February Feast Days

Blessed Thomas Mary Fusco

Thomas Mary Fusco, the seventh of eight children, was born on1 December 1831 in Pagani, Salerno, in the Diocese of Nocera-Sarno, Italy, to Dr Antonio, a pharmacist, and Stella Giordano, of noble descent. They were known for their upright moral and religious conduct, and taught their son Christian piety and charity to the poor.

He was baptized on the day he was born in the parish of S. Felice e Corpo di Cristo. In 1837, when he was only six years old, his mother died of cholera and a few years later, in 1841, he also lost his father. Fr Giuseppe, an uncle on his father’s side and a primary school teacher, then took charge of his education.

Since 1839, the year of the canonization of St Alphonsus Mary de’ Liguori, little Tommaso had dreamed of church and the altar; in 1847 he was at last able to enter the same diocesan seminary of Nocera which his brother Raffaele would leave after being ordained a priest in 1849.

On 1 April 1851, Tommaso Maria received the sacrament of Confirmation and on 22 December 1855, after completing his seminary formation, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Agnello Giuseppe D’Auria.

In those years, sorrowful because of the loss of his loved ones, including his uncle (1847) as well as his young brother, Raffaele (1852), the devotion to the Patient Christ and to his Blessed Sorrowful Mother, already dear to the entire Fusco family, took root in Tommaso Maria, as in fact his biographers recall: “He had a deep devotion to the crucified Christ which he cherished throughout his life”.

Right from the start he saw to the formation of boys for whom he opened a morning school in his own home, while for young people and adults, bent on increasing their human and Christian formation, he organized evening prayers at the parish church of S. Felice e Corpo di Cristo. This was a true place of conversion and prayer, just as it had been for St Alphonsus, revered and honoured in Pagani for his apostolate.

In 1857, he was admitted to the Congregation of the Missionaries of Nocera under the title of St Vincent de Paul and became an itinerant missionary, especially in the regions of Southern Italy.

In 1860 he was appointed chaplain at the Shrine of our Lady of Carmel (known as “Our Lady of the Hens”) in Pagani, where he built up the men’s and women’s Catholic associations and set up the altar of the Crucified Christ and the Pious Union for the Adoration of the Most Precious Blood of Jesus.

In 1862 he opened a school of moral theology in his own home to train priests for the ministry of confession, kindling enthusiasm for the love of Christ’s Blood; that same year, he founded the “(Priestly) Society of the Catholic Apostolate” for missions among the common people; in 1874 he received the approval of Pope Pius IX, now blessed.

Deeply moved by the sorry plight of an orphan girl, a victim of the street, after careful preparation in prayer for discernment, Fr Tommaso Maria founded the Congregation of the “Daughters of Charity of the Most Precious Blood” on 6 January, the Solemnity of Epiphany in 1873. This institute was inaugurated at the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the presence of Bishop Raffaele Ammirante, who, with the clothing of the first three sisters with the religious habit, blessed the first orphanage for seven poor little orphan girls of the area. It was not long before the newborn religious family and the orphanage also received the Pope’s blessing, in response to their request.

Fr Tommaso Maria continued to dedicate himself to the priestly ministry, preaching spiritual retreats and popular missions; and from his apostolic travels sprang the many foundations of houses and orphanages that were a monument to his heroic charity, which was even more ardent in the last 20 years of his life (1870-1891).

In addition to his commitments as founder and apostolic missionary, he was parish priest (1874-1887) at the principal church of S. Felice e Corpo di Cristo in Pagani, extraordinary confessor to the cloistered nuns in Pagani and Nocera and, in the last years of his life, spiritual father of the lay congregation at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

It was not long before Fr Tommaso Maria, envied for the good he achieved in his ministry and for his life as an exemplary priest, was faced with humiliation and persecution and, in 1880, even a brother priest’s slanderous calumny. However, sustained by the Lord, he lovingly carried that cross which own Pastor, Bishop Ammirante had foretold at the time of his institute’s foundation: “Have you chosen the title of the Most Precious Blood? Well, may you be prepared to drink the bitter cup”.

During the harshest of trials, which he bore in silence, he would repeat: “May work and suffering for God always be your glory and in your work and suffering, may God be your consolation on this earth, and your recompense in heaven. Patience is the safeguard and pillar of all the virtues”.

