I am deep in my February volume from the Bulter’s Lives of the Saints, given to me by my darling husband so that I may not be at the mercy of Google when it comes to learning about our saintly brothers in Christ.
The February 27th entries sparkle from the page, each
saint or blessed’s life a little jewel reflecting the great light of
God’s mercy and love. There’s St. Julian and Companions, Martyrs
(250): “After lamenting the fact that so many fell away from the faith
in the face of threats and torture, Dionysius describes those who stood
firm, among whom was an old man named Julian, so crippled with gout that
he could not stand, let alone walk. Two friends had to carry him to
his trial; one of these renounced his faith and was released, but the
other stood firm with Julian and was condemned. They were ‘taken right
through the city, which as you all know is immense, mounted on camels
and whipped while perched aloft. Finally, while the whole population
milled around, they were burnt up with quicklime.’”
I look up quicklime and view pictures of gout—a better use of
Google—imagine the temptation to renounce the faith at the first lick of
the whip, and marvel at their courage.
Next is St. Baldomerus (c. 660): a locksmith in Lyons. “He lived
devoutly and austerely, giving away all he could afford—and sometimes
what he could not afford, such as the tools of his trade—to the poor.
He greeted everyone he met with an ‘arrow-prayer’—In nomine Domini gratias semper, “In the name of God, let us give thanks always.”
I think, too, of St. Baldomerus’s bravery. Would I ever have the
courage to praise God so freely in polite conversation? Or to give away
my KitchenAid stand mixer?
Next in line the also-brave St. Anne Line, Martyr (c. 1565-1601):
Born to staunch Calivinists, Anne and her brother converted to
Catholicism by the age of 20 and were disinherited. Anne later married
Roger Line, also a disinherited convert who would eventually become
imprisoned for attending Mass and later exiled. Anne, despite suffering
from great poverty and ill health, gave the rest of her life to helping
fellow Catholics and on February 26, 1601 “she was charged with
harboring a priest…she spent her last night in prayer and was taken to
Tyburn to be hanged on 27 February 1601. There she kissed the gallows
and prayed till her last moments.”
I wonder if I would pray, too, before my death. I wonder if I would
panic and doubt in the prison cell, tempted to believe that I somehow
had done something wrong to deserve this punishment, that God had left
me. I know I would not have kissed the gallows.
Then, Blesseds Mark Barkworth and Roger Filcock: “Mark Barkworth,
venerated as the first English Benedictine martyr, and Roger Filcock, a
Jesuit priest, were executed immediately after Anne Line (above). Mark
kissed the hem of her dress and her hand as she hung from the gallows,
saying, ‘Thou hast got the start of us, sister, but we will follow thee
as quickly as we may’ (otherwise reported as, “Ah, sister, you’ve got
ahead of us but we’ll soon catch you up’). Roger: “As he watched
Barkworth die, Filcock cried out, “I desire to be dissolved and to be
The clear theme of how Christ’s burning love animated these men and
women, inspiring them to see a bargain in dying a grisly death in return
for eternity with Him, deeply impresses itself on me. I feel keenly
that Christ’s love must be so much stronger, passionate, intense, and
irresistible than I know now.
St. Gabriel Possenti comes next: “He was born the eleventh of
thirteen children of a distinguished lawyer who held a succession of
official posts in the Papal States and was christened Francesco…he was a
bright student and by all accounts a cheerful youth with a reputation
of being something of a ‘ladies man’–damerino.” He later joined the
Passionists, and “the rest of his short life was one of scrupulous
attention to duty and to the needs of others in every tiny
action—redeemed from excessive piety by his unfailing cheerfulness,” and
this, too, and the massive effort it must’ve required sober me. I feel
my vocation as a wife and mother can benefit from his example and
intercession, and I resolve to commit his life and name to memory.
And finally I come across Blessed Mary Deluil-Martiny, Martyr
(1841-84): She helped found the Daughters of the Heart of Jesus in
February 1876 and “on Ash Wednesday, 27 February 1884, she was attacked
by the convent gardener, Louis Chave, who was fanatically
anti-religious. She died from her wounds, being heard to exclaim, ‘I
forgive him…for the work…for the work!’” Such a strange and awful death
and it, too, is made beautiful by her sacrifice, not outside the realm
of God’s love.
Gout and quicklime, gallows, whips, and death-by-gardener–I love my Butler’s
because God is there in every page. Nothing is too evil or ugly for
Him. Indeed, the darker the circumstances, the greater His desire must
be to rescue us from them. He is with us, come what may.