December 17, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Peter Canisius

John F. FinkSt. Peter Canisius, whose feast is on Dec. 21, is the first of two Jesuits to be proclaimed as Doctors of the Church—the second being St. Robert Bellarmine.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, sent Peter Canisius to Germany in 1549. His work there led Pope Leo XIII to call Peter the Second Apostle of Germany—St. Boniface being the first.

Peter lived from 1521 to 1597. He taught Catholic doctrine at Ingolstadt, Vienna, Prague, Augsburg, Innsbruck and Munich. He established Jesuit colleges in Munich, Innsbruck, Augsburg, Vienna, Wurzburg and Dillingen. His influence was felt throughout what was then the Holy Roman Empire, which included most of the German-speaking lands of Europe.

He is famous for his catechisms—one for college students, a second for children and a third for adolescents. His first catechism became the chief catechetical writing of the Catholic Reformation, printed in some 400 editions over the next 200 years.

He also wrote prayer books, lives of saints, other devotional books and two personal books: Confessions and Testament. They reveal his inner life and the religious motives that inspired all his activities.

For his feast, the Church assigns an excerpt from his Testament to the Office of Readings. It refers to a profound spiritual experience, a vision that he had at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1549. It happened during his meditation after he received a blessing from Pope Paul III before he set out for Germany.

Written in the form of a prayer to “Eternal High Priest,” Peter wrote about the great consolation and presence of God’s grace that he experienced. These were offered, he said, by Christ’s Apostles, “to whom men go on pilgrimage to the Vatican and who there work wonders under your guidance”—apparently referring to Sts. Peter and Paul.

Peter Canisius wrote that these Apostles, “these great intercessors,” gave him their blessings and confirmed his mission to Germany, seeming to promise their good will to him as an apostle to that country. He received the message that day, directly from Christ, that Germany was committed to his care and, “I was to continue to be solicitous for it thereafter. I was to desire to live and die for it.”

Then, he wrote, it was as if Christ opened to him his Sacred Heart: “I seemed to see it directly before my eyes.” He said that Christ told him “to drink from this fountain,” inviting him to “draw the waters of my salvation from your wellspring, my Savior.”

Peter wrote that he was most eager that streams of faith, hope and love would flow into him from Christ’s Sacred Heart, and he was thirsting for poverty, chastity and obedience.

He then said that he received a promise from Christ of a garment made of three parts. They were to “cover my soul in its nakedness, and to belong especially to my religious profession. The three parts were peace, love and perseverance.”

Protected by this garment of salvation, he said, “I was confident that I would lack nothing, but all would succeed and give you glory.” †

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