Sebastian de Aparicio of Spain and Mexico had two careers: saintly layman and saintly friar.
Sebastian, the son of poor Spanish parents, earned his living as a young man in several types of work: servant to a widow; gentlemen’s valet; hired hand on a farm. If he changed jobs often, it was because he found that each job involved temptations that made him uncomfortable. Farming he found the most satisfactory; it gave him an opportunity to meditate and pray as he worked in the fields.
Nevertheless, even in his farming situation new temptations arose. So he decided in 1533 to flee them by sailing to Mexico. Settling at Puebla de los Angeles, he began again as a farm laborer. Then he launched a carting business. From carting he branched out into bull-training and road construction, and before long he was a rich man. But he did not let success dull his spirit. He lived simply and gave his earnings to charity: dowries for young women; food for the poor; loans (really, gifts) to farmers. He also instructed the Indians in his various skills. They appreciated his help, recognized his worth as a human being, and honored his wisdom by consulting him about their problems.
In 1552 Sebastian retired and bought a hacienda where he could raise cattle and enjoy greater quiet. When he was 60, the family of a poor girl urged him to marry their daughter. Now, up to this time farmer Sebastian had not married. Neither had he taken a vow of celibacy. So he accepted her as his bride, on the mutual understanding that they would live together as brother and sister. When she died, he took another bride, on the same understanding. In contracting such marriages, he was doubtless following the example of Mary and Joseph.
Sebastian was 70 when his second wife died. Around that time, he suffered a severe illness. He recovered but he saw in the illness a heavenly warning to prepare for death So he gave all that he owned to the Franciscan Poor Clares and enrolled himself in the Third Order of St. Francis. Then he went to work for these Franciscan nuns at their convent.
Before long, however, Sebastian decided that he was called to join the First Order of Franciscans. The friars welcomed this 72-year-old benefactor as a lay brother in 1575. To everybody’s surprise, he lived 26 years as a Franciscan, proving to be the humblest and most obedient of subjects. His principal task was to go around begging food for his brothers and the poor they cared for. Some said that when he went trudging about on his mission, they saw angels accompanying him. He had a truly Franciscan rapport with animals. Mules and wild animals alike did whatever he asked of them. Friar Sebastian’s convent was a large one, so he had to drive wagons on long trips to pick up the food. Oxen, which pulled the wagons, are normally difficult to manage. But when he was in the driver’s seat, they responded to his least command.
The longer Brother Sebastian was a friar, the more noted he became for his miracles. His only grief as he neared 98 was that stomach trouble prevented him from receiving Holy Communion. This must have been truly a trial! As he drew close to death, however, a priest friar brought the Blessed Sacrament to his cell so that he might adore It. In his great joy he asked to be placed on the bare ground so as to give greater honor to his Eucharistic King. There he breathed his last.
This sweet and gentle man of two careers and two worlds was declared “blessed” in 1787. His story, like that of St. Francis of Assisi, reminds us that simplicity of life on this earth is the best possible preparation for enjoying the eternal riches of heaven.
–Father Robert F. McNamara