Sunday, July 17, 2011

The poverty of St. Alexius of Rome


Homeless pilgrim.
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It is said St. Alexius left his wife on their wedding night - with her permission of course - to follow Christ in humility as the wandering ascetic we come to call a pilgrim.  Fleeing Roman society, he made his way to the Holy Land, and eventually resided in Syria, living on the streets amongst others who depended upon alms for their support.  It is believed he once managed to evade his father's servants who had been sent in search of him.  Not recognizing him, so the legend goes, they even gave the Saint alms.  His holiness was miraculously revealed to the locals and Alexi soon began to attract a following.  Fearing the dangers that accompany the world's esteem, the Saint once again set out on pilgrimage. 
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St Alexi eventually returned to Rome and lived unrecognized as a beggar beneath one of the staircases of his father's villa.  He lived upon alms and the refuse from his father's table, frequently enduring abuse from servants and street urchins.  St. Alexi bore such treatment patiently, and repaid their taunts with edifying reflections and instructions on the faith.  His reputation for holiness again increased, although he remained unrecognized by his father's household until his death.  LaTour's painting, The Discovery of St. Alexius illustrates the moment when a servant discovered the dead Alexius' true identity.  
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St Alexi has become one of my very special patrons.  I never knew how much until the last few years.  It is an amazing grace to contemplate the Saint's vocation.  To ruminate his coming to terms with abject poverty and homelessness, hollowing out his total dependence upon God alone - when all creatures fail, when there is no longer anything to claim as one's own...  His confession of faith reveals what it means to be alone - surrounded by those we know.  To be unrecognized and hidden - in plain sight.       
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The seed that falls to the ground and dies...
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The Spirit helps us in our weakness, though we do not know how to pray as we ought.  The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groans...

18 comments:

  1. This is probably a crazy question that everyone else already knows the answer to, but why would he bother getting married atall, if he was going to leave her that same day? Does history know what became of her? Surely he had some responsibilities and duties towards her too, to love cherish, in sickness and in health etc? When did those vows come about, was it later maybe?

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  2. I imagine the "wedding night" story is an anecdote, though it's probably true he either left a fiancee or his wife of a short time, since that wasn't uncommon.

    Cause otherwise, yeahhhhhh...

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  3. Leaving his bride - everytime I tell this story I find that women find that disturbing.

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  4. In the same vein,I always wondered about the apostles' wives.
    History is full of these anonymous women whose stories we'll never know.

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  5. Austringer9:34 AM

    Well, it does certainly make one wonder about the nature of a "vocation". We're told that marriage is a vocation -- so, did St. Alexi find out, after the fact, that he chose the wrong vocation? Since marriage is a sacrament, wouldn't he be failing to live up to the promises he made before God and man on his wedding day?

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  6. I expect if the story is factual, the marriage was arranged since the family was prominent. Marriage was often like that in the olden days, as you know. Elizabeth of Hungry was betrothed as a toddler - brides and grooms didn't really chose their spouses. The vocation stuff didn't get a lot of press back then either - only in modern times do we place so much emphasis on that concept.

    The Alexis story is so much more profound than all that 'romance'.

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  7. I should have said, but I don't mean that in a bad way.

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  8. Austringer11:06 AM

    I understand what you're saying....and it is much more profound.

    Thanks for passing on that information about St. Alexis. I didn't know anything about him at all -- had never heard the name.

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  9. Austringer - the other thing I should have noted - it is said he asked her permission and she granted it, and I expect she lived ever after with the family as their daughter - so it is not all bad. If they would have remained together as husband and wife he would have ended up being a lay-about good-for-nothing anyway. nothing but a bum.

    LOL! I crack myself up.

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  10. Austringer12:17 PM

    And she would have ended up a shrewish nag -- so it all worked out for the best!!

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  11. There is something to be said for him rebelling against an arranged marriage or being forced into marriage against his will or nature. He should be the patron of those who are in arranged or forced marriages. Then again, maybe he was...oh never mind! Ace ;-)

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  12. Of course I would comment on this one:)

    But I have always wondered about the Apostles' wives ... though chances are many of them were very young, almost boys.

    Anyway, the Church Fathers seemed to in general think of marriage as a prison that it would be great to escape. St. Jerome even went so far as to say that a man who has intercourse with his wife dishonors her (it's in "Against Jovinian"), and a lot of them seem to think that it's par for the course to at least stop sleeping with your wife if you could handle it. The impression I get is that in the early Church at the time of the Fathers, total marital continence was the ideal everyone was "supposed to" try for.

    And even today, the Orthodox have extremely rigorous fasting rules where spouses are supposed to "fast" for most of the days in the year (Lent, Advent, Apostles' Fast, Wednesdays, Fridays, before and after Communion) - this is carryover from ancient practice [and no, I am not denying that voluntary fasting from marital relations COULD benefit spiritual health.]

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  13. Though what Terry says about the arranged marriage makes all the sense in the world. Odds are he never even met the woman till that day, or even could have wanted to live his vocation before that and was forced into it.

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  14. Merc - that is right - I forgot about the Orthodox abstinence rules. I'm so glad I'm not married.

    You are right about Alexi - he had already given his life to God, explained it all to his stranger wife of 14 years, who agreed to let him go.

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  15. Of course, Orthodox rules are not like Catholic rules. I think with them, if such "fasting" is neither helpful to their relationship or their spiritual life, then they're advised not to do it.

    The Orthodox tend to look at rules like that not in legalistic terms, and I'd imagine most Orthodox couples (and Eastern Catholics) don't follow those rules to a tee, nor are they advised to by their spiritual directors.

    Still, I think there is a reason why the Latin Church has abandoned that line of disciplinary law. I can see how something like that could lead to serious tensions in a marriage. It's somewhat easy to abstain when you can't licitly do anything, but when you sleep next to the person you've committed your life to, who you love above all others on earth, and for whom your desires are fully legitimate - I'd imagine that it can lead to thinking of the spouse as a temptation, or of thinking of one's desires as somehow wrong or impure.

    Of course, voluntary abstinence from time to time (like Fridays) in reparation for sin or whatever can be a good idea, but that's a different story.

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  16. Whoa!

    Let me say this about marriage; it's great!

    There is nothing better than listening to your wife sing happily as she fulfills her womanly duties or hearing her cry out in the pains of childbirth.

    The scent of a woman is the building block of manliness.

    If the early Church Fathers did not like sex, how did we grow from a couple of hundred thousand, to six + billion?

    *

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  17. "The scent of a woman is the building block of manliness."

    You know what, Pablo? We've butted heads in the past, but you're a good guy, damned funny to boot.

    Gob bless you.

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  18. And also you.

    If I was in a fight, I wouldn't mind having you around just to keep everybody honest.

    And Mr. Nelson too, with his crayons to draw a picture of it.

    *

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