Redemptorist Rhapsody

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June 29, 2013 by lucieromarin

I don’t know about you, but I never think about Redemptorists. I mean, I know they exist, but I never think of them in terms of saints, and I’ve certainly never thought of them as boasting the kind of saint that I could learn from.

Gosh. Was I ever wrong. It’s often the lot of women to work hard and be forgotten; apparently, it’s the lot of Redemptorist priests as well. This week, for the first time, I read the life of Blessed Francis Seelos (none of the information on the internet does him justice), and I spent the rest of the week wondering how many others had, like him, given their lives to pastoral care and then been all but forgotten. Turns out, it was quite a few others. Turns out, they were Redemptorists, too. Okay, obviously if they’ve been beatified they haven’t been entirely forgotten; I mean they’ve been forgotten compared to their brothers in other orders. It’s a good thing that the blessed in Heaven desire nothing but God, because they’re sure not getting their share of thanks down here!

The first thing I notice about them is that many of their vocation journeys weren’t simple. Venerable Mother Maria Celeste Crostarosa chose and was accepted by the Carmelites; her monastery was suppressed, and she became a Visitandine. She then founded the Redemptoristines, only to be forced to leave her monastery, whereupon she began all over again somewhere else. For those of us trained to see vocation as a single, inert destiny – something like an glowing rock that must be ‘found’ and then held onto – her story is proof that this isn’t so. Furthermore, it shows that the outside forces that seem to ruin your life are not, in fact, necessarily doing so; in her case, in fact, her work came about, not despite unsought change, but because of it.

If you’re looking for saints with superpowers, the Dominicans win. If you’re looking for popular saints – despite St Therese – the Franciscans win. I’m going to say that if you’re looking for intellectual priest-saints, the Jesuits win…but if you’re looking for priest-saints of pastoral care, look to the Redemptorists. Perhaps this is because of their lives before the seminary? St Clement Hofbauer was a baker and servant; St Gerard Majella was a servant and tailor; Blessed Peter Donders was a weaver; though Blessed Gennaro Sarnelli had a doctorate in law by the age of 20, he was employed in a hospital for the destitute sick. The Redemptorist saints were loved by the poor, by farmers, migrants, women in childbirth, prostitutes, slaves, prisoners, lepers, and they loved these people in return.

Blessed Peter Donders spent over thirty years of his life as – as far as I can tell – the sole priest dedicated to the 600 lepers of Suriname; he volunteered to serve them and remained with them till his death. St John Neumann mastered 12 languages, not in the spirit of personal intellectual achievement, but so every migrant in his American diocese could have a priest to talk to. (Once, an elderly Irish woman, who had just had her confession heard in Gaelic, was heard to exclaim of her Czech confessor, “At last, they’ve sent us an Irish bishop!”). As bishop, he lived so simply and gave away so much of what was given to him that he was unable to change into a respectable pair of clothes when a priest chastised him for his shabbiness.

St Gennaro Maria Sarenelli, also living in great voluntary poverty (comparable to that of the Cure of Ars) used his stipends and the funds given to him by benefactors, to support women trying to escape from prostitution. Blessed Francis Seelos was called to the bed of a dying woman in the middle of the night; it turned out that he had been called to a brothel. He marched in, found the woman, heard her confession and remained praying with her and encouraging her until she died. When an anti-Catholic newspaper ran a lurid priest-in-brothel story, his only response was, “Oh well, a soul was saved.”

The same beatus had a keen sense of pastoral responsibility; his advice to a young priest was this: “The priest who is rough with the people does injury to himself and to others. Thousands reject the Church and perish in eternity simply because they have been badly treated by a priest.” This was in the nineteenth century, well before the so-called ‘Age of the Laity.’ Surely he’s the right intercessor for those who have left the faith because of the hurt done to them by indifferent clergy – or perhaps he’s the right intercessor for the conversion of said clergy!

The Redemptorists boast forgotten martyrs, too, and very recent martyrs at that. We’ve all heard of St Maximilian Kolbe and of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (even if people do persist in calling her St Edith Stein, which, I have to say, is not her name.) When was the last time you heard of these martyrs? Even those who weren’t martyred have stories to tell: Father Seelos – in another midnight bedside call – went to assist a dying woman, only to discover that that the husband who called him was lying; he was a member of the Know-Nothing movement and wanted only to beat a Catholic priest senseless.

So, the moral of the story is – other than that there are lots of saints I don’t appreciate properly – that evaluating your life by what others make of it is a waste of time. It’s especially a waste of time if you’re going to be a priest, because, in terms of wonder-working, you can’t compete with St Vincent Ferrer, and anyway, hardly anyone has any devotion to him, either. The most important lesson is that just because you’ve never heard of or experienced a particular kind of priestly holiness doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. And what other great souls have been borne of the Church, and what other great works have been done by Her children, of which we are entirely ignorant?

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