There was a man named Camillus and he lived in 16th century Italy. He was a big man; they say probably 6 foot 6. He was obstinate, aggressive, and had a violent temper. His mom couldn’t control him; in fact, she feared him. And so, she allowed him to do whatever he wanted. So, at the age of 16 he left home and hired himself out as a soldier, he did this for a living; always working for the man who could pay him the most. As a soldier his bad habits got even worse, he even added gambling to his list of vices.
But even among the soldiers Camillus was too great a disturbance. His gambling aggravated his violent temper, which led to quarrels, which led to insubordination, which led to him being kicked out. Kicked out of the army, he began wandering from town to town, using gambling as a means of support. He was soon destitute, living in rags. It was at this time he began to reflect on his life, he began to remember what his mom had taught him about the Faith. He repented, went to confession, the first time in years.
Camillus with a newfound freedom went to find his uncle, a Franciscan brother; and he asked to join the Franciscans. The uncle received him warmly but wasn’t convinced of his conversion and he was turned away. Camillus was not ready for religious life. He went back to gambling and brawling. Camillus was soon again reduced to rags and no money, and he developed a wound on his leg that just wouldn’t heal. He was in Rome at the time and went to St. Giacomo Hospital looking for help. He had no money so they wouldn’t treat him, but they did offer him a job. Which he gladly took, again Camillus repented and for a time he was the best hospital orderly. His leg was getting treated, he had a place to sleep, and he had food to eat. The director of the hospital grew to depend on him. Things were looking up, until he became bored one day and wound up on the roof gambling and fighting. Camillus fell from grace and again he was kicked out. Soon he was reduced to begging for food, sitting outside of churches waiting for handouts. An old Capuchin brother saw him one day and wondered why such a big young man was sitting there begging. This old Capuchin offered Camillus a job at the Monastery where they were in the middle of a building project. This old Capuchin saw that his chronic wound was cared for and that Camillus had plenty to eat. Camillus again repented and this time he really began to reform his life. There were more slip ups to follow but he always repented, and he slowly grew in holiness.
He went on to be ordained and eventually founded the Order of Clerks Regular, Camillians for short. They worked as health care providers in hospitals and on the battle fields. Camillus made use of his war experience. All Camillians wear a large red cross on their cassock; even today they still wear this Red Cross. It represents charity and service. It represents Camillus’ great love for God and neighbor.
To grow in our spiritual life is to grow in trust of our Lord. Can we always and readily say “Jesus, I trust you!” It took St. Camillus many years to get to that level of trust. One spiritual writer put it this way; our spiritual life is like playing poker with the devil. And we always have the winning hand. The devil can never beat the hand we’ve been dealt. And we can trust this. In our hand we have been given first: Jesus, who took all our sins upon Himself, taking them up to the cross, crucifying them along with his body, and rising from the dead He conquered sin and death, opening heaven for each of us. In our hand we have been given second: the Communion of Saints, all our friends around us and those in Heaven/Purgatory who help us with their constant prayers. In our hand we have been given third: the Church founded by Jesus with her Magisterium, her Scripture, and her Tradition all of which guide us on that narrow road to Heaven. In our hand we have been given fourth: the seven sacraments, the Eucharist especially, the sacraments are the very life of God Himself, given to us to wash, nourish, heal, and strengthen our souls. And in our hand, we have been given fifth: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the perfect prayer to the Father, a time machine of sorts that allows us to join ourselves to Jesus as He offers Himself to the Father at Calvary. We can give ourselves totally to the Father along with Jesus.
With these cards we always have the winning hand. We can trust this. The devil’s hand is always a loser. The problem is the devil is a liar, he’s the master of lies, he’s very good at it. He knows us well and he bluffs, and we sometimes believe him. We believe his lies and we fold. We put down our winning hand without even showing it (or trying it).
He might tempt us to believe that we are worthless and it’s no use trying. It’s a lie!
He might tempt us to believe it’s useless to continue going to confession, when we confess the same sins over and over. It’s a lie!
He might tempt us to believe God has forgotten us and that we are on our own. It’s a lie!
He might tempt us to believe that if we’re nice it doesn’t matter what we do, everyone goes to heaven anyway. It’s a lie!
He might tempt us to believe that because we don’t “feel” anything happening at Mass that we should stop coming, or go elsewhere, God understands. It’s a lie!
St. Camillus was canonized in the 18th c. he went from being an aggressive fighter and gambler to singing the praises of God in Heaven forever, loving God with all his heart, soul, and mind. He stopped believing the lies, realizing what a treasure he held within his hands (Jesus, Church, Communion of Saints, Mass, The Eucharist). He was loved with an extraordinary and exuberant love, and with time he learned to trust that Divine love. And with time and patience he grew to love our Lord with all his heart, his soul, and his mind.
We too are loved with an extraordinary and exuberant love and the same awaits each of us and that should fill us with great hope.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley