Republished: A Brief Reflection on the Feast of Saint Peter of Alcantara

We need Our Lady’s help in order to be persevere to our final breath, and we need to imitate the lives of the saints to practice heroic mortification, especially in these times of hedonistic excess. Such heroic mortification was practiced by the saint whose feast we celebrate today, Saint Peter of Alcantara, a true son of the Spanish soil land and of Saint Francis of Assisi who, though a Franciscan, was a close collaborator with Saint Teresa of Avila and her efforts to reform the Carmelites. Saint Peter of Alcantara was a mystic of his own, and he was even seen levitating when in prayer. Imagine how far from such holiness we are. Indeed, imagine how far from such holiness many in the clergy today. Such purity and cleanness of heart as that possessed by the ever charitable Saint Peter of Alcantara are difficult to find almost anywhere today during this time of apostasy and betrayal.

A brief mention of Saint Peter of Alcanatara was made in the reflection offered for the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila. However, his holiness and wisdom were such that Catholics are still receiving the sort of prudent guidance that he gave to Saint Teresa never to compromise on matters of truth and on those matters pertaining to the proper mode life to observed by those in the consecrated religious life.

Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., provided us with a summary of Saint Peter of Alcantara’s life:

“O happy penance, which has won me such glory!” said the Saint of today at the threshold of heaven. And on earth, Teresa of Jesus wrote of him “Oh! what a perfect imitator of Jesus Christ God has just taken from us, by calling to his glory that blessed religious Brother Peter of Alcantara! The world, they say, is no longer capable of such high perfection; constitutions are weaker, and we are not now in the olden times. Here is a Saint of the present day; yet his manly fervor equalled that of past ages; and he had a supreme disdain for everything earthly. But without going barefoot like him, or doing such sharp penance, there are very many ways in which we can practice contempt of the world, and which our Lord will teach us as soon as we have courage. What great courage must the holy man I speak of have received from God, to keep up for forty-seven years the rigorous penance that all now know!

“Of all his mortifications, that which cost him most at the beginning was the overcoming of sleep; to effect this, he would remain continually on his knees, or else standing. The little repose he granted to nature, he took sitting, with his head leaning against a piece of wood fixed to the wall; indeed, had he wished to lie down, he could not have done so, for his cell was only four feet and a half in length. During the course of all these years, he never put his hood up, however burning the sun might be, or however heavy the rain. He never used shoes or stockings. He wore no other clothing than a single garment of rough, coarse cloth; I found out, however, that for twenty years he wore a hair-shirt made on plates of tin, which he never took off. His Habit was as narrow as it could possibly be; and over it he put a short cloak of the same material; this he took off when it was very cold, and left the door and small window of his cell open for a while; then he shut them and put his cape on again, which he said was his manner of warming himself and giving his body a little better temperature. He usually ate but one in three days; and when I showed some surprise at this, he said it was quite easy when one was accustomed to it. His poverty was extreme; and such was his mortification, that, as he acknowledged to me, he had, when young, spent three years in a house of his Order without knowing any one of his Religious except by the sound of his voice; for he had never lifted up his eyes; so that, when called by the rule to any part of the house, he could find his way only by following the other Brethren. He observed the same custody of the eyes when on the roads. When I made his acquaintance, his body was so emaciated that it seemed to be formed of the roots of the trees.”

To this portrait of the Franciscan reformer drawn by the reformer of Carmel, the Church will add the history of his life. Three illustrious and worthy families form the first Order of St. Francis, known as the Conventuals, the Observantines, and the Capuchins. A pious emulation for more and more strict reform, brought about in the Observance itself, a subdivision into the Observantines proper, the Reformed, the Discalced or Alcantarines, and the Recollects. This division, which was horizontal rather than constitutional, no longer exists; for on the feast of the Patriarch of Assisi, October 4th 1897, the Sovereign Pontiff Leo XIII thought fit to reunite the great family of the Observance, which is henceforth known as the Order of Friars Minor. (Dom Prosper Gueanger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year.)

The Divine Office provide us with a brief summary of Saint Peter of Alcanata’s remarkable life in the service of Our Lord and Holy Mother Church:

Peter was born at Alcantara, (a small town in the Province of Estramadura,) in Spain, in the year of our Lord 1499. His father, (Alphonso Garavito, was a lawyer and Governor of the town,) and his mother (was) of good extraction. The holiness of his life was foreshadowed from his earliest years. In the sixteenth year of his age he entered the Order of Friars Minor, wherein he showed himself a pattern to all. He undertook the work of preaching in obedience to his Superiors, and thereby brought many to turn away from sin to true repentance. He conceived a great desire to bring back the observance of the Rule of St Francis to the uttermost straitness of old times, and to that end, supported by God's help, and armed with the approval of the Apostolic See, he founded (in the year 1555) a new stern and poor house near Pedraso, from which the harder way of life, therein happily begun, spread marvellously through divers Provinces of Spain even to the Indies. He was an helper to holy Theresa, with whom he was like-minded, in bringing about the Reformation of the Carmelites. She was taught of God that no one should ask anything in the name of Peter without being heard, and was used to ask him to pray for her, and to call him a Saint while as he was yet alive.

