St Raymond of Penyafort

(entered heaven in 1275)

Dear Penny,

Sometimes we just have to stand our ground and trust that God will work things out.  If the young man you have been “dating,” as you call it (a vague term, to my mind; if you are courting, why not say so? And if you’re not, well, I wonder how healthy it is to be spending so much time together), insists on pressuring you to compromise your principles, you should have no qualms about putting him in his place.  No qualms at all. Even if you think his motives are sincere and he just doesn’t understand you and if you don’t give in he will be hurt, and you might “spoil your chances”… Even so, when it comes to staying true to Christ and your own self, your obligation is clear. Today’s saint faced a similar situation one time, and God vindicated him in a marvelous way.

St Raymond was born of a noble and devout family from the north of Spain.  He showed great academic promise at a young age, received the finest education the Middle Ages could offer (which was very fine indeed) and was a professor of philosophy at the esteemed University of Barcelona before he was 21.  When he was 30, he went to study for his Doctorate at Europe’s most renowned law school, in Bologna, Italy. He made an equally great name for himself there, demonstrating generosity and selflessness as well as intellectual brilliance.  When he returned to Spain, he was made archdeacon (kind of like diocesan vicar nowadays) to the Bishop of Barcelona, and a few years later he made religious vows and became a Dominican Friar (this was only a few months after St Dominic had died).  

He spent the remainder of his life tirelessly serving the Church in myriad ways: hours in the confessional, preaching, and reaching out to non-Christians in Spain (he baptized thousands of Muslim converts); acting as third master general of the Dominican Order, during which time he tightened up their constitutions and encouraged St Thomas Aquinas to write his famous “Summa Contra Gentiles”; being confessor and theological advisor to Pope Gregory IX, under whom he compiled the most important Canon Law collection (called the “Decretals”) until the Code of Canon Law first appeared in 1917; tending spiritual sons and daughters who had been enslaved by the Muslims; and bolstering the faith of Spain’s great Christian nobles.  

It was while engaged in the latter task that the situation I referred to before occurred.  He was accompanying King James of Aragon on a diplomatic trip to the island of Majorca in the Mediterranean Sea.  The king was a bit of a Don Juan but had promised to mend his ways. When he failed to follow through on his promise, St Raymond asked leave to return to Spain, rupturing this “valuable” friendship.  His request was denied, and the king decreed that anyone who helped him escape would be severely punished. Raymond refused to be bowed. He went to the beach and laid his cloak upon the water, tying one corner to his walking stick to make a sail.  He stepped onto the odd craft and was speedily transported back to Barcelona, where the dockworkers witnessed his arrival in utter stupefaction (later they built a church on the site to commemorate the miracle). Equally marvelous prodigies were generously granted through his intercession to pilgrims who flocked to his tomb after he died at the age of 100.

The story may seem kind of far-fetched (though we have no reason to doubt the historical testimonies), but the principle is firm: confidence in God and fidelity to his will can overcome any worldly obstacle.  If you keep Christ first in your heart, he will take care of everything else, even if it means brightening this young man’s unenlightened ideas.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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