May 20 – Asclas of Antinoe; Columba of Rieti

Asclas of Antinoe (d. ca. 287) suffered under Arrian, who was under Diocletian, who was under the impression he could wipe out Christianity through state-sponsored terrorism. Invited to sacrifice to the pagan gods, Asclas refused, and moreover prophesied that Arrias would be forced to call Jesus Christ the true God. Arrias ordered him viciously tortured, but when one of those present said, “I think he’s dead,” Asclas replied, “No, I’m not.”

Arrias had a meeting across the Nile in Antinoe the next day, and ordered Asclas carried across, hoping (one supposes) to pop in on the execution during the lunch break. In answer to Asclas’ prayers, Arrias’ boat stopped in the middle of the river. Strain as they might, the oarsmen could make no headway at all. At the time, the governor was writing (or dictating) the charges against Asclas, and when he wrote (or said), “he worships Jesus, the true God,” the boat was freed, and they were able to complete their crossing.

He ordered Asclas burned, which didn’t work, and drowned, which did. As he was being hauled to the river, Asclas told the Christians encouraging him, “Find my body and the rock, and bury them together.” The soldiers tied a rock around his neck and flung him in. Three days later, the Christians found his body, and the rock, and buried them together.

Columba of Rieti (1467–1501) was serenaded by angels on the day of her birth, and visited by a white dove on the day of her baptism. Her parents were perpetually poor out of charity and almsgiving. She learned to read from the local nuns, and memorized the Little Office by listening to it a lot. She was a life-long devotée of St. Catherine of Siena (Apr 29).

At twelve she prayed to know her vocation, and had a vision of saints standing around the throne of Christ. Consulting her copy of Dream Interpretation for Italian Adolescents, she took a private vow of chastity, planning a life of solitude. Unfortunately, she neglected to inform her parents of these plans. They of course procured a nice young man to marry her, neglecting on their part to inform her until he showed up to take her to dinner and a movie.

In a vision she was informed of a custom by which cutting off all one’s hair and giving it to one’s unwanted suitor would make him realize one desired to be a nun. Her suitor also knew this custom (presumably through more pedestrian channels), and got the hint. (There is no word about what he did with the hair.) This enraged Columba’s brothers, who tormented her about it (up to and including attempted murder) until finally she left home (go figure).

Throughout her life, Columba had visions and ecstasies, including events from the life of our Lord. After one particularly vivid ecstasy of the Passion, she prayed not to have that one again, lest it kill her. (Mel Gibson, eat your heart out.) In another vision she saw the Christ Child, which made up for the nativity set her confessor had promised her but kept forgetting to give her (true story).

At nineteen she was received into the Dominican tertiaries*, and immediately set off on a pilgrimage to Viterbo, about 100 km west on the S S79. Along the way she exorcised a woman who had been possessed by a demon for 18 years, and her fame went before her to such an extent that when she got to Narni, the people there decided to kidnap her and adopt her as their own pet wonderworker. She managed to outsmart them and return to Rieti.

Eventually she was made Mother Superior of a Dominican Tertiary community in Perugia, which she ruled with compassion and tenderness until her death from unspecified “natural causes.” She is called upon in the prayers of those suffering from magic, sorcery, temptation, or living in Perugia.