A Diabetic Saint

“There once was a clown that fell every time he entered the ring, he went to and fro, dragging his enormous shoes, and after doing great efforts, he would manage to sort everything out on the floor. Just when he thought everything was in order, he would trip over something… the mat he was carrying would collapse and he would fall again and again on the ground sweating.

I know a Trappist (a monk who belongs to very strict contemplative order) in the monastery who is very much like this clown. Everything he does just turns out to be a mess – he drags his feet, he falls, he finishes up all sweat and he accomplishes nothing! However this poor man gives the angels, watching the spectacle of the world from heaven, something to laugh at. Although he isn’t doing risky exercises like the rest of the performers – deadly jumps or somersaults on the trapeze… who cares? He only knows how to fold and unfold mats… and this, very clumsily. But he wins the applause of angels!”

The man who wrote these words died just hundred years ago on April 9th 1911. He is the World Youth Day Madrid 2011 youngest patron saint. Rafael Arnaiz Barón was born into a deeply religious, well-to-do family. His father was in the military and so he had to travel quite a lot. Eventually he found himself in Madrid where he enrolled in a school for architecture.

Prayer attracted him and he would spend time in the Oratory of the Caballero de Gracia and take turns in night adoration. ??When he was twenty-three years old, he joined the Cistercian Trappist Monastery of St. Isidro de Duenas (Palencia). Because of his severe diabetes, he had to leave his beloved ‘white habit’ three times, each time considering himself a terrible failure! On each occasion however he returned, because he knew God would help him and would never leave him alone.  All this was at the height of the Spanish Civil War.

Even in the most difficult moments of his life, Rafael continued to have the sense of humor that always characterized him. For this saint, the love of the Father was everything, and he was sure that “all things proceed from the love of God.” He understood perfectly that sanctity should not be confused with perfectionism. Perfectionism is characterized by focusing all of one’s efforts into working to reach an ideal. This is stoicism not sanctity; stretching out and not walking the path of Jesus Christ. Holiness is accepting the love of God as He manifests itself. Accepting the will of God in our little “achievements,” as well as in our limitations and errors. He wanted to be a perfect monk. Instead God made him a holy monk… mainly through his diabetes, his frailty and ill health.

His last words before dying were “take me, and give Yourself to the world.”  Rafael died at dawn on April 26, 1934, when he was only 27 years old.

His one desire was to live in order to love: love Jesus, love Mary, love the Cross, love his Trappist monastery. He was “a crazy Christian, inflamed by the love of God: God alone!” Humiliation and humor were was his constant reliable companions. They can accompany you also… if you want them!


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.