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Author(s): Ferdinand Holbock

ISBN13: 9780898707540

ISBN10: 0898707544


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  • In this volume a master of hagiography presents thirty-seven new Blesseds and five Saints beatified and canonized by Pope John Paul II. These are new faces, some of them our contemporaries, who followed Christ under circumstances that were completely different from those of the saints of earlier ages who had the privilege of living in a world that was still more or less whole. The short biographies each include an illustration of the saint, and part of the homily given by the Pope at the canonization or beatification.
    In this book you will meet men and women who come from eras of great conflict, who in a heroic way remained faithful to Christ and to His Church, and so have become, as Vatican II says, "companions of our human condition". When the prophet Elijah on his forty-day journey to Mount Horeb collapsed in exhaustion, an angel came to him and strengthened him. The Saints have the power and the duty to help us, to set us aright and teach us strategy for our battle with the powers of darkness. Let us get to know them, so that we can call on them by name. Illustrated
  • Ferdinand Holbock

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    What a splendid and necessary compilation this is! Here surely is the richest and most lasting legacy of the Pontificate of John Paul II. Such a treasure trove of insight and inspiration about the extraordinary lives of so many otherwise hidden and heroic souls, whose witness to sanctity cries out for our admiration, yes, but even more, our emulation.

    , Regis Martin, Author, The Last Things

    In the Preface to this book the question is raised: The majority of the faithful are married. How is it, though, that there are so few married people who have been raised to the honours of the altar? The answer, as we know, is that the process of canonisation is long and costly; religious orders are much more likely to have the resources needed for this process. To correct this inequity our present Pope, John Paul II, has always been a champion of the holiness of married love and it is he who has provided the spur to several recent beatifications of married people.

    Today, marriage is under assault from all sides. The idea of a lifelong, faithful union that is open to life is almost incomprehensible to the modern, Western world. Widespread divorce, cohabitation and contraception within marriage have all struck terrible blows at this Sacrament. Thus, Ferdinand Holbock has done a great service to the Church and to all Catholic couples in describing the lives of holy, yet married, men and women down the centuries.

    Traditionally, Catholic children are encouraged to imitate the saints; some favourites are SS Bernadette of Lourdes, Therese of Lisieux, Francis of Assisi and Maximilian Kolbe. But these, and countless other popular figures of devotion, dedicated themselves to God in the religious life. How important it is, if Christian marriage is to survive and flourish today, for us and our children to have the inspiring example of holy Christian married people before our eyes. They show us, over and over again, that true holiness , and therefore happiness - in marriage can only be achieved through self-sacrifice and constancy in prayer. Contentment, compatibility, rubbing along together, though attractive, are not the true goal of marriage, which is for each spouse to help the other reach heaven. Not an easy process, as married couples know.

    The author begins his account with the most holy marriage of all, that of Our Lady and St Joseph, rightly defending it as a real marriage, though lived virginally by mutual consent. The term Josephite is then used to describe later saintly unions that followed this rare form of married love. To a post-Freudian mindset, such a decision at the outset of matrimony, must seem at least unnatural, at worst perverse. It can only be understood in a Christian context. A recent example of such a Josephite marriage is that of Blessed Bartolo Longo, who died in 1926, and his wife, Marianna de Fusco. United in good works for the Church, they chose to sacrifice the conjugal expression of their love for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Others, like the saintly parents of St Therese, Louis and Zelie Martin, practised conjugal continence until directed by their confessor to raise children for the glory of God.

    Among this long list (the author has found over 200 individuals who were sanctified through their marriage) there are inevitably many who were widowed and who then embraced religious life, often founding new Orders: St Jane de Chantal, St Elizabeth Seton and St Brigid of Sweden are among their number. St Francis Borgia, a widower with eight children, became the second General of the Jesuits. Occasionally, one has a slight sense from the narrative that the second stage of life was embraced more fervently than the first. Some saints clearly wanted to dedicate themselves to God entirely, but married out of obedience to parents; then made the best of it by encouraging their many children to become future priests and nuns. Such was Blessed Aleth who raised her seven children so wellthat all of them became either priests or religious.

