Today is one of the rare, if memory serves unique, days in the liturgical calendar wherein we celebrate three saints. In chronological order, they are:
Saint Bede, who is called the Venerable (672-735) a monk in early England who wrote a definitive and invaluable history of the Church in Britain, ‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, which forms the basis of English history in general. His calm and regular life, always peaceful and on time, as Bede prayed, worked and wrote, is an example that sanctity, even lasting fame, can be achieve in the most ordinary of ways, by just following the will of God and the rule of one’s community.
Pope Saint Gregory VII (1015-1085), whose name before his election as Bishop of Rome was Hildebrandt, helped define the modern papacy, and its relationship with the growing power of the temporal sovereign. His sometime-antagonist was the also-headstrong Emperor Henry IV, whose famous, or infamous, ‘going to Canossa’, standing barefoot in the snow begging the Pope’s forgiveness before the mountain castle after being excommunicated, is an unforgettable image of which power stands supreme. Henry’s power afterward waxed strong, and Gregory ended up dying in exile, as do so many prophets who stand for the truth, but he solidified the spiritual power of the papacy for evermore, however that power is used by the individual man who holds the office.
Finally, we also celebrate Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi (1566-1607), an Italian Carmelite nun and mystic, who, like Bede, lived a hidden life in a monastery in Florence, choosing the place because they permitted daily Communion, long before such a practice became widespread (which would have to wait until the decrees of Pope Saint Pius X in the early 20th century). Beautiful (her portrait was done by none other than Santi di Tito himself, one of the most influential of Renaissance painters, and who completed a rather dramatic representation of the ‘Vision of Saint Thomas Aquinas’), and from two of the wealthiest families in Italy, her parents wanted her to marry well, but she had made a private vow of virginity at the age of tender age of ten. Her father relented, and Mary lived a life of prayer and penance, saying all suffering was pleasant to those who offer them up to God through His Passion. She had many mystical experiences, recorded by her fellow nuns at the urging of her spiritual director. She could read thoughts, appear in places outside the monastery, and predict the future.
A warning: The entry in her Wikipedia page describes her as a ‘masochist’, reveling in pain and being publicly scourged, dying of a self-inflicted illness. The entrance in the Catholic Encylopedia seems more, well, balanced, as the saint always was in her conventual, if not conventional, life, performing her duties (even while in spiritual ecstasy) cheerful, pleasant and universally beloved. But we should recall that some saints are called to do extraordinary things for God and for the conversion of the world. As the adage goes, some things are to be imitated, others admired, and, I might add, some few avoided.