Thought for the Day – 25 September – Today’s Gospel: Luke 8:19-21 and The Memorial of St Vincent Strambi C.P. (1745-1824)
Leo XII, who succeeded Pius VII, was a warm admirer of Vincent. When he received his request to be allowed to retire from the dioceses of Macerata and Tolentino, he seems to have regarded it as an opportunity to take him to Rome and have him always by his side. This, of course, was not at all what Vincent had been hoping and praying for. What he wanted was to hide himself in some obscure Passionist monastery and there prepare himself for death. Instead he was to have apartments at the Quirinal and be almost on every day parade as the Pope’s confidant. However, he took this destruction of all his cherished hopes with a surprising calmness. He apparently had some sort of inward assurance that since his death was not far off it did not matter much after all. To a friend who was condoling with him on his disappointment, he said enigmatically: ‘Oh, it will turn out all right. St Sylvester will see to it.’ And to another friend he said joyfully ‘You will see I shall be only forty days at the Quirinal and then it will be SS. John and Paul’s!’ Subsequent events solved the enigma and explained his joy.
Leo XII was scarcely three months Pope when all the ailments of a shattered constitution assailed him with fury and threatened to cut short a reign that was more than promising great things for the Church. Towards the end of December, 1823, he was considered past all hope of recovery. Vincent visited him one evening during those days and found him so ill that he remained only a short time. On returning to his own apartments, he ordered his evening meal to be prepared a little earlier than usual. He said he would have to rise very hurriedly that night and wished to get some sleep. In fact, at midnight the Pope was taken so bad that it was thought advisable to give him the Last Sacraments. When told how serious his condition was the Pope asked for Vincent to be called. Vincent then administered Extreme Unction and the Viaticum. Afterwards, as he was speaking to the Pope about spiritual things and exhorting him to great confidence in God, his face suddenly took on a particularly joyous aspect. ‘Holy Father, he said with conviction, ‘someone is going to offer his life for you and I shall go now and say Mass for your recovery.’
All who assisted at that Mass of Vincent later on testified to the extraordinary fervour with which he said it. When it was over he enquired how the Pope was and on being told that he was much better, he said in accents of great joy:
‘Our Lady has accepted the sacrifice and the grace has been granted.”
The Pope recovered but Vincent had a stroke on the feast of St Sylvester and died on the following day, 1 January 1824. Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, in his ‘Recollections of the Last Four Popes, tells how everyone believed that Leo XII owed his life to Vincent. ‘All Rome, he says, ‘attributed the unexpected recovery to the prayers of a saintly Bishop, who was sent for at the Pope’s request. This was Monsignor Strambi, of the Congregation of the Passion. He came immediately, saw the Pope, and assured him of his recovery, as he had offered up to heaven his own valueless life in exchange for one so precious. It did indeed seem as if he had transfused his own vitality into the Pope’s languid frame. He himself died soon after and the Pontiff rose like one from the tomb.’
The circumstances of Vincent’s death called wider attention to his great sanctity. His body, extraordinarily flexible and life-like, lay in state in one of the halls of the Quirinal for three days and in the Basilica of SS. John and Paul for five days. During that time there was a ceaseless stream of people filing past it, many of whom surreptitiously cut off bits of the Passionist habit in which he was clothed. One of the many important ecclesiastics who came to honour Vincent in death was Abbot Cappellari, who was to become Pope Gregory XVI. Noting the uncorpse-like appearance of the body he tried an experiment. He took Vincent’s right hand in his own and with it formed with the greatest of ease the sign of the cross.
Vincent’s funeral was attended by all the members of the Papal Court and the Roman nobility as well as by a vast number of priests, religious and people. Having been, as he had prophesied, forty days at the Quirinal, he was laid to rest in SS. John and Paul’s beside St Paul of the Cross.
In the bulky volumes that have been written on the profane history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we find little or no mention of this hero of sanctity. The scales of value of historians failed to register one who was neither a soldier, nor a savant, nor a scientist. Yet, if the standards of the soul are higher than those of the body; St Vincent Strambi accomplished something that weighed down heavily the scales of Divine value-something that merits an eternal remembrance – he lived a life of virtue and selfdenial for God’s sake and he saved innumerable souls. (SAINT VINCENT STRAMBI, C.P. 1745-1824 – OSMUND THORPE, C. P.)