From Rev. Alban Butler’s The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints; edited by Dan Leo, Associate Professor of Eschatological Studies, Olney Community College; author of Conversations With the Big Guy: More Inspirational Thoughts For Young People.
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HER father’s name was Severus, and her mother’s Gerontia: she was born about the year 422, at Nanterre, a small village four miles from Paris, near the famous modern stations, or Calvary, adorned with excellent sculptures, representing our Lord’s Passion, on Mount Valerien.
When St. Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, went with St. Lupus into Britain to oppose the Pelagian heresy, he lay at Nanterre in his way. The inhabitants flocked about them to receive their blessing, and St. Germanus made them an exhortation, during which he took particular notice of Genevieve, though only seven years of age.
After his discourse he inquired for her parents, and addressing himself to them, foretold their daughter’s future sanctity, and said that she would perfectly accomplish the resolution she had taken of serving God, and that others would imitate her example.
He then asked Genevieve whether it was not her desire to serve God in a state of perpetual virginity, and to bear no other title than that of a spouse of Jesus Christ. The virgin answered, that this was what she had long desired, and begged that by his blessing she might be from that moment consecrated to God.
The holy prelate went to the church of the place, followed by the people, and, during long singing of psalms and prayers, he held his hand upon the virgin’s head.
After he had supped, he dismissed her, giving a strict charge to her parents to bring her again to him very early the next morning. The father complied with the commission, and St. Germanus asked Genevieve whether she remembered the promise she had made to God.
She said she did, and declared she would, by the divine assistance, faithfully perform it. The bishop gave her a brass medal, on which a cross was engraved, to wear always about her neck, to put her in mind of the consecration she had made of herself to God; and at the same time he charged her never to wear bracelets, or necklaces of pearl, gold or silver, or any other ornaments of vanity.
All this she most religiously observed, and considering herself as the spouse of Christ, gave herself up to the most fervent practices of devotion and penance.
The author of her life tells us, that the holy virgin begging one day with great importunity that she might go to the church, her mother struck her on the face, but in punishment lost her sight, which she only recovered, two months after by washing her eyes twice or thrice with water, which her daughter fetched from the well, and upon which she had made the sign of the cross.
Hence the people look upon the well at Nanterre as having been blessed by the saint.
About fifteen years of age, she was presented to the bishop of Paris to receive the religious veil at his hands, together with two other persons of the same sex. Though she was the youngest of the three, the bishop placed her the first, saying, that heaven had already sanctified her; by which he seems to have alluded to the promise she had already made, in the presence of SS. Germanus and Lupus, of consecrating herself to God.
From that time she frequently ate only twice in the week, on Sundays and Thursdays. Her food was barley bread with a few beans. At the age of fifty, by the command of certain bishops, she mitigated this austerity, so far as to allow herself a moderate use of fish and milk.
Her prayer was almost continual, and generally attended with a large flow of tears.
After the death of her parents she left Nanterre, and settled with her godmother at Paris, but sometimes undertook journeys upon motives of charity, and illustrated the cities of Meaux, Laon, Tours, Orleans, and all other places wherever she went, with miracles and remarkable predictions.
God permitted her to meet with some severe trials; for at a certain time all persons indiscriminately seemed to be in a combination against her, and persecuted her under the opprobrious names of visionary, hypocrite, and the like imputations, all tending to asperse her innocency.
The arrival of St. Germanus at Paris, probably on his second journey to Britain, for some time silenced her calumniators; but it was not long ere the storm broke out anew. Her enemies were fully determined to drown her, when the archdeacon of Auxerre arrived with Eulogies, or blessed bread, sent her by St. Germanus, as a testimony of his particular esteem for her virtues, and a token of communion.
This circumstance, so providentially opportune, converted the prejudices of her calumniators into a singular veneration for her during the remainder of her life.
King Clovis, who embraced the faith in 496, listened often with deference to the advice of St. Genevieve, and granted liberty to several captives at her request.
