I am Fr. Chad Partain, the pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Mansura, Louisiana and the chancellor for the diocese of Alexandria. And so I had a long trip to be with you today. But, it is a trip that I looked forward to making because I have seen pictures of your beautiful church for years and always wanted an excuse to come visit. This was the perfect opportunity. In September 2011, we gathered at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows outside of St. Louis, Illinois for an international conference on St. Philomena and, while we were there, devotees from all over the world gathered to share their stories of St. Philomena and to reflect on the devotion and the work of the devotion in the world. It was during the gathering at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows that we came to a greater understanding of what St. Philomena was accomplishing in the modern world. She is a Saint who went from great obscurity to great popularity. She rose from the silence of the catacombs to being the great Wonder-Worker of the 19th Century. After this time, she again slept, but now her devotion is in a period of great resurgence. Many of us who work with the devotion and who try to spread it, believe there is a reason for that resurgence. Philomena is a gift to the Church that God gives to the generations that are in most need of her intercession. And certainly, I think, this is true of our own time and our own need. Our day and Age is not radically different from the days of Diocletian, the waning days of the old Roman Empire. If we were to look back in history and read accounts of life in those days, it would almost be as if we were reading newspaper headlines of our own day. The reign of Diocletian was a culture of death! It was a time when life was cheap, men and women lived for their own sexual excess and pleasure. The Family Unit had completely broken down under a system of no-fault divorce which had been introduced in the Roman Law. Abortion and Euthanasia were common, suicide was rampant, the birth rate almost non-existent. Homosexuality was accepted as a norm and no longer looked upon as perversion. In so many ways, the days of St. Philomena are an exact mirror of our own. And it was into the darkness of that culture of death that God brought forth this amazing little Saint to challenge the wisdom of the world. God sent a teenage girl to challenge the strong and the powerful. He sent this humble little child whose name means simply “Child of the Light,” Philomena, daughter of Light. God has given us this little Saint, the patron Saint of miracles, this innocent child in our own time because we have the same needs as the people of her time. We have to be reminded as they were reminded that the light does shine in the darkness, for this is Philomena’s message. The Light of Christ still continues to shine even in the darkest moments as we pass through this valley of the shadow of death. And so, Philomena speaks to us, as she speaks for us before the throne of God. The message St. Philomena gives to the modern world is the message which it greatly needs.
First, she is a witness to the transforming power of God’s Grace. She reminds us that with the Grace of God all things are possible. And this is a message of hope, a message of confidence and trust which we need to remember more than ever, because we run the risk of growing discouraged by the evil that surrounds us. It is very easy to be a pessimist in the Church today. It is very easy for us to be cynical or critical, to believe that we are living in the worst of times and to believe there is no hope. To give into that temptation is to go against the virtue of Hope. And, this is something we cannot afford to do. Philomena is a reminder to us that the Grace of God accomplishes wonders. But, where does the Grace of God work? The Grace of God does not work through politics, international treaties or trade agreements. The world is touched and changed and transformed not by Washington, or the United Nations; the world is touched and changed for the better through the Grace of God at work in the human heart. This is what St. Philomena reminds us: the Grace of God and the Power of God are at work! Even in the midst of this corrupt and depraved generation, we can see God’s Grace reflected in the faces of the children and the families here present. The Grace of God is not absent from our world. But, we have to know where to look for it. Philomena reminds us that we have to look for the Grace of God at work among the young. Our children are not incapable of virtue. All too often, there is a temptation to write off the children of this generation: they are too callous, they are too cynical, they are too locked into their own little worlds, they are too selfish, too self-centered, they have completely given into the lies of the media and they are blind to any spiritual reality. But, that simply is not the case. Many of our children are lost, many are not! And that is why we have to continue to seek the Grace of God which is at work in them. We cannot afford to give up or to write off an entire generation for the Grace of God is at work. The transforming power of God’s Grace is active in them. St. Philomena is the Patroness of Youth. Every Saint has a task to perform in this world and in the next. Just because we get to Heaven does not mean that our work is done. St. Philomena’s task, assigned to her by the Church, is to intercede for the young. She is to be a witness, model and intercessor for our youth. And we have to help her in that task. The children of today are lost in many ways because they no longer have reflected for them any witness or example of holiness or innocence. As you know, so many of them come from broken homes, wounded relationships and abusive situations. Many of them have never experienced a Catholic education. They have not experienced the support of an extended family. They have never known the love of dedicated religious or the care of priests. They have had no one to witness to them the marvelous love of our Heavenly Father. This is why the Archconfraternity of St. Philomena and the Universal Living Rosary Association of Saint Philomena have developed the Youth for Purity Crusade to introduce St. Philomena to as wide an audience as possible.
