Lifelong CatechesisForming Catholic identity across generations
During the Christmas season from December 24th until the Sunday after Epiphany, we reflect upon the mystery of love that is made visible in the birth and early childhood of Christ.
St. Raymond of Peñafort, Priest, 1175-1275
Raymond was born at Villafranca de Benadis, near Barcelona, in 1175 to the noble family of Peñafort, related to the kings of Aragon. A very bright boy, he received the best education available and, at the age of twenty, was professor of philosophy at the Cathedral School of Barcelona.
An interest in law prompted Raymond to move to Bologna in 1210 where he completed his doctoral degrees in both civil and canon law. Occupying a chair in canon law at the university in Bologna for a few years, Raymond became interested in the Dominican order which was drawing a number of his brighter students and fellow professors into their ranks. Returning to Barcelona in 1219, Raymond had the opportunity to meet St. Dominic. Also in this year, Raymond was appointed archdeacon of Barcelona by the bishop.
In 1222, in the year after St. Dominic’s death, Raymond, at the age of forty-seven decided that he too was being called to the Dominican order. Part of his reasoning for this decision was that he had grown too self-satisfied with his accomplishments. Recognizing this, he asked the novice master to assign to him the most onerous and demeaning tasks so that he might overcome his vanity. One of the assignments given to Raymond was to use his skills in canon law to assemble for the guidance of confessors a listing of all of the rules which had been worked out by the Church over the centuries for dealing with sins and sinners. The result was a unique compilation, Summa de casibus poenitentialibus (Summary of penitential cases).
Fr. Raymond’s wisdom and humility gained wide recognition. King James of Aragon chose the priest as his spiritual director, as did St. Peter Nolasco, the founder of the Order of Our Lady of Ransom, also known as the Mercedarians, an order dedicated to ransoming captives held by the Moors.
In 1230, Pope Gregory IX summoned him to Rome where he became the pope’s confessor. Gregory also had Raymond edit and codify the many canons of the Church which had been written over the centuries. Some of the more recent canons were restatements of earlier papal bulls and, in many cases, contradicted the earlier decrees. This comprehensive work took several years to complete and remained the most comprehensive authority on canon law until 1917 when a new code was written.
In recognition of Raymond’s work, Pope Gregory IX named him archbishop of Tarragona in Aragon in 1235. Pleading to be relieved of this appointment, Raymond returned to Barcelona where he resumed the quiet prayerful life which he was drawn to. This seclusion was not to last however. In 1238, his brothers elected him as Superior General of the Dominicans. Reluctantly, Raymond accepted this appointment and undertook the task of reforming, clarifying, and putting into permanent form the constitution of the Dominican order. He included in this work that the voluntary resignation of the superior, for just reason, should be accepted. This work was accepted by the Dominicans at three general chapters and remained in effect until 1924.
In 1240, pleading old age and illness, Raymond resigned as superior. While he was able to return to his life of prayer and seclusion, Raymond lived another 35 years to his 100th year.
St. Raymond of Peñafort is the patron of attorneys, canon lawyers, and medial record librarians. He is honored by an optional memorial on January 7.
Raymond’s message today: God gives each one of us many talents. It is important how we use them. Raymond recognized that it is easy to forget where these gifts came from and that they are not created by ourselves, but must be used for God’s work.