21 Oct Monday
Today is the feast of St. Gaspar del Bufalo, 11786-1837) founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, born, raised, and ordained (1808) in Rome. He had a passion for preaching the Word, especially when inconvenient, and he worked with the poor. He dedicated himself to the reform of the clergy by gathering sincere priests into mission houses of prayer and communal support. He works with the laity to develop their roles in the Church. He was a prolific letter writer.
During his life Europe experienced traumatic changes; it was the Napoleonic Age of political wars, economic impoverishment of the masses, and the beginnings of the industrial revolution.
During this time, as St. Paul writes to Timothy this Sunday, he was “being poured out like a libation”. This is a single word in Greek, from which we get the word “spouse” in English. The word brings together both the sacrificial imagery of the Precious Blood and at the same time the vision of the spousal wedding feast of heaven and earth at the end of the Book of Revelation. This actually best reflects the devotional imagery of St. Gaspar and his work. The precious blood in the cup of blood that cries out at Eucharist for union, for love.
Also like Paul, St. Gaspar frequently had to defend his work in the development of a new kind of religious order, a Society of Apostolic Life, in the face of the Church, still governing the Papal States of central Italy. He experienced times of great loneliness even as he was in the thick of things.
Spousal imagery and sacrificial libation describe my own personal experience of being a priest, and I would guess that I’m not alone, and that married couples also grasp this powerful devotional imagery. We are with one another, hearkening to the cry of the blood and answering its call. Now how well or just how we do this is another matter altogether; perhaps the point is that we are just still first learning. Perhaps that can be enough.