Years before Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Blessed Virgin Mary had an agony of her own, when the Archangel Gabriel came to announce to her that she would bear the Son of God. Mary was “greatly troubled,” and the angel sought to reassure her “Do not be afraid, Mary….” Even after the plan was presented to her, she must have been full of questions about her future, like “What will Joseph and my parents think?” But Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” and because she said that, Jesus could say years later, “Father… not my will but yours be done.”
God has a plan for every life, and a calling, a “vocation,” meant for them. Accepting God’s plan for our lives can take great, trusting courage, but answering “Yes” to Him will do more good than we know. Let us pray for the grace, trust, and courage to say “Yes” to our own God-given callings.
Father Damien went to the Hawaiian island of Molokai to minister the spiritual and bodily needs of lepers exiled there. Last year, in 2009, Father Damien was canonized a saint. But in 1889, six months after his death, the following letter was published in a Protestant Christian newspaper:
In answer to your inquires about Father Damien, I can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before he became one himself), but circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as occasion required and means were provided. He was not a pure man in his relations with women, and the leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and carelessness. Other have done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the government physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic idea of meriting eternal life.
– Yours, etc., “C. M. Hyde”
Hyde’s comments are noted today only because they were so exquisitely answered in an open letter by Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Stevenson quite rightly wrote, “[If the world will] at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be named a Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage.” The whole reply, assessing Damien and rebuking Hyde, is worth your reading, but I will give you the closing words: “[Father Damien] is my father… and the father of all who love goodness; and he was your father too, if God had given you grace to see it.”
In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus asked, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This is because when someone set about to do God’s will, the world, which opposes God, will attack that person. Criticisms will land on the just man like lashes on the back. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all speak well of you,” for ‘the world loves its own.’ If there is nothing very counter-cultural about your life, then you are not yet living out the Gospel as Christ calls you to do. Let us pray for the grace to be faithful to the Gospel, even at personal cost.
Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” How bold of him to imagine, and how bolder still to ask, that he might receive them both. St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, where he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.
At yesterday’s Mass you heard that God, by His power, “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.” Yet we will receive little if we are too timid to imagine or ask much of Him. Let us pray for the grace to imagine and ask to be crowned by Christ with a life with far greater than whatever we would merely drift into on our own.
In 1961, Gianna Molla was expecting another child. During her second month of pregnancy, a tumor developed in her uterus. She could have chosen to have her uterus removed—preserving her own life, but resulting in her baby’s death. Instead, she chose to try having the tumor surgery removed. After the operation, complications continued throughout her pregnancy. Gianna told her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other—I want them to save my baby.” On Good Friday, 1962, Gianna gave birth to her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, but it was too late for the mother. St. Gianna Molla died one week later.
Naturally, we all hate to suffering, but if you were to ask St. Gianna Molla what was the greatest thing she ever did, the thing she least regrets and of which she is most proud, I bet she point to this final trial, carrying the cross for the life of her child. I suspect, that on the other side of death, we shall see how much good an offered suffering can do, and we will regret not having offered more. We should ask ourselves, would I rather live a great life, or merely an easy one. Let us pray for the grace to be a lasting blessing to others though the crosses that come our way.
We think of Mexico as one of the most Catholic countries there are, but in 1920’s, it was illegal to celebrate Mass there. That did not stop priests like Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. from sneaking about to minister to people in their homes. After many close calls, Fr. Pro was captured by police and condemned to death on false charges that he was somehow connected to a bombing assassination plot.
When he was led out for his execution by firing squad, Fr. Pro be blessed the soldiers, knelt and quietly prayed for a time. Declining a blindfold, he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and held his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” Just before the firing squad was ordered to shoot, he proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) When the first shots failed to kill him, a soldier shot him point-blank. The government had a photographer on hand, capturing these moments for propaganda purposes, but soon after the images were published their possession was made illegal—a Catholic priest dying faithfully and bravely was an inspiration giving new life to a people oppressed.
At the end of the Rosary we pray, “O God… grant, we beseech Thee, that, meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.” If we are faithful to Christ, the mysteries of His life we be made manifest in our own. And if we are faithful to Christ, we will receive a glory similar to His own. Let us pray for the grace to live extraordinary lives in the likeness of Jesus Christ.