Monday, June 19, 2017

Saint Juliana Falconieri, Virgin


This day witnesses the close of the pilgrimage of the one who was miraculously supplied with the divine Viaticum. Juliana presents herself at heaven’s gate, showing upon her heart the impress of the Sacred Host. The lily emblazoned on the city escutcheon of Florence glistens with fresh radiance today, for it was she gave birth to our Saint, as well as to so many others, some of whom have already beamed across our path, and some are about to follow,—all of them brilliant in sublime virtues practiced within the ancient walls of this “City of Flowers,” under the delighted glance and the urging influence of the Spirit of Love. But what shall we say of the glory of yonder mountain, which nobly crown this fair city, a diadem lovely in men’s eyes, and still more so to Angels’ gaze? What of Vallombrosa, and further in the blue distance, of Camaldoli, of Alberno? all sacred fortresses, at whose foot hell trembling howls, all sacred reservoirs of choicest grace, guarded by Seraphim, whence flow in gushing streams more abundant and more pure than Arno’s tide, living waters of salvation on all the smiling land around!

In 1233, just thirty-seven years previous to Juliana’s birth, Florence seemed destined to be, under the holy influence of such a neighborhood, a very paradise of sanctity; so common did the higher Christian life become, of such everyday occurrence were supernatural prodigies. The Mother of Divine Grace was then multiplying her gifts. Once on a certain festival of the Assumption, seven of the citizens, the most distinguished for nobility of blood, fortune, and public offices of trust, were suddenly inflamed by a heavenly desire to consecrate themselves unreservedly to the service of Our Lady. Presently, as these men passed along, bidding adieu to the world, babes at the breast cried out, all over the city, “Behold the Servants of the Virgin Mary!” Among the innocents whose tongue was thus unloosed to announce divine mysteries, was the new-born son of the illustrious family of Benizii. He was named Philip, and had first seen the light on the very feast of the Assumption, whereon Mary had just founded for her glory and that of her divine Son, the Order of the Servites.

We shall have to return to this child, who was to be the chief propagator of the new order; for holy Church celebrates his birthday into heaven on the morrow of the Octave of the Assumption. He was destined to be Juliana’s spiritual father. In the meanwhile, the seven invited by Mary to the festival of penitence, who all, persevering faithful unto death, are inscribed on the catalogue of the Saints, had retired three leagues from Florence to the desert of Monte Senario. There Our Lady, during seven years, formed them to the great work, of which they were the predestined though unwitting instruments. According to his wont, the Holy Ghost, during all this preparatory season, though of long duration, kept from them every idea save that of their own sanctification, employing them in the mortification of the senses, and in a spirit of exclusive contemplation of the sufferings of Our Lord and those of his divine Mother. Two amongst them daily came down to the city to beg bread for themselves and their companions. One of these illustrious mendicants was Alexius Falconieri, the most eager for humiliations amongst all the seven. His brother, who, still continuing in the world, held one of the highest positions amongst the citizens, was in every way worthy of this blessed man, and paid homage to his heroic self-abasement. He likewise took an honorable share in the united gift bestowed, with the concurrence of all classes of these religious citizens, upon the solitaries of Monte Senario, whereby a magnificent church was added to the poor retreat they had been induced to accept, for greater convenience, at the gates of Florence.

To honor the mystery wherein their sovereign Lady declared herself to be the humble servant of the Lord, this church and monastery of the Servites of Mary received the title of the “Annunziata.” Among the marvels which wealth and art, in succeeding ages, have lavished upon its interior, the principal treasure which puts all the rest in the shade is a primitive fresco of the angelical salutation, dating from the life-time of the founders, the painter whereof, more devout to Mary than skilful with his pencil, deserved to be aided by the hands of angels. Signal favours obtained without interruption from this sacred picture, still attract flocks of devout visitors. If the city of the Medici and of the Tuscan Grand-Dukes, though swallowed up by the universal brigandage of the house of Savoy, has preserved better than many others the lively piety of better days, she owes it to this her ancient Madonna as well as to her numerous saints, who seem gathered within her walls, to serve as a cortège of honor for Our Lady.

