Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Feast Day for the Homeless ...

Today is April 15th - today (or tomorrow depending on the calendar) is the Feast Day for St Benedict Joseph Labre, who is the patron saint of those suffering from mental illness, those who are rejected, and the homeless.

I learned about St Benedict Joseph Labre this past week as I was reading a book about Saints and the relics they have left behind.

The life story of St Benedict Joseph is fascinating. He was born into a large French family and as a teenager tried to join several different Religious Orders, only to be rejected because it was felt he was unsuited to communal life.

From what I've read and what later commentators have written about Joseph, it seems evident that he was suffering from some form of Mental Illness.

Having been rejected by Religious Orders and feeling marginalized by society, Joseph was inspired to become a wandering ascetic, and took on the life of a nomadic beggar who depended upon the generosity of others to sustain him.

The Holy Man became a Homeless beggar!

Joseph wandered from Catholic Shrine to Catholic Shrine, sleeping where he was welcomed whether it was out in the open, in a corner or just on the floor. Joseph was known for the muddy, dirty, ragged and patched garments that covered his emaciated frame. The rags he wore along with a death mask are now preserved as relics of the life of this unlikely Saint.

The tradition and stories about him include being turned away and driven out of churches and shrines, and being forced to live on the margins of communities until he eventually made his way to Rome where he lived in the Collosseum and became know for being a "fool for Christ".

On April 17th 1783, Joseph Labre died of malnutrition during Holy Week and he was laid to rest in Rome within the shrine that was his personal favourite.

The path to Sainthood began almost immediately with his canonization granted in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII.

I am fascinated by the figure of St Benedict Joseph Labre, and think he needs to be lifted up and shared in broader circles so that we may be more mindful of the ministry he embodied, the struggles he endured, and more importantly, the legacy he has left for all of us both within and beyond the Catholic Church ... St Benedict Joseph Labre is a reminder to all of us of the radical and inclusive nature of God's love for ALL of us!!!

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