Second Thought for the Day – 13 May – The Memorial of St Robert Bellarmine SJ (1542-1621) Bishop, Confessor, Doctor of the Church
“The Month of the Blessed Virgin Mary”
St Robert’s Personal Devotion
to the Mother of God
“St Robert was devoted to the Blessed Virgin from his earliest years. According to his schoolmate, later Canon Vincent Patiuchelli, as a young boy Bellarmine used to recite daily the Office of the Blessed Virgin, often in company with Vincent as the two of them walked slowly along the road. Bellarmine retained this custom of reciting the Office of Our Lady throughout life. In the same way. he kept the custom into his old age. of daily saying the Rosary. Alexander Jacobelli, who was the Cardinal’s Almoner for twenty years, testified at the Beatification process that, “He never omitted saying the Office and the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during which he was often found melted in tears.”
However, Robert was not satisfied with only a single recitation of the Rosary. The beads were literally his constant companion. In the words of his chaplain, “when fatigued with study, Bellarmine would find recreation in reciting the beads with uncovered head.” And again, “his relaxation was to say the Rosary of Our Lady.” On his frequent journeys as Archbishop of Capua, attendants noticed that he always followed the same ritual – celebrate Mass, say the Itinerarium and, Rosary in hand, enter the carriage for the journey.
Juan de Serayz, a close friend of Robert, left some interesting details on how Bellarmine would say the Rosary. It was 14 June 1618, the Feast of Corpus Christi, when Robert and Juan were returning from a procession at St Peter’s Basilica. “As we got into the carriage,” relates Juan, “he told me that he was able to say the third part of the Rosary exactly three times, from the time the procession left the Sistine Chapel to where it finally ended at the Altar of Exposition in St Peter’s. Which I asked him, out of curiosity, how he said the Rosary, he told me that he separated the decades of the Angelic Salutation with an Our Father, adding to each decade a short prayer corresponding to the different mysteries and preceding with emphasis, he said that he recited the Hail Mary’s slowly, slowly. When I observed that this did not leave much time for keeping his partner company, he answered that during the whole procession, he did not say a single word to his Cardinal companion.”
We understand, therefore, how painful were the doctor’s orders during Robert’s last illness, when he was forbidden, not only to say the Breviary but also, the Rosary. For, as his brother explained, the doctor knew with what ardour and devotion he applied himself to these prayers. Finally, the doctor was moved by the dying man’s pleas and mitigated the orders first given to the servant, allowing the sick man “a moderate use of the Rosary,” although everyone knew that, “his intense application to this prayer would be a great strain upon him.”
To the Office and the Rosary, Bellarmine added the Saturday fast in Mary’s honour. He fasted three days a week with the same rigour that he kept the Lenten fast, that is, most strictly. According to a syllogism which he wrote on the subject, he argued in this way:
“Our justice should be greater than that of the Pharisees. Matt. 5/20
But the Pharisees fasted two days a week. Luke 18/12
Therefore, I should fast at least three days a week!”
So, besides the fasts for the vigils and the Lenten fast and besides the whole of Advent, he kept a sacred fast on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of each week. That he kept the Saturday fast in honour of Our Lady is clear from the sermon which he gave on one occasion for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when he said that among the practices most pleasing to the Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son and most useful to growing in their love and friendship, is the daily recitation of the Rosary and the Saturday fast in Mary’s honour. It was only under express orders from his Confessor to fast only twice a week, that in his old age Bellarmine relinquished the Saturday fast.” [Excerpt by Servant of God Fr John A Hardon SJ (1914-2000)]
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