April 23 | Blessed Helen of Udine
Helen Valentini was born in Udine, northern Italy, about the year 1396. She married Antonio Cavalcanti around 1414 and bore him six children. When Antonio died in 1441 of illness contracted during a diplomatic mission to Venice, Helen became an Augustinian Tertiary. She was greatly influenced by the Augustinian, Angelo of San Severino, to devote her life thereafter to the care of the needy, in works of mercy, and in a life of penance. Her commitment to prayer was nourished by a great love for the Gospel, devotion to the Passion of our Lord and love for the Eucharist. Above all, she wished to live in imitation of Jesus Christ through a life of sacrifice and service to her neighbor. Helen had a great love for the Order and was a constant visitor to the Augustinian Church of Saint Lucy, as well as one of its most generous benefactors. During the last three years of her life she was confined to bed due to infirmity which she accepted with great patience and resignation. She died on April 23, 1458 and was buried in the Church of Saint Lucy. Since 1845 her remains have been preserved in the Cathedral of Udine. Blessed Pius IX confirmed her cult in 1848.
Blessed Helen is one of the several lay women whose memory is celebrated by the Order. She is, thus, a reminder that Augustinian spirituality is not the exclusive possession of religious only. Our Order has a long and rich tradition of lay men and women walking the same path of Augustinian inspired values professed by friars, nuns and sisters. We are all called to holiness, and the Augustinian vocation is one proven way of reaching it regardless of one's state of life.
April 24 | The Conversion of Saint Augustine
During the Easter Vigil, on the night between April 24 and 25, 387, Augustine was baptized by Bishop Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan together with his son, Adeodatus, and a small group of friends, including the 'brother of (his) heart', Alypius. Thus was brought to its happy end the long and tiring journey of Augustine's conversion to the Catholic faith. Augustine himself records in Book 8 of the Confessions the climactic moment in which he surrendered to God's grace and was relieved of the doubts and fears which had so long kept him imprisoned. How many things came together now in one moment to bring him freedom: the story of a visiting countryman, the song of a young child, the Letter of St. Paul, and most of all, the descent into misery that was ready to give way to the power of grace. "How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose it was now joy to put away. You cast them forth from me, you the true and highest sweetness, you cast them forth, and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure...(Conf. 9, 1).
Certainly the story of Augustine's conversion numbers among the most well-known and most significant of all of Christian history: well-known, through Augustine's own recording of it in his Confessions; significant, not only for the impact which his life of faith - as monk, bishop, and theologian - has had on the Catholic Church ever since, but also on the many men and women of every period whose own personal lives have been altered by reading it.
April 26 | Our Mother of Good Counsel
Augustinian devotion to Mary under the title of Our Mother of Good Counsel has its origin in the hill-town church of Genazzano, Italy, where the Augustinians have been located since the 13th Century. Originally, their monastery was situated outside the town, but a century they later were invited to take charge of the parish church of Our Mother of Good Counsel in the town-center. When the friars decided to renovate and enlarge the church there occurred an event that came to be considered miraculous, and which drew the attention of great crowds of people. On April 25, 1467, as a side wall was being repaired and a marble figure of the Madonna was removed, there appeared, where the figure had hung, an image of Mary and the Child Jesus. From that moment the title of the church was applied also to the image. According to an old tradition, this very icon, venerated in Albania under the name Our Lady of Scutari or Our Lady of the Albanians, is said to have suddenly disappeared from a church as Albania was being invaded by infidels. Legend says that it floated from the church and was followed by two Albanian men until they reached Genazzano and recognized the image as their own. The news of the "appearance" of the image, coupled with the story of the Albanians, has caused the church, from that time, to be the destination of many pilgrims, including several popes, saints and blesseds. Pope John XXIII was a pilgrim to the shrine on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II visited it before going to Albania to re-establish the hierarchy there following the collapse of communism. Leo XIII had declared the church a Minor Basilica in 1903 and in April of that year introduced the invocation 'Mother of Good Counsel' to the Litany of Loreto. Blessed Stephen Bellesini was pastor of this church for nine years until his death in 1840. His venerated remains are preserved in a side chapel of the basilica.
We note the 'good counsel' of Mary in several scenes of the Gospel, especially that of Cana, when the mother of Jesus says, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn. 2, 5). Saint Augustine reminds us that while Mary is blessed for being the mother of Jesus, she is even more blessed for being his disciple. In fact, as the first disciple of her son she presents him to us as our teacher, our way, our truth and our life - even as he was for her.