St. Catherine of Siena was born Caterina di Giacomo di Benincasa on March 25, 1347. At only six years of age, she began having mystical experiences and could see guardian angels as clearly as the people they protected. St. Catherine became a Dominican tertiary when she was 16, and continued to have visions of Christ, Mary, and the saints. She was one of the most brilliant theological minds of her day, although she never had any formal education. In 1377, during the Great Western Schism of the Catholic Church, St. Catherine persuaded the Pope to go back to Rome from Avignon. In 1375, she was given the Stigmata, which was visible only after her death. St. Catherine’s letters and a treatise called the Dialogue are considered among the most brilliant writings in the history of the Catholic Church. She died when she was only 33, and her body was found incorrupt in 1430. In 1461, she was canonized, and in 1970, St. Catherine was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.
“Then that soul, restless in her great longing, rose up like one drunk from the union she had experienced with God and from what she had heard and tasted of the gentle first Truth. She was anxiously grieving over the foolishness of creatures who do not recognize their benefactor or God’s loving charity. Still, she was glad in the hope of the promise God’s Truth had given her when he had taught her how she and God’s other servants must behave if they wished him to be merciful to the world. So she raised her mind’s eye to the gentle Truth about the spiritual stages God had described to her. She saw that the soul passes through these stages with tears, so she wanted Truth to show her the difference among the kinds of tears, what was their source, how they came to be, what fruit was to be had from such weeping, and what different reasons there were for it. And since the truth could be known only from Truth himself, she addressed the question to him. Now nothing can be known in Truth unless the mind’s eye can see it. So one who wishes to know must rise up with a desire to know by the light of faith and in Truth, and must open the mind’s eye by opening its pupil, which is faith, onto the object of truth” (Dialogue).
Bernadette Soubirous was born on January 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France. Her family lived in extreme poverty, and Bernadette was a sickly child who contracted cholera as a toddler and suffered severe asthma for the rest of her life. She attended day school at the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction from Nevers.
On February 11, 1858 at 14, Bernadette was out gathering firewood with her sister Marie and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle when she had her first vision. As she recounted later, while the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Bernadette stayed behind looking for a place to cross where she wouldn’t get her stockings wet. When she sat down in the grotto to take her shoes and stockings off in order to cross the water, she heard the sound of rushing wind, but nothing moved except a wild rose that grew in the grotto. From the dark alcove behind the rose “came a dazzling light, and a white figure.” This was the first of 18 visions which became known as la Quinzaine sacrée or “the holy fortnight.” Bernadette explained that the vision told her “to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there,” as an act of penance. The next day the grotto was no longer muddy but a place where clear water flowed. Bernadette asked the woman for her name and the lady responded, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
At 22, Bernadette joined the Sisters at their motherhouse at Nevers and spent the rest of her life working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan where she created beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. She later contracted tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee. She had followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine while she still lived at Lourdes, but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception there in 1876. She eventually died of her long-term illness at the age of 35 on April 16, 1879. Her body was laid to rest in the Saint Gildard Convent.
In the 150 years since Bernadette dug up the spring, 67 cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau as “inexplicable.” The Lourdes Commission that examined Bernadette after the visions also ran an intensive analysis on the water and found that, while it had a high mineral content, it contained nothing out of the ordinary that would account for the cures attributed to it. Bernadette said that it was faith and prayer that cured the sick.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. One of the churches built at the site, the Basilica of St. Pius X, can itself accommodate 25,000 people and was dedicated by the future Pope John XXIII when he was the Papal Nuncio to France. Bernadette Soubirous was officially canonized a Saint by Pope Pius XI on December 8, 1933, and the year 2009 was declared “The Year of Bernadette.”
The Supreme Court of the United States recently heard arguments on two cases regarding lawsuits against the HHS mandate: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius. Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, led prayers with other pro-life leaders and religious freedom advocates at a rally in front of the Supreme Court building in support of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods. At the same time, Planned Parenthood and others were rallying in favor of the HHS mandate.
According to Alveda C. King, the daughter of the late civil rights activist, the Reverend A.D. King, and niece of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the question of forcing employers with moral objections to the HHS mandate or pay penalties sounds like a socialist agenda: “This is an important question for human and civil rights advocates because much is at stake regarding the constitutional rights of religious freedom for every American.”
Alveda King joined Father Frank Pavone and Janet Morana from Priests for Life as parties to another HHS lawsuit—the third in a series filed against the mandate. This case involves infringement against the religious freedom of nonprofit companies. According to King, “The irony is that the HHS mandate seeks to force Priests for Life—an organization that teaches that contraception and abortions are dangerous, life-threatening and immoral—to pay for, directly or indirectly, the very injustice that we are fighting against.”
Those in favor of religious freedom pray that the U. S. Supreme Court will make the right decision and rule in favor of the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Woods case that the HHS mandate is unconstitutional. Those in favor of religious freedom pray also that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees that the Priests for Life case is of such “imperative public importance” that it will take up the case and give it a favorable ruling.
According to King, “These legal matters raise civil and human rights issues. It is an injustice to rule on the side of death-dealing agents such as carcinogenic fertility blockers. My uncle, Martin Luther King Jr., fought for civil rights over 50 years ago, and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act is coming up later this year. Yet in 2014, our government is working against our liberties. May God have mercy and help us, because constitutional rights, like civil rights, are worth fighting for!”
Alveda C. King is a civil rights and pro-life activist, as well as director of the African-American outreach for Priests for Life.
Gemma Galgani was born on March 12, 1878, in a small Italian town near Lucca. At a very young age, Gemma developed a love for prayer and was graced with many mystical experiences. Gemma wished to become a nun, but her poor health prevented her from being accepted. When she became very ill with meningitis, she prayed to the Venerable Passionist, Gabriel Possenti, who was later canonized. Through his intercession, Gemma was miraculously cured. On June 8, 1899, Gemma had an interior warning that some unusual grace was to be granted to her. She had pain in her hands, feet and heart and blood was coming from the places where she had pain. These were the marks of the stigmata. Every Thursday evening, Gemma would fall into rapture and the marks would appear. The stigmata remained until Friday afternoon or Saturday morning when the bleeding would stop, the wounds would close, and only white marks would remain in place of the deep gashes.
Saint Gemma Galgani experienced a rapture in which she saw her guardian angel in the company of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “The Blessed Virgin Mary opened her mantle and covered me with it. At that very moment Jesus appeared with his wounds all open; blood was not flowing from them, but flames of fire which in one moment came and touched my hands, feet and heart. I felt I was dying, and should have fallen down but for my Mother (Blessed Virgin Mary) who supported me and kept me under her mantle. Thus I remained for several hours. Then my Mother kissed my forehead, the vision disappeared and I found myself on my knees; but I still had a keen pain in my hands, feet and heart. I got up to get into bed and saw that blood was coming from the places where I had the pain. I covered them as well as I could and then, helped by my guardian angel, got into bed.”
In January of 1903, Gemma was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. She died quietly in the company of the parish priest, on April 11 at age 25. He said, “She died with a smile which remained upon her lips, so that I could not convince myself that she was really dead.” She was beatified on May 14, 1933 and canonized on May 2, 1940, only thirty-seven years after her death. Galgani’s relics are housed at the Passionist monastery in Lucca, Italy.