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Catholic Heroes… St. Dymphna And Friends

May 9, 2017 saints No Comments

With the increasing speed of technological development, the rate of depression has also increased. In Future Shock (1970), Alvin Toffler explained why too much change in too little time will have a detrimental effect. People will feel disconnected, suffering from stress and disorientation caused by information overload. Time spent on things leaves less time for God.
We are blessed in the Catholic Church to have recourse to patrons for mental illness. Following are the stories of four of them.

St. Dymphna

On May 15, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Dymphna. Born to royal Irish parents in the seventh century, Dymphna was an only child. After her Christian mother’s death, her pagan father grieved inordinately for his lost wife, nearly leading to a mental breakdown. The king’s men tried in vain to get the king to remarry to overcome his depression.
Dymphna’s father wanted a woman who would be just like his wife, and when the courtiers could not find one, they suggested that the king marry his young daughter. At first the king refused, disgusted. However, he eventually agreed and approached Dymphna. She recoiled and said, “Definitely not!”
She fled to her confessor, St. Gerebern, who advised her to run away. Along with two others, they sailed for Gheel, Belgium. When the king’s spies found them, they informed the king.
The king rushed to Gheel and tried to persuade Dymphna to marry him, offering her riches and fame. Meeting with her adamant refusal, he then insulted and threatened her, which also did not produce the intended result.
Enraged, the king ordered his men to kill both Fr. Gerebern and Dymphna. Although they quickly killed the priest, they could not bring themselves to kill Dymphna. The king cut off her head himself. Dymphna died refusing his unholy advances on May 15.

St. Benedict Joseph Labre

Benedict was born to two shopkeepers in northern France on March 25, 1748. Little is known about him except that he died as a homeless beggar. His holiness is known only from the little written by his confessor.
Benedict was the eldest of 18 children and studied under his uncle, a priest, until he sought to join several different religious orders. Benedict’s lack of academic achievements coupled with his poor health led to his rejection. Discouraged, he lost all motivation to prepare for the priesthood.
Instead, he wandered from one shrine to another surviving on the alms he begged and made his way to Rome, dressed in ragged clothing.
For quite some time he lived in the Colosseum, becoming known as “the poor man of the Forty Hours Devotion” because of his love for the Holy Eucharist. His dire circumstances led many to think he was mentally unbalanced, but Benedict had no care for the things of this world, only the next. On April 16, 1783, he dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed for two hours before collapsing. Some people carried him to a nearby home where he died.
He was canonized by Pope Leo XIII on December 8, 1881 with his feast set on April 16. He is the patron saint of mentally ill persons, bachelors, rejects, beggars, and the homeless.

St. Christina The Astonishing

Christina was born in St. Trond, Belgium, in 1150; she and her two sisters were left orphans at a young age. After her parents’ death, she worked as a shepherdess, spending her spare time in prayer.
When she was 21 she fell into an epileptic fit and apparently died. At her funeral Mass, the casket was left open. Immediately after the Agnus Dei, Christina sat up and rose to the roof of the church. The priest finished the Mass and then ordered her to come down, which she promptly did.
As she touched the floor she began to relate her experience: how she had been to Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and how she was supposed to return to life on Earth in order to pray for the poor souls in Purgatory. Her life continued to be a series of astonishing acts, such as perching with birds in trees on the tiniest branches, balancing on hurdles, and rolling in fires as she cried out but was not burned.
In her final days, she lived in the convent of St. Catherine where she still behaved peculiarly. The ravages of her “illness” she offered up to relieve the poor souls in Purgatory. She died on July 24, 1224. She has never been canonized, but popular devotion to her continues.

Venerable Matt Talbot

Born on May 2, 1836 in Dublin, Ireland, Matt was the second of 12 children. His father and all but one brother were heavy drinkers. When Matt was 12 years old he left school and began working for a wine merchant.
By 13 he was drinking heavily and began working in a whiskey store. For the next few years he spent more than he made and began begging for money for drinks. He pawned his clothes and then stole a fiddle in order to feed his alcoholism.
One night he lounged outside a pub with no funds, hoping for a free drink and obtaining none. He went home angry and in frustration vowed to quit drinking. He went to the Holy Cross College in Clonliffe, confessed, and took the pledge.
The first seven years were hard, but with daily Mass, much prayer, and edifying reading he kept the pledge, repaid his debts, and tried to find the fiddler to repay him for his stolen instrument. He worked hard and gave his strike pay to the laborers during the unrest of 1913. He tried to imitate the sixth-century Irish monks in prayer and fasting.
On June 7, 1925, as he rushed to Mass, he died of heart failure. At the hospital they found he had wrapped ropes and chains around his body to remind himself that he was a slave of the Blessed Virgin Mary. His feast is June 19.
Dear patron saints, mental disorders are a hidden handicap with the victims receiving little understanding or compassion. Help us to be kind to all people, especially those who seem odd, for we know not what they suffer. Amen.

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