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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


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Saint of the Month - March 2017: Saint Colette of Corbie

St. Colette of Corbie
Fruitful Tree of Gold ~ Feast: March 6th

She was born Nicolette Boylet, on January 13, 1381, but was affectionately nicknamed "Colette" by her parents and the name stuck. Her father was a skilled carpenter from Corbie who, along with her mother, were worthy examples of piety. According to several biographies, her parents were childless well into their advanced years, but they prayed consistently to St. Nicholas of Myra/Bari, the Patron Saint of Children, to one day be graced with a child; Colette was the fruit of their patient prayers and she came into their lives when her mother was nearly 60-years-old! Nicolette, in fact, is a diminutive of the name, Nicholas.

Colette, like her godly parents, was a model of goodness from a young age. She was precocious and charitable, yet prone to solitude in her desire to guard her baptismal innocence. Hardworking and prayerful, she was an immense joy to her parents, who allowed their daughter free reign in the expression of her faith. By age 17, Colette was left an orphan and, after giving away what little inheritance she had to the poor, she set about trying to enter a convent.

Our Saint explored consecrated life among the Beguines and the Benedictines but was disappointed that their manner of living was not as stringent, as she hoped for... so for a time Colette continued to live a quasi-solitary life in a small shack near the parish church of Corbie, until age 21, when she become an anchoress within the same church. She was voluntarily walled-up in a cell with a barred window that opened into the church interior where she could see the altar and participate in the Mass. Food and water was provided to her by the priest and other charitable souls through the window... and here she spent her days in constant prayer and voluntary penances.

One of St. Colette's reported miracles - the raising
of a dead nun to life.
Colette's time during her self-imposed imprisonment was both a period of painful trial and spiritual growth. The devil, not surprisingly, was enraged with her blossoming sanctity and he subjected her to severe temptations, and both visible and physical harassment. On her part, the anchoress responded to the enemy with more prayer and mortification, and was often consoled and encouraged by Heaven with extraordinary favors. Colette expected to live out the rest of her years hidden in her humble cell, but God had a different plan for her.

After three years of what now seemed to be a spiritual preparation for a greater purpose, Colette experienced a series of visions through which the Lord and St. Francis of Assisi (d. 1226) tasked her with returning the Poor Clares to a strict observance of their original Rule. Colette, in her humility, felt herself inadequate to the call and resisted the mission that was offered to her. Jesus responded by showing her another vision - a large golden tree upon which other trees were sprouting from its wide-spreading branches. The anchoress intuitively understood that she was to be this golden tree, and the future convents she was to found were the other trees... but, still, she hesitated due to fear and self-doubt.

Finally, in order to move her to action, the Lord struck Colette deaf and dumb for three days, followed by another three days of blindness. Recognizing in these mysterious afflictions that it was indeed God's will that she obey, the reluctant maiden finally gave in to the unique mission assigned to her. She obtained permission from her confessor to leave her enclosure and walked to the court of Pope Benedict XIII in Nice (an Anti-Pope, who at the time, was considered the legitimate Pope by France) to obtain official sanction for her reform. The French Pope, reportedly an ascetic, himself, was deeply impressed by Colette's passion and sincerity, and he professed her as a Poor Clare before empowering her with the authority to reform the Order.

Armed with a Papal Bull, Colette moved forward in fulfilling the commission given her by Jesus and St. Francis. Her reform insisted that the original rule of the Order's Foundress - St. Clare of Assisi (d. 1253) - be reinstituted among the Poor Clares, with its emphasis on poverty; perpetual fasting and abstinence; and that the sisters go barefoot. She traveled extensively throughout France, Belgium, and Spain and was initially met with violent opposition from many of the laxed convents she visited. Because of her unwavering adherence to the Rule, she was viewed as a mad woman and a fanatic by the very women who should have been living the Rule to begin with.

Another miracle of St. Colette - walking across
a river in Neublan, France, with her retinue.
Colette accepted all insults and obstacles with calm and peace, but was indomitable in her work of reformation. Heaven clearly affirmed the new abbess's efforts, as her biography is filled with many stories of wonders that she publicly performed, as she journeyed from one city to another to establish convents of "Colettine" Poor Clares. There were several resurrections she reportedly performed, including that of a stillborn baby in Besancon and a nun in Poligny who was brought to life while already lying in a wooden casket.

In the town of Verey, Colette was once a guest of the local Dominican nuns and she cured one of their members of leprosy by giving her a compassionate embrace... and still more remarkable, in October 1421, during one of her many missionary travels through France, Colette was witnessed miraculously crossing a river on foot in Neublan (Jura), along with her entourage of priests and nuns!

In addition to being gifted with the ability to work miracles, Colette's other spiritual gifts included frequent ecstasies, visions, bilocation, the mystical marriage (she received a visible gold ring from Heaven), prophecy, and the Stigmata of the Lord. On Fridays, especially during the Lenten Season, the abbess fasted and, after receiving Holy Communion in the early morning, fell into a prolonged ecstatic trance during which she participated in the sufferings of Christ. She did not bear the stigmata in the usual manner by having nail marks on her hands and feet, but rather, bruises and wounds appeared on her face and body as she envisioned and meditated on the different scenes of the Passion; visible signs of her deep, mystic union with her Crucified Spouse. 

All in all, Colette founded 18 Poor Clare convents under her reform beginning with her first foundation in Besancon, France. She died of natural causes in her convent in Ghent, Belgium, on the date she prophesied - March 6, 1447; she was 66-years-old. Even before the end of her illustrious life, she was widely venerated as a Saint not only by her spiritual daughters, but also by the many people whose lives she touched, including another great Franciscan apostle, St. John of Capistrano (d. 1456). Shortly after her holy death, Colette's emaciated body took on a heavenly beauty, and she appeared in glory to several of her close collaborators in the various convents she founded.

Lastly, it's important to note that although Colette initially believed Pope Benedict XIII to be the legitimate Pope, she later rallied to the cause of ending the great Western Schism that was ravaging the Church in her lifetime (at one point there were three Popes!). She corresponded with St. Vincent Ferrer (d. 1419), another friend of hers, concerning his support of the Anti-Pope and once bilocated to him to personally encourage Vincent to turn his efforts towards the healing of the fractured Church. Colette had the satisfaction of seeing the schism ended with the election of Pope Martin V in 1417.

The ornate tomb of St. Colette of Corbie in the Colettine Poor Clare Convent in Poligny.

The Church celebrated St. Colette's canonization on May 24th, 1807. Today, the Colettine Poor Clares are still thriving with foundations throughout Europe, the United States and in South America. Her relics, however, are enshrined in the convent she founded in Poligny, France.  May St. Colette intercede for the Universal Church and for all our personal needs.

A Reflection
We need to trust in God's personal mission for each of us, although we may not feel worthy of it. God will fill the gaps that we cannot fill through our own humble efforts.

A Short Prayer
Lord, help us to surrender to your will and plan for us with faith and trust; whatever work you desire to complete through us, help us to fulfill it in its entirety.  Amen.

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