May 11, 2014

⛪ Saint Ignatius of Laconi

Apostle of the City Streets

Feast Day : 11th May

Stranger neither to Poverty or Piety

Poverty was all he knew from early childhood and a beggar's way of life was his life-long career choice! Saint Ignatius, son of the poor farmer Matthew Peis, and second of nine children, was born in the village of Laconi, on Sardinia, a large island about two times the size of Gyeonggido on the 8th of December 1701. During her pregnancy his mother experienced many difficulties and each time she did so she prayed that she might recover to give birth to her child, dedicating the unborn child in her womb to Saint Franicis of Assisi and promising to have him join the Order of Saint Francis.  Francis Ignatius Vincent was the child's baptismal name was but in Laconi he was just called Vincent.

Vincent grew up in a good living Catholic family. His father as quiet-mannered hardworking farmer, who by his faith life became an example for his children.  Every morning he went to church and each evening he prayed the rosary with his family. His faith filled mother taught Vincent his prayers and the catechism. Although Vincent was physically frail he enjoyed praying in church and liked to help his parents with their work. 

A Scary Playmate but Miraculous Food Supplier !

Seeing that Vincent prayed so much and called the church "my home," the local villagers called him "the little saint". And according to witnesses' accounts, Vincent, someone who would become famous for his numerous miracles, was already working miracles in his early childhood. He would point out some children with a stick saying "You are going to Paradise." and those children would die within a few days.  Being one of young Vincent's playmates was no joke!

It is said that when his father had not sufficient food to give to his workers, Vincent would assure his father that there would be enough food; in the end not only would everyone be able to eat his fill, but they were also able to take home  leftovers which had been wrapped up. 

Postponed Vocation

His family ensured that Vincent received the Sacrament of Confirmation and his first Holy Communion at the age of seven.  On the 17th of May 1707 Vincent prepared to be educated as a religious.  He had always felt an attracted towards the contemplative life and spoke openly and frankly about a Franciscan vocation.  His father, however, would not give him permission to leave home and become a religious since he needed Vincent's help to earn the family's living.  During his youth Vincent fell seriously ill a number of times and promised if he was cured of the illness he would become a Capuchin Brother, only to forget all about the promise once he had recovered.

'Finally Sets Out on the 'Good Road' !

On one such occasion when he was twenty years old, he escaped from the throes of death after falling from a horse and was sure that this came about due to the help of God. So casting aside the objections of his family, he set off with his father to meet the Sardinian Provincial Minister of the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor who was at Cagliari, Sardinia's main city, situated towards the south of the island. That friary was Saint Anthony's Friary and was situated on a hill in Cagliari called Buon Camino(Good Road).   

But unexpectedly the Provincial Minister, noting Vincent's physical frailty, coldly turned down his request.   This was because he considered him unfit for the very difficult, austere and ascetic Capuchin religious way of life, However he and his father were not the kind to give up easily.  The appealed to the Marquess of their hometown of Laconi who looked after their family and finally, with the Marquess's help, Vincent was received into the Order as a lay brother and began his novitiate on the 10th of November 1721 at the remote Novitiate Friary of San Benedetto Abbate. There he was given the religious name 'Ignatius'.

Capuchin Novitiate Life was by No Means All Plain Sailing ! 

As a novice he outdid his companions his companions in zeal. He was constant in his silence, obedience, humility and service and remarkable for his devotion to the sacraments and other acts of piety.  Even when Vigils were over, he would often kneel before a statue of Our Lady, conversing tenderly with Her, and he never failed to fulfill even the least regulation of the Rule.

But even for him the strict novitiate was by no means smooth sailing nor was it always that easy. Once when he was carrying a jar of water upstairs, he was ready to give up because the water jar was too heavy.   But then he turned towards a picture of Our Lady at the top of the stairs and asked for help and Our Lady reminded him of how much suffering her Son had to endure.  This taught him that Our Lady's reliable accompaniment and the example of Jesus were all one needs to overcome whatever difficulties one may meet.

