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Catholic Activity: Training Against Impure Thoughts


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About St. Camillus de Lellis and what he used to say to his spiritual sons about dealing with impure thoughts.


St. Camillus de Lellis was a giant of a man, six feet, six inches tall and big in every way. Named after his mother, he was born to her, heralded by a dream, when she was almost sixty years old. In her dream, Camilla saw her baby, "his breast signed with the cross, and followed by a troop of children similarly signed." During Mass on the 25th of May in the jubilee year of 1550, she began to go into labor and, hastening home, was persuaded by a friend to lie in the stable that her son might be born there as was the Infant Savior. This she did, and at the moment of the Elevation at the High Mass, Camillus was born. His father was so delighted that he leaped about the house like a wild man, and in answer to the protests of the mother he asked how she could object to his dancing for joy, "seeing we have such a big son that we could send him to school this very day!"

As he grew older he became increasingly difficult to manage and finally his disposition was quite beyond control. He ran away from school whenever he felt like it, took to playing cards, was the despair of his mother and, after her death, of his tutor as well. At seventeen he went off to the wars with his father; they both fell sick, his father died and left Camillus an orphan and destitute with only his sword, his dagger and his honorable name for his inheritance — together with his extravagant tastes and his mad passion for gambling. Hobbling home from the wars, humiliated and in pain from horrible sores on his legs, he was overcome by remorse for his sins and vowed to become a Franciscan. This was something he would try to do twice, in vain, for his vocation was not Franciscan, nor was his disposition, intolerable to his companions in the world, one to add to the harmony of a religious community. Repenting, falling back into his quarrelsome, gambling ways, repenting again, he was finally "converted," as he called it, on the feast of the Purification, 1575. Then began the long life of service to God's sick, the gathering together of men who would serve them with him, the forming of a religious congregation called the Ministers of the Sick for this work. He was the spiritual father of many priests and brothers and the spiritual son of St. Philip Neri, his confessor and dear friend.

Well might such a man know how best to put the devil and his temptation to rout. He never forgot, it is said, the advice given him by a Capuchin friar during the days when he struggled so to overcome himself, and all his life he counseled others with the same words. While temptations against chastity seem not to have been St. Camillus' greatest difficulty, his words apply stunningly to such temptations and boys especially will find them to their liking. They are fighting words, from a giant of a saint. In our idiom St. Camillus says, "When the devil tempts you in your thoughts, spit in his eye!"

Activity Source: Saints and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York; reprinted by TAN Publishers, 1958

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