The blood of the poor

The lives of the saints are often marked by a deep love of God and a commitment to the poor. But occasionally – more often than one might imagine – this care for the poor is accompanied by a deep sense of justice.

Today the Franciscans celebrate St. Ignatius of Laconi, Sardinia, who lived between 1701 and 1781, spending 60 years as a Capuchin Franciscan brother. For forty years he was the community’s quaestor who begged for alms for the needs of the community and the poor.

As a Franciscan he embraced Holy Poverty and lived simply, but Dorothy Day, in the May 1952 issue of The Catholic Worker, reveals another side of this saint.

 Ignatius used to go from his monastery with a sack to beg from the people of the town, but he would never go to a merchant who had built up a fortune by defrauding the poor. Franchino, the rich man, fumed every time the saint passed his door. His concern, however, was not the loss of the opportunity to give alms, but fear of public opinion. He complained at the friary, whereupon the Father Guardian ordered St. Ignatius to beg from the merchant the next time he went out.

“Very well,” said Ignatius obediently. “It you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins done on the blood of the poor.”

The merchant received Ignatius with great flattery and gave him generous alms, asking him to come again in the future. But hardly had Ignatius left the house with the sack on his shoulder when drops of blood began oozing from the sack. They trickled down on Franchino’s doorstep and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went, a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet. “What is this?” gasped the Guardian. “This, St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.”

What some may dismiss as a pious tale is full of the wisdom of God and a challenge to all of us, especially the church, to never let almsgiving substitute for failing to do justice. Almsgiving should lead to solidarity with the poor and a life of justice.

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