Padlocked Lips Couldn’t Keep This Saint from Prayer
He is known as St. Raymond Nonnatus—nonnatus, being Latin for not born.
St. Raymond, of course, was born in the sense that he came to us from his mother’s womb. But his mother died before his actual ‘birth’ and the infant Raymond had to be cut out of her womb. Today, Caesarean sections are routine, but then—the early 1200s—they were rare enough to earn Raymond this strange epithet.
It says something about the kind of life he led that ‘not being born’ may be the least strange thing about Raymond.
The loss of his earthly mother stirred in Raymond a deep devotion to Mary as his mother. When his father later sent him to work in a farm, tending sheep, his fellow shepherds complained that he was praying so much that he was neglecting his duties, according to one account of his life. Sure enough, when his father checked in on him, Raymond was in prayer at the chapel. But the flocks were not untended: his father also spied ‘a youth of uncommon beauty of form and features’ among the sheep—what Raymond credited as a miracle, according to the account.
Raymond was later led by Mary to join the Mercedarians, also known as the Order of Mercy, a religious order devoted to ransoming captives from Muslim countries—something that had become a commonplace problem in his time.
Raymond started going on ‘rescue missions’ in 1224. Over the course of a dozen years he successfully procured the release of hundreds of captives—an estimated 751, according to this Mercedarian account of his life.
On one mission to Algiers in 1236, he had exhausted all the money the order had raised to ransom prisoners. Yet more were left. So Raymond offered himself in exchange for their freedom. Raymond reportedly embraced his captivity as an opportunity to suffer for the Savior Who had ransomed Himself for all of humanity, according to an account of his life in the Catechism in Examples.
In prison, Raymond ministered to others in the cells and preached to the guards. Several were converted and Raymond even baptized two senior officials. He became such a menace that the authorities had a hole bored through his lips, which were shut with a padlock. His lips were unlocked every three days to feed Raymond over the course of what must have been a grueling eight months.
But even a padlock could not keep Raymond from prayer. One day, his captors found the saint in a state of ecstasy, his hand on a Bible open to Psalm 119:
Let your mercy come to me, Lord,
salvation in accord with your promise.
Let me answer my taunters with a word,
for I trust in your word.
Do not take the word of truth from my mouth (verses 41-43).
Raymond himself was repeating a verse lower in the Psalm: Your word, Lord, stands forever (verse 89). (The account in the Catechism of Examples reproduced here appears to have the wrong citation for the Psalm, so it’s been changed to Psalm 119 here.)
His brothers eventually secured his release. Upon his return, Raymond was named a cardinal by Pope Gregory IX. But his life was drawing to a close.
On his way to Rome in 1240, Raymond fell ill. When he realized he was dying without a priest, legend holds that Christ administered Viaticum to him in a vision, according to this Mercedarian account.
Even Raymond’s burial was unusual.
A dispute reportedly arose over whether he should be buried in the order’s cemetery or near the chapel where he had prayed as a young man. Unable to resolve their disagreement, members of the order and the locals decided to put Raymond’s body on a blind mule to see where it would take him. The mule chose the chapel (source here).
Raymond, whose feast day was August 31 in the traditional calendar, is the official patron saint of expectant mothers, couples with infertility issues, women in labor, and travelers. But he also seems like a saint whose intercession might be especially helpful to those seeking greater control over their words and greater devotion to prayer and the word of God.
Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1
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