November 23, 2018

⛪ Blessed Angelus of Acri

Saint of the Day : October 13

A Severly Tested Capuchin Vocation

'The Commuting Novice'

"Knock Three Times" is the title of a lively American pop song from the 1970s but the title also seems to sum up the crisis that 20 year old Luke Anthony Falcone experienced in the early years of his Capuchin vocation in the late 17th century. Attracted by a charismatic Capuchin preacher, and unshaken by his mother’s tears and other relatives’ pleas to think again, this country boy from Acri in southern Italy made up his mind to join the Capuchins. He knocked on the door of the Dipignano Novitiate for the first time on the 8th of November 1689 and, having been welcomed by the Brothers, was clothed in the Capuchin habit and given a new name Brother Angelus – meaning Angel.

For a while life in the Capuchin fraternity was the closest thing to the angelic life he ever experienced – eyes on the ground, hands on the Rosary beads and heart in Heaven! But it was not just good Angels that young Brother Angelus encountered in the Friary, he also encountered the cunning seductions of the fallen angel – Lucifer! Tempted severely, he threw off his habit and returned home. Life at home, however, left him feeling empty and soon he humbly but courageously went back to the Capuchin Novitiate to knock a second time. And surprisingly, thanks to a special dispensation from the Minister Provincial, the Novitiate Friary door was opened to him once more and, for the second time, he was clothed in the habit of a Capuchin novice. But there is a proverb which says “the habit does not make the monk” and putting on the Capuchin habit once more did nothing to smother Brother Angelus’s old temptations. So soon he was on his way home once more. But hardly he had left the Order this second time, than he began to regret his hasty decision, and returned to the Capuchin Friars once more to knock a third time. So often had he come to the Friary and gone home shortly after that some of the wittier Brothers began to refer to him as the ‘commuting novice’. Imagine their surprise when, against all precedents, the General Minister gave Luke Anthony special permission to begin his novitiate all over again on the 12th of November 1690 and this time he was destined to remain a Capuchin until his death in 1739.

Brother Angelus of Acri was beatified on the 18th of December 1825. But his struggle to live a holy life had not been not an easy one. He himself confessed that even after coming back to the novitiate, it was only by harsh penances and fervent prayer, after the example of the future saint - Brother Bernard of Corleone, that he was able to overcome temptations to leave and so persevere. What were these temptations that plagued him were, we cannot be quite sure – disappointment, perhaps, that, contrary to his expectations, the Brothers’ life of poverty fell far short of the ideal, or frustration at his own vain attempts to overcome temptations against chastity. The latter seems more likely.  He himself confessed that for over twelve years he had to strive to obtain the grace of chastity and overcome his lustful desires. Perhaps it was his own early struggles with temptation that enabled Brother Angelus later in life to be an very empathic spiritual guide for younger Brothers going through similar vocational crises.

Son of Hardworking Parents

This was not the first crisis to confront Brother Angelus, nor was it the last. He had lost his father while still very young and had to be raised by his mother, with the help of a maternal uncle who was a local diocesan priest. He had been born on the 19th of October 1669 in the small town of Acri and baptized Luke Anthony. Luke Anthony was the son of Francis Falcone, a poor goat farmer, and his wife, Diana Enrico, a baker. He grew up in a good-living family, and managed to receive a basic education at a local grammar school. He learned the rudiments of the catechism at home and, with his mother, he would faithfully attend Mass at the local Capuchin Church. 

Preaching the Gospel was his First Love

Brother Angelus made perpetual profession in 1691 and was ordained a priest in 1700.  His first assignment was that of preaching but his first efforts at evangelization were doomed to failure due to his trying to emulate the great preachers of the time with clever turns of phrase and learned references.  He had to learn to be himself and base his simple but effective preaching on prayerful reading of the Word of God, especially the Gospels.  Having come to use plain, easily understood language, he would condemn vice and urge people to repent and experience of the Mercy of God, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 

Lover of Christ’s Cross, Eucharistic Presence and Sorrowful Mother

The Cross of Christ played a central role in his preaching expeditions, as, indeed, in his own personal response to the call of Gospel. It was from the Cross of Christ that he had received the inspiration to imitate Brother Bernard of Corleone in confronting his temptations and, indeed meditation on Christ’s sufferings was very much part and parcel of his personal prayer life.  He urged his listeners also to engage in daily meditation on the Passion of Jesus and his parish missions would end with a procession of crosses to a local hillside, led by himself. He would plant three wooden crosses on hilltop to remind parishioners of the price the Lord has paid for our salvation and our own need to respond to that gift of salvation by lives of virtue and holiness. Adoration of the Eucharist too was something he promoted in his preaching, which usually included the traditional Capuchin devotion of the ‘Forty Hours Adoration’. His Masses would sometimes last an hour and a half because Brother Angelus would often go into ecstasy contemplating the Mysteries unfolding before him on the Altar. He was also deeply devoted to the Mother of God, especially under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows.  

Servant of his Brothers and Minister of God’s People to the End

Brother Angelus also carried various ministries within the Order, including those of Guardian and Provincial Minister. In his dealing with the Brothers he was affectionate and charitable but at the same time he never hesitated to urge them to keep the Rule of Saint Francis and faithfully observe the Capuchin Constitutions.  Preaching and hearing confessions, however, were, as it were, his first love and Brother Angelus of Acri engaged in these ministries right up until his holy death on the 30th of October 1739.  His remains are enshrined in the Shrine Church of Blessed Angelus, administered by the Capuchins in Acri.

"It is a great grace and a great glory to be Capuchins and true sons of Saint Francis.  But it is necessary to know and always carry round with us five precious gems: austerity, simplicity, exact observance of the Constitutions and the Seraphic Rule, innocence of life and inexhaustible charity." - Blessed Angelus of Acri

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