An early 17th-century prayer card on the Feast of the Translation of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The youngest of eleven children of a Basque nobleman, he was brought up to be a soldier. He fought the French in Castile, but was wounded at the siege of Pamplona in 1521. His broken leg was badly set, was broken again, and reset: the impact of the cannon ball, made worse by inexpert surgery, left him deformed and with a limp for the rest of his life. During his convalescence he asked to read courtly romances; instead he was given a life of Christ and some legends of saints. His conversion quickly followed; he lived for a year in prayer and penance at Manresa, close to the famous abbey of Montserrat. Here he experienced both desolation and consolation, writing the first draft of his Spiritual Exercises, which incorporated some of the traditional teachings of Montserrat. In 1523 he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, begging his way like many others before him. After returning to Spain, still without a clear plan for his life, he decided to study Latin in order to work for souls. Later, going to Paris, he gathered six disciples, to whom he gave the Spiritual Exercises; together they took vows of poverty and chastity, promising to serve the Church either by preaching in Palestine or in other ways that the pope might see fit. In 1537. they met in Venice: unable to reach the Holy Land, they went to Rome, resolving to become a new religious order. Works of charity, especially teaching the young and uneducated, as well as missionary enterprises, were among their earliest ideals. The celebration of divine office was abolished so as to leave them free for these works. This was a revolutionary step, but whole package met with papal approval. Ignatius, predictably but unwillingly, was chosen as the first General. The remainder of his life was spent in Rome, directing the Society he founded. For fifteen years he inspired, counseled, and directed his subjects with prudence and understanding. His iron will and determination did not make him unlovable or impatient. But the way of total obedience, made by the aspirant during the Spiritual Exercises, was insisted upon; it has often been compared to a military commitment and the Society of Jesus to an army.
A meditation from Colossians on the love of Christ reads, And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for peace among Christian princes.
An early 17th-century prayer card to Paulinus of York. He was one of the second group of monks sent to Britain by Gregory the Great and became the first apostle of Northumbria by a favorable political opening. This was the request by Edwin, king of Northumbria, to marry Ethelburga, the Christian sister of Edbald, king of Kent. The first answer was that a Christian woman could not be given in marriage to a pagan husband. But when Edwin answered that he would give complete freedom of conscience to Ethelburga and her household, and might even become a Christian himself, consent was given to the marriage. Paulinus was consecrated bishop and went to the north as Ethelburga’s chaplain, but with a hope that the conversion of the Northumbrian king and people would soon follow. Several years later Paulinus baptized Edwin and his infant daughter at Easter 627 in a wooden church at York. This had been preceded by the decision of the pagan high-priest Coifi to abandon the service of the pagan gods and was followed by many nobles and others seeking baptism. Paulinus' northern apostolate was cut short by the death of Edwin in the battle of Hatfield Chase in 633 at the hand of Penda of Mercia and his Welsh Christian ally Cadwallon. Ethelburga returned to Kent; Paulinus, thinking there was no future for Christianity in Northumbria without the king, went with her and, now aged about sixty, acted as bishop of Rochester for the rest of his life. Pope Honorius had sent him the pallium, but Paulinus was already in Kent when it arrived.
A meditation from Hugh of Saint Victor on love for our neighbor reads, Love your neighbor, not that we might rejoice in him, but that we may rejoice with him in God. That is, that we may love God for God himself, and our neighbor on account of God.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the increase of fraternal charity.
An early 17th-century prayer card to Saint Pachomius, regarded as the the founder of communitarian monasticism. As a conscript in the Roman army, Pachomius was deeply moved by the generosity some Christians showed him when he was being transported down the Nile River. When he was discharged, he accepted baptism and endeavored to give his life entirely to God. For the next seven years he placed himself under the direction of the anchorite Palemon, enthusiastically embracing bodily penance and memorizing the Psalms. Pachomius slowly gathered a following of thousands at Tabenessi, a desert wasteland along the banks of the Nile. Legend has it that in 323 an angel gave him a brozen tablet engraved with a rule charting the shift from eremitic solitude to communal life combining shared living quarters, meals, and manual labor with solitary prayer, silence and contemplation. Pachomius organized his community into houses of thirty or forty who worked at the same trade. His monastery had gardeners, blacksmiths, bakers, carpenters, and makers of baskets, nets, mats, and sandals. Each house had a dean who supervised their work. His communities survived long after his death and his rule would later influence the forms of monastic life envisioned by Basil the Great and Benedict of Nursia.
