Today is the feast of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, (+1622) whose original name was Mark Rey: ‘Sigmaringen’ was his birthplace in what is now Germany, and he took the name ‘Fidelis’ – faithful – in religion, after he joined the Capuchins in the first decade of the 1600’s. This was just in the era of the ‘wars of religion’, the eve of the brutal Thirty Years War (1618-48), as Catholics were put to death across Europe, even in Elizabethan England, while Shakespeare – likely a secret Catholic, whose own day of death was yesterday, eight years before Fidelis’ – was writing his sonnets and plays.
Mark’s first job was as a lawyer, in which task he was known for his honesty – yes, I know – and his pro bono work for the poor, definitely not in the normally profitable profession for the money or prestige. Still, the moral compromises he did have to make compromised his conscience, and rather than continuing in sorrow, young Mark Rey was prompted to choose a higher path, to sell everything, follow Christ, put his hand firmly to the plow, and never look back. As Pope John Paul II puts it in his Letter to Youth, when we perceive that ‘gaze of Christ’, we must respond, like the Apostles, without delay.
He entered the austere Capuchin Franciscans, a reform of the Order founded a century before by Matteo da Bascio, and was sent to preach and convert the Calvinists, still in the throes of their early misguided zeal. But Father Fidelis’ own zeal was deeper and more pure, founded on the truth of Catholicism, flowing from the sacraments and the prayers of all the saints who had gone before him.