St Maria Betilla Boscardin
If anyone knew rejection, ridicule and disappointment, it was today’s saint. But such trials only brought Maria Bertilla Boscardin closer to God and more determined to serve Him.
Born in Italy in 1888, the young girl lived in fear of her father, a violent man prone to jealousy and drunkenness. Her schooling was limited so that she could spend more time helping at home and working in the fields. She showed few talents and was often the butt of jokes.
In 1904 she joined the Sisters of St. Dorothy and was assigned to work in the kitchen, bakery and laundry. After some time Maria received nurses’ training and began working in a hospital with children suffering from diphtheria. There the young nun seemed to find her true vocation: nursing very ill and disturbed children. Later, when the hospital was taken over by the military in World War I, Sister Maria Bertilla fearlessly cared for patients amidst the threat of constant air raids and bombings.
She died in 1922 after suffering for many years from a painful tumor. Some of the patients she had nursed many years before were present at her canonization in 1961.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (12.35-38)
Jesus said, "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night."
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)
Consider some of the great figures of history and ask, what would society and the world have been like had they not appeared on the scene and gained the power they wielded? Napoleon Bonaparte dazzled Europe by his military prowess following his rise from utter obscurity, and, having attained the title of Emperor, proceeded virtually to march on all Europe, with great designs on England too. The prodigy from Corsica brought fire and sword, smoking cities, untold carnage of human life - some two million dead - and the greatest European war to that point. Now, let us ask, what was the mind within him that led to all this? Obviously personal ambition drove him - his vision was a lasting empire in Europe ruled by the French, with the Church and indeed the papacy itself subject to him and his dynasty. But what was the seed-ground of his notions? Born into a Catholic Corsican family, as a boy he entered the military school of Brienne, and in 1783 the military school of Paris. In 1785, when he was in garrison at Valence as a lieutenant, he occupied his leisure by reading many of the philosophers of his time, particularly Rousseau. This reading left him in a kind of Deism, a mere admirer of the personality of Jesus and with no observance of religious practices. He imbibed and represented the anti-Christian rationalism of the Revolutionary leaders. He married civilly. He eschewed the religion of Christian revelation. Christ as the living Lord meant little or nothing to him. How different would Europe have been if Napoleon had discovered by true conviction the person of Christ and the Church His body. Imagine if he had discovered the truth of his native Catholicism! The fundamental convictions of this one man made an enormous difference to Europe, as had the rationalism of many who spearheaded the Revolution before him. They were agents of great change. The change that was effected was the fruit of convictions. I use all this as an example to illustrate the immense importance of basic personal convictions.
In our Gospel passage today our Lord says, "Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him." Firstly, then, we are to be "dressed ready for service" - which is to say, busy about our work in life whatever that may be. We must be coming to grips with our responsibilities. We must keep our "lamps burning." We must be people of our work in life. That "work" in life may even be the "work" of being sick. St Bernadette Soubiroux (who received the appearances of Our Lady at Lourdes in 1858) spoke of her last sickness as a nun as being her last "job." She was resolved to do it well, and she died a very holy death. Each individual and all of society depend on the fulfilment of responsibility through work. Bonaparte worked - and worked furiously, and his fundamental convictions shaped the tenor and direction of his work. Our fundamental convictions will shape the tenor and direction of our work, and in our Gospel today our Lord speaks of what ought be those fundamental convictions. We must be convinced that this life is no more than a pilgrimage. We are on our way to our true homeland, and what we do here ought be done with the thought of Christ our Lord and Judge before us. So it is that the parable of today’s Gospel (Luke 12: 35-38) refers also to the conviction underlying our work. Christ tells us that our work and our service must be such as to leave us constantly ready for the arrival of Him, our Master. Of course, this was the last thing that Bonaparte bothered himself with. We must so work that at a moment’s notice - such as if we were suddenly to succumb to a terminal condition - we would with joy open the door to the Master’s arrival. All this will depend on our convictions - which is to say, on our acceptance of Jesus Christ as Master, Lord and Judge. With such a conviction we will work day by day in a way which is according to the will and revelation of God. Let us then build the house of our life on rock, the rock of Christ our Redeemer.
Napoleon’s life ended in ruins. There is evidence that he came to a greater religious belief during these last years. Gaoled on the far-flung island of St Helena, treated harshly by his guards, he died 1821 of bowel cancer (like his father before him) and probably of poisoning. The humble and dedicated disciple of Christ may also come to temporal ruin, but his fidelity will pay off. He has a wonderful assurance from his beloved Master. "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night."