August 7 – Pimen the Much-Ailing; Cajetan

Pimen the Much-Ailing (d. 1110) (aka Poemen) was (as you might guess) a sickly lad. He was patient, thoughtful, and wise “beyond his years” (they never caught up), however, and wanted more than anything to become a monk. His parents objected, “but you’re always sick and stuff.” One day he became so ill he seemed to be at death’s door. Just as he reached for the doorbell rope, his parents took him to the Monastery of the Kievan Caves, and asked the monks to pray for him. “If I get better,” Pimen told himself (and he always listened), “they’ll take me home, and I’ll never get to be a monk.” So he prayed he would stay sick. The monks made up a spare room for Pimen’s parents, and they all settled in (had they but known) for Prayer Wars—one sick lad against a whole monastery full of monks. Of course if the monks had won, he’d be called Pimen the Temporary-Ailing.

One night a band of angels appeared in Pimen’s room. “It’s the abbot,” he thought (clearly their peaceful wings were furled). “Wanna get tonsured?” they asked. “Oh boy oh boy!” said Pimen. “More than anything!” So the angels tonsured him on the spot, providing him with a monastic habit and a candle guaranteed by the manufacturer to burn 40 days and 40 nights. They wrapped his hair-snippings in fine linen and said, “We’ll put this on the altar. You’ll be sick for the rest of your life, except the very end, when you’ll get all better just long enough to die.” Then they sang a hymn and departed. Monks nearby heard the hymn and came walking. They found Pimen all monkified, and he told them the whole story. They got the doorwarden to unlock the chapel, and sure enough, found the hairy linen on the altar. Hearing this, his parents shrugged, said goodbye, and dropped out of the story.

In time Pimen got so ill he smelled bad, and the monks neglected him for days on end, causing him terrible thirst. Eventually another monk came down with the same thing. “I’ll pray for your healing if you’ll bring me water,” Pimen bargained. The monk agreed, recovered, and for a time brought the water, but then stopped. Soon he was back in the infirmary, sick and smelly. “Shall we try this again?” Pimen asked. This time the monk kept his word.

Through all this (of course) Pimen never complained, considering it good for his soul to suffer thus. Finally he got completely well, and knew his time was at hand. He called all the brothers together (including the sick ones, whom he healed so they could attend his funeral) (really), begged their forgiveness, cried, “Here are the ones who tonsured me, comin’ for to carry me home,” and died.

Cajetan (1480–1547), né Gaetano dei Conti di Thienne, was born into the nobility in Vincenza (Italy), went to law school, and worked for Pope Julius II to reconcile Venice to the Vatican (it worked). He founded a hospice in Vincenza when his mother died, and returned to Vincenza for good when Julius died. There he joined a confraternity of mostly poor guys called “The Oratory of Jerome.” This shocked and dismayed his friends, although the idea that they founded a competing “Oratory of Spoiled Rich Brats” has been definitively debunked. Cajetan and the Oratory of Jerome (rock group name?) worked throughout the hospitals and alleys of the city to comfort and tend the incurably ill.

In 1524 Cajetan founded the Congregation of Clerks Regular of the Divine Providence, or “Theatines” (after the city of Chieti[1]) to “recall the clergy to an edifying life and the laity to the practice of virtue.” They founded hospitals, reformed lax morals, combatted the teachings of Martin Luther, and formed a bank to supplant the payday loan sharks that preyed on the poor. Cajetan finally died, we are told, from grief at the deplorable state of the city of Naples, which (thankfully) has since been (somewhat) ameliorated. He is the patron of the unemployed and job seekers.

[1] Okay, okay, in Latin it’s called Theate.