St. Peter Celestine, Pope
(by Fr. Prosper Gueranger 1870)
Our Paschal Season, which has already given us the admirable Doctor, St. Leo, brings before us, today, the humble Peter Celestine, Sovereign Pontiff, like Leo, but who was no sooner throned on the Apostolic See, than he left it and returned to solitude. Among the long list of sainted men, who compose the venerable series of Roman Pontiffs, our Lord would have one, in whose person was to be represented the virtue of humility; that honour was conferred on Peter Celestine. He was dragged from the quiet of his solitude, compelled to ascend the throne of St. Peter, and made to hold, in his trembling hand, the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. The holy Hermit, whose eyes had been ever fixed on his own weakness, had then to provide for the necessities of the whole Church. In his humility, he judged himself to be unequal to so heavy a responsibility. He resigned the Tiara, and begged to be permitted to return to his dear hermitage. His Divine Master, Christ, had, in like manner, concealed His glory, first, in a thirty years of hidden life, and then, later on, under the cloud of His Passion and Sepulchre. The sunshine of the Pasch came; the gloom was dispersed, and the Conqueror of Death arose in all His splendor. He would have His Servants share in His triumph and glory; but their share is to be greater or less, according to the measure in which they have, here on earth, imitated his humility. Who, then, could describe the glory which Peter Celestine receives in heaven, as a recompense for his profound humility, which made him more eager to be unknown, than the most ambitious of men could be for honor and fame? He was great on the Pontifical Throne, and still greater in his solitude; but his greatness, now that he is in heaven, surpasses all human thought.
Holy Church speaks his praise in these few lines; their simplicity admirably harmonizes with the Hermit Pope, whose life they narrate.
Peter (who, from the name he took as Pope, was called Celestine,) was born at Isernia, in the Abruzzi, of respectable and Catholic parents. When quite a boy, he retired into solitude, that he might be out of the reach of the world's vanities. There he nourished his soul with holy contemplations, bringing his body into subjection, and wearing an iron chain next to his skin. He founded, under the Rule of St. Benedict, the Congregation, which was afterwards called the Congregation of Celestines. The Roman Church having been, for a long time, widowed of its Pastor, Celestine was chosen, unknown to himself, to occupy the Chair of Peter, and was therefore compelled to quit his solitude, for he was a lamp that was set upon a candlestick, and could not be hid. All men were filled with joy, as well as with surprise, at this unexpected choice. But thus exalted to the Pontificate, and finding that the multiplicity of cares rendered it almost impossible for him to continue his wonted contemplations, he resigned, of his own accord, the onerous honors of the Papal throne. He therefore resumed his former mode of life, and slept in the Lord by a precious death, which was rendered still more glorious by the apparition of an exceedingly bright cross, which hovered over the door of his cell. He was celebrated for many miracles, both before and after his death; which being authentically proved, he was canonized, eleven years after his departure from this world, by Pope Clement the Fifth.
Thou obtainedst, O Celestine, the object of thy ambition. Thou wast permitted to descend from the Apostolic Throne, and return to the quiet of that hidden life, which, for so many years, had been thy delight. Enjoy, to thy heart's content, the holy charm of being unknown to the world, and the treasures of contemplation in the secret of the face of God (Ps. xxx,. 21). But this life of obscurity must have an end; and then, the Cross,--the Cross, which thou hast loved above all earthly possessions, will rise up in brightness before thy Cell door, and summon thee to share in the Paschal Triumph of Him, Who came down from heaven to teach us this great truth, that He that humbleth himself, shall be exalted (St. Matth. xxiii. 12). Thy name, O Celestine, will forever shine on the list of Roman Pontiffs; thou art one of the links of that glorious chain, which unites the Holy Church with Jesus, her Founder and her Spouse; but a still greater glory is reserved for thee, the glory of being forever with this same Risen Jesus.
Holy Church, which, during the short period of thy holding the Keys of Peter, was obedient to thee, has now for centuries paid, and will continue, to the end of the world, to pay thee, the tribute of her devotion, because she recognizes in thee one of God's Elect, one of the Princes of the heavenly Court. And we, O Celestine, we also are invited to ascend where thou art, and contemplate, together with thee, the most beautiful among the children of men (Ps. xliv.3), the Conqueror of sin and hell. But there is only one path that can lead us thither; it is the path thou troddest, the path of Humility. Pray for us, that we may be solidly grounded in this virtue, and desire it with all our earnestness; that we may change our unhappy self-esteem into an honest contempt of ourselves; that we may despise all human glory, and be courageous, yea, cheerful, under humiliation; and that thus having drunk of the torrent, as did our Divine Master, we may one day, like him, lift up our heads (Ibid. cix.7), and cluster round his Throne for all eternity.
