Perfect Obedience for the love of God
Called by His Proper Name for the First Time, just before He Died!
It was about eight o’clock in the evening on the 31st of May 1787. An elderly Brother, who was always delighted to refer to himself “the friary’s little donkey”, lay dying in the Capuchin infirmary in Nicosia. He had already received the Last Rites, and as he lay there on his dying bed he entrusted himself to Saint Francis’s “nailed hands (mani ‘nchiuvati)” and had recourse to Our Lady’s help.
Twice already he had requested his Guardian, Brother Macarius’s permission to die and both times he had been refused. In life that same Guardian had always humiliated him in front of others, calling him names like “lazybones”, “Hypocrite” “Swindler of the People” and “Brother Malcontent (fra Scuntentu).” The fact that the old Brother was dying now did not mean that Brother Macarius was about to change his ways. At about eight o’clock, the doctor informed Brother Macarius that the Brother’s heart had already stopped at about three o’clock and that it could only be his soul that was continuing to speak. So finally, Brother Macarius decided to give in and grant the ever obedient, Brother permission to die. Going to the infirmary ward he called “Brother Felix” by name for the first time ever and, saying to him “The time has come for you to depart this world for eternal life”, he blessed him. As soon as he had done so, Brother Felix of Nicosia, having tearfully thanked the Brothers’ taking care of him and asked pardon for all the scandal he had caused, uttered for the last time his prayer “For the love of God” and breathed his last.
Like Saint Felix of Cantalice
Brother Felix of Nicosia died an obedient Capuchin Brother just has he had always lived and obedient Capuchin Brother. Fort four years before when he entered the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor he had been given, as a religious name, the name of Saint Felix of Cantalice, himself a laybrother and the Capuchins’ first Saint. The fact that Saint Felix of Cantalice has marked out Capuchin holiness with his typical characteristics of humility, poverty and joy is well known. For this reason, many Capuchin Brothers who strive for holiness look to him as a model. And for Phillip James Amoroso, born in 1715 in the town of Nicosia on the Italian isle of Sicily, Saint Felix was indeed a model of holiness.
The Exemplary Young Cobbler
James’s father Phillip Amoroso and his mother Carmel Pirro were constrained to raise their family in very difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, in the midst of such hardships, their life of service to God was always enriching. James’s father, who eked out a living as a cobbler in a dimly lit boxroom, dreamt of his son becoming a master shoemaker. And so as soon has the boy was old enough, Phillip apprenticed him to the best known, shoemaking firm in town. There, in John Ciaverelli’s shoe factory and shop, James, together with many other workers, successfully learned the art of shoemaking.
His Workplace was his First Chapel
Always a pious young man, he soon joined, and took an active part in, the society of Capuccinelli, attached to the local Capuchin Friary. From them he learned about Capuchin spirituality and applied it to his life and to his work. Perhaps it was for this reason that his work mates experienced a certain tinge of devotion when they watched toil him quietly but earnestly at his workbench in the corner. One of the assistants in the shoeshop gave this testimony about him. “Whenever he entered the shop, he raised his cap and greeted all with the words: ‘Praised be the Most Blessed Sacrament, every hour and every moment.’ He always went about bareheaded because. as he said, God is everywhere and we must always stand in his presence with respect, reverence and veneration.” When James would hear the Capuchin chapel’s bell pealing, he would kneel down wherever he was and urge those present to pray saying “It’s the bell for compline. Servants of God, let us pray Our Lady’s rosary.” And whenever he was teased by someone, he would simply reply with the words “May it be for the love of God” – words which were to become his lifelong motto.
After Many Refusals, a Capuchin at Last!
