Fruitful in name, in character and in ministry

Today, 16 April, is the feast day of St Fructuosus of Braga, Portugal, a bishop who lived in the 7th century. From God he received a charism which has rarely been seen in the life of the Church. Where ever he went God would bestow the grace of vocations to the monastic life.

When St Fructuosus was born is shrouded in mystery, but some time near the year 600 is probably a good guess. Since he was the son of a leader in the Spanish Army, Fructuosus probably grew up in a military atmosphere and imbibed a lot of military discipline. At some unnamed point in his life Fructuosus experienced a major conversion and dedicated his whole self to the person and mission of Jesus. The death of his parents was a catalyst for action. Inheriting quite a large fortune he used it to help the poor, free the slaves attached to the family estates and to build monasteries. 

It looks like he took the invitation of Jesus to the rich young man in Mark Chapter 10 seriously, because he shaved off his hair as a sign of his desire to pursue a religious vocation and went to the equivalent of a seminary – the school run by the bishop of Palencia. Here Fructuosus grew in prayer, in virtue, in knowledge about God and in the ways of the spiritual life. Presumably at the end of these studies he was admitted to the priesthood and ordained. The first thing (recorded) that he did next was to return to his homelands and found a monastery at Compludo on his family estate. Even though the lifestyle was very strict, many were attracted to serve God this way.

Every so often Fructuosus would be seized with the desire for greater solitude. It seems that in each place he sought solitude people would find him, and beg him to let them become monks, too. His closeness to God was so profound that people were attracted to him as moths to a flame. Why is this so? Perhaps the answer lies in a line from the homily this morning: books can’t teach you how to follow Jesus, only true models of Chrstian living can. Those hungering for Jesus will always flock to those who can show them the path of greater union with God. In this way monasteries sprang up wherever Fructusus visited. To help them Fructuosus wrote a Rule for them, and recorded formulae for admitting people into the religious life. To assist the whole families who came to him seeking religious life, Fructusus set up a double monastery for men and women to live separately in, and left special instructions as to what to do when children came of age in this setting. 

All more or less went well until Fructuosus was seized with the desire to visit the Holy Land. To prevent him leaving, he was made to accept the further vocations of Bishop of Dumio and then Archbishop of Braga. Not surprisingly, with his gifts of leadership and organisation, Fructuosus made an incredibly good bishop.

This good and faithful servant was called to his eternal reward in 665. Quite quickly his tomb became a place of pilgrimage and many miracles occured. In 1102 Fructuosus’ relics were transferred from Braga to Compostela, so that more people could venerate them. Even from the grave St Fructuosus is still assisting souls and inspiring them to follow Jesus more fully.  

St Fructuosus of Braga, pray for us.

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