The Miracles of Francis Paola, Peter Paul Rubens, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
April 2: Saint Francis of Paola, Hermit—Optional Memorial
Patron Saint of boatmen, mariners, and naval officers
Canonized by Pope Leo X on May 1, 1519
Liturgical Color: White (Purple if Lenten Weekday)
Brothers, I most strongly urge you to work for the salvation of your souls with prudence and diligence. Death is certain, and life is short and vanishes like smoke. Therefore you must fix your minds on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ who so burned with love for us that he came down from heaven to redeem us. For our sakes he suffered all the agonies of body and mind, and did not shrink from any torment. He gave us a perfect example of patience and love. For our part, we too must be patient when things go against us. ~Letter of Saint Francis of Paola
James Martotille and his bride wedded and lived in the town of Paola, in the southernmost region of Italy. During the first years of their marriage, they were unable to conceive a child. Being devout Catholics, they turned to prayer and beseeched the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi. Their prayers were answered when they were blessed with the birth of a son. As an expression of gratitude to Saint Francis of Assisi, the couple named their son Francis.
While still an infant, Francis suffered from a swelling of the eyes, which endangered his sight. The Martotilles once again turned to the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi for healing. In keeping with a pious medieval custom, they vowed that if their son were healed, they would entrust him to a friary for a year as a youth so he could be educated and formed in the practice of the faith. Their infant was indeed cured, and his parents later fulfilled their vow.
As a youth, Francis showed many signs of piety. He regularly abstained from meat as penance, sought solitude, and found great joy in prayer. When he was entrusted to the care of the Franciscan friars at age thirteen (in the nearby Friary of Saint Mark), his love of God and devotion to prayer and penance grew stronger. Though he was not a professed brother, he lived out the Franciscan vows in ways that surpassed even the friars themselves. After faithfully fulfilling the yearlong stay, in accord with the vow made by his parents, Francis and his parents took a pilgrimage north to Assisi. After stopping in Rome and other places along the way, they completed their pilgrimage and returned home to Paola.
Back in Paola, Francis’ desire for prayer, penance, and solitude grew strong. In response, Francis sought permission from his father to live as a hermit. His father granted Francis’ request, permitting him to live on a nearby portion of his property. Francis quickly discovered that life as a hermit suited him well and was his calling. The only problem was that his solitude was too often interrupted by friendly visits. To remedy this, he moved to an even more remote spot, taking up residence in a cave by the sea. In that “hermitage,” Francis relied solely upon divine providence. He ate what he could gather from the land and what people would bring to him from time to time. His bed was the ground, and his pillow a rock or log. He lived this life for six years, alone in peace and fulfillment.
When Francis was about twenty years old, his holy example inspired two other young men to join him in the wilderness. With the help of some local townsmen, who were inspired by Francis’ vocation, they built small hermitages and a chapel in which a nearby priest would come to offer Mass for them. The three of them engaged in a common life of prayer, penance, and solitude. In the years that followed, more were drawn to join them to live as hermits. Over the next few decades, the local archbishop gave Francis and his companions permission to build a larger church and monastery, and Pope Sixtus IV asked Francis to formally write down a rule of life and submit it for approval. The pope also gave these men of God the name “Hermits of Saint Francis.” Some years later, Pope Alexander VI changed their name to the “Hermits of the Order of the Minims,” and then just to “Order of Minims,” or Minims friars. This simplified name meant they were to be seen as the least of all the friars. In everything they did, they sought lowliness and humility as their central aim.
Many quickly came to know and admire the newly established hermits who attempted to inspire a revival of the practice of Lenten penance among the faithful by practicing a perpetual Lent themselves. Their perpetual penance consisted of limiting their diet to only plants, refraining not only from meat and eggs, but from everything derived from animals. This fast became a fourth vow of the order, in addition to poverty, chastity and obedience.
