St Francis Xavier Mary Bianchi
by Enrico Reffo 1831-1917
Prayer to St. Francis Xavier Mary Bianchi
God, our Father,
through the deep charity of
St. Francis Xavier Mary Bianchi,
you wanted to attract your people to your love.
Help us now, through his intercession and
by his example, to come to recognize and
love you in our brothers and sisters.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
A Biography of St. Francis Xavier M. Bianchi
Barnabite Priest - The Apostle of Naples
Ascetical Writings of St. Francis Xavier M. Bianchi, barnabite
SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER M. BIANCHI
The Apostle of Naples
Fr. Felix M. Sala, C.R.S.P
Fr. Felix M. Sala, C.R.S.P
If our love for St. Francis Bianchi does not impair our judgment, we can affirm that all the requisites desirable in a saint for our modern days are to be found in him. His life of union with Christ reveals his ascetic soul. Besides possessing the gift of miracles, he also experienced the torment of excruciating suffering and the joy of exhilarating ecstasy. Being a positive and efficient individual, endowed with the admirable faculty of easy adjustment to given situations, he knew how to pass with ease from contemplation to action. Even in the final years of his life, he preserved intact the perennial youth of his heart, reflected in his particular fondness for the youth.
He manifested an inspiring kindness toward the poor; still, he did not disdain the rich whom he guided and directed in the ways of God. He befriended the simple and, at the same time, kept a close contact with the nobility. With his intelligence and perception, being accepted in both the academic and simple circles, he was keenly aware of all the problems which troubled his time.
He underwent the mortifications of an anchorite, that is, the mortifications of one who has withdrawn from the world for the sake of religious seclusion. At all times, however, he radiated a joy which even during the martyrdom of his illness knew no shadow.
He possessed the heart and sensitivity of a true artist. He might have carved a lasting niche for himself in this field had not the thirst of his soul induced him to embrace the road of the apostolate.
The historical vicissitudes of his tempestuous times found an attentive and watchful spectator in him. With the eye of a prophet, he followed the rapid ascent of Napoleon and predicted his defeat and decline right up to that eventful year 1815, which saw the disappearance of the Napoleonic greatness.
Agonizing in spirit, he accompanied the sorrowful Way of the Cross of Pius VII and foretold the great sorrows that the Pope was to endure, as well as the peaceful triumphs which were to follow. King Charles Emmanuel IV and the Venerable Clotilde of Savoy, during the humiliating time of their exile, were to find a consoling angel in him.
He raised his hand in benediction against the fury of Vesuvius and amazingly stopped the flow of the devastating lava.
During a century highlighted with anger and vengeance, and ravished with hatred, he preached by his own example the word of love which gives light and life to the world. Not one event of his day found him either uninterested or indifferent. He had his eyes keenly fixed upon all the questions of his day and he evaluated each individual with the care and prudence befitting a man of God.
In a historical period which was defined as barren, superficial and anti-mystic, he renewed the vigorous ardor and fervent impetus of the greatest lovers of Christ.
By renouncing the world, he dominated it with humility mixed with the wonder of a living love for sacrifices. He was a man of his times, but above all he was a saint. Thus, he was truly a complete man, a saint who still today generates a strong, kind, and irresistible fascination among his devotees, those wishing to be close to him just as those who were fortunate enough to experience the joy of his nearness on the streets of Naples which were the site of his sleepless apostolate.
I. A BEAUTIFUL DAWN
I. A BEAUTIFUL DAWN
St. Francis Xavier M. Bianchi was born in Arpino on December 2, 1743. The child was baptized on the following day. His parents, Carlo and Faustina Morelli, gave him the names of Francis, Xavier, Philip, and Justinian.
Very little has been preserved of his childhood. He grew up in an environment which was warm with faith and resplendent with his father’s honesty and his mother unusual virtues. From his mother he learned tender love for God and neighbor, and this made him amiable to all. It was from her example that he developed a special love for the sick and the poor. His mother transformed a section of their home into a small hospital where several beds were always prepared for the sick that lacked assistance. If any of them died in her home, she provided for their funeral and burial with care and generosity.
II. THE DIVINE CALL
When he was twelve years old, he was entrusted to the Barnabites who in Arpino directed the school of Ss. Charles and Philip. He was barely thirteen years of age when, among the students of theology and philosophy, he was chosen to compose and deliver a short sermon on the patronage of the Virgin Mary. The brief but well-placed pauses punctuating his discourse surprised his listeners. There was vigor and enthusiasm in all that he said. Above all, there was his great love for the sorrowful and good Mother Mary.
His companions nicknamed him Panciotto (chubby) because of his rosy and plump features. “Here comes Panciotto!” they could be heard whispering in the places where groups gathered. With this, the vulgar conversations in which they might have been engaged came to an abrupt end.
Meanwhile, a mysterious and irresistible voice was drawing the young man toward the Sanctuary. God had placed his hand upon him and was saying to him, “You are mine!” On March 26, 1757 the Bishop, who eight years before had made him a soldier of Christ at his confirmation, cut his hair and traced the tonsure upon his head. It was the young man’s desire, however, to serve God in a religious family. Although he was a disciple of the Barnabites, he gave his preference for the Society of Jesus. He was directed in this choice by his devotion to St. Francis Xavier, whose name he bore.
He made his plans known but there was opposition by his family. They agreed to his becoming a priest but not to be a religious. It was for this reason that in order to dissuade him, they sent Francis to the diocesan seminary in Nola (outside Naples). Francis obediently bowed his head in assent. God, however, was to guide his elect in a manner very different from that envisioned by humans.
III. IN THE SHADOW OF THE SANCTUARY
God’s will manifested itself more clearly at Nola. It was here that Francis met St. Alphonsus Liguori who had come to preach a spiritual retreat to the seminarians. It was this saintly man who very decisively induced the wavering Francis to embrace religious life.
His parents insisted he put aside his clerical habit and go to Naples to enroll in the University law school. Through friends who had been ill informed, he was directed to a certain rental house which continually resounded with disorderly shouts, loud singing, and vulgar words. The meek and saintly young man clearly and simply described the director of this house as a “fine deceitful fellow.” He was so uneasy here that he became ill. Things even went so far that the money his family had given him to buy books was stolen. “It was then,” the young man wrote to his uncle, a priest “that I became visibly disturbed.” It was his uncle who induced Francis’ parents to permit him to return home. Confronted with his firm and decisive determination, all opposition fell. A short while later he was able to leave for the Novitiate of the Barnabites in Zagarolo. He had a letter from the Superior of the Barnabites in Arpino who wrote of him, “He is healthy with a good complexion. He is of sanguine nature and has a happy disposition. He presents a fine appearance and is of good stature. He gives every indication of being skillful and prudent. He has excellent natural talents; he writes well. He is humble, decisive, and not scrupulous. He frequents the Sacraments.”
The year of his Novitiate passed quickly, and the Fathers were able to testify that he was “a young man of the highest saintly habits, very devout, and humble, possessing the greatest talents. He gives clear indication of becoming a learned religious who will be a credit to the Congregation and a great asset to his fellow men.”
On December 28, 1763 Francis swore fidelity to his God in the perpetual observance of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The voice of obedience decreed that he immediately leave for Macerata where he was to study philosophy and science. He remained there from January, 1764 until October of the following year, at which time he experienced difficulty with his lungs. In the spring of 1766 he journeyed first to Arpino and then to Naples, where he began his study of theology, and where he fully recovered.
He completed his sacred studies in Naples at St. Charles alle Mortelle. On January 25, 1767 he was ordained a priest. Four days later the newly ordained ascended the altar to offer his first Eucharistic Sacrifice.
