St Peter of Alcantara
Saint of the day October 18
Of noble parentage, Peter, at 16, distributed his fortune among the poor and joined the Franciscan friars of the Strict Observance at Alcantara in Spain. Some years later he was sent to found a new monastery near Badajoz, was ordained priest in 1524, and then began his wonderful career of successful preaching, filled with tender human sympathy, especially for the poor.
Made Provincial in 1538, he resigned three years later when his emphasis on the penitential aspects of the life of St Francis d’Assisi, founder of the Franciscans, met with stiff opposition. Consequently, together with St John of Avila, he retired into the mountains of Portugal and lived there as a hermit; but his widespread fame for sanctity caused other friars to follow his example, and several small communities of hermits gradually sprung up. For these reformed discalced “Alcantarine” Congregations he wrote a rule of hitherto unheard-of austerity and poverty, which St Teresa described as “incomprehensible to the human mind”. His own cell, for instance, was so small that he could never lie down. As for food, he partook of some only every third day. This Alcantarine reform spread rapidly, particularly in Spain.
God favoured Peter with the gifts of prophecy, of miracles, of divine contemplation and ecstasy. St Francis Borgia was a devoted friend. St Teresa received active support and encouragement from him in her reform of the Carmelite Order. When Peter died on his knees on 18 October 1562 aged 63, he appeared to St Teresa and told her he was “going to rest”. He was canonized by Pope Clement TX in 1669.
The beautiful treatise on prayer by St Peter Alcantara, Tratado de la oracion y meditacion, has been translated into many languages and was frequently used by St Francis de Sales. Night watchmen have adopted St Peter of Alcantara as their patron on account of his long vigils.