These details seem necessary to throw light on the abridged account given in the Liturgy, regarding our saint. Juliana, born of a sterile mother and of a father advanced in years, was the reward of the zeal displayed for the Annunziata by her father, Carissimo Falconieri. Beside this picture of the Madonna was she to spend her life and to yield up her last breath. Close by it, her sacred relics now repose. Educated by her uncle, Saint Alexius, in the love of Mary and of humility, she devoted herself from her very youth to the Order founded by Our Lady, ambitioning no title save one, that of Oblate, which would entail upon her the serving, in the lowest rank, the Servites of God’s Mother. For this reason, she was later on acknowledged to be the foundress of the Third Order of the Servites, and was superioress of the first community of these female tertiaries, surnamed “Mantellatæ.” But her influence extended further still, so that the whole Order, both the men and the women alike hail her as their mother; for it was indeed she who put the finishing stroke to the work of its foundation, and gave it the stability it has been possessed of for centuries.

The Order, which had become marvellously extended during forty years of miraculous existence, was just then, under the government of Saint Philip Benizi, passing through a dangerous crisis, the more to be feared because the storm had taken rise in Rome itself. There was question of everywhere carrying into effect the canons of the Councils of Lateran and Lyons, prohibiting the introduction of new Orders into the Church. Now, the institute of the Servites being posterior to the first of these councils, Innocent V was resolved on its suppression. The superiors had already been forbidden to receive any novice to profession or to clothing; and while awaiting the definitive sentence, the goods of the Order were considered, beforehand, as already devolved on the Holy See. Philip Benizi was about to die, and Juliana was but fifteen years of age. Nevertheless, enlightened from on high, the Saint hesitated not; he confided the Order to Juliana’s hands, and so slept in the peace of our Lord. The event justified his hopes: after various catastrophes, which it were long to relate, Benedict XI, in 1304, gave to the Servites the definitive sanction of the Church. So true is it that, in the counsels of divine Providence, nor rank, nor age, nor sex, count for aught! The simplicity of a soul that has wounded the Heart of the Spouse is stronger in her humble submission than highest authority; and her unknown prayer prevails over powers established by God Himself.

Juliana, ex nobili Falconeria familia, clarissimo patri, qui templum Deiparæ ab Angelo salutatæ ære suo magnifice a fundamentis Florentiæ, ut nunc visitur, erexit; matre Reguardata, ambobus jam senescentibus ac ad id tempus sterilibus, nata est anno millesimo ducentesimo septuagesimo. Abincunabulis non exiguum futuræ sanctitatis specimen dedit; vagientibus quippe labris suavissima Jesu et Mariæ nomina ultro proferre audita est. Pueritiam postmo dum ingressa, totam se christianis virtutibus mancipavit, in quibus adeo excelluit, ut beatus Alexius patruus, cujus institutis ac exemplis instruebatur, matri dicere non dubitaverit ipsam non feminam peperisse, sed angelum; nam ita modesto vultu animoque ab omni vel levissima erroris macula pura fuit, ut oculos nunquam in toto vitæ cursu ab hominis faciem in tuendam erexerit, auditoque peccati vocabulo contremuerit, imo, sceleris narratione perculsa, illico prope exani mis corruerit. Expleto non dum decimo quinto ætatis suas anno, re familiari, licet opulenta, terrenisque posthabitis nuptiis, Deo virginitatem in manibus divi Philippi Benitii solemniter vovit, ab eoque omnium prima religiosum Mantellatarum habitum, ut dicunt, sumpsit.

Juliana, of the noble family of Falconieri, was daughter of that illustrious nobleman who founded and built the church of Our Lady of the Annunciation, still to be seen in Florence. When she was born, in the year 1270, both he and Reguarda his wife were already advanced in years, and up to this, quite childless. From her very cradle, she gave tokens of the holiness of life to which she afterwards attained. And from the lisping of her baby lips was caught that sweet sound of the names of Jesus and Mary. As she entered on her girlhood, she delivered herself up entirely to the pursuit of Christian virtues, and so excellently shone therein, that her uncle, the blessed Alexius, scrupled not to tell her mother that she had given birth to an angel rather than to a woman. So modest, indeed, was her countenance, and so pure her soul from the slightest speck of indiscretion, that she never in her whole life raised her eyes to a man’s face, and that the very mention of sin made her shiver; and when the story of a grievous crime was told her, she dropped down fainting and almost lifeless. Before she had completed her fifteenth year, she renounced her inheritance, although a rich one, and all prospect of earthly marriage, solemnly making to God a vow of virginity, in the hands of St. Philip Benizi, from whom she was the first to receive the religious habit of what are called the “Mantellatæ.”

