Worthy Women: Bonifacia Rodríguez y Castro

Bonifacia Rodríguez grew up as the daughter of a tailor in 19th century Salamanca, caring for her siblings and occasionally assisting her father with sewing. By 1865, her last surviving sibling married and Bonifacia remained with her widowed mother while making lace, rope, cords, and similar products to sustain their now shrunken household.

While aspiring to join the Dominicans as a religious sister, Bonifacia instead found herself befriended by a Jesuit priest, Francisco Javier Butiña. Father Butiña had a recognition that God sanctifies people in the most humble of situations, and even outside of traditional religious life. Bonifacia had long years assisting in her father’s trade and now found herself working with her hands, and caring for an aging mother. She realized the connection of her labors with the quiet example of Joseph of Nazareth.

St Bonifacia RodriguezWith Father Butiña, she established the Congregation of the Servants of Saint Joseph in January 1874. Bonifacia and her mentor develop a rather different model of religious life: women working with the support of one another, and providing a safe and harmonious environment for other women. But you might imagine people outside this circle would bring their criticisms to bear on it.

On the day of this worthy woman’s beatification, St John Paul II offered a homily describing her witness of faith. Let’s permit him to continue our examination:

It was a form of religious life too daring not to have opposition. Immediately it was attacked by the then traditional diocesan clergy of Salamanca who does not grasp the evangelical depth of this form of life which is very close to the world of work.

The Spanish government ejects the Jesuits from the country in 1875–including her collaborator. A year later, a supportive bishop is reassigned to another see, and Bonifacia finds herself bereft of institutional support.

The new directors of the community appointed by the bishop among the secular priests, imprudently sow discord among the sisters, some of whom with their help, start to oppose the shop as a way of life and the sheltering of women workers in it. Bonifacia Rodriguez Castro, foundress, who incarnated with perfection the project of life which has given birth to the Siervas de San Jose, does not allow changes in the Charism as defined by Fr. Butiña in the Constitutions.

But the director of the Congregation, taking advantage of the trip of Bonifacia to Gerona in 1882, in order to establish the union with the other houses of the Siervas de San Jose which Francisco Butiña had founded in Catalonia upon his return from exile, instigates her removal as superior and counselor of the Institute.

Humiliations, rejection, disdain and calumnies fall upon her in order to make her leave Salamanca. The only response of Bonifacia is silence, humility and forgiveness.

She leaves her home and continues her work in Zamora, as before: gathering poor women under one roof to labor simply and under the inspiration of Saint Joseph. Expansion in the new location continues, and permits the sisters to receive poor lay women as companions in work. Vatican recognition of the Servants of Saint Joseph comes in 1901, but a reunion of Bonifacia’s communities does not take place until a few years after her death.

It is lamentable that jealousies and suspicions among otherwise well-intentioned believers sows such divisions deep within the Church. Some saintly, worthy figures rise above it all.  Their opponents are consigned to the forgotten of the shadows.

Posted in Saints, Two Weeks of Worthy Women | Leave a comment

Dives in Misericordiae 6c: The Essence of Fatherhood

Divine_Mercy_Sanctuary_in_Vilnius4Love is closely identified with God in the New Testament. Saint Paul is cited, and it’s good to recall he’s not preaching on married love, but love within the community of the faithful. But even if one interprets 1 Corinthians 13 in terms of married love, I suppose there’s the marriage metaphor to consider.

Let’s read:

Going on, one can therefore say that the love for the son the love that springs from the very essence of fatherhood, in a way obliges the father to be concerned about his son’s dignity. This concern is the measure of his love, the love of which Saint Paul was to write: “Love is patient and kind.. .love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…but rejoices in the right…hopes all things, endures all things” and “love never ends.”(1 Cor. 13:4-8) Mercy – as Christ has presented it in the parable of the prodigal son – has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal (child), to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and “restored to value.” The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy that he has been “found again” and that he has “returned to life. This joy indicates a good that has remained intact: even if he is a prodigal, a son does not cease to be truly his father’s son; it also indicates a good that has been found again, which in the case of the prodigal son was his return to the truth about himself.