Wasting away with a liver-disease, Fr Tommaso Maria died a devout death on 24 February 1891, praying with the elderly Simeon: Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word” (Lk 2, 29).

He was only 59 years old! In the notice issued by the town council of Pagani on 25 February 1891 the Gospel witness of his life, known to one and all, was summarized in these words: “Tommaso Maria Fusco, Apostolic Missionary, Founder of the Daughters of Charity of the Most Precious Blood, an exemplary priest of indomitable faith and ardent charity, worked tirelessly in the name of the Redeeming Blood for the salvation of souls: in life he loved the poor and in death forgave his enemies”.

His life was directed to the highest devotion of Christian virtues by the priestly life, lived intensely in constant meditation on the mystery of the Father’s love, contemplated in the crucified Son whose Blood is “the expression, measure and pledge” of divine Charity and heroic charity to the poor and needy, in whom Fr Tommaso Maria saw the bleeding Face of Jesus.

His writings, preaching and popular missions marked his vast experience of faith and the light of Christian hope that shone from his vocation and actions. He had a vital, burning love for God; it enflamed his words and his apostolate, made fruitful by love for God and neighbour, by union with the crucified Jesus, by trust in Mary, Immaculate and Sorrowful, and above all by the Eucharist.

Fr Tommaso Maria Fusco was an Apostle of Charity of the Most Precious Blood, a friend of boys and girls and young people and attentive to every kind of poverty and human and spiritual misery.

For all these reasons he enjoyed the fame of holiness among the diocesan priests, among the people and among his spiritual daughters who received his charism, and witness to it today in the various parts of the world where they carry out their apostolate in communion with the Church.

The cause for the beatification of Fr Tommaso Maria Fusco was initiated in 1955 and the decree of his heroic Christian virtues was published on 24 April 2001. The miraculous healing of Mrs Maria Battaglia on 20 August 1964 in Sciacca, Agrigento, Sicily, through the intercession of Fr Tommaso Maria Fusco was recognized on7 July 2001.

With his beatification, Pope John Paul II presents Fr Tommaso Maria Fusco as an example and a guide to holiness for priests, for the people of God and for his spiritual daughters, the Daughters of Charity of the Most Precious Blood.

divine mercy, spiritual warfare, Visions of the Saints

St.Faustina:Apostle of Divine Mercy

88 years ago today,(Feb 22)Jesus appeared to St. Faustina in her convent cubicle and directed her to “paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You” (Diary of St. Faustina, 47-48). He attached many promises to those who venerate this image.

In a confessional — that’s where Blessed Michael Sopocko first met Sr. Maria Faustina, a humble nun with a tremendous weight upon her. The Lord had begun revealing to her His message of Divine Mercy — an urgent message that He wanted her to share with the whole world. But who would believe her? At first, no one. Not her superiors in the convent and not her previous confessors.

Sister Faustina had prayed for a spiritual director, someone to help guide her, someone who understood that what she was experiencing was real. Father Sopocko was the answer to her prayers, and eventually he became the main promoter of her revelations, the very linchpin in the Lord’s call to spread Divine Mercy throughout the world.

It was Fr. Sopocko who first instructed Sr. Faustina to keep her Diary. When Sr. Faustina told Fr. Sopocko of her visions of Jesus and His request for a new image to be painted and spread throughout the world, it was he who found the artist, E. Kazimirowski, who would paint The Divine Mercy image.

He didn’t stop there. In actions that mark the beginning of the spread of The Divine Mercy devotion, Fr. Sopocko made sure The Divine Mercy image was displayed on the Sunday after Easter, 1935, over the famous Ostra Brama gate to the city of Vilnius, Lithuania.

