Thursday, 2 April 2009

St. Francis of Paola, John Paul II and a full day!

Whilst media headlines are caught up in summits and protests, I hear afresh the words that say that we are not to put our trust in princes. As I try to take my gaze off BBC News channel to my crucifix next to my desk I recall with joy that today is the feast day of a great penitential saint: Francis de Paola, Founder of the Order of Minims.
On this same day as Francis, another giant of the Christian family passed away from this life: John Paul II, the Great. Four years ago today we all have those images still with us.
So I ask these two joyful brothers of the Faith to intercede for the Summit, to intercede for us as we stand on the treshold of Holy Week, and to intercede for three very young children that I am praying for very much this week: Nicholas, Edward and Rachel.
We all know who John Paul the Great was, but who is Francis of Paola?
He was born in 1416, at Paola, in Calabria, Italy; and died on 2 April, 1507, at Plessis, France. His parents were remarkable for the holiness of their lives. From his early years Francis showed signs of extraordinary sanctity, he went with his parents on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Rome, and other places of devotion. Returning to Paola he selected a retired spot on his father's estate, and there lived in solitude; but later on he found a more retired dwelling in a cave on the sea coast. Here he remained alone for about six years giving himself to prayer and mortification.
In 1435 two companions joined him in his retreat, and to accommodate them Francis caused three cells and a chapel to be built: in this way the new order was begun. The number of his disciples gradually increased, and Francis built a large monastery and church. The building of this monastery was the occasion of a great outburst of enthusiasm and devotion on the part of the people towards Francis: even the nobles carried stones and joined in the work. The rule of life adopted by Francis and his religious was one of extraordinary severity. They were to seek to live unknown and hidden from the world. To express this character which he would have his disciples cultivate, Francis wanted his disciples to be known as Minims, the least of all religious. After the approbation of the order, Francis founded several new monasteries in Calabria and Sicily. He also established convents of nuns, and a third order for people living in the world, after the example of St. Francis of Assisi.The last three mouths of his life he spent in entire solitude, preparing for death. On Maundy Thursday he gathered his community around him and exhorted them especially to have mutual charity amongst themselves and to maintain the rigour of their life and in particular perpetual abstinence. The next day, Good Friday, he again called them together and gave them his last instructions and appointed a vicar-general. He then received the last sacraments and asked to have the Passion according to St. John read out to him, and whilst this was being read, his soul passed away. In 1562 the Huguenots broke open his tomb and found his body incorrupt. They dragged it forth and burnt it, but some of the bones were preserved by the Catholics and enshrined in various churches of his order. The Order of Minims does not seem at any time to have been very extensive, but they had houses in many countries. The feast of St. Francis of Paola is kept by the universal Church on 2 April, the day on which he died.

As from Lauds the day is accounted for minute by minute, it feels that Holy Week is here and it is great - the week above all weeks. God in his mercy and love gives us afresh this wonderful opportunity called Holy Week - why not make the most of it?
Holy Week is the week where we see the faith of complete trust in God, which is what Francis of Paola and John Paul II teach us. Let us place our trust in Him and ask that he direct the hearts and minds of the princes of this world to make the right decisions.

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