Champions of Catholic Orthodoxy

Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, Confessor (†1305; Feast – September 10)

St. Nicholas of TolentinoToday the Infant Mary smiles upon the lily offered Her in Her cradle by the representative of a great religious Order. The Hermits of St. Augustine were being grouped and organized by the Vicar of Christ when St. Nicholas was admitted into their family, of which he was soon to become the wonder-worker. When he died, in 1305, the Roman Pontiffs were beginning their exile at Avignon; and his canonization, deferred for nearly a century and a half through the troubles of the period, marked the close of the lamentable dissensions which followed that exile.

Peace so long lost; peace, of which even the wisest despaired—such was the ardent prayer, the solemn adjuration of Pope Eugene IV, when, towards the close of his laborious pontificate, he committed the causes of the Church to the humble servant of God placed by him upon Her altars. According to the testimony of Pope Sixtus V, the obtaining of this peace was the greatest of St. Nicholas' miracles; a miracle which moved the latter Pontiff to order the celebration of the Saint's Feast as a double, at a time when days of that rank were much rarer on the calendar.

Let us read the breviary lessons, which are as simple as the Saint's life itself:

Nicholas, called of Tolentino as he lived a long time in that city, was born at the town of St. Angelo in the Marches of Ancona. His pious parents, desirous of having children, went to Bari in fulfillment of a vow. There they were assured by St. Nicholas (whose relics had been recently brought to Bari) that they should have a son; whom they therefore called by that Saint's name. From his infancy he was admirable for his virtues, especially for his abstinence; for, when only seven years old he began, in imitation of St. Nicholas, to fast several days a week; which custom he afterwards kept up, contenting himself with bread and water.

While still young he was enrolled in the ranks of the clergy and made a canon; but one day, hearing a sermon on contempt of the world preached by one of the hermits of St. Augustine, he was so struck by it that he immediately joined that Order. As a religious he led a perfect life; subduing his body by rough garments, disciplines, and iron chains; abstaining from meat and almost every kind of nourishment; and showing a bright example to others by his charity, humility, patience, and other virtues.

Very great was his love of prayer, in which he never relaxed, although Satan troubled him in various ways and at times scourged him severely. For six months before his death he heard every night the songs of the angels—a foretaste of heavenly delights which caused him frequently to repeat that saying of the Apostle: I desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ. He foretold to his brethren the day of his death, which was the fourth of the Ides (the 10th) of September. Both before and after death he was famous for miracles; which having been duly proved, he was enrolled among the Saints by Pope Eugene IV.

But Thou hast saved us from them that afflict us, and Thou hast put them to shame that hate us (Ps. 93). Such were the words addressed to St. Nicholas by the souls that he had delivered in offering for them the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. One of the greatest virtues of that admirable servant of God, says Fr. Rossignoli (Merv., 21. Vie de St. Nic. de Tolentino, Sept. 10), was his charity—his devotion to the Church Suffering. For Her he frequently fasted on bread and water, inflicted cruel disciplines upon himself, and wore about his loins a chain of sharp-pointed iron. When the sanctuary was thrown open to him, and his superiors wished to confer the priesthood upon him, he hesitated a long time before that sublime dignity, and nothing could make him decide to receive Holy Orders but the thought that by daily celebrating the Holy Sacrifice he could most efficaciously assist the suffering souls in Purgatory. On their part, the souls whom he relieved by so many suffrages appeared to him several times to thank him or to recommend themselves to his charity.

He lived near Pisa, entirely occupied with his spiritual exercises, when one Saturday during the night he saw in a dream a soul in pain, who besought him to celebrate the Holy Mass on the following morning for him and several other souls that suffered most terribly in Purgatory. St. Nicholas recognized the voice, but could not distinctly call to mind the person who spoke to him. "I am," said the apparition, "your deceased friend Pellegrino d'Osimo. By the Divine Mercy I have escaped eternal chastisement by repentance; not so the temporal punishment due to my sins. I come in the name of many souls as unfortunate as myself to entreat you to offer Holy Mass for us tomorrow; from it we expect our deliverance, or at least great alleviation." The saint replied, with his usual kindness, "May Our Lord deign to relieve you by the merits of His Precious Blood! But this Mass for the dead I cannot say tomorrow; I must sing the Conventual Mass in choir" (which must be of the feast or office of the day). "Ah! at least come with me," cried the departed soul, amid sighs and tears; "I conjure you, for the love of God, come and behold our sufferings, and you will no longer refuse; you are too good to leave us in such frightful agonies."

Then it seemed to him that he was transported into Purgatory. He saw an immense plain, where a vast multitude of souls, of all ages and conditions, were a prey to diverse tortures most horrible to behold. By gestures and by words they implored most piteously his assistance. "Behold," said Pellegrino, "the state of those who sent me to you. Since you are agreeable in the sight of God, we have confidence that He will refuse nothing to the oblation of the Holy Sacrifice offered by you, and that His Divine Mercy will deliver us."

At this pitiful sight the saint could not repress his tears. He immediately betook himself to prayer, to console them in their sorrow, and the following morning went to the Prior, relating to him the vision he had had, and the request made by Pellegrino concerning the Mass for that day. The Father Prior, sharing his emotion, dispensed him for that day, and for the rest of the week, from offering the Conventual Mass, that he might devote himself entirely to the relief of the suffering souls. Delighted with this permission, St. Nicholas went to the church and celebrated the Holy Sacrifice for the same intention, besides offering day and night prayers, disciplines, and all sorts of good works.

St. Nicholas of TolentinoAt the end of the week, Pellegrino again appeared, but no longer in a state of suffering; he was clad in a white garment and surrounded with a celestial light, in which he pointed out a large number of happy souls. They all thanked him, calling him their liberator; then rising towards Heaven, they chanted those words of the Psalmist we have quoted above. The enemies there spoken of are sins, and the demons who are their instigators.

A local legend, of which there are several versions, tells us that St. Nicholas of Tolentino was a witness of the arrival of the Holy House of Loreto—or at least that he enjoyed a vision of its arrival. It is said that he had heard of and lamented the departure of the Holy House from Tersatto, Dalmatia, when he was consoled by an apparition of Our Lady, telling him that the Holy House was being translated to a place near the town of Recanati, called Loreto. Others say he actually observed the Holy House being transported by angels on the 10th of December, 1294, at about three in the morning, and that he announced the news to some of his Augustinian brethren, who could only observe the prodigy by standing on the Saint’s foot. Perhaps it is for this reason, together with its convenient location, that the Saint’s shrine in Tolentino became a favorite stop for pilgrims traveling between the shrines of the Holy House of Loreto and that of St. Francis at Assisi.

Good and faithful servant, thou hast entered into the joy of thy Lord. He has broken thy bonds; and from Heaven, where thou art now reigning, thou repeatest to us those words which determined the sanctity of thy life on earth: "Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. For the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof" (1 John 2: 15, 17). How much a man thus forgetful of earth can do for his fellow-men is evinced by the gift thou didst receive of solacing all the miseries around thee, and succoring the souls in Purgatory. The Successor of St. Peter was not deceived, when, in ranking thee among the Saints, he counted on thy power to bring back society from its long continued state of disturbance to the paths of peace. May that word of the beloved disciple, sink into our souls as a seed of salvation, and there yield fruits that it produced in thee: detachment from all temporal things and a longing for eternal realities; that humble simplicity of the soul's eye which makes life a peaceful journey towards God; and lastly, that purity, which made thee the friend of angels and the favorite of Mary.

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