Saint Peter Damian, Saint for February 23rd, by Father Stephen, o.f.m.
The holy Doctor Peter Damian was born of respectable parents at Ravenna. While he was still a suckling, his mother, overcome with the care of many children, cast him out to perish, but one of the women servants saved him when he was nigh to death, and fed him until natural affection appeared again in his mother, to whom she then gave him back. After the death of both his parents he lived with a brother who treated him like the lowest slave, and in whose house he underwent a hard bondage. Even while he was in this condition he gave a wonderful proof of his faith toward God, and his dutiful love toward his father. It chanced that one day he found a considerable sum of money, but instead of using it to relieve his own poverty, he gave it all to a priest to offer God’s sacrifice for the forgiveness of his father’s sins. He had happily another brother called Damian, the same from whom he seemed afterwards to have taken his surname. By him he was affectionately adopted, and put in the way of being educated. He made such progress in learning as astonished his teachers, and when he had won an eminent name in letters, he began to teach on his own accord with general applause. Meanwhile, lest his body should get the better of his mind, he constantly wore a hair-shirt under his softer clothes, and exercised himself in fasting, watching, and prayer. In the spring-time of his age he was grievously tormented by the stings of the flesh; and sometimes, when the rebellions of lust seemed about to get the mastery over him at night, he threw himself into a freezing stream to check them. After this he would go about visiting consecrated places, and repeat the whole book of Psalms. He was most careful in relieving the poor, on whom he would wait with his own hands.
Desiring to attain to perfection of life he betook himself to the convent of Fonte-Avellana, in the diocese of Gubbio, in Umbria, a house founded by the blessed Ludolph, the disciple of St. Romuald, for the monks of the Holy Cross. He dwelt there not long before he was sent by his Abbot, first to the Abbey of Pomposia, and, secondly, to that of St. Vincent at Pietra Pertusa, both which brotherhoods he greatly profited by his godly exhortations, discreet rules, and grave manners. After his return home, and the death of his Superior, he was chosen to rule the brethren of Avellana. Here he founded divers new hermitages, and made the community so to flourish under his saintly direction, that he is esteemed the second Father and chief ornament of that Order. This healthful care of Peter was made a blessing to convents of other Rules than his own, to houses of Canons, and to the people. He was many ways profitable to the diocese of Urbino. He sat with Theuzo the Bishop of that See to judge of a most weighty matter, and led him by his counsel and assistance rightly to administer his Bishopric. He was foremost in contemplation of the things of God, in severity toward his own body, and in other things whereby to set a bright example of godliness. In consideration of these things the Supreme Pontiff Stephen IX created him, in spite of his own unwillingness and objections, a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, and appointed him Bishop of Ostia. This dignity Peter bore with the highest reputation for piety, and adorned with works meet for a Bishop.
At the most anxious times he greatly sustained the Church of Rome and the Supreme Pontiffs by his teaching, by missions which he discharged, and by divers other labors which he undertook on their behalf. He strove manfully even unto death against the heresies of the Nicolaitans and the Simoniacs, by putting down which evils he reconciled the Church of Milan to that of Rome. He was one of the stoutest opponents of the false Popes Benedict and Cadalous. He deterred Henry IV, King of Germany, from his wicked scheme for putting away his wife. He recalled the people of Ravenna to their bounden duty to the Bishop of Rome, and restored them to the communion of the Church. He reformed the Canons of Velletri, and brought them to lead more godly lives. There were hardly any Cathedral Churches, especially in the province of Urbino, of which he did not deserve well. In Gubbio, of which he had at one time the management, he abolished many things unseemly. He brought about improvements in many and divers places, as if each were his special charge. He gave up his dignities of Cardinal and Bishop, but he allowed his love toward his neighbours to know no diminution. He was particularly zealous in spreading abroad four devout practices: To fast every Friday in honour of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ; To recite the Hours of the Blessed Mother of God, called also her Little Office; To sanctify Saturday in her honour; and especially, to scourge oneself in punishment for sins committed. At length he departed to be with Christ, at Faenza, on his way back from his mission to Ravenna, on the 22nd of February, at the height of his reputation for holiness, learning, miracles, and good works. His body is buried in the house of the Cistercians at Faenza, where the people resort often to his grave with great reverence. The citizens of Faenza, to whom he hath been found good at need even to this day, have chosen him for their Patron in the presence of God. The Supreme Pontiff Leo XII, finding that an Office and Mass in memory of him, as a Confessor and Bishop, was in use in some dioceses, and in the Camaldolese Order, by advice of the Sacred Congregation of Rites, added the title of Doctor, and extended the use of the said Office and Mass to the Universal Church.