Upon the report of the march of Attila with his army of Huns, the Parisians were preparing to abandon their city, but St. Genevieve persuaded them, in imitation of Judith and Hester, to endeavour to avert the scourge, by fasting, watching, and prayer. Many devout persons of her sex passed many days with her in prayer in the baptistery.
She assured the people of the protection of heaven, and their deliverance; and though she was long treated by many as an impostor, the event verified the prediction, that barbarian suddenly changing the course of his march, probably by directing it towards Orleans.
Our author attributes to St. Genevieve the first design of the magnificent church which Clovis began to build in honour of SS. Peter and Paul, by the pious counsel of his wife Saint Clotilda, by whom it was finished several years after; for he only laid the foundation a little before his death, which happened in 511. St. Genevieve died about the same year, probably five weeks after that prince, on the 3d of January, 512, being eighty-nine years old.
The city of Paris has frequently received sensible proofs of the divine protection, through her intercession. The most famous instance is that called the miracle of Des Ardens, or of the burning fever. In 1129, in the reign of Lewis VI. a pestilential fever, with a violent inward heat, and pains in the bowels, swept off, in a short time, fourteen thousand persons, nor could the art of physicians afford any relief.
Stephen, bishop of Paris, with the clergy and people, implored the divine mercy, by fasting and supplications. Yet the distemper began not to abate till the shrine of St. Genevieve was carried in a solemn procession to the cathedral. During that ceremony many sick persons were cured by touching the shrine, and of all that then lay ill of that distemper in the whole town, only three died, the rest recovered, and no others fell ill.
Pope Innocent II. coming to Paris the year following, after having passed a careful scrutiny on the miracle, ordered an annual festival in commemoration of it, on the 26th of November, which is still kept at Paris.
The fifth of November was at that time kept with great solemnity at Pembroke College, and exercises upon the subject of the day were required. Johnson neglected to perform his, which is much to be regretted; for his vivacity of imagination, and force of language, would probably have produced something sublime upon the gunpowder plot.
To apologise for his neglect, he gave in a short copy of verses, entitled ‘Somnium’, containing a common thought; 'that the Muse had come to him in his sleep, and whispered, that it did not become him to write on such subjects as politicks; he should confine himself to humbler themes.'
The 'morbid melancholy,' which was lurking in his constitution, and to which we may ascribe those particularities, and that aversion to regular life, which, at a very early period, marked his character, gathered such strength in his twentieth year, as to afflict him in a dreadful manner.
While he was at Lichfield, in the college vacation of the year 1729, he felt himself overwhelmed with an horrible hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness, and impatience; and with a dejection, gloom, and despair, which made existence misery.
From this dismal malady he never afterwards was perfectly relieved; and all his labours, and all his enjoyments, were but temporary interruptions of its baleful influence.
How wonderful, how unsearchable are the ways of GOD!
Johnson, who was blest with all the powers of genius and understanding in a degree far above the ordinary state of human nature, was at the same time visited with a disorder so afflictive, that they who know it by dire experience, will not envy his exalted endowments.
That it was, in some degree, occasioned by a defect in his nervous system, that inexplicable part of our frame, appears highly probable.
He told Mr. Paradise that he was sometimes so languid and inefficient, that he could not distinguish the hour upon the town-clock.
Johnson, upon the first violent attack of this disorder, strove to overcome it by forcible exertions. He frequently walked to Birmingham and back again, and tried many other expedients, but all in vain.
His expression concerning it to me was 'I did not then know how to manage it.'
But let not little men triumph upon knowing that Johnson was an HYPOCHONDRIACK, was subject to what the learned, philosophical, and pious Dr. Cheyne has so well treated under the title of 'The English Malady.'
Though he suffered severely from it, he was not therefore degraded. The powers of his great mind might be troubled, and their full exercise suspended at times; but the mind itself was ever entire.
Amidst the oppression and distraction of a disease which very few have felt in its full extent, but many have experienced in a slighter degree, Johnson, in his writings, and in his conversation, never failed to display all the varieties of intellectual excellence.
