February 23.--ST. PETER DAMIAN.
ST. PETER DAMIAN was born in 988, and lost both parents at an early age. His eldest brother, in whose hands he was left, treated him so cruelly that a younger brother, a priest, moved by his piteous state, sent him to the University of Parma, where he acquired great distinction. His studies were sanctified by vigils, fasts, and prayers, till at last, thinking that all this was only serving God by halves, he resolved to leave the world. He joined the monks at Font-Avellano, then in the greatest repute, and by his wisdom and sanctity rose to be Superior. He was employed on the most delicate and difficult missions, amongst others the reform of ecclesiastical communities, which was effected by his zeal. Seven Popes in succession made him their constant adviser, and he was at last created Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. He withstood Henry IV. of Germany, and labored in defence of Alexander II. against the Antipope, whom he forced to yield and seek for pardon. He was charged, as Papal Legate, with the repression of simony; again, was commissioned to settle discords amongst various bishops, and finally, in 1072, to adjust the affairs of the Church at Ravenna. He was laid low by a fever on his homeward journey, and died at Faenza, in a monastery of his order, on the eighth day of his sickness, whilst the monks chanted matins around him.
Reflection.--The Saints studied, not in order to be accounted learned, but to become perfect. This only is wisdom and true greatness, to account ourselves as ignorant, and to adhere in all things to the teachings and instincts of the Church.
February 23.-- ST. SERENUS, a Gardener, Martyr.
SERENUS was by birth a Grecian. He quitted estate, friends, and country to serve God its celibacy, penance, and prayer. With this design he bought a garden in Sirmium in Pannonia, which he cultivated with his own hands, and lived on the fruits and herbs it produced. One day there came thither a woman, with her two daughters. Serenus, seeing them come up, advised them to withdraw, and to conduct themselves in future as decency required in persons of their sex and condition. The woman, stung at our Saint's charitable remonstrance, retired in confusion, but resolved on revenging the supposed affront. She accordingly wrote to her husband that Serenus had insulted her. He, on receiving her letter, went to the emperor to demand justice, whereupon the emperor gave him a letter to the governor of the province to enable him to obtain satisfaction. The governor ordered Serenus to be immediately brought before him. Serenus, on hearing the charge, answered, "I remember that, some time ago, a lady came into my garden at an unseasonable hour, and I own I took the liberty to tell her it was against decency for one of her sex and quality to be abroad at such an hour." This plea of Serenus having put the officer to the blush for his wife's conduct, he dropped his prosecution. But the governor, suspecting by this answer that Serenus might be a Christian, began to question him, saying, "Who are you, and what is your religion?" Serenus, without hesitating one moment, answered, "I am a Christian. It seemed a while ago as if God rejected me as a stone unfit to enter His building, but He has the goodness to take me now to be placed in it; I am ready to suffer all things for His name, that I may have a part in His kingdom with His Saints" The governor, hearing this burst into rage and said, "Since you sought to elude by flight the emperor's edicts, and have positively refused to sacrifice to the gods, I condemn you for these crimes to lose your head." The sentence was no sooner pronounced than the Saint was carried off and beheaded, on the 23d of February, in 307.
Reflection.--The garden affords a beautiful emblem of a Christian's continual progress in the path of virtue. Plants always mount upwards, and never stop in their growth till they have attained to that maturity which the Author of nature has prescribed. So in a Christian, everything ought to carry him toward that perfection which the sanctity of his state requires; and every desire of his soul, every action of his life should be a step advancing to this in a direct line.