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August 18

St Helena - August 18

Saint Helena or Helena of Constantinople
Empress, Mother, Discoverer of the True Cross
(Around 248 – 330)

“But how do you know He doesn’t want us to have it — the cross, I mean? I bet He’s just waiting for one of us to go and find it — just at this moment when it’s most needed.”

Saint Helena quoted from Evelyn Waugh’s book Helena

Her Early Life

Flavia Julia Helena or Helena was born around 248 in Drepanon, Bithynia, Asia Minor (modern north-eastern Turkey), the daughter of an innkeepers. Saint Ambrose of Milan (De obitu Theodosii 42) says she was a stabularia, a maid in a tavern or inn.

Married and Mother of Constantine the Great

Around the year 270, Helena met Constantius Chlorus, an ambitious Roman general. It is said that upon meeting, they were wearing identical silver bracelets. Constantius saw her as his soulmate sent by God. A few years later, Helena gave birth to their son Constantine at Nish in Serbia.

Divorced

In 293, Constantius was proclaimed caesar (heir-apparent) of Emperor Maximian, one of the persecutors of Christians. For obvious political reasons, he divorceded Helena and married Maximian’s stepdaughter, Theodora. From then, until Constantine became emperor, Helena’s life was spent in relative obscurity and was probably deprived of the company of her son. Perhaps because of this fact, she is seen as a patron of the divorced.

Augusta

In 312, Helena’s son, Constantine, was proclaimed augustus (emperor) after his father died and Constantine was victor over his rival Maximian at the battle of Milvian Bridge. Then, one of his first acts as ruler, was to confer the title “augusta” (or empress) on his mother. He ordered that Helena be honored as the mother of a sovereign and had coins struck bearing her image. In addition, Constantine changed the name of the town where she was born to Helenopolis.

Baptized at 63

Constantine had converted to Christianity. With his encouragement, at the age of 63, Helena was baptized a Christian.

As empress, Helena spent her days in acts of charity, and built magnificent churches on the holy sites of the faith, frequently tearing down pagan temples that had been built on those sites. She worked tirelessly for the poor, released prisoners, and humbly mingled with ordinary worshipers in modest attire. Throughout her life, she spread the Gospel of Christ, bringing many to the faith through her witness.

Finder of the True Cross of Jesus Christ

At the age of 80, she led a group to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage in search of the “Holy Sepulcher” and “The True Cross.” The “Holy Sepulcher” is the location of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, while “The True Cross” is the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. On this pilgrimage, it was said that Helena “followed in the footsteps of Jesus,” by performing many acts of kindness and good works, such as giving money, food, and clothing to the poor, and also helping churches with funds that included basilicas in Bethlehem and on the Mount of Olives. After weeks of traveling, Helena finally made it to Jerusalem.

The tradition is that while she was in Jerusalem around 326, Helena ordered that the 200 year-old Temple of Venus built in the time of the emperor Hadrian to be torn down. In that location, her group unearthed three crosses. At the suggestion of Saint Macarius of Jerusalem, Helena took the three crosses to a woman afflicated with an incurable disease and had her touch each one. One of them immediately cured her. So, this cross was pronounced the True Cross of Jesus Christ.

Helena built a church, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, on the spot where the cross was found. In addition, she sent pieces to Rome and Constantinople (note that the Feast of the Holy Cross is celebrated on September 14th for this event). Thus in art, she is usually depicted holding a wooden cross.

Around 327, Helena left Jerusalem and the eastern provinces to return to Rome, where she brought with her large parts of the True Cross and other relics. Then, all of these relics were stored in her palace’s private chapel, now the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, where they can be still seen today.

Her Death

Around 330, Helena died with her son at her side. Some people state that she died in Nicomedia (modern day Turkey) while others state Rome, Italy. In the latter, Helena was buried in the Mausoleum of Helena, outside Rome on the Via Labicana. Her sarcophagus is on display in the Pio-Clementine Vatican Museum, next to the sarcophagus of her granddaughter Constantina (Saint Constance). However, in 1154 her remains were moved to the Church of Santa Maria di Aracoeli, Rome, Italy.

Born :                   Around 248 in Drepanon, Bithynia, Asia Minor (modern Turkey)

Died:                    Around 330 in Nicodemia or Rome, Italy

Beatified:            Pre-Congregation

Canonized:         Pre-Congregation

Feast Day:          August 18

Patron Saint:     Against Epilepsy; Against Fire; Against Storms; Against Thunder; Archeologists; Converts; Difficult Marriages; Diocese of Helena, Montana; Divorced People;

Source:

Reflection 

Saint Helena invites us to ponder the transformative power of faith by examining her up and down life. She started as a lowly barmaid at an inn. Then, she moved up in social ranks when she married the heir-apparent to the Emperor. Only to sink down after being divorced by her husband and sent into obscurity. Then, she converted to Christianity at the age of 63. Highlighted at the age of 80 by her pilgrimage to the Holy Land where Saint Helena found the True Cross of Jesus Christ. So, a late start converting to being a Catholic does not mean it is a bad start since God can work wonders with us at any age.

If God can convert Helena from a pagan to a Saint that discovers His Son’s True Cross at the age of 80, how can you today embark on your own holy journey, regardless of your age, receiving God’s grace to do wonderful deeds in His Name?

Prayers

Saint Helena,

Woman of piety and grace, guided by the whispers of the Holy Land, you unearthed the sacred relic that bore the weight of salvation.

May your unwavering faith inspire us, to seek the sacred in the midst of our daily journeys.

As the Cross revealed the triumph of love over suffering, guide us to embrace our own crosses with courage and hope.

Pray for us, that our lives may reflect the radiance of the Cross that leads us to eternal joy.

Saint Helena, pray for us, Amen.

Holy and blessed Saint Helena, with the anguish and devotion with which you sought the Cross of Christ, I plead that you give me God’s grace to suffer in patience the labors of this life, so that through them and through your intercession and protection, I will be able to seek and carry the Cross, which God has placed upon me, so that I can serve Him in this life and enjoy His Glory ever after. Amen.

 

Saint Links 

Aleteia – Visit the spot where St. Helena found the true Cross

AnaStpaul – Saint of the Day – 18 August – St Helena (c250 – c 330)

Angelus – Saint of the day: Helena

America Needs Fatima – Saint Helena of Constantinople

Bartleby – Rev. Alban Butler Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866 August 18. St. Helen, Empress

Catholic Culture – St. Helena and the True Cross by Fr. William Saunders

Catholic Exchange – St. Helena Demonstrates How to Seek (and Do) God’s Will

Catholic Online – St. Helena

CatholicSaints.Info – Saints of the Day – Helena, Widow – by Katherine I Rabenstein

Daily Compass – Saint Helena

Independent Catholic News – St Helena

New Advent – Kirsch, J.P. (1910). St. Helena. In The Catholic Encyclopedia

Pratical Prayers – Prayer to St. Helen (divorcees)

RC Spirituality (Uncle Eddy) – St Helen

Saints, Feast, Family – Saint Helena’s Story

Saint Resources – Helena of Constantinople

Sanctoral – Saint Helen, Empress (328)

Southern California Renewal Communities (SCRC) – St Helena

uCatholic – Saint Helena

Video Link

St. Helena – YouTube (Catholic Online)

St. Helena: the roots of Jesus’ relics in Rome – YouTube (Rome Reports)