In a letter written by Blessed Sopocko in 1958, he gives a thorough description of the efforts to fulfill Christ’s request for the image. His long letter is translated from the Polish and quoted almost in its entirety in Pillars of Fire in My Soul: the Spirituality of St. Faustina (Marian Press, 2003), edited by Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD. Blessed Sopocko writes:

Upon my request Mr. Eugene Kazimirowski began the painting of the image on January 2, 1934. Sister Faustina of blessed memory with the permission of the Superior, Mother Irene, came once or twice a week to the painter’s studio (in the company of another sister) and imparted instructions, how this image is to look. For several months the painter was unable to satisfy the author [Faustina], who became sad on that account, and it was at this time that she wrote in her Diary: “Once when I was at that painter’s, who’s painting this image, and saw that it is not as beautiful as Jesus is, I became very sad, but I hid that deep in my heart. When we left the painter, Mother Superior remained in the city to settle various matters, but I returned home by myself, immediately I made my way to the chapel and I had a good cry. I said to the Lord: ‘Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?’ Of a sudden I heard the words: ‘not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush is the greatness of this image, but in my grace.'”

And remember the words of Jesus to St. Faustina, “I do not reward for good results but for the patience and hardship undergone for My sake” (Diary, 86).

The Holy Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, these are holy mysteries indeed, but so, too, is the Image of The Divine Mercy, revealed to St. Faustina in the darkness of her convent cell in the city of Plock in Poland, back in 1931. She describes Christ’s promises to her regarding the image:

“I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I myself will defend it as my own glory.”(Diary of St. Faustina,47-48)

… When St. Faustina asked our Lord about the meaning of the rays, He answered her by telling her that they signified the blood and water that gushed forth from His side on Calvary (see Jn 19:34-35):

When on one occasion my confessor told me to ask the Lord Jesus the meaning of the two rays in the image, I answered, “Very well, I will ask the Lord.”

During prayer I heard these words within me: The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the water that makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls …

These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when my agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. (Diary, 299).

The historical reference that Jesus made here is significant (“when My agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross”) because they correspond to what New Testament scholars tell us about this event. The fact is that Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers, and Roman soldiers were trained to know exactly where to stick their enemies with a lance so that the lance would pass between the ribs and pierce the heart, thereby guaranteeing instant death. In the Gospel story, the Roman soldiers were trying to make sure that Jesus was dead before they took Him down from the cross (Roman soldiers were subject to the death penalty themselves if they failed to successfully execute a criminal condemned under Roman law) so their lance passed into His side between the ribs, but went right up into His Heart (remember that they were thrusting the lance upward, from beneath the Cross). In fact, the phrase that Jesus taught St. Faustina to use in her prayer (“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus”) is also precisely accurate. It corresponds to the word that St. John used in his gospel for the flow of blood and water: it “gushed out.” The Roman spear evidently pierced the pericardial sack around the heart where relatively clear plasma would have collected after Jesus’ death, and also probably pierced the Heart itself, where blood had settled. The result would have been similar to the piercing of a water balloon: the blood and water “gushed forth” from His Heart. In short, the side of Christ was pierced, according to the Bible, but everything about this incident suggests that the wound in His side entered right into His Heart. …

The rays from the image are meant to transform our hearts, to “mercify” us, as Fr. George Kosicki, CSB, likes to say, so that we can give our hearts back to Him in love.

When we do open our hearts to Him with trust, then those rays and graces beam us back into deep union with the Heart of Jesus, as they did for St. Faustina herself. She writes:

He brought me into such intimacy with Himself that my heart was espoused to His Heart in a loving union, and I could feel the faintest stir of His Heart, and He of mine. The fire of my created love was joined to the ardor of His uncreated love. …

O my Master, I surrender myself completely to You, who are the rudder of my soul; steer it Yourself according to your divine wishes. I enclose myself in Your most compassionate Heart which is a sea of unfathomable mercy. (Diary, 1242 and 1450)

“Today the Lord also shows us His glorious wounds, and His Heart, an inexhaustible source of truth, of love, and forgiveness. … Saint Faustina saw, coming from this Heart that was overflowing with generous love, two rays of light that illuminated the world. “The two rays,” according to what Jesus Himself told her, “represent the blood and the water” (Diary, 299). The blood recalls the sacrifice of Golgotha, and the mystery of the Eucharist. The water, according to the rich symbolism of the Evangelist St. John, makes us think of Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:5; 4:14).

Through the mystery of this wounded Heart, the restorative tide of God’s merciful love continues to spread over the men and women of our time. Here alone can those who long for true and lasting happiness find its secret.”

