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Co-Cathedral of Castellammare di Stabia
Sunday, 15 April 2007


The words of the Gospel according to John, just proclaimed, return every year and help us complete the days of the Octave of Easter. As with all 50 days of this season, they are lived almost as if they were a single day, the one Octave Day on which every human being and the whole of humanity rejoices in the joy of their Lord and God.

For "this joy to be full" (cf. Jn 16: 24) for everyone, the Lord Jesus, "on the evening of that day" (20: 19), came and stood among his disciples and visited them again "eight days later" (20: 26).
In a certain sense, these textual references inaugurate the paschal rhythm of the Church which always, while awaiting the parousia, welcomes her Lord's coming, hoping from one Sunday to the next not only for another encounter with him, but for a better one.

The solemn Rite of Beatification of Mother Maria Maddalena Starace, Foundress of the Compassionist Sisters Servants of Mary, fits very well into this paschal context and undoubtedly paves the way to encountering the Risen One.

Today's biblical Readings unfold for us the vision of the Risen One; he presented himself to the Apostles in the splendour of his victory over death to confer upon them the task of spreading God's mercy: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven" (Jn 20: 22-23). The power of spiritual healing brought about in the real but invisible world of faith becomes visible through the power of the physical healing of the sick brought about also just by the shadow of a passing Peter, as the Acts of the Apostles reminded us in the First Reading (Acts 5: 15).

The vision of Christ that appeared to the Apostle John in the Apocalypse (today's Second Reading) pervades everything to assure us that he is "the First and the Last, and the living One" (Rv 1: 17-18).

For Mother Maria Maddalena Starace, Jesus was truly "the First and the Last, and the living One"; only think that on a single day she would continue her conversation with God sometimes for eight hours and at other times, for five. She directed her Institute on her knees before the altar, first telling the Lord of the life of each of the foundations and of her daughter's individual problems.

Since her childhood years, lived in the aura of her mother who was deeply devoted to the Sorrowful Virgin, the urge to an ever stronger interior relationship with Jesus had become firmly rooted in Constance's soul (our Blessed's name in the world).

It was Bishop Petagna, Pastor of the Diocese, motivated by holy zeal, who told her of the urgency to provide for young people's needs. Moreover, he showed no hesitation in entrusting to her the tasks of directing a group of young members of the Pious Union of the Daughters of Mary and of teaching catechism to young girls. The small group grew. The number of orphans increased, as did the number of girls eager to join in Maria Maddalena's apostolate, until in 1871 the new Institute of the Compassionists was approved.

Under the direction of the new Pastor, Bishop Sarnelli, Mother Maddalena completed her spiritual journey, ascending even to the heights of mysticism, training herself with rigorous ascetism and successfully giving her busy apostolic activity a deep motivation.

Her fundamental criterion focused on the conviction, which she instilled in her Religious and those she assisted, that success in nursing the elderly, educating youth and giving of oneself to those in need of help and comfort was bound to personal sanctification and deep union with God. In light of this approach, one can understand the reason for the vitality of the Institute she founded and for the way it took root on the various continents.

The Holy Father Benedict XVI recalled this in his first Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, referring to the primacy of charity in the life of Christians and the Church. And he emphasized that the privileged witnesses of this primacy are the saints, who made their lives a hymn to God-Love in thousands of different tones.

"In truth", the Holy Father commented, "the Church's entire history is a history of holiness, animated by the one Love whose source is God" (Angelus Reflection, 29 January 2006; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 1 February, p. 1).

Indeed, only in this way, through the supernatural charity that flows ever new from Christ's Heart, is it possible to explain the wonderful blossoming of holiness which can be noted throughout the 2,000 years of Christianity and which, in this region of Campania, "Campania felix" - as it is truly appropriate to repeat - became so abundantly fertile.

Bl. Maria Maddalena was predisposed from the age of 19 to the spirit of sacrifice and the willingness to be a victim of Divine Love by the shining example of St Margaret Alacoque, beatified by Pius IX in 1864.

The Heart of Jesus, the Victim sacrificed for us, united with the sorrow of the Heart of the Mother standing at the foot of the Cross, became the constant theme of Mother Starace's spiritual reflection. We can say that she spoke of it daily to her daughters, to urge them to be generous in making the sacrifices required to achieve deep union with God.

Mother Starace countered trials with prayer, acceptance of the Cross and abandonment to God's will. "One does not come down from the Cross", she wrote, "but rises when all is accomplished"; hence, her daring decision to build a church dedicated to the Heart of Jesus on the Hill of Scanzano. She succeeded but paid a very high price in sacrifices and humiliations, a price nonetheless crowned by the consecration of the Shrine by Bishop Michele De Jorio on 5 October 1908.

Thomas did not believe what the Apostles said: his diffidence may have been rooted in presumption or even in irritation at having missed an encounter with the Lord. Jesus came to meet him and showed him the marks of the nails. This was a very beautiful gesture which brought the Apostle's pride to a crisis. A few words sufficed and he was already on his knees, expressing his faith in the Resurrection: "My Lord and my God" (Jn 20: 28).

Many people today resemble Thomas, and we regret it: we would like Jesus to rescue us from difficulties by showing the marks left by his nails to those who disbelieve today; but no. Jesus has left us: he wants his Resurrection to be seen in the life of Christians.

Let us ask ourselves what arguments we offer to help others to believe? Faith needs witness, faith needs examples. The Beatification of Mother Starace reminds us that we too - like her and like all the saints before her - are called to present to the "Thomases" of our time the marks left by the nails, the wounds of charity, the price of service. Only in this way will we be disciples of the Lord and heralds of his Gospel of mercy.

May the new Blessed, Maria Maddalena, whom we venerate today and of whom the Diocese and the entire population of Castellammare may justly boast, show us what power faith, humility, self-sacrifice, complete detachment from personal interests, poverty and charity lived in accordance with the Gospel can exercise on God's Heart.

Let us learn from her to lift our gaze to the One who is the First and the Last, the Living One, in whose Name she sacrificed her life for the benefit of the poor, children, the elderly, and in whose spirit she taught her daughters, convinced that only by living in this way is it possible to be happy also on this earth.