St. Peter Celestine, Pope and Founder of a Religious Order
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877
Peter Celestine, a holy hermit, founder of the order of Celestine monks, was born in Isernia, in the county of Abruzzo. In early youth he gave clear indications of the virtues and holiness for which he afterwards became renowned. When scarcely six years old he one day said to his mother: "Mother I will some day become a true servant of the Almighty." His future life made these words true. Having been sufficiently instructed in the sciences, he retired for two years into a dark forest, led by the desire to serve God. At first he shared the dwelling of another virtuous hermit, but afterwards he lived alone in a hut. Persuaded by one of his friends, he went to Rome, was ordained priest and entered the Order of St. Benedict. With the permission of the Abbot, however, he left the monastery, and resumed his solitary life on Mount Morroni; hence he is sometimes called Peter of Morroni.
From thence he went with two companions to Mount Magella, not far from the city of Sulmona. His reason for these changes was the desire to live quietly and hidden from the eyes of men. The austerity of the life he led almost surpassed that of the ancient hermits of Egypt and other lands. Not less admirable was his profound humility. Although, as already related, he had been ordained priest, he dared not go to the altar to offer the divine sacrifice, in consideration of the infinite majesty of God and his own nothingness. At length, admonished by his confessor, he overcame his too great fear, and offered, with great comfort of heart, the holy sacrifice, and deeply regretted at the same time, that he had so long deprived himself of the great consolation it brought to him.
The exemplary life this holy hermit led was soon known in all the surrounding country, and inspired many, some even of high rank, with the desire of living under his direction. Admonished by divine revelation, he built a small Church in honor of the Holy Ghost, and near it erected a monastery. This was the beginning of the celebrated Celestine Order, which, approved by Gregory X., grew even while its founder was yet alive, into such importance, that Celestine alone built 36 monasteries and filled them with fervent servants of God. He visited all of these as often as possible, and having encouraged the inmates to continual zeal in the service of the Most High, he retired to his cell and led a life more angelical than human.
The Almighty, who humbles the proud but raises the humble, was pleased to exalt this His faithful and lowly servant before the whole world in a most unprecedented manner. He inspired the Cardinals, who, after the death of Nicholas IV., disagreed in the choice of a new head of the Church, to choose unanimously this holy hermit as successor to the Papal chair. When, however, the envoys came to inform him of it, the holy man was frightened, and left nothing untried to decline so high a dignity. He endeavored to fly, but all was useless, he was obliged to obey the envoys, or rather, to obey God, and received the Papal crown at Aquila, in 1294. After the coronation he wished to continue his former life of austerity and solitude. But as the many and important functions of his high station rendered this impossible, he was soon weary of his dignity and office, and resigned them voluntarily after the expiration of a few months, with the intention of returning to his solitude. He had already left the city, when his successor, Boniface VII., sent after him, and had him confined in a castle, fearing that a division of the Church might arise. He remained thus in custody almost ten months, always content and never complaining; nay, sometimes he even said jestingly to himself: "Peter! you have so long wished for a quiet cell; behold, you now possess it!"
God revealed to him his end and his approaching eternal happiness. When he had received the holy sacraments with the greatest devotion, he lay down upon the floor, began cheerfully to sing, and expired uttering the words: "Let every spirit praise the Lord! " Before, as well as after his death, he was honored by God with many miracles.
St. Peter Celestine dared not, during a long period, offer the divine sacrifice in consideration of the infinite Majesty of God and his own unworthiness. Being admonished, however, by his confessor, he offered it daily, to his own great comfort. There are persons too scrupulous to receive Holy Communion. They fear that they are not worthy to receive it frequently. The thought of the great majesty of the Almighty and their own nothingness prevents them; while others, who are accustomed to go often to Holy Communion have too little reverence, and think either not at all, or not enough, of the greatness of the mystery of which they partake, and of their own unworthiness. These actions do not show that they are impressed with the Majesty of the Most High. Their preparation is lukewarm, without attention, without devotion. Both the too scrupulous and the too confident do great wrong. The latter ought to know that the frequent receiving of Holy Communion ought not to lessen but to augment their reverence. If we go often to Holy Communion we should not, therefore, take less time or be less fervent in the preparation for it: on the contrary, the devotion ought to be greater in consideration of our privilege of receiving it frequently. The former, however, ought to know that the scruples which, under the pretext that they are not worthy, prevent them from partaking frequently of the Holy Sacrament, do not come from God. It is right that we humble ourselves before the divine Majesty, and that we consider ourselves not worthy of such a grace; but we ought also to be encouraged in contemplating the measureless love and kindness of Christ; and the thought of our own poverty ought to excite in us a burning desire for this heavenly bread. If you wish to wait for Holy Communion until you are worthy of it, tell me, when will the day come on which you can partake of it? Act as you think you ought. Cleanse carefully your conscience: ornament your soul with virtues: prepare yourself with great zeal, and then go to the Lord's table with lively faith, firm hope, burning love, and the deepest reverence; and go as often as your confessor gives you permission. "Do what is your duty," says Thomas a Kermpis, "and do it with proper care; not because you are accustomed to it, not because you are forced: but receive the Most Holy Body of our dear Lord with humility and reverence."