Julianæ exemplum secutæ sunt plurimæ ex nobilioribus familia feminæ, ac mater ipsa filiæ sese religiose instituendam dedit; ita ut, aucto paulatim numero, Ordinem Mantellatarum instituerit, ac illi pie vivendi leges summa prudentia ac sanctitate tradiderit. Ejus virtutes cum optime perspectas divus Benitius haberet; mortis proximus, nulli melius quam Julianæ, non feminas tantum, sed et totum Servorum Ordinem, cujus propagator et moderator exstiterat, commendatum voluit. Verum ipsa demisse semper de se cogitabat: et cum cæterarum esset magistra, in re quaque domestica, licet vili, sororibus famulabatur. Assiduitate orandi integras insumebat dies, in exstasim sæpissime rapta; et si reliquum, in sedandis civium dissidiis, criminosis a via iniquitatis retrahendis, ac inserviendis impendebat ægrotis, quorum quandoque saniem ex ulceribus manantem admoto ore lambens, eos sanitati restituebat. Corpus suum flagris, nodosis funiculis, ferreis cingulis, vigiliis, humi nudæ cubando, terere solita fuit. Parcissime cibo, et hoc vili, quatuor hebdomadæ diebus, et reliquis duobus solo Angelorum pane contenta, excepto die Sabbati, quo pane solo et aqua nutriebatur.

Juliana’s example was followed by many young women of noble families, and even her own mother put herself under her daughter’s instructions. Thus in a little while, their number increased, and she became foundress of the Order of the Mantellatæ, to whom she gave a rule of life, full of wisdom and holiness. St. Philip Benizi having thorough knowledge of her virtues, being at the point of death, thought that to none better than her could he leave the care not only of the women but of the whole Order of Servites, of which he was the propagator and head: yet of herself she ever deemed most lowly; even when she was the mistress of others, ministering to her sisters in the meanest offices of the household work. She passed whole days in incessant prayer, and was often rapt in spirit; and the remainder of her time, she toiled to make peace among the citizens, who were at variance amongst themselves; to recall sinners from evil courses; and to nurse the sick, to cure whom she would sometimes use even her tongue to remove the matter that ran from their sores, and so healed them. It was her custom to afflict her body with whips, knotted cords, iron girdles, watching, and sleeping upon the bare ground. Upon four days in the week, she ate very sparingly, and that only of the coarsest food; on the other two she contented herself with the Bread of Angels alone, except Saturday whereon she took only bread and water.

Dura hujus modi vivendi ratione in stomachi morbum incidit, quo ingravescente, cum septuagesimum ætatis annum ageret, ad extremum vitæ spatium redacta est. Diuturnæ valetudinis incommoda hilari vultu, constantique animo pertulit; de uno tantum conqueri audita est, quod cum cibum capere ac retinere nullo modo posset, ab Eucharistica mensa ob Sacramenti reverentiam arceretur. Verum, his in angustiis constituta, sacerdotem rogavit, ut allatum divinum panem, quem ore sumere nequibat, pectori saltem exterius admoveret. Precibus illius morem gessit sacerdos, et mirum! eodem temporis momento divinus panis disparuit, et Juliana sereno ac ridenti vultu exspiravit. Res supra fidem tamdiu fuit, donec virgineum de more curaretur corpus; inventa enim est circa sinistrum pectoris latus carni veluti sigillo impressa forma hostiæ, quæ Christi crucifixi efficiem repræsentabat. Hujus prodigii fama cæterorumque miraculorum, non Florentiæ tantum, sed totius christiani orbis venerationem illi conciliavit, ad per quatuor prope integra sæcula adeo aucta est, ut tandem Benedictis Papa Decimustertius in ejus celebritate Officium proprium recitari ab universo Ordine beatæ Mariæ Virginis Servorum jusserit. Clemens vero Duodecimus, munificentissimus ejusdem Ordinis protector novis in dies miraculis coruscantem sanctarum Virginum catalogo adscripsit.