The Youth Crusade consists of two phases: The first phase is a program of mini-shrines that are being put together and will be sent free of charge to whatever school or parish or CCD program would like to receive one. The mini-shrine is simply a large plastic container but, in that plastic container, there is a statue of Saint Philomena, her chaplet, a set of CD’s describing her life and her miracles, devotional materials as well as educational materials on the basic tenets of the Faith. Included, also, are Scapulars, Rosaries and Miraculous Medals, enough for every child to carry back into his own home. That is the first phase of what we want to accomplish in St. Philomena’s Youth for Purity Crusade. We want to introduce her and take her on tour. We want to expose as many children as possible to the power of this young girl because the Church in Her Infallible Wisdom holds up this child as a witness and a sign of what the Grace of God is able to do with our human weakness. Included with every mini-shrine, there is a curriculum which guides the teacher to present the story of St. Philomena and to help focus the children’s attention on the message that needs to be conveyed, the message that we all need to hear. And that message is very simple and, yet, very profound. What do we need to hear in the modern world? What do we need to remember? St. Philomena teaches us, first of all, about the need for courage. Courage is a supernatural gift which comes to us from the Holy Ghost. The virtue of courage is needed in our world today. Philomena is a wonderful example because she is the unexpected witness of courage. Our children today are inundated with images of superheroes and novel forms of courage that are not possible. But, Philomena presents a courage which is supernatural and, yet, at the same time accessible. Here is a child, and we have to remember she was very much a child; here is a child in a foreign land, torn from her parents, isolated from all that was familiar, abused and tempted in ways that none of us have ever been tempted. None of us have ever been offered the kingdom of the world on a platter. She was offered fame, fortune, power and physical pleasure. Everything the world could offer, was offered to her! And, yet, she found the courage to resist this temptation, to overcome her fear and to maintain her peace of soul. Her courage is a tremendous witness and it is a witness, not only to the supernatural virtue of courage but it is also a witness to the power of innocence. Our world today does not value innocence. You can see it in the fashions, you can see it in the advertisements and you can see it everywhere from the billboards to the check-out line at the grocery store. Ours is not a culture that values innocence. We view innocence as a handicap because we have the mistaken idea that innocence is the same as being naïve. And we see this as a weakness not a strength. But, there is more to innocence than just virginity of the body. The greatest innocence, the strength and power of innocence, comes through purity of the mind and heart which is reflected in the purity of the body. You must have the first one before you can have the second. Our children are not innocent and, believe me, they are not innocent because they have not been taught that purity of the body can only happen when we understand and embrace purity of the mind and the heart. For only the pure of heart, shall see God. And this is what innocence is all about. Innocence is the ability not just to refrain from sexual activity, but it is the ability to see and to understand as God does, to possess a spiritual point of view and to be able to value and judge things of this world in the light of eternity. Philomena had that ability and was able to see through the shadows and the illusions of temptation. She was able to distinguish what was important from what was unimportant, what was necessary from what was not necessary. She saw through the lies and the deceptions and she clearly understood that the only thing necessary was the salvation of her soul. Philomena had the courage to embrace the Truth! This is innocence! This is power! Innocence is power because it brings with it integrity of heart. The third powerful lesson that St. Philomena brings is integrity of heart. She was single-minded, stubborn and committed. This is what gave her strength. She was focused completely on the one thing necessary, the only thing that is necessary: the salvation of her soul. This is what gave her courage and strength in the face of martyrdom and death. These are the three lessons we want to highlight as we send the mini-shrines out to the schools, to the youth groups and to the CCD programs. We want to emphasize integrity of heart and the power of innocence and the great need for courage. This is the focus we want to give our children and Philomena does that in a radical and powerful way.
