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Catholic Heroes… St. Thomas Villanova

September 19, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Our Lord drew amazing men and women from the population of Spain to protect that country from the ravages that swept through Germany and the Scandinavian countries in the Reformation era. Two events marked by Augustinian monks sparked these events.
In Germany, an apostate Augustinian monk who fell from grace led hundreds of thousands into error — Martin Luther.
The second “event” was the raising of great saints in Spain: John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, and Thomas of Villanova. These saints helped edify and sustain faithful Catholics.
In 1488 the Catholic parish in Fuentellana counted a pious but impoverished family among its members. Aloazo Thomas Garcia, a miller, was the father, and the mother was Martinez Castellanos. Even though they were poor, they found ways to assist those who were in even greater need than they were. This is remarkable not only because of the many sacrifices that they made, but also because they were once wealthy. They also came from nobility, but did not disdain the “inferior” peasants like some of the other people of noble birth.
This family carefully passed on their virtuous ways to their son, Thomas, who was born on September 18, 1488. Many accounts relate that numerous miracles were worked through his mother. He imitated this love of the poor so zealously that sometimes he would come home after an outing without any clothes. He had given them to some poor beggar in the street.
As a child, Thomas showed great promise in both his spiritual life and his studies. His education in his early years must have been extensive, since he later attended the University of Alcala and graduated with high honors. In 1516 he joined the Augustinian friars in Salamanca, taking his vows on November 25, 1517 — less than one month after Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the Catholic church at Wittenberg Castle.
Once he graduated and took his vows, he began teaching scholastic theology as well as preaching throughout the country. During this time he was also ordained a priest and celebrated his first Mass on Christmas 1518. As a newly ordained priest, he dedicated his vocation to hearing Confessions and preaching.
Although he was known for being absentminded and forgetful, he possessed eloquence unique among his peers. Particularly noteworthy — even today — is his Sermon on the Love of God. Many well-known persons treasured his homilies. The most famous was Emperor Charles V who held Thomas in such high regard that he named him court preacher and appointed him to be one of his counselors of the state.
Thomas’ influence with Emperor Charles proved so strong that he would grant Thomas whatever he desired. The ruler once remarked of Thomas, “This monsignor can move even the stones.”
When Fr. Thomas was offered the See of Granada, he respectfully turned it down, claiming, as so many saints before him had done, that he was unworthy of such a calling. However, in 1544, with the approval of Pope Paul III and with great reluctance, he obediently accepted the Archbishopric of Valencia. The archbishop of Toledo consecrated Thomas as archbishop.
At the time of his appointment, Valencia had been without a shepherd for many years and also suffered from a prolonged drought. As if to mark the end of the spiritual aridity from the vacant seat of the bishop, soon after the appointment of Thomas, it not only rained in Valencia, but it poured and the drought was ended.
Before his appointment as archbishop, Thomas held many important posts in the Augustinian order. He was the convent prior in many cities: twice he served as provincial prior — once in Andalusia in 1527, and once in Castile in 1533. Also in 1533, he was the first Augustinian to send missionaries to Mexico in the New World.
When he became archbishop, his work ethic and love of the Church inspired him to continue to purify and strengthen the spiritual lives of both the people and the priests of Valencia. His reluctance to accept the position was replaced by zeal to do all for the greater glory of the Kingdom.
First of all, he led by example, he showered his flock by almsgiving and charitable works and the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. His attention to detail and the administration of the diocese brought great results.
He closed the underground prisons, prohibited bloodshed, divorce, and concubinage and also discouraged many excessive privileges and unwarranted exemptions previously enjoyed by the wealthy. In addition, he founded two colleges: one for seminarians and the other for poor students. He celebrated Mass early so that workers could attend daily if they chose. In addition he forbade his priests to accept gifts for tending to their parishioners and those in need.
Thomas also rebuilt the Valencian hospital when it was destroyed by fire, worked diligently for the conversion of the Cristianos nuevos, and placed a crèche near his residence where destitute parents could place their children for whom they could no longer care.
His prayer life demonstrated a great love of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He insisted that in order to hear the call of God, you had to hear the cry of the poor. “If you want God to hear your prayers, hear the voice of the poor. If you wish God to anticipate your wants, provide those of the needy without waiting for them to ask you. Especially anticipate the needs of those who are ashamed to beg. To make them ask for alms is to make them buy it.”
He led a life that would not humiliate others, but knew that humility was the path to holiness. “Humility is the mother of many virtues because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness, and peace are born. He who is humble easily obeys everyone, fears to offend anyone, is at peace with everyone, [and] is kind with all.”
Finally he loved the poor, seeing in them the pathway to Heaven. “What great profit you gain from God when you are generous! You give a coin and receive a kingdom: You give bread from wheat and receive the Bread of Life; you give a transitory good and receive an everlasting one. You will receive it back a hundred times more than you offered.”
Truly God’s generosity cannot be outdone, and cannot be comprehended.
As Archbishop Thomas neared the end of his life, he had all of the letters he received from Emperor Charles V destroyed, but the Emperor retained his from Thomas and they are now preserved in Salamanca.
Thomas fell gravely ill in 1555, dying on the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, September 8. As he took his final breath, he gave away his last possession to a poor man — the bed upon which he died. His feast is celebrated on September 22.
Dear St. Thomas of Villanova, intercede for us that we may focus on the truly important things in this life. May we improve our life of prayer and penance, increase our alms and charitable works, and, by example, bring others closer to Christ. 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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