January 7 – Saint Raymond of Peñyafort, Priest – Optional Memorial

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Optional Memorial; Liturgical Color: White

Today’s saint lived numerous lives inside of his 100 years on earth. He was an intellectual prodigy who was teaching university level philosophy by the age of twenty, and who took degrees in civil and canon law from the premier law university of the time – Bologna. While in Bologna he likely came to know the founder of a new religious order who had also come to Bologna, and who would die there – St. Dominic Guzman. The example of the Dominicans led Fr. Raymond to exchange the diocesan priesthood for the Dominicans.  

St. Raymond’s abilities and holiness were such that everyone seemed to want him in their service. Kings and Popes and Bishops and Orders all had plans on how to utilize him best. He was called to the Pope’s service to make the great contribution for which he is still known today, the organization of a huge compendium of Church law which served as the basic reference for canon lawyers until the early 20th century. Exhausted by this three years of effort in this project, he returned in middle age to his native Barcelona.

But his life of quiet and prayer did not last long. He was shocked to learn from Dominicans sent to him from Bologna that he had been elected the second successor to St. Dominic as the master general of the Dominican Order. He served his Order well and dutifully as Master General but not long. He resigned due to old age when he was 65. But there was still a lot of life left to live.

St. Raymond’s activities in his old age included efforts to try to convert the Muslims then occupying Spain, the establishment of theology and language schools dedicated to converting Muslims, his probable personal encouragement to St. Thomas Aquinas that the young scholar write an apologetic work directed at non Catholics, the Summa Contra Gentiles, and St. Raymond’s rejection of an episcopal appointment.

St. Raymond’s life shows an admirable synthesis of traditional piety and devotion,  service to the Church, obedience to his superiors, love of theology, dedication to his Order, and respect and love for the law. To know, love, and follow the law is not contrary to charity. When kept, the law promotes charity, and protects the weak, the poor, and the ignorant from being taken advantage of. It takes very smart and holy people to protect simple people and bad people from themselves. St. Raymond was smart and holy. He laid his gifts at the altar of God and God used those gifts splendidly.

St. Raymond, teach us to see the law of God and the law of the Church as one harmonious law meant to foster true communion among men and true communion between God and men. May God’s law be our law. And may the law never be an obstacle to true love and devotion.

Further Reading:


Franciscan Media

Catholic Online

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All Saints for the Liturgical Year

From Butler’s Lives of the Saints

BORN A.D. 1175, of a noble Spanish family, Raymund, at the age of twenty, taught philosophy at Barcelona with marvellous success. Ten years later his rare abilities won for him the degree of Doctor in the University of Bologna, and many high dignities. A tender devotion to our blessed Lady, which had grown up with him from childhood, determined him in middle life to renounce all his honors and to enter her Order of St. Dominic. There, again, a vision of the Mother of Mercy instructed him to cooperate with his penitent St. Peter Nolasco, and with James, King of Aragon, in founding the Order of Our Lady of Ransom for the Redemption of Captives. He began this great work by preaching a crusade against the Moors, and rousing to penance the Christians, enslaved in both soul and body by the infidel. King James of Aragon, a man of great qualities, but held in bond by a ruling passion, was bidden by the Saint to put away the cause of his sin. On his delay, Raymund asked for leave to depart from Majorca, since he could not live with sin. The king refused, and forbade, under pain of death, his conveyance by others. Full of faith, Raymund spread his cloak upon the waters, and, tying one end to his staff as a sail, made the sign of the cross and fearlessly stepped upon it. In six hours he was borne to Barcelona, where, gathering up his cloak dry, he stole into his monastery. The king, overcome by this miracle, became a sincere penitent and the disciple of the Saint till his death. In 1230, Gregory IX. summoned Raymund to Rome, made him his confessor and grand penitentiary, and directed him to compile “The Decretals,” a collection of the scattered decisions of the Popes and Councils. Having refused the archbishopric of Tarragona, Raymund found himself in 1238 chosen third General of his Order; which post he again succeeded in resigning, on the score of his advanced age. His first act when set free was to resume his labors among the infidels, and in 1256 Raymund, then eighty-one, was able to report that ten thousand Saracens had received Baptism. He died A.D. 1275.

Reflection.— Ask St. Raymund to protect you from that fearful servitude, worse than any bodily slavery, which even one sinful habit tends to form.

Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed. [1894]