We are justly surprised at seeing the marvelous constancy of the Martyrs in the midst of most cruel sufferings. Their bodies were torn with iron hooks or burned in slow fires; their bones were dislocated on the rack or broken with iron hammers.
Even young boys and gentle girls were subjected to every imaginable torture, which they bore with such patience and courage that the spectators, and even their brutal executioners themselves, were lost in amazement.
How was it possible, one may ask, for poor weak mortals, just like ourselves, to endure such fearful torments? We cannot keep our hands in boiling water for one moment, nor can we keep even the tip of our fingers in the flame of a little candle. How was it that the Martyrs behaved with such heroic fortitude when their whole bodies were being racked with hooks, or torn with lashes, or burned in slow fires? The explanation is that God sustained them and sent His Angels to help them. These blessed Spirits filled the Martyrs with superhuman strength, soothed their pains, and consoled them in their suffering, so that it became easy and even pleasant for them to bear the torments that their brutal enemies invented with such fiendish ingenuity.
What a lesson for us! Why do we not call with confidence on our dear Angels in our sufferings? They are only too eager to come to our assistance.
St. Theodosius, as Rufinus
tells us, was asked after enduring horrible torments for the Faith, if
he had not felt intensely those dreadful pains? "In the beginning yes,'
he replied, "but an Angel soon came to my side and refreshed my burning
wounds. When the torture ceased, I was sorry, for then the Angel went
and I no longer enjoyed his sweet presence."
St. Frances of Rome
We read in the life of St. Frances of Rome that during the
latter half of her life she enjoyed the singular grace of seeing her
Guardian Angel ever at her side. She thus describes this heavenly
companion: "His aspect is full of sweetness and majesty. His eyes are
generally tumed toward Heaven, and words cannot describe the Divine
purity of that gaze. His brow is always serene; his glances kindle in
the soul the flames of ardent devotion. When I look upon him, I
understand the glory of the angelic nature and the degraded condition
of our own." Her wish had always been to attain a perfect conformity
with the Divine will, and now this mysterious guidance furnished her
with the means of knowing that will in its minutest details. In her
struggles with the evil one, the Angel became her shield of defense.
The presence of her heavenly Guide was also to Frances a
in which she could see reflected all her imperfections. When she
committed the slightest fault, the Angel disappeared; and it was only
after she had carefully examined her conscience, discovered her
failing, lamented and humbly confessed it, that he returned. On the
other hand, when she was only disturbed by a doubt or a scruple, he
dissipated her uneasiness by a look of great kindness. His guidance
enlightened her chiefly with regard to the difficulty she had in
submitting to certain cares and obligations which belonged to her
position as mistress of a family. She was wont to imagine that the
hours thus employed were lost in God's sight, but the celestial
Guardian corrected her judgment on this point and taught her to discern
the Divine will in every little irksome duty, in every contradiction,
great or small, as well as in great trials and on important occasions.
More Martyrs, Saints, and their Angels
Who has not heard of the glorious Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, so like in many respects to that of St. Vincent?
He too was born in Spain but went to Rome, where he was the close friend of the Holy Pontiff, St. Sixtus, whom he served in the capacity of deacon.
When St. Sixtus was seized, Lawrence was deeply grieved that he could not die together with his dear Master. "Where are you going, my Father," he exclaimed, "without your son; where without your minister?" St. Sixtus replied: "Grieve not, my son. I who am now old and weak am called to suffer little; you are reserved for great combats, which will be told for all time."
This prophecy was fulfilled to the letter.
St. AgnesWhen the dear Virgin, St. Agnes [pictured to the left], refused to adore the false idols of Rome, the impious judge ordered her to be taken to a bad house and to be insulted. An Angel appeared, and no one dared to harm her. One, more wicked than the others, finally attempted to insult the young Martyr, and he was stricken blind by an Angel.
His companions, terrified,
begged St. Agnes to pray for him, which she did, and his sight was
When St. Dorothy was condemned to death for her faith, a young man named Theophilus, hearing her speak of Paradise, laughed with scorn and said to her: "Send me some fruit and flowers from the garden of your Heavenly Spouse.'' She promised to do so.
