Here’s a hard fact…as Catholics, we sometimes like to think that we are the ‘good Christians’ ….the ‘better’ Christians, because we are Catholic… Of course there is basis in this… but only because Christ instituted this Church, and so in that regard, it is better because we are admitting to His Truth...but that doesn’t necessarily make us better… it just makes us Catholic, but there is so much we have to do to be better…And many times whether we want to admit it or not, we are lacking in the virtue needed to actually be better. So often we have an uncharitable nature, but we don’t work on it, we make excuses for our failings, and we only give a halfway attempt at a full conversion. Just because we enjoy the fullness of what Christ came to preach, we like to think that by being Catholic in name only, that we are better. But I am afraid, nothing could be further from the truth.
More often than not, we tend to think that we are living a life that is pleasing to the Lord. We like to tell ourselves that we have Faith…We keep the commandments don’t we?? We feel that we’ve got what it takes to be a good Christian…. a good and holy person…. and we may honestly believe it, but do we really live it? Are we all in? It is a difficult decision for many… it is a difficult commitment, after all, we enjoy our comfort and like our ‘lazy afternoons.’ But this is not what Christ preached… it is not what God expects. We need to remember that there is no room in heaven for the halfhearted effort at our Faith. It is that important. Saint Fidelis Sigmaringen realized this and ultimately lay down his life for that of the Church…he lay down his life for the Life of Christ.
Saint Fidelis Sigmaringen was born ‘Mark Rey’, to a family who enjoyed nobility, in the year 1577. The area is now known as Prussia. Raised in the Faith, he made frequent use of the sacraments and spent many hours before the altar of God. He was known to visit the poor and the sick, offering help in whatever way that he could. As he grew, he studied law and spent much of his time and expertise helping the less fortunate and the downtrodden of society. He was a fair and just man who was often mocked and ridiculed for his service to the poor. Unable to stomach the often cruel and harsh ways of his fellow lawyers, he realized that he would never be able to fulfill his duty to the Lord if he remained a lawyer. So he abandoned the wicked ways of the world and closed his practice, leaving not only the cruel world, but also his wealth behind, becoming a Capuchin Monk.
After entering the Capuchin Order he completed his theological studies and traveled throughout southern Germany and Switzerland. Realizing the errors of the Protestant Reformation that was moving through the land, he worked tirelessly, day and night for their conversion. Throughout his travels he took with him only his Cross, his Bible, his breviary and the rule and Constitutions of the Order. He had separated himself from every comfort and every leisurely desire in order that he may not stray from his primary duty of saving souls.
Enduring severe bodily mortifications, he was very active in evangelizing those who had strayed from the True Church and those who did not yet know its true beauty and worth. He was a very passionate preacher and many were moved to conversion by listening to him teach about the Catholic Faith. His enormous appeal had a major drawback though, it made him a target of hate among the Protestant fundamentalist circles. Many sought to end his ministry by whatever means necessary.
With God’s mercy and grace and the wholehearted efforts of Brother Fidelis’ efforts, the protestant stronghold begin to give way and one by one, Brother Fidelis was able to convert them into embracing the true Catholic Faith once again. Even many Catholics who had become lukewarm were moved to conversion, many confessing their sins and changing their ways with a heartfelt repentance.
While living in Weltkirchen, which is present day Austria, he lived as the Superior of the convent during an outbreak of the plague. Devoting himself to the care of the people, he worked tirelessly to bring comfort and aid to the sick soldiers and citizens. Unconcerned about his own health he never let fear of the plague keep him from his duties. Inspired by the crown of martyrdom, he did not even fear when he was sent with several other Capuchin monks on a mission to Switzerland, where he was named to preside over the newly founded Congregation of the Propaganda,
where he braved numerous perils in order to rescue souls from the errors of Calvinism.
Even though there were dangers all around, and his life was in constant danger, Br. Fidelis and his fellow monks continued to do the Lord’s work, converting many. So many were converted that several Protestant preachers became alarmed at the falling rate of their congregations…they felt that as long as Brother Fidelis continued to preach, that they were in a losing battle, and it was a battle they did not wish to lose. Several of them gathered and plotted to kill the monk. As part of the rouse to murder him, they invited him to visit Sewis and preach during Easter at the village church. Unaware of the conspiracy that was plotted against him, in good faith he agreed to go. Then on the 24th of April in 1622, he preached a rousing sermon that was filled with the true teachings of Christ and His Church…he told all those who were gathered the fact that, “there is One Lord, One Faith, One baptism.” Many who were listening were moved to conversion, and the Protestant leaders, well they were moved with hate. A shot was fired in his direction, but missed him completely, undeterred, he finished his sermon and tried to leave the city.
It was here that he was attacked by his enemies. They insisted that he recant the Truths he had just preached. They tried to force him to change his ways and accept their ‘reform.’ He refused and told them,
“I will never renounce Catholic doctrine, which is the Truth of all ages, and I fear not death.”
At these words, they fell on him with their daggers, killing him in their anger, making him the first martyr of the Propaganda, giving his all…giving his life…which belonged to God anyway… back to the One, for Whom it was intended. Several days before he was killed, he had been preaching and below is a part of the moving sermon which had been instrumental in moving the hearts of the many who had listened, to conversion. These words still ring true. It is a message for us today, just as it was in his day. Remember, God is unchanging…as is His Church, and His call for us…each of us, remains the same.
“O Catholic faith, how solid, how strong you are! How deeply rooted, how firmly founded on a solid rock! Heaven and earth will pass away, but you can never pass away. From the beginning the world opposed you, but you mightily triumphed over everything. This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. It has subjected powerful kings to the rule of Christ; it has bound nations to his service. What made the holy apostles and martyrs endure fierce agony and bitter torments, except faith, and especially faith in the resurrection? What is it that today makes true followers of Christ cast luxuries aside, leave pleasures behind, and endure difficulties and pain? It is living faith that expresses itself through love. It is this that makes us put aside the goods of the present in the hope of future goods. It is because of faith that we exchange the present for the future.”
Reflection. We delight in decorating the altars of God with flowers, lights, and jewels, and it is right to do so; but if we wish to offer to God gifts of higher value, let us, in imitation of Saint Fidelis, labor to save souls who would be lost; that is to offer Him the ornaments of paradise which He so ardently longs to acquire.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 5