Saint Nicholas of Tolentine

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São Nicolau de Tolentino - Basílica de São Nicolau, Tolentino (Itália) - Foto: Francisco Lecaros

Today, September 10, the Church celebrates the memory of St. Nicholas of Tolentino: “There has been no saint since the time of the Apostles who surpassed St. Nicholas of Tolentino in the number and greatness of miracles.

Newsroom (10/09/2021 19:30, Gaudium Press) –From his conception, he was marked as a prodigy. His parents had been married for many years and had no children. His mother, Amada Gaidani, a great devotee of St. Nicholas of Mira, promised him that if he would deliver her from sterility, she would make the child she conceived into a religious, whether boy or girl.

This is how the saint told a friend, the notary Berardo Apillaterra, what happened next: “Once the vow was made, they went to visit the shrine of St. Nicholas in Bari. On their return, my mother conceived me, as they told me. And in 1245 the child of the miracle was born in the little Castle Sant’Angelo, today Sant’Angelo in Pontano, and was named after his patron saint.

From an early age, Nicholas ran away from what was worldly and fun and prayed with such recollection that he was admired. When he was only seven years old, he began to fast three times a week, was eager to receive the poor in his father’s house, and withdrew to a nearby cave to pray in solitude.

Son of St. Augustine

Very intelligent, Nicholas attended the parochial school of the regular canons of St. Augustine, where he stood out for his seriousness and responsibility. There he made rapid progress in his studies, received minor orders, and while still an adolescent, was granted a canonicate in the Collegiate Church of the Most Holy Savior.

This kind of life, however, did not fulfill the desires of his heart, for he longed to consecrate himself entirely to God. It was then that he heard, in the preaching of an Augustinian friar, this passage from the Gospel:

“Love not the world nor the things of the world. The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does the will of God abides forever” (I Jn 2:15, 17).

Such words went deep into his soul, and he asked the preacher to be received into his order.

At about the age of fourteen Nicholas was received as a son of St. Augustine.

This was his first miracle: placing his hands on the head of a sick child, he said to him, “The good God will heal you.” In the same instant, the child recovered.

The Devil’s subtle attack

In community life, he always considered himself the last. He performed the simplest and most difficult tasks with joy and without complaining, never getting impatient and always seeking to do the will of others.

He guarded an angelic purity well by the use of many weapons to fight his evil passions including austere penances, fasting, and harsh sackcloth. He lay on the bare earth and had a stone for a pillow. He never ate meat, only bread, and a few stale, uncooked vegetables on the days of the week when he was not fasting.

And, having progressed by leaps and bounds on the road to perfection, he made his solemn perpetual profession before he was eighteen years old.

However, a cousin of the saint, superior of a convent whose rule and life were less austere, proposed that he transfer there, because he claimed that at his short age he already looked like an old man, so thin he was, and soon he would lose his health and become useless to the Religion.

Nicholas considered this proposal a subtle temptation from the devil, who wanted to keep him away from the radical surrender to which he felt called.

He went to the church and, while absorbed in fervent prayer, several Angels appeared to him like children dressed in white, singing melodiously in chorus.

To urge him to remain in the Order of the Hermits of Saint Augustine, they repeated to him three times: “It is in Tolentino that you must settle; remain there, be constant in your vocation and be certain that there you will find your salvation”.

This vision consoled him greatly and strengthened him on the path he had undertaken.

Priesthood and, after all… Tolentino!

The Provincials often moved him to another house, so that his exacting observance and the perfume of his holiness would edify his brothers in the habit.

During his stay in Cingoli, in 1269 he was ordained a priest by Bishop Benvenuto of Scotivoli, then Bishop of Osimo. His devotion received a new impetus from the divine character of priestly ministry.

Sick or healthy, he celebrated Holy Mass every day with admirable piety, never before going to confession and often in tears.

The day foretold by the angels finally arrived: Father Nicholas was sent to Tolentino! There he remained for thirty years, excelling, according to one of his biographers, “in four important points: Mass, Confessions, preaching, and visiting the poor and the sick.

His person, his actions, and his miracles marked the city he was named after and have crossed the centuries, converting and refreshing countless souls until our days.

Frequent Attacks of the Evil One

In order to try to dissipate St. Nicholas in his usual recollection, the evil one would alternate terrible screams with sounds emitted by animals, such as bull’s mooing, lion’s roars, wolf’s howls, or snake’s hisses.

At other times he would pretend to open the roof, break the tiles, break the frames, or pull down the house. The Saint, however, remained impassive without showing any sign of fear or disturbance.

There were times when the attack was more direct. One day, the spirit of darkness entered his cell in the form of a giant bird and, with the beating of its wings, knocked the lamp that illuminated his oratory to pieces.

St. Nicholas prayed, took the pieces, put it back together, and with one breath re-lit it as if nothing had happened. The same thing happened on two other occasions.

It was not unusual for the devil to beat him cruelly until he was half-dead, with his body covered in wounds. Thus he was found more than once in the cloister, where the cursed one had dragged him. Because of these hard fights, he was lame forever.

Never able to overcome him with these kinds of attacks, the father of lies tried to instill in him temptations of scruples: he made him think that his penances did not please God and that, on the contrary, they were a burden to the community.

Miracles

Having become seriously ill because of his austerities, Father Nicholas in obedience to his superiors ate some meat. Having eaten, the religious’s health worsened, to the point that everyone thought he was going to die.

He, however, appealed to the Blessed Virgin, who appeared to him accompanied by St. Augustine and St. Monica. Our Lady consoled him saying that Jesus carried him in His Heart and that His founder and His holy mother were favorable to him.

Then she recommended that he eat some bread soaked in water, assuring him that it would be an excellent remedy for his illness. As soon as he did this, he was cured. The Saint’s meager diet was thus sanctioned by the Mother of God.

This episode gave rise to the blessing of Saint Nicholas’ buns on his feast day, which restored health to so many sick people.

As a man of miracles of charity, when he was the almsmaster of the convent he often distributed the bread that was destined for the table of the religious with great generosity.

One day, when the priest prior saw him doing this, he asked him what he was carrying in the towel under his cloak. The saint replied that they were flowers, and “in fact, the pieces of bread he was carrying turned into beautiful roses, although it was the month of December!

A bright star: omen of glory

A year before he left for eternity, he saw in his dreams a star of extraordinary brightness rising in the heavens of Sant’Angelo, where he was born, and heading toward Tolentino, landing on the altar of the oratory where he celebrated Mass daily and said his prayers.

Intrigued, Father Nicholas consulted a brother of good reputation and knowledge about the meaning of this fact, and the latter replied: “Father, this star is undoubtedly an omen of your holiness, and I am sure that it will end its journey where your body is buried”.

 The saint protested against this interpretation, but the facts proved how true it was: until his death a bright star accompanied him, in full view of everyone.

In addition, during the last six months of his earthly life, “the Angels came down every night to his cell to cheer him with their melodies and give him a foretaste of eternal glory.

Feeling the moment of his departure approaching, Saint Nicholas after he received with great fervor the Viaticum and the Extreme Unction, then abandoned himself to the highest contemplations.

On the day of his death, he embraced a relic of the Holy Cross and delivered his innocent soul to God, saying: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46). It was September 10th, around the year 1310.

Fulfilling the prediction of the star, at the grave where the body of St. Nicholas of Tolentino remains incorrupt; through his intercession grace continues to open souls to Christ and working, with its heavenly light, miracles, and conversions.

Text extracted, with adaptations, from the Magazine Heralds of the Gospel n. 189, September 2017.

Compiled by Camille Mittermeier

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