INVICTI ATHLETAE (excerpt)
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XII ON ST. ANDREW BOBOLA MAY 16, 1957
On the 300th anniversary of the death of Christ's unconquered athlete, Andrew Bobola, We desire to direct his martyrdom and holiness of life to the devout and reverent meditation of all Catholics throughout the world and particularly of the children of Our dearest Poland for whom the Saint is a glorious and shining example of Christian fortitude.
He was born in 1591 in the district of Sandomira, of parents distinguished by the nobility of their family, but even more so by the vigor and constancy of their Catholic Faith. Endowed with a sound and ready intelligence, he received at home, from his tenderest years, a fine education and formation in Christian morality. He was later sent to the schools of the Society of Jesus, where he was remarkable for innocence of life and piety.
But since he spurned the pomps and vanities of the world, and earnestly strove after "the greater gifts," with the object of progressing more rapidly along the road to perfection, he gladly offered himself, when a youth of nineteen years, to the Society of Jesus, and was received into the noviceship, then at Vilna. He remembered that solemn warning of Jesus Christ, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me," and so daily strove more eagerly to acquire the virtue of Christian humility by contempt of self.
But since he was by temperament proud, impatient, and sometimes obstinate, Bobola had to wage a very sharp contest against himself, and ascend his Calvary, as it were, laden with the cross, in order to reach the height of this virtue. There, at length, impelled and assisted by the grace he had obtained by constant and fervent prayers, he might be able to reach Christian perfection, for as St. Bernard wisely said, "the spiritual edifice cannot possibly stand except on the firm foundation of humility."
Above all, Bobola was on fire with a great love of God and of his neighbors. As a result, he found nothing sweeter than to spend long hours, whenever possible, before the sacred tabernacle, and to assist the unfortunate in every way according to his means. He loved God above all, and far more than himself. He sought exclusively God's glory, according to the Rule of his Father, St. Ignatius. To this Saint, then, the words of the same holy Doctor [St. Bernard] can be applied, "He alone should be desired, Who alone fulfills desire."
It is not surprising, then, that this athlete of Jesus Christ, adorned with these gifts of grace, should have achieved such notable progress in the apostolic field, and been able to gather rich fruits in the saving of souls. He was on fire to preserve, extend, and defend the Catholic Faith. Thus, when serving as a teacher at Vilna, and later when living in other cities, he diligently taught the elements of Christian doctrine, and encouraged devotion to the Eucharist, and an ardent and filial love of the Virgin Mother of God.
But afterwards, when he was raised to the dignity of the priesthood — in the same year and on the same day that Ignatius and Francis Xavier were inscribed at Rome in the calendar of the Saints — he chose before all else to spare no labor, in ministerial journeys and by sermons on holy things, in order that he might spread everywhere a Catholic Faith which would not be ineffective, but productive of good works.
But the Catholic Church, particularly in the countries to the East, was facing an extremely grave crisis owing to the efforts of the schismatics, who were striving by every device to draw the faithful away from the unity of the Church into their own errors. Andrew went, therefore, into those regions on the instruction and command of his Superiors, and by public sermons and private instruction through their cities, towns, and villages, and most of all by the fervor of his exceptional holiness and the burning zeal of his apostolate, he freed the wavering faith of a multitude of Christians from beguiling falsehood, brought them back to sound principles, and joyfully invited all he could to return to the one fold of Jesus Christ.
He did not merely restore and strengthen the faith of the Christians, languishing and on the verge of collapse, but roused them also to weep for their own sins, to settle their disputes, to heal their divisions, to restore true morality. It seemed that, like his Divine Master, wherever he passed by doing good, a new spring blossomed forth, bright with heavenly flowers and fruits of salvation. Consequently, as tradition has it, he received from all, even from the schismatics, the significant title of "hunter of souls."
This tireless apostle of Jesus Christ had lived by faith, had spread the Faith, and had defended the Faith; so too, he did not hesitate to die for the Faith of his fathers.
Notable among almost countless others was the unforgettable and savage onslaught on the Catholic religion which flared up in the 17th century in the Eastern countries. The Cossack forces then invaded those lands, and directed their furious attack on Catholics and their pastors, and on the heralds of the truth of the Gospel. Temples dedicated to the divine worship were utterly destroyed; monasteries were consumed by fire; priests and their flocks were everywhere put to the sword; everything was laid waste; all that was sacred was scattered to the winds.
Andrew Bobola could apply to himself that saying, "Nothing that is known to belong to God, do I consider outside my interests." He feared death and sufferings not at all. On fire with love for God and his neighbor, he entered the fray with all his resources, in order to draw back as many as he could from a foreswearing of the Catholic Faith, and from the snares and errors of those who were separated from the Church, and in order to provide a valiant and rousing encouragement for the preservation of Christian teaching in all its integrity.
But on May 16, 1657, on the feast of our Lord's Ascension into Heaven, he was seized near Janovia by the enemies of the Catholics. We do not think this filled him with fear, but rather with a heavenly joy. For We know that he had always prayed for martyrdom and had often recalled the words of the Divine Redeemer, "Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and speaking falsely say all manner of evil against you, for My sake. Rejoice and exult, because your reward is great in Heaven; for so did they persecute the prophets who were before you."
The mind shudders as it recalls all the tortures which the athlete of Jesus Christ endured with unconquerable fortitude and a faith resolute and unbroken. For, beaten with rods, struck with blows, dragged by a rope behind a horse on a painful and blood-stained path, he was brought to Janovia to be delivered to the final torture.
In that contest, the Polish Martyr rose to the heights of the noblest triumphs which the Church commemorates. Andrew was asked if he were a priest of the Latin rite, and he replied, "I am a Catholic priest; I was born in the Catholic Faith; in that Faith I wish to die. My Faith is true; it leads to salvation. Do you rather repent; give place to sorrow for sin, else you will be unable, in your errors, to win salvation. By embracing my Faith, you will acknowledge the true God, and will save your souls."
At these words, those wicked men, utterly devoid of humanity, were roused to a fiendish barbarity, and reached such a degree of cruelty that they inflicted still more horrible sufferings on the soldier of Christ. Once again, he was scourged, a crown like that of Jesus Christ was bound about his head, he was struck heavy blows and lay wounded by a scimitar. Next, his right eye was gouged out, strips of skin were torn off, his wounds were savagely scorched and rubbed with prickly bundles of straw. Nor was that enough: his ears, nose and lips were cut off, his tongue torn out by the root, and finally, a weapon plunged into his heart. And, at long last, the valiant athlete, three hours after midday, displaying a truly marvelous example of fortitude, was pierced by a sword and achieved the glory of martyrdom.
The victorious martyr, crimsoned in his own blood, has been received through his triumph into Heaven, and on earth, the Church, when she beheld his resplendent holiness attested and confirmed by God Himself through truly remarkable miracles, proposed him for the devotion and imitation of the whole community of Christians. For in 1853, Our Predecessor of venerable memory, Pius IX, enrolled him among the Blessed in Heaven, and in 1938, Our immediate Predecessor of immortal memory, Pius XI, solemnly placed him in the ranks of the Saints.
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