St Rock

(entered heaven around 1350)

Dear Rick,

Glad to hear that you’re conscientiously gearing up for your senior year.  During this year, whether you like it or not, the buck is going to stop with you.  You’re one of the leaders there, by default, and the younger students will be looking to you for guidance, consciously or not.  You can do an immense amount of good simply by responsibly living out your duties as a Christian. If the frosh see you praying, it will be easier for them to make time to pray; if they see you balancing your social life, your studies, and your apostolate sensibly and elegantly, it will help them make wise use of their time; and if they see that you care just as much about them and the other students on campus as you do about yourself, it will encourage them to shed their own tendencies to immature ego-centrism.  You’ll need some inspiration to persevere in these good works – today’s saint can give it to you.

Rock (Roch in the French – he was born in south-central France – and Rocco in the Italian – he traveled extensively through Italy) was the son of a rich nobleman.  But he longed for more than earthly wealth could give. By the time he had finished his education at the age of twenty he had lost both his parents. He decided to dedicate himself to the only lasting value we can find in this world: Christ.  He sold all his goods and property, distributed the money to the poor, donned a drab pilgrim’s habit, and set off, barefoot, on a pilgrimage to Rome.

He didn’t get very far, though.  Once he made it into northern Italy he saw so much misery among the people, who had been suffering from a series of horrible, seemingly incurable plagues, that he set aside his own plans, rolled up his sleeves, and followed Christ’s commandment of love, loving his neighbor just as Christ had loved his disciples, by risking his own life for their salvation – since those who tended the plague stricken were most often contaminated themselves.  The risks didn’t deter him, however.

St Rock tended the hundreds of victims interred in the hospitals, but soon realized that there were many more who were suffering on their own, abandoned, so he went in search of them.  From town to town he spread the goodness of Christ. Many witnesses spread the news that Rock could even miraculously cure the victims merely by making the sign of the cross over them. Eventually he did make it to Rome, where he continued his work, his begging, and his daily prayers, now offered up at the tombs of the Apostles.

On his way back to France he finally caught the plague himself.  Instead of taking up a bed in the hospital, he retreated into the woods to die there, inconveniencing no one.  But a dog found him, and began to bring him food from his master’s table every day. Slowly the saint recovered, and when the dog’s owner followed the odd pet into the forest one day, he found the saint and took him under his care until he was fully healthy.  Before leaving, Rock baptized his benefactor – he always gave more than he received.

On his return trip he was arrested as a spy (there were a lot of inter-city wars going on in those days).  He didn’t resist the trumped-up charges, and spent the last five years of his life wasting away in a dungeon, where, finally, he was found dead (and his limp jailor was healed when he kicked the body to verify death).

Sometimes these heroic lives just make me shake my head and wonder: how did they do it?  But the answer is simple, which is why I have such high hopes for you to follow the same path of holiness: love Christ above all things, and love your neighbor as your self.  If that’s your motto this year, you’ll surely shine like the sun on a campus that could use a bit more moral light.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy


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