He humbly excused himself from accepting the courtesies of princes, by whom his advice was sought as that of an oracle, and declined to become the Confessor of the Emperor Charles V. He was a very careful keeper to poverty, and contented himself with a single tunic than which none was worse. Purity he carried to such a point that when he was lying sick of his last illness, he would not allow the brother who ministered to him to touch him, how lightly soever. He brought his body into bondage by unceasing watching, fasting, scourging, cold, nakedness, and all manner of hardships, having made it a promise never to allow it any rest in this world. The love of God and his neighbour, which was shed abroad in his heart, somewhiles burnt so that he was fain to run from his cell into the open air to cool himself.

He was marvellous how his thoughts became altogether rapt in God, so that somewhiles it befell that he neither ate nor drank for the space of several days. He was oftentimes seen to rise into the air, shining with an unearthly glory. He passed dry-shod over torrents. When his brethren were in the last state of need, he fed them with food from heaven. A staff which he fixed in the earth grew presently into a green fig-tree. Once while he was travelling by night in the midst of an heavy snow-storm, and took refuge in a ruined and roofless house, then the falling snow made a roof over him lest he should be overwhelmed. Holy Theresa beareth witness that he had the gift of prophecy and of the discerning of spirits. At length, in the 63rd year of his own age, (and of salvation 1562,) at the hour which he had himself foretold, (upon the 18th day of October,) he passed away to be for ever with the Lord, cheered in his last moments by a wonderful vision and by the presence of Saints. At the instant of his death, blessed Theresa, then afar off, saw him carried to heaven. He appeared to her afterwards, and said O what happy penance, to have won for me such glory! After his death he became famous for very many miracles, and Clement IX. inscribed his name among those of the Saints. (Matins, The Divine Office, Feast of Saint Peter of Alcantara.)

Dom Prosper Gueranger’s prayer in honor of Saint Peter of Alcantara should inspire us all to reject the worldliness and the vain amusements of these wicked times as we seek to make reparation for our own many sins—and for those of all others, especially including the conciliar revolutionaries, each of whom is responsible for making it more and more possible for the monsters of Modernity to subject us to various kinds of persecutions both subtle and overt—as the consecrated slaves of Our Lord through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary:

‘Such then is the austere life, an eternity of glory!’ And how sweet were thy last words: ‘I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord.’ The time of reward had not yet come for the body, with which thou hadst made an agreement to give it no true in this life, but to reserve its enjoyment for the next. But already the soul, on quitting it, had filled it with the light and the fragrance of the other world; signifying to all that, the first part of the contract having been faithfully adhered to, the second should be carried out in like manner. Whereas, given over for its false delights to horrible torments, the flesh of the sinner will for ever cry vengeance against the soul that caused its loss; thy members, entering into the beatitude of thy happy soul, and completing its glory by their own splendour will eternally declare how thy apparent harshness for a time was in reality wisdom and love.

Is it necessary, indeed, to wait for the resurrection, in order to discover that the part thou didst choose is incontestably the best? Who would dare to compare not only unlawful pleasures, but even the permitted enjoyments of earth, with the holy delights of contemplation prepared, even in this world, for those can relish them? If they are to be purchased by the mortification of the flesh, it is because the flesh and the spirit are striving for the mastery; but a generous soul loves the struggle, for the flesh is honoured by it, and through it escapes a thousand dangers.

O thou who, according to our Lord’s promise, are never invoked in vain, if thou deign thyself to present our prayers to Him; obtain for us that relish for heavenly things, which causes an aversion for those of earth. It is the petition made by the whole Church, through thy merits, to the God who bestowed on thee the gift of such wonderful penance and sublime contemplation. The great family of Friars Minor cherishes the treasure of thy teaching and example; for the honour of thy holy Father Francis and the good of the Church, maintain in it the love of its austere traditions. Withdraw not thy precious protection from the Carmel of Teresa of Jesus; nay, extend it to the whole religious state, especially in these days of trial. Mayst thou at length lead back thy native Spain to the glorious heights, whence formerly she seemed to pour down floods of sanctity upon the world; it is the condition of nations ennobled by a more sublime vocation, that they cannot decline without danger of falling below the level of those less favoured by the Most High. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., The Liturgical Year, Time After Pentecost, Book V, pp. 427-428.)

We must take in these words a warning as to our voluntarily immersion in the useless things of this earth, including competitive sports (yes, I watched baseball for far too long before I walked out over nineteen years now), and an inspiration to aspire to the great heights of heavenly joy that cannot be experienced without austere penances and without a true and devout reliance upon Our Lady, especially by means of her Most Holy Rosary as we pledge our own heart’s oblation to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus through her own Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.

Saint Peter of Alcantara, pray for us.