Monday, April 16, 2018

April 16 - Benedict Joseph Labre, Beggar, Unsuitable for Communal Life, Fool for Christ

Benedict Joseph Labre was the oldest child of a wealthy and successful business man in northern France but he didn't feel a calling to a life of comfort and prosperity as the caretaker of his father's business. Instead, he felt called to an oddity--an abnormal life of special penance--and struggled to explain it to those he loved and who loved him. He left his fourteen brothers and sisters at the age of sixteen to find a place in a local monastery so that he might expand upon his regular confession and penance with vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. First, he was rejected from the order of the Trappists and labeled"unsuitable for communal life" because of his incredible zeal for penance and reformation of self. He then applied to the order of the Carthusians but was rejected for the same reasons. Finally, he was rejected from the Cistercians for precisely the same rationale. It seems that each of the orders found him to be excessively solitary and doubted his ability to adhere to a vow of obedience in a communal life. So, Benedict had nowhere to go to become a monk. So, instead, he became a holy fool.

Benedict gave away all of his possessions and decided to go on a continual pilgrimage to the holy places of his Faith. Though he never traveled to Israel, he did make pilgrimage to the westerncities of spiritual and ecclesial significance.Additionally, and most peculiarly, he made his pilgrimage on foot with no possessions and no plans. He traveled first to Rome and found the journey challenging but formative.He had no food except that which was given to him and he had nowhere to sleep except the open places of the fields and an occasional corner of a room from a caring family or congregation. He was a beggar by choice and by calling. His begging helped remind the communities he encountered of their strict calling. He was no monk and yet he lived a life of devotion and service--this kind of commitment shocked those who saw him and must have made them rethink their own lives. Having no possessions, he had nothing to lose and so he reminded the Church of its early years and its essential commitments. He talked very rarely and prayed almost constantly and thereby called the Church back to attentive listening to God and away from careless talk and posturing with words.

Over the course of his life--and his unending pilgrimage--he traveled to Loreto, Bari, Einsiedeln, Paray-le-Monial, Assisi, Compostela, and Naples. That is to say he traveled through Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland in his many and constant travels. In fact, as he traveled, his life became nothing more than one extended pilgrimage which became an example to the Church of the transience of our own place and existence in this world. Those who looked upon Benedict could not help but be reminded that the Christian's first allegiance is to a Kingdom "not of this world" and to a calling that sometimes demands what the world deems irrational. He was rarely fed well enough to fill his stomach--and it's likely he would have refused this comfort anyway--but Benedict was also well known for distributing what the gifts he did receive to the poor he met and loved. He dwelt with the homeless--for he was indeed homeless--and prayed for their healing with regularity. Often, they found it through his prayers and ministry. In Holy Week of 1783, Benedict was in Rome and attending a worship service when he collapsed from hunger and malnutrition. He was carried to one of the Church's hospitals and cared for but he died shortly thereafter from the complications of a self-selected hard life. He was only thirty-five when he died and though he might have been "unsuitable for communal life" he was most definitely suitable for the calling placed upon him by his Lord.

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