When she reached the
place of execution, an Angel in the form of a young man approached her
with some delicious fruit and flowers, to whom she said: "Take them to
Theophilus and say that I send them to him." Theophilus was stricken
with amazement, for the weather was cold, and there were no flowers or
fruit to be seen anywhere. He became a Christian and died for Christ.
The story of St. Eulalia, the child Martyr, is another beautiful instance of how the Angels helped the Martyrs.
This dear little girl, only twelve years old, was brought before the brutal judges, who used every means in their power to terrify her and compel her to deny the religion of Jesus Christ. They threatened her with the most awful torments and showed her the instruments of torture with which the executioners were going to tear her flesh and break her bones. But three Angels came to her assistance and so consoled and encouraged her that she was glad to have to suffer for her dear Lord.
The Angels told her what to answer the judges, who were confounded at the wisdom and courage of the child.
She saw the Angels, who were radiant with beauty and lovingly consoled her. One said to her: "Suffer for Our Lord Jesus Christ. He loves you with an infinite love."
Another said to her: "Suffer, dear Child, for soon you will be one of us and will rejoice with us forever in Heaven."
A third added: "Suffer with courage, Eulalia, for you will save many souls by your constancy and example."
And then all three affectionately said: "Don't you wish to be our dear little Sister?"
The words of the Angels filled the heart of Eulalia with such joy and strength that she exclaimed: "O, dear Lord, what joy to have written on my body in letters of blood the signs of Your sufferings and wounds!"
Finally, she was burned
alive, and her soul was borne by Angels heavenwards.
St. Vincent, Martyr
In the glorious history of the tens of thousands of Martyrs who fearlessly died in defense of their faith, the story of St. Vincent is one of the most wonderful.
St. Vincent was a young Spanish nobleman who was seized by orders of Dacian, the Proconsul, in company with his bishop, Valerius.
Valerius was sent into exile, but St. Vincent was condemned to the most awful torments.
He was first stretched on the rack. His hands and feet were drawn by cords and pullies till they were almost pulled from their sockets. Whilst in this posture, his flesh was brutally torn off with iron hooks.
Vincent only smiled. Dacian thought that the executioners spared him and caused them to be beaten. Exasperated by their punishment, they returned, resolved to satisfy the cruelty of their master, who incited them to exert their utmost strength and cruelty. They began with fresh vigor to rend and tear his body, which they did with such barbarity that his bones and bowels were exposed to sight. The more his body was mangled, the greater was the joy on his countenance.
The judge, seeing the streams of blood which flowed from all the parts of his body and the frightful condition to which he was reduced, was obliged to confess with astonishment that the courage of this heroic Christian had vanquished him. He begged the Saint for his own sake that if he would not offer sacrifice to the gods, he would at least give up the sacred books to be burned. The Martyr refused with scorn to do so.
Dacian, now more incensed than ever, condemned him to further tortures, viz., to be roasted on a kind of gridiron. The Saint went with joy to the frightful engine so as to get there before his executioners, such was his desire to suffer. He cheerfully mounted the iron bed, in which the bars were framed like scythes, full of sharp spikes made red-hot by the fire underneath. On this dreadful gridiron the Martyr was stretched at full length and bound fast.
While one part of his body was broiling over the fire, the other was tortured by the application of red-hot plates of iron. His wounds were rubbed with salt, which the activity of the fire forced the deeper into his flesh. All the parts of his body were tormented in this manner, one after the other, and each several times over. The melted fat dropping from the flesh nourished and increased the flames, which instead of tormenting, seemed, as St. Austin says, to give the Martyr new vigor and courage. The more he suffered, the greater seemed to be the inward joy and consolation of his soul.
The rage and confusion of the tyrant exceeded all bounds; he was unable to contain himself and was continually inquiring what Vincent did and what he said, and he was always answered that he suffered with joy in his countenance and seemed every moment to acquire new strength and resolution as he lay unmoved on the fire. His eyes were turned toward Heaven, his mind calm, and his heart fixed on God in continual prayer.
