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Our Saint Benedict Joseph Labre:  The Holy Wayfarer

“Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”
Matthew 5:3

March 26th 1748 - April 16th 1783

The Holy Wayfarer

Here is an excerpt from our first newsletter:

“It was 1783, all of the bells were ringing out in the city of Rome. The children were running through the streets of Rome shouting, “The saint is dead! The saint is dead! Among these children was one later to be known for her holiness. Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, the famous wife, mother and mystic told others that she learned her Trinitarian spirituality from that great homeless pilgrim and holy man St. Benedict Joseph Labre. Our saint who was sick in body and mind most of his life, totally gave his life to God in the best way he was able. He in turn was given so much grace, internal inspirations and wisdom that people would meet St. Benedict Joseph once in their life time and never forget him. He sought after what he thought was a religious vocation but in turn God called him to a unique way of life. He embodied the suffering, betrayal and poverty of the crucified Lord himself. In short, our saint became the personification of the rejected suffering Christ. He offered everything up to God and lived in complete union with the Blessed Trinity dwelling in his soul. Thus, he was drawn to visit God everyday in the Blessed Sacrament. All else was but rubbish to our saint. His profound spirituality lead him to a place where the Eucharist and the Neighbor are one. He did not speak often, keeping always a spirit of prayer and recollection; but at those times when God called him to share with another person, the Trinity’s Glory shined through him. Therefore, he said: In order to love God, every Christian must have three hearts in one; a heart of fire for God, a heart of flesh for our neighbor and a heart of bronze for ourselves.”

Fr. Groeschel tells more on the life of St Benedict Joseph on the video Contemplative Prayer from our support page. Click Here and view the video towards the bottom of the page.

This is our Saint!  This is our Holy Wayfarer!  Adorer of the Blessed Sacrament!

The Argument

Can a person with mental illness become a saint?  By appearances one would consider this of St. Benedict Joseph Labre.  However, we must be careful not to project our views and remain as open and objective as possible when studying about his life. At that time in history, there was a lot of homeless people living in the street. He embodied this lifestyle and it was this embrace that precisely brought him to a new vocation and holiness of life. In fact, he may even be the most important figure in recent times when it comes to prayer and contemplation.  Antonio Cavallucci painted him many times, including this one titled: “The Incarnation of Mysticism.”  At his canonization Pope Leo XIII called St Benedict Joseph: “Holiness Itself!”  There is no doubt that he was an exceptional person.

The books I have read, “The Life of Benedict Joseph Labre” which was originally written by his Confessor Father Giuseppe Marconi in Italian and then later translated in English by Father James Barnard in 1785 and “The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Benedict Joseph Labre written by Antonio Maria Coltraro in 1797 and then later, The Beggar Saint written in 1952 by Agnus de la Gorce – translated by Rosemary Sheed do mention that the Abbot and monks of Sept Fons Abbey where he entered as Brother Urban did fear for St. Benedict Joseph’s sanity and asked him to leave the monastery.

And there is evidence that our patron refused communion and even thought that God had rejected him. Does this make a case for mental illness? It would seem yes. Interestingly, like The Little Flower, St. Therese, our patron maintained his baptismal innocence his whole life.

Carol Houselander in her book, “Guilt”, states: “The life of Benedict Joseph Labre illustrates that way in which God sometimes uses neurosis to lead a man whose will is surrended to him, into a vocation which he would not even imagine for himself...No sooner had Labre understood what it was that he was to do, then his mental condition was cured. He had no idea of the whole meaning of his life, of how many millions he stood proxy for before God, of the enormous burden of mental suffering that was sanctified in his own; but from the moment he became a wondering beggar his mind was illuminated and filled with peace, which remained with him through all of his outward sufferings until, like so many of those for whom he had come to be a Christ, he died from exhaustion in the crowded streets.” You can read our newsletters on this website where I mention more about this.

On the next page of the website- I will be posting weekly reflections from the chapters of the books I mentioned. I also encourage you to sign up for E-Newsletter at the bottom of every page of the site. Enter your email address today!