Thoughts for April 16 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Benedict Joseph Labre

Second pilgrimage to Amettes from Locre. During the journey I felt our Lord wanted to give me some message through St. Benedict Joseph Labre. No light came while praying in the Church or in the house; but when I went up to his little room and knelt down a voice seemed to whisper “Read what is written on the wall.” I saw these words: “God calls me to an austere life; I must prepare myself to follow the ways of God.” With these words came a sudden light to see how much one gains by every act of sacrifice, that what we give is not lost; but the enjoyment (increased a thousand fold) is only postponed. This filled me with extraordinary consolation which lasted all day. 

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Benedict Joseph Labre. Fr Doyle had a great devotion to this saint; in one letter he outlines what he felt was a “strange devotion” that he felt to this saint, even as a boy. 

St Benedict Joseph Labre was a beggar; in the following quote from another of Fr Doyle’s letters home from the war he shows us his affection for this saint, as well as his own personal humour: 

I spent most of the next day wandering around the country, with a visit to the home and shrine of the beggarman saint, Benedict Joseph Labre. I often think he must be nearly mad with envy watching us in the trenches, surrounded, walked on and sat upon by his ‘pets’. But from the same pets deliver us, O Lord, as speedily as may be, this coming hot weather! 

The pets to which Fr Doyle refers are presumably fleas. 

There are two lessons that we may take from today’s quote and feast. 

Firstly, the obvious message relates to austerity, a particularly relevant one as we are about to commence Holy Week. God called both St Benedict Joseph Labre and Fr Doyle to a distinct type of austerity. We can be sure that we are also called to a particular type of austerity, but this will vary from person to person and will fit in with our state in life. It is almost certainly the case that we are called to a different, and lesser, type of austerity; it would be wrong for someone to attempt to copy Fr Doyle or St Benedict Joseph. But as St Francis de Sales tells us, our cross is made specifically for us, so whatever austerity we are asked to bear, it will stretch us and help to perfect us, even if it is not as objectively severe as serving as a chaplain in the trenches or living homeless on the streets of Rome. 

The second lesson is that the call to holiness is universal. St Benedict Joseph Labre was a distinctly odd young man. Some people even suggest that he was mentally disturbed, although perhaps that is going a bit too far. Nonetheless, the point remains that young man who could not persevere in a variety of monasteries and who wandered the roads of Europe visiting shrines and living homeless in Rome for a decade, far away from his family, was recognised by the Church as a saint worthy of honour with virtues worthy of imitation. Truly there is wonderful diversity in the Church! 

There is a very touching post about the life of St Benedict Joseph Labre here:

It would also be remiss not to note that today is also the feast of St Bernadette, the visionary of Lourdes. I am not aware of any comments Fr Doyle made directly about Bernadette – she was beatified 10 years after Fr Doyle’s death. However, Fr Doyle did visit Lourdes, here is his record of the visit: 

Almost the first thing which caught my eye at the grotto was our Lady’s words: “Penitence, penitence, penitence”. On leaving, I asked Jesus had He any message to give me. The same flashed suddenly into my mind and made a deep impression on me. 

It is the same message Fr Doyle gleaned from the visit to St Benedict Joseph Labre’s house; the same message  he lived throughout his life and the same message that we could fruitfully bear in mind during Holy Week… 

And finally, a happy birthday today to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict!!

St Bernadette