ST. ROCH, FRANCISCAN TERTIARY
Yes, God who never forgets about those who trust in Him, heard the prayer of good St. Rock. A gentle rain began to fall near the door of the hut and formed a little stream. St. Roch, who was very thirsty, had a good drink from the stream. He washed his wounds and soothed for a time his terrible pains.
Then, the good God worked a wonderful miracle to feed St. Roch. Just as God took great care of the Prophet Elias, and of St. Paul in the desert, by making a crow carry bread to them every day, He caused another animal to bring bread to St. Roch.
Not far from his hut there were some lovely country houses, where the rich people of the city had retired, to escape from the plague. In one of these houses there lived a person named Gothard, a wealthy but God-fearing man. He had many servants, and a large pack of hounds.
One day when Gothard was eating, one of these dogs carried off the bread he had in his hand. The gentleman was amused at the animal’s action, thinking either the dog was very hungry or playing a trick on him. The dog disappeared rapidly, carrying off the bread in his mouth. The next day and the day after the same thing took place. Very much astonished, Gothard finally decided to follow the animal. He left the table, and took the road, which the dog had taken. The animal, guided by the hand of God, made his way to the forest, entered the hut, and put down the bread at the feet of St. Roch, who, in exchange, gave the dog his blessing.
Gothard was amazed and entered the hut, with caution. There he saw poor St. Roch lying on a bed of leaves, unable to move. He began to question him, but the humble man begged him to go away immediately so that he might not get the plague. Gothard left the hut, but was greatly moved by the terrible sight that he had seen. He returned, to the hut. Gazing at the poor sick man he pleaded, “Please let me look after you and care for you until you are in good health again.”
Saint Roch humbly replied, “Thank you dear friend. You are a kind man and I believe you have been sent by the good God.” From then on the two pious men lived together. They encouraged one another by holy conversations, by saying many prayers and by doing much penance.
St. Roch, hearing that the plague was still taking the lives of many people at Piacenza, felt sorry for them, and decided to return in order to help the poor, sick people of that city. As yet he could hardly stand, but his heart was full of charity and this gave him the necessary strength he needed. He started in the early morning, leaning on a stick, and walked slowly to the hospital. There, forgetting the past injuries and wanting to return good for evil, he visited the sick as he had done before, and restored them to health with the sign of the Cross.
He then went through the city, healing all who came to him. At sunset, good St. Roch left Piacenza and went back to the forest with a number of grateful persons. Then all the wild beasts, which had also been struck by the plague, came to the Saint, begging him with their whines and groans, to cure them. St. Roch blessed them and they went away healed.
At the sight of all these miracles, the people again thought very well of St. Roch. They came from all parts to visit the two men in the forest. Seeing that these two men were living a very good life, and practicing much virtue, they begged the help of their prayers. One day, however, St. Roch, being now thoroughly cured, received a command from God to return to his own country.
Gothard was troubled when he heard that his friend would soon be leaving him. But St. Roch consoled him and told him that it was the Holy Will of God. He then encouraged him to persevere until death in the life of prayer and penance, which he had chosen. The good saint also gave him some good advice on how to sanctify himself, when he was living alone. Thereupon the two friends parted for a time, to meet again in Heaven.
Gothard lived a holy life in his hermitage, and after his death his fellow-citizens held him in blessed memory. A picture of him, with that of St. Roch, can still be seen in Piacenza, in the church of St. Ann.
Faithful to the commands of Heaven, St. Roch returned to Montpellier. He had to pass through one more trial before being called to his Heavenly reward. War was then destroying the south of France. The holy saint was so worn out with his penances and sufferings, that when he arrived in his native town, no one knew who he was. People thought that he was a spy, disguised as a pilgrim.
The police immediately arrested him! They questioned him, “What is your name?”… “What is your family background?”… “Which country do you come from?”… “Why did you come to this town?”…
St. Roch quietly answered each question, “I am a pilgrim and servant of Jesus Christ,” but he continued to remain silent about his
name, his family, and his country. He wanted to suffer in silence, like Jesus did. Because of his silence, the judges believed that he was truly guilty. The Governor then commanded, “Throw this man into prison. He will not answer our questions, therefore he is guilty!”