~St.John Paul II homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2001

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~Excerpted from thedivinemercy.org

February Feast Days

St.Margaret of Cortona

Margaret of Cortona, penitent, was born in Loviana in Tuscany in 1247. Her father was a small farmer. Margaret’s mother died when she was seven years old. Her stepmother had little care for her high-spirited daughter.

Rejected at home, Margaret eloped with a youth from Montepulciano and bore him a son out of wedlock. After nine years, her lover was murdered without warning. Margaret left Montpulciano and returned as a penitent to her father’s house. When her father refused to accept her and her son, she went to the Friars Minor at Cortona where she received asylum. Yet Maragaret had difficulty overcoming temptations of the flesh. One Sunday she returned to Loviana with a cord around her neck. At Mass, she asked pardon for her past scandal. She attempted to mutilate her face, but was restrained by Friar Giunta. Margaret earned a living by nursing sick ladies. Later she gave this up to serve the sick poor without recompense, subsisting only on alms. Evenually, she joined the Third Order of St. Francis, and her son also joined the Franciscans a few years later. Margaret advanced rapidly in prayer and was said to be in direct contact with Jesus, as exemplified by frequent ecstacies. Friar Giunta recorded some of the messages she received from God. Not all related to herself, and she courageously presented messages to others. In 1286, Margaret was granted a charter allowing her to work for the sick poor on a permanent basis. Others joined with personal help, and some with financial assistance. Margaret formed her group into tertiaries, and later they were given special status as a congregation which was called The Poverelle (“Poor Ones”). She also founded a hospital at Cortona and the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy.

Some in Cortona turned on Margaret, even accusing her of illicit relations with Friar Giunta. All the while, Margaret continued to preach against vice and many, through her, returned to the sacraments. She also showed extraordinary love for the mysteries of the Eucharist and the Passion of Jesus Christ. Divinely warned of the day and hour of her death, she died on February 22, 1297, having spent twenty-nine years performing acts of penance. She was canonized in 1728. Her feast day is February 22nd.

February Feast Days

St.Peter Damian

St. Peter Damian is one of those stern figures who seem specially raised up, like St. John Baptist, to recall men in a lax age from the error of their ways and to bring them back into the narrow path of virtue.

He was born at Ravenna and, having lost his parents when very young, he was left in the charge of a brother in whose house he was treated more like a slave than a kinsman. As soon as he was old enough he was sent to tend swine. Another brother, who was archpriest of Ravenna, took pity on the neglected lad and undertook to have him educated. Having found a father in this brother, Peter appears to have adopted from him the surname of Damian. Damian sent the boy to school, first at Faenza and then at Parma. He proved an apt pupil and became in time a master and a professor of great ability.

He had early begun to inure himself to fasting, watching and prayer, and wore a hairshirt under his clothes to arm himself against the alurements of pleasure and the wiles of the devil. Not only did he give away much in alms, but he was seldom without some poor persons at his table, and took pleasure in serving them with his own hands. After a time Peter resolved to leave the world entirely and embrace a monastic life away from his own country. While his mind was full of these thoughts, two religious of St. Benedict, belonging to Fonte Avellana of the Reform of St. Romuald, happened to call at the house where he lived, and he was able to learn much from them about their Rule and mode of life. This decided him and he joined their hermitage, which was then in the greatest repute. The hermits, who dwelled in pairs in separate cells, occupied themselves chiefly in prayer and reading, and lived a life of great austerity. Peter’s excessive watchings brought on a severe insomnia which was cured with difficulty, but which taught him to use more discretion. Acting upon this experience, he now devoted considerable time to Sacred studies, and became as well versed in the Holy Scriptures as he formerly had been in profane literature. By the unanimous consent of the hermits he was ordered to take upon himself the government of the Community in the event of the superior’s death. Peter’s extreme reluctance obliged the abbot to make it a matter of obedience. Accordingly after the abbot’s decease about the year 1043, Peter assumed the direction of that holy family, which he governed with great wisdom and piety. He also founded five other hermitages in which he place Priors under his own general direction.