IV. A PRIEST AND A TEACHER
In September 1767 he was assigned as a professor of humanities at the school of the Barnabites in Arpino. Even from his teaching desk, commenting upon Latin and Italian authors, he knew how to radiate Christ. He was more intent on educating than on instructing, on forming hearts than on informing minds. He knew how to enrich the teaching of the usual subjects with a personal touch. Above all, he never forgot that he was a priest; consequently, he alternated his ministry with his teaching, especially by preaching the Word of God.
In the autumn of 1769 he was sent by his Superiors to the College of St. Charles in Naples as a professor of philosophy and mathematics to the Barnabite seminarians. Because of the unfair laws in the Kingdom of Naples, the Barnabites had been compelled to combine both Novices and Scholastics within the same dwelling.
On the evening of September 18, 1771, St. Francis was in his cell with Domenico Ceraso, one of two novices. Together, they were very devoutly alternating the recitation of the Psalms. The other novice, Francis M. Castelli, was in agony at his father’s house in St. Anastasia, where the Superiors had sent him in the hope he might regain his health. Unexpectedly, God had manifested to St. Francis what was happening at St. Anastasia. In spirit he saw the suffering Castelli giving his last breath. Interrupting the recitation of the Psalms, he said to Domenico, “Let us kneel and recite a De Profundis. At this very moment Francis has passed away.” The news which arrived the following day confirmed the truthfulness of the Saint’s vision.
V. THE SUPERIOR
God was already beginning to manifest His marvels in the newly-ordained priest who with youthful dedication had committed himself to his two-fold ministry in the Church and in the school.
In April 1773, Fr. Bianchi was elected Superior of St. Mary in Cosmedin at Portanova. He got there at a critical moment: the civil authorities were arbitrarily interfering in the election of his predecessor. He had much to suffer and was compelled to face great difficulties. With kindness and gentleness, however, he was able to win the people to himself.
There were abuses which had to be removed. With prudence and long-suffering patience, he was successful in eradicating them, making some concessions in form so as to obtain results in substance. There were times when the work was oppressing. In his correspondence dating from this period, frequent reference to this fact can be found. “I must get out of the maze of business…I am extremely busy”, “I am filled to the brim with bothersome matters…,” “It is very hot, and there is always something to be done…” At all times, however, one could see how practical this man (who had always lived among books) was given the assurance with which he handled the thorniest matters.
VI. JOURNEYING THROUGHOUT ITALY
The General Chapter of the Order assembled in Milan in April 1779. St. Francis, together with the Superior of St. Charles alle Mortelle was appointed to represent the Neapolitan Province. Before starting off, he visited Sister Mary Frances of the Five Wounds, the Neapolitan saintly mystic. His spiritual daughter gave him words of wisdom and suggested that he record daily in detail what happened during the trip. This would keep him from the dangers of dissipation.
He left Naples on March 25 and reached Milan on April 23. The fame of his doctrine and sanctity had preceded him, and the aristocratic intelligentsia gathered around this religious man who was barely thirty-five years of age at that time. He was elected secretary of the Chapter. The new Superior General, Fr. Scipione Peruzzini, wanted him as companion during his visits to the communities in Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, and Romagna. He thus traveled from Turin to Genoa, from Pavia to Mantua, proceeding as far as Venice. From there he arrived in Bologna where the Barnabites had four houses. Finally, after a seven-month absence, he returned to Naples to take up once more the administration of the Portanova community.
Thoughts of Sister Mary Frances of the Five Wounds had accompanied him throughout his itinerary, and the protection of this saintly woman had been a great help to him in some moments of danger. There was, for instance, the time when he was traveling in a public carriage with Father General and others. Twilight had vanished. The coachman, who was tired and sleepy, did not realize he was dangerously close to the edge of a precipice. Suddenly the earth which had become soft owing to recent rains, gave way. The carriage overturned and the occupants fell headlong into the deep hollow. While cries of fear rose from the travelers, the Saint invoked Sister Mary Frances. Truly it was an act of Providence that all were unhurt. Yet how could they find their way to the road again in that darkness? And above all, how could they ever recover the carriage and horses? Francis invoked once more Sister Mary Frances’ help, and suddenly a young man on a horse appeared. Himself descending into the hole, he guided their way with a beaming torch, thus making their climbing out easier. With his strong arms he helped the horses out too, and recovered the carriage. He then guided the travelers to a nearby lodging-house. It just so happened, at that moment young missionaries were departing, thus leaving the rooms free for the newly-arrived. Francis was to learn later from Sister Mary Frances that the Archangel Raphael had once again visibly exerted his mission as Patron of Travelers.
VII. SAINT MARY FRANCES OF THE FIVE WOUNDS
It is time to say a few words about Sister Mary Frances of the Five Wounds and her relationship with St. Francis. Francis used to say that God had bestowed three graces upon him: baptism, religious vocation, and his acquaintance with Sister Mary Frances.
This saintly woman exerted a tremendous and decisive influence in Francis’ life. The friendship between these two great souls dates from 1777: Francis was 34 years of age then, and Sister Mary Frances was already 62 years of age. Their spiritual relationship which was to last uninterrupted for 14 years, soon became a true exercise of perfection. In this kind of friendship often the function and roles of teacher and disciple blend together.
From Francis Xavier’s very first visit, God spoke to Sister Mary Frances’ heart and revealed to her what was Francis’ way toward holiness. Fr. Bianchi never was her confessor, yet he was always told of all the gifts with which God had enriched her soul.
On Fridays she would relive the pains of Christ’s Passion, and often Francis was allowed to witness the wondrous repetition of the pains of the suffering Christ. He experienced then a saintly jealousy of that soul that was allowed to suffer because she was united with Christ in a most perfect love. At times, the saintly Sister who had a prophetic gift predicted things that were to happen. She laid her hand on his knee once and said, “Oh, how these legs will suffer!” Another time she foretold him the unjust Napoleonic suppression of Religious Orders.
While celebrating Mass, St. Francis noticed more than once that the wine he had poured in the chalice had visibly diminished and that the small particle of the Sacred Host which he had allowed to rest in the chalice according to rite had disappeared. At first he ascribed these facts to distraction or even to imagination. But he had to convince himself that the fact was true, having a mysterious explanation: Sister Mary Frances, who was ill, was nevertheless present in spirit when he celebrated the Divine Sacrifice and received Holy Communion from angelic hands. From that time on, Francis often placed besides the large host a small particle which would disappear wondrously after Consecration to satisfy the Saint’s hunger for Jesus.
It often happened that while the two were engaged in a sacred conversation, Sister Mary Frances would suddenly fall in ecstasy. The Archangel Raphael appeared visibly to her and invisibly to St. Francis who could perceive a heavenly fragrance. It also happened that while Francis was speaking of the miseries he was hoping to alleviate and of the little money he had to do this, rolls of golden coins wondrously appeared at the foot of the Crucifix. One day the Saint dared ask his privileged friend to obtain permission from God to contemplate the temporary sufferings of Purgatory. Sister Mary Frances started praying and shortly afterwards Francis could see the purging souls. While he was still alive, God revealed to Francis the future glory of his faithful servant, and allowed him to see her soul ascending to heaven in a radiant beauty beyond human imagining.
Such friendship between two great souls is not unusual. We just need remember St. Jerome and St. Paul; St. Francis of Assisi and St. Claire; St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross; St. Frances de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales. St. Francis Xavier M. Bianchi owes his ascent to the summit of perfection to his encounter with St. Frances of the Five Wounds.
