October 2010 – Beautiful Lives X

Focus on the spirituality of St. Francis

October 2010

Dear Friend of Saint Francis:

October is a special month for those who have a particular interest in the spirituality of Saint Francis. This is the month in which the entire Church remembers the man who followed in the footsteps of Jesus Christ with remarkable courage, authenticity and passion. As well, it is an occasion to recall that the Franciscan tradition was also built by literally hundreds of men and women who are recognized by the church as saints and worthy of special attention.

October has an extra significance for me. It is the month in which I celebrate the anniversary of my profession as a secular Franciscan and my ordination as a permanent Deacon—the second event being deeply grounded in the first. The date on which I made my permanent profession, October 19, is the memorial of one such illustrious person, Saint Peter of Alcantara.

(This year, 2010, I will be joyfully celebrating the 15th anniversary of my diaconal ordination in Assisi on October 21. I ask for your prayers for continued faithful service to the Gospel.)

A few years ago, a friend gave me a 1952 edition of “A Golden Treatise of Mental Prayer” by the saintly Saint Peter of Alcantara. Making allowances for the outmoded style and anachronisms in some of its counsels, for the reader the book remains an admirable introduction to meditation and the spiritual life.

Among other things, Saint Peter was at one time spiritual director of the great Saint Teresa of Avila, reformer of the Carmelite order and doctor of the Church. In fact, Saint John was also a reformer as well as a mystic.

Hence it is we see that the highest aim of our theology is, that from it we may learn the way to the Supreme Good, and may make this life to become a ladder by which we may advance step by step to the eternal happiness awaiting us.

Saint Peter of Alcantara, A Golden Treatise of Mental Prayer

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According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, Saint Peter was born in the Spanish town of Alcantara in 1499, and died on October 18, 1562. His father, Saint Peter Garavita, was the governor of Alcantara, and his mother was of the noble family of Sanabia.

After a course of grammar and philosophy, he was sent, at the age of fourteen, to the University of Salamanca. Returning home, he became a Franciscan in the convent of the Strict Observance (also known as “Discalced”) at Manxaretes in 1515. At the age of twenty-two he was sent to found a new community of the Strict Observance at Badajoz. He was ordained priest in 1524, and the following year made guardian of the convent of Saint Mary of the Angels at Robredillo.

A few years later he began preaching with much success. He preferred to preach to the poor, and his sermons, taken largely from the Prophets and Wisdom books, breathed the tenderest human sympathy.

Having been elected minister of Saint Gabriel’s province in 1538, Saint Peter set to work at once. At the chapter of Plasencia in 1540 he drew up the Constitutions of the Stricter Observants, but his severe ideas met with such opposition that he renounced the office of provincial and into the mountains of Arabida in Portugal.

Soon, however, other friars came to join him, and several little communities were established. Saint Peter was chosen guardian and master of novices at the convent of Pallais. In 1560 these communities were erected into the Province of Arabida. Returning to Spain in 1553, he spent two more years in solitude, and then journeyed barefoot to Rome. He obtained permission from Julius III to found some poor convents in Spain under the jurisdiction of the general of the Conventuals.

Convents were established at Pedrosa, Plasencia, and elsewhere; in 1556 they were made a commissariat, with Saint Peter as superior, and in 1561, a province under the title of Saint Joseph. Not discouraged by the opposition and ill-success his efforts at reform had met with in Saint Gabriel’s province, Saint Peter drew up the constitutions of the new province with even greater severity. The reform spread rapidly into other provinces of Spain and Portugal.

In Saint Teresa, Saint Peter perceived a soul chosen by God for a great work, and her success in the reform of Carmel was in great measure due to his counsel, encouragement, and defence. It was a letter from Saint Peter—dated April 14, 1562—that encouraged her to found her first “discalced” monastery at Avila in August of that year. Saint Teresa’s autobiography is the source of much information regarding Saint Peter’s life, work, and gifts of miracles and prophecy.

Perhaps the most remarkable of Saint Peter’s graces were his gift of contemplation and the virtue of penance. Hardly less remarkable was his love of God, which was apparently at times so ardent as to cause him sensible pain and frequently rapt him into ecstasy. The poverty he practiced and enforced was as cheerful as it was real and often let the want of even the necessities of life be felt. In confirmation of his virtues and mission of reformation, God worked numerous miracles through his intercession and by his very presence.

He was beatified by Gregory XV in 1622, and canonized by Clement IX in 1669. Besides the Constitutions of the Stricter Observants and many letters on spiritual subjects, especially to Saint Teresa, he composed a short treatise on prayer, which has been translated into all the languages of Europe.

He does much in the sight of God who does his best, be it ever so little.

Saint Peter of Alcantara

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The word “discalced” is foreign to us. The term applies to those religious congregations of men and women, the members of which go entirely barefooted or wear sandals. Today, it is difficult to imagine why there would be a fuss made of wearing no shoes.

“Discalced,” in fact, is synonymous with a return to simpler traditions. The impetus behind these reforms was generally a deep discontent with the prevalent, more relaxed application of original rules. In fact, “discalced” religious were often bitterly opposed by mainstream members of their orders.

Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi introduced into the West the custom going unshod. Many, including the Carmelites, would later adopt this practice. Again, the Catholic Encyclopaedia sheds a light that is of particular interest to anyone looking for evidence of Franciscan influence up to modern times.

After the various modifications of the Rule of Saint Francis, the Observants adhered to the “primitive” custom of going unshod, and in this they were followed by the Minims and Capuchins. The Discalced Franciscans or Alcantarines, who prior to 1897 formed a distinct branch of the Franciscan Order, went without footwear of any kind. The followers of Saint Clare at first went barefoot, but later came to wear sandals and even shoes. The Colettines and Capuchin Sisters returned to the use of sandals.

Sandals were also adopted by the Camaldolese monks of the Congregation of Monte Corona (1522), the Maronite Catholic monks, the Poor Hermits of Saint Jerome of the Congregation of Blessed Saint Peter of Pisa, the Augustinians of Thomas of Jesus (1532), the Barefooted Servites (1593), the Discalced Carmelites (1568), the Feuillants (Cistercians, 1575), Trinitarians (1594), Mercedarians (1604), and the Passionists.

The trouble is that everyone talks about reforming others and no one thinks about reforming himself.

Saint Peter of Alcantara

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May our hearts be formed by faith, hope and love rooted in God who so loves us that he sent his Son to rescue us from the mediocrity to which we often condemn ourselves. May our lives be reformed in conformity with the wisdom of God’s Word. May our lives be a gift to others of peace, joy and goodness.


richard Boileau

crib and cross Franciscan Ministries