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St Benedict Joseph Labre

St. Labre passed at the tender age of 36 during Holy Week over two centuries ago, but remains one of the most fascinating figures for poets and writers, not least because his patronage includes mental illness, a condition most serious psychoanalysts considered a prerequisite for creative achievement.

He was denied access to a number of monasteries because the abbes feared he was mentally ill. He went on to serve the Lord by becoming a homeless pilgrim traveling to the major shrines of Europe, dwelling as it were near those rare openings onto the heavenly realm, earthly intimations of the infinity and prodigality of spirit, sustaining himself through little more than the bread of the Eucharist and ministering to beggars and those who, like himself, found themselves abandoned by human company because of their perceived or diagnosed “mental illness.”

Benedict is reputed to have spoken little, but that may be an inversion of the truth since he was able to heal with words and actively helped convert sinners to the faith, which bespeaks a gift of eloquence.

The Eucharist was the holiest of sacraments to him because it replaced earthly food with spiritual nourishment as ontologically superior principle of fulfillment.

Though St. Labre became the patron saint of beggars, sinners, and the mentally ill, his existence was a poetic testimony to the special kind of internal perfection and sophistication earlier social orders had the privilege to strive for and build on, but which the dawning mercantile and banking order was abandoning, and with it all the gifts that flow from poetic exercise.

St. Labre should perhaps be named patron of poets and writers who for the first time in the modern age faced an existential crisis that may yet cost us our moral essence and internal sophistication.

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