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Catholic Heroes… St. Raymond Penafort

January 16, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

The Catholic Church has been blessed with a plethora of doctrinal resources, thanks in large part to Pope St. John Paul II. The Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the many encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, books, and letters continue to provide the Church with a solid foundation for learning and applying the truths of our faith.
Canon Law has been around for many centuries thanks to the pioneering work of a man who lived at the beginning of the 13th century: Raymond Penafort.
Although St. Ivo of Chartres (1040-1115) and St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) are credited with great contributions to the development of canon law, St. Raymond Penafort (1175-1275) is recognized for making the greatest contribution to its codification.
Raymond was born in about 1175 in Vilafranca del Penedes, a village near Barcelona. His noble family had him educated in Barcelona; the family was linked to the court of Aragon.
The University of Barcelona was his first experience with academic life. He studied both canon and civil law, and at a very young age he began teaching in its law school. His primary goal was not to teach law, but to instill in the students a true devotion and deep piety. His example of generosity to the poor and caring for the distressed did not go unnoticed. In fact, he never collected any stipend for all the work he did for that university.
In 1205 Raymond went to Bologna where he continued to study civil and canon law. After receiving doctorates in both subjects, he again became a member of the faculty and once again accepted nothing for his services.
While in Bologna, his focus was on Holy Mother Church. He developed a theology of faith and reason, with the leading minds in Church law turning to him for advice and clarification.
When Raymond went to Rome he met Bishop Berengarius of Barcelona. Recognizing Raymond’s uncommon gifts, the bishop followed him to Bologna and observed the work he was doing there. It did not take him long to invite Raymond to return with him to Barcelona.
Thus Raymond returned to his home town in 1219 where the bishop quickly made use of his talents. Before long, Raymond was appointed an official of the diocese, a vicar, and was given a canonry and made an archdeacon at the cathedral.
For three years he proved his abilities by being an excellent model for the clergy with his spirit of poverty and service to the poor. The poor he considered his creditors, believing he owed them all that he could possibly do for them.
Three years later, Raymond entered the Dominican Order, just eight months after St. Dominic died. He was 47 years old when he took the Dominican habit. This led to the saint becoming a well-favored preacher and confessor to both nobility and peasants. His presence was sought by many world leaders; because of this, he strove to become grow in humility.
As Raymond sought penance for his satisfaction in preaching, his superiors gave him the task of writing a manual of moral theology for confessors. The result, Summa Casuum, was his first and most famous work for the Church, setting the foundation for canon law.
The novices easily recognized Raymond as one of the most humble, obedient, and fervent among them. This was particularly shown by his willingness to imitate Christ in his obedience, humiliations, and sufferings by depending solely on the inspirations of his spiritual directors.
As a Dominican he preached successfully, something which brought him great satisfaction since he was winning so many souls for Christ. As he continued his preaching and catechetical instruction and administering the sacraments, more and more people sought his attention.
He is credited with not only leading lapsed Christians to a more sincere practice of their faith, but he was also responsible for bringing many Jews and over 10,000 Muslims to the Church. Both the lowly and royalty came to him for spiritual direction including King James of Aragon and St. Peter Nolasco. Raymond helped St. Peter establish the Order of Our Lady of Mercy and the Redemption of Captives. This order was dedicated to rescuing the Christians captured by the Moors.
More significantly, Pope Gregory IX summoned Raymond to be bishop of Tarragon in 1235. Raymond desperately fought against this appointment, but eventually was installed. He served faithfully, visiting each parish — traveling by foot. After two years of serving the diocese he submitted his resignation, having become seriously ill.
Then Raymond returned to Barcelona where he hoped to live quietly with the Dominicans, but the people, thrilled that he was returning, greeted him with much adulation. He returned to the University of Barcelona where he moved among the people as if a student, frequently asking questions rather than arrogantly bestowing his wisdom.
He also returned to hearing Confessions, preaching, and serving the poor, but obediently answered the summons of either the Pope or kings when called. Nevertheless, he mainly stayed in Barcelona and was quietly attending to his humble tasks when three men appeared with yet another missive. This time, in 1238, Raymond had been elected the third general of the Dominican Order.
He served with humility and confident trust in God, as he continued his regimen of fasting, prayer, and meditation with an example that greatly inspired the rest of the Dominicans. He rewrote the constitutions of the order, making them more clear and precise. Shrewdly, he made an addition to the constitutions allowing a superior general to resign for just reasons. As soon as the new rules were approved, he submitted his resignation, citing his age, 65, as the need for him to retire.
It was after his retirement — that lasted another 35 years — that he persuaded St. Thomas Aquinas to write his Summa Contra Gentiles. This was a treatise for the Muslims, who questioned the tenets of Christianity.
In addition, Raymond began the practice of teaching Hebrew and Arabic in the seminaries and convents and even established convents among the Moors. His own letter to the superior general of the Dominicans revealed how successful his work was when he stated that 10,000 Muslims had come into the Church. Note that he did not take credit for such an accomplishment.
Eventually the king summoned him to Majorca for spiritual direction, but when the king refused to abandon his illicit relationship with a woman, Raymond prepared to leave. The king threatened anyone who dared to take him on board. Raymond retorted to King James that the heavenly king would provide what the earthly king refused and promptly spread his cloak on the water and sailed to Barcelona on it, arriving after only six hours.
Again he was received with much adulation, but he quickly made his way through the woods and to the monastery where he lived for the rest of his life, dying on January 6, 1275.
His feast is celebrated on January 7. As patron of canon lawyers may he storm Heaven for them during these challenging times — especially for those named Raymond! Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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