Today is the feast day of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was born 26 March, 1748 at Amettes in the Diocese of Boulogne, France.
He was the eldest of fifteen children. His parents, Jean-Baptiste Labre and Anne-Barba Grandsire, belonged to the middle class and so were able to give to their numerous offspring considerable opportunities in the way of education. His early training he received in his native village in a school conducted by the vicar of the parish.
At the age of twelve his education was taken over by his paternal uncle, François-Joseph Labre, curé of Erin, with whom he then went to live. During the six following years which he spent under his uncle’s roof, he made considerable progress in the study of Latin, history, etc. but found himself unable to conquer a constantly growing distaste for any form of knowledge which did not make directly for union with God. A love of solitude, a generous employment of austerities and devotedness to his religious exercises were discernible as distinguishing features of his life at this time and constitute an intelligible prelude to his subsequent career. (3)
He was not certain, however, that he was called to the priesthood, and said, It is very beautiful to be a priest, but I fear losing my soul while saving others. He desired the contemplative life and entered the Carthusian Order. But it was not long before his Superiors decided he did not have the vocation to that Order. (2)
After making several more requests to enter monasteries where he might serve God according to his heart’s desire, he was finally received in November 1769 by the Cistercians, whom he greatly edified by his silent prayer and communion with God. His happiness, however, proved to be short-lived; he was taken very ill and again his Superiors decided that he was not called to be one of their number. Providence had permitted these events. Upon his recovery, he discovered God’s holy will for him, which was, he wrote, that remaining in the midst of the world, he devoutly visit as a pilgrim the famous places of Christian devotion. (2)
He then understood “that it was God’s will that like St. Alexis he should abandon his country, his parents, and whatever is flattering in the world to lead a new sort of life, a life most painful, most penitential, not in a wilderness nor in a cloister, but in the midst of the world, devoutly visiting as a pilgrim the famous places of Christian devotion”. He repeatedly submitted this extraordinary inspiration to the judgment of experienced confessors and was told he might safely conform to it. Through the years that followed he never wavered in the conviction that this was the path appointed for him by God. He set forward on his life’s journey clad in an old coat, a rosary about his neck, another between his fingers, his arms folded over a crucifix which lay upon his breast. In a small wallet he carried a Testament, a breviary, which it was his wont to recite daily, a copy of the “Imitation of Christ”, and some other pious books. Clothing other than that which covered his person he had none. He slept on the ground and for the most part in the open air. For food he was satisfied with a piece of bread or some herbs, frequently taken but once a day, and either provided by charity or gotten from some refuse heap. He never asked for alms and was anxious to give away to the poor whatever he received in excess of his scanty wants.
The first seven of the thirteen remaining years of his life were spent in pilgrimages to the more famous shrines of Europe. He visited in this way Loreto, Assisi, Naples, Bari, Fabriano in Italy; Einsiedeln in Switzerland; Compostella in Spain; Parav-le-Monial in France. The last six years he spent in Rome, leaving it only once a year to visit the Holy House of Loreto. His unremitting and ruthless self-denial, his unaffected humility, unhesitating obedience and perfect spirit of union with God in prayer disarmed suspicion not unnaturally aroused as to the genuineness of a Divine call to so extraordinary a way of existence. Literally worn out by his sufferings and austerities, on the 16th of April 1783, he sank down on the steps of the church of Santa Maria dei Monti in Rome and, utterly exhausted, was carried to a neighboring house where he died. His death was followed by a multitude of unequivocal miracles attributed to his intercession. The life written by his confessor, Marconi, an English version of which bears the date of 1785, witnesses to 136 miraculous cures as having been certified to up to 6 July, 1783. So remarkable, indeed, was the character of the evidence for some of the miracles that they are said to have had no inconsiderable part in finally determining the conversion of the celebrated American convert, Father John Thayer, of Boston who was in Rome at the time of the saint’s death. Benedict was proclaimed Venerable by Pius IX in 1859 and canonized by Leo XIII 8 December, 1881. His feast is kept on the 16th of April, the day of his death. (3)
Image: Benedict Joseph Labre. Artist: Antonio Cavallucci, circa 1795. (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff