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St Giles Mary of St Joseph
(entered heaven on this day, 1812)
You know I have always cared deeply for you. So your current state of discouragement pains me greatly. I can picture you grimacing in the icy wind, traipsing dejectedly through the ubiquitous snow and slush, and gazing melancholically at the afternoon sun as it tucks itself into the western horizon at the ungodly hour of 4:30pm. Unfortunately, that’s what life is like in the north. A far cry from Florida, I know. But don’t forget all the good reasons you chose to go there, and, above all, don’t forget that God is still right there at your side, even in the cold and the dark. And he will give you guidance and provide companionship, if you trust in him. And the best way to do that, to my mind, in your case, is to follow today’s saint’s life motto.
Giles was from southern Italy, born into the poverty so common to his region in the late 18th century. He never went to school, because he had to work to help support the family. His parents, who left him and his siblings orphans when he was 18, didn’t let their poverty interfere with their Christian example, however, and Giles grew to be strong in body, mind, and soul. As a young man his heart experienced the whisper of Christ’s special call of predilection, and he began contemplating a life dedicated wholly to serving his Divine Master. He had to wait, though. While he worked to assure the stability and security of his family, his yearning to heed God’s call only intensified. Finally, when he was 25, he knocked on the door of a Franciscan convent. He earnestly desired to start on the path towards priesthood, but his total lack of education prohibited him; he was accepted as a religious brother. Eventually he was sent to be “guardian” at a convent in Naples, where he served his community as quaestor (begging for alms), cook, and porter.
He spent 53 years there, and he made quite a splash. In a violent age, filled with rivalries, greed, corruption, and immorality, he became the conscience of the entire city. On his difficult daily round of begging alms he would talk to everyone he came into contact with, taking a sincere interest in their problems, encouraging and guiding them, and spreading his own love for Christ and Christian values into their hearts. Nobles and peasants alike began coming to him for advice. The poor flocked to his convent, where they knew that the holy porter would offer assistance (often his meager supplies were miraculously augmented through the intercession of St Joseph, so that no poor person who came to him had to go away empty-handed). Miracles were attributed to him, and he became known as “The Consoler of Naples” – no mean title for an illiterate peasant boy who wandered, begging, through the streets of one of Europe’s most cosmopolitan centers.
Where did this holiness, this contagious, unquenchable joy and energy come from? He lived his motto, and his motto was inspired. It drove him to enter religious life, and impelled him to reach its heights: “To think and work only for the Lord.” So simple! And yet, so profound. If you mull it over in your heart and mind during these dark and dreary winter days, I guarantee it will begin to shine like a lighthouse in your heart, and make you a lighthouse for others to boot.
Your devoted uncle,