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When the Gambler Goes Bust


You know, horses are smarter than people. I never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.” ~ Will Rogers

Words of chastisement to those who engage in fraud, avarice and covetousness are on tap in today’s 1st Reading (Micah 2:1-5), wherein the Lord, speaking through the prophet Micah, issues a stern warning to the perpetrators of these nefarious acts:

“Behold, I am planning against this race an evil from which you shall not withdraw your necks; Nor shall you walk with head high, for it will be a time of evil.”

Today’s reading and those to follow in the early stages of next week, drawn from the 6th and 7th Chapter of the Book of Micah, offer each of us the opportunity to assess where we’re at spiritually, an offer worth accepting in a world roiled with discord, confusion and despair. From time to time we need to step away from it all and engage in an honest-to-goodness examination of conscience. Those who do so at the end of every day are far more apt to see through the evil which now inexplicably passes for good, the lies that are accepted as truth. Scripture has in fact become our only truth in the year 2021.

“You have been told what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Repentance is always critical, regardless of our past or the severity of our current state of sinfulness, and the man whose Feast Day we celebrate today, Saint Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614), serves as an excellent and rather interesting reminder of this.

Camillus‘ mother died when he was a very young child and his father neglected and abused him terribly. He became an unruly, hot-tempered and undisciplined teen, acquiring a gambling addiction along the way. At the age of 17, he contracted a rare disease in his leg, one which would baffle doctors and remain with him for the rest of his life.

At the age of 24, he had literally gambled away everything he owned. Legend has it that he was spotted shirtless on the streets of the city, having wagered away his last shirt. He accepted work at the Capuchin Friary at Manfredonia, where one day he would hear the homily that would change his life. Camillus promptly entered the Capuchin novitiate, but was unfortunately dismissed because of his seemingly incurable leg ailment. Undeterred despite this setback, Camillus would decide to devote the rest of his life to the care of the sick. At the urging of his friend Philip Neri, himself a future Saint, Camillus studied for the priesthood and was subsequently ordained at the age of 34.

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Saint Camillus founded a congregation of his own, the Order of Saint Camillus ~ or the “Camillians,” ~ who made it their mission to treat the illest members of society. Saint Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind as something of a modern-day equivalent in light of the amazing work she did for the severely marginalized individuals she encountered on the streets of Calcutta. In his last illness, the one which would seal his journey home to the Father’s House, Saint Camillus rose from his own bed in order to tend to the other patients in the hospital that needed care.

Saint Camillus was a comeback story for the ages, an underdog that delivered the boxcar payoff to borrow an expression from the vice that nearly led to his ruination. In channeling all of the passion and energy that was once devoted solely to his obsession with gambling into the care of the sick, he left an astounding legacy. Today the Order of Saint Camillus serves in 35 countries, consisting of nearly 1,100 priests and brothers. Besides the three common priestly vows, the members of the Order take a fourth vow to serve the poor sick, even when they are infectious. Even at the risk of their own lives. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).

Think well. Speak well. Do well. These three things, through the mercy of God, will make a man go to Heaven.” I leave you with this quote from Saint Camillus, perhaps his most famous and certainly most practical by way of tutelage, a “divine trifecta” if you will, one that, in his eyes, would deliver the only payoff that truly matters.... eternal paradise.

Saint Camillus de Lellis, pray and intercede for us.


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