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Saint Peter Damian

Detail of Cardinal Peter Damian recruits young hermits in the maps room of the Vatican Museums | photo by Livioandronico2013
Image: Detail of Cardinal Peter Damian recruits young hermits in the maps room of the Vatican Museums | photo by Livioandronico2013

Saint Peter Damian

Saint of the Day for February 21

(988 – February 22, 1072)

 

Saint Peter Damian’s Story

Maybe because he was orphaned and had been treated shabbily by one of his brothers, Peter Damian was very good to the poor. It was the ordinary thing for him to have a poor person or two with him at table and he liked to minister personally to their needs.

Peter escaped poverty and the neglect of his own brother when his other brother, who was archpriest of Ravenna, took him under his wing. His brother sent him to good schools and Peter became a professor.

Already in those days, Peter was very strict with himself. He wore a hair shirt under his clothes, fasted rigorously and spent many hours in prayer. Soon, he decided to leave his teaching and give himself completely to prayer with the Benedictines of the reform of Saint Romuald at Fonte Avellana. They lived two monks to a hermitage. Peter was so eager to pray and slept so little that he soon suffered from severe insomnia. He found he had to use some prudence in taking care of himself. When he was not praying, he studied the Bible.

The abbot commanded that when he died Peter should succeed him. Abbot Peter founded five other hermitages. He encouraged his brothers in a life of prayer and solitude and wanted nothing more for himself. The Holy See periodically called on him, however, to be a peacemaker or troubleshooter, between two abbeys in dispute or a cleric or government official in some disagreement with Rome.

Finally, Pope Stephen IX made Peter the cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He worked hard to wipe out simony–the buying of church offices–and encouraged his priests to observe celibacy and urged even the diocesan clergy to live together and maintain scheduled prayer and religious observance. He wished to restore primitive discipline among religious and priests, warning against needless travel, violations of poverty, and too comfortable living. He even wrote to the bishop of Besancon complaining that the canons there sat down when they were singing the psalms in the Divine Office.

He wrote many letters. Some 170 are extant. We also have 53 of his sermons and seven lives, or biographies, that he wrote. He preferred examples and stories rather than theory in his writings. The liturgical offices he wrote are evidence of his talent as a stylist in Latin.

He asked often to be allowed to retire as cardinal-bishop of Ostia, and finally Pope Alexander II consented. Peter was happy to become once again just a monk, but he was still called to serve as a papal legate. When returning from such an assignment in Ravenna, he was overcome by a fever. With the monks gathered around him saying the Divine Office, he died on February 22, 1072.

In 1828, he was declared a Doctor of the Church.


Reflection

Peter was a reformer and if he were alive today would no doubt encourage the renewal started by Vatican II. He would also applaud the greater emphasis on prayer that is shown by the growing number of priests, religious, and laypersons who gather regularly for prayer, as well as the special houses of prayer recently established by many religious communities.

Saint of the Day

God Forgives the Maximum

In the Our Father we say: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This is an equation. If you are not capable of forgiveness, how can God forgive you? The Lord wants to forgive you, but he cannot if you keep your heart closed and mercy cannot enter. One might object: “Father, I forgive, but I cannot forget that awful thing that he did to me….” The answer is to ask the Lord to help you forget. One must forgive as God forgives, and God forgives the maximum. 

—Pope Francis, as quoted in the book The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

The Hope of Lent

Indebted to God

God of life, we are grateful for the many gifts that you have given to us. May we become prudent stewards of your many gifts and not thoughtlessly waste water, food, and other resources. May we respond to your Son’s cry of thirst with lives of peacemaking and just action. We make his prayer in your name. Amen.

—from The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The Last Words of Jesus 

Heaven and Earth

When Saint Francis met the leper, it was Jesus he’d met, and the Lord was saying, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35–37).

These words made everything clear for Francis, and living them, even when God seemed distant or an enveloping cloud, brought near the kingdom of God. That is what the brothers’ lives had proven from the very beginning: Living the Gospel revealed to them the kingdom of God. 

—from the book Francis and Jesus by Murray Bodo 

Francis and Jesus

God Is Within Us

If something is completely foreign to you, you’re normally bored by it or do not even notice it. We cannot deeply experience, much less desire union with, something that is foreign to us. So God planted a little bit of God inside of us—and all things. It seduces us into even more universal love and life. Some might call it the Holy spirit, some might call it the soul, some might simply speak of inner resonance. The point is that a force of love can move from God to us and back again. 

—from the book Yes, And...: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr

Yes, And ...: Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr

God Speaks through Everything

How does God speak? Through everything there is. Every thing, every person, every situation, is ultimately the Word. It tells me something and challenges me to respond. Each moment, with all that it contains, spells out the great “yes” in a new and unique way. By making my response, moment by moment, word by word, I myself am becoming the Word that God speaks in me and to me and through me. 

—from the book The Way of Silence by Brother David Steindl-Rast 

The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life

A Meditation on the Cross

Grasping the secret of the cross is not something we do once and for all. Sometimes we grasp it, and we are inside the circle of understanding; and sometimes we don’t grasp it, and we are outside the circle of understanding.

For example, after Peter denies Jesus during the passion, the Gospels tell us that “Peter went outside.” They are referring to much more than simply stepping outside through some courtyard door. Peter was stepping outside the circle of both true discipleship and of a true understanding of life. His denial of Jesus took him “outside.” We too, in our following of Jesus, sometimes step “outside” when we give in to temptation or adversity. But then, if we repent, like Peter, we can step back “inside.”

—from the book The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser

The Passion and the Cross

Ash Wednesday: A Day of Surprises

There’s something about Ash Wednesday that draws us in, calls us to return to sanity, to a change of heart and mind.

Lent doesn’t take us away from our ordinary lives, but rather it invites us to bring a new and holy attention to those activities. This should be the way with all of our spiritual practices. We take time apart in order to return to our daily activities with new inspiration. God will always surprise us with possibilities when we least expect them. Let this Lent be one of those surprises.

—from the book The Hope of Lent: Daily Reflections from Pope Francis by Diane M. Houdek

The Hope of Lent

To Everything a Season

Saint Bridget of Sweden longed from an early age to become a nun. But she was obedient to her prominent family’s desire that she marry a prince. Their marriage was happy and produced eight children (including one, Catherine, who would go on to be a saint herself). After her husband’s death, Bridget followed the call of her youth.

There are different seasons to our lives, as Bridget found. Her example shows us that God knows what’s best for each season; all we have to do is listen.

—from the book Sisterhood of Saints by Melanie Rigney

Saint of the Day

We Are Made in God's Image

To be a human creature, a person that somehow bears the image of God, means that love is properly at our core. When we move in proper relation to the world we move with affection. And it is this affection that guides our action and directs the boundaries of our limits. 
God may love the world, but we live into God’s image by reflecting such love on a proper scale—among particular places and people. We live into our love when we love our neighbors.

–from the book Wendell Berry and the Given Life by Ragan Sutterfield

Wendell Berry and the Given Life - Book