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Friday, July 25, 2008

St. Philomena: Child Saint from Roman Times Works Wonders in the 20th Century

by Susan C. Fox I learned to know St. Philomena as most people do - by testing her intercessory power with God. I had been working all summer to start the Legion of Mary at St. Philomena's Catholic Church in Des Moines, Washington, and it wasn't proving to be an easy task. There was a statue of St. Philomena in the back of the church - she held a lily and an anchor. And I thought, "Well, I wonder who she was?" Then I addressed her, "St. Philomena, if you had a devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, when you were alive, will you please help me start Mary's army here in this parish dedicated to you?" This was August, 1994. The Legion of Mary was up and running by September. And very little further effort was required by me as the most amazing group of Filipino Catholics joined the Legion there and they began the serious task of door-to-door evangelization. So this started me wondering. Who is this lady in the back of the Church holding an anchor? How is she so powerful with the Mother of God? And with God Himself. Unknown to myself, I had stumbled across a spiritual gold mine that had been specially reserved by God for our times. On the feast day of Mary, Help of Christians, May 24, 1802, the bones of St. Philomena were uncovered in an underground cemetary on the road from Rome to Ancona. She had laid there in total obscurity for over 1600 years. But once her relics were transferred to a shrine at Muganano, Italy (near Naples), the miracles abounded. And as a result, her popularity spread to such a degree that within 35 years, she was declared a saint and named the "Wonderworker of the 19th Century" by Pope Gregory XVI. It is the only instance in which the Church granted the public cultus of a saint from the Catacombs of which nothing was known except her name and the bare fact of her martyrdom, according to Fr. Goodman, M.S.C., "Saint Philomena, Virgin, Martyr and Wonderworker." The bones that were uncovered on that fateful day were those of a 13-year-old girl. The burial stone held several symbols testifying to Philomena's virginity and martyrdom. The Roman emperor Diocletian wanted to marry Philomena, but he was already married, and she refused. So he tied her to an anchor and threw her in the Tiber River - a common form of martyrdom in Roman times. However, the rope tying her to the anchor broke and she did not drown. Two arrows on her tomb pointing in opposite directions apparently signify that he tried to kill her by arrows, but they turned around and struck the archers. And finally after she still refused him, he stabbed her in the back of the neck with a spear, and the bones revealed that was her actual means of death. Those symbols on her tomb, and the vial of her martyr's blood buried with her, were the only record remaining of Philomena's life when her remains were unearthed. Three separate apparitions to a nun, a priest and an artisan have since confirmed these facts, plus the information that Philomena may have been the daughter of a Greek prince, who converted to the faith just prior to her birth. As a result of his conversion, she was named Lumena in allusion to the "light" of faith her parents were given. And at her Baptism they called her Filumena or "daughter of light." And yes, according to these private revelations about Philomena, she had a great devotion to the Mother of Jesus, who even came to succor her while the Emperor held her in his dungeon. The most illustrious miracle worked by this little saint was the healing of Pauline Marie Jaricot, a French girl from Lyons, who started the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Pauline had suffered a heart attack and was near death when she came to Rome in 1835 for an audience with Pope Gregory XVI. However, at the last minute she was too ill to go to the Pope, and he came to her instead. Believing the girl was not long for this world, the Pope asked her to bring an intention of his to the courts of heaven. But Pauline wasn't ready to give up. She was on her way to Mugnano to ask for a miracle from Philomena. "If on my return from Mugnano I were to come to the Vatican on foot, then would Your Holiness deign to proceed without delay to the final inquiry into the cause of Philomena?" Pope Gregory agreed to this bargain immediately, "for that would be a miracle of the first order." Nevertheless, he blessed the girl never expecting to see her again in this life. Pauline lingered in Rome for another month too ill to move, but suddenly got the strength to make the journey to Mugnano. On Aug. 10, 1835, during Benediction at the Shrine of Philomena, Pauline collapsed. Tears crept under her eyelids, a tinge of color returned to her cheeks, and her icy feet and hands were warmed. Pauline was cured. And she returned to Rome on foot where the Pope immediately began the inquiry into Philomena's sanctity. The date Aug. 10 is significant because this is the day, Philomena's relics arrived in Mugnano in 1805, and she was installed in the Church there in the early hours of Aug. 11, which is now her feast day. Philomena also played a significant role in the life of the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, who had a relic of the saint and dedicated a chapel to her as soon as he heard of her canonization. The humble Cure seemed to understand instinctively St. Louis Marie de Montfort's fourth principle of True Marian Devotion that it is more humble to have an intermediary with Christ: "It is more perfect because it supposes greater humility to approach God through a mediator rather than directly by ourselves." St. John translated that into a special relationship with St. Philomena. Many miracles were recorded by his biographers - the healing of the sick, the obtaining of money for worthy causes and the acquiring of knowledge. The humble Cure attributed these miracles to the intercession of his special friend, St. Philomena. "He could not bring himself to believe that miracles could be operated through his intercession, and he was unwilling that others should attribute them to a merit which he was certain he didn't possess. He himself ascribed them to the intercession of St. Philomena," according to Bruce Marshall's "Saints for Now." When the sick came to him for a healing, he told them to go and pray before the altar of St. Philomena, knowing that their recovery would be ascribed to her and not to him. The Cure became famous as the priest of the confessional, spending as much as 15 hours a day there. Always, he relied on Philomena for the answers. The book, "Saint Philomena: Powerful with God" by Sister Marie Helene Mohr, S.C. is basically the story of the numerous miracles that have occurred due to the intercession of this child saint who probably lived about 160 A.D., died a horrible death, and remained in total obscurity until 1802. I reflected on why a young girl whose life is almost totally unknown would capture the imagination of so many people in the 19th and 20th centuries - so many people in fact that there are shrines and churches dedicated to her as far away from Italy as Des Moines, Washington. I believe the answer is the fact that Philomena in her life imitated so perfectly the purity and suffering of Christ. Jesus is the innocent Lamb of God. Jesus is sinless, but nevertheless He took on the sins of the world that we might have life eternal. Philomena was one of Christ's innocent lambs, who died in union with Him, in order that sinners might be converted. According to the three private revelations of her life, each public attempt to kill her represented another opportunity for the pagan spectators to convert, and they did in great numbers. God dwells most perfectly in those without sin. Mary was born without original sin. Hence she was full of grace. There was not one speck of sin in her. Mary therefore also has a special relationship with those who are martyred to give themselves exclusively to Christ. Think about the modern Marian apparitions in Scottsdale, Ariz. They are occuring in a Church named after St. Maria Goretti, another virgin-martyr, but one from our times, who died to avoid the sin of impurity. Nothing happens by coincidence, but everything is gifted to us providentially by God. In 1802, God could foresee the needs of our century clearly. He could see the confusion about values that would leave many souls literally starving for God's grace. He could see a time when sexual immorality would be taken for granted, witnessed daily on television, in movies and newspapers. This is a time when getting married is an anachronism for most people, when abortion is an accepted means of birth control, and divorce is literally distroying the family. For this time, God saved the knowledge of a 13-year-old girl, full of the light of faith, who would endure arrows, drowning, and a spear rather than give up her vow of virginity to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (P.S. St. Philomena's Catholic Church of Des Moines now has a Junior Legion of Mary for kids age 8 to 17. It has about 12 members. These kids are from all over the world - American, Vietnamese, Hispanic and Filipino. At their second meeting, I told the children of the life of St. Philomena, and how she helped bring the Legion of Mary to life in their parish. I ask St. Philomena to guard these and all of our children, and bring them into the pure light of faith.)

1 comment:

  1. To learn much more about the Living Rosary Association and Pauline Jaricot, and Saint Philomena, please visit: www.philomena.org