“Persecution is a sign that you’re doing something right!” would be a good way to sum up how opposition is seen in the Christian worldview. Second only to Our Lady, it would seem that no other saint has received so much persecution, both from the world and from people within her own Church, as St. Philomena In certain areas, she has put up with even more revilement, for in the case of the Virgin Mary at least no one has thought to deny her existence.
I will not waste writing space re-telling of how these rumors against the Thaumaturga of the 19th Century started and spread, for a little time of research will reveal well enough the skeptic archaeologist’s report and the coincidental removal of her feast from the calendar during the Church’s “Missal clean-up” routine, along with St. Christopher and a lot of other saints. Neither is it my intention to go about proving her sainthood and existence, for it ought to be obvious to all pious Catholics that once the Church — through one of her Popes — declares someone a saint, she cannot take it back because she is infallible and so she cannot “mistakenly” make a dogmatic proclamation of sainthood in the first place. It matters not whether the Pope who declared it followed the same canonization process we expect today, for the Pope is not bound by such “rules” — they are merely the typical norm that he can set aside whenever he likes and still be infallible (as in the case of St. Hildegarde and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton). After all, the Holy Spirit cannot be bound to human expectations. Anyone who tries to deny St. Philomena is effectively trying to deny the infallibility of the Church, which is why St. Padre Pio could accurately claim that those who wanted to ruin her were doing the devil’s work (his words not mine).
The question I have been pondering since I began studying this “controversy” and am here addressing is “why Philomena?”. Skeptics have made “little fusses” over the saints for centuries, and the devil certainly hates them all, and many saints are “without historical background” in the world’s eyes, so why such a HUGE fuss over this saint? What’s so special about her? I now believe that if we look into the circumstances that led to our finding her, and the charism she has served in our Church since then, we will find the most likely answer to this question.
It was the year 1802. Pope Pius VII carried a great burden on his shoulders. Liberalism (See my blog post at americaonenationundergod.wordpress.com “Liberalism: Its History and Definition”.) had just been born in the French Revolution which martyred many faithful Catholics and scared many more into infidelity. Napoleon, who had played only a minor role in the Revolution but had definitely adopted the Liberal philosophy and was attempting to conquer the world with it, kept increasing his persecution of the Church. In addition to all this, the people’s faith had grown cold and they were not even resisting these evils but simply giving up or giving in. The Pope decided that the best solution was to send workers to the Roman catacombs to find an ancient martyr who had not yet been discovered in order that this martyr might rekindle, through example and intercession, the piety and hope and courage of the Christian people. Our Lady Help of Christians granted his wish on her feast day at the St. Priscilla catacombs when the workers found an unopened tomb with the inscription “lumena paxte cumfi”. (Three possible translations of this inscription would be “Peace be to you Filumena”, “Peace be to you Daughter of Light”, or “Peace be to you Darling”.) The next day the tomb was opened by Vatican officials and, after the blood and bone remains found there had been examined by doctors and declared to be the remains of a girl martyr in the age range of 12-15, her body was placed in a relic storehouse where they were later obtained by a humble Italian priest who enshrined her in his parish church Our Lady of Grace. Her cult quickly grew beyond all expectations and rekindled the people’s hearts just as the Pope had hoped. Among these rekindled hearts was the French Ven. Pauline Jaricot who founded the Living Rosary and the Propagation of the Faith to reconquer for Christ the world that Liberalism was trying to destroy. After the intercession of this newly discovered saint healed her from a deadly heart condition, her close friend Pope Gregory XVI had the Congregation of Sacred Rites write him a decree of permission for the celebration of Mass in her honor which he himself issued on January 30, 1837. In March of that same year he canonized her, declaring her saint and virgin and martyr, and giving her the feast day August 11. Later, a proper Office for the Liturgy of the Hours was written as well. St. John Vianney also sought her assistance in converting his parish that had been devastated by Liberalism in Ars, France. Damien of Molokai and Padre Pio also had recourse to her in their missions.
We can see from her history that her charism seems to be serving as Mary’s antidote to Liberalism, seeing that her discovery was in answer to prayers to Our Lady, she was found on a Marian feast day, and her remains were placed in a parish under the Virgin Mary’s patronage. This being the case, it makes perfect sense that this is the reason the devil has attacked her as vehemently as he has, since Liberalism is even now his favorite poison. In fact I think that if we took a survey, we’d find that most of those both inside and outside the Church who try to deny St. Philomena’s sainthood are those same people who would like to spread Liberal ideas within the Church and the world, and that they see in her cult a threat to their desire. They will not succeed in either effort however, because our Church is infallible and invincible just like our Lord promised. Even though many in the Church have opposed this great saint, the Church Herself has never made a move against her.
May the devotion to this dear saint of Thine, O Holy Spirit, spread through all the world and may all recognize Philomena’s saintly presence. Amen.