St Barbatus of Benevento

Confessor and Bishop (entered heaven on February 29th, 682)

Dear Barbara,

That’s not the only way of looking at it.  In fact, that’s a childish way of looking at it.  I mean, just think about it for a minute: “There are all kinds of tragedies in the world, suffering and injustice.  Therefore, God doesn’t exist.”  Does that really make sense?  Hardly.

It shouldn’t surprise you that God permits suffering – after all, look what he let happen to his own Son.  In fact, through his Son’s suffering he won our salvation.  So what you need to help your friend see is that God permits suffering, but he does so FOR A REASON.  Usually it’s because he really has something important to say to us, and he can’t get our attention in any other way.  That’s exactly what happened with today’s saint.

He was raised in an ideal Catholic family in the south of Italy, near Naples.  He loved Christ, and as soon as he was old enough, he began his studies for the priesthood (a pretty informal process in those days) and was soon after ordained.  He was noted for his remarkable piety and exemplary virtue.  He also had a particular gift for preaching, so his first assignment was to take a parish in the town of Morcona, which had a reputation for especially obstinate vice.

He preached as well as he could, and responded to the people’s alternating indifference and opposition with humility and perseverance, but to no avail.  In fact, the little progress he made through his charitable response to their violent insolence incited the vicious citizens to slander him.  This forced his retirement from the parish, and he returned to Benevento, where he was received gladly by those who esteemed his virtue and believed in his innocence.

But his preaching there didn’t do much better.  The town, though Christian in name, persisted in its deeply rooted superstitious practices of venerating a golden serpent and celebrating rituals linked to animal skins hung from a sacred tree.  Nothing the saintly preacher said or did could dislodge this idolatry.  Only when the Emperor Constans landed in Italy and laid siege to Benevento, spawning famine, sickness and strife, did the people start to listen to the remonstrations of their holy shepherd.  Finally the Word of God triumphed, and St Barbatus himself chopped down the tree and transformed the golden viper into a chalice, thus freeing the people from their false gods.

Let’s face it, the human heart in its fallen state is a hard heart, and it resists grace.  Sometimes only the reminder that this earth is not our final home – as painful as that reminder may be – can soften it enough to welcome the fruitful seed of God’s liberating love.

Your sympathetic uncle,


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