This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Friday, March 23, 2012

March 23 -- Feast of Saint Rafqa

March 23 seems to be the feast of girls with unhappy childhoods.  Without dismissing the suffering of anyone, I submit that occasionally looking at the misery of someone else's life can boost our gratitude for the good things we have. 

A younger, healthier Rafqa
Saint Rafqa, originally named Boutroussleh, was born in Lebanon in 1832.  Her mom died when she was seven, and financial difficulties forced her dad to farm her out as a domestic servant when she was eleven.  She returned home at fifteen to discover that dad had remarried.  It's not surprising that Boutroussleh and her step-mom didn't much get along.  It was not helped when Step-Mommy suggested that Boutroussleh marry her brother. (I'm hoping this is the step-mom's brother, which would be creepy enough.)  An aunt also popped up suggesting that the girl marry her son -- Boutroussleh's cousin.  Marriage among cousins was common enough in the nineteenth century, but marriage schemes didn't seem like the best way to welcome a girl home after four years' service in someone else's house. Boutroussleh bolted for the nearest Mariamette convent and stayed there despite all the pleading and cajoling her dad (and step-mom) could bring to bear on her.

Rafqa, at left
Taking her mom's name, Sister Rafqa pitched herself into nunhood with enthusiasm.  She became a full sister of the Lebanese Marionite Order and spent twenty-six austere years at the St. Simon Convent.  Osteo-articular tuberculosis slowly demolished her body, but she considered this to be a form of communion with Jesus during his Passion (suffering before death).  She was losing sight in her right eye, and when ordered to get medical treatment, she submitted to surgery but would not accept anesthesia.  The surgeon accidentally popped the eye out entirely, dropping it on the floor, but she merely blessed him and wished him well.  Her left eye failed shortly after; her bones bulged from her body, which became thin skin wrapped over a contracting skeleton.  She was totally paralyzed for her last seven years, but continued to pray faithfully, grateful for the suffering that conjoined her with her Lord.

Sister Annunciata
By contrast, Blessed Asteria Annunciata Cocchetti had it easy.  Sure, both her parents died by the time she was seven, but her grandmother was around to raise her.  Ten years later, she opened a refuge for orphan girls in her grandmother's home, but six years after that, her grandmother died and Annunciata was forced to move in with her uncle.  She helped him raise his three sons (their mom was dead -- so many dead moms you'd think this was produced by the Disney Studios).  Uncle Charles kept trying to find the Right Guy for his niece to marry, but she already had her eyes on being a nun and a teacher.  Eight years later (she was thirty-one), she accepted a job teaching at a Catholic girls school.  Filled with enthusiasm for her work, she founded the Sisters of Saint Dorothy of Cemmo.  For four more decades or more (she lasted until 82), she was a tireless and faithful teacher and director of the Congregation of Sisters.

Sister Sibyllina
And last, we come to Blessed Sibyllina Biscossi.  another orphan who spent some years of her childhood working as a domestic servant.  Somehow she wound up blind by age twelve and was adopted by Dominican tertiaries (they didn't have the vows of clergy, but dedicated much of their lives and fortunes to service of God).  As a child, Sibyllina hoped that  devotion to Saint Dominic would restore her sight; as she grew older, she accepted blindness as part of her life's burden.  So she became an anchorite, more or less, closed up in a cell in the convent with a window for communication with pilgrims and visitors.  Anchorites are pretty unusual and folks tend to want to ask them about troubling matters.  She lived to be eighty years old, never leaving her cell, praying and counseling and communicating visions. 

Again, I don't want to dismiss the bad things that happen to people in the twenty-first century, especially here in the first world.  My problems, your problems, her problems -- they're all real too.  Demons are demons, the world over, through all time.  But if you weren't an orphan, if you're not blind, if no one's pressuring you to marry a relative twice your age, if your childhood wasn't spent as a domestic servant, if you're not paralyzed or walled up in a cell...

... then hey, at least you've got that going for you.

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