20 December 2015

St. Peter Canisius - Secret Agent!

In the year 1565 the Vatican was looking for a secret agent. It was right after the Council of Trent and the pope wanted to get the decrees of the Council to all the European bishops. That would seem pretty simple to us today, but it was a very dangerous assignment in the sixteenth century. The first one who tried to carry the decrees through territory of hostile anti-Catholics was robbed and the documents were taken. This was a time when some people had rebelled against the Church, and they didn’t want the Church to succeed, so they did everything in their power to stop the decrees and documents from the Pope to reach any of the bishops. What to do? Rome needed someone courageous, but also somebody who wouldn’t be suspected of carrying important documents. They chose Peter Canisius. He was a well-known Jesuit priest who had founded several schools and colleges – in fact, he was such a respected educator, everyone admired him – even those who had left the Church. As he travelled, the reason he gave was that he was the official "visitor" of the various colleges he had founded – and he did visit them, so it was the truth. But among his belongings and books, he had hidden the Decrees from the Council of Trent, and as he would go through a particular area, he was able to distribute these important documents to the bishops.

Why did the Vatican choose St. Peter Canisius for this dangerous and important job? He had worked hard as a priest – and his work included not only founding educational institutions, but he was a very faithful pastor of souls. A terrible plague swept across Europe, and St. Peter Canisius, with no thought for his own safety, went among the sick and the dying, ministering to them and bringing them comfort – whether they were Catholic or not, they received encouragement and comfort from him. People never forgot his bravery and his kindness. He saw people who were ignorant of the Faith, and he knew that they were easily swayed by convincing speakers who were leading them into error, so he compiled a simple but effective catechism, and countless thousands of people were taught the truth and so were able to leave error behind. Because of the success and the need, Peter quickly produced two more versions: a Shorter Catechism for young students which concentrated on helping them choose good over evil by concentrating on a different virtue each day of the week; and a Shortest Catechism for young children which included prayers for morning and evening, for mealtimes, and for other times of the day, to get them used to praying.

This was a time of confusion, and in their frustration, very often priests would speak harshly to people who were weak in their faith. But St. Peter Canisius was known for his gentle and strong way of speaking. He really was a conduit of God’s love, and his quiet and polite speech won many people back to the Catholic faith. Although he worked throughout Europe, much of his work was centered in Germany, and he came to be known as a “second St. Boniface,” who was considered to be the Apostle of the Germans. Even near the end of his life, he continued his work, communicating with people through letters, and always keeping them in his prayers. St. Peter Canisius died on December 21, 1597.

O God, who didst strengthen Saint Peter Canisius, thy Confessor, for the defence of the Catholic faith: mercifully grant that by his example and teaching, the erring may be made wise unto salvation, and the faithful may stand fast in the confession of truth; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.