A meditation from John Cassian on candor reads, The devil, subtle as he is, cannot destroy one of God’s own unless he has enticed him through pride or through shame to conceal his thoughts from his superior.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the poor.
An early 17th-century prayer card to Ignatius of Antioch. Nothing is known of his early life or even his episcopate before his last journey from Antioch to Rome, which took place under a heavy military guard because he had been condemned to death in Trajan’s persecutions. On this inexorable march towards death, he wrote seven revealing letters, which make him an outstanding witness to Christ in earliest times. The letters show their author as ardently devoted to Christ, whose divinity and resurrection from the dead they clearly affirm. They urge unity, in and through the eucharist and its president, the local bishop. Ignatius also describes the Church of Rome as the one founded by Peter and Paul, and therefore worthy of special reverence. He called himself both a disciple and the bearer of God (‘theophoros’), so convinced was he of the presence within him of Christ whom he longed to see soon after death. Splendidly ready to embrace martyrdom, he described himself as the “wheat of Christ,” was thrown to the lions in the Colosseum, dying almost at once.
A meditation from Bernard of Clairvaux on simplicity reads, If you have your eyes fixed on heaven, your heart cannot hold to earthly things.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for those who are recommended to us in our devotions.
An early 17th-century prayer card to Saint Irmina. According to legend, Irmina was the daughter of the Frankish king Dagobert and betrothed to Count Herman. When a jealous suitor lured Herman to his death over the precipitous cliffs outside Treves, Irmina went into mourning, becoming a nun at a convent near Trier, which her father had either founded or restored. As an abbess, Irmina would later show boundless generosity to English and Irish monks, bequesting vast tracts of land to the Northumbrian missionary Willibrord for his monastery at Echternach which would later become famous for its school and scriptorium.
A meditation from John Cassian on resignation to the will of God reads, No one is ever tried without the permission of God. Everything which is brought upon us by God, whether it is appears sad or joyful at the time, is ordained as by a most tender father and a most merciful physician.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the health of the king.
An early 17th-century prayer card to Odo of Cluny. Odo was born at Tours in the middle of the ninth century. His family strained to interest the young man in the pursuits of the ruling class, but hunting and hawking gave him headaches, so he was permitted to enter a religious order. When the intense youth dreamed of serpents writhing in an urn, he interpreted it as a sign from God to abandon reading Virgil and the classics. Odo brought this orthodox viewpoint to the abbey at Cluny, and his brand of strict monasticism became the standard for over a century. Odo’s Cluniac observance, with its emphasis on poverty, chastity, abstinence - even his ruling that undergarments must be washed only on Saturdays - met with much initial resistance. One monk, defying Odo’s fasting prohibitions and holding that chicken and fish were identical, choked on a bone and died. Odo could be a bit of a romantic - when the daughter of a nobleman confessed unhappiness at her upcoming marriage, Odo spirited her away to a convent, and then convinced his horrified superiors that the girl, despite reports to the contrary, actually had a vocation. Sent to Italy to reconcile two feuding kings, Hugh and Alberic, on his return he stopped in Tours to observe the feast of Saint Martin and died a few days later. One of his last acts was to compose a hymn in Martin’s honor.
A meditation from Augustine on prayer reads, The more thoroughly a man understands his soul’s maladies, the more abundant food he has for sighs and grief. Meditation engenders knowledge, knowledge invites compunction, compunction urges devotion, and devotion leads to prayer.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the conversion of the Turks.
An early 17th-century prayer card to the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. According to hagiographical sources, the Forty Martyrs were elite soldiers in the fearsome Thundering Legion, so named because their feet pounded the earth with such tremendous force when they were on the march. In the final surges of persecution under Licinus, Constantine’s rival to imperial power, they refused to renounce their faith, even in the face of certain death. When entreaties failed to persuade them to abandon their God, the forty comrades-in-arms were stripped naked and exposed to extreme conditions on a frozen lake. In order to break their resolve, bonfires and warm baths were prepared for them a short distance from where they floated in the freezing water. One of the cohort deserted the ranks and crawled on his knees to the safety of the bathhouse, but a guard compelled by the unflinching courage of the soldiers took his place in the icy ranks. Thus, there remained a martyr’s head for each of the forty crowns that began to descend, miraculously, from heaven.
A meditation from Cyprian on patient suffering reads, Charity is the bond of brotherhood, the foundation of peace, the steadfastness and firmness of unity; it excels both good works and suffering for faith; and, as an eternal virtue, it will abide with us forever in the kingdom of heaven.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the whole body of the church.