VIII. "MY DEARLY BELOVED SOLITUDE"
It was St. Mary Frances' example that had St. Francis turn back to contemplation to which he had been irresistibly attracted prior to giving himself to study and ministry. Even in 1766, when he was barely 23 years of age, he wrote from Naples: "My present stay at St. Charles alle Mortelle College is very much to my liking. I feel like in a hermitage, which is exactly what I desire; that is to say, the dearly beloved solitude."
Thus, little by little the Saint began to live a new experience. Avoiding a sudden break with the past, he started retiring from all that he considered imperfect and distractive in order to form a perfect union with God. He gave up all his books and no longer had conversations with the intellectuals whom he had befriended: he just wanted to know all about sanctity. He chose for himself the smallest and most solitary cell.
This change in him could not pass unobserved by the others, nor could it escape criticism and comments. Seeing him so eagerly united and absorbed in God, his spiritual children were edified, and they lessened their visits to his cell until they stopped at all. Some envied him, calling him blessed and regretting that he deprived them of his presence. Yet there were people who called him strange, scrupulous and monomaniacal, who played him bad tricks, such as making loud noises in front of his door as if they wanted to tear it down, to distract or try him; and this they repeated for several days. As was God's will, his patience and kindness won over the thoughtlessness of his confreres; and there was peace again.
Yet there was no peace in his soul. He too experienced the situation described by St. John of the Cross as "when God plummets intellect into dark night, desire into barrenness, memory into void, and heart into bitterness." Besides, he was not free from demonic persecutions. Satan persisted in his repeated attacks upon him, but he had found an expert antagonist in Francis. The Saint knew this kind of battle from the time when, as a young confessor and in preference to many others, he had been chosen by his Archbishop as an exorcist of evil spirits. It seemed as if the enemy wanted to vindicate himself for this very reason. One day, while he was leaving the house to visit St. Mary Frances, the Saint felt that a bottle was hurled against him, although he saw no one nearby. Another time, while he was going out of his room, the Saint felt himself being raised into the air and then furiously thrust into the ground.
Another story is told of a possessed person who, whenever he felt the Saint was near, would start to shout, "Here he is; here he is!" even though he had not seen him yet. The poor wretched man one day seemed not inclined to heed the command made by the Saint in the name of God. Finally, though, he obeyed, and fell at the Saint's feet, struggling.
The persecutions of Satan also took on this particular form they called infestation. During the night, as if Satan wanted to vindicate for that man mentioned above, the Saint was tormented with illusions. The Saint tried to resist them all. This continued for a long time, until it was necessary for the Saint to sprinkle his room with holy water and even to resort to exorcism.
God was testing his servant through human and diabolic trials and found him strong and faithful as he was getting ready for his great mission as a true guide of souls.
IX. THE APOSTLE OF NAPLES
In his silence, in his solitude, in his prayers and penances, Francis had become deeply imbued with God; prayer had taken precedence over his work. From then on, prayer became his ministry. He spoke of souls to God. And from then on, he would speak of God to souls. For fifteen years the Apostle dwelt in the desert of mysticism. From then on, the contemplator would start his battle.
He did not need to go too far for his proper apostolic field. His mission was to be in Naples. The long extenuating hours in the confessional, the correspondence, his hours with the penitents who would knock at the door of his cell, the mysterious and piercing pains in his legs which would be his secret martyrdom were to be the backbone of his wondrous life. He was to be a confessor above all.
From the very beginning all kinds of individuals would gather outside his confessional: courtesans, merchants, hawkers, and people who abounded in the less affluent quarters of the city. The first penitents urged others to do the same, and so their number even more increased. He must have realized very early that it was just as much a martyrdom to confess God before men than to confess men before God. After the humble and poor, there came the great and the learned who got attracted by his doctrine: bishops, prelates, professors, doctors, lawyers, and knights were among the penitents. Each time he listened to his penitents, it was as though he was dwelling in God, and he replied in God. The penitents would leave his cell edified, and would murmur to themselves, "He is a saint. Certainly, he is a saint."
The testimony of Francesco Ferrini is sufficient to speak for all the others. When he was still a young man, he was attracted to Francis' fame. One day Ferrini decided to visit the Saint at Portanova. The Saint was not at home when he got there, so he had to wait for him by his cell. Finally, the Saint arrived. Ferrini saw him at the far end of the corridor. A light radiated about the Saint in the semi-darkness. "He is a new John the Baptist!" the young man thought, and kept looking at him in amazement and reverential fear. At first he thought it was only an illusion or just a light reflecting upon the Saint. However, watching him more closely, he realized the splendor really came from him, and the closer Francis approached him, the more the light radiated. Ferrini stood there as if in ecstasy, and the Saint invited him with an enchanting smile to enter his cell. Once inside, the Saint placed his hand upon the visitor's head and bade him to kneel. Ferrini’s heart throbbed so violently that all he could say were the words prescribed for benediction. Ferrini felt that something extraordinary was taking place within him. He was overwhelmed with a celestial sweetness, his mind was enlightened, and he experienced a fervor such as he had never felt before. When his confession ended, Francis began to speak: they were simple, ordinary words, yet they had great inward eloquence. His face shone with an ever brighter light, a mysterious light that hit the penitent's eyes, yet did not bother him. On the contrary, he felt his heart soothed.
Ferrini experienced this more than once, and so did many others who met the saint: they could notice the tremor of his entire person, the abundant tears, and the difficulty in speech caused by the mysterious emotion that pervaded him. His heartiness had the better over the most hardened and coldest hearts. What a joy it was for his spiritual children to be dismissed always by these words: "You will be with me in Paradise," or "Be happy, for Paradise is ours!"
X. HIS SPIRITUAL FAMILY
Little by little Francis' cell became a true school of perfection. The spiritual family that had originated before he retired to silence and solitude was flourishing, being attracted to him as if to a brilliant star; his disciples longed for sanctity, and in mutual attraction they all approached God as in a bright constellation.
On July 25, 1801 Francis' disciple, Fr. Tommaso Fiore, died. Fr. Fiore had been one of the most esteemed spiritual guides in Naples. All his penitents turned to St. Francis. Among them was the Venerable Battista Lossa, who left his office in the tribunal after thirty years of faithful and honorable service to become a beggar for the orphans, an almsgiver to the poor, and a comforter to the sick. St. Francis used to say of him: "He is a saint who ought to be venerated on the altars. He is another St. John of God." Venerable Lossa was also the first one to know of Francis' long-standing pains in his legs.
Other good lay people who ought to be remembered and who were very close to the Saint were: Lelio Rivera, who was Francis' companion in his visits to Christ in the most neglected and abandoned churches; Joseph Bonocore, who several times had his spiritual father as a guest in his villa; the goldsmith Francis La Ragione, a simple soul who was to learn from God what were the peculiar merits of his servant; and the painter Paul Di Maio, whose death Francis mourned in tearful verses and whose picture he kept and venerated in his cell. Yet it was among the priests that Francis had his greatest friends. One Fr. Giuseppe Romano modeled himself on the master, imitating the candor of his habits, his charity, and the spirit of penance which he disguised under his kindness; and another, the Venerable Vincent Morelli, a Theatine and Bishop of Otranto, who, during his trips to Naples, went to him with the simplicity of a child, sharing with him his doubts and the problems of his delicate conscience. One of his favorites, Fr. Agnello Coppola, obtained the gift of ecstasy and contemplation. Fr. Placido Baccher, a victim of the 1799 revolution, had been condemned to death and was miraculously set free by the Blessed Virgin. He had known the Saint in 1808. He was the radiant sunrise while Francis was the flaming sunset: and the twilight loved them. It was to him that Francis left as inheritance all the souls that were to be guided to God. To Bartholomew Corvo, his latest disciple, the Saint left his wounds, which appeared in his legs soon after Francis' death.
In the year 1801 King Charles Emmanuel IV of Sardinia and his wife Mary Clotilde entered the Saint's spiritual family. The revolution had caused them to go into exile, however, and their sorrow was soothed by their friendship with the Saint. In Naples, the traditional friendship that bound the Order of the Barnabites to the House of Savoy brought them to Francis. The Saint continued the spiritual assistance started in Turin by Fr. Felix De Vecchi, with whom the Queen had been corresponding for quite some time. The couple immediately felt they were before a man of God and allowed him to guide them by his enlightening wisdom. Above all was Mary Clotilde who had a particular intuition for spiritual things. She understood that Francis was endowed with supernatural gifts and spoke of him as a saint speaks of another saint. The King and his wife were often seen attending Holy Mass celebrated by the Saint and stopped to speak with him after the service; this gave them peace and hope. The Saint, however, made no exceptions and never stopped with them long enough to test the patience of other penitents among whom were businessmen and intellectuals who had little time. He mostly gave the princes brief advice and traced for them the way to follow, and he integrated his teaching with letters which, though very concise, were true beams of light to the heart and mind.
XI. THORNS AND FIRE
Like all great saints, even Francis bent under the weight of the cross. He embraced sorrow and nurtured his body with it as if it was a strengthening food for the soul.
After his soul, even his body had started suffering pains. The illness which so far had struck in a bearable way one leg had attacked the other too: both had become swollen, heavy as lead. Yet he continued with heroic good will to assist others. Now and then he felt pain like stabs which caused him to sigh and frown, and again he looked serene. Saint Francis realized that the prophecy of Sr. Mary Frances was becoming true: "Oh, how will these legs suffer!" she had said. He underwent obediently a great number of painful cures, yet kept repeating, "There is no human cure for a non-human illness. There is nothing you can do to these wounds as they are God's will."
The priest Agnello Coppola wrote: "Even though pain was violently tormenting him, he insisted that I should sing some song by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, and one could not tell if his tears were caused by his suffering or by the emotions roused by the song." To the doctors visiting him he used to say that he felt "thorns and fire" in his legs.
After a long stay in Portici, at the end of 1807 he returned to his cell in Portanova, where he continued his slow martyrdom for another seven years.
The French authorities which one time kept a worried eye on the spot where people were gathering to meet the Saint, perhaps fearing a plot or a conspiracy, were relieved because now he was but a weak and suffering old man.
The siege by the people started anew: the Father was back. He looked older from his suffering, yet his features suggested spiritual beauty and ideals. The man with a sick body was helping again those who had a sick soul. They used to say that meeting him was like experiencing Easter.
His poor legs moved people to pity; one was swollen to the utmost with a deep wound in the center and minor ones on the sides. The other was somewhat thinner but inflamed as well with black spots discharging purulent matter. He truly deserved to sign his scripts "Francis Xavier of the Cross of Jesus." The pillar of his strength was the meditation on the suffering of the Crucified Lord, and his communion with the Living Christ.
XII. THE WOUND IN HIS HEART
St. Francis offered his whole self to God as a victim in sacrifice for the expiation of sins, and God repaid him. He was to have his Pentecost in 1800. On January 7 of that year he wrote that both the Blessed Virgin Mary and Jesus had spoken of him to a blessed soul: "He will be filled with grace, virtue, fortitude of heart and spirit," said the Blessed Mother, and the Lord, "I will bestow upon him abundant graces."
On the eve of Pentecost, May 31, 1800 Francis was praying in the Dominican church of "The Divine Love." The Blessed Sacrament was solemnly exposed in the midst of flowers and countless candles. Francis' eyes fixed on the Sacred Host beamed with an unnatural light. All of a sudden a beam departed from the Host and hit him like an arrow. With an inexpressible joy Francis pressed his hand on his throbbing heart and fainted, giving a loud cry. He seemed a victim of pain; on the contrary, he was but a victim of love. His wounded heart was to contain all the charity, goodness, and joy that he would later share with other souls.
When the ecstasy was over he rose, resumed his composure, and smiled to those who had come to his aid; then he immersed himself deep in prayer once more.
From that day onward every time he administered the Sacraments or even spoke of sacred things, his heart trembled as well as his whole body, and his face shined.
XIII. THE PROPHET IN THE MIDST OF THE TEMPEST
The gift of prophecy and visions had such a great impact on the Saint's life that we cannot help speaking about it if we really want to understand his true character.
It was the year 1798. Francis was horrified to hear of the invasion of Rome by the French army and the seizure and exile of Pius VII. His spirit could see the elderly Pope travelling through Siena, Florence, Parma, Tortona, Turin, and Briançon, as if the events were happening before his eyes. God allowed him to see all this, and Francis suffered greatly when he recounted the facts to his disciples.
Toward the middle of July 1805 he looked particularly afflicted, and his disciples often heard him repeat, "Many are the sins, and the punishment is near." An earthquake hit the Molisan region, causing destruction in Aquila, Capua, and Avellino. Even Naples was hit and many buildings crumbled. The victims were only three, which truly seemed a miracle: there was a Saint praying in Portanova. The next day he told the crowd gathered around him of the devastation that had taken place in the other cities struck by the earthquake.
Meanwhile the political storm was breaking out between the Church and the secular world. The empire which succeeded the Jacobin anarchy in France was even more violent than the latter. Napoleon wanted to fight the Church even to very extreme consequences. Pius VII, however, replied with meekness, patience, and tolerance. Francis' spirit followed with distress the duel between the mild Pontiff and the overbearing Emperor.
On July 6, 1809 Pius VII was forced to leave Rome. Francis said then to his dismayed friends: "We are to consider all that is happening as a scroll in which the great plans of God are both written and hidden. Let us obediently accept God's will, in the expectancy of better times to come." But Napoleon's lucky star was to fade away, and God allowed the Saint to foresee the Emperor's ruin. On September 14, 1812 Napoleon entered burning Moscow: he had fallen into a trap. Yet from Paris came the order to all European capitals to sing a Te Deum. When the Saint heard of it, he commented bitterly: "They would have done much better had they sung a Miserere!" The next days, while entertaining himself with Agnello Coppola, he often exclaimed: "How awful, how awful! Poor young men!" On November 23 he assured his friends that the French army had been defeated and prayed even for the tyrant. To Domenic Valletta, who sarcastically was saying he would gladly poison Napoleon, Francis, horrified, replied: "You should not hate your enemy but, rather, pray for his repentance."
Armed with God-given strength, the Saint's wonder-working hand triumphed over destructive Vesuvius. After the devastating eruption of 1794 which had been predicted by St. Mary Frances, the volcano had become drowsy. In 1804 the volcano woke up with the rage of a hungry beast. From May until August it erupted huge clouds of smoke, and at sunset of November 22 a quake shook the earth with long, dark rumblings. Torrents of lava covered the hills all around Torre del Greco.
Fr. Francis was in Torre del Greco, guest of the Visitation retreat house which was directed by Fr. Pasquale Lombardo, one of his disciples. When danger was at its utmost, the Saint was praying and was shaken by the dwellers running around in the attempt to save what they could. He came out of his room, serenely asked everyone to keep calm, and ordered a picture of Sr. Mary Frances be placed on the roof. He himself climbed onto a terrace on top of the house together with all the other people and joined his hands in prayer. Then he raised his right hand and in the name of God he ordered the lava to stop flowing. Everyone was amazed to see the lava stop at once: Torre del Greco was safe!
