Including an Irish saint who loved birds, and the unfortunately-named St Arian
Sunday, 4 March
This prince of Poland from earliest life rejected earthly things, wearing a hair shirt even as a teenager. Often at night he would walk to the doors of the nearest church, where we would wait until he could be admitted for Matins. It is recorded that the young Casimir could not hear the name of Our Lord without sobbing. Serving at Mass inspired him with ecstasy, and he was a great friend to the poor, giving all he had and all he could borrow of his parents and his brother, who was King of Bohemia, for their assistance. Once at the age of fifteen he was asked by his father to lead an army on behalf of the people of Hungary; when his men deserted him, he rejoiced and returned home. He later convinced his father to pass an edict forbidding the restoration of churches held by schismatics. When he fell sick at the age of twenty-two, eminent physicians urged him to cease his austerities, which he refused to do, citing his love of chastity above all worldly comforts, including the desire to live.
Monday, 5 March
Who could tire of the Irish saints and their legends? The acts of Kieran alone could fill many golden pages. As a boy it is told that he could not bear the sight of a small bird being carried off in the talons of a great hawk and cried aloud to God, whereupon the beast dropped its still living prey. Later when Kieran was an abbot with certain nuns under his authority an odious chieftain in the dead of winter carried off a sister whom he intended to ravish; the furious saint complained to the lord, who responded that he would restore his captive to her freedom if a cuckoo would rouse him from his slumber the next morning. That night snow did not fall, and just before dawn the ruffian heard a cuckoo singing below his window and relented.
Kieran helped many other pious ladies. One day late in autumn he saw a magnificent bush full of blackberries and, thinking sadly of their coming demise, threw his cloak over them. Many months later, Queen Ethnea, wife of one of the numerous monarchs the Irish had in those days, was taken ill and spoke of her desire for blackberries. Her situation was very grave, and the saint remembered his cloak, under which the fruit had been preserved utterly from frost. No sooner had her majesty consumed the berries than she recovered.
Tuesday, 6 March
SS Balther and Bilfred
What we of the lives of these saints is handed down to us from an ancient breviary of Aberdeen. It is possible that the former may be the same person referred to in various medieval Scotch chronicles as St Baldred. Such it appears was his renown – among other things he once spirited away a certain rock that had claimed the lives of numerous sailors – that three parishes claimed his remains for their own. After a day of intense debate no resolution had been reached; the next morning, however, it was discovered that he had three bodies, one for each church. Bilfred, meanwhile, seems to have been a goldsmith and jeweler who lavished his art upon copies of the Gospels.
Wednesday, 7 March
SS Perpetua and Felicitas
One of the few things to be said in favor of the 1969 revision of the Roman Calendar is that its devisers had the good sense to transfer Thomas Aquinas’s commemoration to the end of January so that the feast of these greatest of martyrs could be observed once more on the day of their death. Thomism is good up to a point, but when a passion for the logic of a medieval commentator upon heathen philosophers, however saintly, is exalted above women beloved of the faithful from time immemorial and mentioned in the canon of the Mass, it is danger of becoming a fetish rather than a pious cult.
In Fr Vagaggini’s Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform (1967), a curious pamphlet in which all the tricks of the conciliar modernists are laid bare for the reader, the author seems to suggest that Perpetual and Felicitas are among those saints in the canon whose lives “have posed more than a few problems for the hagiographer”. What could he possibly have meant by this? It is difficult to think of two martyrs whose lives have been more brilliantly captured than the young Carthaginian noblewoman and the slave. Their baptisms, the squalor of their lives in prison, the fear of Perpetua for her infant son and her pagan father’s desperate pleas for her to apostatize, the premature birth of Felicitas’ daughter, the vision of the green meadow—all these and dozens of other scenes are as vividly realized in acts done in part by Perpetua’s own hand as anything in all of ecclesiastical history.
Thursday, 8 March
St Arian and Companions
It is difficult not to think that this saint’s cult has suffered neglect due to the similarity between his name and that of the Alexandrian heresiarch who was his contemporary. Unlike Arius, Arian confessed the pure Faith of the Apostles without hesitation. For this he and his friend Theoticius and three other companions were ordered drowned at Antinopolis by the cruel magistrate in 311. After their deaths their bodies were dragged to shore by dolphins.
Friday, 9 March
Pacian was bishop of Barcelona and a writer against Novatianism, a rigorist heresy denying the possibility of repentance for apostasy. He is best known to us from the portrait of him given in Jerome’s treatise On Illustrious Men and from three extant epistles of his own, a small part of what is said to have been a voluminous output. For reasons that are difficult to ascertain, his fascinating letters are infrequently cited even by Catholic authorities, despite the fact that they contain, among other things, a very clear picture of the Petrine supremacy operating exactly as it does today and as the Church claims it always has, right down to the election of the pontiff by a college made up of other bishops and struggles between the pope and venal churchmen in the Holy City.
Saturday, 10 March
St Anastasia the Patrician
This lady-in-waiting to Theodora, wife of Justinian I, had the misfortune of attracting the attention of the emperor, who wished her to be his partner in adultery. Instead she fled to Alexandria, where she embraced religious life until the death of the empress, at which time Justinian attempted to force her return to Constantinople. In Scetis a certain abbot named Daniel allowed her to disguise herself as a monk and live in seclusion beyond the clutches of the lascivious potentate. She continued dressed in this fashion, calling herself Anastasius and leading an austere and hermetic existence, for some twenty-eight years. Thurston and Attwater in their reduction of Butler’s Lives of the Saints claim, on no named authority, that “in all probability” Anastasia’s story “is pure romance”. Perhaps it is they who deserve credit for her abscnce from the current Martyrology despite appearing in the Acta Sanctorum.