Encircled by the radiant splendours of The Epiphany, there comes before us, today, in company with Saint Hilary of Poitiers (Feast Day, today), a humble lover of the virtues of The Crib of Our Emmanuel. Though withdrawn by God, Himself, from the fury of his persecutors, and thus from a Martyr’s death which would have Crowned his cruel torments and imprisonment, Felix, nevertheless, has won the right to his Palm [Editor: of Martyrdom] by the invincible courage he showed amidst all his sufferings. In Heaven, he was already accounted worthy of his reward, but he was yet for a long time to gladden and strengthen The Church on Earth by those examples of wonderful Poverty, Humility, and ardent Charity, which now claim for him a place in The Sacred Cycle [Editor: The Sanctoral Cycle] near to the lowly manger of The King of Peace.
The Infant God, in all his hidden lowliness, was to Felix his one love and examplar, hence today this King of angels and men who is now manifested to the world and adored by kings, hastens to share with him the honours of his triumphant Epiphany. To him that shall overcome, I will give to sit with me in my throne, saith the Lord, (Apocalypse 3:21) and in whom, other than Felix, has the realization of this blessed promise of the Divine Head to his members been more apparent? A poor tomb received the mortal remains of the humble priest of Campania, and in its silence and obscurity, emblems of his earthly desires, he seemed destine to await the blast of the angel’s trumpet at the final Resurrection. But, miracles, many and great, suddenly rendered this tomb illustrious; the name of Felix was carried far and wide, and everywhere wrought the like prodigies of grace. Hardly had peace been given to the Church and world by the accession of Constantine to the throne, when on all sides the people were aroused, and in countless flocks thronged to the martyr’s tomb; on certain days Rome herself seemed deserted, and the ancient Appian Road, the very soil of which was worn away by the tramp of the pilgrims, appeared to have no other purpose other than to carry to the feet of Felix the homage, gratitude, and love of the entire world. Five basilicas did not suffice for the immense concourse; a sixth was erected, and the lowly field where once the remains of the martyr lay hid was encircled by a new town. The fourth century, so rich in Christian developments, saw the beginning of pilgrimages, and the city of Nola in Campania was, after Rome, the principal centre of this devotion. ‘O happy city of Nola,’ cries a contemporary, eyewitness of these wonders, ‘O happy city which through the merits of the blessed Felix has become second only to Rome herself, Rome ever the mistress, yesterday by her empire and victorious armies, today by the tombs of the Apostles!’
We have cited Paulinus, the illustrious consul whose name is inseparably linked with that of Felix, Paulinus whom we shall find, in the time after Pentecost, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, giving also admirable examples of renunciation to the world. In the flower of a brilliant youth and already surrounded by honours and glory, Paulinus once found himself by the tomb of Felix — here it was given to him to understand true greatness, to realize the emptiness of human ambitions and glory. The Roman Senator, the consul, the descendant of Paulus Arnelius and of the Scipios, here vowed himself to Felix who had conquered. Riches, honours, country, he sacrificed all and aspired only to dwell near to this tomb. A power of no small merit, whose talents had already won applause in Rome, his inspiration now found expression in singing the praises of the blessed Felix on his feast day and in proclaiming himself the slave and humble doorkeeper of the servant of Christ. Such then is the triumph of our Emmanuel in his saints, such is the glory of his members — does it not seem that the Divine Head, mindful of his promises, is desirous only of the glory which this feast of Manifestation brings, so that they , enthroned with him may also receive the homage of peoples and kings?
Let us listen now to the abridged lesson of the life of our saints which the Church puts before us today.
Felix, a priest of Nola, was tormented in various ways by the infidels for his violent attacks on idols, and was cast into prison. He was set free in the night by an angel, and ordered to seek Maximianus, the Bishop of Nola, who had hidden himself in a wood because he feared that, at his advanced age he would not be able to bear the torments of his persecutors. Felix, arriving at the place by the divine guidance, found the holy bishop lying on the ground half dead. He succored him, and carried him on his shoulders to a Christian widow to be cared for. On another occasion when he was upbraiding the idol worshipers for their impiety, they rushed at him, and he, flying from them , hid in a narrow space between two walls and the opening was so quickly filled with the spider’s webs that no one suspected a man had recently taken refuge there. After thus escaping his persecutors, Felix lay hid for three months in the house of a pious woman. When peace was restored to the Church he returned to Nola and converted many to the faith of Christ, by his example, his teaching, and his miracles. He steadily refused to be made bishop of the city, and, falling asleep in the Lord, was buried near Nola at the place called In Pincis.
O Felix, this day is the twentieth since the birth of our Emmanuel, the new sun, the vanquisher of cold an frosts, the restorer of light, the conqueror of darkness. His splendor is yours. Grant that, warmed by his life-giving rays, we may, like you, ever grow in him. Having become children once more at the crib, we possess within us the Seed of the Word; may the innocence of a new heart cause it ever to fructify. By you, Christ’s yoke becomes light to the weak, by you the Infant God is touched with pity and turns in love to penitent souls. This day, then, which witnesses your heavenly birth, should be dear to us, for we too die to the world and are born to our Emmanuel.
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)