St. John Cantius, Confessor



St. John Cantius, Confessor

(from the Liturgical Year, 1903)

Kenty, the humble village of Silesia which witnessed the birth of St. John, owes its celebrity entirely to him. The canonization of this holy priest, who in the fifteenth century had illustrated the University of Cracow by his virtues and science, was the last hope of expiring Poland. It took place in the year 1767. Two years earlier, it was at the request of this heroic nation that Clement XIII. had issued the first decree sanctioning the celebration of the feast of the Sacred Heart. When enrolling John Cantius among the Saints, the magnanimous Pontiff expressed in moving terms the gratitude of the Church towards that unfortunate people; and rendered to it, before shamefully forgetful Europe, a supreme homage (Bulla canonizationis). Five years later Poland was dismembered.

John was born at Kenty, a town in the diocese of Cracow; and hence his surname Cantius. His parents were pious and honourable persons, by name Stanislaus and Anna. From his very infancy, his sweetness of disposition, innocence, and gravity, gave promise of very great virtue. He studied philosophy and theology at the University of Cracow, and taking all his degrees proceeded professor and doctor. He taught sacred science for many years, enlightening the minds of his pupils and enkindling in them the flame of piety, no less by his deeds than by his words. When he was ordained priest, he relaxed nothing of his zeal for study, but increased his ardor for Christian perfection. Grieving exceedingly over the offences everywhere committed against God, he strove to make satisfaction on his own behalf and that of the people, by daily offering the unbloody Sacrifice with many tears. For several years he had charge of the parish of Ukusi, which he administered in an exemplary manner; but, fearing the responsibility of the cure of souls, he resigned his post; and, at the request of the University, resumed the professor's chair.

Whatever time remained over from his studies, he devoted partly to the good of his neighbour, especially by holy preaching; partly to prayer, in which he is said to have been sometimes favoured with heavenly visions and communications. He was so affected by the Passion of Christ, that he would spend whole nights without sleep, in the contemplation of it; and in order the better to cultivate this devotion, he undertook a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. While there, in his eagerness for martyrdom he boldly preached Christ crucified even to the Turks. Four times he went to Rome on foot, and carrying his own baggage, to visit the threshold of the Apostles; in order to honor the Apostolic See to which he was earnestly devoted, and also (as he used to say), to save himself from Purgatory by means of the indulgences there daily to be gained. On one of these journeys he was robbed by brigands. When asked by them whether he had anything more, he replied in the negative; but afterwards remembering that he had some gold pieces sowed in his cloak, he called back the robbers, who had taken to flight, and offered them the money. Astonished at the holy man's sincerity and generosity, they restored all they had taken from him.

After St. Augustine's example, he had verses inscribed on the walls in his house, warning others, as well as himself, to respect the reputation of their neighbors. He fed the hungry from his own table; and clothed the naked not only with garments bought for the purpose, but even with his own clothes and shoes; on these occasions he would lower his cloak to the ground, so as not to be seen walking home barefoot. He took very little sleep, and that on the ground. His clothing was only sufficient to cover him, and his food to keep him alive. He preserved his virginal purity, like a lily among thorns, by using a rough hair-shirt, disciplines, and fasting; and for about thirty-five years before his death, he abstained entirely from flesh-meat. At length, full of days and of merits, he prepared himself long and diligently for death, which he felt drawing near; and that nothing might be a hindrance to him, he distributed all that remained in his house to the poor. Then, strengthened with the Sacraments of the Church, and desiring to be dissolved and to be with Christ, he passed to heaven on Christmas Eve. He worked many miracles both in life and after death. His body was carried to St. Anne's, the church of the University, and there honorably interred. The people's veneration for the saint, and the crowds visiting his tomb, increased daily; and he is honored as one of the chief patrons of Poland and Lithuania. As new miracles continued to be wrought, Pope Clement XIII. solemnly enrolled him among the Saints, on the seventeenth of the Kalends of August, in the year 1767.

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At that time: Jesus said unto his disciples: Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning. And so on, and that which followeth. Luke 12, 35-40
A Homily by St. Gregory the Pope

Dearly beloved brethren, the lesson of the Holy Gospel, which has just been read to you, is plain. But lest the plain should perchance seem to some of you to be a mountain, we will go through it so quickly and easily that they which have not already explored it may come to know something about it, and they which already know it need not be wearied. The Lord saith: Let your loins be girded about. We gird our loins about when by continency we master the lustful inclination of the flesh. But it is of small profit to abstain from evil unless we also strive right earnestly to do good works. Therefore the Lord added that we should keep our lights burning, that is, by good works should give a good example to our neighbour; concerning which the Lord saith: Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Here then are two commandments, to gird our loins about, and to keep our lights burning; which is to keep our bodies in chastity and to do all our work in the daylight of truth. For the one without the other can in no wise please our Redeemer. We cannot please him by good works if we persist in the pollutions of lust, nor can we please him by our chastity if we do no good works for others. Chastity is not a great thing without good works, and good works without chastity are nothing worth. And if any man would do both, he must needs set his hope on our fatherland above. For of what good is it to refrain from evil in hope of being honoured in this present world?

And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. The Lord cometh at the hour of judgment. He knocketh when by the pains of sickness he warneth us that death is nigh. To him we open immediately, if we receive him in love. Whosoever he be that feareth to go forth from the body is such an one as cannot open readily to the Judge when he knocketh, for he dreadeth to see that Judge, whom he knoweth that he hath despised. But whosoever is confident through hope and by reason of works done for God, when he heareth the Judge knock, openeth to him immediately, for to such an one that coming is blessed. Yea, when the hour of death is at hand, such an one is of good cheer in expectation of the blessedness which will follow on judgment.