The Franciscan family celebrates today the memorial of St. Seraphin of Montegranaro, an Italian saint who lived during the 16th century. When we think of the most popular saints in the Church such as St. Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Dominic, or Ignatius of Loyola, we usually remember their significant contributions to the Church such as founding religious orders or exercising exceptional skills in preaching or in some other area of expertise. However, the saint whom we celebrate today was exceptional in the sense that he was rather unexceptional. In fact, those who knew Seraphin best described him in this way: “His beard and hair were always ruffled … his breath smelled dreadful … his habit, covered in patches, always slipped down a little on his left side, making his hair-shirt visible … his neck was always covered with a burning rash or eczema … he never ever wanted to be touched on the shoulders … he had a great love for flowers and children.” On an ordinary, natural level, Seraphin was an unremarkable man.
He was born into a poor family and was one of four children. His mother was very devout, and she instilled in him an intense spirit of prayer. When he was only a teenager, both of his parents died and leaving him in the care of his brother, who tried to teach Seraphin to work as a bricklayer. However, Seraphin’s clumsiness rendered him incapable of developing the skills necessary for this type of work. His brother, who had a terrible temper, constantly yelled at Seraphin, and beat him severely. Seraphin patiently bore his brother’s abuse and viewed it as a means to pursue holiness. This does not at all excuse his brother’s behavior since he had no right to treat Seraphin in this manner, but Seraphin made the most of the situation in which he found himself and he was likely fortified by his life of prayer.
Seraphin attempted to enter the Capuchins at age 16 but was rejected. He applied again two years later and was finally accepted. His inclination towards clumsiness followed him into the Friary and he struggled to carry out satisfactorily any of the tasks assigned to him. Naturally, this led to Seraphin having to suffer humiliations from his fellow friars. He was reassigned so many times in various Capuchin provinces that it is difficult to determine how long he had remained at any of these locations. He remained for the longest stretch of time, 15 years, at his final assignment before his death.
Seraphin was a man of deep prayer. He was known to appear to have his attention fixed on God even while he carried out normal conversations with other people. He would more often spend the night in the chapel than he would in his cell. If any of the brothers happened to see him in the chapel at night, in his humility, he would pretend to be asleep and would even snore loudly in order to be convincing. When one brother rebuked him for sleeping in the chapel, Seraphin responded half-jokingly, “My little saint, I get more sleep in the chapel than in the refectory.” He reportedly told another brother that he would spend most nights in prayer in the chapel because he would often find himself struck with terrible temptations against chastity while he was in his cell. He had a strong devotion to the Holy Eucharist, the Mass, and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He was known to carry out several penances on a regular basis. He ate very little food and even refrained from drinking water when traveling during the summer. Yet he always practiced the virtue of charity and was attentive to the needs of his brothers, making sure they had sufficient provisions. If necessary, he would willingly break his fasts and eat something more to persuade a sick brother to eat for the sake of his health. As was more common among saints at that time, he took on additional penances such as wearing a hair shirt regularly and flagellating himself (both of which are not recommended in our time).
Seraphin was tremendously grateful for his Capuchin community, despite their occasional harsh treatment of him. Whenever the other brothers were critical or insulting towards him, he would respond with humility and a sense of humor. One time a Guardian called him a “hypocrite, a deceiver of the whole world and a stiff necked man!” Without skipping a beat Seraphin responded, “I may be a hypocrite, but I am not a lazy one, because I am always going about deceiving now this one, now that!”
Seraphin was also known to have performed numerous miracles and healings. He healed a young girl who had never been able to speak before. He healed the hands of a priest who suffered from a contagious skin disease. He healed a bishop once who was on the verge of death. The bishop afterwards said to Seraphin, “I made a long journey and was hoping to enter paradise. But, thanks to you, they shut the door in my face and threw me down the stairs, so here I am back in this world.” It doesn’t sound like the bishop was all that happy about this. When a Brother Guardian asked Seraphin about the secret of his holiness and miraculous powers, Seraphin replied very honestly and sincerely, saying, “When I came to the friary, I was a poor unskilled laborer, without ability and without aptitude: and this was the cause of so many humiliations and so many reproofs on which the Demon acted, causing the temptation to leave the Order and withdraw to the desert to enter my heart. I entrusted myself to the Lord and one night a voice came out from the Tabernacle, saying ‘To serve God it is necessary to die to oneself and accept adversities, whatever the nature of these may be.’ I did accept them and offered to recite the rosary for those who inflicted them on me. The familiar voice from the same Tabernacle assured me, saying ‘Your prayers for those who mortify you are most pleasing to me. I am ready, in exchange, to grant you every grace.’”
I think St. Seraphin is a model for anyone who feels that they are inadequate or unremarkable, who tends to be clumsy, who lacks many skills, and who suffers from insults and undue criticism from others. As I said before, there is nothing remarkable about Seraphin on a natural level. He is not particularly gifted in any area except in his life of intense prayer and his incredible patience in enduring insults. In an ideal world, no one should have to suffer from insults, verbal, or any other kind of abuse from anyone. There is no excuse for such unjust treatment. Yet we know that we do not live in an ideal world, unfortunately. Hence, Seraphin provides us with a model of how we might suffer patiently if we should find ourselves in a similar situation. He teaches us how we can maintain the virtue of charity and to turn such occasions of humiliation into opportunities to grow in holiness. Seraphin is an example of prayer, patience, humility, gratitude, and undying Christian charity in the face of adversity.
– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA