Saint Serafino da Montegranaro

In the Little Flowers of St Francis, which is a florilegium in 53 short chapters which in it we find contained the life of St Francis of Assisi, a work which dates back towards the end of the 14th century, we find written these words in chapter 42: As the sky is adorned with stars, so the providence of the March of Ancona was in former times adorned with holy and exemplary friars, who, like the bright luminaries in heaven, ornamented the Order of St Francis, and enlightened the world by their doctrine and example. On the other hand, the Annals written by Zaccaria Boverio da Saluzzo reflects the same theme when he writes: In the Province of the Marches there is now one star that shines more brightly than the others in the Order. This is Br Serafino da Montegranaro.

It needs to be said that the magnificence of this holiness is demonstrated and understood by many witnesses compiled after 1610. Then they brought together in the transcript of the initial process of Serafino’s cause which ended in 1624. With the initiative of Cardinal Madruzzi of Trent in 1625, the apostolic process extended to 1632.

Br Serafino’s holiness is wondrously in concordance with the holiness of the pioneer of Capuchin, himself a lay brother too, St Felice da Cantalice. As a matter of fact, one notices many parallels between the two. Br Serafino is an expression of authentic Capuchin life together with its distinctive spiritual tradition hailing from the Marches. Indeed, Serafino da Montegranaro never went beyond the borders of the Marches.

Felice, his baptismal name, was born in Montegranaro towards 1540. The second out of four children, he suffered from frail health. Upon seeing this, his father, a builder, immediately sent him to help a farmer. The latter entrusted the little Felice with the entire flock. Within the silence of the countryside, the young Felice could taste the infinite bounty of recollection and prayer. His intimacy with God was so great that we find narrated stories about him which demonstrate prodigious things that took place during his childhood. When his father passed away, his elder son, who had taken over his building work, summoned back Felice as a labourer. Nonetheless, Felice was not the right person for this kind of job. How many humiliations of continual rebukes and blows he had to bear with from his irritable brother! In his innermost being Felice felt the call to a life of penance, like that of the desert, as he heard read to him from the lives of the hermits. When one day he was sharing this wish with a pious girl from Loro Picena she indicated to him the Capuchins as well as their spirituality. Upon hearing her suggestion he promptly went to the friary at Tolentino. Irrespective of the fact that he was not accepted right away, he somehow felt that this was his way of life. At last he entered the novitiate in Jesi, in one of the early friaries of the reform close to Tabano. When he took the habit he was given the name of Serafino. It was at this very same friary where he made his temporary profession.

Within a lifespan of sixty-four years of life, Br Serafino lived in many friaries of the province of the Marches such as Loro Piceno, Corinaldo, Ostra, Ancona, S. Elipidio and especially in Montolmo (Corridonia), but stayed longer in Ascoli Piceno than anywhere else. It was here that he died on 12 October 1604. Ascoli was the city in which God sanctified him, which is why we find him referred to as Br Serafino d’Ascoli. Moreover, the many sound witnesses that we have about him came from brothers and citizens of the town itself. These had experienced, first hand, the ripe fruits of his holiness. They kept these most precious memoires of his holiness. One need also mention Br Serafino’s stay in the friary of Civitanova wherein many people wanted to meet him. The guardian obliged Serafino to divulge the means by which he acquired such perfection. According to the deposition by Br Angelo da Marcerata in 1627, Serafino told how he, being a person who was unable to do anything, was greatly amazed about being accepted into the Order and then admitted to vows.

Some time later, Br Serafino was transferred from the novitiate as a professed brother and sent to a place wherein the guardian who wanted everything in the friary to run like clockwork. Keep in mind the lay friars serve the priest friars, according to our practice. Br Serafino said how he did not really possess that needed capacity in any chores. Where the guardian sent him to work he did not carry out the work rightfully. Hence, the guardian imposed on him various penances and mortifications. Br Serafino was also greatly tempted by the devil to leave the Order. In fact, once he was praying in the church in front of the Blessed Sacrament and lamented to the Lord. He said: These friars have also seen my life. If I was not suitable for profession, they should not have admitted me, but since they did admit me, why do they afflict me with so many mortifications? As he finished, a voice from the Blessed Sacrament told him: Br. Serafino, isn’t this the road on which to serve me, who have suffered so much for the redemption of mankind? The voice frightened Br Serafino. Supported by the Holy Spirit, he was resolute to conquer himself. Every time something would be done or said against his own liking, he would immediately pray a decade of the Rosary, a prayer to which Br Serafino was very devoted. After dedicating himself to such a prayer for some time he heard another voice again before the Blessed Sacrament. Br. Serafino, since for love of me you have overcome and mortified yourself, ask of me whatever grace you want. You will receive it from me.

Self-denial and self-abasement are the hallmarks of his holiness.  The graces he obtained were so super-abundant that one brother guardian ordered him to halt the prodigious signs. The miracles simply blossomed around a simple and humble friar. The records of his process mention countless such. They say that a kiss to his mantle, a touch from his hands, even the invocation of his name sufficed to make unyielding infirmities vanish and to resolve hopeless cases. It seems that at his hands, as modern biographers would attest, everything turned phenomenal: bread, oranges, herbs, wheat, lettuce – but particularly the rosary made from fennel stems and bits of pumpkin. The people of the town trusted more in his rosary than in all the doctors they had around.

