24 Apr Saint Fidelis, Martyr
Today is the feast day of Saint Fidelis. Ora pro nobis.
by Fr Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Fidelis, who received in baptism the name of Mark, was born at Sigmaringen, or Simmeringen, in Suabia, in the year 1577. Although encompassed by temptations, he led a most blameless life from early youth, and preserved his innocence unspotted. He applied himself to study with such untiring energy that he soon ranked highest among his school mates. He studied philosophy at Freiburg in Brisgow, and took the degrees of Doctor of Law and Doctor of Divinity at Dilligen. He then commenced to serve his neighbors in the quality of counsellor. Being a man of great erudition, as well as conscientiousness, he brought all his suits to a fortunate conclusion. He never delayed them, rightly judging this would be a great wrong. This, however, provoked other advocates who were in the habit of protracting all proceedings at law, that they might derive more profit from them. One of these, therefore, went one day to him to remonstrate against his thus hastening with his processes, giving as a reason that what they gained was too little for their maintenance, much less allowing them to save something for their wives and children. Mark was horrified at so godless a request, and turning from the unscrupulous advocate, he raised his eyes to heaven and said with a deep sigh: “Oh! heavenly Father, how great is the wickedness of this world!” From that hour he resolved to change his profession, fearing, that in the course of time he might adopt the principles of his colleagues. After mature reflection, he concluded to go into a Capuchin monastery, in which Order he had a brother whose life was happy and pious. On taking the habit, he received the name “Fidelis” which means ” faithful.” The master of novices, on the day of his investiture, made use of the words of the Apocalypse: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
These words the novice preserved carefully in his memory, and having written them on paper, he kept them constantly before his eyes. He began his novitiate with great zeal, in which he continued until the end. When others tried to induce him to moderate his zeal, he said: “Ah! do not prevent me from working in the vineyard of the Lord: because I have come so late. You entered it in the flower of your age, but I have given my first years to the vain world. Hence it is but right that I should endeavor to redeem as much as possible of the idle and dissipated time.”
He in no degree relaxed in his fervor after he had taken the vows, but persevered in it, by prayers, meditation, and , acts of self-mortification. After finishing the study of theology, he was appointed to preach, and his labors were crowned by many conversions among the heretics and other hardened sinners. At Feldkirch he nursed the soldiers of the imperial army, who were suffering from a contagious pestilence, with so much care and kindness, that even the heretics could not sufficiently praise his pious zeal. He endeavored, either by representing the joys of heaven, or by threatening with the divine punishment, to move sinners to repentance wherever he went: and it was seldom that his pious endeavors failed of their desired effect. One day he met an officer on horse-back whom he had never before seen. Pausing in his walk, he looked fixedly at him, and said: “My friend, it is a long time that you have been addicted to cursing and blaspheming without trying in any way to change this evil habit. This is the last admonition that God gives you by my mouth. Either refrain, without loss of time, from blaspheming the Almighty, or divine punishment will overtake you. A sword will end your life, and you will go into eternity unprepared.” The officer laughed at the prophet, but he soon experienced the truth of the prophecy: for in a duel he was pierced with a sword, and died without making a sign of repentance.
In 1622, St. Fidelis was sent as apostolic missionary, with nine others, into the district of Riess, not only to oppose heresy which was making the most fearful inroads there, but also to sustain the Catholics in their faith. He prepared himself for this great work by devotional exercises, saying before he left, that he knew he should not return, but be killed by the heretics. He began his mission at Riess on the Feast of the Epiphany. His sermons were fraught with apostolic zeal, and his life was so truly that of a follower of Christ, that even the enemies of the true faith were compelled to give him their highest esteem. The Almighty blessed the labors of his faithful servant, and he converted so many Huguenots and Calvinists, that the Protestants began to fear that their whole sect would be extinguished. They therefore came to the determination to make away with St. Fidelis. A Catholic, having heard of it, went to him and asked what he intended to do in case the heretics should suddenly attack and kill him. “I would do,” replied the Saint, “what so many holy martyrs have done out of love to the Gospel and the Saviour. I should consider it the greatest grace God could bestow upon me.”
Not long after this, the holy man was invited by the Catholics at Sevis to preach. He accepted the invitation, but as God had revealed to him the hour of his death, he made his confession before his departure, said Mass, and preached: exhorting all to fidelity in their faith. After this, he said to his companions: “I go to Sevis, to end my earthly career.” The 24th of April he arrived there, and immediately entered the pulpit. Upon it he found written, in large letters, these words. “Today you will preach your last sermon.” He was not in the least frightened at this, but began his discourse with the words: “One God, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.” During the sermon a heretic cried aloud: “No further, presumptuous man,” and levelling his musket, he fired it at him, without, however, doing him any harm. A terrible commotion ensued, weapons of all descriptions became visible, and the yells of the heretics drowned every thing else.