At last, by the command of the Proconsul, he was thrown into a dungeon, and his wounded body laid on the floor strewn with broken potsherds, which opened afresh his ghastly wounds and cut anew his poor flesh. His legs were set in wooden stocks, stretched very wide, and strict orders were given that he should be left without food or drink, and no one should be admitted to see or speak to him.
How was Vincent able to endure these fiendish tortures with such joy?
Again we find the answer: God sustained him and sent His Angels to help and to comfort him. With these, he sang the praises of his God.
The gaoler, seeing through the chinks of the door the prison filled with light and the Saint walking and praising God, was converted and Baptized.
At this news Dacian chafed, and even wept with rage. He now resorted to kindness, in the hope of changing Vincent's determination and ordered that some repose should be allowed the prisoner. The faithful were permitted to see him, and coming in great numbers wiped and kissed his wounds, and dipped cloths in his blood, which they kept as an assured protection for themselves and their posterity. After this, a soft bed was prepared for him, upon which he was no sooner laid than he expired and was carried by the Angels in triumph to Heaven.
Dacian commanded his body to be thrown into a marshy field among rushes, but a raven defended it from wild beasts and birds of prey.
It was then tied to a great stone and cast into the sea, but it was miraculously brought back to the shore and shown to two Christians. They laid it in a little chapel outside the walls of Valentia, where God honored these relics with many miracles, as St. Austin tells us.
Afterwards the relics were brought to Lisbon.
St. Vincent Ferrer, a Dominican, was unquestionably one of the most extraordinary Saints in the calendar of Holy Church. His life from infancy to death was one long series of prodigies, the authenticity of which rests on unimpeachable evidence. No wonder then that the Holy Angels had a special love for this great Saint, whom the Breviary calls a very portent of sanctity. On one occasion, when the Saint was entering Barcelona, he saw and spoke to the Angel Guardian of the city. This fact he announced in his sermon to the people. As a consequence, a special devotion sprang up toward the Angel, and a monument was erected in his honor. At the hour of St. Vincent's death, a multitude of the Blessed Spirits came to accompany his soul to Heaven. They filled the house in which he lay dying under the appearance of snow white birds of ravishing beauty and disappeared at the moment that the Saint breathed his last.
St. Vincent is frequently
depicted with wings like an Angel like this image painted by the
master, Matthew Brooks, and which image cannot be used for commercial
The Saint is called the "Angel of the Apocalypse."
Saint Isadore the Farmer
St. Isidore was a farmer
who lived and worked as a laborer in the fields near Madrid. He was
before going to work to hear daily Mass. Some meddlesome people
to the gentleman by whom he was employed that he gave his time to
and neglected his work. His employer, however, had no reason to
as Isidore's work was well done. Nevertheless, he went to see for
and perceived from a distance the yoke of oxen ploughing the land, led
by a man whom he thought to be Isidore. On approaching nearer, he now
that not a man but an Angel guided the oxen. It was Isidore's Angel
who took his place.
St. Lawrence sold the goods belonging to the Church and gave the money to the poor. He was then seized and subjected to the most cruel tortures, one after another. At the sight of his marvelous courage, many were converted, including one of the guards, called Hypolitus.
His garments were torn off, and he was barbarously scourged. After this his executioners showed him the awful instruments of torture with which they were about to inflict on his already lacerated body the most excruciating pains. All their efforts were, however, in vain. Nothing could shake his patience or wring from him a cry or a groan. Instead, he smiled at his tormentors.
The judge now ordered him to be stretched on the rack, so that his joints were dislocated. Next, he was beaten with whips armed with leaden balls, and his flesh was so horribly mangled that he felt that he was dying.
But a voice was heard telling him that he was still reserved for greater trials. This voice caused great surprise to the bystanders, and one of the soldiers, called Romanus, was much impressed. He saw a beautiful Angel wiping the sweat from the Martyr's brow and the blood from his wounds, thus giving him immense joy.
The sight of this glorious Angel and the fortitude of Lawrence converted the soldier, who was Baptized and, in his own turn, died for Christ.
Beside himself with anger, the judge commanded Lawrence to be stretched on an iron gridiron beneath which a slow fire was constantly kept burning.