The identical miracle was repeated in two other instances. Again at Torre del Greco, the Saint bade he be taken to the place where the lava was flowing, prayed with all the people, raised his blessing hand and the flow stopped as the lava turned into hard stone. There was another eruption, and people came to Portici to beg the Saint for help. Francis didn't budge: he took an image of Sr. Mary Frances and ordered the people to put it before the advancing fire. They did so and the lava that had already reached a villa stopped before the image which was hanging on a tree.
In remembrance of the miracle, Cardinal William Sanfelice had a chapel built on the spot and dedicated it to the Saint.
XV. THE DEVOTIONS OF A SAINT
"Grace attacks your heart by a threefold fire: the love for the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, the love for the Most Blessed Virgin free from all stains of sin, and the love for God's servant Mary Frances. Deny it if you can!" so said St. Francis, who loved God with an ardor which can be compared to the one of a St. Philip Neri or St. Therese of Jesus. He used to say: "He who really loves would sing, rave, sigh, lament, suffer, and languish. Oh, what a sweet occupation this is! May Jesus grant it all to me. Amen."
His disciples could often hear him repeat in a murmur the gentle dialogue by the Franciscan mystic Raymond Lullo: "Where are you? In love. Whence did you come? From love. Who has led you here? Love. What do you live in? In love. Where do you dwell? In love. Let love and speaking of love be your only concern."
St. Alphonsus' chants on God's love truly enraptured him. Fr. Nicholas Ruggero testifies in great simplicity: "One morning, having gone to visit the Venerable, I found him particularly cheerful; he even asked me to sing some devout prayers. I intoned, 'He who lives in God is always happy,' but I had barely completed the first stanza when I saw the Venerable completely transformed. His face was extraordinarily bright, his entire person was agitated and even seemed to have grown larger; he hardly seemed the same person. I realized he could hardly withstand such tremendous thrust of love. I should have stopped singing, yet I went on to enjoy such sweet miracle. Finally, when I saw the last of the marvel, I stopped and fled from his presence. I believed the Venerable, who was always careful in hiding himself and his gifts, would have reproached me. Someone who witnessed the fact told me that when the Venerable regained his senses he repeatedly asked, 'Where am I?' and jokingly pretending to search for a stick added, 'Where is Nicholas? He almost killed me!'" A few days later, Nicholas returned to the Saint and was gently reproached: "My dear friend, you ruined me!"
The Saint's devotion was most evident when he celebrated Mass. On July 3, 1811 he received from Rome the permission to celebrate Mass in his room, and Cardinal Caracciolo provided him at once with a wooden altar. By now, due to the pains in his legs, he was unable to rise, to move or even stand. Attempts were made to convince him to give up celebrating Mass, but he was irremovable: "When I will give up celebrating Mass, you may as well say I am dead." The celebration became a miracle renewed every morning, as he once wrote to a priest, "I am writing you amid spasms of pain. I can do nothing other than celebrate the Holy Mass, which I do every day by Divine Mercy! Ask your penitents to thank God for me, for he allows me to see each day the wonders of His omnipotence." At dawn, his companions roused him from the bed where he had spent an almost sleepless night. He then prepared for Mass. Those who came into his room saw him like a bundle of pain, his limbs stiff and racked in tremendous pain. Even putting on the vestments had become a daily agony. Once ready, two companions had to carry him to the altar gasping for breath. But once he reached the altar he could wondrously cross himself and stand up as a perfectly healthy man would do: "To the God who gives joy to my youth," the servant would reply to the first verse of the Psalm, and thus the prophecy was fulfilled in Francis. With a faint smile on his lips, he would then proceed with the rite, languishing with love, falling into ecstasy during consecration and at communion. He could, however, barely read the St. John Prologue at the conclusion of Mass and had to be carried from the altar completely exhausted. He could very well say with Paul the Apostle, "The life I live is not my own; Christ is living in me."
His devotion to the Blessed Mother had a great influence on his virtues. He called the principal Marian solemnities "the great days of Grace." As a young man we heard him sing the praises of Mary's patronage in public. The impression of an impeccable adolescence is not easily forgotten. So, here he is now a priest, inculcating the same sentiments into his spiritual children. "Let not one of you neglect to pray continually to Our Lady, especially to obtain from God the grace of always praying to her, to call upon her for help, saying: ‘Help me. Mother of mine, do help me.’ Woe to him who neglects to place himself in Mary's trust even one day!" Having heard that Fr. Placido Baccher had a statue of Mary as a child, he wanted to see it. When he had it in his hands, he pressed it to his heart weeping tenderly; but then he trembled so violently that those present had to take it away from him and asked him to look elsewhere.
One day, when he was in his cell, he suddenly uncovered his head and walked toward the stairway, crying with joy: "Our Lady is coming! God's Mother is coming!" As a matter of fact, a friend of his, who was a painter, was coming up to present him with a very beautiful painting of Our Lady Queen of Heaven. To those who asked him how he knew the painter was carrying the picture, he replied, "The Venerable Mary Frances let me know." Later he gave up the beautiful painting as an act of poverty.
The more God visited him in suffering, the greater his devotion grew, and Mary's pains became the focal point of his meditation. It was through the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrow that he obtained the grace of being able to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass in spite of his pains.
He miraculously restored health to his disciple Louis Voipe, after reciting together the Litanies of the Blessed Mother. When the health of Blaise Brasca, a priest, had failed completely, the Saint restored it again by reciting the Litanies. Five years later Blaise fell ill once more, and his family turned again to the Saint for help, but his reply was: "The years were added to King Hezekiah only once."
He never dismissed anyone before he found a way to introduce Mary into the conversation, suggesting filial confidence by calling her Our Dear Mother. Bonocore relates: "One day I was with the Saint speaking about spiritual matters. I revealed to him my desire to increase my love for God. The Venerable suggested to me various means to attain this, particularly to visit more often the Blessed Sacrament during the Forty Hours Devotion. In this regard he told of someone (Bonocore himself) who in making the visits had the unique fortune to see the Blessed Mother coming to her Son in the Blessed Sacrament to entreat for gifts and graces for those who were present adoring Him. That was the very time when that person profited greatly by these gifts! Then the Venerable added: 'Pray to the Divine Mother for you to be allowed to stay at the feet of the Blessed Sacrament and so find yourself in similar circumstances.’”
During his last years, the Rosary became his constant companion. At sunset on January 30, the day before his death, someone suggested to recite the Rosary. Francis agreed with joy and joined the others who, perhaps, never said it with greater devotion. At the end of the Rosary he asked for the picture of Our Lady, called the Divine Shepherdess. He looked at it with great affection, kissed it repeatedly, and then returned it. A short while later he asked for the picture again and looked as if he were languishing with filial love for his dear Mother who was about to come for him.
He had well realized and preached that the shortest, surest, and most beautiful way to Jesus was, no doubt, through Mary.
XVI. THE MARTYRDOM OF CHARITY
The unending charity of Fr. Francis Xavier M. Bianchi deserved him the title of Apostle of Naples.
Stricken in 1800 by a strange illness, he believed he had come to the end of his life, but Sr. Mary Frances assured him, however, that he was still to live long, so as to do much more good to humanity. Not one of his sick penitents was ever deprived of his full, loving, and sometimes even miraculous assistance. In the hospitals, he went from bed to bed, saying a comforting word to each and every person who was sick. Then, he would address them all together, encouraging them to sanctify their sufferings. Sometimes his humility would cause him to flee from the hospitals when the sick would cry out: "The saint has performed a miracle!"
His special concern, however, was for vagrant or corrupt young women. He would gladly give his life to save those unwary young people and their dreams and hopes from corruption.
He gave his constant advice and help to the people of the convents of St. Raphael, of Providence, of Holy Cross, of St. Mary Magdalene dei Pazzi, and of the Visitation. He was not even embarrassed to beg for them, and he did it with great eloquence, especially when there were urgent cases to solve.
