Yup ... I'm back. Will fill you all in on my recent "adventures" at a later date.
Meanwhile ... it is August 11 and I did not want to miss wishing St. Philomena a "Happy Feast Day".
The first time many of you ever heard the name "Philomena" (I'm pretty sure) was probably when the movie by the same name was released a few years ago. The movie, primarily set in Ireland, gave testimony to the fact that the saint's name was a favorite in the Emerald Isle during the latter part of the 19th century and well into the first quarter of the 20th. My own grandmother, who hailed from Keady, Armagh, took Philomena as her confirmation name and always used it as part of her full given name.
Who was "the real" Philomena?
Philomena's "cult" (veneration) as a Catholic saint had its beginnings when the remains of a young girl dating to the 3rd-4th century were found during the excavation of the Catacombs of Prisilla in Rome in 1802. The subterranean catacombs in Rome served a dual purpose. It was where early Christians lived, hid from the Romans, and communally partook of the sacraments. Niches carved into the walls of these subterranean chambers also served as burial crypts for those early Christians, especially those who had been martyred at the hands of the Roman emperors. Over 6 million Christians were found to have been buried in the Roman catacombs during the Roman persecution that took place across the first three centuries A.D.
On May 24, 1802, excavators unearthed a sealed sarcophagus in a recess in the wall. The sarcophagus had been walled up with three large terra cotta tiles. On the tiles, respectively, were engraved the words: "LUMENA*** PAX TE***FI". When the Latin was translated, it became clear that in the sealing process, the tiles had been placed in the wrong order. Once placed in correct order, the tiles actually read "PAX TE *** FI***LUMENA" which translates in the English to "PEACE BE WITH YOU, PHILOMENA". Also engraved on the tiles were the following symbols which were known to constitute attributes of martydom: an anchor; two arrows - one pointing upwards, the other downwards; a lance; a palm leaf; and a lily. The first three are indicative of the manner of death; the last two are symbolic of the martyr's triumph and purity, respectively. A glass vessel which contained dried blood was found buried with the bones. It was determined that the relics were of a young girl of about 13 years of age. The martyr's relics were delivered to the Vatican's "Treasury of Relics".
In 1805, a young priest from Mugnano (near Naples, Italy), Canon Francis de Lucia, was visiting the Vatican in the company of the Bishop of Potenza. He had hopes of obtaining from the Treasury the relics of a martyr for his private chapel in Mugnano. The Bishop's influence helped make those hopes a reality. During the priest's visit to the Treasury, the boxed relics of the young girl, a girl about which nothing was known, figuratively jumped out at him. He had to have those relics. No others would do. From the minute those relics left the Vatican in the company of Father de Lucia and made their way to his church in Mugnano, the miracles started happening and haven't stopped since. The first miracle occurred when Father de Lucia became quickly and seriously ill while in Rome and appealed to Philomena for a cure. After several adventures en route, Philomena's relics arrived at the church that would become her shrine on August 10, 1805.
Some years later, via private revelations from Philomena herself to several individuals geographically distant from one another, the young martyr's story would be told. The revelations dovetailed, were consistent with one another, and would ultimately receive Church approval. Philomena had been born to Greek royalty. Her father was the prince of a small Grecian state on the island of Corfu. Prior to her birth, her parents had been pagan. They greatly desired a child and prayed to their pagan gods for the favor. About that time, a Roman doctor, Publius, who also happened to be Christian, was living in the palace in the service of the prince. He encouraged them to embrace the Christian faith. (Publius is also included in the Canon of Catholic Saints.) A year after the couple's baptism, a daughter was born on January 10th. She was baptized Philomena, meaning "Daughter of Light".
Her parents adored her and lavished every material thing on her. When Philomena was just a teenager, her "Dad" needed to take a "business trip" to Rome to see the Emperor Diocletian about negotiating a peace treaty. He took the family with him. It was a trip that would have fatal consequences.
