Saint Paschal Baylon, Patron of Eucharistic Congresses and Associations

As a model of meekness and humility, he was always attentive to the voice of the Shepherd who instructed him in divine knowledge and in the secrets of true holiness.

Newsroom (19/05/2022, 09:00, Gaudium Press Anyone who has had the opportunity to contemplate the delightful spectacle of a flock of sheep gathered around their shepherd will surely have noticed how much there is a kind of interlocution between these meek animals and the one to whom they are entrusted. Indeed, when he calls them or gives them a warning, the sheep gather around him, submissive and attentive, seeming to understand the meaning of his words.

This scene, so simple in appearance, reveals to us the profound reality of the Gospel sentence: “My sheep listen to my voice” (Jn 10:27). In the shepherd and his flock’s relationship, there is a symbolism created by God to help us understand the relationship full of consonance and intimacy that is established between Jesus and the soul led by grace. A word is enough, that is, a gentle inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for it to move according to God’s will, without fear or doubt, because it knows how to recognize the timbre of the Shepherd’s voice.

Such are the Saints throughout history, true “sheep in the hands of the Lord” (Ps 94:7), flexible and obedient to His commands. What distinguishes them from other men and makes them reach the heights of virtue, giving them an unmistakable charisma of attraction, lies in their abandonment in God’s hands and in their docility in letting themselves be led by His will. In this consists true heroism, much more than in efforts and labors in which the soul can tire itself out, since these, when deprived of the help of grace, are entirely sterile.

In this way we understand that holiness consists not so much in doing great deeds as in making all deeds great, even the most insignificant.

Contemplative from childhood

In 1540, on a jubilant Pentecost Sunday the bells of the parish church rang out in Torrehermosa, situated on the border of the Province of Saragossa in Aragon, to commemorate the great solemnity of the Holy Spirit; and on that day a child was born, predestined by God to be a perfect model of meekness and innocence, as a lamb of the Lord’s flock. In Spain this day is called “Easter of Pentecost,” so his parents, Martin Baylon and Elizabeth Jubera, baptized him with the name Paschal.

Of modest means, little Paschal began to work at the age of seven to help his parents, honourable peasants, shepherding their sheep – the only possession they owned – and later exercising the same trade in the service of other landowners.

The solitude of the fields and the serenity of the flock were an ideal setting for the development of that austere and contemplative soul, so that virtues could flourish within him. From his earliest years, his parents had inculcated in him an ardent piety, and Paschal took pains to make it more solid each day through assiduous prayer, mortification and reading. Unable to attend school for lack of family resources, the boy learned to read and write by himself – taught by the Angels, according to some of his biographers – so great was his desire to instruct himself in Religion. His saddlebag became a small library, in which he carried the books of his devotion and the Opus Dei of Our Lady, which he recited every day.

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Since he had no opportunity to go to Mass during the week, the little shepherd made up for this by devoting long hours to prayer, either in a small chapel of the Blessed Virgin nearby, by facing the far-off shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain, or simply in front of his own staff on which he had carved a cross and an image of Mary. It pleased God to reward him by granting him on several occasions that the Angels brought him the glowing Host so that he could see and adore it.

Moreover, as the region around the hermitage was very dry and pasture was scarce, Paschal was warned by his master that by going there frequently the animals would eventually perish. Not wanting to abandon his favourite place, the boy argued, full of faith, that Mary, as the Divine Shepherdess, would never let the flock lack food. And after a while the owner gave in, finding that his sheep were the best nourished in the whole region.

In the religious life

Since Paschal ardently desired to give himself to God in the religious state, St. Francis and St. Clare appeared to him one day and told him that he should enter the Order of Friars Minor. This plan was in accord with his innermost affections, for he nurtured a special love for the virtue of poverty. When his employer, Mr. Martin Garcia, a rich and powerful man, promised to leave him his property, since he had no children, the young shepherd declined the offer, saying that he preferred to be heir of God and co-heir with Jesus Christ.

At the age of twenty, he left in search of this incorruptible heritage and moved to the kingdom of Valencia. He wanted to enter the convent of Our Lady of Loreto, recently renovated by St. Peter of Alcantara. However, his timidity in speaking with the Superior priest held him back for four years, during which time he remained in the vicinity of the monastery, once again employed as a sheep herder. His piety and his virtues made him known throughout the region under the nickname of “the holy shepherd“.

He finally decided to apply for admission to the monastery, and was joyfully received by that community. The Superior wanted to give him the habit of a choral brother, but Paschal’s humility led him to beg to be left only as a convert brother, since he only wanted to be the “broom of the house of God”.

Humility and courage

The new friar soon became a model of religious observance, to the point that his presence was disputed in the various friaries of the Order. He performed the most varied functions, such as cook, gardener, porter and alms-giver, with unpretentious simplicity. But as he sought to humble himself before men, he grew in spiritual stature before God. While he was kind and gentle with others, Brother Paschal was hard and intransigent with himself. He considered himself a great sinner, which was why he was constantly sacrificing himself, depriving himself of bread to give to the poor, sleeping on the bare earth and scourging himself often.