Baccher attests to the fact that "he took every care not only for their spiritual guidance, but also for their temporal needs." He found very valuable collaborators for his work among the wealthy and powerful penitents who gave their assistance voluntarily. For some he had even stipulated a monthly sum to be offered and was punctual in collecting in person or through a messenger. He was doing this for God's poor, and nothing else mattered.
His confessor, Fr. Ceraso, affirmed: "I never heard that anyone who went to him for help was left without receiving it. People came to him in a continual stream."
In 1808, when it became difficult for him to get around because of his legs, his worst torment was not the "thorns and fire" in his legs, but the fact that he was no longer able to help his convents as he wished. He then resorted to beg by correspondence with letters filled with faith and encouragement. That year a very interesting incident happened. One night he urged Vincent Parlati to come with him in his carriage on the following day to go to the convent of St. Raphael. The following evening they presented themselves at the convent unexpected. Fr. Francis first went to pray in the chapel and then stopped to talk with the Superior. They had just started conversing when they heard a great confusion: the inmates of the house were asking for more food. Francis let them come to him to express their grievance. When he finally managed to quiet them down, he spoke to them about God and of His paternal and divine goodness and providence. "Have no doubt," he said, "you will have everything you need. Starting tomorrow, you will have as usual and even more." He then left the convent, but he did not want to return to the carriage. Leaning on Parlati, they walked up the road in spite of the pain in his legs. They had barely gone a few steps when they met Dr. Amantea, who was greatly surprised to see the Saint on the road and at that hour. Francis brushed aside the small talk and without any further ado he acquainted him with the situation at the convent of St. Raphael. The Doctor took 200 Ducats from his purse and placed them in his hands. Later, when Parlati asked him what had prompted him to take that particular road, Francis replied: "I just thought it was a good road, and indeed it was!"
The following year Parlati found himself 740 Ducats short to pay a debt. There was despair in his heart for not being able to keep his promise and because of the shame upon his honor. He had already mentioned this predicament to the Saint three times. He had entreated him to make an exception for this time and to lend him the money from his special fund. The Saint pretended to listen to him and then kept repeating, "Have faith, have faith!" Finally he spoke more explicitly, telling Parlati to get all the money he had without counting it and to have faith in God. As the payday came, the poor man could not sleep, yet hoped for a miracle. He went to pay his debt. He counted the money, and the full amount was there, plus 150 Ducats to spare. Francis had assured him: "Tomorrow you will pay your debt and you will have more money than you need."
When the Saint's sufferings became unbearable, some of his friends decided to close the doors at twelve in order to allow him some time to rest. But either because of indiscretion, or faith, or necessity, some managed to get the key and, through a private entrance, they managed to reach the Saint at all hours just as before. He himself never showed any impatience; instead, he was always gay, serene, and calm. He listened to them for long hours; he absolved them and blessed them. He was a man for all, forgetting his pains, and ignoring completely the needs of his weak body. Sometimes, though, this weakness had the upper hand: he could not keep his head up while speaking to somebody. Sometimes he fainted in the arms of whoever was sitting at his side, confessing to him or listening to him speak of God. There is martyrdom where one gives his blood for the faith, but there is also another martyrdom where one gives his whole life for love.
Toward the beginning of 1808 the Barnabite, Fr. Vincent Sangermano, returned after 27 years as a missionary in Burma. He told Fr. Francis of the wonders he had experienced in the midst of God’s people in Burma and also of the horrible battles he had to wage against the devil. Hearing these inspiring stories, the Saint's face became radiant with joy and ardent desire. One day, he exclaimed: "Oh, how many times I have yearned to wear the purple!" which greatly surprised those who heard him. They did not know however, that Fr. Francis had refused the episcopate not once but several times. The good old man brought his hands crosswise to his neck and, pretending to cut it, added: "Quite another purple, my dear, quite another purple!" referring to martyrdom.
XVII. THE RADIANT SUNSET
The victim was ready for the final immolation. Purified by pain and exalted by love, Francis was advancing toward his goal with his body completely decayed but his soul pure and glowing. The end being near, his eyes and voice had a transparency reminiscent of heaven. His pupils were fixed on the highest ideals while his lips murmured the apostle's passionate sign: "I long to die so I can be with Christ!" Yet, he had to undergo the supreme test of abandonment. He was to remain alone. He had been like Christ in life, and would be like Him in death. It was June 1814 and the visitors to Portanova were decreasing in number. Fr. Bianchi's health was declining: he no longer had the strength to hear confessions or to speak at any great length. He spent many long hours alone. Lossa and Capolla alternated in taking care of his sores. When they left, he turned to the pictures covering the walls of his cell to converse with each one of them: the Savior, Mary Queen of Paradise, St. Francis of Assisi, and Sister Mary Frances.
On June 9 he sent Lossa to the tomb of Sister Mary Frances, hoping he would return with a message of comfort. His friend returned with this message: Francis was to suffer happily for a crown of glory like hers was awaiting him in Paradise.
As the summer advanced the heat increased, and so did his pains. God allowed the assistance of friends to be reduced, so that often he was left to the mistreatments of hired servants. He even lacked the usual morning wonderful experience of the Eucharist. This was truly his supreme holocaust, the supreme immolation. It seemed a miracle that in the midst of so much pain he lived to see the beginning of 1815. By now he was motionless, as if he were nailed to a cross. He breathed with difficulty, his vision had dimmed, gangrene in his legs spread, and a twisted hernia tortured his side.
On January 27, 1815 because of a fall he had incurred in an attempt to safeguard his modesty, it seemed as though the end had come. The Viaticum was taken to him. The victim of love was lying on the cross of suffering, experiencing a dark spiritual desolation which made him cry: "Father! Father, why have you abandoned me?" just as he had predicted many years before, saying: "God has granted me the grace of serving Him and of loving Him in cheerfulness of spirit. At the end of my life, however, I too must feel the tribulations, the anguish of the soul, and the violence of temptation."
But then there was calm. Francis was waiting for a promised visit from heaven. On January 29 he said to his confessor, Fr. Cesaro: "The Servant of God has kept her word; she has faithfully fulfilled her promise." He related that Sister Mary Frances had come to him, had seated herself at the side of his bed and had given him a foretaste of the joys of heaven.
The news spread quickly; his spiritual children returned to see their Father for the last time. They heard him repeat again and again: "My God! Blessed be God! I praise you! I thank you! Lord, I want to suffer for you!" At sunset of January 29 he received the Sacrament of the sick. Forty eight years previously, on that very day, he had offered his First Mass.
He smiled at his friends Ferrigni and Agnello Coppola, who had returned after a brief period of separation. During the night of January 30, six of his friends kept watch. At about five in the morning, Francis asked again for the Viaticum. The priest, fifteen minutes after giving him Communion, bent to listen to his breathing. He then realized that the blessed soul had peacefully returned to heaven. It was Tuesday, January 31, 1815.
XVIII. IN THE GLORY OF THE SAINTS
"The Saint of Portanova is dead!" was the cry that quickly spread all through Naples. "Let's go and see the Saint!" The crowd was so numerous it became necessary to block off the roads and put up barricades. When the Saint, dressed in his habit, was taken from the small cell to the church, the barricades could not hold the dense crowd. People were impatient to take a piece of cloth from his tunic or bits of hair as living relics. On the following morning, February 1, his funeral Mass was held with great solemnity. All the seminarians from the diocesan seminary were present, showing such a spontaneous and fitting homage for one who had greatly loved priests and had been their saintly leader and father in Naples.
