Much heated debate today is on the family. This only makes sense because healthy families are the foundation of any just society. During a press conference held in
Philadelphia, USA Vatican officials announced the theme for the 2015
World Day of Families, which will center on humanity's universal
vocation to love. It will be 'Love is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.'" The Mercedarian embrace this theme since so many families are in danger of losing the faith. We offer this reflection on the Patron Saint of Christian Families:
Nearly all women hope for the safe delivery of the child in the womb. And some couples have difficulty conceiving a child, and earnestly pray that God may grant them this wonderful gift.
It’s helpful to know that the patron saint of safe and healthy deliveries is a man who himself was born in a most unusual way.
St. Raymond Nonnatus came into this world about the year 1200 in the rugged Spanish region of Segarra. For many years, Raymond’s parents waited for a child to come. Raymond’s mother made a pilgrimage to the St. Nicholas' hermitage in the area with that intention.
She finally became pregnant. But near the end of her pregnancy, she became gravely ill and died. The life of Raymond, still in the womb, was saved by the Viscount of Cardona, who used his dagger to cut open the womb and lift Raymond out. This event earned Raymond the name “Nonnatus,” Latin for “not born.”
Like many saints, the call to holiness manifested itself to St. Raymond during his childhood. His education came from the priests, and often Raymond would visit St. Nicholas' hermitage, drawn to the peace of the monastic cells.
While the Holy Spirit pulled Raymond toward religious life, his father distracted him from this calling. The devil also coordinated attacks to tempt and distract him, but by the protection of the Virgin Mary, the young man persevered.
As a youth, Raymond met the friars of the Mercedarian Order, who inhabited the St. Nicholas Chapel and surrounding buildings. The Order of Mercy, founded by St. Peter Nolasco in 1218, went about collecting alms to be used for the redemption of Christian captives.
To these friars, Raymond revealed his secret — and that was, inspired by the Virgin Mary, he had made a vow of perpetual virginity, and wished to join her Order — the Order of Mercy. Raymond’s father was reluctant about his 21-year-old son’s joining the order. Yet, Raymond’s godfather, the Viscount, convinced him to change his mind. Thus, Raymond donned the white robe of the Mercedarians.
Mature beyond his years in virtue, Raymond soon made his profession and was recommended by the prior to continue his studies and apply for priestly ordination.
The pious Raymond Nonnatus was chosen by the Master General of the Order of Mercy for the sacrificial role of redeeming Christians who had been captured by the Moors. Imprisoned under terrible conditions, the Christians would often be offered freedom if they denounced Christ and followed the religion of Islam.
The special charism of the Mercedarian Order was to ransom these Christians who were in serious danger of losing their faith. Raymond's first rescue mission took place in 1224, in Valencia, Spain. Two hundred and thirty-three Christian captives were ransomed from the Moors. Next was the Moorish city of Algiers, where the Mercedarians ransomed 140 more captives. Over the next several years, Raymond and his companions made two more redemptions, rescuing another 378 Christians.
The final redemptive mission took place in Algiers in 1236. With all the ransom money spent, St. Raymond offered to stay behind as a hostage with the remaining Christian captives. Along with ministering to the prisoners, he preached to the Muslim guards, condemning the teachings of the prophet Mohammed.
So enraged were they that the Moors put an iron padlock through his lips, and he endured this for eight months before returning to Spain.
Not long after, Pope Gregory IX appointed Raymond a Cardinal.
Nearing the age of forty, St. Raymond became gravely ill at the Cardona Castle. Realizing he was dying without a priest, Raymond prayed desperately for Viaticum – the final reception of the Eucharist. It is written that Christ himself appeared in a vision, and after receiving the Eucharist, Raymond's soul was taken home.
His Order sought to bury him in a nearby cemetery of the Order, while the residents of both the castle and local parish wanted the honor of keeping the saint's remains at the St. Nicholas hermitage. To settle their claims, the disputing parties agreed to place the Saint's body on a blind mule, which would lead the body to the place of its burial. The animal plodded along for a long while, straight to the Saint Nicholas hermitage!
Why is this 13th century saint relevant today? St. Raymond is not only recognized as the patron saint of pregnant women, but of infertile couples, families seeking holiness, and travelers. With today's difficulties and threats against the family, his intercession is particularly powerful – and needed!
If you would like to pray to St. Raymond, get the St. Raymond Nonnatus Kit, which includes blessed St. Raymond water, a blessed candle, a brochure, and other items. It is available from the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy.
World Meeting on Families Philadelphia
More on St Raymond