Saturday, August 31, 2019

St. Raymond Nonnatus

Raymond is called non natus – Latin for "not born" – because he was removed from his mother's body two days after she had died in labor. In this inauspicious manner, he first saw the light of day in 1204 in the Catalan village of Portell where his father owned some lands.

Unable to conceive, his mother had prayed ardently for a child and made a pilgrimage to an ancient chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Later, this same sanctuary became for her son a place of prayer and recollection. While still quite young, he was admitted to the Mercedarian Order in Barcelona by its co-founder, Saint Peter Nolasco.

The Order of Our Lady of Ransom and Mercy had been founded in the year 1218 at the request of the Holy Mother of God for the purpose of ransoming Christians held captive by the Moors. Its members pledged themselves to pay the ransom demanded for the release of these Christians by their Muslim captors or, when unable to do so, would offer themselves to be held as hostages in their place, with the promise of future payment.

So rapid was his spiritual progress after his profession that in a few years he succeeded Nolasco in the office of "ransomer and redeemer of captives."

During his first mission trip of redemption in 1224, he ransomed 233 Christians from the Moors in Valencia. Later, in North Africa, he bought the freedom of another 140 captives held in Algiers. Over the next several years, he ransomed a further 378 Christians. The year 1236 found him once more in Algiers where, having spent all the funds he had brought with him for the release of one group of Christian slaves, he offered himself as a hostage to ransom others whose desperate circumstances placed them in grave danger of apostasy from the Faith.

The exchange accepted, his captors heaped upon him the full force of their contemptuous cruelty. Notwithstanding his own intense sufferings, Raymond generously encouraged the Christian slaves he encountered to persevere in their Faith, and seized every opportunity to preach to and instruct his Muslim guards in the teachings of Christ. When conversions and baptisms followed, the punishment was swift. He was bound, tortured and forced to run the gauntlet. Undaunted by his new sufferings, Raymond persisted in his zealous preaching at every opportunity. In retaliation, the irate governor ordered him to be flogged at each of the city's street corners, his lips pierced with a hot iron, and his mouth locked with a padlock, which was to be removed only once a day to allow for the meager bread ration permitted to keep him alive. In this deplorable condition, the Muslims kept Raymond imprisoned in a dungeon until the ransom was finally delivered some nine months later. Lamenting that he had not been found worthy to shed his blood for the release of his beloved captives, he tearfully returned to Spain, wishing all the while that he could have been of more service to the Christian slaves still held captive by the Moors.
In 1239, hearing of his apostolic zeal and of his great sufferings for the Faith, Pope Gregory IX appointed him Cardinal of the Church of Saint Eustachius. This undesired honor made no difference to the humility of his comportment nor to the simplicity of the cell he occupied in the monastery in Barcelona. When the Pope requested his presence in Rome, he set off on foot. A mere ten kilometers outside of Barcelona, he was overcome by a deadly fever and died in Cardona at the age of thirty-six. Possession of his holy remains was quickly contested between the town of Cardona where he had died, his religious brothers in the Order of Our Lady of Mercy in Barcelona, and the village of Portell where he had first seen the light of day.  To resolve the heated dispute, his body was placed on the back of a blind donkey. As soon as the blind animal was given its head, he set off and did not stop until he arrived in front of the little chapel of Saint Nicholas. Thus, the sanctuary that had been his prayerful refuge in his youth became the guardian of his relics in death, and a place of pilgrimage for countless souls seeking his intercession.
Saint Raymond Nonnatus is the patron saint of childbirth, children and expectant mothers, and also patron of priests defending the seal of confession. He was canonized by Pope Alexander VII in 1657.