Fr.Martin Chittadiyil V.C.
Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12-13).
What does it mean to choose God? What does it mean to have a real encounter with God for the first time? Choosing God, from a prior hopeless way of life without God, we enter in to a new hopeful life with God. The encounter with God becomes redemptive and transformative because it offers assurance that our life will not end in hopelessness, meaninglessness or in emptiness.
The life of a slave turned saint, St. Josephine Bakhita, can to some degree help us to understand how our life is transformed when we choose God and when we have a real encounter with God.
Bakhita was born around 1869 in Darfur in Sudan, Africa. She was a happy girl surrounded by a loving and caring family. “Until I was nine, I never cried.” These words reveal how her early life was.
At the age of nine, her life turned upside down. She was kidnapped by slave-traders. She was beaten till she bled. She was cruelly forced to walk barefoot about 960 kilo meters. She was sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general. There she was flogged every day till she bled. As a result of the cruel torture she bore 144 scars on her body.
To understand the depth of her agony we have to know something about her name. Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents. The traumatic experiences she went through made her forget the name her parents gave her. The name, Bakhita, was given by her kidnappers. Bakhita means fortunate! They might have called her Bakhita, the fortunate, to insult the unfortunate slave girl.
In 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian Consul, Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, her story has a strange turning point. After meeting many terrifying masters earlier, Bakhita finally came to know a totally different kind of master. She used the name Paron for the new master. The new master was Jesus.
From knowing only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave, Bakhita came to know a Paron above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, loving and merciful. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her, that he actually loved her. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her at the Father’s right hand.
Now she had hope-no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me, I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was redeemed and transformed. She was no longer a slave, but a free child of God.
She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused. She did not wish to be separated from her Paron, from her Jesus.
On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters.
From that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions. The liberation that she had received through her encounter with Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her had to reach many, to reach everybody.
“Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
She was sick and suffering towards the end of her life. But she kept her graceful cheerfulness and immeasurable trust in God. If someone asked her how she was, she would smile and answer, “As the Master desires.” Bakhita died on 8 February 1947. On 1 October 2000, she was canonized and called Saint Josephine Bakhita.
Bakhita was a slave girl. One day, she met Jesus. She chose Jesus as her only Master. How did that encounter redeem her life? How did that meeting transform her?
Bakhita was sad and crying from the days she could remember. One day she met Jesus. She accepted him as her only saviour and redeemer. Then she told herself, “Bakhita, you do not cry anymore. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Bakhita’s heart was full of despair and resentment from the days she could remember. One day she met Jesus. She accepted him as her only saviour and redeemer. Then she told herself, “Bakhita, you do not be depressed and discouraged. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
Bakita’s heart was full of anxieties and fear from the days she could remember. One day she met Jesus. She accepted him as her only saviour and redeemer. Then she told herself, “Bakhita, you do not be afraid and scared. “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
Bakhita was a slave girl from the days she could remember. One day she met Jesus. She accepted him as her only saviour and redeemer. Then she told herself, “Bakhita, “You are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God” (Galatians 4:7).
A slave becomes princes when she has a real encounter with God. You and I get a new identity when we meet our God.
“One day someone is going to hug you so tight, that all of your broken pieces fit back together” (Anonymous)