Guards and soldiers on horseback were employed to control the crowd. When the evening came, it was necessary to revert to trickery to disperse the people: they were told that the body would be exposed again the following day. It was only then that the church gradually became empty. The simple wooden coffin was then closed and placed in the tomb beside the altar, nearest to the sanctuary, in the church of St. Mary in Portanova. But this was only for a short while.
Twenty years before, Francis, arriving at the church of St. Joseph and St. Theresa of the Carmelites in Pontecorvo, had said: "There will come a time when I will sleep in this church next to the small window where the nuns receive Holy Communion." Another time he said: "Pay attention! You will see one day what will happen in this church." Another time he said to a confrere, referring to the church: "You will see what a Paradise it will be."
Scarcely five years after his death, when the Napoleonic onslaught ended and the religious Congregations were re-established, the Barnabites took possession of the convent and church of St. Joseph at Pontecorvo. During the night of July 14, 1820 in the midst of the protest and tears of the people in Portanova, the body of the Saint was transported and placed in one of the niches behind the sanctuary exactly near the window where the Carmelite nuns used to receive Holy Communion.
Meanwhile, many miracles and graces were attributed to his intercession. In 1816, scarcely a year and a half after his death, a young 13 year-old hemiplegic Neapolitan girl, tormented with spasms, one day had a vision of St. Francis. He told her: "Get up, for you are well." She did as she was bade and, truly, she was healed. This was the first of the miracles proposed and approved for the Beatification process. The second miracle was with a 32 year-old lady whose body had been reduced to a most painful and horrible sore. In this condition, the lady only wished to die. But one day, moved by deep faith, she put an image of the Blessed on her wounds and prayed to him. Suddenly, all the sores disappeared! The lady was restored to full health and serenity.
The Apostolic Process took its time through the Popes Pius VII, Gregory XVI, and Pius IX. On February 23, 1857 Pius IX declared his virtues heroic. On February 22, 1893 Leo XIII declared him Blessed.
The two miracles needed for the canonization took place, one in 1933 in Perugia, and the other in 1937 in Naples. These two miracles were finally approved by Pius XII on May 1, 1951.
In 1933 the Barnabites were celebrating the 400th anniversary of the approval of their Congregation, when Judith Lacarella received the miracle. She suffered from cancer in her stomach and intestine. Being at the point of death, she turned for help to the Blessed Francis Xavier Bianchi. Judith started to say the novena to the Saint. On the second day, Judith found herself totally healed. She continued to say the novena in thanksgiving for the miracle received.
The second miracle happened to a worker in Naples who also got sick with cancer, with no hope of recovery. His mother and sisters kept going to Pontecorvo to beg the intercession of Blessed Francis. Their faith and persistence were rewarded on November 3, 1937 when De Rosa found himself totally healed and able to go back to work.
The solemn canonization ceremony was set by Pius XII for October 21, 1951. With his beautiful and characteristic prayer, he is now blessing us:
"May the Lord God, guard and bless you.
May he turn his Holy Face toward you.
May he give you peace,
and may he free you from sin.
May his love grow in you,
and may he grant you his great gift of final
On June 18, 1972 the body of St. Francis Bianchi was moved from St. Joseph at Pontecorvo to the church of St. Mary of Caravaggio, at the center of the city of Naples, transforming it in a fitting shrine to satisfy the popular devotion toward the Saint.
St. Francis Xavier M. Bianchi’s Ascetical Writings*
The Great Confidence That We Should Have
In The Love Shown Us By Jesus Christ
In All That He Has Done For Us
King David placed all the trust of his salvation in his future Redeemer and said, “Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, LORD, faithful God” (Ps 31:6). Now, how much more should we put our trust in Jesus Christ, since He has already come and has brought Redemption to its completion? Therefore, with greater trust each one of us must say and always repeat, “Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, LORD, faithful God.”
If we have serious reasons to fear eternal death because of offenses against God, we have, on the other hand, much greater reasons to hope for eternal life in the merits of Jesus Christ which have an infinitely superior value for our salvation than the value would our sins make us lose. We have sinned and have merited hell; but our Redeemer has come to take upon himself all our faults in order to expiate with his suffering, “It was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured” (Is 53:4).
Saved by the Blood of Christ
In the very unhappy moment when we sinned, the eternal death penalty was written by God against us; but what did our merciful Redeemer do? “obliterating the bond against us ... He also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:14). With His blood he nullified the decree of our conviction and then nailed it to the cross so that we, looking at the sentence of our damnation because of the sins committed, would look at the same time upon the cross where Jesus Christ, dying, has canceled it with his blood, and so we would regain the hope of pardon and of eternal salvation.
Oh! How much better spokesman he is for us, as he obtains for us the divine mercy, the blood of Jesus Christ than what was the blood of Abel against Cain, “and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel” (Heb 12:24). As if the Apostle would say: Oh! Happy you sinners who, after sin, have made recourse to Jesus Crucified, who has shed all His blood to become a mediator of peace between sinners and God, and obtained pardon for them. Your iniquities cry aloud against you, but the blood of the Redeemer pleads on your behalf, and at the voice of this blood the divine justice cannot stand placated.
Christ Is Our Judge
It is true that on account of our sins that we have to give the eternal judge is very rigorous. But who will be our judge? “The Father… has given all judgment to his Son” (Jn 5:22). Let us be consoled: the eternal Father has entrusted our judgment to the same Redeemer. Hence, St. Paul encourages us, saying, “Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died...., who indeed intercedes for us” (Rom 8:34). Who is the judge who should condemn us? It is that same Savior who, not to condemn us to eternal death, wanted to condemn himself and has died and who not satisfied with it, now in heaven, continues to procure our salvation in front of His Father. Hence, St. Thomas of Villanova writes, “What do you fear, O sinner, if you abhor your sin? How could He condemn you, He who dies not to condemn you? How could He chase you away, if you return at His feet, to the one who has come from heaven to search for you when you were running away from Him?”
Confidence in Christ Crucified
If we are afraid because of our weakness to fall at the assaults by our enemies against whom we have to fight, this is what we have to do. As the Apostle warns us, “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising its shame” (Heb 12:1-2). With high spirit let us go to the fight, gazing on Jesus Crucified who from His cross offers us His help, the victory, and the crown. In the past we have fallen because we did not gaze on the wounds and outrages suffered by our Redeemer. We have not made recourse to Him to receive His help. But, in the future we will keep in front of our eyes what He has suffered for love of us and how He is ready to come to our aid. To Him we make recourse; for sure, we are not going to be overcome by our enemies. St. Teresa, with her very generous heart, used to say, “It is not my intention to tremble at the devil; where we can say ‘God, God’ and make him tremble.” She also said that if we do not put all our trust in God, all our shrewdness would be good for nothing. “All our shrewdness,” these are her words, “are of little help if, taken all confidence completely away from us, we do not put it in God.”
The Passion of Christ and the Sacrament of the Altar
Oh! What great mysteries of hope and love are the Passion of Jesus Christ for us and the sacrament of the altar! They are mysteries which, if not assured by faith, who could believe them? An omnipotent God wanting to become man, shed all His blood and died out of pain on a cross. And why? To pay for our sins and save us, rebel worms! And then wanting to give us that very body of His as food, sacrificed for us on the cross, so that He could be totally united with us! Oh God! These two mysteries should turn to ashes because of love of all the hearts of men. And which sinner, as dissolute as he might be, could despair of pardon if he repents of the evil done as he sees a God in love with men and inclined to do them good? So do everything with trust. St. Bonaventure used to say, “How could the one who has done and suffered so much to save me deny me the graces needed for salvation?” “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:16), the Apostle exhorts us. The throne of grace is the cross where Jesus sits as if on His throne to dispense graces and mercy to whoever makes recourse to Him. But we have to make this recourse often, now that we can find the right help for our salvation. Perhaps there will be a time when we could not find it anymore. Let us go, then, in haste to embrace the cross of Jesus Christ, and let us go to it with great confidence. Let us not lose heart because of our miseries. In Jesus Crucified we will find every richness and grace for us. “In Him you were enriched in every way…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1 Cor 1:5-7). The merits of Jesus Christ have enriched us with divine treasures and have made us capable of any grace that we might desire.
