By: Fr. James E. Shea, C.Ss.R.
Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Wednesday is the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services.
Many stories are told about Catholic Priests and Jewish Rabbis. Well, one day a priest and rabbi happened to discuss the pros and cons of their respective religious practices. Of course the topic of repentance came up.
The Rabbi explained the solemn Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. It was a day of fasting and repentance. The Priest then explained the season of Lent. He said that it lasted 40 days, during which the Catholics were expected to pray, fast and abstain, and give alms.
When the Rabbi went home he told his wife about the conversation with the Catholic Priest. He explained how they discussed the merits of Lent versus Yom Kippur.
The Rabbi’s wife turned her head and began laughing. “What’s so funny, dear?” asked the Rabbi. His wife responded, “40 days of Lent – one day of Yom Kippur…so, even when it comes to sin, gentiles pay retail…”
Next Sunday we celebrate the feast of St. Gerard, the patron of our church. This week and next week I will write about the life of St. Gerard.
In southern Italy there is a little town called Muro. St. Gerard was born in that little town in 1726. His mother, a very pius woman, was the person mainly responsible for passing on the faith and planting the seeds of devotion. Gerard’s father died when Gerard was twelve years old. At a young age, Gerard became the breadwinner for the family.
Gerard began working for a tailor as an apprentice. Unfortunately the foreman at the shop was a harsh man. He often ridiculed Gerard, even beat him at times. After four years of endless nagging Gerard decided to walk away from tailoring.
Gerard went to work for the Bishop of Lacedonia. His friends tried to dissuade him but to no avail. Gerard was already living a holy life. He realized that he could grow in holiness as he worked for the Bishop. Whenever he had some free time Gerard would pray before the Blessed Sacrament.
Gerard had been working for the Bishop for three years when the Bishop died. Gerard then returned to Muro, his home town.
He began his own tailoring business. Business was good but Gerard did not make much money. He gave his money to his mother and sisters. What was left over he gave to the poor. Gerard was determined to live a holy life. He applied to the Capuchins bu was rejected. He lived a hermit for a while. That didn’t work out.
And then one day some Redemptorist missionaries came to town. They preached a mission at all three churches in the city. Gerard was also impressed by the missionaries that he expressed an interest in joining the Redemptorists. The missionaries were not impressed by Gerard. They told him to banish the thought of being a Redemptorists. Gerard nevertheless, continued to plead with the missionaries.
Before the missionaries left town Father Cafaro spoke to Gerard’s mother. He asked her to lock Gerard in his room so he would not follow them. Strange as it may seem, his mother locked his door. But Gerard was resourceful. The door was locked but the window was open. He tied his bedsheets together and lowered himself down to the ground. He then ran twelve limes to catch up to the missionaries.
Upon reaching the missionaries Gerard again begged to be accepted by them. He said, “Take me on; give me a try; then send me away if I’m no good.”
Father Cafaro finally relented. He suspected that maybe just maybe, Gerard’s persistence was God speaking. So, Father Cafaro sent Gerard to the Redemptorist community in Deliceto. Father Cafaro wrote to the superior in Deliceto: “I’m sending you another Brother, who will be useless as far as work is concerned…”
The Redemtorists in Deliceto lived a strict religious life. Gerard felt most comfortable living this lifestyle. He was able to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament. He developed a deep devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Gerard took his first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience on July 16, 1752. It was the feast day of the most Holy Redeemer. It was also the feast day of the most Holy Redeemer. It was also the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
(Next week I will continue the story of this ‘useless brother,’)
Fr. Jim Shea, C.Ss.R