Saint Bakhita’s love for the Master
Here is the text prepared for Bishop Olmsted’s homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
June 26, 2022
Please join me in praising God for a new initiative for the pastoral care and evangelism of African American and Black Catholics in the Diocese of Phoenix, which will be known as St. Josephine Bakhita Mission. Let me tell you a bit about this remarkable saint.
Canonized by Saint John Paul II in Jubilee Year 2000, Saint Josephine Bakhita is a survivor of the slave trade, a convert to the Catholic faith and a model of forgiveness. By word and example, she teaches us how to promote racial healing and reconciliation in a time of division, hatred and violence.
Saint Bakhita’s unusual journey to sainthood began in the African country of Sudan, where she was kidnapped at the age of nine, sold into slavery and resold multiple times. She suffered so much torture and trauma that she forgot her birth name. Her slave traders gave her the name Bakhita, which means “lucky” or “lucky”. We don’t know why she was given this name, but Bakhita chose to see it as a sign of God’s love and favor. Although she knew nothing of Christ until she escaped slavery in her mid-teens, she had fond memories of her loving and loving family of origin.
After being bought as a slave by an Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan, and then brought to Italy, she was quickly drawn to the goodness and beauty of the Catholic culture she encountered there. Embracing the Catholic faith, she considered herself truly “lucky”, more than lucky. She says, “As a slave, I never despaired; I felt within me a mysterious force that supported me. Saint Bakhita could easily make the words of Saint Paul to the Galatians his own:For freedom, Christ has set us free, so… don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, rather serve one another with love(5:13ff).
Bakhita came to understand freedom in this profoundly new way. She knew how slavery crushed people, robbed them of their dignity, while freedom in Christ set them free, not only from physical oppression but especially from the spiritual oppression of selfishness and sin.
Bakhita took Jesus’ words to heart,Anyone who puts their hand to the plow and looks at what is left is not worthy of the Kingdom of God(Lk 9:62). She constantly found reasons to be grateful to God, not looking back with anger or regret at what had been stolen from her as a child, but discovering with joy, each new day, the gifts of mercy and love. of Jesus, the Lord and Master of his life. Thus, when offered a small crucifix, Bakhita wrote:When he handed it to me, I noticed that he was kissing it with great devotion. He explained to me that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and that he had died for us… I remember that while looking furtively at the crucifix, I felt a strange feeling that I could not explain… ” She was watching Jesus using his freedom, not to save himself but to save others. His heart yearned to know more about him and his freedom.
The Canossian Sisters of Italy helped her discover this freedom put at the service of love. Bakhita wrote,
“…the Holy Sisters…helped me to know God, whom I had experienced in my heart since childhood, without knowing who He was. I remembered how, as a child, when I gazed at the sun, the moon, the stars and all the beautiful things in nature, I asked myself, “Who is the master of all this?” and I felt a strong desire to see him, to know him and to pay homage to him. Now, at last, I knew Him. Thank you, my God, thank you.
As Bakhita’s knowledge of Christ grew, his gratitude overflowed and led to a childlike trust in Jesus as his loving Master and Lord. Gradually, she recognized a deep desire in her heart to become a bride of Christ by entering religious life in the institute that had treated her with kindness and respect, while teaching her the Catholic faith. However, seeing only Italian nuns in the convent, she wonders if a black woman from Sudan would be accepted as a member. It turned out to be no obstacle; the foundress of the Canossian Sisters was well known for her missionary heart. Thus, the door of religious life was opened to him and, putting all his trust in Jesus, Bakhita entered.
Looking back on her life’s journey, years later, she wrote: “When people hear my story, they keep saying, “Poor, poor. I am not a “poor thing”. I belong to the Master; I live in His house. It is those who do not belong entirely to the Lord who are “poor”.
If any of us today are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves, let us keep in mind these words of Bakhita: only those who are not one with Christ are “poor”.
Imagine, for a moment, Saint Josephine Bakhita, delighted to pray with the words of Psalm 16, our responsorial Psalm for today:
“Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge; I say to the Lord: ‘You are my Lord. O Lord, my portion and my cup, it is you who retain my lot… You will show me the way of life, the fullness of joys in your presence, the delights of your right hand forever’.