St. Josephine Bakhita (c. 1868-1947)
For many years, Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. Born in Olgossa in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven, sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means fortunate. She was re-sold several times, finally in 1883 to Callisto Legnani, Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan. Two years later he took Josephine to Italy and gave her to his friend Augusto Michieli. Bakhita became babysitter to Mimmina Michieli, whom she accompanied to Venice's Institute of the Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters. While Mimmina was being instructed, Josephine felt drawn to the Catholic Church. She was baptized and confirmed in 1890, taking the name Josephine. When the Michielis returned from Africa and wanted to take Mimmina and Josephine back with them, the future saint refused to go. During the ensuing court case, the Canossian sisters and the patriarch of Venice intervened on Josephine's behalf. The judge concluded that since slavery was illegal in Italy, she had actually been free since 1885. Josephine entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa in 1893 and made her profession three years later. In 1902, she was transferred to the city of Schio (northeast of Verona), where she assisted her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery and welcoming visitors at the door. She soon became well loved by the children attending the sisters' school and the local citizens. She once said, "Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!" The first steps toward her beatification began in 1959. She was beatified in 1992 and canonized eight years later.
During his homily at her canonization Mass in St. Peter's Square, Pope John Paul II said that 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."
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (6:53-56)
When Jesus and His disciples had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went— into villages, towns or countryside— they placed the sick in the market-places. They begged Him to let them touch even the edge of His cloak, and all who touched Him were healed.
Mystery made present
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
One of the great religious minds of the nineteenth century was John Henry Newman (1801-1890), author of numerous volumes of religious writings of various kinds and over thirty volumes of correspondence — much of the correspondence having great religious and theological significance. In 1864 he produced his account of the history of his religious opinions, the Apologia pro Vita Sua. In that book he identifies a key facet of his mind: its propensity to see the world as a veil hiding and yet manifesting the Unseen beyond. His tendency was to notice anything that indicated the fact and the presence of the Supernatural — which is to say, the divine. As a result of this, he responded with alacrity to a philosophy which viewed the material world as a kind of sacrament of an unseen realm — such as the philosophy of Clement of Alexandria in the early Church, and of Bishop Butler in the eighteenth century. An attitude such as this runs very counter to what has become typical of the modern mind. The modern mind trusts the reality of the natural and visible world, and distrusts talk of the supernatural. We of the modern age tend to espouse Naturalism. Nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature. There is nothing immaterial. This assumption is vastly different from that of mankind in the broad sweep of history — and it is very different from what we see in today’s Gospel. In today’s Gospel we read that as soon as Jesus and his disciples got out of the boat, “people recognised Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went— into villages, towns or countryside— they placed the sick in the market-places. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed” (Mark 6:53-56). The people recognized that in Jesus the divine was being revealed. God was revealing his power and his goodness. Behind the veil of the humanity of Jesus an invisible mystery was present.
The people did not know the extent to which Jesus of Nazareth was a revelation of the unseen God, but it was obvious to them that to some extent he was — as were the great prophets before him. I remember years ago when I was giving a religion class in a state high school, I asked the students before me how they would describe God. One boy said that God was a good spirit. So for him, two features stood out in the idea of God: he was not material, and he was good. If questioned just a little more, he would probably also have said that God is powerful. In our Gospel passage today, the people knew that God was the great unseen Spirit, that he was good, and that he was powerful. He was working in and through Jesus of Nazareth, especially in his healings. Now, the entire life of Jesus Christ is a revelation of the unseen God. As Pope Benedict XVI often repeated, Jesus Christ is the face of God. What was visible in the earthly life of Jesus leads us to the invisible mystery of his divine sonship: “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), he told his disciples. Furthermore, even though salvation comes completely from the Cross and Resurrection, the entire life of Christ is a mystery of redemption. Everything that Jesus did, said, and suffered had for its aim the salvation of fallen human beings and the restoration of their vocation as children of God. In this sense the life of Christ was a Mystery: the Mystery that has been hidden in God and now revealed to us. Thus it was that St John could write in the Prologue of his Gospel that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We saw his glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The humanity of Jesus Christ both veiled and manifested the great God, the Mystery of mysteries. So it is that every Gospel scene, whether it be of Christ in his infancy, Christ as in our scene today, Christ on the Cross, or Christ risen, is full of wonder for the Christian. The Gospels are the heart of the inspired Scriptures for they present the Mystery visible before us.
We have a far fuller understanding of Jesus Christ than did those of our Gospel scene today, who hurried to him from all directions seeking from him the blessing of a divine healing. We know who he really is and what he has really done for mankind. We, more than they, have every reason to hurry to him from all directions seeking the heavenly blessings he has come to give. Let us never lapse into a form of Naturalism. It is the snare of modern times. The world is very real, but far more real is what is behind it: the triune God, brought to man by Jesus Christ our Saviour.
A second reflection on the Gospel
"Having made the crossing, Jesus came to land at Gennesaret and tied up. No sooner had they stepped out of the boat than people recognised Him, and started hurrying all through the countryside and brought the sick on stretchers to wherever they heard He was. And wherever He went, to village, or town, or farm, they laid down the sick in the open spaces, begging Him to let them touch even the fringe of His cloak. And all those who touched Him were cured."
Christ is in you
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
The people recognised our Lord's compassion and His power to save from incurable suffering. He did whatever they asked of Him in terms of their suffering — all they needed to do was come to Him and ask. That was then. Where is Christ in respect to suffering now? St Paul says that as a result of our baptism Christ is in us, our hope of glory. Our calling is to co-operate with the work of grace in being transformed into Christ. One fundamental facet of this is our response to the suffering of others. Every occasion in which we see someone suffering presents the opportunity to allow Christ to act in and through us, as if He Himself were before that suffering person. As if He were there? How can this be? How can this be? Christ dwells within us if we are in the state of grace. He is actually there, before that suffering individual, in our own person. He is there just as truly as He was before the suffering persons who were brought to Him in our Gospel today.
But are we fit instruments of His presence and action? Is He able to act through us, bringing help and relief to that suffering person through our own compassionate and effective response? Or do we constitute an obstacle to His desire to help that person, because of our lack of compassion? A great help to growth in Christ-like kindness is the constant remembrance of Christ's presence within us. We should have the daily ambition to allow Him to take over our whole person, such that under the prompting of the Holy Spirit we respond to suffering with the spirit of mercy that He constantly showed. Thus the suffering person will recognise Christ in us, just as we should recognise the suffering Christ in him. "If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me." As St Paul writes, Christ is in you, your hope of glory.