The history of his mind as to religion is an important article.
I have mentioned the early impressions made upon his tender imagination by his mother, who continued her pious care with assiduity, but, in his opinion, not with judgement. 'Sunday (said he) was a heavy day to me when I was a boy. My mother confined me on that day, and made me read "The Whole Duty of Man," from a great part of which I could derive no instruction. When, for instance, I had read the chapter on theft, which from my infancy I had been taught was wrong, I was no more convinced that theft was wrong than before; so there was no accession of knowledge.’
He communicated to me the following particulars upon the subject of his religious progress.
'I fell into an inattention to religion, or an indifference about it, in my ninth year. The church at Lichfield, in which we had a seat, wanted reparation, so I was to go and find a seat in other churches; and having bad eyes, and being awkward about this, I used to go and read in the fields on Sunday.
‘This habit continued till my fourteenth year; and still I find a great reluctance to go to church. I then became a sort of lax talker against religion, for I did not much think against it; and this lasted till I went to Oxford, where it would not be suffered. When at Oxford, I took up Law's Serious Call to a Holy Life, expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally are), and perhaps to laugh at it.
But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion, after I became capable of rational inquiry.'
From this time forward religion was the predominant object of his thoughts; though, with the just sentiments of a conscientious Christian, he lamented that his practice of its duties fell far short of what it ought to be.
Old-fashioned letters! How good they were!
And nobody writes them now;
Never at all comes in the scrawl
On the written pages which told us all
The news of town and the folks we knew,
And what they had done or were going to do.
It seems we've forgotten how
To spend an hour with our pen in hand
To write in the language we understand.
Old-fashioned letters we used to get
And ponder each fond line o'er;
The glad words rolled like running gold,
As smoothly their tales of joy they told,
And our hearts beat fast with a keen delight
As we read the news they were pleased to write
And gathered the love they bore.
But few of the letters that come to-day
Are penned to us in the old-time way.
Old-fashioned letters that told us all
The tales of the far away;
Where they'd been and the folks they'd seen;
And better than any fine magazine
Was the writing too, for it bore the style
Of a simple heart and a sunny smile,
And was pure as the breath of May.
Some of them oft were damp with tears,
But those were the letters that lived for years.
Old-fashioned letters! How good they were!
And, oh, how we watched the mails;
But nobody writes of the quaint delights
Of the sunny days and the merry nights
Or tells us the things that we yearn to know--
That art passed out with the long ago,
And lost are the simple tales;
Yet we all would happier be, I think,
If we'd spend more time with our pen and ink.
From Rev. Alban Butler’s The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints; edited by Dan Leo, Assistant Professor of Ancient and Modern Religions, Olney Community College, author of Jesus Is My Homey: Inspirational Thoughts For Young People.
ST. MACARIUS the younger, a citizen of Alexandria, followed the business of a confectioner.
Desirous to serve God with his whole heart, he forsook the world in the flower of his age, and spent upwards of sixty years in the deserts in the exercise of fervent penance and contemplation.
In this part were three deserts almost adjoining to each other; that of Scété, so called from a town of the same name on the borders of Lybia; that of the Cells, contiguous to the former, this name being given to it on account of the multitude of hermit-cells with which it abounded; and a third, which reached to the western branch of the Nile, called from a great mountain, the desert of Nitria.
St. Macarius had a cell in each of these deserts.
When he dwelt in that of Nitria, it was his custom to give advice to strangers, but his chief residence was in that of the Cells. Each anchoret had here his separate cell, which he made his continued abode, except on Saturday and Sunday, when all assembled in one church to celebrate the divine mysteries, and partake of the holy communion.
If any one was absent, he was concluded to be sick, and was visited by the rest. When a stranger came to live among them, every one offered him his cell, and was ready to build another for himself.
Their cells were not within sight of each other.
Their manual labour, which was that of making baskets or mats, did not interrupt the prayer of the heart.
A profound silence reigned throughout the whole desert.
Our saint received here the dignity of priesthood, and shone as a bright sun influencing this holy company.