His chief care was to foster in his disciples the spirit of solitude, charity, and humility. Many of them became great lights of the Church, including St. Dominic Loricatus, and St. John of Lodi, his successor in the priory of the Holy Cross, who wrote St. Peter’s life and at the end of his days became Bishop of Gubbio. For years Peter Damian was much employed in the service of the Church by successive Popes, and in 1057 Stephen IX prevailed upon him to quit his desert and made him Cardinal-bishop of Ostia. Peter constantly solicited Nicholas II to grant him leave to resign his bishopric and return to the solitude, but the Pope had always refused. His successor, Alexander II, out of affection for the holy man, was prevailed upon with difficulty to consent, but reserved the power to employ him in Church matters of importance, as he might hereafter have need of his help. The saint from that time considered himself dispensed not only from the responsibility of governing his See, but from the supervision of the various religious settlements he had controlled, and reduced himself to the condition of a simple monk. In this retirement he edified the Church by his humility, penance and compunction, and labored in his writings to enforce the observance of morality and discipline. His style is vehement, and his strictness appears in all his works – especially when he treats of the duties of the clergy and of monks. He severely rebuked the Bishop of Florence for playing a game of chess. That prelate acknowledged his amusement to be unworthy, and received the holy man’s reproof meekly, submitting to do penance by reciting the psalter three times and by washing the feet of twelve poor men and giving them each a piece of money. Peter wrote a treatise to the Bishop of Besancon in which he inveighed against the custom by which the Canons of that Church sang the Divine Office seated in choir, though he allowed all to sit for the lessons. He recommended the use of the discipline as a substitute for long penitential fasts. He wrote most severely on the obligation of monks and protested against their wandering abroad, seeing that the spirit of retirement is an essential condition of their state. He complained bitterly of certain evasions whereby many palliated real infractions of their vow of poverty. He justly observed, “We can never restore primitive discipline when once it is decayed; and if we, by negligence, suffer any diminution in what remains established, future ages will never be able to repair the breach. Let us not draw upon ourselves so foul a reproach; but let us faithfully transmit to posterity the example of virtue which we have received from our forefathers.”

St. Peter Damian fought simony with great vigor, and equally vigorously upheld clerical celibacy; and as he supported a severely ascetical, semi-eremitical life for monks, so he was an encourager of common life for the secular clergy. He was a man of great vehemence in all he said and did; it has been said of him that “his genius was to exhort and impel to the heroic, to praise striking achievements and to record edifying examples…an extraordinary force burns in all that he wrote”. In spite of his severity, St. Peter Damian could treat penitents with mildness and indulgence where charity and prudence required it. Henry IV, the young king of Germany, had married Bertha, daughter of Otto, Marquee of the Marches of Italy, but two years later he sought a divorce under the pretense that the marriage had never been consummated. By promises and threats he won over the archbishop of Mainz, who summoned a council for the purpose of sanctioning the annulment of the marriage; but Pope Alexander II forbade him to consent to such an injustice and chose Peter Damian as his legate to preside over the synod. The aged legate met the king and bishops at Frankfurt, laid before them the order and instructions of the Holy See, and entreated the king to pay due regard to the law of God, the Canons of the Church and his own reputation, and also to reflect seriously on the public scandal which so pernicious an example would give. The nobles likewise entreated the monarch not to stain his honor by conduct so unworthy. Henry, unable to resist this strong opposition, dropped his project of a divorce, but remained the same at heart, only hating the queen more bitterly than ever. Peter hastened back to his desert of Fonte Avellana. Whatever austerities he prescribed for others, he practiced himself, remitting none of them even in his old age. He use to make wooden spoons and other little useful things that his hands might not be idle during the time he was not at work or at prayer. When Henry, Archbishop of Ravenna, had been excommunicated for grievous enormities, Peter was again sent by Alexander II as legate to settle the troubles. Upon his arrival at Ravenna he found that the prelate had just died, but he brought the accomplices of his crimes to a sense of their guilt and imposed on them suitable penance. This was Damian’s last undertaking for the Church.

As he was returning towards Rome he was arrested by an acute attack of fever in a monastery outside Faenza, and died on the eighth day of this illness, while the monks were reciting Matins round about him, on February 22, 1072. St. Peter was one of the chief forerunners of the Hildebrandine reform in the Church. His preaching was most eloquent and his writing voluminous, and he was declared a doctor of the Church in 1828. His feast day is February 21st.