Tuesday, February 9, 2016

St. Josephine Bakhita

"The Lord has loved me so much:
we must love everyone...
we must be compassionate!"
~St. Josephine Bakhita

"The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone...we must be compassionate!"  ~St. Josephine Bakhita

Ave Maria!  Yesterday, February 8, was the feast day of St. Josephine Bakhita, also known as "Mother Moretta," or "our Black Mother."  You can read more about her here and here, but this much I want to share with you now.  Josephine was born in Sudan in 1869 and died in Italy in 1947.  When she was nine years old, she was abducted and sold into slavery.  The 144 scars she bore throughout her long life testify to the terribly cruel suffering she endured as a slave.  St. Josephine tells us about some of these atrocities in her own words -- but let me warn you that I found this extremely difficult to read and was sobbing by the time I finished it.
“One day I unwittingly made a mistake that incensed the master’s son. He became furious, snatched me violently from my hiding place, and began to strike me ferociously with the lash and his feet Finally he left me half dead, completely unconscious. Some slaves carried me away and lay me on a straw mat, where I remained for over a month.
"A woman skilled in this cruel art [tattooing] came to the general’s house…our mistress stood behind us, whip in hand. The woman had a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a razor… When she had made her patterns; the woman took the razor and made incisions along the lines. Salt was poured into each of the wounds… My face was spared, but 6 patterns were designed on my breasts, and 60 more on my belly and arms. I thought I would die, especially when salt was poured in the wounds…it was by a miracle of God I didn’t die. He had destined me for better things.”

God had indeed destined this incredibly strong, courageous woman for much better things.  In 1882 St. Josephine was bought for the Italian Consul.  This was the beginning of her transformation as she was treated with kindness, respect and love.  Eventually she was entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of the Catechumens in Venice.  There she came to know God, was received into the Catholic Church in 1890, entered the Canossian Sisters and professed her final vows in 1896.  

When St. John Paul II canonized St. Josephine in 2000, he said in part during his homily:
"The law of the Lord is perfect, ... it gives wisdom to the simple" (Ps 19: 8).  These words from today's Responsorial Psalm resound powerfully in the life of Sr Josephine Bakhita. Abducted and sold into slavery at the tender age of seven, she suffered much at the hands of cruel masters. But she came to understand the profound truth that God, and not man, is the true Master of every human being, of every human life. This experience became a source of great wisdom for this humble daughter of Africa.
"In today's world, countless women continue to be victimized, even in developed modern societies. In St Josephine Bakhita we find a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights.
"My thoughts turn to the new saint's country, which has been torn by a cruel war for the past 17 years, with little sign of a solution in sight. In the name of suffering humanity I appeal once more to those with responsibility:  open your hearts to the cries of millions of innocent victims and embrace the path of negotiation. I plead with the international community:  do not continue to ignore this immense human tragedy. I invite the whole Church to invoke the intercession of St Bakhita upon all our persecuted and enslaved brothers and sisters, especially in Africa and in her native Sudan, that they may know reconciliation and peace.
Perhaps even more than an advocate of genuine emancipation, St. Josephine is a faithful witness of God's mercy and love.  She so completely forgave her tormentors their unspeakable cruelty to her, even though as a result she suffered intensely until the end of her life, that she said with absolute conviction and utter love:
“If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today…”
Yesterday as I reflected upon St. Josephine, I marveled at her astonishing response to God's amazing grace.  If ever I think that I cannot forgive someone who has hurt me, surely I am wrong, quite seriously wrong.  St. Josephine tells me otherwise, and she shows me how it's done -- grace upon grace upon grace -- the grace that our dear Lord Jesus Christ purchased for us when He died on the cross, pleading for His own tormentors and for us as He prayed, "Father, forgive them!"  Dear St. Josephine, please pray for me and please help me!

For of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  ~John 1:16

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