Palladius has recorded a memorable instance of the great self-denial professed and observed by these holy hermits. A present was made of a newly gathered bunch of grapes to St. Macarius: the holy man carried it to a neighbouring monk who was sick; he sent it to another: it passed in like manner to all the cells in the desert, and was brought back to Macarius, who was exceedingly rejoiced to perceive the abstinence of his brethren, but would not eat of the grapes himself.
The austerities of all the inhabitants of that desert were extraordinary; but St. Macarius in this regard far surpasses the rest.
For seven years together he lived only on raw herbs and pulse, and for the three following years contented himself with four or five ounces of bread a day, and consumed only one little vessel of oil in a year.
God had given him a body capable of bearing the greatest rigours; and his fervour was so intense, that whatever spiritual exercise he heard of, or saw practised by others, he resolved to copy the same.
The reputation of the monastery of Tabenna, under St. Pachomius, drew him to this place in disguise.
St. Pachomius told him that he seemed too far advanced in years to begin to accustom himself to their fastings and watchings; but at length admitted him, on condition he would observe all the rules and mortifications of the house.
Lent approaching soon after, the monks were assiduous in preparations to pass that holy time in austerities, each according to his strength and fervour; some by fasting one, others two, three, or four days, without any kind of nourishment; some standing all day, others only sitting at their work.
Macarius took some palm-tree leaves steeped in water, as materials for his work, and standing in a private corner, passed the whole time without eating, except a few green cabbage leaves on Sundays.
His hands were employed in almost continual labour, and his heart conversed with God by prayer. If he left his station on any pressing occasion, he never stayed one moment longer than necessity required.
Such a prodigy astonished the monks, who even remonstrated to the abbot at Easter, against a singularity of this nature, which, if tolerated, might on several accounts be prejudicial to their community. St. Pachomius entreated God to know who this stranger was; and learning by revelation that he was the great Macarius, embraced him, thanked him for his edifying visit, and desired him to return to his desert, and there offer up his prayers for them.
Our saint happened one day inadvertently to kill a gnat that was biting him in his cell; reflecting that he had lost the opportunity of suffering that mortification, he hastened from his cell to the marshes of Scété, which abound with great flies, whose stings pierce even wild boars. There he continued six months exposed to those ravaging insects; and to such a degree was his whole body disfigured by them with sores and swellings, that when he returned he was only to be known by his voice.
Some authors relate that he did this to overcome a temptation of the flesh.
The virtue of this great saint was often exercised with temptations. One was a suggestion to quit his desert and go to Rome, to serve the sick in the hospitals;
which by due reflection, he discovered to be a secret artifice of vain-glory inciting him to attract the eyes and esteem of the world. True humility alone could discover the snare which lurked under the specious gloss of holy charity.
Finding this enemy extremely importunate, he threw himself on the ground in his cell, and cried out to the fiends: “Drag me hence, if you can, by force, for I will not stir.”
Thus he lay till night, and by this vigorous resistance they were quite disarmed.
As soon as he arose they renewed the assault; and he, to stand firm against them, filled two great baskets with sand, and laying them on his shoulders, travelled along the wilderness.
A person of his acquaintance meeting him, asked him what he meant, and made an offer of easing him of his burden; but the saint made no other reply than this —
“I am tormenting my tormentor.”
He returned home in the evening, much fatigued in body, but freed from the temptation.
St. Jerome and others relate, that a certain anchoret in Nitria, having left one hundred crowns at his death which he had acquired by weaving cloth,
the monks of that desert met to deliberate what should be done with that money.
Some were for having it given to the poor, others to the church; but Macarius, Pambo, Isidore, and others, who were called the fathers, ordained that the one hundred crowns should be thrown into the grave and buried with the corpse of the deceased, and that at the same time the following words should be pronounced:
May thy money be with thee to perdition.
This example struck such a terror into all the monks, that no one durst lay up any money by him.
Our saint died in the year 394, as Tillemont shows from Palladius.