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St Raymond Nonnatus
Confessor (entered heaven this day in 1240)
A bit overwhelmed, eh? Yes, you’ve definitely begun a new stage of life. College is, well, different, as you say. So much freedom, so much opportunity, so many activities-resources-choices… Many freshmen spend their whole first year being swept away by the excitement of the overwhelming tide. And they spend the next year recovering (or trying to). That’s not the best policy. It’s much better to learn to ride the wave instead of being tumbled around in it and spewed out by it. Today’s saint can teach you how.
Raymond was born in northeastern Spain. His family formed part of the Aragon nobility, and his influential (and very strong willed) father had great plans for his exceptionally bright son – Raymond loved to study, and seemed to learn effortlessly. But he loved to pray as well. In fact, as he grew up, he showed steadily growing interest in dedicating himself to Christ in the religious life instead of politics. His dad objected. To cure his son of these ideas he sent him into the countryside to take charge of a farm owned by the family. Raymond obeyed, put the farm in order, and spent almost all his time working side by side with the shepherds and the peasants, even giving them little vacations when he would take over entirely! He loved the simple life of austerity. He would tend the sheep in the awesome silence of the wilderness, contemplating God’s grandeur and disciplining his soul. His father heard about how well Raymond had adjusted to farm life and immediately brought him back home.
Everyone (friends and relatives) was eager for him to go to the royal court and make his fortune (they were all certain that he would climb high and fast, because of his extraordinary talents and his family connections), but he continued to insist on taking a different path. Finally he managed to work everything out, and he took the habit of a new religious order, the Mercedarians, founded by St Peter Nolasco (Raymond received the habit from St Peter’s hands) for the sole purpose of ransoming the many Christian slaves who lived in horrible conditions under the Moslem yoke. Raymond thrived in his years of formation. After only a few years he was made Chief Almoner (upon St Peter’s retirement from the position) and sent with all the funds gathered so far to Algeria, where he negotiated the release of a good number of Christian slaves.
But his money ran out before he could ransom a few particularly miserable prisoners who were losing their faith as a result of their horrendous sufferings. Fearing for their souls, Raymond offered to substitute himself as a pledge for their ransom. The offer was accepted and the prisoners went free, while Raymond took their place. At first he was given a certain degree of freedom while the governor waited for the ransom to arrive. But when the saint took advantage of it in order to convert a few of his guards and reinvigorate some of his fellow prisoners, the authorities punished him severely and forbade him from speaking to anyone about the faith.
Of course, he couldn’t refrain, and some more conversions occurred. The governor wanted to execute him at this, but those awaiting the ransom deterred him. Instead, Raymond’s lips were pierced with a hot iron and chained shut with a padlock (the governor himself kept the key – the lock was opened only so he could eat once a day), to keep him from spreading the gospel. He was thrown in a dungeon for eight months, where he languished physically, but thrived spiritually. Finally the ransom arrived, sent by St Peter Nolasco. But Raymond wanted to stay and suffer. He only left because he was ordered to do so under his vow of obedience. Upon returning to Spain, his fame spread so quickly that the Pope named him a Cardinal and called him to Rome. But Raymond caught a fever on the way and died, at the young age of 36.
Wherever St Raymond Nonnatus went – the farm, the wilderness, the religious house, the marketplaces of Algeria, the Muslim dungeons – he never lost his balance. Every situation and challenge only made him grow in grace and wisdom. Why? Because he knew what his life was for. Deep down, I think you do too. If you keep focused on that, college won’t overwhelm you, you’ll overwhelm college.
Your loving uncle, Eddy