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Catholic Activity: How Sanctity Does Not Come Easily

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Here's a story about the struggle of St. Benedict of San Fradellow to carry his cross.

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St. Benedict of San Fradello, born in 1526 on the Island of Sicily, was the son of slaves whose owner thought so highly of them that he promised them to free this child even before Benedict was born. One day, in the year he was twenty-one, he was working beside some others when they took to tormenting him on the score of his enslaved parents and his low estate in life. Benedict answered with such gentleness and humility that a passerby stopped to listen. This man happened to be a Sicilian nobleman named Lanzi who had left his wealth and rank to retire with a few companions to live a life of prayer. "You make fun of this man now," he said, "but one day you will hear more of him," and he asked Benedict if he would like to join their community. This Benedict did and was so loved for his gentle ways, his holiness, that when Brother Jerome Lanzi died the monks asked him to be their superior. He accepted with regret — only for the sake of obedience.

When the Holy See decreed that the hermits must join an established order or disband, Benedict became a Franciscan and was soon employed, to his great content, as a cook. His career as a cook did not last long, however. Soon he was made guardian of the monastery and was given the task of converting it into a house of recollection for the friars. When he was not busy about his work as superior, he busied himself with what he considered much more to his measure: helping in the kitchen, washing dishes, carrying wood and water, sweeping floors, digging in the garden and begging. He was not fit to be superior, he would say: he could not read or write. But his brothers repeated that the first requirements were wisdom and holiness and these he had.

Benedict performed many miracles although he disclaimed credit for any since, he said, they were Our Lady's doing. He multiplied bread for the poor — giving all the bread in the house away with the result that there was as much left as he had given away. One day he noticed the brothers in the kitchen had thoughtlessly thrown the fragments of leftover bread in the dish water with the plates. He admonished them to save these pieces of bread for the poor, saying, "This food is the blood of those who have given it to us for the love of God." Silently the brothers returned to their work, glancing at one another in amusement at the notions of this scrupulous Father Guardian. Benedict picked out of the dish water one of the brushes they used to scrub the plates and said to them, "Look, my children!" To their horror they saw him squeeze from the brush a stream of what looked like blood — and they knelt and asked his forgiveness. Benedict used to say that in the matter of food, the best form of mortification was not to deprive oneself of it, but to desist after eating a little, adding that it was right to partake of food given in alms as a token of gratitude and to give pleasure to the donors.

Relieved at last of all but the simplest duties, he was sent back to his kitchen and here, he thought, he would happily be alone. But not any more. His fame had spread far and wide and the love of the people as well as the friars brought souls to him for all sorts of help. The poor came for alms, the sick for healing, the sorrowful to be consoled, the learned to imbibe his wisdom; even the Archbishop came to ask his advice in administrative matters. He healed, advised, prayed for, prayed with and served. He drove out evil spirits. He was to become one of the patrons of those afflicted with hernia, sciatica, catarrh and headache, because of the innumerable times he had cured these maladies. He was to become one of the patrons of farmers because of the many times he had saved the fields and gardens and vineyards from the ravages of insects and adverse weather. Perhaps he is also one of the patrons of families who must bear scandal and disgrace, for he had a brother Mark who murdered a man and was sentenced to death. Asked to appear before the viceroy so he might plead for mercy for his brother, Benedict startled the man by saying he had no right, nor did he want to influence the official to a miscarriage of justice. The viceroy was so impressed by this that he granted a full pardon to the brother all the same, saying that Benedict's penances would atone for the crime, and his example and prayers would help Mark mend his ways.

All of which, we must admit, must sound as though sanctity came very easily to Benedict of San Fradello. It did not Love for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament accounted for it all. He suffered terribly from the insults and abuse of people who considered themselves his superior because of his lowly birth, the slavery of his parents, the condition of life God had chosen for him. On one occasion he was seen to struggle to control his temper during so violent a temptation to anger that his eyes became bloodshot, he was seized with trembling, and the blood burst from his nose. Why should he be attacked so, who was so good, so kind, so holy, so beloved by men? We neglected to say he was a Negro.

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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