St Benedict Joseph Labre healing oil
St Benedict Joseph Labre born in 1748 near Boulogne in France, the eldest of fifteen children. His parents were respectable, held in high regard by all who knew them. Also some priests on both sides of the family. From an early age he too attracted by the spiritual life and told his parents that he wished to join the La Trappe monastery, which was a more austere branch of the Cistercians. His parents were against such a step because of the severity of the rule and Benedict was obedient in the end to their wishes. In time he felt they would come round to his way of thinking.
At this time Benedict was particularly close to one of his uncles who was a priest. Fr. Francis was a director and confidante to the young man. However, in the summer of 1766 there was a fierce epidemic in the area. Both men fully occupied bringing practical help and spiritual succour to all who afflicted by the disease. Sadly, as a result of his exertions, Francis died and Benedict had lost a friend and advisor.
St Benedict returned to his earlier idea of entering the Trappist community, refused because of his youth. He was likewise refused by a series of other religious communities. Thus discouraged, he discerned that his true vocation was to seek a cloister within the world. Accordingly, he set off by foot on a pilgrimage that lasted several years, wandering thousands of miles across Europe and taking in many of the principal shrines and churches. He dressed in rags and never bathed. This certainly discouraged human contact and thus contributed to the prayerful isolation which he relished. At the same time, he declined to beg, though passers-by often moved to give him alms. When food not offered he simply lived off what he might find at the side of the road.
His appearance was as likely to evoke comtempt as pity, indeed frequently harassed. Nevertheless, Benedict accepted all this in a spirit of penance. When a priest in the confessional once asked him if he had ever studied theology, Benedict replied ‘I Father? I am only a poor beggar’. Those who were able to see beneath his dishevelled appearance – including eventually his confessor – recognised the saint in their midst.
Eventually Benedict settled in Rome, where he spent his nights sleeping in the ruins of the Colosseum, where many of the early Christians had martyred. His days he spent praying in many of the beautiful churches which adorned the city. When his health began to fail, he consented to sleep in a hospice for the destitute. However, this belated concession to human frailty could not reverse the damage done to his health. At the age of 35 he collapsed on the steps of a church and carried to a nearby house. There he died on April 16th 1783.
bendict deadAlmost immediately the local children took up the cry which I mentioned earlier ‘the saint is dead!’ His reputation spread rapidly through the city and then the rest of Europe. It was through one of these accounts of his life that his parents – still alive at this time – heard of the whereabouts of their ‘lost’ son. Canonised in 1883.