The Same Day
St. Pudentiana, Virgin
(by Fr. Prosper Gueranger 1870)
This same nineteenth of May has another glory attached to it; it is the day on which died the noble virgin Pudentiana. That name carries us back to the very first Age of the Christian Church. She was a daughter of a wealthy Roman, called Pudens, who was a kinsman of the Pudens spoken of by St. Paul, in his second Epistle to Timothy (II. Tim. iv. 21). She and her sister Praxedes had the honour of being numbered among the earliest members of the Church, and both of them consecrated their virginity to Jesus Christ. Upon their father's death, the two sisters distributed their fortune to the poor, and devoted their whole time to good works. It was the eve of the Persecution under Antoninus. Pudentiana, though scarcely sixteen years of age, was ripe for heaven, and winged her flight to her Divine Spouse, when the storm was at its height. Her sister survived her many years: we shall commemorate her saintly memory on the 21st of July.
Pudentiana's house, which, in her grandfather's time, had been honoured by St. Peter's presence, was made over, by the holy virgin herself, to Pope Pius the First, and the divine mysteries were celebrated in it. It is now one of the most venerable Churches of Rome, and is the Station for the Tuesday of the third week of Lent.
Pudentiana is a tender floweret offered to our Risen Jesus by the Roman Church. Time has diminished naught of the fair lily's fragrance; and pure as her very name, her memory will live in the hearts of the Christian people, even to the end of the world. The eulogy passed upon her by the holy Liturgy is but a commemoration; and yet it says so much, and will say it each year, as long as time itself shall last.
The virgin Pudentiana was daughter of the Roman (Senator) Pudens. Having lost her parents, and being most exemplary in her practice of the Christian Religion, she sold, with her sister Praxedes' consent, her possessions, gave the money to the poor, and devoted herself to fasting and prayer. It was through her influence, that her whole household, which consisted of ninety-six persons, was baptised by Pope Pius. In consequence of the decree issued by the emperor Antoninus, which forbade the Christians to offer sacrifice publicly, Pope Pius celebrated the holy mysteries in Pudentiana's house, and the Christians assembled there to assist at the celebration. She received them with much charity, and provided them with all the necessaries of life. She died in the practice of these Christian and pious duties, and, on the fourteenth, of the Calends of June (May 19), was buried in her father's tomb, in the Priscilla Cemetery, which is on the Salarian Road.
Like the dove of Noe's Ark, that found not where to rest her feet on the guilty earth, thou tookest thy flight, O Pudentiana, and restedst in the bosom of Jesus, thy Spouse. Thus will it be at the end of the world, when the souls of the Elect shall have been reunited to their bodies: they will fly, like eagles to their King, and will cluster around him, as the object of all their desires (St. Matth. xxiv. 28). They will flee from this sinful earth, as thou didst from the abominations of Pagan-Rome, that was drunk with the blood of the Martyrs (Apoc. xvii. 6). We celebrate thy departure, dear youthful Saint, with a feeling of hope for our own future deliverance; we honour thy reaching thy Jesus, and we long to be there, together with thee. Oh! get us detachment from all transitory things, intenser love of the New Life which came to us with Easter, and indifference as to what concerns that other lower life, which is not that of our Risen Lord. Thou wast a daughter of the holy Church of Rome; pray, then, for thy mother. She is suffering now, in the days of Pius the Ninth, as she did during the pontificate of Pius the First. After having reigned over Christian nations for centuries, she is now abandoned and disowned by the very people that owe all they have to her, and yet are now turning her own blessings against her. Use thine influence, O Pudentiana! assist and protect thine and our dearest mother.