An early 17th-century prayer card to John Chrysostom. Born the son of an army officer at Antioch, John was brought up by his widowed mother and received the best education which Antioch could offer, both in oratory and law. From c.373 he became a monk in a mountain community not far from the city and nearly ruined his health through austerities and the damp conditions of his cave hermitage. He returned to Antioch in 381, was ordained deacon, and served the local church until his ordination as priest in 386. He then became the bishop’s special assistant, particularly for the temporal care and the spiritual instruction of the numerous Christian poor of the city. He soon became famous as a preacher and commentator on the Epistles of Paul and the Gospels of Matthew and John. In 397 after the death of the archbishop of Constantinople, Emperor Arcadius wished him to be chosen in his place and sent an envoy to detach him from Antioch, secretly for fear of popular opposition. Theophilus, archbishop of Alexandria, a disappointed rival, consecrated him in 398. At once he started to reform the corrupt morals of court, clergy, and people. He reduced the customary spending of his own household in favor of the poor and the hospitals. He enacted severe discipline for the clergy. He also attacked the behavior, the clothes, and the make-up of the women at court and those Christians who had been to the races on Good Friday and to the games in the stadium on Holy Saturday. Meanwhile Theophilus made common cause with the empress and organized a cabal of bishops which assembled at Chalcedon, condemned him unheard on a series of more or less false charges, accused him also of treason for calling Eudoxia ‘Jezebel’, and asked for his banishment. Chrystostom was exiled, but an earthquake in Constantinople terrified Eudoxia and he was recalled. He resumed his plain speaking which again enraged her; Theophilus intrigued against him with appeals to an Arian council of Antioch, and Chrysostom was again banished, this time for resuming the duties of a see from which he had been ‘lawfully deposed’. This took place in 404; although his own people, the pope, and many western bishops supported him, he was exiled and later was killed by enforced travel in bad weather, on foot and in spite of repeated pleas of exhaustion.
A meditation from John Gerson on the mortification of the flesh reads, If you wish to be exalted in heaven, humble yourself in this world. If you wish to reign with Christ, carry his cross, for only the servants of the cross find the road of blessedness and true light.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the goods of the earth.
An early 17th-century prayer card on the Passion of Christ. While Holy Week has lost much of its emotional intensity, for most of the Christian history it was by far the most important moment of the year. The rituals of the week brought to memory the history of Christ’s arrest, torture, and crucifixion, a commemoration of suffering that gave believers an opportunity to express their own personal anxieties through identification with Christ. Men and women, especially in southern Europe, voluntarily submitted themselves ti severe bodily pain, often induced by self-flagellation in imitation of the suffering Christ experienced through his humiliating scourging at the hands of the soldiers of Pilate. Through such rituals the purifying blood of Christ mixed with the blood offerings of the assembled penitents, an act that cleansed the community while it assisted individual salvation.
A meditation from Philippians on obedience reads, Christ became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every other name.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the pope and the whole body of the church.
An early 17th-century prayer card to Genevieve of Paris. In 429, on his way through the little town of Nanterre, Germain the elderly bishop of Paris discovered the seven-year-old Genevieve in the fields tending to a flock of sheep, and predicted great things for her if she remained pure and untouched. At fifteen, she journeyed to Paris and received from his very hands the veil of a dedicated virgin. Soon after her consecration, the young nun proceeded to declaim visionary prophecies of doom for the sinful city, which made her extraordinarily unpopular, especially as Paris was at the time under siege by the Franks. Then, much to the Parisians surprise, the gloomy prophetess ran the blockade (although she herself was able to subsist on two meals a week of barley and beans). In 451, the impending advance of Attila the Hun and his horde upon Paris threatened even worse disasters until the murderous army inexplicably bypassed the city - at which point it was agreed that Genevieve’s continued prayers and assiduous fasting had saved them. Since her death, in 500, Genevieve is believed to have continued to protect the city. In 1129, when an epidemic of ergot poisoning raged in Paris, her relics were disinterred from the cathedral and paraded through the streets, which put an end to the plague, and in 1206 they caused the overflowing waters of the Seine to subside. Here she holds a candle to banish the darkness while a devil with a bellows tries to extinguish the flame.
A meditation from Gregory the Great on the proximity of death reads, Whoever thinks on death has no desire for earthly things and considers himself already in the grave, knowing that death will come.
This meditation is followed by an injunction to pray for the dead.