From his earliest youth James had led a morally exemplary life. Nevertheless, but the journey in pursuit his Capuchin vocation followed a path that was by no means smooth. He seemed to be a born Capuchin but the fulfillment of that destiny was to involve a long wait. He was eighteen years old when he first knocked on the friary door and sought permission to enter the Order as a lay brother. (The fact that he could neither read nor write seems to have been a determining factor in his choice to be a laybrother). But his request to join the Order met with refusal, as did many other subsequent requests. The reason seems to have been his badly off family’s financial problems (For if James had joined the Capuchins, his family’s livelihood would have been very precarious indeed.) Finally, after his parents had died james requested permission to join the Order once more and this time Brother Bonaventure of Alcara, the Capuchin Provincial Minister at the time, decided to accede to James’s request. It was October 1743 and the young Capuccinello had to wait ten years to fulfil his dream of becoming a Capuchin.
And so, in 1743 James entered the Capuchin Novitiate at Mistretta. On becoming a novice there, he took on Saint Felix’s name as his new religious name, desiring to emulate the example of that holy Brother who had been canonized about thirty years previously and were professed at the age of 29. Both were to carry out the task of questing for 43 years – one in Rome and the other in Nicosia. And both were to die a holy death at the age of 72.
“The Heroic Begging Sack”
One of Saint Felix of Nicosia’s biographers called him “the heroic begging sack”. And indeed, as this title implies his life was far from easy. After he had completed his novitiate in Mistretta, Brother Felix returned to Nicosia and was to remain their as questor till he died. In fact, it was very u usual among the Capuchins at the time that a Brother, should be left for so long in one place but Brother Felix’s obvious holiness was one of the reasons why he was left in his hometown of Nicosia undisturbed as the towering spiritual figure of the city.
Besides begging ( or questing as it is called among the Capuchins, Felix also turned his hand successfully to door keeping, gardening, shoe repair, and nursing the sick friars. As questor he moved his sphere of activity beyond the confines of the city itself to outlying areas such as Capizzi, Cerami, Gagliano and Mistretta. With his rosary in his hand, he always walked from house to house and one witness described his recollected appearance in this way. He went about with “his eyes shut tight as if he were within a cave, always in silence. When I looked at him, he always seemed to be recollected in God.” The local people often heard him express his gratitude and joy with the oft-repeated prayer “May it be for the love of God”.
Felix’s Own Particular Methods of Evangelization
Felix liked describe himself as “the friary’s little donkey” who returned home each day loaded down with quested goods for the Brothers. When he met children as he went along his way, he would share some bread, beans and nuts with them and teach them basic catechism. and he had his peculiar teaching method to keep the children’s attention. From his pocket he would take out a single nut to give them and remind them that there is only One God, or he would take out three nuts and tell the children there was three Divine Persons in One God as he distributed them. Five nuts would provide a pretext for teaching them about the Crucified Christ’s Five Precious Wounds, and ten beans were a reminder for them of the Ten Commandments. In this way Brother Felix’s consideration and kindness provided invaluable help for catechizing children who were for the most part totally illiterate. And like Saint Felix of Cantalice he too would compose and sing little ditties which encapsulated such things as prayers or teachings on the virtues of faith, hope and charity.
He Helped Everyone
Felix was always moved by the misery of his fellow men and women. He was always anxious to be of help to those languishing in poverty and day or night he stood ever ready to care for the sick. On Sundays he would visit the prisons and distribute bread to the prisoners. And if along the road he came across someone carrying a heavy load, he could not pass them by without coming to their help. His Guardian, the infamous Brother Macarius of Nicosia testified about his charity with these words. He “helped everyone, and as much as he could tried to put everything in order in things both spiritual and temporal. He kept bread and meat and other things to give to the needy. If obedience permitted, he would have taken it from his own mouth. He went here and there asking clothes and help from the well-off in order to clothe and help everyone. When he could not help, he became quite anguished.”
Harshly Dealt with, He Bore it Humbly
For twentythree years long Brother Macarius he had always treated Felix harshly and never missed AN opportunity to insult and humiliate him, even in front of outsiders had been Brother Felix’s Guardian and Spiritual Director. But Felix’s only response to such cruel words and harsh treatment was “May it be for the love of God”. On feast days, the Brother Guardian would have old Felix dress himself up in carnival clothes and act the fool to amuse the Brothers assembled in the Refectory (i. e. the friary’s dining room). One time he had Felix carry a wicker basket on his head and distribute a paste made from ashes to the friars and their guests, pretending it was expensive ricotta cheese. But lo and behold, as Felix did this, the ash paste was actually was miraculously changed into delicious ricotta cheese!
Devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, the Sorrowful Mother and the Crucified Christ
Uneducated Brother Felix’s devotional life was ver simple. His words were concrete rather than intellectual. He cherished a deep devotion to Jesus Present in the Blessed Sacrament, to the Mother of Sorrows and to the Crucified Christ. Though unable to read, he did his best to learn off by heart the words from Scripture or other spiritual writings that he heard being read and always used these passages as material for mediation to enkindle his mental prayer. The Brother Sacristan of the Nicosia, Brother Francis of Gangi remembered Brother Felix in this way. “He always told me and encouraged me to learn to do mental prayer, specially that based on passion of Jesus Christ. He told me that the one who meditates on and thinks about the passion of Jesus Christ will not suffer the pains of hell. And he told me this with such heartfelt fervour that he was weeping. Because of my task as sacristan, I often had occasion to meet him. Weeping, he would embrace me and told me to pray over the passion of Jesus Christ.”
If we were to recount all the flowery anecdotes of his life, there would be no end to them. But there is one peculiarity of his that we should not pass over – namely his unwavering devotion to “polizie”. (These were strips of paper with various devot prayers to Our Lady written in Latin and in Sicilian.) He always carried these polizie of Our Lady about with him and used them to eradicate all sorts of evils. He would distribute them to the faithful. He would hang them in the houses of the sick and poor. He would even stick them on the wine casks which he had collected alms. He once threw them into the middle of the flames in a heap of wheat straw that had caught fire and thereby quenched the blaze. Another time he threw some into grain which had blackened due to blight and the grain was returned to its original state. When he threw them into a dried out cracked cistern, the drought was brought to an end. The many miracles that followed use of these polizie were like so many pranks played by Divine Providence.
Obedient unto Death, Exalted by God
When he fell into ill health, Brother Felix had to give up his questing duties. His sick body was already worn out by lifelong hardship and severe penances. Nevertheless, he tried cheerfully to be of service everybody and particularly to the Brothers who were sick in the infirmary. A day by day his bodily strength diminished due to old age. his zeal for God, his joy and of course his obedience increased. If Saint Francis is called “prayer personified”, Brother Felix could be called “obedience personified”. Exemplary obedience is without a doubt Brother Felix’s lasting instructive legacy. Towards the end of May 1787 Brother Felix collapsed in the little vegetable garden he himself cultivated to provide medicinal herbs for the sick. The doctor informed him that his illness was incurable and so on the 31st of May 1787, having received from his Guardian permission to depart this world with a blessing, Brother Felix of Nicosia died a holy death. He had hardly breathed his last when a huge throng anxious to pay their last respects invaded the friary and started cutting pieces out of his habit and cord. Because of this his corpse had to be redressed three times with a new habit.
His body was laid to rest in the Capuchin Friary’s crypt chapel, but in 1887 was removed to the Cathedral when the Capuchin Order was suppressed by the Italian government. Thirtyone years later, his body was moved again, this time to the Capuchin’s new church. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1888 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
“The poor are the person of Jesus Christ, and they must be respected. We should behold God Himself in the little poor ones and in the sick and we should assist them with all the affection of our heart and according to our own abilities. We should console the poor who are sick with sweet words and readily bring them assistance. We should never cease to correct those who have strayed in ways that are prudent and charitable.” – Saint Felix of Nicosia
Father, you recognise the humility
of your servant Saint Felix of Nicosia
and revealed to him
the mysteries of your Kingdom;
listen to your beloved Son, meek and humble of heart,
that we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel
and radiate throughout the world
the light of your wisdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Lord, you taught blessed Felix to serve you in humility and simplicity, and to be attend on the greater things. Grant that we may imitate his example here on earth so that we may share in his glory in heaven. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.