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St Thomas of Villanova
Archbishop of Valencia (entered heaven on September 8, 1555)
Remember Achilles! You need to take care, my young nephew, that you remember the stuff of which you’re made. You may be tall, strong, good-looking and an All-American athlete, but you will soon be gray-haired, wizened, and weak, unless you die before you get to that point. We are mortal beings, and if we forget it, thinking that we are invincible, God will have to remind us (and those reminders are not always comfortable). How the devil loves to turn into towering egoists those souls with which God has endowed health and vigor! Health and vigor are gifts from God, and they need to bear fruit for the Kingdom.
Today’s saint discovered the secret to keeping life in its proper perspective. Though he became archbishop of the wealthy and influential see of Valencia, Spain, he never gave in to temptations to luxury, and always put his power and income at the service of the poor. By the time he had reached his mid-twenties, he was named professor of philosophy in his native university town of Alcalá. Soon afterwards, he joined the Augustinian Friars there, taking the habit and vows (poverty, chastity, and obedience) of a religious. After being ordained a priest, he was put to work as teacher and superior among his brothers in religion, but his preaching and virtue shone so brightly that wherever he lived, lay students and citizens demanded permission to attend his lectures and sermons. During his years as religious superior, he gave special attention to those who were sick. He taught the young religious under his care that the infirmary was the burning bush of Moses, “where he who devotes himself to the sick will assuredly find God among the thorns with which he is surrounded,” as one biographer has put it. His frequent ecstasies and raptures occurred at the most inopportune times (once when he was delivering a sermon he held up a crucifix saying “Christians, look here!” whereupon he himself was uplifted to such a state of ravished contemplation that he could not continue speaking), which spread far and wide the knowledge of his holiness and spiritual leadership. Soon he was elevated to the Archbishopric of Valencia, and there he continued his tireless solicitude for every sector of his large and unruly flock, but especially the sick and the poor, whom he continued to serve with his own hands.
Which is why I thought of him as I was reflecting on the temptations that you must be facing while you enter into your illustrious athletic prime. Would it not be wise to follow the example of St Thomas and spend some of your time visiting the sick and the elderly, to bring them encouragement and to learn from them the lessons of the cross? It’s just a thought… In any case, congratulations on being an All-American; I hope it won’t keep you from being a saint.