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NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local parish, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church and our Holy Father. This "little work" is purely a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu. ~ Peter


Monday, July 1, 2013

Saint of the Month - July 2013: Saint Clelia Barbieri

St. Clelia Barbieri
A beautiful voice from Heaven ~ Feast: July 13th
 
Here’s another hidden gem of a Saint for your monthly consideration.  St. Clelia Barbieri is one of those unfamiliar Saints who can easily slip through the cracks when it comes to popular devotion, but her life, when compared to other much more well-known Saints like St. Rita, St. Bernadette, or St. Therese the Little Flower, is no less inspiring.  Born of a peasant couple in Le Budrie (Bologna), Italy, on February 13, 1847… her early life was influenced by the everyday difficulties of the humble working class.  Her father died when she was just a small girl, leaving her and a younger sister to assist their mother in domestic work and spinning hemp so they could make ends meet.  Life was hard, but fortunately, deep faith reigned in the Barbieri home and it bought a measure of strength, peace, and consolation to the impoverished family.

Living in the near-vicinity of the parish church, Clelia spent much of her spare time there in personal prayer or actively volunteering with many of the parish activities.  By the time she was 14-years-old, her exceptional conduct, maturity, and knowledge of Church teachings led to her appointment as a catechist, especially charged with training young women in the precepts of the Christian Faith.  Consequently, Clelia was ridiculed by a few who viewed her as overly pious... but more so, was deeply respected and admired by the majority in her small town for her sincere example of virtue and dedication to God.

Now, as one can see from the photos of Clelia, she was indeed a very attractive girl… so it wasn’t surprising that marriage proposals were forthcoming to her mother.  However, Clelia from early on had already discerned a call from Jesus to enter into consecrated life… and she politely declined all the marriage offers she received.  Instead, she opted to continue her services to the parish and focused on other charitable activities such as visiting the sick and assisting the poor for whom she had a special affinity, given the personal hardships she went through while growing up.  Added to these were self-mortifications, which included a “cilicia” - a spiked-belt - that she discretely wore on her body with the discerning approval of her confessor.

In time, Clelia gathered a small group of woman about her who shared her spiritual and service-oriented ideals, and together, they became the core members of the Suore Minime dell’ Addolorata (“Little Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows”), a congregation of women that Clelia founded in May, 1868.  Just imagine - Clelia was a foundress of a thriving religious community by the youthful age of 21; the youngest founder in the history of the Catholic Church!
 
As her congregation slowly grew, so did reports of the extraordinary graces granted to the young foundress.  It was mainly through the reliable testimony of her community members that we’ve come to learn of Clelia’s interior spiritual life and her mystical charisms, among which were prophecy; ecstasies and accompanying levitations; apparent visits from our Lord; and other signal favors she received in answer to her prayers.  For example, it was once related how the convent’s pantry had gone bare except for a small amount of olive oil left in a bottle.  When Clelia was informed, she calmly instructed one of the nuns to use the remaining oil to light as fuel for a lamp that was kept before a painting of St. Francis of Paola, the congregation’s Patron Saint.  The sister hesitated, but eventually did as she was told.  Within a few hours, an unexpected knock came from door, which as it turned out was a man who was “inspired” to gift the convent with a large basket of flour, bread, wine, and other basic cooking staples!  When the same sister happily reported the donation to Clelia, the foundress smiled and teased, “Next time learn to obey quickly.

On another occasion, the mother of one of the nuns brought Clelia a basket of apples.  Clelia divided the apples into three separate piles, stating that the nuns could keep two of the piles because they were either picked from the woman’s own tree or gathered after falling on her property, but she declined the third pile with a frank statement that the apples had been acquired dishonestly.  The donor, contrite and undoubtedly embarrassed by Clelia’s uncanny insight, later acknowledged that the apples had been taken from a neighbor's property without permission.  Again, this incident gives us a significant glimpse into the moral character and spiritual gifts of the foundress... and her conscientious desire to always live in goodness and truth.

A laminated card in my custody, enclosing a 2nd Class fabric-relic
from clothing worn by St. Clelia Barbieri.

Now it couldn’t be expected that a rare heavenly treasure like Clelia would be parted from the Divine Master for a lengthy period of time, and so it was that she experienced her earthly passing on July 13, 1870; she died of tuberculosis at only 23-years-old and was deeply mourned in Le Budrie.  The Suore Minime had only been founded two years prior, but before her final illness struck, Clelia had received a revelation about the future expansion of the fledgling congregation throughout Italy and beyond.  Her daughters now carry on the legacy of their foundress not just in Italy, but also in other countries such as Africa, Brazil, and India.

In addition, Clelia had consoled her spiritual daughters with a promise that she would never abandon the congregation and would always be among them.  Amazingly, the latter words were fulfilled when, a year after her death, Clelia’s voice was mysteriously heard singing and praying with her nuns!  The unique voice-phenomenon reportedly continues up to this day in ALL the houses of the Suore Minime, audibly praying not just with the resident nuns, but also with visitors.  Amazing!
 
Clelia Barbieri was Beatified by the Catholic Church in 1968, and officially recognized as a Saint on April 9, 1989.  May her holy example inspire us to share the love of God with all who are in need of it.

A Reflection
“Mother, how can I become a saint?”  ~ Words of St. Clelia to her mother

A Short Prayer
Lord, fill us with a desire to become holy in your sight... and reveal to us your plan on how we, too, may become Saints like your servant, Clelia.  Amen.

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