The Martyr bade the executioners to turn him, saying, "This side is now roasted." They did so. After a little while he said to them, "Now I am fully cooked, come and eat my flesh." And so saying, he lifted his eyes to Heaven and breathed forth his pure soul into the hands of God.
The cruel judge and the brutal executioners were lost in amazement. They had never witnessed such extraordinary courage in the midst of such appalling torments.
St. Venantius was a boy of fifteen years, simple and modest in bearing, a devout Christian and of indomitable courage in the practice of his faith.
The persecution against
the Christians had broken out afresh, and Venantius learned that the
authorities were seeking to seize him. Far from flying from the danger,
as he could easily have done, he went straight to the judge and
himself a follower of Christ.
Instead of admiring the heroism of the youth, the brutal judge became infuriated, ordered him to be seized, stripped of his garments and beaten so mercilessly that he would certainly have died under the blows showered on him by the savage executioners, had it not been for a glorious Angel, full of beauty and strength, who severed the ropes that bound him and hurled back at the same time his tormentors.
Venantius did not seek to escape. The Angel had imbued him with fresh courage and an earnest desire to die for Christ. Oh, for the Martyr's crown!
The judge now ordered him to be hung up by the heels over a fire, with his head down and his mouth forced open, so that he would be suffocated by the fumes. With admirable calm and courage, he resisted these new efforts to make him renounce his faith. Seeing his immovable constancy in these sufferings, the judge had recourse to promises and rewards and sent his agent, Anatole, to use all his ingenuity to induce the heroic boy to renounce Christ.
Venantius, full of a holy indignation, drove the messenger from his presence. On hearing of the failure of his agent, the judge ordered the executioners to break the teeth and jaws of Venantius with iron hammers and then to throw him into a filthy pit where he would die of suffocation.
The Angel again appeared and gently drew the Martyr from the foul pit.
Venantius once more stood before the judge, who fell headlong from the tribunal and died, exclaiming, "The God of Venantius is the only true God."
The governor of the city, on being made aware of the awful death of his iniquitous judge, gave orders to throw Venantius to the lions, but to the surprise of the people, the wild beasts lay down at his side, gentle as lambs. The Martyr, availing himself of the opportunity, raised his voice and preached to the multitude that thronged the circus the religion and love of Jesus Christ, whom even the wild beasts had honored and obeyed.
Porphyrius, a holy and fearless priest, presented himself to the governor and told him that he had seen in a vision all those whom Venantius had converted, wearing glorious crowns and enjoying immense glory and happiness; whereas, his persecutors were plunged into dark and dreadful dungeons, into which the governor himself would soon be cast.
The wretched man refused to listen to the warning and commanded Porphyrius to be slain and Venantius to be dragged over rugged ground strewn with thorns and thistles.
In the course of this new torture, the executioners became weary and consumed with thirst, and Venantius caused a spring of fresh water to spring up, in which they quenched their thirst. Many of them, full of gratitude to Venantius and admiring his wonderful powers, were at once converted and were, together with Venantius, beheaded.
Following the execution, a fearful storm burst over the city, and the impious governor attempted to fly, but died most miserably.
These glorious Martyrs, whose history we have just given, are only a few of the millions of men and women who have given their lives and shed their blood amidst appalling sufferings in defense of their faith and for the love of Jesus Christ.
The Holy Angels assisted not a few, but all of them, to bear not only with courage but even with joy the barbarous tortures to which they were subjected.
Suffering is the share of all in this vale of tears. Suffering is our little share in the Passion of Our Dear Lord.
We repeat now what we have already said, because it is so important, viz., that one of the best means to make our sufferings light and easy is to ask our Angel Guardian to help us. It is for that that he is ever by our side, ready to aid us in every way, ready to obtain all favors for us from God, ready to share with us his own immense happiness.
Oh, if we only had confidence and unbounded trust in our Angel, he would save us from a thousand evils and obtain for us a thousand joys and blessings!
If the Angels could help the Martyrs in their awful sufferings, much more can they help us in our little sorrows and so it was also with the Saints.