St. Joan of Arc-May 30

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St. Joan of Arc is the patroness of soldiers and of France, and her Feast Day is celebrated on May 30.

Joan was born on January 6, 1412 in the village of Domremy near the province of Lorraine to pious parents of the French peasant class. At a very early age, Joan heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret.

In May 1428, the voices of the three saints told Joan to go to the King of France to help him reconquer his kingdom. At only 17 years old, Joan was given a small army with which she raised the siege of Orleans on May 8, 1429. Joan enjoyed a series of spectacular military successes, and Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France in Reims Cathedral with Joan at his side.

In May 1430, Joan was captured by the Burgundians as she was attempting to relieve Compiegne. When King Charles and the French did nothing to save her, she was handed over to the English. After months of imprisonment, she was tried at Rouen by a tribunal presided over by the infamous Peter Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, who hoped that the English would aid him in becoming an archbishop.

Joan was tricked into making a few damaging statements because of her unfamiliarity with the technicalities of theology. When she refused to retract the assertion that the saints of God had commanded her to do what she had done, she was condemned to death as a heretic, sorceress, and adulteress. Joan was 19 years old when she was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431.

Thirty years later, Joan was exonerated of all guilt. She was ultimately canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.

St. Catherine of Siena-April 29

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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).

St. Bernadette-April 16

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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.”

St. Gemma Galgani-April 11

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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.

St. Seraphina-March 12 Feast Day

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                Seraphina was born in San Gimignano, Italy, to a poor family. “As a little girl she learned to sew and spin, spending most of her time at home. Upon her father’s death, she was struck with a strange and paralyzing illness. She became misshapen and ugly, in constant pain, unable to get out of bed or even to move. Her mother took care of her but had to leave her for hours at a time to attend to her work. Seraphina’s only consolation was the crucifix, and she realized that she was called to imitate the suffering Christ. Yet she never complained. She managed to remain serene, and something beautiful shone out of her face. Then she was struck another blow. Her mother died, and she was left completely destitute, her neighbors repelled by her appearance and her sickness, her only friend a girl named Beldia who visited her and brought her food.

            In her reading, St. Seraphina had heard of the great sufferings of Pope St. Gregory the Great and he became her special saint. She prayed to him, drew strength from the sufferings that he had to endure, and prayed that he would obtain for her the patience she needed to bear her own sufferings. She was now so weak and helpless that it was clear to everyone she could not live very long. Eight days before her death, alone and almost completely forsaken, St. Gregory appeared to her and told her: “Dear child, on my feast day, God will give you rest” (in those days his feast day was celebrated on March 12). On that day, she died. The whole city attended her funeral and from that moment everyone began to pray to her. On the place where she had lain, her neighbors found white violets growing, and even today in the village of San Gimignano where she lived, the white violets that bloom in March are called Santa Fina flowers. She died on March 12, 1253, at the age of fifteen” (EWTN).

            Like St. Seraphina, “Even the greater sufferings that may fall to our share from time to time become easy to bear if we accept them with serenity and patience. What really makes suffering difficult to bear is our own impatience, our revolt, our refusal to accept it. This irritation increases our sufferings a hundredfold and, besides, robs us of all the merit we could have gained thereby. We see some people pass through a tempest of suffering with the greatest calm and serenity; whereas, others get irritated at the slightest annoyance or disappointment. We can all learn this calm and patience. It is the secret of happiness. An eminent physician, in a conference which he gave to distinguished scientists and fellow doctors, told them that he owed all his great success in life to the simple fact that he had corrected his habit of impatience and annoyance, which had been destroying all his energy and activity. Everyone, we repeat, without exception, can learn this calm and serenity” (Fr. Paul O’Sullivan, O.P.).