Saint John Francis Regis (1597-1640), gifted preacher, tireless confessor, and miracle worker. Referred to as “an angel” while he lived, Saint John Francis is remembered for his obvious and contagious faith, likened to that of the visible Holy Spirit burning within him. Rather than golden words and oratorical skills, Saint John’s life and faith were his tools, converting many and inspiring us even today.
Born in Fontcouverte in Languedoc, France, John Francis was raised in a wealthy noble Catholic family. From an early age, he demonstrated an affinity for holy pursuits, praying and fasting as a child. As early as five years old, Saint John Francis was committed to the Lord, fainting one day upon hearing his mother describe the fate of sinners—eternal damnation and separation from God! When he reached the age of 18, by his request, John Francis was sent to study with the Jesuits at the Jesuit college in Beziers, and one year later, with permission, became a member of the Society of Jesus at Toulouse.
"Regis seems never to go to bed, he's always on his knees during the night praying." Similarly, such was his love of the Lord, he refused to take the vacation times offered to him by his program of study. During these times set aside for relaxation, John Francis withdrew into private places to converse with God almost the whole day; and in the night, after a short sleep, he arose and stole secretly into the domestic chapel. Observed and reported by a member of the faculty, the rector instructed, “Interrupt not the sweet communications of that angel with God."
"Everybody agrees that Father Regis has a marvelous talent for the Missions." Based upon that recommendation, Saint John Francis was sent to the mission lands of France, where he converted many through his preaching and example of virtuous Christian living.
“The rich never lack confessors.” He lived off apples, black bread, and whatever came to hand, preferring to spend his time preaching, teaching, and hearing confessions. Oftentimes, after preaching all day, he would spend the entire night hearing confessions, with crowds of thousands lining up to spend a moment of spiritual guidance with him. One priest said of him, “I have seen him stand all day on a heap of snow at the top of a mountain preaching, and then spend the whole night hearing confessions.” All who heard him declared, that "Francis preached the word of God as it is in itself; whereas others seemed, in comparison of him, to preach themselves."
“Look, these people you are ‘converting’- the conversion won't last.” His answer was, "So what? If I can keep a person from committing one sin that except for my efforts they would have committed, it's worth all my effort.” When he was complimented for his work, Saint John Francis replied “every time God converts a hardened sinner, He is working a far greater miracle.”
To the wealthier members of his Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament, he offered the “gift” of a few hungry mouths to feed. In doing so, he would often send notes to those he encountered, instructing and encouraging them in the way of charity and love for others:
“Sir, you will provide food for the poor people who names are listed below, and you will give them six sous for their lodging. If you are unable to provide them with food, you will give them a further six sous so that they may buy it themselves.” This method of instruction proved successful, with even the most resistant members of society deepening their love of the poor and involvement in charitable work.
Again, his contemporaries were aghast at the manner in which he presented himself. Saint John Francis was never afraid to look ridiculous or beg on behalf of those in need. He was told, “Look, you're demeaning yourself [by begging]. It's humiliating.” His simple, and humble response, was, "Well, so much the better. The more humiliation, the more valuable… So that for thirty years I've been telling people, 'you don't practice real charity unless you are ready to be humiliated and often by the person towards whom you're trying to practice charity.’” Often laughed at by those who did not know his intent or the courage and love of his heart, he proudly would proclaim, "With all my heart, we receive a double advantage when we purchase a brother's relief with our own disgrace."
Saint John Francis further engaged in rigorous mortification, which he had begun as a child. Fasting and penance were standard practice, and these did little to dull his bright spirit, patience, and warm disposition. As he returned to the house one evening after a hard day's toil, one of his brothers laughingly asked, "Well, Father Regis, speaking candidly, are you not very tired?" He reportedly laughed as well, stating. "No, I am as fresh as a rose." In repentance for his sins, and those of others, he limited his food intake to milk and a bit of fruit each day, and refused to sleep in a bed—preferring to sleep on the floor of his room.
“Jesus, my Savior, I recommend my soul to You. Into Your hands I command my spirit.” His relics were interred at Louvesc in the mountains, and remains a site of pilgrimage for the faithful. He was canonized by Pope Clement XII in 1737.
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."