One thing I notice here is the idea of the absence of humiliation. Many times, human beings will accept reunion and restoration. But sometimes it is hard to refrain from the small hints that remind the returnee she or he is something a bit less than before.

Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Posted in Dives in Misericordiae | 1 Comment

PS 87: Gloria to Homily at the Easter Vigil

Jesus arms outstretchedYou can check the full document Paschale Solemnitatis on this site, among many on the internet.

87. After the readings from the Old Testament, the hymn “Gloria in excelsis” is sung, the bells are rung in accordance with local custom, the collect is recited, and the celebration moves on to the readings from the New Testament. There is read an exhortation from the Apostle on Baptism as an insertion into Christ’s paschal mystery.
Then all stand and the priest intones the “Alleluia” three times, each time raising the pitch. The people repeat it after him. (Cf. Ceremonial of Bishops, 352)

Does your presider intone “Alleluia” as described here? The more usual practice is thus:

If it is necessary, the psalmist or cantor may sing the “Alleluia”, which the people then take up as an acclamation to be interspersed between the verses of psalm (118), which is so often cited by the Apostles in their Easter preaching (Cf. Acts 4:11-12; Mt 21:42; Mk 12:10; Lk 20:17). Finally the Resurrection of the Lord is proclaimed from the Gospel as the high point of the whole Liturgy of the Word. After the Gospel a homily is to be given, no matter how brief.

Thoughts? Even if brief?

Posted in Paschale Solemnitatis | 4 Comments

Charleston Forgiveness

I was reading of the expressions of forgiveness from Emanuel AME Church, some from family members of the deceased. Were I in their place, I know that my response “should” be to forgive. How long would it take me to get there?

Growing up, one of my family members tended to harbor resentments. I cannot say I completely escaped or erased that tape from my brain. My instinct is to forgive, but also to mull over a wrong. It is one thing to say, “I forgive,” and another to live as though one means it.

Even so, I applaud the outward expressions of forgiveness. They won’t reach the mind and probably not the ears of the assassin. But they will reach the ears of others. And give many of us cause to reflect. Perhaps a premature act of forgiveness really sets the soul on the road to peace, and relationships on the path toward reconciliation.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Laudato Si 6: Pope Benedict’s Contribution

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. In paragraph 6, four citations of the previous pope are given, starting with a criticism of the dysfunctional world economy:

6. My predecessor Benedict XVI likewise proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment”.[Address to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See (8 January 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 73]

If not a consistent ethic, we have an interrelated one:

He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”.[Caritas in Veritate 51]

Human irresponsibility is a form of arrogance, and there’s no question people have caused damage to the environment:

Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”.[Address to the Bundestag, Berlin (22 September 2011): AAS 103 (2011), 664]

Environmental harm is a symptom of a selfish anthropocentrism:

With paternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves”.[Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone (6 August 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 634.]

Would you agree with these moral concerns of Pope Benedict? Especially that our lack of concern is evidence of godlessness? I think this expands the concern beyond climate change. Pope Benedict certainly argued that the abuse of our planet, its resources, and its life is a moral problem for those who inflict environmental wounds.

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment

Worthy Women: Germaine Ribière

Germaine Ribière was about 23 in 1940, when Germany speedily defeated the French army. In the wake, General Petatin assumed leadership over the Vichy government. He won the loyalty of many French Catholics, including Church leaders, by restoring many historical privileges to the Church. He spoke in traditional Catholic imagery, referring to France as the “eldest daughter of the Church” and spoke about the possibility for renewal in Vichy France. For two years, the hierarchy supported Vichy without question.

