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St Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès
(entered heaven this day in 1914)
It moves my heart more than I can tell to read that you have opted for the mission trip to Ecuador instead of Daytona Beach again this spring break. I can guarantee you, with the certainty that only faith in God can give, that you will be FOREVER grateful that you made this decision. I would like to give you a whole list of advice, but I will limit myself to one: take advantage of the discomforts. You will, without doubt, experience some discomforts – maybe your sleeping quarters will be cramped, maybe there will be a lot of mosquitoes, maybe the weather will be jungular, maybe your plane will be delayed… Any number of things. But take advantage of them all. How? Simple. Just do what today’s saint did with her gargantuan sufferings.
St Rafqa was an only child of a Lebanese family, a faithful Catholic family that educated her in prayer and faith in the one true God. Her mother died when she was only seven. Soon after, her father sent her to work as a maid with a wealthy acquaintance, because he had run into serious financial difficulties. She grew up to be a hard-working, cheerful and very attractive young woman. So attractive was she, in fact, that upon returning home to live with her dad (who had remarried), two arranged marriages were flung at her almost immediately.
At that point she announced her desire to consecrate her life to God as a nun. Her dad would hear nothing of such a decision, and so she had to delay her entrance into the convent. But eventually she did enter. When she was 28, she walked out of her home and into the convent of Our Lady of Deliverance. She served God well in tending to manual labor and teaching duties in various places, always giving first priority to her life of prayer and contemplation. She often found herself in difficult situations, as for instance when she was teaching catechism to children in a war zone, and she risked her own life by hiding a boy under her robes so he wouldn’t be captured and tortured.
After 10 years of religious life, her Order was dissolved and melded into another order of nuns. At that point, following indications she received in prayer from St George, St Anthony of the Desert, and St Simon, she decided to enter the Lebanese Marionite Order. So, at the age of 38, she became a novice for the second time.
Fourteen years after this switch, she felt inspired to ask Jesus to grant her a share in his suffering. She went into the chapel, and her prayer was immediately answered by severe pains in her head and eyes. She spent the next twelve years becoming crippled and blind. By 1907 she was completely paralyzed. During her longsuffering illness, her superiors insisted that she receive medical attention, but notwithstanding numerous interventions (including an eye operation without anesthesia in which, at one point, the eyeball became completely detached from the head) her decline was steady and excruciatingly painful.
Only once, as she lay on her deathbed, did she ask Jesus for a slight respite. She longed to look on the face of her mother superior one more time before she died, so she begged her Lord for an hour’s worth of sight. It was granted.
So the point here, my intrepid and boisterous niece, is that as Christians our sufferings can be WORTH something, if we unite them to Christ’s sufferings. That was the price Love paid to redeem us, so you can join in the redemption if your faith leads you to pay the same price. And your faith will lead you to do so, at least a little bit, during your mission trip. Take advantage!
Your devoted uncle,