This hardship of life caused her to fall ill of a stomach complaint, which increasing, brought her to the point of death, when she was seventy years of age. She bore the daily sufferings of this long illness with a smiling face and a brave heart; the only thing of which she was heard to complain being, that her stomach was so weak, that unable to retain food, she was withheld, by reverence for the holy Sacrament, from the Eucharistic Table. Finding herself in these straits she begged the Priest to bring her the Divine Bread, and as she dared not take It into her mouth, to put It as near as possible to her heart exteriorly. The Priest did as she wished, and to the amazement of all present, the Divine Bread at once disappeared from sight, and at the same instant, a smile of joyous peace crossed the face of Juliana, and she gave up the ghost. This matter seemed beyond all belief, until the virgin body was being laid out in the accustomed manner; for then there was found, upon the left side of the bosom, a mark like the stamp of a seal, reproducing the form of the Sacred Host, the mould of which was one of those that bear a figure of Christ crucified. The report of this and of other wonders procured for Juliana a reverence not only from Florence, but from all parts of the Christian world, which reverence so increased through the course of four hundred years, that Pope Benedict XIII commanded a proper Office in her honor to be celebrated by the whole Order of Servites of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Clement XII, the munificent Protector of the same Order, finding new signs and wonders abedding luster upon her glory every day, inscribed the name of Juliana upon the catalogue of holy Virgins.

To serve Mary was the only nobility that had any attraction in thine eyes, O Juliana! To share her Dolours was the only recompense which thy generous soul, in its lowliness, could ambition. Thy desires were granted: but from that lofty throne where She reigns as Queen of angels and of men, She who confessed herself the Handmaid of the Lord and saw God to have regard to her humility, was also pleased to exalt thee, like herself, above all the mighty ones. Counteracting that hidden silence wherein thou wouldst fain have had the human brilliancy of thy pedigree forgotten and lost forever, she hath made thy holy glory eclipse the fair honor of thy sires, in Florence; so that if the name of Falconieri has now a world-wide fame, it is on thy account, O humble Tertiary, O lowly Servant of the Servites of Our Lady! Further still: in that fair home of true nobility in yonder City of God, where ranks are distinguished by the varying degree of radiance shed by the Lamb on the brow of each one of the Elect, thou dost shine resplendent with an aureola, which is nothing less than a participation of Mary’s glory. Just as she acted in regard of holy Church, after the Ascension of our Lord, so didst thou in respect of the Servite Order; for while leaving to others such action as appears externally, and such authority as must rule souls, thou wast nonetheless, in thy lowliness, the real mistress and mother of the new family formed of the men and the women chosen by God for that Order. More than once, in other centuries likewise, has the divine Mother been pleased thus to glorify her faithful imitatrices by making them become, beyond all calculation of their own, faithful copies of herself. Just as in the family confided to Peter by her Divine Son, Our Lady was the most submissive of all others to the rule of Christ’s Vicar and that of the other Apostles; whereas all knew right well that she was their Queen, and the very fountain-head of the graces of consolidation and growth that were inundating the Church; so, O Juliana, the weakness of thy sex and age in no way restrained a strong religious Order from proclaiming thee its light and its glory. This was because the Most High, ever liberal in His gifts, was pleased to grant to thy youthfulness, results which he refused to the greater maturity, to the genius, yea, to the sanctity of thy Father, Saint Philip Benizi!

Continue, then, to shield thy devout family of Servites of Mary stretch forth thy protecting mantle over every religious Order severely tried in these our days May Florence, through thine aid, ever hold in most precious remembrance the favours lavished on her by Our Lady and the saints, because of her faith, in the good days of old. May Holy Church ever have more and more cause to sing thy power as a Bride over the Heart of the Divine Spouse. In return for the signal grace he bestowed on thee, as the crown of thy life and the consummation of his Love in thee, be thou propitious to us in our last struggle: obtain for us that we may not die unhelped by the reception of the holy Viaticum. The whole of this portion of the cycle is illumined with the rays of the adorable Host, proposed to our prostrate worship in so special a manner, at this season, by another Juliana. Oh! may this sweet Host be the one Love of our life’s career. May it be our strong bulwark in life’s final combat! yea, may our death be nothing else than a passing from the divine banquet of earth’s land of shadows, up to the delivious festal board of Eternal Union!


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