St Felix of Nola

Priest and Confessor (entered heaven around 255)

Dear Nilo,

I am certainly glad that your stimulating academic schedule has successfully staved off sophomore slump.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that it is beginning to stave off the purity of your faith as well.  That bodes badly.  Christians are shrewd as serpents (there’s your keen intellect), but they are also innocent as doves (there’s your boundless, childlike trust in God), or else they’re wimpy Christians.  Lest you tend towards wimpdom, take a good, long gander at today’s saint.

Felix was the older son of a Syrian soldier who had retired to the southern Italian town of Nola, not far from Naples.  When his father died, Felix received his inheritance, divided it up among the poor and entered the service of the Church, eventually receiving priestly ordination.  His ingenuous and intelligent charity caught the attention of Nola’s bishop, St Maximus, who befriended him and made him his right hand man in the care of the diocese.

Things got interesting around the year 250, when the Emperor Decius instigated one of the systematic persecutions of Christians so common in the first centuries after Christ’s resurrection.  Maximus realized that his continued presence in the city would endanger the lives of his flock, so he decided to flee to the mountains.  He figured that if God wanted to honor his desire for martyrdom his hiding place would be discovered.  Felix stayed back to care for the church and the church’s poor.  When the soldiers failed to find the bishop, they seized the young priest instead, had him scourged (as a public example to the rest of the Christians), loaded him with chains and heavy bolts, and threw him into a dungeon densely strewn with broken pieces of clay pots and shards of glass.  There the saint suffered for his Lord.  Until one fateful night when an angel appeared to him and ordered him to go and take care of his ailing bishop, and when Felix’s fetters miraculously fell to the ground, he escaped and sought his bishop.  When he found him, Maximus was passed out in a cave-like shelter, wasted away from exposure and hunger.  Only prayer could revive the holy man, and then Felix carried him on his shoulders back to the Church, where a widow took care of him.  Felix hid out, devoting himself to prayer, until the persecution came to an end with the death of the Emperor.

Soon, however, another wave of persecution broke upon Nola, and Felix was once again miraculous preserved.  This time the soldiers found him, but somehow didn’t recognize him, and after questioning him, went on their way.  As soon as they were gone, Felix took refuge in a corner of an old ruin, and a spider immediately spun a web across the entrance.  When the soldiers realized their mistake and returned to apprehend the saint, they didn’t even bother to look where he was hiding, since the spider web was evidence enough that no one could have entered.

When St Maximus died, Felix deflected his election to bishop onto his friend Quintus, and he rented a small plot of land.  He worked it with his own hands for the rest of his life, earning enough sustenance for himself and for the alms he always generously distributed.  His reputation for wisdom and holiness radiated throughout Italy during his lifetime and after his death, and his intercession never ceased to obtain miraculous favors for the faithful who had recourse to him.

Sometimes it is a temptation for us modern sophisticates to smirk at such stories.  But if so, we only hurt ourselves.  Arrogant smirks that shield us from trusting in God’s wisdom and goodness certainly can’t be inspired by God.  And in that case, you know very well who does inspire them.

Your smirkless uncle,


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