(LifeSiteNews) — Felix was called in his youth to dwell in the desert; and he thought to die there, forgotten by the world he had despised. But Our Lord had decreed that his old age should yield fruit before men.
It was one of those epochs which may be called turning points in history. The first of the great active Orders was about to be raised up in the Church by St. John of Matha; others were soon to follow, called forth by the new requirements of the times. Eternal Wisdom, who remaining herself the same reneweth all things (Wisdom 7:27), would prove that sanctity also never changes, and that charity, though assuming different forms, is ever the same, having but one principle and one aim – God, loved for His own sake.
Hence John of Matha was led by the Holy Spirit to Felix of Valois, as a disciple to the master; and then, upon pure contemplation personified by the anchorite living out his declining years in the depths of the forest, was granted the intensely active life of the redeemer of captives. The desert of Cerfroid became the cradle, and remained the chief center, of the Trinitarian Order.
Let us read the Church’s history of the servant of God, remembering that it requires to be completed by that of his son and disciple.
Felix, formerly called Hugh, was born in France, of the royal family of the Valois, and from his cradle gave promise of future sanctity and especially of charity towards the poor. While still an infant, he would distribute money to the needy with his own hand, as if he were grown up and had full use of reason. When somewhat older, he used to send them meat from the table, and would choose what was daintiest for poor little children. When a youth, he more than once stripped himself of his own garments to clothe the poor. He obtained the life of a condemned criminal from his uncle Theobald, Count of Champagne and Blois; forestalling that the man, hitherto an infamous murderer, would shortly become a saint; the truth of which prophecy was proved by the event.
Having spent his youth in the practice of virtue, he was induced by his love of heavenly contemplation to think of retiring into solitude. He was determined, however, first to take Holy Orders, and thus cut off all possibility of succeeding to the crown, of which he had some expectations on account of the Salic Law. After being ordained priest, and celebrating his first Mass with the greatest devotion, he retired into the desert, where he lived in the severest abstinence, but enjoying an abundance of heavenly gifts and graces.
There he was joined by John of Matha, a Parisian doctor, who had been inspired by God to seek him; and they lived together in a most holy manner for some years. God then sent an angel, who bade them go to Rome and obtain a special rule of life form the sovereign pontiff. Pope Innocent III received, during solemn Mass, a revelation concerning the religious order to be instituted for the ransom of captives; and he himself clothed Felix and John in a white habit with a red and blue cross, such as was worn by the angel who had appeared. Moreover the pontiff determined that on account of the three colors of the habit, the new order should bear the name of the Most Holy Trinity.
Upon receiving the confirmation of their rule from Pope Innocent, Felix returned to Cerfroid, in the diocese of Meaux, and enlarged the first convent of the order, which he and his companion had built there shortly before. There he caused religious observance and the work of ransom to flourish; and he diligently propagated the order by sending disciples into other provinces. In this place he was favored with a remarkable grace by the Blessed Virgin Mary. On the vigil of the Nativity of the Mother of God, while the brethren, God so disposing, remained asleep instead of rising at midnight for Matins, Felix who was watching according to his custom before the appointed hour, entered the church, and found the Blessed Virgin in the middle of the choir, clad in the habit and cross of the order, and surrounded by angels in the same attire. Felix joined them, and the Mother of God having intoned the Office, he sang the divine praises with them even to the end.
Then, as if calling him from the choir of earth to that of heaven, an angel informed him that his death was at hand. He exhorted his sons to love of the poor and of captives; and gave up his soul to God, full of days and of merits, in the year of our Lord 1212, in the pontificate of the said Innocent III.
Felix, happy lover of charity, teach us the worth, and also the nature, of this queen of virtues. It was she that attracted thee into solitude in pursuit of her divine object; and when thou hadst learned to find God in Himself, she showed Him to thee and taught thee to love Him in thy brethren. Is not this the secret which makes love become strong as death, and daring enough, as in the case of thy sons, to defy hell itself?
May this love inspire us with every sort of devotedness; may it ever remain the excellent portion of thy holy order, leading it to adapt itself to every new requirement, in a society where the worst kind of slavery, under a thousand forms, reigns supreme.