UMILE DA BISIGNANO
Humilis de Bisignano (1582-1637)belongs to the “lesser ones” that God chose to confound the “wise” and the “powerful” of this world. In effect, the Father revealed his mystery of condescension to the Franciscan of Bisignano, because he allowed himself be taken hold of by the love of God and accepted the gentle yoke of the cross, which was always a source of peace and consolation to him.
The son of Giovanni Pirozzo and Ginevra Giardino, he was bom on the 26th August 1582 in Bisignano (Cosenza) and received the name of Luca Antonio at baptism. From childhood he caused admiration through his extraordinary piety. He participated in daily Mass, took communion on all Feast Days and meditated on the passion of the Lord even while working in the fields.
Having entered the Sodality of the Immaculate Conception, he was pointed out to the members as a model of all the virtues. During the canonical processes it was recalled that his response to someone that had given him a terribly hard slap in the face in the public square was simply to humbly present the other cheek. At about eighteen years of age he felt the call of God to the consecrated life, but, for different reasons, he had to postpone the realisation of his proposal for nine years, a delay that did not impede him in taking on a more austere and fervent life.
He was twenty seven years old when he entered the novitiate of the Friars Minor at Mesoraca (Crotone), where the formation of the young men was entrusted to two holy religious, Br. Antonio de Rossano, the Master of Novices, and Br. Cosimo de Bisignano, the Guardian of the House. He made his religious profession on the 4th of September 1610, having overcome not a few difficulties through the intercession ofthe Virgin.
He carried out, with simplicity and diligence, the typical tasks of the non-priest religious, such as begging for alms, attending to the service of the Community Mass, tending the garden and other manual works that the superiors entrusted to him.
From the time of novitiate he was distinguished for his spiritual maturity and for his fervour in the observance ofthe Rule. He boldly entered into prayer and God always occupied the centre of his thoughts. He was obedient, humble and docile. He joyfully shared in the diverse moments of community life. After his religious profession he intensified his commitment to the way of sanctity. He multiplied his mortification, fasts and his zeal in the service of God and the community. His charity made him beloved by all, by the friars, by the people and by the poor, who he helped by distributing among them all that he received from Providence. He used his charismatic gifts, of which he was abundantly endowed, in giving glory to God; in constructing the Kingdom of Christ in souls and in consoling the needy.
From his youth he had the gift of continuous ecstasy, to such an extent that he was called “the ecstatic Friar”. These ecstasies caused him a long series of trials and humiliations to which his superiors submitted him for the purpose of being certain that they really came from God and that they had no diabolical trickery in them. Such trials, happily confronted and overcome, increased his fame for sanctity among Friars and strangers.
He was also blessed with extraordinary gifts of reading hearts, prophecy, miracles and, especially, of infused knowledge. Although he was illiterate and without education, he responded to questions on Sacred Scripture and on any point whatsoever of Catholic doctrine with a precision that astounded theologians. On various occasions he was examined by an assembly of secular and religious priests, who presented doubts and objections, presided over by the Archbishop of Reggio Calabria; by various professors of the city of Cosenza; by the Inquisitor Mons. Campanile of Naples, in the presence of Fr. Benedetto Mandini and by others. But Br. Humilis always responded with such wisdom that he surprised his examiners.
It is easy to understand the esteem that surrounded him everywhere. Br. Benigno Genova, Minister General of the Order, brought him as a companion on his canonical visitation to the Friars Minor of Calabria and Sicily. He enjoyed the confidence of the Supreme Pontiffs Gregory XV and Urban VIII, who called him to Rome and, through a rigorous examination, made use of his prayers and advice. He remained many years in Rome, where he lived almost always in the Convent of St. Francis of Ripa and, for a few months, in that of St. Isidore. He also lived for a time in the Convent of the Holy Cross in Naples, where he was generous in spreading the cult of Blessed John Duns Scotus, venerated especially in the diocese of Nola.
About 1628 he asked to be allowed “to go to suffer” in mission territory. Having received a negative reply from his superiors, he continued to serve the Kingdom of God among his own people, taking care of the most needy, the marginalised and the forgotten (cf. VC 75).
His life was “an incessant prayer for all human beings”. His prayers were simple, but flowed from the heart. To the question of Br. Dionisio de Canosa, his confessor for many years and his first biographer, on what it was he asked of God during so many hours of prayer, he replied: “the only thing I say to God is ‘Lord, forgive the sins of all human beings and make them love you as they are obliged to love you'!”
Always ready to obey promptly, valiant in poverty, warm in the joyful living of chastity, Br. Humilis travelled a path of light that brought him to the contemplation of the divine Light on the 26th November 1637, in Bisignano, that is, the place “where he had received the spirit of grace” (LM 14,3a) and from where “he illuminates the world with a multitude ofmiracles” (1 Cel 118a).
Her was beatified by Leo XII on the 29th January 1882.
Blessed Humilis, the man who depends totally on God
The mystery of the life of Blessed Humilis is certainly the mystery of a God who does great things in the creature who believes in Him and who fully entrusts himself to His love, consecrating all, present and future, into His hands and dedicating himself entirely to His service (Cf. VC 17).
But his life, in which the glow of the sanctity of God shines, is also a mystery of availability of this creature that, in his deep and convinced humility, repeats frequently: “All creatures praise and bless God; I am the only one who offends Him”.
Humilis of Bisignano, invited by Christ to leave all and to risk all for the Kingdom of God, felt the fascination of the Gospel of the beatitudes and accepted to put himself at the service of the plan of God for him, consecrating himself to live like Francis of Assisi “in obedience, without property and in chastity” (St. Francis of Assisi, Approved Rule, 1, 1).
In effect, in imitation of Mary, who fully fulfilled the will of the Father, the poor are free from the many bonds that tie one to passing things and to so many ambitions that only produce bitter disillusionment and they have a ready and available spirit. The truly poor spirit is not preoccupied or agitated or dissipated by involvement in many things, but looks upwards and allows himself be fascinated by God and by the Gospel of His Son.
This is the surprising wisdom that is revealed to us, 365 years after his death, in the testimony of faith of Blessed Humilis of Bisignano.
Today our gaze contemplates with amazement the great son of Calabria, a land where sanctity has flourished in so many ways down the centuries marking its glorious history. With him we sing the infinite mercy of a God that is a “source of joy for whoever walks in His praise”. Following his example, let us grasp the call to conversion and the sanctity that comes to us through his testimony of joyful fidelity to the Gospel!