Tag Archives: St. John Bosco

Holiness in a time of plague

As the corona virus began to spread, I began to think about how are we to respond as followers of Christ.

kathe Kollwitz

There are all sorts of controversies about the prohibition of public Masses in many parts of the world, including Rome, and the closing of churches. In the interest of the common good, the health of the community, I am not opposed to such efforts. I have spoken to a friend here who, in my mind, doesn’t seem serious enough in terms of the limitation of numbers attending Masses. It’s not about my health; it’s not about providing for the pastoral needs of the people by Masses; it’s about the life and health of the majority of people.

But I still find myself moved by two stories of the response of people of faith in the face of epidemics.

As the epidemic became more serious, I remembered a story about Saint John Bosco. In the midst of a cholera epidemic in Turin in 1854, Don Bosco mobilized youth to assist the sick and bring them to places of quarantine. More than 40 helped him respond to the needs of the poor. According to one account, not one caught cholera. This was not only a matter of prayer. Don Bosco urged precautionary measures. Each boy carried a flagon of vinegar that they rubbed on their hands after touching a sick person. They didn’t have anti-bacterial gel, but vinegar did the trick for them in the face of cholera.

The other response is the story of the martyrs of charity of Alexandria. A major pandemic ravaged the Roman empire from 249 to 263.At one point it killed 5000 in Rome in one day.

The witness of the Christians in Alexandria in 261 was truly a sign of God’s love. I first read of it in Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints. Here is what I found on a University of Notre Dame web site:

When the city fell apart from fear, sickness, and death, Christians stood tall—they disregarded the danger from the persecution, and from their own exposure to the plague, and cared for the suffering. They tended sick and dying people, carrying the dead on their own shoulders for a proper burial.

The bishop of Alexandria, St. Dionysius, wrote: “Many who had healed others became victims themselves. The best of our brethren have been taken from us in this manner: some were priests, others deacons, and some laity of great worth. This death, with the faith that accompanied it, appears to be little inferior to martyrdom itself.”

In the face of these witnesses, how am I to respond?

The government of Honduras has issued a curfew for eight days. No public meetings, even religious services. I would love to visit the sick, but travel is restricted and, even more, I am concerned about not infecting them.

As a compromise, I spoke today to a nurse at the local public health center and told her that I was available to take people to the hospital if they cannot find any other transportation. It’s very little, but it’s what I consider possible and prudent at this time.

Pray for us, that we may respond, witnessing God’s love.



Image of a work of Kathe Kollwitz in a museum in Köln, Germany.

Tough words of rejected prophets

When St. John Bosco told his mother, a poor widow, that he planned to become a priest, she told him, “If you have the misfortune to get rich, I shall not set foot in your house again.”

When Thomas Merton, in 1949, wrote to the class of Sister Marialein Lorenz,

“I believe sometimes that God is sick of the rich people and the powerful and wise men of the world and that He is going to look elsewhere and find the underprivileged, those who are poor and have things very hard; even those who find it most difficult to avoid sin; and God is going to come down and walk among the poor people of the earth, among those who are unhappy and sinful and distressed and raise them up and make them the greatest saints and send them walking all over the universe with the steps of angels and the voices of prophets to bring his light back into the world again.”

When Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Nazareth of the mercy of God even for a foreign widow from Sidon and a foreign general from Syria (Luke 4: 21-30), his hearers wanted to throw him off a cliff.

The foreigners, the widows, the poor hold a special place in God’s love. We who are rich need to be more carful and caring, opening our hearts (and our pocketbooks) to the poor, being with them, sharing their joys and sorrows.

Isn’t this what real love, God’s love, is all about.

———–

Today is the feast of Don Bosco who died in 1888 and the anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton in 1915.

Stirring us to love by their witness

Let us keep firm in the hope we profess…
Let us be consider how we may spur one another to love and good works.
Do not stay away from the meetings of the community…
Hebrews 10: 23-25

This reading from today’s lectionary touched me this morning, especially the call to stir up love and good works.

That is what those who try to live the Gospel do for me and that is why I love to recall the witnesses of God’s love, especially those I have in a calendar of witnesses to love and justice which I put together.

Today there are four people whose witness spur me on.

Today is the feast of St. John Bosco, founder of the Salesians to work with poor young people, lived from 1815 to 1888. Don Bosco died on this day on Turin where he lived and served the poor, especially the youth. As he explained his ministry:

I have promised God that until my last breath I shall have lived for my poor young people.  I study for you, I work for you, I am ready to give my life for you. Take note that whatever I am, I have been entirely for you, day and night, morning and evening, at every moment.

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, spiritual writer and witness to the God of peace and justice, was born on January 31, 1915, in France. In 1949, he wrote a letter to a class of children which included these thoughts:

I believe sometimes that God is sick of the rich people and the powerful and wise men of the world and that He is going to look elsewhere and find the underprivileged, those who are poor and have things very hard; even those who find it most difficult to avoid sin; and God is going to come down and walk among the poor people of the earth, among those who are unhappy and sinful and distressed and raise them up and make them the greatest saints and send them walking all over the universe with the steps of angels and the voices of prophets to bring his light back into the world again.

On January 31, 1980, in Guatemala City, Guatemalan forces invaded the Spanish Embassy which was being occupied by indigenous people demanding their rights. The subsequent fire killed about forty Quichés, including Vicente Menchú, the father of Rigoberta Menchú, who later received a Nobel Peace Prize. She reported these words of her father:

I am a Christian and the duty of a Christian is to fight all the injustices committed against our people. It is not right that our people give their blood, their pure lives, for the few who are in power….
Some people give their blood and some people give their strength. So while we can, we must give our strength. In this hour of need, we must look after our little lives very well so that they provide a source of strength for our people…. We want no more dead, we want no more martyrs, because we already have too many in our land, in our fields, through too many massacres. What we must do is protect our lives as much as we can and carry on our struggle…

Sometime during the evening of January 31 and February 1, 1998, Fr. Vjeko Curic was killed near Holy Family church in Kigali, Rwanda. He was a Franciscan priest from Croatian missionary who ministered to victims of the massacres during the 1994 civil war. He was called  “Father Courage” and “Oscar Shindler of Rwanda.”  He explained his mission in this way:

I have chosen to come to Rwanda to work for the Kingdom of God, living among these people: I want to share with them their joys, sufferings, and risks.