Today is the feastday of St. Charles of Mount Argus, CP, the patron of our Juniorate (the nuns in temporary vows).
The Catholic Church has a beautiful Preface for the feasts of Holy Men and Women that would be a good starting point for our reflections today. In it the Church prays to the Father: “You renew the Church in every age by raising up men and women outstanding in holiness, living witnesses of your unchanging love.”
Fr. Charles Houben of Mount Argus fits that description perfectly. He was outstanding in holiness and a living witness to God’s mercy and compassion toward the sick and suffering. Fr. Charles gave a powerful witness to Christ the Healer, whose Heart was moved to compassion whenever He encountered those who suffer in body or in soul.
Our saint was born John Andrew Houben in Holland on Dec. 11, 1821, the 4th of 11 children born to Peter and Johanna Houben.
God raised Fr. Charles up as part of the renewal of the Catholic Church in Ireland just at the time when Ireland was coming out of the catacombs of 300 years of Protestant persecution. Fr. Charles was a humble man of God who came into the midst of the discouraged, poor and down-trodden Irish people. He performed signs and wonders, giving them new hope that God did care about their afflictions and was still in their midst. When people witnessed the healings of body and soul that God performed through Fr. Charles, they could have repeated what the crowds said of Jesus the Divine Healer: “A great prophet has risen among us. God has visited his people.” (See Luke 7:16) Charles spent his life easing pain, blessing the sick and interceding for them, and giving courage and hope to those who shared closely in the Passion of Jesus.
300 years of Catholic persecution by Protestants had left Ireland in a state of spiritual devastation. The people were illiterate regarding the Catholic faith; they had lost hope; all manner of sin abounded; and there had been no new churches or monasteries built there in over 300 years. The old churches were now in the hands of the government. For three centuries, Catholics had not been free to worship God openly. But now things were changing. In England, John Henry Newman, renounced his faith as an Anglican, and was received into the Catholic Church by a Passionist, Bl. Dominic Barberi. Newman called his times “a second spring....The Church in England had died, and the Church lives again!” he triumphantly cried.
Long before all this, in the year 1720, St. Paul of the Cross was making a 40 day retreat as he wrote the Rule for the Passionists. During that time, Paul received a great longing for the conversion of the British Isles back to Catholicism.
He said he wanted to die as a martyr of the Eucharist in a place where this truth of the Catholic faith was denied. In God’s plan, Paul was not to be able to fulfill this dream himself. Nevertheless, one of his spiritual sons, Fr. Dominic Barbari– now a Blessed on his way to canonization–was the beginning of the fulfillment of Paul of the Cross’ desire to go to England. Dominic founded the first Passionist house in England in 1842, arriving there just 12 years after the Catholic emancipation, at a time when there was still a great deal of hatred for the Catholic Church.
Fr. Charles of Mt. Argus who was born in Holland, entered the Passionist Congregation in Belgium shortly after Bl. Dominic died. Later after his ordination as a priest, he was sent to England, where he worked for a few years before being sent to Dublin, Ireland. It was in England that Fr. Charles first met the Irish who had fled Ireland during the potato famine and had come to work in England. Fr. Charles immediately fell in love with the Irish people, a love he kept all his life. His compassionate love became a lasting spiritual legacy he would leave them.
His Prayer for a Happy Death
Mary, sweet refuge of miserable sinners, when my soul is on the point of leaving this world, oh my most sweet Mother, by the sorrow you endured when assisting at the death of your Son on the Cross, assist me with your mercy.
Drive the infernal enemy far from me, and you yourself come to take my soul to yourself and present it to the eternal Judge. My Queen, abandon me not. You, after Jesus, have to be my comfort in that terrible moment. Entreat your beloved Son in his Goodness, to grant me the grace to die clinging to your feet, and to breathe forth my soul in his wounds, saying, ‘Jesus and Mary, I give you my heart and my soul.’ Amen.”
Charles of Mount Argus was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI June 3, 2007.
Read eBook....The Life of St. Charles of Mt. Argus