Learning from The Excommunicated Saint
Today we continue our regular series here at The Thin Veil called "Learning from the Saints". Our guide is saint-expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Adventures In Daily Prayer. His newest book is Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus. You can learn more about Bert and his work at www.BertGhezzi.com.
Today, Bert shares the interesting story of St. Fabiola, a fourth-century saint and today's patroness, who was actually excommunicated from the Church before her canonization. Read below to learn more.
St. Fabiola (d. 399) belonged to the group of high born women who fell under the influence of St. Jerome. However, unlike St. Paula and St. Marcella who embraced the religious life, Fabiola pursued her Christian calling in the world. A gifted and competent Roman woman, she seems to have been driven by a restlessness that she directed into Christian social activism.
Fabiola’s friendship with Jerome cooled over the issue of her divorce and remarriage. Because her husband was abusive and unfaithful, she obtained a civil divorce. But Fabiola remarried while he was still alive, a violation of church law.
So she was excommunicated. But when her second husband died, she reconsidered her behavior, repented, and reconciled herself to the church. After she performed public penance at the Lateran cathedral the pope restored her to full communion.
St. Jerome tells us that Fabiola, typically passionate and headstrong, then channeled her energies into important Christian service:
“When she was restored to communion, what did Fabiola do? Having once suffered shipwreck, she was unwilling again to face the risks of the sea. Therefore, instead of re-embarking on her old life, she sold all that she could lay hands on of her property (it was large and suitable to her rank). And she converted it into money so she could give it to the poor. She was the first person to found a hospital, where she might gather sufferers from the streets and where she might nurse the unfortunate victims of sickness and want.
She often carried on her own shoulders persons infected with jaundice or covered with filth. She also often cleansed the revolting discharge of wounds which others, even men, could not bear to look at. She fed her patients with her own hand, and moistened the scarce breathing lips of the dying with sips of liquid.
I know of many wealthy and devout persons who, unable to overcome their natural repugnance to such sights, perform this work of mercy by the agency of others. They give money instead of personal aid. I do not blame them and am far from construing their weakness of resolution into a want of faith.
While, however, I pardon such squeamishness, I extol to the skies the enthusiastic zeal of one who is above it. A great faith makes little of such trifles. Fabiola so wonderfully alleviated the disease of the suffering poor that many healthy people began to envy the sick.”
Fabiola’s redirecting her life bore significant fruit. She made history by founding the first public hospital on record in the West.
In 395, Fabiola visited Jerome in Bethlehem. She had hoped to spend the rest of her days there, but she could not tolerate the lifestyle of Paula’s religious community. Jerome quipped that her only idea of solitude was stopping at an inn, like Mary at Bethlehem, then continuing on her fast-paced journey. So Fabiola returned to Rome where she continued her works of private and public charity. With St. Pammachius, for example, she founded a large hostel for sick and poor pilgrims that became world famous.
St. Fabiola died in 399. Jerome said that all the people of Rome gathered at her funeral to acknowledge her generous contributions.
Mother Teresa loved this verse that describes St. Fabiola, who seems to me to stand as a distant forebear of the saint of Calcutta:
"Love has a hem to her garment
That reaches the very dust.
It sweeps the stains
From the streets and lanes,
And because it can, it must."
We celebrate St. Fabiola’s feast day on December 27. She is the patron of difficult marriages, the divorced, victims of physical abuse and unfaithfulness, and widows.
Read more from Bert at his website, www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.