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A Radical Joy


Two sayings of the saints:

1. "Let the brothers ever avoid appearing gloomy, sad, and clouded, like the hypocrites; but let one ever be found joyous in the Lord, gay, amiable, gracious, as is meet." -St. Francis of Assisi

2. "No one is really happy merely because he has what he wants, but only if he wants the things he ought to want." -St. Augustine

St. Benedict Joseph Labre(1748-1783)

Judged by any worldly standard, BJL lived a completely useless and scandalous life as a wandering begger in the 18th century. Absent in his life were all those virtues of inustry, respectability and stability we are taught to admire and cultivate in ourselves. Yet his extraordinary sanctity serves to remind us that the world's judgements are not Gods.

Benedict Labre was an object of disgust, contempt and personal rejection in his own time few of us (apart from the homeless) can ever know today. Sorrow was his vocation and in that sorrow he eventually achieved lasting peace and heavenly joy.

From his biographer:

"Benedict Labre created nothing, founded nothing, left nothing behind him but the sharp gust of his own misery... On Good Friday, 1783, Benedict was in church... Father Marconi, his confessor, saw him... leaning on his stick, looking more emaciated and unkempt than ever. If he had not looked so happy, he would have been terrifying.

"One had only to see him", Marconi wrote, "even in the rags he wore towards the end, to feel an unaccountable stirring of absolute joy."

"Benedict talked to Father Marconi, and as he listened, he looked at the arms emerging from the sleeves, the arms of a skeleton, with just enough flesh to nourish the vermin that never left him alone.

"Benedict told his confessor that he was now free of all temptation... and not only temptation, but of scruples, of every last bit of attatchment to himself and his sorrow. Benedict abandoned that miserable sense of unworthiness he had been too much attatched to; he tore off the last clinging shreds of the old man. Having offered everything to God, and detatched himself even from his detatchment, he entered into that fullness of joy which can only come when the soul has stripped itself of everything..."

("St. Benedict Joseph Labre" by Agnes De La Gorce, Tranlated by Rosemary Sheed, Sheed & Ward, 1952, NY)

In his short life, Benedict had wandered to all the major Christian shrines of Europe. He had little interest in history or legends. His pilgrimages merely served as a framework for his life and the means he had of obtaining contemplation of his Lord and Savior. When Benedict spoke of poverty it did not mean the absence of something good. For Labre poverty was a treasured possession in itslef, to be defended at every cost. It was quite independent of money. The poverty of St. Bendict Joseph Labre dwelt in his heart and he carried it with him along his passage to heaven.

Among the simple maxims which ascended from his impoverished heart is perhaps some of my favorites from all the saints. He said:

"To love God you need 3 hearts in one. A heart of fire for Him. A heart of flesh for your neighbor. And a heart of bronze for yourself."

Two more quotes from the saints:

3. "What else do worldlings think we are doing but playing about when we flee what they most desire on earth... We are like jesters and tumblers who, with heads down and feet in the air draw all eyes to themselves." -St. Bernard of Clairvaux

4."Out of gratitude and love for Him, we should desire to be reckoned fools... Laugh and grow strong!" -St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Peace & Joy!

 


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