James was the name given at baptism to this Capuchin Franciscan friar. He was born in Nicosia, Sicily, to a shoemaker. Although his parents were poor in worldly goods, they were rich in faith; and James grew up with a real horror of the very breath of sin. At the age of six he was sent to a shoemaker’s shop to learn the trade. The bad language he heard there so shocked him that he would stuff his ears with wool to shut out the sound.
His problem was solved, it seems, by a miracle. One day a fellow apprentice accidentally cut the upper of a shoe he was making, and swore a horrendous oath. James reeled at the blasphemy. Then he picked up the flawed shoe, moistened the cut with his saliva, and returned the shoe to its maker. The maker and all the other apprentices were startled to see that the cut had completely disappeared. Thereafter, we are told, the conversational level in the “shoemakers’ institute” was much higher.
After the death of his mother and father, James, then about 20, applied for entrance into the Capuchin Franciscan order. He was not accepted, but that did not discourage him. He just bided his time, working and praying. Every once in a while he would offer himself again to the Capuchins. Finally his patience was rewarded. The Franciscan convent at Mistreta accepted him, clothed him in the Capuchin habit, and gave him the religious name of Felix. When he professed his vows a year later, Brother Felix was sent back home to the convent at Nicosia, assigned to accompany the “begging brother” on his rounds. (The Capuchins clove strictly to the original Franciscan “mendicant” policy of begging food and other necessaries regularly from door to door.) At Nicosia, Felix’s practice of prayer and mortification grew ever deeper. He became noted for charity to the needy. The sick were the object of his tenderest concern, and he was gifted with powers to heal both bodies and souls. He also paid special attention to those in prison, and reclaimed many of them. His prayers he lavished on one and all, without distinction.
In 1777 a dreadful epidemic struck the city of Cerami, Sicily. The Capuchin Fathers stationed there asked Brother Felix to come help them. Although Felix was then over sixty, he undertook the assignment with youthful zest. With no thought for his own health, he moved about among the stricken, giving them prayer and care. It was a successful apostolate, and he cured many of the victims. Whenever a person recovered through miracle, he would simply comment, “So be it for the love of God!”
The “love of God” was certainly Brother Felix’s prime motivation in life. Second only to this was his obedience. Having taken a vow of obedience at his religious profession, he adhered to it most strictly. He never undertook anything without securing the permission of his superiors. Indeed, when his last illness struck him at age 72, he asked leave of his local convent superior to die!
Such obedience as this is not a common virtue in an age like ours. Today we are so used to having our own way that some consider obedience demeaning. But the religious vow of obedience, and Christian obedience in general, stem back to the sublime example that Christ himself set when He became, to the Father, “obedient unto death” in order to save us.
Would not the world be a better place if we all obeyed our superiors in family, society and church, simply as imitators of our Savior?
–Father Robert F. McNamara