ST. JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, VIRGIN
St. Josephine Bakhita (c. 1869-1947) was born in western Sudan, in the village of Olgossa and belonged to the prestigious Daju people. Sometime between the age of seven to nine, she was kidnapped by slave traders. She grew up in a horrible slavery. It is said that the trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name; she took one given to her by the slavers, Bakhita, Arabic for lucky.
In El-Obeid, Bakhita was bought by a rich Arab who used her as a maid for his two daughters. They treated her relatively well, until after offending one of her owner’s sons, wherein the son lashed and kicked her so severely that she spent more than a month unable to move from her straw bed.
Her fourth owner was a Turkish general, and she had to serve his mother-in-law and his wife, who were cruel to their slaves. Bakhita says: “During all the years I stayed in that house, I do not recall a day that passed without some wound or other. When a wound from the whip began to heal, other blows would pour down on me.”
“The most terrifying of all of her memories there was when she (along with other slaves) was marked by a process resembling both scarification and tattooing, which was a traditional practice throughout Sudan. As her mistress was watching her with a whip in her hand, a dish of white flour, a dish of salt and a razor were brought by a woman. She used the flour to draw patterns on her skin and then she cut deeply along the lines before filling the wounds with salt to ensure permanent scarring. A total of 114 intricate patterns were cut into her breasts, belly and into her right arm. (Wikipedia)”
Cruelty accompanied her till in 1883 Bakhita was bought by the Italian Vice Consul. She converted in 1890 and in 1893 entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters at Schio, where she lived a saintly life for 42 years.
“During her 42 years in Schio, Bakhita was employed as the cook, sacristan, and portress (doorkeeper) and was in frequent contact with the local community. Her gentleness, calming voice, and the ever-present smile became well known and Vicenzans still refer to her as Sor Moretta (“little brown sister”) or Madre Moretta (“black mother”). Her special charisma and reputation for sanctity were noticed by her order; the first publication of her story (Storia Meravigliosa by Ida Zanolini) in 1931, made her famous throughout Italy.
Her last years were marked by pain and sickness. She used a wheelchair but she retained her cheerfulness, and if asked how she was, she would always smile and answer: “As the Master desires.” In the extremity of her last hours, her mind was driven back to her youth in slavery and she cried out: “The chains are too tight, loosen them a little, please!” After a while, she came round again. Someone asked her, “How are you? Today is Saturday,” probably hoping that this would cheer her because Saturday is the day of the week dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus. Bakhita replied, “Yes, I am so happy: Our Lady… Our Lady!” These were her last audible words.(Wikipedia)”
Citing St. John Paull II’s homily on her canonization, Pope Francis wrote of her in Gaudete et exultate, 32:
Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self. To depend on God sets us free from every form of enslavement and leads us to recognize our great dignity. We see this in Saint 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”.
St. John Paul II continues:
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.
From a sermon by St Augustine
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God
Let not the contest be declined, if the reward be loved; and let the mind be enkindled to an eager execution of the work, by the setting forth of the reward. What we desire, and wish for, and seek, will be hereafter; but what we are ordered to do for the sake of that which will be hereafter, must be now.
Begin now, then, to recall to mind the divine sayings, and the precepts and rewards of the Gospel. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven shall be thine hereafter; be poor in spirit now. Wouldest thou that the kingdom of heaven should be thine hereafter? Look well to thyself whose thou art now. Be poor in spirit. You ask me, perhaps, “What is to be poor in spirit?” No one who is puffed up is poor in spirit; therefore he that is lowly is poor in spirit. The kingdom of heaven is exalted; but “he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Mark what follows: “Blessed,” saith He, “are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Thou wishest to possess the earth now; take heed lest thou be possessed by it. If thou be meek, thou wilt possess it; if ungentle, thou wilt be possessed by it. And when thou hearest of the proposed reward, do not, in order that thou mayest possess the earth, unfold the lap of covetousness, whereby thou wouldest at present possess the earth, to the exclusion even of thy neighbour by whatever means; let no such imagination deceive thee. Then wilt thou truly possess the earth, when thou dost cleave to Him who made heaven and earth. For this is to be meek, not to resist thy God, that in that thou doest well He may be well-pleasing to thee, not thou to thyself; and in that thou sufferest ill justly, He may not be unpleasing to thee, but thou to thyself. For no small matter is it that thou shalt be well-pleasing to Him, when thou art displeased with thyself; whereas if thou art well-pleased with thine own self, thou wilt be displeasing to Him.
Let us come to the fourth work and its reward, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Dost thou desire to be filled? Whereby? If the flesh long for fullness, after digestion thou wilt suffer hunger again. So He saith, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” If the remedy which is applied to a wound heal it, there is no more pain; but that which is applied against hunger, food that is, is so applied as to give relief only for a little while. For when the fullness is past, hunger returns. This remedy of fullness is applied day by day, yet the wound of weakness is not healed. Let us therefore “hunger and thirst after righteousness, that we may be filled” with that righteousness after which we now hunger and thirst. For filled we shall be with that for which we hunger and thirst. Let our inner man then hunger and thirst, for it hath its own proper meat and drink. “I,” saith He, “am the Bread which came down from heaven.” Here is the bread of the hungry; long also for the drink of the thirsty, “For with Thee is the well of life.”
Mark what comes next: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” This is the end of our love; an end whereby we are perfected, and not consumed. For there is an end of food, and an end of agarment; of food when it is consumed by the eating; of a garment when it is perfected in the weaving. Both the one and the other have an end; but the one is an end of consumption, the other of perfection. Whatsoever we now do, whatsoever we now do well, whatsoever we now strive for, or are in laudable sort eager for, or blamelessly desire, when we come to the vision of God, we shall require no more. For what need he seek for, with whom God is present? or what shall suffice him, whom God sufficeth not? We wish to see God, we seek, we kindle with desire to see Him. Who doth not? But mark what is said: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Provide thyself then with that whereby thou mayest see Him. For (to speak after the flesh) how with weak eyes desirest thou the rising of the sun? Let the eye be sound, and that light will be a rejoicing, if it be not sound, it will be but a torment. For it is not permitted with a heart impure to see that which is seen only by the pure heart. Thou wilt be repelled, driven back from it, and wilt not see it.
℟. Shoulder my yoke,says the Lord, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.* For my yoke is easy and my burden light.
℣. Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.* For my yoke is easy and my burden light.
O God, who led Saint Josephine Bakhita from abject slavery to the dignity of being your daughter and a bride of Christ, grant, we pray, that by her example we may show constant love for the Lord Jesus crucified, remaining steadfast in charity and prompt to show compassion. Through our Lord
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