Your translation’s divine,
your preaching melodious;
won’t you be
my Cyril and Methodius?
(Dominic M. Holtz, OP)
When Pope Benedict XVI published his encyclical on Hope, Spes Salvi he showed the world a new aspect of hope in the person of a tremendously beautiful saint of the 20th century: Saint Josephine Bakhita. One priest called her “a superlative example of one who found hope.” YES, indeed!!!!!
In Spe Salvi, Benedict wrote:
3. Yet at this point a question arises: in what does this hope consist which, as hope, is “redemption”? The essence of the answer is given in the phrase from the Letter to the Ephesians quoted above: the Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.
The concept of faith-based hope in the New Testament and the early Church
4. We have raised the question: can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just “informative” but “performative”—that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses? Before attempting to answer the question, let us return once more to the early Church. It is not difficult to realize that the experience of the African slave-girl Bakhita was also the experience of many in the period of nascent Christianity who were beaten and condemned to slavery……
5. We must add a further point of view. The First Letter to the Corinthians (1:18-31) tells us that many of the early Christians belonged to the lower social strata, and precisely for this reason were open to the experience of new hope, as we saw in the example of Bakhita……
According to a biographer, Saint Joan “was born in Bordeaux, France, in 1556. She married at the age of seventeen. The happy marriage produced four children, but her husband died suddenly in 1597. After her children were raised, she entered the Cistercian monastery at Toulouse [at the age of 46]. Joan was forced to leave the Cistercians when she became afflicted with poor health. She returned to Bordeaux with the idea of forming a new congregation, and several young girls joined her as novices. They ministered to victims of a plague that struck Bordeaux, and they were determined to counteract the evils of heresy promulgated by Calvinism. Thus was formed the Order of the Company of Mary our Lady of Bordeaux. In 1608, Joan and her companions received the religious habit from the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Joan was elected superior in 1610, and many miracles occurred at her tomb. She was canonized in 1949 by Pope Pius XII.”
One interesting point for me is that Saint Joan’s concern for souls lost to Calvinism was aided by members of the Society of Jesus. Another biographer writes:
“Two Jesuit priests, Fathers de Bordes and Raymond, whilst they celebrated Mass, received an understanding that they should assist in founding an order to counteract the surrounding heresies and that Joan must be the first superior. The rule and constitutions of the Order were founded on those of St. Ignatius and the first house was opened in the Holy Ghost priory at Bordeaux.”
AND, “Finally, her great love shown by her patient example even whilst she was being emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically abused, with her reputation being ruined as a result of lies and hatred, she still remained firm in her Faith and love of God, even converting the person who was so mean and cruel to her. Let us remember the extraordinary example of this beautiful and incredible woman always! St. Joan is a true feminist, true to her Faith, true to her abilities and never afraid to love, even her most vicious enemies! God be praised for this magnificent lady!”
Saint Joan’s body, as a sign of holiness, remains incorrupt.
“Do you want our Lord to give you many graces? Visit him often. Do you want him to give you few graces? Visit him seldom. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament are powerful and indispensable means of overcoming the attacks of the devil. Make frequent visits to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and the devil will be powerless against you.”
“There must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers who are eager for real correction and improvement.”
“It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them.”
St. John Bosco, pray for us!
O glorious St. Paul, who from a persecutor of Christianity, didst become a most ardent apostle of zeal; and who, to make known the Savior Jesus Christ unto the ends of the world, didst suffer with joy imprisonment, scourging, stoning, ship-wrecks and persecutions of every kind, and in the end didst shed thy blood to the last drop, obtain for us the grace to receive, as favors of the Divine Mercy, infirmities, tribulations, and misfortunes of the present life, so that the vicissitudes of this our exile will not render us cold in the service of God, but will render us always more faithful and more fervent. Amen.
The 25th of January this year is a Sunday so the feast is not commemorated in the NO Liturgy but a clued-in preacher will be able to link the Scripture readings with Paul’s move from persecutor to Apostle of Jesus Christ. The missionary impulse of the Church needs to follow the paradigm we find in Paul: meet the Lord first, know and love the Lord, and then share call to holiness to all nations.