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St Humilis de Bisignano
(entered heaven on November 26th, 1637)
Now begins the most difficult time of year for me, and I am truly sorry that it’s looking pretty bad for you at this time. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s my guards take special delight in making things unpleasant. They deliver old Christmas cards; they hang fake turkeys and starts outside the cubicle, only to deface them later on. They mutilate little Christmas figurines (Santa Claus dolls, Rudolf dolls…) and put the pieces with my daily plate of food… I don’t know what they hope to achieve by such antics. What they actually do achieve, however, is to drive me closer and closer to Jesus and Mary, my faithful companions in mockery and humiliation. I pray for them daily.
And this Advent I will be praying for you daily too. Health problems are never fun, especially when they are so severe as to pull you out of school, right around holiday time. I am sure, however, that God has his reasons. It’s up to you to discover them and embrace them, that’s all. It’s a question of humility, of confidence in God – a lesson today’s saint learned as well as any saint.
He was extraordinarily gifted by God’s grace. From his youth, he experienced “continual ecstasies”. It sounds odd, but that’s what happened. God held him close all the time, and let him know it. He spent his time working in the fields (his southern Italian family was of peasant stock), praying and doing penance. He earned the love of neighbor and foe alike even before his entrance into the Franciscans at age 27. From then on, and most especially after his religious profession, he increased the zeal of his prayer life and his service. He was so well liked by his fellow friars that he was picked by the superior to accompany on his travels. He was also brought to Rome to give advice to two popes. (Part of his sanctity was shown in a special gift of infused knowledge; more than once his ecclesiastical superiors gathered large bodies of scholars and theologians to question him about the faith, and although he had no education – he was actually illiterate – his answers baffled them all with their perspicacity and simplicity; he also exhibited other gifts like prophecy, miracles, and the reading of souls.) This poor friar had been given a deep knowledge of the affairs of God and those of the world. And he put that knowledge at the service of one goal: build the Kingdom of Christ, in his heart and in every heart.
If popes and prelates sought his advice, perhaps it can also be of use to you. I offer two of his many famous phrases, not just as “this is what to do” pieces of advice, but as “look at how a truly humble soul sees the world” kind of advice. If you think about them deeply, I am sure they will begin to strengthen you in your own suffering. He used to pray incessantly, though with few words. One of his favorite sentences was, “All creatures praise and bless God; I am the only one who offends Him.” Another was, ‘Lord, forgive the sins of all human beings and make them love you as they are obliged to love you’!” They express sentiments of a heart that knows it’s not God. It’s rare to find such hearts these days. Maybe that’s why true joy is such short supply. I trust you will be able to increase the quota as you follow in St Humilis’s footsteps of humility and wisdom.
Your devoted uncle, Eddy