Cook and Fuller

A year later in 1722 Brother Ignatius professed his vows and for the following fifteen years faithfully carried out the duties of cook and textile manufacturer. One time when he was cook he dropped the larder keys in the well while drawing water.  Brother Ignatius who always harboured a deep devotion to the Virgin Mary there and then knelt down and prayed three 'Hail Mary's. Then he lowered the bucket into the well once more and drew it up again and strangely enough there were the keys inside!  Having completed his ministry as cook, Brother Ignatius took up a new ministry, that of going around the city streets begging and for the remaining forty years of his life he begged for food and other necessities for the Brothers at Cagliari's Buoncamino Friary.

His Appearance Remained Unchanged

Unlearned and unlettered, he spoke in a heavy dialect with atrocious grammar.  Yet he succeeded to gain the affections of Cagliari's citizenry, and especially of the city's youth who were very at ease with him. Brother Ignatius set out to beg along Cagliari‘s streets each day, wearing (with his Minister's permission) the same old rough threadbare habit, though the other Brothers were wearing habits of softer material, with a forked stick in one hand and his beads in the other, his head always humbly bowed down and despite his whitened beard, he always shouldered a heavy begging bag. And as he begged he would speak to the young people he met about God and about the saints.

Canonized and Beatified Capuchin Brothers were His Inspiring Models

He drew inspiration from all his Capuchin Brothers who were canonized or beatified, but he admired especially the courage and fidelity of martyrs like Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen who gave their lives for the faith. When he listened to accounts of their deeds he was filled with a holy envy and fervently aspired to follow their example.  He said that he himself desired to shed his blood for God's glory like they did and he was so moved by their deaths and deeds that he would break into sighs. he was also deeply inspired by Saint Lawrence of Brindisi's devotion to the Eucharist and he used to often contrast that saint's burning love for God with his own coldness.  He also used to reveal his own fervent wish to imitate Saint Bernard of Corleone's humility and patience. 

Ignatius's Humility and Consciousness of His Own Sinfulness

Around this time people began to recognize Brother Ignatius's sanctity.  Even the poorest of the poor began to offer needed foodstuff and other necessities, not so much out of charity as out of personal reverence for Brother Ignatius.  He would, of course, flatly refuse their donations, telling them that he would return to collect them if ever the necessity arose.  He did his best to hide from the people's reverence towards him.  He was never forgot his own sinfulness and need for God's mercy while at the same time he recognized the limitations that being illiterate imposed on him and tried to flee from every kind of useless vainglory.  

Though the people call him "Holy Father(Padre Santo)", he himself would have none of it! 

 Instead he referred to himself as "a most despicable fellow" and "the Capuchins' good-for-nothing donkey" and he always considered himself "a despicable, worthless sinner".  And if by chance he was insulted, he would cry out with joy "At last, there is someone in Cagliari who knows me and calls me that which I am." And should someone holler with enthusiasm over one of his miracles he would tell them "Hush up! Hush up! This is the Lord's doing."

A 'Fioretti' of Saint Ignatius's Miralcles

But let us ignore those orders of his for a moment and recount some of his miracles!

There was a loan shark in that region, an evil moneylender who charged exorbitant  rates of interest, and Brother Ignatius used to go right past his house. The moneylender felt slighted by this and he complained to Brother Ignatius's Minister who was clueless about the moneylending business. So the Minister commanded Brother Ignatius to beg from that house too.  When Brother Ignatius had done so and returned home to empty out his questor's sack, there was blood dripping from it. Seeing this, Ignatius gingerly explained, "This is the blood of the poor and that is why I never quested anything from that house."  When the moneylender heard this story he repented and compensated the victims he had defrauded. 

There was also a certain milkman who used to mix water with his milk to increase the volume and when he was put the quested milk into Brother Ignatius's sack the water contained in the milk seeped out and dripped onto the ground.   

Then there is also this story.  One day he returned home with his companion carrying an empty sack since he had not managed to beg anything that day,  On the way home he picked up some stones, filled the sack with them and slung it on his shoulder.  As he went along the sack began to give off heat and as soon as they arrived home he opened the bag. And lo and behold, out rolled freshly baked bread instead of stones. 

