Going through the clutter which has accumulated on my computer, I came across a file called ‘Precious Tidbits’. Wondering what could be so valuable to bother saving with such a pretentious tag, I opened it. It was a hodgepodge of stories and quotes which were quite … stunning!
First, there were two divergent stories – on one hand, a mother of a saint who understood the secret of life and, on the other hand, five ill-advised teenage girls who destroyed their lives needlessly.
First story. By the year 1835 John Bosco was already a young man. He had studied intensely and worked hard, he had made many friends. Now, twenty years old, he makes his most important step forward. He enters the seminary.
On June 5, 1841, the Archbishop of Turin puts his hands on the head of John Bosco and invokes the Holy Spirit. John Bosco is consecrated a priest for ever. A few minutes later, John begins his first mass. Now he is Don Bosco.
That same night, his mother Margarita tells him in confidence, “Now you have become a priest and so you are nearer to Jesus. I have not read your books, but I can tell you something which you should remember always. Saying mass means more than just a rite. It means that now you have begun to suffer for others! From now on, consider only the salvation of souls. Do not worry about me…”
This story is in stark contrast with a news item which appeared in a magazine and which I transcribed on my computer, because it shocked me. In Tokyo, five teenage girls, 14-15 years, decided to commit a collective suicide. After inhaling from some kind of solvent liquid, they jumped from a five storey building. Only one survived and she declared, “We wanted to show ourselves that we were not afraid of dying! We were high on drugs!” What a stupid waste of life…
We have only one life. We can beautify it or we can simply ruin it. It looks so obvious, but the truth is that we simply cannot make it on our own. Left to our devices, we can easily mess it up. We are so afraid. The Arabs tells the story of a spy who had been captured and sentenced to death by a general of the Persian army. The general had a strange custom. He permitted the condemned person to make a choice. He could either face a firing squad or pass through a big black door.
As the moment of execution drew near, the general ordered the spy brought before him for a short, final interview, the primary purpose of which was to receive the answer to the query: “Which shall it be… the firing squad or the big black door?”
This was not an easy question, and the prisoner hesitated, but made it known that he much preferred the firing squad. Not long after, a volley of shots in the courtyard announced that the grim sentence had been fulfilled.
The general, staring at his boots, turned to his aide and said, “You see how it is with men: they always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. And yet we gave him his choice.”
“What lies beyond the big black door?” asked the aide. “Freedom,” replied bleakly the general, “and I’ve known only a few men brave enough to take it.”
Freedom scares us because we are so afraid of risk. We prefer a boring, dreary sheltered life to a liberating precarious adventure. We truly need the Holy Spirit; He can teach us a trick or two about risking!
A scholastic philosopher of the name of Meschler, once wrote, “I am a big devotee of the Holy Spirit for three reasons. First of all because He consoles me when all hope vanishes before my eyes. Secondly, because He is a warrior who never lost any battle and besides, He is full of love. And thirdly because it was through Him that the Virgin conceived the Redeemer of the world and hence I owe him my salvation.”
Saint Teresa even goes one step further in her famous bookmark and daringly affirms, “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing, God Alone is changeless, Patience wins all things, Who has God, wants nothing. God Alone Suffices.”
Hugh of Saint Victor was a prominent medieval theologian and mystical writer on the turn of the eleventh century. His disciple wrote an anecdote on his death which always struck me deeply. “On the eve of his departure, I went in his room to see him. The moment he saw me, he asked me whether we were alone. When I answered yes, he added, “Have you celebrated Mass today? Have you received Holy Communion?” “Of course,” I answered. “Then, come near me and breath on my face so that I can receive the Holy Spirit!” Then, seized in his last gasps of agony, he started repeating in a voice hardly discernable, “I got Him now, I got Him now, I got Him now…. He will take my soul home!” What an adventure!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.