The Ability to Focus
One of the characteristics of saints is their ability to focus. They have this all-important ability to be able to zero in on what is important and to keep their eyes upon the goal.
We often associate the ability to focus with people who are trying to become the best in their careers or in sports. They are fixed on their goal and will put in the time to achieve it whether it be taking extra time to study, working long hours, or spending hours practicing their sport.
However, the ability to focus seems necessary for each of us. We have to truly focus in on what it is that we want to achieve. And if we look back on things that we have accomplished, it is probably due in large part with our ability to concentrate on the goal and to avoid distractions.
The difference with saints is that their focus tends to be an internal focus. They are not as focused on things on the outside. The internal focus is not on themselves. Instead, it is the ability to orient their souls toward God and to keep their souls fixed on Him and His will for their lives. And they do this in the midst of living out their vocations and all of their day-to-day duties of life.
The Shepherd with Focus
St. Paschal Baylón (1540 - 1592) demonstrates this internal focus. At first glance, that might not seem to be the case. He seems like a simple man who went from being a shepherd to becoming a doorkeeper as a lay Franciscan brother. However, throughout his life, he demonstrated that he wanted his soul to be oriented toward God and to not get thrown off track by outside distractions.
Paschal was born on the feast of Pentecost in the Kingdom of Aragaon which is modern day Spain. His family was poor, but they were very devout. And his parents, Martin and Elizabeth Jubera Baylón passed on the faith to Paschal and his siblings. Paschal absorbed the teaching of the faith, and, at an early age, he displayed the gifts of understanding, joy, and devotion that would be with him his whole life.
As soon as he was old enough, he began to work to help support the family by working as a shepherd. The life of a shepherd can be fairly lonely and desolate, but this was not the case for Paschal. Instead, he made the most of his time as a shepherd. He might not have known the complete object of his focus, but he knew that he needed to be oriented toward something beyond being a shepherd.
First, he learned to read. When he took the sheep out, he carried a book with him. Whenever he would encounter someone, he would pull out his book and ask that person if he or she could teach him any of the letters or the words. And, sure enough, over time, through this method, he learned how to read. And what did he want to read? Paschal's goal was to be able to pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin which was a popular prayer book at that time.
Second, he literally oriented himself toward the mass. He would keep in mind the direction of the nearest church and listen for the bells that were rung to note the consecration. Then Paschal would kneel in the direction of the church and pray.
Although he was busy keeping the sheep, he kept up with his friends and encouraged them to be more devout. Instead of earning him ridicule, he garnered respect in part because they could see that he was making something of himself with his devotion and learning to read. It was noted that many of the boys who were not given to being particularly well-behaved made a point of being on better behavior when they were around Paschal.
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Paschal was still subject to the usual mishaps of being a shepherd. When the sheep he was watching destroyed anyone's property, he would deal with the issue promptly and pay for the damages out of the small money he earned.
His reputation for good sense, honesty, and hard work even prompted one of the wealthier men whose sheep he watched to offer to adopt Paschal and to make him his heir. By this time, Paschal had begun to sense a call to religious life, and so, he thanked the man, but declined his generous offer.
As he began to discuss more freely his discerning a call to the religious life, Paschal was given advice to try to join one of the orders with a large endowment. However, he kept his focus and noted that, "I was born poor and am resolved to die in poverty and penance."
Thus, at the age of 24 he approached the Reformed Franciscans at Monteforte to request being accepted as a lay brother. After an initial review, he was turned away because of his age, and Paschal returned to working as a shepherd. However, he did not lose heart.
The Franciscans changed their mind, and Paschal was allowed entry into the order. It was a perfect fit, as Paschal had spent his time allowing God to prepare him to be a Franciscan brother. After a year long novitiate, he became a professed brother in 1565. He served as the doorkeeper, cook, gardener, and beggar for the order until his death 27 years later.
Noting Paschal's gifts and having already learned to read, the Franciscans offered to help him become a priest. Paschal declined because he did not think it was the path for him. Instead, Paschal kept his focus on who he was and who God wanted him to be, and he carved out a niche for his path to holiness as a lay brother. His life as a Franciscan was marked by those gifts of understanding, joy, and devotion that he had possessed since he was young.
Paschal's understanding provided him with discernment and intuition that helped him have good relationships with the other Franciscans and the people he met while begging for alms. Joy marked his life and was noted of him no matter what task and how hard he was working. His devotion was primarily to the Holy Eucharist and then to Our Lady. He spent as many hours as he could in prayer before the Eucharist, and he had a great devotion to the Rosary.
In fact, he has been noted for his commitment to adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. He would faithfully attend mass and remain afterward as long as he could in order to adore the Lord. Then, many times at night, he would spend as much time as possible in prayer before the Lord in the Eucharist. His zeal for the Eucharist almost made him a martyr. He once was asked, because of his understanding and devotion to the Eucharist, to travel to France to meet with a Calvinist preacher in order to defend the Church's teaching on the Eucharist. Apparently, he was not able to get near the preacher, as he was run off by angry Huguenots who were ready to stone Paschal to death for his belief in the Real Presence. He managed to escape but injured his soldier in the process.
After 28 years of faithful service to the Lord as a Franciscan, Paschal died in 1592 at the age of 52.
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A Final Example of His Focus
As a doorkeeper, Paschal was responsible for making requests of visitors known to the other friars. Once, two ladies came to the door and asked to meet with the superior in order that they might make their confessions. When Paschal met with his superior to let him know of their request, the conversation went something like this:
"Tell the ladies that I am not in," said the superior.
Paschal replied, "I will tell them that you are engaged."
"No, tell them I am not here," insisted the superior.
"Forgive me, father, but I refuse to lie," Paschal said firmly as he left the superior.
He then proceeded to tell the ladies that his superior was busy. In this Paschal showed that being focused means you will do what is right and not be distracted by attempts to get you off course, even if it comes from your superior.
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Feast Day (Memorial): May 17th
Patron of Eucharistic Congresses
Patron of Shepherds
Patron of Cooks