Two external things were noticeable and thus were one with this extraordinary man: the little brass Crucifix and the rosary. This traditional representation of Serafino da Montegranaro amply shows his ardent devotion to the Crucified as well as to the Blessed Virgin. These resources of faith furnished the humble Br Serafino with that heavenly wisdom that sometimes left theologians and the learned fully overwhelmed. Br Serafino regularly took the Crucifix in his hand and presented it to the people he met to kiss it. This was a wise ploy to avoid them kissing his hand or his habit.  In a nutshell, Br Serafino was completely humble as well as a humbled man. Adding to this, in the fascinating way of the Capuchins and the Marches, he was constantly joyful as well as spiritually radiant.

Br Serafino was truly a faithful observer of the rule of poverty and completely attuned with
the penitential, contemplative and apostolic spirituality of the Order he knew perfectly well how to change the chapel into his cell. He usually spent more time in the chapel, particularly at night, than in his cell. If someone saw him, and he was aware of it, he would pretend to be asleep- snoring loudly. My little saint, he retorted amusingly to someone who showed to him his irreverence, I sleep more in the chapel than in the refectory.

Br Serafino had a great yearning for Masses, for the Eucharist, for the Sacraments, for prayer, as well as for sufferings. He loved the mystery of Christ as well as of Our Lady, vigilant to meditate on them, and would often go into ecstasy.  His dream was to be in the fraternity at Loreto or in Rome so as to be able to serve as many Masses as possible daily. He was full of zeal to work with Christ to save souls. The elements for Br Serafino’s sanctity are his brief and penetrating spiritual exhortations; his extremely fruitful vocational apostolate; his veneration for priests; his compassion for the sick, the troubled and the poor; his courageous commitment to make peace in society and in families; his missionary enthusiasm, and his desire for martyrdom. Despite the fact that he was practically illiterate he managed to talk about the things of God with extraordinary ability and the power of the Holy Spirit. His life story tells us that when he was obliged by obedience to give a sermon in the refectory, his words in commenting on the psalm Qui habitat in adiutorio Altissimi, or the sequence Stabat Mater dolorosa were so full charged with feeling that he moved everyone to tears.

The people who knew him well pictured him in down-to-earth and photographic detail: 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. Children are always privileged by such humble and human saints. Incidentally it was the children who alerted the town of Ascoli to the death of Br Serafino in the afternoon of 12 October 1604. They cried, The saint has died! The saint has died!

This holy Capuchin lay brother was beatified by Pope Benedict X III in 1729 and canonized by Pope Clement XIII in 1767. Upon reading his life we are reminded of the discourse of St Basil the Great on renunciation of the world:

The soul is an image of heaven because the Lord dwells in it. The flesh, on the other hand, is an image of the earth, the abode of mortal men and of irrational animals. Let the times for prayer then be the standard by which you allocate time for the needs of the body and be ready to turn a deaf ear to considerations that would turn you aside from observing this norm.

Be constant in secret prayers which God, who indeed sees in secret, rewards in the open. Hold fast to this exercise of a most excellent way of life that you may find hidden treasure in the day of need. In your daily round of services add words of exhortation and consolation to your physical labour in order to show your love to those whom you serve, that your service may be acceptable, seasoned with salt. Do not allow someone else to do the work allotted to you lest the reward be taken from you and given to another, and someone else be honoured with your riches while you remain empty-handed.

Be on your guard against shoddy service just as if God were watching you. Be afraid to render a service as if it were something superfluous or of no value even if the services of your hands seem paltry. The work of serving is something great that brings us to the kingdom of heaven. It is a net of virtues containing within itself all of God’s precepts. It contains humility first and foremost which begets all virtues and brings with it an abundance of blessings. There are, moreover, the Lord’s words: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was sick and in prison and you served me”. The blessing is particularly great when the service to be rendered is performed in humility, without arrogance, irritation, and murmuring.

Be a zealous follower of those who live an upright life and engrave their deeds upon your heart. Pray to be numbered among the few. What is good is rare, and consequently there are few who enter the kingdom of heaven. Many indeed come to the life of virtue but few submit themselves to bear its yoke. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to men of violence and the violent take it by force.” These are the words of the Gospel; it calls the subjugation of the body violence which Christ’s disciples willingly endure in denying their own wills and refusing rest for their bodies in the observance of all of Christ’s commandments. If then you wish to take the kingdom of heaven by force become a man of violence, bow your neck to the yoke of Christ’s service.

How true it is that humility is the mother of all virtues! St Serafino’s life is a great reminder of this essential truth!

God, our Father, you endowed Saint Seraphin with the manifold gifts of the Spirit, and made him an admirable witness of the riches of Christ. Through his intercession make us grow in knowledge of you that we may walk faithfully before you according to the truth of the Gospel. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.