Today is the feast day Saint Felix. Ora pro nobis.
St. Felix Porri (1515-1587) was born of peasant parents at Cantalice in Apulia, the southeastern region of Italy. In his youth, he was hired out as a shepherd and farm laborer. It was not long before the little boy, when he approached the other children, was hailed by them: Here comes Felix, the Saint! He showed a predilection for solitary prayer from his earliest youth, and as a little shepherd used to retire to a quiet place to kneel there and meditate on the Passion of Jesus.
When nine years of age he was hired out to a farmer at Cotta Ducale with whom he remained for over twenty years, first as a shepherd-boy and afterwards as a farm labourer. But from his earliest years Felix evinced signs of great holiness, spending all his leisure time in prayer, either in the harsh or in some solitary place. A friend of his having read to him the lives ot the Fathers of the Desert, Felix conceived a great desire for the eremitical life, but at the same time feared to live otherwise than under the obedience of a superior. After seeking light in prayer, he determined to ask admittance amongst the Capuchins.
At first the friars hesitated to accept him, but he eventually received the habit, in 1543, at Anticoli in the Roman Province. It was not without the severest temptations that he persevered and made his profession. These temptations were so severe as injure his bodily health. In 1547 he was sent to Rome and appointed questor for the community. Here he remained for the rest of his life, and in fulfilling his lowly office became a veritable apostle of Rome.
One day on the street he met two duelists with sword in hand. He begged them to repeat after him, Deo gratias! which finally they did, and after taking him as arbiter of their quarrel, they separated as good friends. Saint Felix met Saint Philip Neri in Rome, and they became friends who wished one another all possible torments for the love of Jesus Christ. They sometimes remained together without speaking for considerable periods, seemingly transported with joy.
But Felix’s special apostolate was amongst the children of the city, with whom his childlike simplicity made him a special favourite. His method with these was to gather them together in bands and, forming circle, set them to sing canticles of his own composing, by which he taught them the beauty of a good life and the ugliness of sin. These canticles became popular and frequently, when on his rounds in quest of alms, Felix would be invited into the houses of his benefactors and asked to sing. He would seize the opportunity to bring home some spiritual truth in extemporized verse. During the famine of 1580 the directors of the city’s charities asked his superiors to place Felix at their disposal to collect alms for the starving, and he was untiring in his quest.
When he was sick and was given the last Sacraments, he saw the Blessed Virgin and a beautiful troop of Angels coming to fortify him in this last journey. He cried out in joy, and gave up his soul peacefully to his Creator in 1587. He was canonized by Pope Clement XI in 1712. His body is in the Capuchin Church of Rome; a plenary indulgence is granted to those who, fulfilling the ordinary conditions, visit a church of his Order on his feast day.
Image: Blessed Felix of Cantalice resurrecting a dead child, artist: Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, circa 1629. (6)