Once he quested oil f개m an olive oil merchant, but the merchant said in jest that he had no bottle to put the oil in, so he would fill the begging sack with oil. Now such a sack would leak any oil that was poured into it.  But Brother Ignatius carried the sack back to the friary without losing even one drop of oil. The merchant, was stunned on seeing this, and donated the whole cask of oil to the Brothers. 

Another time, when he begged for some cheese from a shepherd, his request was met with a point-blank refusal.  Brother Ignatius just muttered "Patience!" and shrugged his shoulders before continuing on his way.  At that point the round cheeses spontaneously rolled like wheels and followed Brother Ignatius.  On seeing this, the shepherd donated not only those cheeses, but many more besides.  

One day Ignatius was in the church praying. It happened that at the time a worker had set up a ladder and climbed aloft to decorate a statue of Our Lady.  But he slipped and fell from the ladder.  Brother Ignatius, seeing this, shouted out "Stop!"  And Surprise! Surprise! Immediately the worker stopped falling, suspended in mid-air until such time as Brother Ignatius was able to move the ladder beneath his feet and save his life. 

Brother Ignatius showed particular concern for pregnant women and prayed to God that they might give birth to healthy babies and raise them well.  He would always be able to pull the fruit pregnant women craved for out of his sleeve and he would give them fresh fruit even though such fruit may well have been out of season.

An Independent Witness

Those who witnessed Brother Ignatius's miracles were not just Catholics of Italian stock.  Many were also foreign adherents of other creeds, something which serves to make their accounts of his miraculous powers more plausible.  For instance, a Pastor, who was military chaplain to Austrian Protestant troops stationed in Sardinia at the time, wrote the following entry in his book,  'Sardinia' published in German in 1780,  "We enjoy here the good fortune which shows that faith in miracles is not yet extinct in the Church.  That is to say: we see a living saint go about the city every day to beg.... and with a fairly large number of miracles he has already won the veneration of his compatriots."

Faith in Action

Brother Ignatius's miracles were the result of his life of faith,  And his life of faith was the result of his fervent prayer life.  Even though Brother Ignatius's language was unrefined, it always reflected its faith-filled origins.  To those who came to him for comfort he advised: "Have faith in God!"  He consoled the sick, conversed with the lonely, urged sinners to repent and made peace between people who were at enmity with each other. 

Unusual Medical Prescriptions

As you can see from the many instances mentioned above, the healing power of God flowed out from his apostolate as 'Apostle of the Streets'.  When Brother  Ignatius healed people's sicknesses, he used to prescribe very unusual remedies.  Some crumbs of stale bread, or dried figs, or lemon rind or boiled eggs became powerful medicine in his hands.

"Remembrance of the Lowly should be Buried in Oblivion"

Brother Ignatius, 'the Apostle of the Streets', even when he could see nothing for the last two years of his life, was faithful to his apostolate of begging right up until two or three months before his death.  When the artist, Francis Massa came to paint blind Ignatius's portrait surreptitiously before he died, Brother Ignatius said to him, “I am not man to have his portrait painted. The lowly never have their portraits painted.  Their remembrance should be buried in oblivion."  

He who had always been close to the Crucified Christ, died a happy death, united with Jesus, in Saint Anthony's Friary Infirmary at Buoncamino, Cagliari, on the 11th of May 1781 and he was interred in a specially prepared crypt beside the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Angels.  His epitaph reads "amidst acclamations of sanctity" 

The Remains of Two Holy Capuchin Questors Entombed Side by Side

Due to major political events such as the French Revolution and the suppression of religious orders, as well as to internal contentions within the Order, Ignatius‘s beatification process did not begin until 1844. He was beatified by Venerable Pope Pius XII in 1940 and finally canonized by the same Pope on the 10th of October 1951.  

200 years later the mortal remains of Blessed Nicholas of Gesturi(1882-1958) who had done the same work as Saint Ignatius, repose in the same chapel where Saint Ignatius's remains are enshrined.

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