Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent - St. Josephine Bakhita

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
And I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
For I am meek and humble of heart;
And you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
- Matthew 11:28-30

The words of Jesus are not simply idle, poetic phrases. Jesus addresses real human experiences of fatigue, despair, downheartedness, and even exploitation and abuse. Just as the Lord does not “faint or grow weary” in protecting the Chosen People, he gives strength and vigor to the fainting and weak, so that “they who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).

To live a life faithful to the demands of the Gospel requires conviction and strength that can waiver, no matter how good and pure our intentions may be. Jesus’ words are addressed to each of us: in the moments when we are tempted to stray from the way to which we have committed ourselves, these words should offer us comfort. He is with us, sharing the burden. As Saint Bruno of Segni reflected, “Although he was the almighty Lord, he chose to be poor for our sakes, he refused honors, freely submitted to sufferings… and he did all this in order that we might not disdain to follow him insofar as our frailty allows” (Sermon I on Good Friday: PL 165, 1007-8).

Saint Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped in her native Sudan and sold into slavery when she was only nine years-old. The trauma of her abduction and enslavement was so severe that actually forgot her own name; the name by which she was known, “Bakhita,” was an Arabic word meaning “lucky.” Ultimately, after being purchased by an Italian family, she was introduced to the Christian Faith and, after gaining her freedom, she became a religious sister in Italy. She exclaimed, “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love.” She found true freedom in following the God who had suffered so much for her (cf. Romans 8:21).

Josephine Bakhita spent her freedom in service to others, stressing the truth of God’s loving care to all those whom she encountered. As Pope Benedict XVI observed, “The liberation 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” (Spe Salvi, 3).

As we continue our Advent watching, pray for the gifts of courage and perseverance. And remember, the night is always darkest just before the coming of the dawn. "The sky will clear. And in the night, you will see a star shining in the dark... There is hope. Love never dies... Just as surely as day follows night, a new dawn awaits you" (Dwight Daniels in Grieving at Christmastime).

Prayer for Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent +
Almighty God, who command us
to prepare the way for Christ the Lord,
grant in your kindness, we pray,
that no infirmity may weary us
as we long for the comforting presence
of our healing physician.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

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