Wednesday, 13 April 2011

My wandering fool

The World is my Cloister is named after a saint for whom I bear much affection. Benedict Joseph Labre (1748 - 1783). As you can see, he only lived thirty five years. He was the eldest of fifteen children, educated at the local school, and later by his uncle, a parish priest at Erin, France. Benedict wanted, very dearly, to be a Trappist or a Cistercian, or a Carthusian or any type of monk that would allow him to live a simple and holy life in peace. However, the Trappists rejected him at 18, because of his youth; and, the Cistercians and Carthusians would also turn him away. Some biographers count eleven separate attempts to join the religious life. At 22 Benedict decided that he would let the world be his cloister (his words), and he set off to wander across Europe to various shrines and churches. He visited Compostela in Spain; Loretto, Assisi, Naples and Bari in Italy; Parav le Monial in France. He spent the last six years of his life in Rome.

Benedict's possessions were very few. He had an old coat to wrap around himself, two rosaries, a New Testament, a breviary and a copy of The Imitation of Christ. He never begged, either for money or food. And, if someone of their charity gave him more that he needed, he gave it away to the poor. He often dined on discarded rubbish, and he didn't take too much care of his personal hygiene. This attitude in life led people to avoid him, and gave him the privacy he needed for his meditations.

At 35, on Spy Wednesday, 16th April 1783, he collapsed on the steps of Santa Maria del Monte. A local butcher, passing by, picked him up and carried him to his home. He died about 8pm. Children ran through the streets shouting, 'the saint is dead'. The crowds which attended his funeral were so large, troops were sent in to maintain public order. Within a few months of his death, more than 130 miracles ascribed to the Saint had been carefully recorded. That year, G. L. Marconi, a priest who had been his confessor, published a biography. Benedict Joseph Labre was canonized by Pope Leo XIII, 8 December 1881.

So, why do I think Benedict is so great? I love him because he walks on pilgrimage, and he coined that beautiful phrase, 'the world is my cloister', turning every twist and turn of his life into a moment of prayer. I love him because of the books he had in his pocket, they are my favourites too. I love his simplicity, and the way he had TWO rosaries. Why two? And, eww, he eats garbage - that is repulsive, but I love him because of that too.

Soon some friends of mine will be setting off on the Student Cross pilgrimage to Walsingham. They will walk through Holy Week to arrive at the shrine on Good Friday. I am not going this year, and that is a GOOD thing, as I have responsibilities here. I am going to miss it though. I hope I will make up for it in future years, or by walking to Santiago in the summer, or launching a mission to Lindisfarne or some other mad adventure. Heading off into the wilds every now and then reminds me that the world is my cloister too. Whatever I dream up to cook this Saturday 16th April 2011, it will be something very simple which reminds me of this truly remarkable chap. Not garbage though. Eeww.


Anonymous said...

Make a trip/pilgrimage to Saint Malachy's Church in Belfast. The only shrine to Saint Benedict Joseph in Northern Ireland, known by the people there as "The Ragged Saint"! Picture of it on the church's Wikipedia page.

Cloister said...

Next time I am in that glorious part of the world, I most certainly will! Thank you for telling me about this. :-)