The second phase of the Youth Crusade is accomplished simultaneously with the first. Philomena is not only the patron Saint of miracles and the patron Saint of youth, but she is also the patron Saint of the Children of Mary. The Children of Mary is an organization that was begun in the 19th Century. It was requested by the Blessed Mother when she appeared to St. Catherine Labouré at Rue de Bac in 1830. At the time She gave Catherine the Miraculous Medal, Mary asked for the establishment of the Congregation of the Children of Mary. St. Philomena was named patroness of that Congregation by Pope Pius IX. The second phase of our Youth Crusade now is to resurrect the Congregation of the Children of Mary. Msgr. Braschi, as rector of the Shrine of St. Philomena in Italy and universal director of the ArchConfraternity, has asked us to do just that. We are to resurrect the Congregation of the Children of Mary as a Youth Crusade for all, as a means of teaching and spreading devotion not only to Saint Philomena, but the importance and the necessity of the Marian Consecration, the spirituality of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, by which we go to Jesus through Mary. To this end, we have re-established the Congregation of the Children of Mary as the youth arm of the International Family of St. Philomena.
The International Family of Saint Philomena is composed of three branches: The ArchConfraternity of Saint Philomena headquartered in the Sanctuary of Mugnano del Cardinale, the Universal Living Rosary Association of St. Philomena founded by Ven. Pauline Jaricot and the Congregation of the Children of Mary: The papa, the mama and the children. Here, then, is the Family: La Familia de Santa Filomena (The Family of St. Philomena) Now, there is a place for all of us to grow in our understanding and our awareness of St. Philomena and also to practice this devotion and pass it on to others. That is the purpose of the Family, to spread the devotion, to tell the story, to give witness to the miracles, to remind the modern world that God does reach into our lives and perform miracles. Miracles are not just a thing of the past. They happen in the here and now. And it is because of such a miracle that I am here today with you.
When I was in Junior High, I was introduced to Saint Philomena through the Universal Living Rosary Association. I signed up for my Daily DECADE and received a pamphlet on St. Philomena and wanted to know more about her. So I read everything I could about her and I was inspired by her story. I knew that I wanted to be a priest; I wanted to go to the seminary but I was diagnosed with a tumor-like growth in my inner ear. The doctor informed my parents that it had to come out right away. This cholesteatoma was of enormous size and would have to be removed immediately by radical surgery. The surgery was scheduled but, before the surgery, I began a Novena to St. Philomena reminding her gently that, if I was going to be a priest, I must have the ability to hear. My family was able to obtain a First Class Relic from the Vatican. My parents and I prayed the Novena and then I went in for surgery. I had a radical mastoidectomy, where they basically cut off my ear, and drilled through the mastoid bone to get into the inner ear. The doctor got in there and, after eight hours of surgery, he came out and told my parents, “The tumor was much larger than I imagined. The growth was actually the size of a grapefruit; it was pressing on the brain, and there is no way now that he will be able to hear because there is nothing left in the inner ear. Everything has been eaten away. We patched together an ear drum but he will definitely be deaf and most likely paralyzed on his left side.” My mother said, “Are you sure?” They said, “No, we cannot be certain until he comes out of the anesthesia.” I came out of the anesthesia, and felt the doctors pricking my toes to see if I could feel anything. Not only was I not paralyzed, but when they finally unwrapped the mummy and took off my bandages, I could hear out of that ear. The doctors were amazed because there was nothing there but one large vast cavity. There was no inner ear left. There was nothing to hear with. Yet it is that ear which, every week, I press up against the Confessional grill to hear Confessions. St. Philomena is a wonderful sister to us. And that’s what she longs to be. She longs to be a sister to us in order to remind us that we are not alone, the power and the Grace of God are present, and we must not lose hope, or give in to cynicism or despair. Rather, we must continue to practice the devotions by which we recognize that we are part of something greater than ourselves, for you and I are part of the