January 6, 2017

Optional Memorial of St. Raymond of Peñafort, Priest

St. Raymond of Peñafort
December 7th, is the optional memorial of Saint Raymond of Peñafort (1175-1275), a 13th century Dominican priest and theologian who, as a contemporary of Saint Thomas Aquinas, worked to help Christian captives during the period of the Crusades and added greatly to Canon Law, the Church’s legal code. A brilliant evangelist, in his writings, utterances and example, St. Raymond won numerous souls for Christ. Over 10,000 Muslims converted as a result of his efforts. Named the Superior General of the Dominican Order, he retired after only two years due to his advanced age. (Afterward, he lived another 35 years during which he skillfully advanced the Good News of Christ.) His most notable work, the Summa Casuum, concerns the importance and correct administration of the Sacrament of Penance.

He was born into a Spanish noble family, with ties to the royal house of Aragon, at the castle of Pennafort, in the Catalonian region of present-day Spain. The future saint received a world class education, studying in Barcelona and at the University of Bologna. There, from 1195 to 1210, he taught Canon law. At some point, Barcelona’s Bishop convinced him to return to Spain where he was named one of the canons in the cathedral. Still, Raymond wanted a deeper relationship with the Lord. On Good Friday, 1222, he petitioned to join the Dominican Order.

He made his solemn profession in the Order of Preachers when he was about forty-five years of age. Excelling in all the virtues, he devoted himself especially to charity toward the poor, and also to those taken captive by the infidels. (This was necessary because the invading Moors were exacting great cruelties on their Christian captives.) Through his exhortation, his penitent Saint Peter Nolasco devoted all his possessions to this work of mercy. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Peter, Raymond and James I, the King of Aragon, extolling them to institute an Order of men whose mission was to deliver captives from the tyranny of infidels. After deliberating together, they founded the Order of our Lady of Mercy for the Ransom of Captives. St. Raymond wrote the rules for the Order, adapted to its spirit and vocation. Later, Pope Gregory IX recognized the nascent Order, and St. Raymond would name St Peter Nolasco, its first Master General.

Having appointed Raymond as his chaplain, penitentiary, and confessor. Pope Gregory IX was well aware of his abilities. He summoned Raymond to Rome and appointed him to compile together in the volume, the Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs. In three years time, Raymond collected and wrote commentaries on all the decretal letters that had been issued. The Holy Father was so impressed he published a bull making St. Raymond’s work alone authoritative. This collection, called the Liber extra was the standard of canon law for 700 years.

Twice the Holy Father named St. Raymond to the archbishopric of Tarragona, but each time he refused the appointment. Raymond was elected the third Master-General of the Dominican Order in 1238. His tenure was brief and marked by pious humility. So inspiring was his witness that the Order grew dramatically in numbers and influence. St. Raymond retired to the convent of Barcelona where he lived for 35 more years, working and praying incessantly for the conversion of the Moors, Jews, and heretics. He continued writing, preaching and evangelizing.

Saint Raymond died on the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, 1275, in his hundredth year. Many miracles credited to his intervention occurred following his death. He is the patron of lawyers, the legal profession, and in particular, Canon lawyers. He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1601. O God, who adorned the Priest St. Raymond with the virtue of outstanding mercy and compassion for sinners and for captives, grant us, through his intercession, that, released from slavery to sin, we may carry out in freedom of spirit what is pleasing to you.

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