Uncle Eddy's E-mails -- June 12
Saint Gaspar Bertoni, priest, founder of the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata of Our Lord Jesus Christ (entered heaven this day in 1835)
You’re beginning to sound like Chicken Little. Every note you send me whines and bemoans the horrible condition of the church in your diocese and the rampant ignorance of your fellow Catholics and the benighted incompetence of your bishop… If I only had your letters to go by, I would have to conclude that God has utterly abandoned that corner of the world. Luckily, I also have other things to go by, like Church doctrine, like faith, like history, and like the example of today’s saint.
He grew up in northern Italy, near Verona, receiving a good education in the faith from his family and his local pastors. When he received First Holy Communion, God granted him a special interior revelation that his vocation was to be a priest. Unlike many of us, he was quick and docile in response to God’s invitation; he joined the seminary as soon as he could.
While he was still preparing for ordination, Napoleon conquered northern Italy, occupied it, and even made his way south and kidnapped the Pope. The military campaign around the Republic of Venice cut a wide swathe of misery and destruction (as such campaigns tend to do), and Gaspar felt moved to start a Gospel Fraternity for Hospitals to help tend the sick, the wounded, the homeless, and those suffering from the plague (always a companion of war in those days).
After he was ordained, he served as chaplain, confessor, and spiritual director to numerous clergy and religious, including two founders of religious orders, and to his diocesan seminary. He was a popular preacher, and was always looking for more projects to take on for the benefit of the Church and the poor. He organized free schools for underprivileged youth, and in the aftermath of the Napoleonic fiasco, he founded his own religious order, the Stigmatines, to serve as “apostolic missionaries for the assistance of bishops”, an idea that later received the stamp of approval from the Pope – St Gaspar wanted to provide practical and substantial help for the bishops in rebuilding a church that war and ideological oppression had severely undermined.
God granted him mystical graces in prayer. After one ecstasy that occurred as he prayed in front of a crucifix, he suffered an attack of “military fever” that brought him to death’s door. He recovered, but for the remaining 41 years of his life he was a physical wreck. Later, he developed a strange infection in his right leg that eluded doctors even after 300 surgical interventions – he was sharing in his own body the sufferings of his Savior. But such difficulties couldn’t keep him from building the Kingdom, and while he lay confined to bed he continued to serve as spiritual director for the members of his Institute, for other clergy and laity, and for directors of various charitable institutions. Among his last words were, “I need to suffer,” a clear sign that his life of self-denial and prayer had taught him the greatest wisdom of all, the wisdom of the cross.
Sorry for rambling, but my point, I trust, is clear. The Napoleonic era was, I daresay, equally if not more threatening for the Church than the present evil. And God is not unaware of the threat. And just as he raised up saints like Gaspar to defend his Kingdom in past times of crisis, he will raise up new saints to do so in our day. Frankly, my precocious nephew, I have always thought you would be one of them, but don’t let that go to your head – rather, let it throw you to your knees.
Your devoted uncle, Eddy
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