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One of his contemporaries wrote about him: “He never thought of satisfying the least whim. He always strove to mortify himself. I saw in him humility, obedience, mortification, chastity, piety, gentleness, modesty, and, in short, all the virtues, shine forth, and I cannot say with certainty which of them surpassed the others.”

He had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom he devoted all his work. Once, thinking he was alone while setting the table in the refectory, he fell on his knees before the statue of Our Lady; then, overcome with a supernatural surge of joy, he performed a graceful dance for that Mother who graced him with so many consolations. This episode was seen by another friar, who later recounted it, adding that the memory of Brother Paschal’s face radiant with joy spurred him for a long time in the practice of virtue.

In 1576 the superiors sent him to Paris as the bearer of an important document addressed to Father Christophe de Cheffontaines, Superior General of the Order. At that time, France was burning with religious wars, and to go through the cities wearing the austere habit of St. Francis was a real danger. Nevertheless, the intrepid Brother Paschal threw himself into the adventure full of confidence in Providence, happy to expose his own life for obedience. In some places he was subjected to stoning by the Huguenots, to the point that he had a wound on his shoulder until the end of his life.

On his return to his convent, he gave laconic answers to the questions asked by his confreres about the risks he faced, omitting all the details that could have resulted in praise for him.

During his many journeys through the towns and villages of the region, begging for alms for the monastery, his words had for all the value of preaching, and the miracles he performed contributed more to gain him the admiration and esteem of the people. Countless times he cured the sick by making a simple sign of the Cross. On one occasion, the Father Superior ordered him to cure a friar who was seriously affected by a haemorrhage. Although this order pained his humility, the Saint found himself obliged to obey: he traced a cross over his companion and soon the blood stopped flowing.

Unique Eucharistic Devotion

However, what distinguished this Saint with a very special brilliance was his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Whenever his duties allowed, the humble brother was there at the foot of the tabernacle, sometimes praying with his arms crossed, sometimes overwhelmed with deep adoration, sometimes fervently participating in the private Mass of some priest of the monastery. It was in the Eucharistic Jesus that his soul expanded and drew new strength to face the struggles of life. There the Divine Master revealed to him the mysteries of the Kingdom, hidden from the wise and learned. Without having done any study, the humble Franciscan convert understood more about theology than many masters, because the ardour of his heart explained to him what he had not learned by reasoning.

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This was evident once when, while in France, he was questioned by some heretics about the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. He confronted the sophistry of the enemies of religion with such wisdom and gave them such a perfect explanation of the doctrine of the Eucharist that they felt trapped and had no answer. Those who accompanied Fr. Paschal were also astonished, for they knew that he was not a man versed in letters, much less in sacred teachings.

Even during the most ordinary tasks, his heart was set on the tabernacle. For example, while tilling the soil or cooking vegetables, he prayed, remembering his morning Communion: “O spotless Light, what delights can you find in a man as little as I am? Why did you wish to enter into my breast and make of it a temple of your majesty?”. His soul was all the time set in adoration of God made Host.

Full attention to the voice of the Shepherd

Saint Paschal died in 1592, at the age of 52, in the monastery of Villarreal, after a prolonged illness that caused him to suffer for five years, giving him the opportunity to edify all those around him with his patience.

Shortly before he died, he asked the infirmary brother, “Have you rung the bell for the convent Mass?” On receiving the affirmative reply, his face lit up with a smile of joy, for he knew beforehand the hour of his departure. At the moment of the elevation, when the bell announced the Real Presence of Jesus on the altar, the humble brother exhaled his last breath and his soul flew away to be united definitively to that same Jesus whom he had sought so much throughout his entire existence.

His reputation for holiness was so widespread that it was impossible to hold the funeral before three days had passed because of the crowds of people who came to the convent to bid him farewell. At the funeral Mass, to the amazement of the whole audience, his eyes opened twice: once when the Sacred Host was raised and once again when the chalice was raised, to reverence the Most Holy Eucharist for the last time on this earth.

Like a meek lamb in Christ’s flock, Saint Paschal Baylon knew how to keep his full attention focused on the voice of the Shepherd, who instructed him in divine knowledge and in the secrets of true holiness. In the fulfilment of his vocation as a lay Franciscan brother, his life was lived in the peace of the cloister and in beggary, in a quiet, humble but valiant manner, in the continuous and exclusive search for the glory of God. And great glory and renown was reserved for him throughout the world, to the point that he was canonised by Innocent XII less than a century after his death, on 15 July 1691, and proclaimed by Pope Leo XIII, so justly, Universal Patron Saint of Eucharistic Congresses and Works, on 28 November 1897.

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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