Emperor Diocletian took a shine to Philomena and agreed to talk peace terms, but only if he could marry Philomena. Her father agreed to the terms and her parents encouraged her to accept the offer, but Philomena informed them that she had already chosen Christ as her spouse and made a vow of perpetual virginity. The emperor, who made several attempts to woo her, was not happy at being rebuffed and ordered Philomena shackled in chains and thrown in the dungeon where she would spend a total of 40 days. On the 37th day, the Blessed Mother appeared to her with the Child Jesus and told her that all would be over in three days. Philomena would have terrible tortures to suffer, but the Angel Gabriel would remain with her to sustain her.
Diocletian ordered Philomena publically scourged. Angels tended to her wounds with heavenly balm and the emperor was counfounded to find her totally healed the next day. He then ordered her thrown into the Tiber River with an anchor tied around her neck. Angels rescued her and deposited her safe and dry on the riverbank for onlookers to see. Conversions occurred.
Furious, the emperor brought on his archers. At the first outing, arrows hit their mark, but all of Philomena's wounds were miraculously healed by the next day. With the second try, the arrows would not leave the archers' bows. Finally, Diocletian ordered Philomena killed with fiery arrows. The arrows turned around in mid-flght and ended up killing six of the archers. On-the-spot conversions continued.
Philomena was ultimately beheaded on the 40th day of her imprisonment, on Friday, August 10, during the 3 o'clock hour. There is no knowledge of what became of her parents.
Again, the cures and miracles that have occurred since Philomena's relics were found and lodged in the church at Mugnano have been continuous. Her relics are housed in a statue that was specifically crafted in 1805 to hold them. That statue reposes horizontally in a glass case over her altar at Mugnano. Across the many decades, it has been reported that the statue has changed position and that the eyes have opened. The blood contained in a vial housed with the statue has been seen to turn to gems - even to gold and silver - and then back to dried form.
The confessor priest, the Cure of Ars, St. John Vianney, became devoted to Philomena after learning firsthand of the healing of Frenchwoman Pauline Jaricot's late stage heart disease. Jaricot had suffered multiple heart attacks, was near death, but was totally cured on August 10, 1835. The Cure was largely responsible for the spread of devotion to Philomena throughout France.
Kings, queens, popes, and cardinals visited the saint's relics in Mugnano and also became devotees ... the popes especially. Devotion to her spread across Europe. From a cold start, 1,700 years after her death, Philomena, the child-saint, would come to be known as the "Wonder Worker of the 19th Century." The moniker was given to her by Pope Gregory XVI. According to Marian scholar and authority (and a professor at Franciscan University), Mark Miravalle, Pope Gregory "liturgically canonized Philomena, in an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium" and assigned her feast day of August 11.
In 1961, St Philomena's feast day and mass were removed from the official liturgical calendar of the Church. That has done nothing to diminish veneration of her around the globe.
She is a patron saint to be called upon in almost any need and indeed, has proved so helpful to those who call upon her that she, like Sts. Jude and Rita, is considered a patron of "hopeless" and "impossible" cases. She has also proved to be powerful in cases involving the conversion of sinners, return to the sacraments, expectant and/or destitute mothers, problems with and the protection of children, unhappiness in the home, sterility, priests and their work, help for the sick, the missions, real estate, money problems, food for the poor, mental illness, and even exam-taking. (She was, after all, a teenager!)
Novena Prayer to St. Philomena:
Hail, O innocent Philomena, who, for love of Jesus, preserved the lily of thy virginity in all its brightness. Hail, O illustrious Philomena, who shed thy blood so courageously for Jesus Christ.
I bless the Lord for all the graces He granted thee during thy lifetime, and most especially at the hour of thy death. I praise Him and glorify Him for the honor and power with which He has crowned thee, and I beseech thee to obtain for me from God the graces I request through thy intercession.
Saint Philomena, beloved daughter of Jesus and Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee! Amen.