When Jesus walked the earth, He continually performed miracles which confirmed His sacred identity in the eyes of His first followers. By the grace of God, Francis of Paola also performed many miracles, read minds, and spoke prophetically. One day Francis was on a journey to Sicily and was hungry. He encountered some poor men looking for work along the way and asked the men for food, but they had none. Francis told them to look in their bags, and there they found freshly baked bread that seemed to multiply as they ate it. On another occasion, a boatman refused to take Francis to Sicily one day because Francis was poor and could not pay him, so Francis simply walked or sailed across the ocean on his cloak. On other occasions, Francis is said to have raised the dead; healed the sick and crippled; averted plagues; expelled demons; spoken prophetically to bishops, popes, and kings; and performed many other miracles.
As a result of Francis’ holy life, coupled with miraculous signs, many people sought him out, despite his vocation of solitude. Popes called on him and kings sought his counsel. Through it all, Francis continually proclaimed that all he did was done “out of love.” Love, the pure and holy love of charity, was the sole purpose of his life.
At the age of ninety-one, Francis sensed death was coming for him, so he returned to complete solitude for his final three months. On Holy Thursday he went to confession, received Holy Communion, and prayed in preparation for death. Holy death came for him on Good Friday, April 2, 1519. He had lived a perpetual Lent throughout his life; thus, it was fitting that his Lent come to an end on Good Friday. Twelve short years later, Pope Leo X canonized Francis a saint. Fifty-three years after his death, a group of French Calvinists broke into the church where he was buried, dug up his grave and found his body incorrupt. They quickly desecrated his body and burned it so that the faithful would no longer pray before his tomb. This final act of humility that God permitted Saint Francis of Paola to embrace flowed from the glories of Heaven.
From an early age, Francis sensed God calling him to a radical vocation. Francis responded in such a way that his actions quickly became extraordinary. Each one of us is called to an extraordinary life of holiness. We are called to become radical, totally given to God, doing all out of love of God and others. Ponder how radical you are every day, and deepen your commitment to radical holiness so that “radical” eventually becomes normal for you, just as it was for Saint Francis.
Saint Francis, the closer you grew to God, the more radical your daily life became. However, the radical life you lived eventually became normal to you and your ordinary way to holiness. Please pray for me that I may live a life so completely given over to God that this total self-giving becomes my ordinary way of life. Saint Francis of Paola, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.
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Turn to the Lord with a pure heart
“May our Lord Jesus Christ, who repays most generously, reward your labour. You must flee from evil, and drive away dangers. We and all our brothers, although unworthy, pray constantly to God the Father and to his Son Jesus Christ, as well as to Mary the Virgin Mother, to be with you as you seek the salvation of your souls and your bodies.
Brothers, I most strongly urge you to work for the salvation of your souls with prudence and diligence. Death is certain, and life is short and vanishes like smoke. Therefore you must fix your minds on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ who so burned with love for us that he came down from heaven to redeem us. For our sakes he suffered all the agonies of body and mind, and did not shrink from any torment. He gave us a perfect example of patience and love. For our part, we too must be patient when things go against us.
Put aside hatred and hostility. See to it that you refrain from harsh words. But if you do speak them, do not be ashamed to apply the remedy from the same lips that inflicted the wounds. In this way you will show each other mercy and not keep alive the memories of past wrongs. Remembering grievances works great damage. It is accompanied by anger, fosters sin, and brings a hatred for justice. It is a rusty arrow spreading poison in the soul. It destroys virtue and is a cancer in the mind. It thwarts prayer and mangles the petitions we make to God. It drives out love and is a nail driven into the soul, an evil that never sleeps, a sin that never fades away, a kind of daily death.
Be lovers of peace, the most precious treasure that anyone can desire. You are already aware that our sins drive God to anger,”so you must repent of them, that God in his mercy may spare you. What men conceal is open to God. Turn to him with a sincere heart. Live in such a way that you bring upon yourselves the blessing of God, and that the peace of God our Father may be with you always.“
A reading from the letters of St Francis of Paola, Hermit (Letter AD 1486)
Lord God, by whom the holy are exalted, and Saint Francis was raised to share in the glory of the saints, let his prayer and example bring us the reward you have promised to the humble.
Born at Paola in Calabria in the year 1416. He founded a congregation of hermits which was later changed to the Order of Minims and received the approval of the Holy See in 1506. He died at Tours in France in 1507.
(We make our prayer) through our Lord.
Prepared by Pontifical University Saint Thomas Aquinas