Communion of Saints. Sanctity is not limited to the Saints in Heaven, but you and I are part of that Family – the Family of the Communion of Saints. We are bound to one another and to the Souls in Heaven, and to the Souls in Purgatory as a support system, for this is the Mystical Body of Christ. We have the right to call upon the Saints. We have the right to demand that they intercede in our behalf. Most of all, we are called to take our place with them by trusting Almighty God, and by asking for their continued intercession in all of our needs. Through the intercession of St. Philomena, we pray for our children as we pray for our world. We must also continue to pray for the gift of Hope, that great forgotten virtue, for hope is a gift from God which enables us to believe that God will provide everything that is necessary for our salvation. Nothing will be lacking to us. Nothing is lacking. Everything has been given. When God reaches into our lives with a miracle, He reminds us of this fact: There is nothing lacking. All we have to do is to believe and hope and trust like a little child. This is why, I believe, God has once again raised up this powerful Saint who will not die, whose devotion will not fade or go away. I believe her devotion will continue to grow, it will continue to spread because her miracles happen every day. The testimonies that pour into the Sanctuary from all over the world and the testimonies that are reported to the Universal Living Rosary Association are tremendous! God is at work among us. He wants us to turn to the Saints; He wants us to ask for their powerful help, so we might remember in doing this, we are a part of the tremendous Communion of Saints. We have the support we need. We are not alone! I would urge you, if you have not done so already, to sign up for the ArchConfraternity of St. Philomena. This is a wonderful way for us to express our devotion to St. Philomena and to help spread this devotion to others. The requirements are very simple: just fill out the membership card and practice the devotion on your own and do what you can to help spread the devotion to others.
Fr. Jason and Fr. Kevin made mention of the cord of St. Philomena which is indulgenced. The cord is the sign of membership in the ArchConfraternity and, certainly, is a tremendous treasure that has been given to us. If you haven’t already, I would urge you to sign up for your Daily DECADE with the Universal Living Rosary Association. Venerable Pauline Jaricot was a tremendous soul and she devised a system by which we could promise to pray one DECADE of the Rosary, joining with others throughout the world. By praying our Daily DECADE, we share not only in the graces of all 15 decades of the Rosary every day, but through the power of association, we gain the graces and merits of all 12-Million members united with us praying their Daily Decade. It is the best bargain value in the Church. This devotion is sanctioned by the Holy Father and is highly indulgenced. It is a tremendous thing. There are 12-MILLION members of the Living Rosary Association worldwide. Take up your Decade, play your part, and help spread devotion to the Blessed Mother throughout the world. The Living Rosary Association is also a missionary activity. I urge you to take home the information we have for the Children of Mary. The Congregation of the Children of Mary, the youth arm of the Family of St. Philomena, is a wonderful way for us to fulfill what was requested by Our Blessed Lady, that our children gather together on the First Saturday of each month, receive Holy Communion in reparation, pray the Rosary and consecrate their lives to Jesus through Mary. This is the purpose of the Congregation of the Children of Mary. Through this Congregation, they learn and are formed so that they can make Mary’s “YES” their own. It is a tremendous Crusade. Take the information back to your parish, to your CCD class or include it in your home-school curriculum. Let everyone know about the Youth Crusade. Share with them the possibilities of spreading devotion to this tremendous Saint. If you do that, you will be doing your part. We are all called to offer our FIAT to God’s plan for us by promulgating devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and hastening her final Triumph. We are called to live and to act, to work and to pray like St. Philomena as Children of the Light, as Children of Mary!
I invite you all to be a part of the Youth for Purity Crusade. By your participation in the Archconfraternity, the Universal Living Rosary and the Children of Mary, you will grow in virtue and purity, and help Saint Philomena bring souls to Jesus through Mary
Thank you. May God bless you!
Fr. Chad Partain, Director