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Break With Sin and Follow Christ: St. Fabiola

St. Fabiola (d. 399/400) was a Roman physician who divorced her first husband due to his viciousness. The divorce, of course, was according to Roman law but against the teaching of the Church. She then remarried before her first husband had died, again against Church teaching.

However, when her second husband died, she made the decision to renounce her life in order to work for others. On the day before Easter in the year her second husband had passed away, St. Fabiola appeared before the gates of the Lateran basilica, dressed in penitential garb, and did public penance for her sin. At that point, the pope received her formally back into full communion with the Church.

However, her conversion did not simply end with her reception back into communion. She followed through on her intention to renounce the world. She committed her immense wealth to relieving the needs of the poor and sick, and put herself at their service. For example, she built a hospital in Rome and tended to the patients herself, especially those rejected from society because of their diseases. In addition, she donated large sums to the churches and religious communities of Rome (and throughout Italy) to help them serve the poor and suffering. She also constructed a large hospice for pilgrims coming to Rome.

She combined her charitable service with the practice of Christian asceticism. For a time, she studied both Scripture and asceticism under the direction of St. Jerome. Ascetic practices make the mind and body more conducive to spiritual transformation, in much the same way that training enables an athlete to perform better during a competition. Through training and exercise, dormant powers in both the body and mind are developed so that both may attain to their full natural beauty.

As the life of St. Fabiola testifies, then, God’s grace, repentance for sin, purifying one’s heart and mind, and cultivating virtues all prepare us spiritually for that fullness of life that is an encounter with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit on the path to holiness.