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Friends of the Family:
Saints for the Home
When St. Margaret of Cortona was canonized in 1728 she was held up to the faithful as "a second Magdalene," a woman who turned away from her sinful life and spent the rest of her days in prayer and penance. That single mothers might have a patron saint was unthinkable at the time.
Nor would it have occurred to the pilgrims at the tomb of St. Elizabeth of Hungary to ask her help with problematic in-laws. They sought out St. Elizabeth because in her life she had cared for the sick and the dying, and they hoped that through her intercession they would be healed of their illnesses.
But the cult of the saints is not a rigid thing. History shows us that the reasons why the faithful turn to certain saints change from place to place and from age to age. When divorce was rare, a patron saint for divorcing couples was unnecessary. Today, when so marry marriages end in divorce, the divorced and the divorcing have as their patron St. Helen, whose husband terminated their marriage so he could marry a Roman princess.
St. Matilda is a classic example of how devotion to a saint has evolved over the centuries. At the beginning of her cult she was considered the special patron of her descendants, the guardian of the Ottonian dynasty she and her husband, Henry the Fowler, had started in Germany. Once the royal line of the Ottonians had died out, Matilda's patronage was expanded. Throughout the Middle Ages, when selflessness was not a common traitamong the upper classes, the Church held up St. Matilda as a model for all female rulers. Queens and empresses are rare today, but parents with disappointing children are common. So devotion to St. Matilda has shifted once again.
Among the saints presented in this chapter, only St. Gerard Majella has remained consistent. Since his death he has been the favored intercessor for expectant mothers. Certainly the Redemptorists have fostered this devotion to their greatest wonder-working saint, but there is another reason why St. Gerard's "specialty" has not changed: in spite of advances in medical science, the anxiety of pregnancy and childbirth remains universal. And the many miracles in the delivery room attributed to St. Gerard's intercession only strengthen devotion to him under this title.
For Expectant Mothers
St. Gerard Majella (1726-1755) Feast day: October 16
The first expectant mothers who invoked St. Gerard Majella did
so at a time when many mothers and infants did not survive
childbirth. Although most pregnancies these days end happily,
expectant mothers still invoke St. Gerard to protect them
and safeguard the life within their wombs.
Gerard Majella was born in Mura Lucano, a town fifty miles south of Naples. While still a little boy he showed signs of piety, so much so that he was granted permission to receive Holy Communion every other day, a rare privilege for the time. His mother said her son "was born for Heaven."
Gerard was twelve when his father died. His mother apprenticed Gerard to a tailor in town so he could help support the family. The tailor was mean-spirited and irreligious. He mocked Gerard for giving one third of his pay to charity and spending time praying before the Blessed Sacrament. But the tailor's foreman was worsehe beat Gerard on any pretext.
After four years Gerard's apprenticeship ended. Although he was qualified to go into business for himself, he took a job as a servant to the bishop of Lacedogna. The man was a notorious tyrant who cursed and abused his household staff. Most servants left after a few days, but Gerard stayed for three years, until the bishop died. Gerard believed that by enduring the anger and abuse of others patiently he was cultivating the virtue of humility.
With the bishop's death, Gerard did at last open his own tailor shop. He was nineteen years old. He worked at his trade for the next seven years. Gerard's ambition, however, was to enter a religious order.
He applied for admittance to the Capuchins, but the friars rejected him because his health was so poor. Then, in 1749, when Gerard was 23, a group of priests from the recently established Redemptorist Congregation arrived in Mura Lucano to preach a mission. Gerard was deeply impressed by the eloquence and devotion of these priests. He asked the mission team if he could join the Redemptorists as a lay brother. Just as the Capuchins had done before, the Redemptorists expressed concern about Gerard's health and refused his request.
Gerard would not give up. He pestered the fathers so relentlessly that when the Redemptorists were leaving at the end of the mission, a priest suggested to Gerard's mother that she lock her son in his room so they could depart without causing a scene.
In fact Gerard did chase after the Redemptorists. He pleaded persistently to join them until at last one of the priests, Father Paul Cafaro, sent Gerard to the Redemptorist house at Deliceto. Father Cafaro sent a note to the master of novices there that the new recruit was "useless." But he left the final decision of what should be done with Gerard to the superiors at Deliceto.
In the novitiate Gerard worked so hard and advanced in holiness so quickly that St. Alphonsus de Liguori, the founder of the Redemptorists, intervened and granted him permission to take his vows as a lay brother early.
The three years of Gerard's religious life were extraordinary. St. Alphonsus and his fellow Redemptorists found that the frail tailor from Mura Lucano was a miracle worker. At least twenty cases are recorded of Gerard bringing sinners to repentance by revealing to them secret sins they had been unwilling to confess to a priest. We have testimony from eyewitnesses who swear they saw Gerard levitate while he was deep in prayer. A poor family said that by Gerard's prayer their meager supply of wheat lasted for
Excerpted from Saints for Every Occasion by Thomas J. Craughwell. Copyright © 2001 by C.D. Stampley Enterprises, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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