Today is the feast of St. Benedict-Joseph Labré who died on April 16, 1783, in Rome.
Like the holy fools of Russia, he was for many years a wandering pilgrim – carrying his rosary, a breviary, a New Testament, and the Imitation of Christ. He did not beg but when someone gave him more than he needed he shared it with the poor. He is thus considered the patron saint of the homeless.
He lived many years in Rome, sleeping first in a Coliseum and then in a home when he was ill. He fell mortally ill at the church of Saint Maria dei Monte and died in the nearby house of a butcher who took him in.
When I was in Rome in 2013 I visited the church where his body is buried. No one else was there but I felt a real desire to honor this poor man totally devoted to God.
I noted the image of Mary over the altar but not until this morning did I realize that Mary is flanked by two deacons, Lawrence and Stephen, and Augustine and Francis are kneeling before her. St. Benedict had a great devotion to this image.
St. Benedict Joseph Labré was rejected by several monasteries but is claimed by the Franciscans since he was a Cord-Bearer, a confraternity connected with the followers of St. Francis.
As I contemplate possible ordination as a deacon, a servant, I think of St. Benedict Joseph Labré and ask for his inspiration. I also look with wonder at the image of Mary and remember the witness of the two deacons – serving God and God’s people, especially the poor – men and women like St. Benedict, men and women whom St. Francis honored.
And I ask for the gifts of generosity and detachment – which is the closest I think I can get to the poverty of St. Benedict and St. Francis.
Photograph taken February 16, 2013, by author.
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