An "Ordinary" Saint
Today, perhaps, more than ever, we need examples of holy men and women who kept pressing ahead in the midst of challenges. Fortunately, we can always look to the saints for that purpose because they faced difficulties and dilemmas just like you and I do. And they sought to meet those challenges by trusting in Christ. They did not rely on their own strength, abilities, determination, or grit. Instead, although they might have possessed those useful traits, they placed their hope and faith in God. They knew that everything was a gift from God, and they needed to learn to place more and more of their trust completely in Him in order to see them through the issues they faced.
This growing relationship with Christ is what allowed these holy men and women to press on. They might stumble. They might have major setbacks. They might even miserably fail. But each one eventually rallied and then moved forward in the direction that God was calling them to pursue. They were able to do that because they were constantly cultivating their interior life and relationship with Christ. The saints know that the interior life is the engine that drives everything in our lives. As we grow in union with Christ, we will inevitably know His will and then do His will.
The "Ordinary" Priest
St. John Baptist de Rossi is a wonderful example of this truth. From one perspective, he might be considered an "ordinary" saint. He was a priest for forty-three years during the turbulent political times of the first half of the eighteenth century. However, John did not found any congregations. He did not write any famous books or build any buildings. And, he was never under any danger of being martyred. However, he met the challenges of his life through his prayer life, and he ministered to thousands by being true to God's calling him to his vocation.
Of course, the truth is that there is no such thing as an ordinary saint just as their no such thing as an ordinary person. God does not create ordinary people. He creates men and women who are destined to be saints and to enjoy being with Him for eternity if we cooperate with His grace. That is the key. We must receive the gifts that God wants to give us even if we do not see them as gifts. They are the very steps He has ordained that we must take in order to become saints.
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An Early Education in Following Christ
John was born to Charles de Rossi and Frances Anfossi on February 22, 1698 in Voltaggio which was in the diocese of Genoa. His parents were poor, devout, and well-respected in their community. In order to facilitate his education, his parents entrusted John to a noble couple who lived in Genoa. John served as a page for the couple while he attended school. Sadly, his father and then his older brother died soon after he had settled in Genoa.
His mother, who was now a widow with John's two younger sisters requested that John return home. Discerning God's will that he should remain in Genoa, John had to make the difficult decision to tell his mother that he believed he should remain where he was rather than to come home. Toward the end of his three years in Genoa, he met two Capuchin friars through the noble couple. These two friars were impressed with young John and they agreed to help him further his education.
Soon his cousin Lorenzo who was a canon at St. Maria in Cosmedin requested that John come to Rome. Through the support of the two friars, he went to the Eternal City and resumed his studies at age 13 at the Collegium Romanum which was run by the Jesuits. By now his mother was in favor of John's pursuit of higher education, and she willingly gave the consent he needed to be able to enter the college.
John relished the educational opportunity he had and was a diligent student. He joined the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin, and was so constant in urging his fellow students to visit the ill of Rome that they nicknamed him "The Apostle". After finishing his studies with the Jesuits, at age 16, John continued his education at the Dominican College of St. Thomas where he learned scholastic philosophy and theology.
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Love, Not Mortification, Changes You
It was during these years of education in Rome that John had to learn a very important lesson. For many years, he practiced a number of very severe ascetical practices. In particular, he limited his food which left him very weakened. Once when he was in church, he fainted and then had an epileptic seizure. After that, the seizures became more common and, in fact, they would be with him for the rest of his life. As a student, his epilepsy often left him too weak to attend classes, and there began to be questions regarding his vocation because of his illness.
However, John learned that it was not penances and mortifications which would change him but love, love which he allowed to penetrate his heart through prayer. Later, he would instruct others that it is much better to submit your penances to a confessor rather than to trust your own judgment.
Although he continued to experience epileptic seizures, which normally would preclude his becoming a priest, John was given a dispensation which allowed him to be ordained on March 8, 1721. He watered the garden of his soul with praying the Divine Office, studying Scripture, and celebrating mass. From this daily spiritual devotion which was forming his soul to be in conformity with Christ he carried out his ministry to the ill, the poor, the prisoners, and the laborers of Rome. In particular, he was troubled by the homeless women he met, and accordingly opened a hospice for their care. In all of this work he practiced a ministry of presence by being with the people and helping them with their needs even as he catechized them.
