St Agostina Pietrantoni

Virgin (entered heaven on this day, 1913, murdered)

Dear Maggy,

I know the weight of your studies is hard to bear; I know your schedule is overloaded; I know you want to pray more but can’t seem to find the time.  So in the first place, stop worrying. God is already extremely pleased with your good desires, which he planted in your heart and you have nurtured. Just you watch; he’ll make them bear plenty of his favorite fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.  You just need to trust him, keep doing your best, and learn a lesson or two from today’s saint.

Agostina had a lot to do as well.  She was a Sister of Charity (not Mother Theresa’s Order), and she worked in the tubercular ward of the Santo Spirito hospital in Rome.  Luckily, she had learned the art of hard labor growing up in the Italian countryside, where she helped take care of her nine brothers and sisters and her chronically ill father (who was almost crippled with arthritis), tended the cattle, hoed the fields, made shoes, helped with the Tivolian olive harvest, and lugged gravel for making roads.  Although leaving her family behind to join the convent made her cry, her love for Christ compelled her, and she entered religious life at 21.

When she was assigned to work at the hospital in Rome, her challenges only increased.  The state authorities had tried to secularize the hospital: they had removed all crucifixes and forbidden the sisters from speaking about God with their patients (so Sr Agostina had to let her actions do her talking).  Then she contracted tuberculosis, though she recovered after receiving viaticum. From then on, she asked to work in the tubercular ward, so she wouldn’t infect the other sisters. The tubercular ward was the most difficult.  The majority of patients were men, and criminals at that. They spat at her, insulted her, and even beat her, but she continued serving them, undaunted.

And that’s where she has a lesson for you.  She had a deep prayer life, but it wasn’t separate from her activity.  Her whole life formed a seamless act of love to Christ. For instance, she would write little notes to the Blessed Virgin and “mail” them by putting them behind a picture of Mary near her ward.  What do you think she wrote on these notes? Prayers for her patients, e.g. “Most Holy Lady, convert that wretched man whose obstinate heart I am not able to change and I promise to do two or three extra night duties in your honor.”  That was her attitude. Everything she did had one, unifying purpose: to glorify God and save souls. And that gave her peace, courage, and boundless energy. (She once commented to the sisters, “We will lie down for such a long time after death that it is worthwhile to keep standing while we are alive.  Let us work now; one day we will rest.”)

Can you reflect on that, pray about it?  Can you find in loving Christ a unifying principle for all your activities?  With St Agostina’s help and example, I’ll bet you can. And then, even if someday you have to face the ultimate challenge of bloody martyrdom (St Agostina was stabbed to death by a former patient who blamed her for his expulsion from the hospital), I am sure your heart will shine like a blazing fire, warming and illuminating everyone around you, including yourself.

Your devoted Uncle, Eddy

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