Feast Day: May 17th | Lay Franciscan Brother | Imagery: Robed as a Franciscan, Carrying or Worshipping the Eucharist, Surrounded by Sheep,
Poverty doesn’t guarantee you will become a saint, but Jesus was poor, and a whole lot of saints have learned sanctity in the school of scarcity. St. Paschal was one of them. He was born on the feast of Pentecost in 1540 to peasant parents in the Kingdom of Aragon in Spain. At that time, children were often given names based on the feast day on which they were born, and so, being born on the culmination of the season after Easter, the Baylón baby was named “Paschal”.
He would be a shepherd for most of his early life, spending much of his life out in the hills guiding and protecting his family’s flock. During those hours, having been given the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary (a collection of psalms, prayers, and hymns similar to the Divine Office that all priests and religious promise to pray), whenever he came across someone who could read, he would ask them to teach him another word or phrase, slowly learning how to pray the prayers that he carried with him everywhere. Already, he was noted to have a supernatural generosity, giving away part of his food to feed those poorer than himself, and an integrity and humility beyond that of his fellow shepherds.
Gradually these virtues allowed him to hear the gentle call of Christ to religious life. He was directed towards a number of well-endowed monasteries but having come to know Christ in his early poverty, Paschal knew to reject the attraction/temptation of a more comfortable road, not wanting to neglect where Christ had already been working in his heart. At the age of 25 he entered the Reformed Franciscans, discerning during his novitiate that the Lord was not calling him to priesthood but to the simple life of a Franciscan Lay Brother. He would spend a number of his years humbly manning the door, waiting for people to come by and attending to their needs. (Several saints held this same role in their communities!: Andre Bessette, John Masias, Charles of Sezze, Didacus of Alcala, Alphonsus Rodriguez, Benito Solana Ruiz, Bonaventure of Barcelona, and Bl. Solanus Casey. Don’t think that holding the door for someone or picking up the phone is not a path to sainthood!)
However, he was also entrusted with quite arduous labors, including a mission to the Calvinist and Huguenot heretics, attempting to renew in them their belief in Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. One could questions whether he was successful at this – given the mob that formed and almost killed him – but it seems that his measure of success was not that of this world, but perhaps that of God, because his own generosity, humility, and devotion to prayer before the Tabernacle, were undaunted by the rejection. He died of an illness in 1592, only 52 years old, and without many accomplishments that the world would count important – caring for sheep, praying for hours, kindness to all?? – but he was immediately acclaimed a saint, miracles were rampant at his tomb, and he is a patron saint of Eucharistic Congresses and Eucharistic Devotion. May he pray for us as we seek renewal in our own Eucharistic love! It seems that we probably should start with some kind of poverty…
– Fr. Dominic often looks for consolation in food. Example at hand: a piece of dark chocolate and a few tablespoons of peanut butter went into the composition of this article… But holiness is not going to be found there! St. Paschal points us towards the importance of feeling hungry at times – whether physically or in other ways – and then directing our hunger, our poverty, towards the Bread of Life. If we aren’t ever hungry, we won’t adequately appreciate Christ’s gift, and if we don’t fill our hunger with Heavenly Food, we’re apt to be stuck with chocolate and peanut butter for all eternity. (Which, I promise, will not satisfy us for very long.)