The Saint, fearing that it might come to a bloody conflict between Catholics and heretics in the Church, descended from the pulpit, prayed for some time before the altar, and then fearlessly left the church by way of the sacristy. Scarcely, however, had he made a few steps, when twenty armed Huguenots attacked him, trampling him on the ground and menacing him with a most cruel death if he did not immediately renounce the Catholic faith. He unhesitatingly replied: “Dear friends, I came to you not to adopt a false faith, but to instruct you in the true one. Upon this they rushed upon the Saint, who called upon the holy names of Jesus and Mary, while one of the men clove his head by repeated strokes of his sword. Some stabbed his body, others beat him with wooden clubs which had iron spikes, and yet others with other weapons. In a word, they acted as their rage prompted them, paying no respect even to the dead body. “Look,” cried they, “here is one who intended to convert us all into Papists and to extinguish our religion.”
This glorious martyrdom occurred in 1622. In the last century, the faithful servant of God was canonized, and Benedict XIV. placed his name among those of the Martyrs. Numberless have been the miracles which God has wrought through the intercession of this great Saint. (2)
Saint Fidelis was born in Sigmaringen, Germany, in 1577 of noble parents, Johann and Genovefa Rey, and given the name Marcus. In his youth he frequently received the Sacraments, visited the sick and the poor, and spent, moreover, many hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. He performed his studies in the University of Fribourg, pursuing a law degree while teaching philosophy. After this he entered the legal practice in the quality of counselor or advocate, at Colmar, in Alsace, with great reputation but even greater virtue. Justice and religion directed all his actions. He scrupulously forbade all invectives, detractions, and whatever might affect the reputation of an adversary. His charity procured him the surname of advocate for the poor: but the injustices of a colleague in protracting lawsuits for gain, and his finding fault with our saint for expediting them, gave Marcus a disgust of a profession which was to many an occasion of sin.
Marcus Rey determined himself to enter among the Capuchin friars. First he received Holy Orders, and having said his first Mass in the Convent at Fribourg, on the Feast of St. Francis in 1612, he consecrated himself to God and received the habit. The Father Guardian gave him the religious name of Fidelis, or Faithful, alluding to that text of the Apocalypse which promises a crown of life to him who shall continue faithful to the end. From that moment humiliations, disciplines and unreserved obedience were his delight. He donated his inheritance to the Bishop's seminary, for the establishment of a fund for the support of poor students, to whom he also left his library; the remainder of his substance he gave to the poor. In regard to dress and furnishings, he always chose for his use that which was least valuable and convenient. He fasted during Advent, Lent and Vigils on bread, water and dried fruit. His life was a continual prayer, and at devotions he seemed rather like an angel than a man. His earnest and perpetual petition to God was that he would always be preserved from sin, and from falling into tepidity or sloth in His service. He sought the most abject and painful employments even when superior; knowing that God exalts those highest who have humbled themselves the lowest.
No sooner had he finished his course in theology than he was employed in preaching and in hearing confessions; and being sent to be superior at the Convent of Feldkirch, Austria, that town and many neighboring places were totally reformed by his zealous labors, and several Calvinists converted. The newly formed Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith commissioned Fr. Fidelis to preach among the Grisons (northeastern Switzerland); and he was the first missionary that was sent into those parts after that people had embraced Calvinism. The Protestants were incensed and loudly threatened his life; so from the very beginning the saint prepared himself for martyrdom. Every day he gained new conquests for Christ; but these conversions ought to be regarded as more the fruit of his ardent prayers in which he passed a great part of the night, than of his sermons in the day. The Bishop of Chur sent a full and large account of his wonderful success to the Vatican. The Calvinists of that province, who had lately rebelled against the Emperor, were determined to bear with the holy missionary no longer. Our Saint was notified of their intent, but thought of nothing but preparing himself for his conflict, passing whole nights in fervent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
On the 24th of April, 1622, he made his confession to a companion with great compunction, offered Mass, and then preached at Grüsch, foretelling his death. From there he went to Seewis, where he exhorted the Catholics to constancy in the Faith. A Calvinist fired his musket at him in the Church, but missed. The Saint refused to heed the entreaties to save himself, and calmly began the return journey to Grüsch. On the road he met with 20 Calvinist soldiers with a minister at their head. They called him a false prophet and urged him to embrace their sect. He answered: “I am sent to you to confute, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic Religion is the Faith of all ages. I fear not death.” One of them beat him down to the ground by a stroke on his head with a backsword. The martyr rose again on his knees, and stretching out his arms in the form of a Cross, said with a feeble voice: “Pardon my enemies, O Lord! Blinded by passion, they know not what they do. Lord Jesus, have pity on me. Mary, Mother of Jesus, assist me.” Another stroke clove his skull, and he fell to the ground in a pool of blood. The soldiers, not content with this, added many stabs to his body, and hacked his left leg, as they said, to punish him for his many journeys into those parts to preach to them. He died in his 45th year, the 10th of his religious profession. The rebels were soon after defeated by the Imperial forces, an event which the martyr had foretold them. The minister was converted by this circumstance, and made a public abjuration of his heresy. After six months, the martyr's body was found incorrupt, but the head and left arm were separated from the trunk. His major relics are now in the Cathedral of Chur, in the Capuchin Convents of Appenzell, Feldkirch and Stuttgart, and in the parish Church of Sigmaringen. (3)
Image: Saint Fidelis of Sigmarigen and Saint Joseph of Leonessa, artist: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, circa: 1752-1758 (10)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff