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Courage against the tide

I was taught in my young Protestant days that the Church in the era prior to the Reformation had fallen into a universal and hopeless degradation out of which the Reformers had to drag it. The fact that there were at that time not a few Catholics who were fully aware of the direness of the situation and that they fought hard to inspire renewal was largely ignored. Today is the Feast Day of just such a one - Blessed Baptist Spagnoli (1447-1516), who entered the Carmelite Community in Ferrara in Northern Italy and professed his vows in 1464. This community was part of a movement later labelled 'the Mantuan Reform' within Carmel, a movement whose members aimed to live a stricter observance of the Carmelite Rule. Baptist had a leadership position in that Reform from 1483. He was tireless in promoting faithfulness to the Carmelite Rule and devotion to the will of God in all things.  He was known as a fine writer, but his most effective lesson came from his personal holiness. Baptist saw all too clearly the degree to which corruption and laxity had infiltrated the hierarchy and the Roman Curia. He was merciless in his criticism of permissiveness among leading clerics, even at the highest levels, since his fame and popularity as a literary figure gave him a kind of immunity in the popular mind. In 1489, he stood up in St. Peter's and preached a hard-hitting discourse on negligence to Pope Innocent VIII and the cardinals. His relentless condemnation of greed, violence, and sexual immorality was so widely known that even Martin Luther and the Protestant reformers quoted him in later years as one who knew what had to be done to rescue the Church.

[With thanks to the website of the Carmelite Institute of North America]

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