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St. Magdalen of Canossa (1774-1835) Her Canonization

Welcome to INSPIRING LIVES, a series on the lives of Saints in the catholic church from around the world. In this series we bring you those saints who are canonized by Pope John Paul II. Saints are holy people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. Each saint the Church honors responded to God's invitation to use his or her unique gifts. These saints are examples of great holiness and virtue, and they invite us to follow their paths to holiness. Their unique stories inspire us to be rooted in our faith. As Pope Francis þ wrote on 21 November 2013, ‘to be saints is not a privilege of the few, but a vocation for everyone’. God calls each one of us to be a saint.
Last week we heard the heroic life and works of Saint Magdalen of Canossa, foundress of the Canossian Family of Daughters and Sons of Charity. Today we shall listen to the veneration that followed soon after her death, leading to her solemn canonization on 2nd October 1988 at St. Peter’s square in Rome.
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MAGDALENA OF CANOSSA, was a woman who believed in the love of the Lord Jesus and, sent by the Holy Spirit among those most in need. She served them with a Mother's heart and an Apostle's zeal. Born in Verona, Italy, on 1st March 1774, in a noble and wealthy family, she was drawn by the love of God, planned to consecrate her life to God at the age of 17, and tried twice her vocation at a Carmel. However, the Holy Spirit urged her to follow a new path.
The Spirit gradually molded her heart and enabled her to share in the love of the Father for humankind revealed by Jesus' complete and supreme offering of Himself on the Cross, and by the example of Mary, the Sorrowful Virgin Mother. Moved by that love, Magdalene responded to the cry of the poor, hungry for food, instruction, understanding and the Word of God.
Magdalene's active and fruitful life ended when she was just 61 years of age. She died in Verona on 10th April 1835. It was the Friday of Passion Week. By then she had founded the Canossian family of Daughters and Sons of Charity to serve the poor. The charism which the Holy Spirit brought to life in Magdalene did not exhaust itself in the vitality of the two Institutes. Consequently, various groups of lay people have found in Magdalene and in her ideals, their special way of living the faith, of witnessing charity, in all walks of Christian life.
Pope John Paul II canonized Magdalene of Canossa on 2nd October 1988 at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. During the solemn celebration, the Pope said:
The Church calls us to worship God in today's Sunday, bringing to the altars Blessed Mary Magdalene of Canossa with the solemn act of her canonization.
‘The glory of God is man fully alive’, so taught Irenaeus, one of the greatest teachers of the Church in the post-apostolic era. ‘The glory of God is man fully alive’ with the fullness of life that he gets in God through Christ, crucified and risen.
In his homily, Pope John Paul II said:
4. Today, the Church meditates on how this wonderful law of life - law of holiness - was reconfirmed in the person of St. Magdalene of Canossa.
She was able to ‘lose her life’ for Christ. When she realized the frightful wounds, that the material and moral misery was disseminating among the people of her city, she realized that she could not love her neighbor ‘lady’, that is, continuing to enjoy the privileges of her social class and simply share her things, without giving of herself the vision of the Crucified. ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus.’ Thus ‘God and Jesus Crucified’ became the rule of her life.
She followed the choices that appeared ‘scandal’ and ‘foolishness’ to people close to her. The same family, though imbued with rich Christian tradition, had much difficulty to understand her. However, those who showed surprise, she replied: ‘being born Marchioness, I cannot possibly have the honor to serve Jesus Christ in his poor?’
Recalling her life, the Holy Father said:
5. To consider the life of Magdalene of Canossa, it seems that love like a fever have eaten: the love of God, thrust up to the highest peaks of the mystical experience, and the love of neighbor, carried to the extreme of gifting of self to others. St. Magdalene was passionately in love with Christ crucified. She understood that true piety, that moves the heart of God, is to ‘loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to free the oppressed and break every yoke’.
For this she worked with all her energy, as well as all her possessions, to meet every form of poverty: the economic no less than the moral, the disease no less than that of ignorance. Here, then, this young woman, driven by a strong and tender love together, assisting the sick at home and involving herself in the hospital ‘Hospital Brotherhood’, catechisms and sermons for promoting the practice of Eucharistic adoration in parishes, retreats for the clergy, help many families in need, assist abandoned children and young prisoners, provide for the poor who knocked at the palace every day, and visit those who live in shacks and hovels.
Speaking about the inspiration and guidance of Magdalene of Canossa, the Pope said:
6. The model that guides and inspires it is Christ himself, who, as the Apostle says, ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant’. This model constantly offers to young people, gradually increasing in number, are to join her to share the apostolic commitment. Their ‘style of action’ must be humble, and powerful means alien to the wisdom of man, free from the search for rewards, gratification, satisfaction, should be ‘to God’ and ‘for his glory’. She writes: ‘We are four poor silly women, the most recent calls in the Church of God, without letters, without luster, and with only the name of serving the poor.’ And again: ‘The sisters never receive the smallest thing as a gift, or as a reward. Having all work for free and for the sole love of the Lord.’
Not different is the perspective that it tells the ‘Sons of Charity’, the male congregation by which her great heart she wanted to provide for no less serious and urgent needs of children and young people. Its members, while ‘burning, even flushing of charity’, must remain ‘in humility and obscurity of the cross’. Mindful of being ‘born at the foot of the cross’, they will feel committed to the living ‘in a spirit of generosity’ which is the law of the ‘grain of wheat, which, if not die, it remains alone’.
Insert: Pope
7. Magdalene of Canossa in the Gospel law of death that gives life thus finds a new, bright implementation. The illustrious descendant of an ancient family renunciation of everything that would allow it to better express her own personality in the society of the time and immersed herself in the anonymity of misery free of substances that could assure a peaceful future; submits her fragile body to all sorts of privations and hardships. In a word: she dies to herself in anything that might seem humanly attractive, humanly promising.
The result, however, is not death, but a blossoming of new life. In her emerges the personality of a woman of exceptional stature of love and mercy of God. Then the initiatives that blossom around her, involving ever larger arrays of generous hearts.
Concluding his exhortation, Pope John Paul II said:
From heaven, where she lives in the glory of God, Magdalene of Canossa invites us to follow the way she travelled.
You have been listening to INSPIRING LIVES, a weekly series based on the lives of Catholic Saints from around the world, brought to you by Vatican Radio’s English Service for South Asia.
By P.J. Joseph SJ


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