Friday, May 07, 2010

An Almost Forgotten Saint

Today I was reminded about a favorite Saint of mine. His name is Benedict Joseph Labre'. He was tutored by an uncle who was a priest. Benedict felt called to be a monk, but after trying three separate monasteries and being turned away, he realized his vocation was elsewhere. He became a pilgrim, wandering the roads of Europe to visit and pray at the many religious shrines. Praying and adoration became his full time occupation. The streets were his monastery and the Blessed Sacrament his consolation. He kept in touch with God despite the often difficult surroundings.
Experts today describe Benedict as a very kind person who happened to also suffer from severe mental illness. Some say that his diagnosis today would be either bi-polar or schizophrenic. He begged for food and settled down in Rome near the Coliseum. He became a holy street person. His condition did not allow him to earn a regular income. He did have a writing kit which allowed him to keep in touch with his mother. Although he was "on the streets" he cared enough about her to write letters. He also cared for his fellow street dwellers. He would share the food he was given with more needy homeless. He died in Holy Week, April 16, 1783. When the local Romans heard of his death they shouted to one another, "Il Santo e' morto! The Saint has died."
In the Boston Museum of Fine Arts there is a painting of Benedict Labre' based on the death mask made of the 34 year-old holy man. He is invoked as the patron saint of the mentally ill and of those coping with a mentally ill family member. There is an organization you can turn to for more information on St. Benedict Labre'. Here is their web address: In the book I authored, "Tender Mercies, Prayers for Healing and Coping" from Pauline Books & Media, I present more about St. Benedict Labre' as well as prayers for his intercession. The Guild of St. Benedict Labre' provides spiritual support for the mentally troubled and for their families and close friends.
Mental illness is treatable--in many cases. Yet it is also a heavy cross to carry. May those who care for the mentally ill, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and medical doctors, as well as family members be assisted by the intercession of St. Benedict Labre'.

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