Benedict Joseph Labre
St. Benedict Joseph Labre, T.O.S.F.
A representation of Labre as a sorrowful mendicant.
|Beggar of Perpetual Adoration|
|Born||25 March 1748|
Amettes, Artois, Kingdom of France
|Died||16 April 1783 (aged 35)|
Rome, Papal States
|Venerated in||Catholic Church|
(Third Order of St. Francis)
|Beatified||20 May 1860, Rome by Pope Pius IX|
|Canonized||8 December 1881, Rome by Pope Leo XIII|
|Major shrine||Church of Santa Maria ai Monti|
|Attributes||tri-cornered hat; alms|
|Patronage||Unmarried men (bachelors), rejects, mental illness, mentally ill people, insanity, beggars, hobos, the homeless|
Labre was born in 1748 in the village of Amettes, near Arras, in the former Province of Artois in the north of France. He was the eldest of fifteen children of a prosperous shopkeeper, Jean-Baptiste Labre, and his wife, Anne Grandsire.
Labre had an uncle, a parish priest, living some distance from his family home; this uncle gladly received him, and undertook his early education for the priesthood. At the age of sixteen, he approached his uncle about becoming a Trappist monk, but his parents told him he would have to wait until he grew older. When Benedict was about eighteen, an epidemic fell upon the city, and uncle and nephew busied themselves in the service of the sick. While the uncle took care of the souls and bodies of the people, Benedict went to and fro caring for the cattle. Among the last victims of the epidemic was Labre's uncle.
Labre set off for La Trappe Abbey to apply to the Order, but did not come up to their requirements. He was under age, he was too delicate; he had no special recommendations. He later attempted to join the Carthusians and Cistercians, but each order rejected him as unsuitable for communal life. He was, for about six weeks, a postulant with the Carthusians at Neuville. In November 1769 he obtained admission to the Cistercian Abbey of Sept-Fonts. After a short stay at Sept-Fonts his health gave way, and it was decided that his vocation lay elsewhere.
Labre, according to Catholic tradition, experienced a desire, which he considered was given to him by God and inspired by the example of Saint Alexius of Rome and that of the holy Franciscan tertiary pilgrim, Saint Roch, to "abandon his country, his parents, and whatever is flattering in the world to lead a new sort of life, a life most painful, most penitential, not in a wilderness nor in a cloister, but in the midst of the world, devoutly visiting as a pilgrim the famous places of Christian devotion."
Labre joined the Third Order of Saint Francis and settled on a life of poverty and pilgrimage. He first traveled to Rome on foot, subsisting on what he could get by begging. He then traveled to most of the major shrines of Europe, often several times each. He visited the various shrines in Loreto, Assisi, Naples, and Bari in Italy, Einsiedeln in Switzerland, Paray-le-Monial in France, and Santiago de Compostela in Spain. During these trips he would always travel on foot, sleeping in the open or in a corner of a room, with his clothes muddy and ragged. On one occasion he stopped at the farmhouse of Matthieu and Marie Vianney, who would later become the parents of the future saint, the Curé d'Ars. He lived on what little he was given, and often shared the little he did receive with others. He is reported to have talked rarely, prayed often, and accepted quietly the abuse he received.
In so doing, Labre was following in the role of the mendicant, the "Fool-for-Christ," found more often in the Eastern Church. He would often swoon when contemplating the crown of thorns, in particular, and, during these states, it is said he would levitate or bilocate. He was also said to have cured some of the other homeless he met and to have multiplied bread for them. In the last years of his life (his thirties), he lived in Rome, for a time living in the ruins of the Colosseum, and would leave only to make a yearly pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Loreto. He was a familiar figure in the city and known as the "saint of the Forty Hours" (or Quarant' Ore) for his dedication to Eucharistic adoration.
The day before he died, Labre collapsed in the church of Santa Maria ai Monti, blocks from the Colosseum, and despite his protestations was charitably taken to a house behind the church at Via dei Serpenti 2. He died there of malnutrition on 16 April 1783, during Holy Week, and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria ai Monti.
The Controversy: Many people think that just because a person is a saint, they can not have emotional or mental troubles or illness. In the case of St Benedict Joseph Labre, there is serious questions that need to be addressed. In the books written on his life, it is noted that the monastery of Sept-Fons where St Benedict Joseph Labre was a novice for a few months feared for his reason and asked him to leave. St Benedict Joseph Labre experienced very dark moments and even felt God had rejected him; the saint even refused communion at times. There was no name for it back then but today it is called depression. Is this different from what in the study of the saints is called: "The Dark Night"? It seems that God can use depression as a moment of Grace and wonder for people. It can be a time for them to embrace God more fully. Times of depression do not in any way show a flaw in character, especially in a canonized saint. In Saint Benedict Joseph Labre's case, God had to canonize him through all of the outstanding miracles and extraordinary witnesses of the time.
Labre's confessor, Marconi, wrote his biography and attributed 136 separate cures to his intercession within three months of his death. Those miracles were instrumental in the conversion of the Reverend John Thayer, the first American Protestant clergyman to convert to Catholicism, who was resident in Rome at the time of St. Benedict's death. A cult grew up around him very soon after his death, and he was declared Blessed by Blessed Pius IX in 1860, and later canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1881. Benedict is patron saint of the homeless. His feast day is observed on April 16.
- Saint Malachy's Church, Belfast.
- Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Parish, Richmond Hill, New York.
- St. Labre Indian Catholic High School
- Eucharistic adoration
- List of Catholic saints
- Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. .
- "St. Benedict Joseph Labre". www.ewtn.com. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
- "St. Benedict Joseph Labre". www.ewtn.com. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
- "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: John Thayer". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
- Foley, O.F.M., Leonard. Saint of the Day, Lives, Lessons, and Feast, (revised by Pat McCloskey O.F.M.), Franciscan Media ISBN 978-0-86716-887-7
- Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN 0-14-051312-4.
- De la Gorce, Agnes. St Benedict Joseph Labre. London: Sheed & Ward, 1952
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