Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 2, 2019

This weekend we will honor Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, fittingly appropriate for us as he is the Patron Saint of the Homeless. He was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1881and his actual Liturgical Feast Day is April 16th, but we will honor him Sunday, April 7th 2019.
I first heard about St. Benedict Joseph Labre when I was in seminary in Washington DC, but it was Lew and Ramona Salotti who brought back to me his story and reminded me of his strength and witness. Benedict died in 1783 in Rome during Holy Week at the young age of only thirty-five. Homeless and malnourished, he had been living on the streets Europe for about thirteen years. Most of what we know about him only comes from the biography his confessor wrote after his death.
Benedict was born in France and the eldest of 18 children, he studied under his uncle, a parish priest. Because of poor health and a lack of suitable academic preparation he was unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life. Then, at age 16, a profound change took place. Benedict lost his desire to study and gave up all thoughts of the priesthood. Instead, he became a pilgrim, traveling from one great shrine to another, living off alms. Like St Francis, he wore the rags of a beggar and shared his food with the other poor he met. Filled with the love of God and neighbor, Benedict had special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament. In Rome, where he lived in the Colosseum for a time, he was called ‘the poor man of the Forty Hours devotion’ and ‘the beggar of Rome.’  The people accepted his ragged appearance better than he did. His excuse to himself was that “our comfort is not in this world.”
On April 16, 1783, the last day of his life, Benedict dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a nearby house. Immediately after his death, the people proclaimed him a saint. It is said that when he died the children sang out: “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!”  From the mouths of these babes, the Holy Spirit glorified him and revealed the holiness of his obscure and hidden life.
Now, I know that very few of us would be moved to emulate his life. After all, he slept in a hole in a ruined wall, and he survived on garbage and the kindness of strangers. He wore rags, and when he died, he owned only a broken bowl, a breviary, a few devotional books, and a rosary. He stank terribly, was afflicted with bug bites, and his feet were covered with sores. He must have been repulsive, but isn’t this the life of so many other we look away from? Is this not the life of those eyes we cannot find the strength to gaze into, and so we turn to sink more deeply into our own existence of prosperity and look with disdain on those experiencing homelessness among us?
In a modern inner city, one local smelly, soiled character kneels for hours on the sidewalk and prays, swathed in his entire wardrobe winter and summer, he pleasantly greets passersby with a blessing, only to have them look upon him with horror. These days we ascribe such behavior to mental illness; or laziness. ‘Why don’t they just get a job?!’ We easily exclaim! Benedict’s contemporaries called him holy, but his holiness is always a bit mad by earthly standards, but isn’t that true of all those who are truly holy?
Jesus said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”  Benedict loved everyone. Spent his days in prayer and adoration. Shared what little he had with everyone freely.
How have you lived the life of a saint lately?

One Response to “Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 2, 2019”

  1. Tom says:

    Well , it happened. I’m without words

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