Becoming a Canon
His cousin Lorenzo wanted to be certain that John would become his successor as canon and so he persuaded John to become his coadjutor canon. Not long after agreeing to this arrangement, Lorenzo suffered a major stroke which affected his relationships with everyone including John. He began to blame John for his condition and would be abusive toward John when he tried to serve Lorenzo. He put up with this ill treatment with good humor knowing that Lorenzo had changed due to the stroke. In 1737, after a second stroke, Lorenzo died, and John, with his confessor's approval, became the next canon of St. Maria Cosmedin.
John had vowed when he became a priest that he would never accept a church benefice. Thus, he used the benefice he received as the canon to buy a new organ for the church. John also sold the house he received and gave the money to the poor.
His health was always somewhat fragile despite his steely will that firmly was resolved to serve Christ faithfully regardless of how his body felt. A year after becoming the canon his health was at a breaking point, and he traveled an hour from Rome to live with the Bishop of Civita Castellana in order to recover. Up to this point, John had never received his faculties for hearing confession because he had been too concerned that he might have a seizure when he was hearing someone's confession.
The bishop assured him that hearing confessions was part of his vocation, and to fully fulfill his vocation John ought to obtain the faculty to hear confessions. Soon after that, John prepared for this ministry and was granted permission to hear confessions throughout all of Rome. It was a turning point in his ministry as he proved to be an excellent doctor of the soul and became a much-sought after confessor throughout the rest of his life.
John continued on his path of holiness by being sure to feed his soul through daily prayer and mass which fueled his ministry of service to the poor and giving absolution to repentant sinners. Although he would take frequent breaks from his rigorous schedule, his health was never very strong. In the last eight months of his life it was particularly poor coupled with many violent seizures. At least once he received last rites although he rallied to live for several months longer until he died after a stroke on May 21, 1764.
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John Saves a Dying Man
One time, John set off for the hospital at St. Giacomo in order to visit with the ill. However, instead of going to St. Giacomo, he found that he had actually gone to the hospital of Sancto Spirito. Wondering how distracted he must have been to go to the wrong hospital, he immediately turned around and headed back the way he had come. On his return, he wound up at St. Peter's which he took as a sign to pray in the presence of the tombs of the apostles. After praying he resumed his journey only to find that he ended up once again at the hospital of Sancto Spirito.
He discerned that this was no coincidence and soon had that confirmed when an injured man was taken into the hospital being carried on a stretcher. John followed the man on the stretcher into the hospital. The doctors looked at wounded man and then moved on to other patients. The entire time John looked on with tender care.
John then asked the man if there was anything he could do to relieve him. The love that the man felt from John was too much, and the man burst out with a cry that he had not been in the presence of a priest for over five years. He added that perhaps he was receiving a gift from God in order to be forgiven his sins. John then heard the man's confession in which he repented of his sins and forgave the man that had mortally wounded him. John gave him absolution and Holy Viaticum and then began to pray for him. He was convinced that the man would go to Heaven having been relieved of the heavy burden of sin he had carried for so long.
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Feast Day (Memorial): May 23rd
Enjoy Hearing the Voices of the Saints Every Day
Voices of the Saints is a wonderful book written by Bert Ghezzi in which he introduces you to 365 saints through their own words. Each saint is given two pages in the book. As the title of the book suggests, you get to know the saints through their own voices.
The entry for each saint includes an excerpt from something the saint wrote or said as well as biographical information to help you become familiar with the saint.
With 365 saints, you could add one saint per day to your spiritual reading and become more familiar with the saints. The book is arranged in alphabetic order by name, but you can also read about the saints in chronological order beginning with the Blessed Virgin Mary and continuing with the guides that you lead you to the next saint.
I read from this book every day and enjoy learning more the saints you encounter in its pages.
In the introduction, the author quotes St. Philip Neri as both a word of warning and one of encouragement, "The best preparation for prayer is to read the lives of the saints, not from mere curiousity, but quietly and with recollection a little at a time. And to pause whenever you feel your heart touched with devotion."
Bert Ghezzi's book certainly can be a welcome addition to your prayer life as you let the saints help guide you on your journey with the Lord.
In the video below you can learn how I use this book to help me grow closer to the Lord through His saints.