Nine months ago I related several humorous and fascinating anecdotes from the lives of the saints, here are some more:
One of my favorites is not really spectacular, it is just amusing. When Saint Peter was freed from Herod’s prison by his angel he was left outside on the street, somewhat in a daze as scripture insinuates, and making his way to the house of the mother of John Mark (the same that would be his co-worker and evangelist) he politely knocked at the door of the gate. A damsel named Rhode came out and was astonished to see that it was Peter. So excited was she that she ran back into the house without opening the gate. Telling the disciples inside that Peter was at the gate they said to her “you are mad.” Insisting that it was Peter they thought that it could be “his angel.”
Stopping here for a moment, I am rather amazed at the scene. “His angel?” Why would an angel knock at the door and wait to be let in? Meanwhile Peter continues to knock. This is so funny to imagine. The Lord promised that if we knock the door will be opened unto us, except in this case it seems perhaps not immediately . Well, those gathered inside realized that Rhode was not mad and they came to the gate and there indeed was a very patient Prince of the Apostles.
When Saint Francis Xavier was invited by some Japanese daimyos to testify to his religion at their court he asked his companion, a Jesuit brother Juan Fernandez, to do the talking from a written text as his Japanese was much better. When it came to the explanation of the sixth commandment pertaining to sodomy, the brother’s knees started shaking, as this vice was known to be common among these rulers. The worse fires of hell were described in vivid detail for the wallowers in this perversity. The nervous brother expected that at any moment his head would be split by a samurai sword. On the contrary, the daimyos who had given the invitation had the virtue of courtesy and, although they may have squirmed, they allowed the brother to finish his discourse.
On another occasion when they came to the capital hoping to speak to the emperor, which did not happen, Xavier preached the Faith in the open square. A certain fool, who imagined himself to be a philosopher, started laughing at the bearded foreigner, mocking him, and then spitting in his face. The saint did not budge but just went on preaching. The wiseacre was astonished. Although he ridiculed the words spoken he was stunned by the speaker’s unspoken forbearance. Xavier had won a soul. This man asked for forgiveness and instruction. After his baptism he became one of the leading Japanese lay apostles.
A group of Anglican clerics obtained an audience with Blessed Pope Pius IX. It was a cordial visit and one of them felt confident enough to ask the pope if he could give them all a blessing. Pius could have just declined being that such a gesture could be easily exploited for false ecumenical purposes. Pope Pius, however, let his guard down a bit and agreed. He blessed them in Latin with the words: “Ab illo benedicaris, in cujus honore cremaberis. Amen.” This was the blessing prayer for incense. I would give the translation but that would spoil the story.
Pius IX was well-known for his quick wit. Not to be one-sided against heretics, he was not reluctant to put high-minded Catholic clerics in their place as well. One time he was visited by the head of the Benedictine Monastery Santissima Trinita. This monastery was very rich and it was known for accepting only wealthier applicants and aristocrats. When the abbot walked into the reception room he was announced as “The Abbot of the Holy Trinity.” The Pope ever so accommodating bowed his head, removed his zuccheto and replied, “What an honour, for we are but the Vicar of the Second Person.”
The young Jesuit saint, John Berchmans, was most admired by his fellow Jesuits for his exact observance of the Rule of the Order. He was born in 1599 and died in 1621. “If I do not become a saint when I am young”, he used to say “I shall never become one”. And following the Rule to perfection was not easy for him or anyone else living in a religious community. “My penance”, he would say, “is to live the common life.” One evening when he and his brothers were at recreation playing billiards one of his confreres asked him what he would do if he was told by God right now that he was going to die within minutes? He answered: “I would continue playing billiards.”
Books have been written relating the incredible stories of Saint Padre Pio. I included a few of them in my October column on “Unusual Happenings in the Lives of the Saints.” The following account certainly qualifies as “unusual.”
One thing that is hard for good Catholics to realize is that even saints can be crosses to other saints with whom they are contemporaries. Saints Jerome and Ambrose, come to mind, the latter being seriously misunderstood by the former. Saint Ambrose was not the only saint that fell on the wrong side of Saint Jerome! Saint Cyprian, too, never openly reconciled with Pope Saint Stephen, Saint Augustine affirming that the former’s martyrdom atoned for his excessive passion. In Padre Pio’s case, he was held suspect by the holy Spanish cardinal, Merry del Val, Secretary of State to Pope Saint Pius X and Pope Benedict XV and head of the Holy Office from 1914-1930. Del Val was responsible for the censures placed upon Padre Pio forbidding him to preach and, for a time, even to hear confession. Enter Saint Don Orione, disciple of Don Bosco. This counselor of popes, founder of many schools, missions, and the Sons of Divine Providence, personally told Pope Pius XI that he had seen Padre Pio bi-located in Rome. What happened was that Don Orione had gone into the Vatican crypt under Saint Peter’s to pray at the tomb of Pope Pius X. He, and the doorkeeper who accompanied him, both saw Padre Pio praying there. The stigmatist then disappeared. After relating this to Pope Pius XI, Padre Pio was reissued faculties to hear confessions. To preach, however, he was never allowed, nor did he ever ask for that privilege.
Born in Spain, Mother Mariana de Jesus Torres 1563-1635 was the superior, thrice-elected, of the Conceptionist Sisters in Quito Ecuador. The miraculous statue of Our Lady of Good Success was kept in her convent. Mother Mariana was a mystic and reader of souls who practiced extreme penances and received messages on a regular basis from Our Lord and Our Lady. Two times, her doctor testified, she died and came back to life. She prophesied major calamities for the Church that would come three hundred years in the future. One of the great crosses she had to endure was persecution from the mixed-blood American religious who resented the strictness of the founding Spanish members. On one occasion after they convinced the local bishop that Mother Mariana was ill-fit to govern the community she was put in the convent prison. This happened to her several times and this prison was a very terrible place, a dungeon in fact. After locking her up the rebellious sisters held a procession of thanksgiving carrying candles and praying the rosary and litanies. Sister Mariana always suffered patiently and prayed ceaselessly for the obstinate, lax sisters. In fact, Sister Mariana offered her life for the leader of the rebels whom she always referred to simply as “the captain.” At Jesus’ request she accepted to offer five years of her own life enduring the pain of loss of the damned for the salvation of this renegade trouble-maker.
Here is the rest of the story. Yes, “the captain” did finally convert at the eleventh hour on account of the suffering Mother Mariana endured for her. She will be in purgatory until the end of the world. Something else happened that is most astonishing. The candles that the liberal sisters carried in procession had been put in a chest that lay on the floor in the lower choir. Mother Mariana, after her vindication from the bishop, and restoration as superior, opened the chest one day while praying and found arm bones instead of candles. On each of the bones was the name of an insubordinate sister. She then locked the chest not telling anyone what had happened. Every day, after doing her penances in the lower choir, Mother Mariana would sprinkle the chest with holy water and pray for each of the sisters named. When things were at their worst in the convent, the leader of the insubordinates accused Mother Mariana of hiding jewels and wine in the chest and secretly imbibing. Having had enough of this she called the whole community to the choir and opened the chest. Seeing the bones, the American sisters were cut to the heart and fell on their faces imploring forgiveness for believing the lies of their leader. The leader herself fell unconscious to the floor and had to be revived with anise and salts, but even still she remained obstinate and unrepentant, as I said, until her last days. These bones are still preserved at the Conceptionist convent to this very day.