In Jesus We Are Given All Graces
St. Leo says that Jesus with His death has brought us greater good than the damage brought by the devil with sin. And this affirms what St. Paul had said before, that the gift of Redemption has been greater than the sin. Grace has surpassed the crime. “The gift is not like the transgression…where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Rom 5: 15-20). Hence, the Savior encouraged us to hope for any favor and any grace out of His merits. And this is how He taught us the way to obtain whatever we want from His eternal Father, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you” (Jn 16:23), “When,” He says, “you desire something, ask my Father in my name, and I promise you it will be granted to you.” But how could the Father deny us any grace if He has been the one to give us His only Son, whom He loves as himself? “He who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with Him?” (Rom 8:32). The Apostle says “all”; so no grace is emphasized, nor the pardon, nor perseverance, nor the holy love, nor perfection, nor paradise: The Father gave us everything. But we have to pray to Him. God is infinitely merciful with those who pray to Him. “Enriching all who call upon Him” (Rom 10:12).
Here the Saint adds a note, “I would like to add here many other beautiful thoughts written by the Venerable John of Avila in his letters about the confidence we should have in the merits of Jesus Christ.”
The Blood of Christ Repairs Our Faults
Do not forget that between the eternal Father and us there is Jesus Christ as mediator. Therefore, we are loved and we are bound by ties of love so strong that no fault could untie them if man does not break them through some mortal fault. The blood of Christ screams, asking mercy for us, and screams so that the noise of our sins is not heard. The death of Jesus Christ has made our faults die. “O death! Where is your sting?” (Hos 13:14). Those who get lost are lost not because of lack of satisfaction but because they do not want to take advantage, through the sacraments, of the satisfaction given by Jesus Christ. Jesus remedied for us as if He had to do for himself, so that for our sins, because He did not commit any, He has claimed them as His own and has asked pardon for them, as if praying for himself, so that all those who want to come closer to Him would be loved. And as He has asked for it, so He has obtained it because God has desired for Jesus and us to be so intimately united as one so that both He and we would be loved, and He and we would be hated. Since Jesus is not hated and cannot be hated, in the same way, if we are bound to Jesus through love, we too are loved. Since He is loved by God, we too are loved. It is more valuable for Jesus Christ to make sure that we are loved than be hated, because the eternal Father loves the Son more than He hates the sinners.
The Greater Love Overcomes the Minor Hate
Jesus says to the Father, “Father, I wish that where I am, they also may be with me” (Jn 17:24). The greater love overcame the minor hate, and so we have been forgiven and loved, sure of never being abandoned since there is such a strong bound of love. The Lord says through the Prophet Isaiah, “Can a mother forget her infant ...? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name” (Is 49: 15-16). He has written us on His hands with His blood. Therefore, we should not be upset for any reason while everything is disposed by those hands which have been nailed to the cross as a testimony of the love He has for us.
Jesus Is Our Advocate
Nothing can terrify us as much as Jesus Christ can give us trust. May I be surrounded by all the sins that I have committed, by the fears of the future, and the demons that may accuse me and try to ensnare me, begging mercy from a whole, gracious Jesus Christ, my lover until death. I cannot but trust as I see myself valued so much that God has given himself up for me. O my Jesus, safe refuge for those who, in the midst of the storm, find recourse in you! O watchful shepherd, the one who does not trust you will be deceived although he wants to amend. This is why you said, “It is I! Don’t be afraid. I am the one to suffer and to console. Sometimes I give desolation to some, so that it seems they are in hell, but then I free them and lift them up. I am your advocate who has taken up your cause as my own. I am your guarantor who has come to pay your debts. I am your Lord who has redeemed you with my blood, not to abandon you, but to enrich you, having ransomed you at a great price. How could I flee from those who are looking for me, as I have gone towards those who were looking for me to insult me? I did not turn my face away from those who were hitting me; would I turn it from the one who wants to adore me? How could my children doubt that I love them, as they see me in the hands of my enemies and my love for them? Who in the world have I despised who has loved me? Whom did I ever abandon who has asked for my help? I am even looking for those who do not look for me.”
If you believe that the eternal Father has donated his Son, then believe that He will even donate to you everything else since it is all so much less than the Son. Don’t you ever think that Jesus Christ has forgotten you while, in memory of His love, He has left you the greatest pledge that He could have: He himself in the Sacrament of the altar.
FEELINGS OF LOVE AND PRAYERS
Oh! My Jesus, I Love You.
Oh! My Jesus, my love, what beautiful hopes your passion gives me. How could I be afraid not to receive the forgiveness of my sins, paradise, and all the needed graces from an omnipotent God who has given me the whole of His blood? Oh! My Jesus, my hope and my love! Not to lose me you have wanted to lose your life. I love you above every good, my Redeemer and my God, you have given the whole of yourself to me, and I give you the whole of my will, and with this I repeat that I love you, I love you, I love you; and I want to repeat it all the time: I love you, I love you. I want to say so my whole life long and I want to die giving my last breath with these dear words on my lips, “My God, I love you;” to start at that moment a continuous act of love to last into eternity without ever stopping to love you. I love you, then, and because I love you, I repent for having offended you so much. Wretched me! Not to lose a brief satisfaction, I have wanted so many times to lose you, my infinite goodness! This thought torments me more than any penalty; but I am comforted by the thought that I am dealing with an infinite bounty which does not know how to despise a heart who loves You. Oh, could I die for you who have died for me! My dear Redeemer, I surely hope from you eternal salvation in the next life; and in this one I hope for holy perseverance in your love. This is why I propose continually to ask you for it all the time. And you, through the merits of your death, grant me the perseverance always to pray to you. This I ask and I hope from you, Mary, my Queen.
Virgin Mary, My Mother, Mother of My Lord
Virgin Mary, my mother, to you, the mother of my Lord, sovereign of the world and Virgin of paradise, the advocate, hope, and refuge of sinners, I, the most miserable of all, make recourse to you today. I honor you, my Queen, and I thank you for all the graces granted me so far, especially for freeing me so many times from the hell I deserve. I love you, my most lovable Lady, and because of the love I have for you, I promise to want to serve you, to live and die at your feet. After Jesus, my sweet Savior, I entrust my hope and firm trust of salvation in you, my dear mother. Accept me now as your servant and son; receive me under the mantle of your sure protection. I desire nothing else from you but a solid, constant, and tender love for Jesus Christ. Obtain for me a great purity of mind and body, hate for the world, horror for any evil, and love for holy virtues. I beg you to obtain for me the strength to resist any temptation by my enemies. Allow me to lead a life as a true servant of yours, humble, chaste, and patient, detached from this world, and from all creatures. My Dear Mother, I am your son, do not leave me until you see me already safe in heaven. Meantime, give me your maternal blessing to confirm it for all eternity in paradise where you reign. Amen.
Three Glory Be, with Blessed be the most holy and purest Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Virgin and Mother of God, always immaculate and most merciful Mary, my mother, with your powerful intercession secure that I and all creatures may know and always love Jesus Christ, your most beloved Son.
*Translated by Fr. Frank Papa, CRSP
Sr. Rorivic Israel, ASP,
Fr. Richard M. Delzingaro, CRSP,
Ms. Regina Reale