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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

The Penance of St. Peter of Alcantara

Fr. Scott Haynes

“Blessed be the penances which earned me such glory!”

St. Peter of Alcantara appeared to St. Teresa of Avila after he died. He shared with her the heavenly reward that had been set apart for him. St Teresa of Avila recalled the his descriptions of his own penances that he shared with her when he was still living.

He went forty years on an average of two hours of sleep per night. He used to stand or kneel when sleep threatened to overtake him. The bench was his bed, and the block of wood against the wall was his head rest when he allowed himself to sleep. He always was barefoot, wore only his habit and a cape, and despite the cold, he frequently removed the cape and left the door and windows open. Only once every three days would he eat, living in extreme poverty.

"He was already very old when I met him for the first time," St. Teresa recalled. She elaborated, “He was thin and his skin seemed more like the bark of a withered tree. He used to speak only when he was addressed. He had very good sense, and his conversation was amiable and pleasant.”

St. Peter of Alcantara image strikes fear in the hearts of modern audiences. His penitential life challenges the softness of modern man. To endure the kind of hardships through which St. Peter of Alcantara passed, he learned not to rely upon himself but upon Divine Providence.

St. Peter of Alcantara must have been deeply troubled by the plight of the Franciscans in his day. The pain he witnessed spurred him on to pray and do penance for the conversion of those in his Order who failed to live their vows with fidelity. In our own times, fervent souls who love the Heart of God may identify with this kind of pain as they see the rebellion of so many of Christ's flock rebelling against the very Commandments of God.

In honor of the great St. Peter of Alcantara and his life of prayerful penance, we ought to implore him to strengthen us so that we may bear the spiritual afflictions we have been called to endure with the same dignity and sanctity with which he bore his great bodily and moral penances.


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