“The only worthwhile striving is after the highest ideals: If you aim for an easy target, your standard will inevitably decline, and no progress is ever made, except through real effort and real suffering.” - Servant of God Fra' Andrew Bertie                                                                                                                                                 "Work as if everything depends on you, pray as if everything depends on God" - Saint Ignatius of Loyola

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28th MAY - SAINT UBALDESCA, Virgin of our Order.

In addition to being the transferred feast of the Ascension of Our Blessed Lord, and that, in some calendars, of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, he who found the English to be both pious and comely,  a challenge to which we should well to try to live up, however difficult, today is also the feast of one of the great female saints out our beloved Order, Ubaldesca.

Window at
Saint John's Gate
London
She was born in 1136 at Calcinia, near Pisa. At the age of fifteen, she joined the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, and worked for fifty-five years in the infirmary attached to the monastery at Pisa, caring for her neighbour out of love for God. 

Her parents, humble and simple farmers, were Godfearing people and good Christians; they taught her obedience and the love of silence which they themselves practiced. She was trained early to work at her household tasks and to pray constantly. She already macerated her poor little body and had resolved never to refuse the requests of the unfortunate. She gave them what she could and, when she had nothing to give, she offered at least the consolation of her smile, paying close attention to the tale of the troubles of each with fraternal understanding. No one left her without being comforted.

She soon understood the gravity of life and wondered what form hers should take to please God; she implored Him for guidance. At the age of fourteen, one day as she was baking the family's bread, she had the vision of an angel who ordered her to enter the convent of the Sisters of Saint John of Jerusalem. She was astonished, and said:
"But, I have no dowry. And my parents cannot give me any".
"The mothers have not so much need for dowries as for virtues", replied the angel.
Ubaldesca smiled. "But what if I have no virtues?".
And the angel in the same tone of voice: "The Holy Ghost will supply".

The messenger of God disappeared, and the girl, forgetting the oven and the bread in it, ran off to the fields where her parents were at work to tell them what had happened and to ask their permission to go away. Without more reflection or delay, the three left for the convent of St. John of the Temple of Carraia in Pisa.

Forewarned by the angel, the abbess and her forty cloistered nuns stood behind the door of the enclosure to wait for the postulant who was received as soon as she knocked. They went to the church where Ubaldesca immediately received the red gown and black cloak in the presence of her parents who wept with joy and sorrow and who returned home after having seen the doors of the convent close on their only daughter.

The next day, their supply of bread being exhausted, they remembered the bread in the oven, and not without irritation. They believed it to be completely charred. But, on removing the stone of the oven, they found the bread baked to perfection and as golden as never before. Not believing their eyes, they took it to the sisters, as a token of thanksgiving and a proof of the miracle.

Ubaldesca died on 28 May 1206. Her body was taken back to Calcinia where it is now enshrined. Not only honoured among the saints and blessed of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, she is celebrated also as a patroness of the City of Pisa. 
Collect of the Mass
O God, pride of the humble and lover of virginity, you called Saint Ubaldesca to the religious life in the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem : Grant that through her prayers and example we may rejoice in being humble and follow you with pure minds. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

ASCENSION OF THE LORD

Mattia Preti, Christ ascending in Glory
Collect:
Grant, we beseech thee, almighty God: that we who believe thy only-begotten Son our Redeemer to have this day ascended into the heavens; may ourselves also in mind dwell in heavenly places, though the same Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

23rd MAY - FEAST OF BL VILMOS APOR, Martyr of Our Order

Blessed Vilmos Apor
Chaplain of the Order of Malta, Bishop, Martyr
Memorial

Vilmos (William) Apor, born 1892, was an Hungarian bishop who earned a special reputation for his service to the poor, especially during the months of hardship that came at the end of World War II. Named Bishop of Gÿor in 1941, he chose as his motto: “The Cross strengthens the weak and makes the strong gentle.” During the many air raids he opened his home to those whose houses had been destroyed. When Russian troops entered the city in 1945, many women including religious took refuge in his episcopal residence. 

On Good Friday 1945 three Russian soldiers came to the residence and demanded that the women be taken to their barracks. Monsignor Apor refused and placed himself in front of the women. One of the Russians shot and wounded him. Out of fear they then fled, leaving the women unmolested. Bishop Apor lived in great agony for three days and died on 2 April, Easter Monday.

On 9 April 1947, Cardinal Mindszenty wrote to Father Csavossy, the postulator for the cause: 'I can assure you that now is the appropriate time to introduce the canonization procedures. I wish it and officially approve of it, and want the necessary steps to be taken to do the same for all priests who lost their lives when protecting women.' He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 9th November 1997.

Much historical information is given here.

The tomb of Blessed Vilmos in Gyor Cathedral, designed by the Hungarian artist Boldogfai Farkas Sándor

The Collect of the Mass

Almighty and Eternal God,
through your grace, Bishop William,
by courageously shedding his blood for his flock,
earned a martyr’s crown.
Grant that we, despite the difficulties of our daily lives,
may do your will and offer our good works
for the salvation of our brothers and sisters.
We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

FEAST OF BLESSED GERARD MECATTI DE VILLAMAGNA

Next to Saints Hugh and Ubaldesca, Blessed Gerard Mecatti is the most famous of the saints venerated in the Order of Saint John.  Born in 1174, at Villamagna, not far from Florence, he led an admirable life of humility, piety and compassion for the Poor. At an early age, he requested and obtained admission as a "servant d'armes" in our Order, in which he set an example of disinterested charity, giving all he owned to the unfortunate, living by choice in abject poverty. He died in 1245. For more biographical information, especially the wonderful miracle of the cherries at the moment of his death, read here.  

A solitary Knight, the Blessed Gerard Mecatti was able to overcome the greatest enemy of God he had met: himself, through holy silence and humiliation (cf Mgr Ducaud-Bourget). For those of our readers who are reading the recently-published new book 'The Power of Silence' by Robert Cardinal Sarah (see here), it is clear that Blessed Gerard Mecatti is very much a man of our age.  May we learn from his holy example, especially in these times of trouble.
O God, who, following the example of Thine own Son, didst bring blessed Gerard to a life of laborious solitude, grant, we beseech Thee, that by vigour of prayer and penitence, we may be strengthened to live out our Christian duties. Through our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Blessed Gerard Mecatti, pray for us. 

CENTENARY YEAR OF OUR LADY OF FATIMA

Since we are an ancient Religious Order, it is fitting that the our spirituality should frequently reflect upon the past, and upon historical aspects of our faith, as we also look forward in hope.

It seems appropriate therefore to dwell for a moment, at the beginning of this Centenary Year, on this event we commemorate, the Apparition at Fatima to the peasant children Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta, in the wider context of 2000 years of the Church.  Pope Francis will canonise Francisco and Jacinta during his coming visit to Portugal.
Interior of the Basilica of the Rosary at Fatima,
by the Dutch architect Gerardus Samuel van Krieken
Fr John Huwicke provides on his excellent blog, a fascinating essay linking the Feast of the Apparitions on 13th May to the early Martyrs, and to the Roman Church of Our lady of the Martyrs, formerly Agrippa's Pantheon, in particular.  We reproduce his text below.  We can be thankful that, as he implies, quoting Saint John-Paul, God occasionally allows himself to make good with His own infinite memory our own rather feeble attempts to maintain an historical perspective. 
The Fatima visionaries, poor little peasant mites, are unlikely to have known this; but, in the first millennium, May 13 was sometimes a festival of our Lady within the Roman Rite. To me, who incline to share S John Paul's view that in the workings of Providence there are no coincidences, this seems interesting.  
This is how it happened. In 609, Pope S Boniface IV dedicated the old Roman Pantheon, built originally by Marcus 'Actium' Agrippa but subsequently rebuilt after a fire, as the Church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres. He did this in collaboration with the emperor Phocas ... not an altogether nice chap, but possibly the last emperor, I think, not to use the style Basileus; it had thus taken more than six centuries to dissipate the old Roman gut sentiment which animated Brutus and his associates, to the effect that no-one in Rome ought to deem himself Rex ... but I'm rambling again ...  
Phocas donated an Ikon of our Lady which is still enthroned above the Altar of that Church; and the relics of many of the martyrs were disinterred and brought into the church; hence its name. This was the period when Marian Ikons, and relics of Saints, used to be processed round the wall of Constantinople when barbarian enemies appeared on the scene; I rather suspect that Pope S Boniface had in mind to construct a defensive powerhouse in Old Rome rather than merely to stimulate pious devotion. Pre-modern, and particularly First Millennium, Christianity has a very practical and down-to-earth side to it. Possibly Pope and Emperor may even have had in mind the idea that, just as Actium had (according to the Augustan PR machine) saved Rome, so the Theotokos and the Martyrs might do the same in their own day.  
In the early centuries of the English Church, this festival on May 13 seems to have been important. The Leofric Missal, the Altar Book of the early Archbishops of Canterbury, based on texts brought to England by S Augustine, includes it and, interestingly, demonstrates the continuing relevance of this festival by including in the text later scribal additions and adaptations. Perhaps the Church of S Mary in Canterbury emulated the mother church in Rome. Something similar appears to have happened in Exeter (to which the Leofric Missal was later taken), where a Saxon church of Sancta Maria ad Martyres lay, I think, West of the present Cathedral and on the same axis. 
I am sure that the significance of the Martyrs will have struck readers. The Third Secret of Fatima is full of the theme of Martyrs and Martyrdom; indeed, we are still living in an Age of Martyrs which rivals any earlier such age. I would draw the attention of those who do not know it to the official CDF documentary collection of 2000, The Message of Fatima, and especially to the fine and elegant exposition by Cardinal Ratzinger.
Sancta Maria ad Martyres, ora pro nobis.
Beata Maria de Fatima, ora pro nobis.
Beate Francisce, ora pro nobis.
Beata Jacinta, ora pro nobis.