    One of the more controversial saints, Nicholas von Flue, felt compelled by the call of God to leave his wife soon after the birth of their tenth child, and become a lifelong hermit. This he did with his wifes consent, but one would like to know what interior struggles preceded her acceptance. What is clear from the book is that married sanctity, whether caring for an often large family or in (much rarer) Josephite unions, calls for the highest heroism. Several of these saints (usually women) suffered greatly in unhappy marriages, when their husbands were neglectful, unfaithful, profligate or abusive. St Rita of Cascia and St Monica are two such; but their patience and forgiveness were exemplary and eventually brought about the conversion of their erring spouses. Today, an army of counsellors would possibly urge wives to abandon an unhappy marriage; these steadfast examples show us that there is another, more heroic way. On this subject the author gives an amusing quote from the hagiographer, Walter Nigg, in reference to St Elizabeth of Hungary: A marriage can be successful only when an angel serves as a messenger between those united in marriage; this does a hundred times more good than all the modern marriage counselling services put together. Much angelic guidance is surely needed today by couples today.

    In these pages readers will find old friends and favourites: St Thomas More, who persuaded Dame Alice, his second wife, to learn three musical instruments in order to please him, and who wrote in his epitaph of 1532, in reference to his two wives, The one so lived with me and the other so now liveth, that it is doubtful whether this or the other were dearer to me; Frederic Ozanam, founder of the St Vincent de Paul Conferences; Franz Jagerstatter, the Austrian farmer, who was executed for following his conscience and refusing to fight in Hitlers army. We learn that his courageous wife, Franziska, after a difficult struggle, affirmedhis sacrifice of his life. How difficult it must have been, sometimes, to be married to a saint. The humorous remark, a martyr is someone who is married to a saint is not without a grain of truth, perhaps?

    I hope that eventually Elizabeth Leseur, the Frenchwoman who died in 1914, will be included in this roll of honour.. She kept a hidden diary detailing her spiritual life and her sorrow at her husbands mockery and scepticism towards her faith, which makes edifying reading; after her death from cancer, Dr Felix Leseur discovered it, was thereby converted and then became a Dominican priest. (The book is entitled, My Spirit Rejoices, and is also available from Family Publications).

    The author dedicates this book to his deceased parents who for 46 years strove together honestly and conscientiously in love and fidelityto lead a truly Christian married life. They gave the gift of life to 12 children: three of them died in early childhood; four dedicated themselves to Christ and the Church in the priesthood or religious life; while five handed on the blessings of life and the Catholic faith through the vocation of Christian marriage. Clearly his parents were an outstanding example of Christian matrimony and their hidden lives must surely be mirrored by countless others whose holiness in their married state is known to God alone. The book should go a long way to dispel the old clerical attitude to marriage. In this connection one recalls the story of a Vatican prelate who once commented to Cardinal Pecci, What a mistake that Frederic Ozanam got married! Pecci, later Pope Leo XIII, replied, So Christ left us six Sacraments and one mistake?

    Perhaps because the details of many lives referred to in the book are lost to us, it can occasionally seem simply hagiographic. We know that sanctity comes at a cost , the grain of wheat has to die before it yields a rich harvest , and sometimes one wishes to know more of the doubts, struggles and sorrows that preceded, or accompanied, the holiness of these men and women. St Rita sacrificed much for the salvation of her husbands soul is suggestive and elusive at the same time. But one also learns a great deal about the high calling of love in matrimony, often indirectly; for instance, the beautiful hymn about the sufferings of Our Lady, Stabat Mater, always sung in Lent during the Stations of the Cross and composed by Jacopone da Todi, originated in his bitter suffering after the tragic death of his beloved young wife.

    Finally, one should mention the illustrations. Detailed research has gone into giving almost every chapter a visual record of the individual concerned , whether a woodcut, engraving, painting, sculpture or, as with 20th century beati, such as Gianna Molla, photos. They bring these great men and women alive in a special way and go some way to putting flesh on many distant figures who would be otherwise shadowy silhouettes.

    , Francis Phillips,