Fr. Scott A. Haynes
St. Raymond of Peñafort was born near Barcelona in 1175. He was an accomplished professor of canon law and held the canon law chair at the University of Bologna for three years. His treatise on ecclesiastical legislation is still conserved in the Vatican library. The saint joined the Dominican Order, influenced by the preaching of Blessed Reginald, prior of the Dominicans of Bologna. He received the habit of this order in 1222.
At Barcelona, with Saint Peter Nolasco he co-founded the Order of Mercedarians for the ransom of Christian captives of the Moors. The saint also founded institutes at Barcelona and Tunis for the study of middle eastern languages, in order to evangelise the Moors and the Jews.
The saint’s reputation as a stellar jurist convinced Pope Gregory IX to have him condense and codify the canons, or laws, of the Catholic Church, a time-consuming and painstaking task. This project forced him to rewrite and streamline decrees that had been multiplying for hundreds of years, from some twelve to fourteen collections already existing. It was often a task of endless confusion. It is for his erudition in and devotion for the laws of the Church that Saint Raymond of Peñafort is the patron of lawyers, and in particular canon lawyers.
A pious tradition has it that Saint Raymond worked a truly extraordinary miracle at the occasion of a voyage to the island of Majora to convert the Moors. He was confessor to King James I of Aragon, a faithful Catholic but also, unfortunately, a man who had not completely vanquished his vice of lust. The king had brought his mistress to the island, to which the saint vehemently objected, insisting that he send her away.
Despite his repeated insistences the king refused, leaving him no choice but to depart for Barcelona. The king forbade him this course of action and threatened to punish any ship captain who would dare help him leave. The saint exclaimed to his Dominican companion,
“Soon you will see how the King of Heaven will confound the wicked deeds of this earthly king and provide me with a ship!”
The two approached the seashore, where Raymond removed his long black cloak and laid one end of it on the water, attaching the other end to his staff. With this make-shift mast, he bid his confrere to board “the boat” with him, but his companion’s faith not being as strong, he refused. Raymond bid him goodbye, and making the sign of the cross, he shoved off and sailed away. His improvised vessel darting stealthily around the very ships which had refused to take him, sailors watching him from all up and down the shore shouted in astonishment and encouraged him.
He sailed on his “cloak ship” the roughly one hundred and sixty miles to Barcelona in six hours, where his arrival was met with amazement by spectators. The king, for his part, was in utter awe of the miracle and gave up his concubines, accepting a chaste life. It is in memory of this episode from the saint’s life that he is often depicted sailing the sea on a boat made of the long, black cloak of the Dominicans attached to a staff. His most important shrine is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, in Barcelona.
Saint Raymond’s confidence in God’s Providence even to the point of trusting in Him to work a stupefying miracle provides a powerful example for all Catholics. Too often, in the midst of difficulties in accomplishing our duties we lose heart, convinced that because we see no means by which an obstacle can be overcome, failure must be inevitable. The saint, by his child-like confidence in God’s grace even when all natural means seem exhausted, shows us that we must always remember: before God, all things are possible.
The saint died at Barcelona on the feast of the Epiphany (January 6, 1275). He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1601, and his feast is traditionally celebrated on January 23rd.
“Glorious Saint Raymond of Peñafort, wise and holy patron, come to the aid of those entrusted to your care,
and all who flee to your protection. Intercede for us in our need, and help us through your prayers, example,
and teaching, to proclaim the truth of the Gospel to all we meet. And when we have reached the fullness of
our years, we beseech you to guide us home to heaven, to live in peace with you, Our Mother Mary, and
Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”