Josephine Bakhita’s Master

In his letter on Christian hope, Pope Benedict XVI undertook to explain something that we tend to take for granted. That is, how we came to have a concept of God that gives us hope.

St Josephine BakhitaThe pope illustrated his point with the life story of St. Josephine Bakhita of Sudan. She had become a slave at age nine. Her multiple masters beat her mercilessly. One branded her by cutting ownership symbols into her skin and filling the wounds with salt. Then Josephine got caught up in the Sudanese civil war.

As a girl, Josephine never heard anything about Jesus and the heavenly Father. Until she was thirteen or fourteen. But when she learned from some nuns about Christ, and His love—His love for the Father and for all the Father’s children—Josephine realized that this was the true God Whom she had always longed to know.

Pope Benedict put it like this:

Bakhita came to know a different kind of ‘master’—the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time, she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her. Now she heard there is a master above all masters, the Lord of all lords. And that Lord is good. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that He had created her, that He loved her… This master had Himself experienced being flogged and was now waiting for her at the Father’s right hand. Now she had hope.

Here’s how Josephine explained her awakening to God: “I am definitely loved, and no matter what happens to me, I am awaited by this Love. So my life is good.”

Josephine’s encounter with the nuns led to her liberation from slavery. She herself became a nun. She lived in Italy through World War II and died 72 years ago today.

Now, speaking of anniversaries: here in Virginia we commemorate the fourth centenary of African slavery in the Commonwealth. It began in 1619. It became one of the basic foundations of the state’s economy and culture.

I don’t think the meltdown at the Richmond state house is a tempest in a teapot. Speaking for myself, it has rocked my own sense of who we are in this state and how we can understand ourselves. We need to find a way to face reality that involves neither unsustainable self-righteousness nor a willingness to excuse the inexcusable.

Seems like the Lord is watching out for us. He has given us the anniversary of St. Josephine Bakhita’s holy death right when we need it. We can tackle the very long, and very difficult, sorting-out process with a sense of hope–by starting from St. Josephine’s love affair with Jesus Christ.

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