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The Big Book of Women SaintsChapter One
Mary, Mother of God
Today marks the Solemnity of Mary,1 when we honor the mother of God and celebrate the fact that she is also our mother and the mother of all the members of the communion of saints.
"God has disposed that, thanks to her, the Incarnation, Redemption, the Eucharist and Communion would reach us," writes one contemporary cardinal. "Mary was the first to receive in her womb the Body and the Blood of Christ. The Incarnation was history's first Communion. The first tabernacle was her immaculate heart. . . . Before any apostle or priest, it is Mary who gives Jesus to the world."
"Only a few words from the Virgin Mary have come down to us in the Gospels," writes Saint Edith Stein (August 9). "But these few words are like heavy grains of pure gold. When they melt in the ardor of loving meditation, they more than suffice to bathe our entire lives in a luminous golden glow."
Mary was with Jesus at Calvary, when he commended her to the care of John the Evangelist. Tradition holds that she spent the rest of her earthly life in prayer and supplication.2
The Genius of Mary, the Mother of God:
Just a few of the titles from the Litany to the Blessed Virgin Mary capture the Blessed Mother's genius. She is the Mother of Christ, Virgin most Prudent, Mirror of Justice, Help of Christians, Queen of Angels, Queen of Martyrs, Queen of All Saints, and Queen of Peace.
"My soul proclaims the greatness ofthe Lord; / my spirit rejoices in God my savior."
Blessed Stephanie Quinzani
b. February 5, 1457, Orzinuovo, Italy
d. January 2, 1530, Soncino, Italy
Every Friday night for forty years Stephanie went into an ecstasy or trance in which she reenacted the entire Passion of Christ, including the stigmata, while she remained oblivious to the world around her. Eyewitnesses saw only her agony. When, in her mind, Stephanie was nailed to the Cross, her arms became so rigid that not even the strongest men could move them. Her facial features reflected all the suffering of Christ. When the ecstasy ended, Stephanie returned to being a robust country girl and her face was once again plump and healthy. After one such event, twenty-one respected witnesses signed a testimony to what they had seen.
Stephanie was blessed with many spiritual gifts, including the ability to read souls. Among those who consulted her were Angela Merici (January 27) and Osanna of Mantua (June 20). Stephanie persuaded one woman to give up a plan to poison fourteen people. Even as her fame spread, she continued to perform humble works of mercy and to earn her living by manual labor. A community of more than thirty women grew up around her, and she built a monastery to house them. Many wealthy admirers offered to build grand monasteries for her in other cities, but Stephanie chose to remain in Soncino. (Perhaps out of gratitude, Soncino exempted her monastery from all taxes.)
The weekly visions and the acclaim that came with them did not bring Stephanie any peace, however. For forty years she suffered fears that God had abandoned her. These ended only when an angel told her, "There are several means for a reasonable creature to rise to perfect love of God, but the principal one is a life of suffering,. . . Affliction is the road to perfect love and perfect transformation."
The Genius of Stephanie Quinzani:
Blessed with a tenacious spirit, Stephanie continued her good works in spite of her spiritual torment and physical trials. Her life truly was an imitation of Christ.
"Trust in the lord with all your heart, / on your own intelligence rely not; / In all your ways be mindful of him, / and he will make straight your paths."
Saint Geneviève of Paris
b. c. 422, Nanterre, France
d. 500, Paris, France
The patron saint of women soldiers was only seven years old when Germanus, bishop of Auxerre,3 passed through her village. Everyone wanted his blessing, but he singled out Geneviève and declared that she was destined for a holy life.
Geneviève had to work out for herself what that holy life would be. The only holy women she knew were anchorites or pious hermits, and their reclusive life was not for her. Craving activity and service, she moved to Paris at the age of fifteen and became known for her good works and miracles.
Her great moment came in 451 as Attila the Hun, the most feared warrior in Europe, prepared to invade Paris. Geneviève pleaded with her neighbors not to abandon the city, and she gathered the women to pray, asking God to save the city. "Forsake not your homes," Geneviève said, "for God has heard my prayers. Attila shall retreat." Many men denounced Geneviève as a madwoman, a false prophet, and a witch. They were ready to drown her in the Seine, but word of her troubles reached her old mentor, Germanus, who was on his deathbed in Ravenna. He sent his archdeacon with a gift of blessed bread to convince the people that Geneviève was a truly holy woman.
As she predicted, Attila did retreat. For reasons historians still cannot explain, the warrior known as the Scourge of God suddenly changed course and spared Paris. Two years later he was dead, having failed to conquer the world after all.
The Genius of Geneviève of Paris:
Geneviève later interceded with other kings and generals to free military prisoners. She even broke through a blockade to bring bread into Paris. Drawing courage from her complete trust in God, she insisted, "God will protect us. We must rely on him."
The Big Book of Women Saints. Copyright (c) by Sarah Gallick . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
"For the Lord is God; he crushes warfare, / and sets his encampment among his people; / he snatched me from the hands of my persecutors. . . . the Lord Almighty thwarted them, / by a woman's hand he confounded them."
Judith 16:2, 5