is only one path that can lead us thither; it is the path thou troddest—the path of Humility. Pray for us, that we may be solidly grounded in this virtue, and desire it with all our earnestness; that we may change our unhappy self-esteem into an honest contempt of ourselves; that we may despise all human glory, and be courageous, yea, cheerful, under humiliation; and that thus having drunk of the torrent, as did our Divine Master, we may one day, like him, lift up our heads, and cluster round his Throne for all eternity.


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