Friday, April 16, 2010

Saint Benedict Joseph Labre

Sharing the shame.

Today is the feast day of the mendicant/pilgrim saint, Benedict Joseph Labre.  It is also Pope Benedict XVI's birthday.  St. Benedict Joseph must be a very special patron to the Holy Father - as he is for me.

St. Benedict Joseph Labre was a single layman.  God called him to such a life.  Some people like to say there is no such thing as a vocation to single life - one is either called to priesthood, religious life, or the married state.  The single life is not a vocation of course, it is a state in life.  In this state a person is called to work out his or her salvation, to accomplish the will of God - which is our salvation.  Hence, one must be prudent when telling others there is no vocation to the single life, lest they discourage them from seeking God according to their state in life - which happens to be the single life.

St. Benedict tried his vocation with the Carthusians and Trappists, although he was subsequently rejected due to a disorder or defect in his temperament.  Some believe he may have suffered from a form of mental illness.  Whatever the case, the Saint lived a devout life as a layman.  Inspired by an interior impulse, Benedict Joseph followed the pattern of life set by St. Alexis, the Roman noble who left his wife on their wedding night and lived the rest of his life as an ascetic - a pilgrim and mendicant.

I would like to suggest St. Benedict Joseph Labre as a patron for laymen who find themselves rejected or refused entrance to seminary or religious life due to some disorder or defect in their temperament.  I'm convinced there are some men who have gone through very deep conversion experiences, and in some cases, experienced God's grace of healing of this or that disorder.  Forgetting to account for the grace of God, seminaries and religious houses may continue to refuse these men admission.  Perhaps through the intercession of St. Benedict Joseph, such a lack of faith on the part of superiors could be remedied, thus clearing the way for these men to be admitted to Holy Orders or some form of religious life after all.

Failing that, I would hope St. Benedict Joseph could be a model and patron especially for such men, that they not lose hope or abandon the practice of religion all together.  The penance of St. Benedict Joseph not only comprised homeless poverty, but actual rejection by representatives of the Church and society.  His is a wonderful example of humility, patience, and penance in the following of Christ.   One versicle for his Mass is taken from Paul's Letter to the Hebrews:

"Let us go to him outside the camp, bearing the insult which he bore.  For here we have no lasting city; we are seeking one which is to come.  Through him let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips which acknowledge his name." - Hebrews 13: 13-15


  1. This saint is also patron of Fr. Groeschel.

  2. He is a good saint for single people, and everybody else.
    " must be prudent when telling others there is no vocation to the single life, lest they discourage them from seeking God according to their state in life - which happens to be the single life." I agree with you.

  3. Beatiful meditation.
    St. Benedict Joseph, pray for us!

  4. LeoRufus8:26 AM

    Thank you Terry for this beautiful post.

  5. michael r.10:12 AM

    Great post indeed! Wish it could be sent to all vocation directors.

  6. I'm sorry for St. Alexis's wife.

  7. Anonymous5:31 AM

    Do you happen to know what disorder or defect in temperament caused his rejection, Terry?

    Also, do you think that if someone does have some defect in temperament, then they should be rejected from the religious life and/or priesthood de facto?

  8. Patrick - I don't know what Benedict may have had - I seem to recall someone suggesting bi-polar or clinical depression - our modern terms - monastics have always written about melancholia afflicting people in religious houses - akin to depression - but I don't know for sure. He definitely wasn't a psycho however.

    No, I no longer believe people with a defect in temperament should be defacto rejected from priesthood or religious life.

    As one priest reminded me, one must account for God's grace and healing. I have known very good, faithful religious and priests who have been faithful to their vocation despite some very obvious defects in temperament.

  9. Maria4:20 PM

    Amd yet, if one reads the requirements for entry into religious life, one would assume that the Catholic Church is wholly unaccepting of defects. Mental health being always a requirement, and of of course, youth...This does seem strange and certainly does not factor in the grace of God...

  10. If you research carefully--there are a few religious orders that do take in older postulants. I would think though, that a majority of potential single candidates even over 30 have considerable financial and family obligations, as well as the consideration of medical concerns. Most 40-50-60 year olds have not lived under a rock their entire lives, and entering a religious order is a major lifestyle change, especially if you have lived a life of some if you were say 50 years old, in excellent health, widowed or properly annuled, children all grown up, no mortgage or other financial obligations, and have experience say as a nurse or a teacher, I'm sure a religious order could make an exception...especially if you have been a member of a Third Order and familiar with how a religious community operates....also many older people would have trouble "being at the bottom of the totem pole," and taking orders and instruction from a superior much younger than themselves.


  11. From what I have heard from Fr. Groeschel, I think St. Benedict Joseph might have had some kind of inability to relate socially...he would only speak to priests and children, from what I remember.
    I'm not sure what you would call this (social phobia?)...but it made living in common, evidently, difficult and/or impossible for him.
    And I agree that someone with psychological difficulties should not, per se, be rejected from religious life; only if someone found it unbearable to live so closely with others and was not open to help, counsel and change. We all have "cracks in the cloister" (Fr.B.Groeschel's line) and we have to help one another on our way to God. If someone is willing to live in community, trusting the superior and the other members, even with difficulties, it can be a very beautiful thing.

  12. To follow on Angela's post, Fr. Groeschel, has some comments on St. Benedict Joseph Labre in one of his books (either Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones or Arise from Darkness). Thanks for the picture.


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