Poor St. Roch, what was he going to do now? How would he ever get out of prison? St. Roch spent five years in a horrible dungeon! His jailers were very cruel to him and would not give him a lot of the necessary things to help him to live well. A word from him would have been enough to make himself known to his Uncle, the Governor of Montpellier. Then he might have reappeared in the city surrounded with all the honour due to his noble birth.
Like St. Alexis, good St. Roch wanted to live a poor, humble, and hidden life, in the very midst of his relatives. He did not wish for honour and glory in this life. From the depth of his dark and dirty dungeon, he continued to sing beautiful hymns of praise and thanksgiving, to Jesus and Mary. He asked Our Lady, to give him the grace to be patient, and to give him the grace to persevere to the end. The Governor and the prison guards hardly paid any attention to poor St. Roch.
When St. Roch felt that his end was near and that his painful life was coming to an end, he asked to see a Catholic priest, so that he could receive the Last Sacraments. When the priest entered the prison he was amazed to see a glorious light, shining around the body of the holy saint! After having given him the Last Sacraments, he ran to inform the Governor of the miracle he had just seen.
Shortly after, the Saint slept and saw in a dream, a heavenly messenger who said to him: “Roch, the time has come for you to receive the reward of your labours and sufferings, and for your soul to repose in Heaven. God is pleased with you! If you wish to obtain some grace for mankind, ask it from Almighty God before you die and your desire shall be granted.”
St. Roch awoke; his soul was bathed in holy joy. Always forgetful of himself, and solely occupied with the interests of others, he addressed this prayer to God: “I humbly beseech Thee, O Lord, that whosoever is attacked by the plague, or is in danger of being attacked thereby, shall implore my protection with faith, may be delivered from the sickness, or be preserved from this scourge. I ask for this grace, not because of my own merits, but in the name of Thy great mercy and goodness which is infinite.”
Just after saying these words he died, while looking up to Heaven and pressing his crucifix to his heart. He is believed to have been thirty-two years of age.
As soon as St. Roch died, many miracles took place. The prison again shone with a Heavenly light and angels sang beautiful songs. His body gave off a beautiful sweet smelling perfume, and was surrounded with glorious rays of light. By his side was found a tablet on which an angel had written in letters of gold, the name of Roch, with these words: “I announce protection and deliverance to all those who, being endangered by the plague, even of the most terrible kind, shall have recourse to my intercession.” The Catholic Church has added this sweet and wonderful promise to the liturgical prayer of St. Roch.
When the Governor was informed of the death of this unknown man, he was angry with himself for having taken so long to help the poor man. He wished to find out the full truth about the reported miracles, so he went to the prison himself. As soon as he passed through the prison door he was struck by the glorious light, which surrounded the holy man.
He then looked at the Heavenly Tablet and saw the name; it was that of his nephew! The mother of the Governor, and grandmother to St. Roch, also ran to the prison. She uncovered the Saint’s chest, and saw once more the wonderful “red cross” which he had since his birth.
St. Roch died in 1327. His holy remains, glorified in some degree even before the final day of resurrection, were buried with great pomp and ceremony. A church was soon built to receive them. From the very beginning, God worked many signs and miracles for the faithful who had devotion to this holy man.
During the Council of Constance in 1414, the plague broke out in the city. Processions and public prayers in honour of St. Roch were ordered, and immediately the plague disappeared. After that, devotion to the Saint spread throughout the whole world.
The relics of St. Roch were partly taken to Arles in 1399, and partly to Venice, in 1485. Many Popes have approved devotion to St. Roch. Pope Urban VIII permitted his Feast Day to be celebrated on August 16th.
May St. Roch intercede for us at the throne of God that we may also walk faithfully in the footsteps of St. Francis! May he obtain for us the grace to be perfectly resigned to God’s Most Holy Will in all our sorrows. Then our crosses and sorrows will become for us a ladder, which leads to Heaven. But most of all may he preserve us from the plague of both body and soul.
St. Roch, Pray for Us! The End