St. Philomena, virgin and martyr, is a challenge to modern minds. Martyred during the third century, she was completely unknown on earth until her intact tomb was discovered in 1802 during an excavation of the Roman Catacombs. All that could be determined from this exciting discovery was her name, that she was of noble birth, and that she was about thirteen years of age when she was martyred. A guess was made at the details of her martyrdom from the symbols on the tomb slabs. Her bones, a vial of her blood, and some ashes were studied, then placed in a sealed reliquary and “filed” in Rome.
But Christ wanted His dear spouse to be publicly honored and of assistance to His Mystical Body after 1,700 years of obscurity. Her relics were brought to Mugnano in Italy in 1805. (The details of this transfer are themselves miraculous.) Immediately , cures, conversions and miracles of all kinds began to take place at her shrine. But it was the miraculous and very public cure of Ven. Pauline Jaricot of France in about 1835 that brought universal veneration of the “dear little saint.” Pope Gregory XVI was a personal witness of this miracle and is responsible for putting her feast on the calendar.
Around 1845, the Curé of Ars was being showered with heavenly favors and miracles through the veneration of St. Philomena’s relics and a continual recommendation of devotion to her. But more: Wherever her relics were venerated or devotion to her established, miracles became common place! It was soon said that nothing was too great or too small for St. Philomena. She was declared a thaumaturga (wonder worker) and many popes praised her and received personal favors from her.
But, after many thousands of miracles her identity was still shrouded in historical darkness. Who was she? At the pleading of her grateful clients, she sent three identical revelations to three completely unrelated devotees. These revelations were documented and, along with her relics and miracles, are the sole evidence of her sanctity and basis for her canonization. In this, St. Philomena is unique in all history. She thereby confounds the rationalists, 1 who have recently been delighted to remove her name from the liturgical calendars.
She is a saint for our times. Her life and martyrdom show she is a model of chastity and zealous Faith. Her canonization and miracles defy the liberals of our age. Every pope who has been devoted to her has zealously defended the Church. For example, Pope St. Pius X, the great anti-Modernist pope of the century, said, “To discredit the present decisions and declarations concerning St. Philomena as not being permanent, stable, valid and effective, necessary for obedience, and in full-effect for all eternity, proceeds from an element that is null and void and without merit or authority.”
The popes are not alone. The Curé of Ars praises her thus: “Her virginity and generosity in embracing heroic martyrdom has rendered her so agreeable to God that He will never refuse anything that she asks for us.”
Ven. Pauline Jaricot, the foundress of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and the Living Rosary, adds her voice to the chorus of praise: “Have full confidence in this great Saint, she will obtain for you all that you ask.” (St. Philomena is the patroness of both the Living Rosary and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.)
The great defenders of orthodoxy in the last two centuries have been devoted to her. In addition to St. Pius X, whom we have already mentioned, we add two other names: Ven. Pius IX, and our own founder, Fr. Leonard Feeney.
Not only by her friends, but also by her enemies may we know her. The liberal authors of the Novus Ordo calendar dropped her feast from it, just as they did St. Christopher’s. The liberals, we know, work for the devil (even though they don’t generally believe in him), so the attack upon the feast of St. Philomena was diabolical. But in her case, hell itself let us know the hatred it feels for her. During an exorcism, some demons made it known that, “Our accursed enemy is this great Virgin and Martyr, St. Philomena. Devotion to her is a new and terrible warfare to hell.”
The liberal, rationalist spirit that derides so many things Catholic, holds her, as we said, in particular disdain. To the ill-willed attempt at discrediting our saint, already happening early in this century, Father Paul O’Sullivan correctly points out, “It is incomprehensible that any Catholic dare contradict so flagrantly the Holy Father himself and repudiate contemptuously the decisions of the Roman Congregations [which declared her a saint]. How can Bishops expect respect, obedience and submission if it be denied Christ’s Vicar? It cannot be urged that the decisions and decrees in question were made `in far-off centuries’ when Roman procedure was less rigorous, nor can any doubt be raised as to the authenticity of the documents or the accuracy of their interpretation. The decisions are modern and made with the utmost caution, for which Rome is so justly famous, so as to ensure unerring accuracy.”
Here at St. Benedict Center, where we fight for Catholic Orthodoxy, the sisters run Immaculate Heart of Mary School. St. Philomena is, after our Lady, the patroness of our school. We ask her to protect our children, to keep them faithful and innocent. She has come through for us many times in our needs. May St. Philomena’s benevolence extend far beyond our little school and bring succor to the whole Mystical Body of Christ, suffering as it is today; and through her intercession, may the minds of liberal Catholic rationalists, who now disdain her, be enlightened by the heavenly light of true Catholicism.
1 Rationalists: Those who, in matters of religion, place human reason above divine revelation.