Germaine Ribière was not so easily deceived. In May of 1941, Germaine began to be concerned about the action that the Vichy government was taking against the Jews. The Germans began rounding up Jews in Paris, and she recounts in her diary, with great pain, at the agony that the Jews were suffering. A student in Paris at the time, her roommate Marie recounted the horrors of the first deportation of Jews. Germaine agreed with Marie that they had a Christian duty to speak out against the atrocities. A member of the Christian Student Movement, she went to her chapter’s chaplain. She told him that the student movement must speak out against the Nazis. The chaplain was also the secretary of the archdiocese and would later be ordained a bishop. She wanted him to speak out in favor of a vigil Germaine was planning to host with Marie at the next meaning. The priest, Father Lallier responded, “I admire your charity Mademoiselle, it is truly admirable. Yes, there is a Jewish problem; there is also the problem of Alsace. But please, understand, we too have a problem-our schools.” (He feared the Catholic schools would lose government subsidies if they spoke out in favor of the Jews.) Germaine resigned from the organization that very night.

germaine ribiereGermaine traveled throughout France with the Resistance, trying to find hiding places for Jewish children in convents and homes. At times, her association with the Jews was met with hostility from the clergy. One priest, upon hearing that she had been helping Jews, refused to give her communion.

Despite this hostility, Germaine never grew bitter toward the Church or the clergy. Instead, she simply mourned for the prevalence of human sin within the world. Eventually, the clergy in France began to join the Resistance movement and take a more active role in opposing the Nazis. She joined with priests such as Fr. Roger Braun, Fr. Pierre Challiet, and Bishop Jules Saliege in efforts to take children out of occupied France and to safe houses in Vichy. At one point, the Gestapo laid a trap for Jews seeking out forged papers. Germaine, at great risk to herself, disguised herself as a cleaning woman so that she could warn Jews of the trap. After the war, she worked to return Jewish children to surviving relatives. At times, this was risky. Two Jewish orphans had been smuggled out of France and hidden in a convent in Spain. Germaine sought them out, rescued them from the convent, and delivered them to a surviving relative.

In 1957, Germaine was honored by YadVashem as one of the Righteous among the Nations for her work in France.

Image source.

Posted in emma, Saints, Two Weeks of Worthy Women | Leave a comment

Dives in Misericordiae 6b: Fidelity

Divine_Mercy_Sanctuary_in_Vilnius4DiM 6 will have us continue St John Paul’s meditation on the Prodigal Son, but with a special focus on human dignity. In the second paragraph of this section, we look at the faithfulness of the father to his son. In the telling of this parable, Jesus includes a patient father’s feelings. It’s a good thing to consider in our anti-sentimental culture:

The father’s fidelity to himself – a trait already known by the Old Testament term hesed – is at the same time expressed in a manner particularly charged with affection. We read, in fact, that when the father saw the prodigal son returning home “he had compassion, ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him.”(Lk. 15:20) He certainly does this under the influence of a deep affection, and this also explains his generosity towards his son, that generosity which so angers the elder son.

The reasoned and reasonable view would be to keep a distance from one who has abandoned, shamed, and rejected the family. The anger is understandable, but not because of anything godly or virtuous–it is simply the way human beings react.

Nevertheless, the causes of this emotion are to be sought at a deeper level. Notice, the father is aware that a fundamental good has been saved: the good of his son’s humanity. Although the son has squandered the inheritance, nevertheless his humanity is saved. Indeed, it has been, in a way, found again.

The father, the shepherd, and the woman of Luke 15 all suggest the appropriate connection between mercy and joy:

The father’s words to the elder son reveal this: “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found.”(Lk. 15:32) In the same chapter fifteen of Luke’s Gospel, we read the parable of the sheep that was found (Cf. Lk. 15:3-6) and then the parable of the coin that was found.(Cf. Lk. 15:8-9) Each time there is an emphasis on the same joy that is present in the case of the prodigal son. The father’s fidelity to himself is totally concentrated upon the humanity of the lost son, upon his dignity. This explains above all his joyous emotion at the moment of the son’s return home.

The context of 2015, of course, is the current ecclesiastical discussion on mercy in connection to family relationships. Jesus tells a story in which a returning loved one is embraced before the rehearsed speech, and without any consequences except those imposed from within. Is this the Lord’s mercy we need today? Or are the opposing viewpoints “angry” as described above?

Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Posted in Dives in Misericordiae | Leave a comment