--It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
There was a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne…It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five.
~A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
Brothers and sisters, maybe that was not 1775, maybe it could be describing us today.
In 2 Corinthians 3-5 we read a perfect description of the Saint we are honoring today (March 23)
3. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement,*
4 who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.
5 For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.
No words could describe our saint better today
I the Gospel we read in Luke Chapter 10 Verse 37
37 He replied, 'The one who showed pity towards him. Jesus said to him, 'Go, and do the same yourself.'
These are two perfect passages to describe the Saint whose feast day is today March 23.
Saint Rafqa, also known as Saint Rebecca, was born in Lebanon on June 29, 1832. She was the only child of her parents. She was baptized on July 7, 1832 and named Boutroussieh.
Her parents were devout Christians and taught her daily prayers. By all accounts, her childhood was happy and simple, until she was just 7 years old and her mother, Rafqa died.
The death of her mother started a period of tribulation for Rafqa and her father, who soon experienced financial difficulties. Rafqa was sent to work as a domestic servant for four years to help support the family. During that period, she worked in Damascus, away from her father.
In 1847, she returned to find that her father had remarried and his new wife desired that Rafqa marry her brother. At the same time, an aunt wanted to arrange a marriage between Rafqa and her cousin.
Rafqa was left to decide what to do with herself, split between two potential suitors and under pressure from family to make two different choices. She turned to prayer and asked God to guide her. Her answer surprised everyone. Rafqa would marry neither man, but instead would devote her life to Jesus and become a nun.
Rafqa traveled to the convent of Our Lady of Deliverance. According to legend, when she entered the convent and gazed upon the icon of Our Lady of Deliverance, she heard the voice of God tell her "You will become a nun."
The Mother Superior of the convent accepted her immediately, without question. Shortly thereafter, her father and his new wife arrived to try to dissuade Rafqa from her God-chosen path. She refused to leave and remained devoted to her vocation.
She was sent to another town to teach catechism. The town became the site of civil unrest and on one occasions he reportedly saved a child from murder by hiding him under her robes.
In 1861, she returned to her congregation and became a novice. On March 19, 1862, she took her temporary vows and was assigned to kitchen service in a seminary.
Rafqa spent her free time learning Arabic, writing, and arithmetic. She also helped convince other girls to join the congregation. In 1863, she continued working as a teacher, first at a school belonging to her congregation in Byblos, then Maad village where she
and a fellow sister established a new school for girls.
Following this early period, Rafqa repeatedly heard messages from heaven. When her order faced a crisis, god told her "You will remain a nun." And she heard the voices of saints directing her to enter the Lebanese Maronite Order. She obeyed.
Sister Rafqa took her solemn vows in the new order on August 25, 1872.
During her time, she was known to be quiet and contemplative. She was devoted to prayer and spoke little. She commonly made sacrifices and lived in great austerity.
In October 1885, Sister Rafqa made an unusual request of Jesus, asking to share in his suffering. She immediately began to experience pain in her head, which moved to her eyes. Her superior was concerned about Rafqa's pain and ordered that she be examined
by doctors and sent to Beirut for treatment.
As she passed through the nearby church in Byblos, the congregation made note that an American doctor was in the area. They located the doctor who recommended immediate surgery for Sister Rafqa.
During the surgery, she refused anesthesia, and the doctor made a mistake which caused her eye to emerge from its socket and fall to the floor. Sister Rafqa, instead of panicking, blessed the doctor, saying "For Christ's passion, god bless your hands and may God
The surgery did not succeed. Shortly thereafter, pain entered her left eye.
For the next 12 years, she experienced pain in her remaining eye and headaches. At no point did she reverse her wish to share in Christ's suffering. Instead, she remained joyful in prayer and patient in her suffering. She remained quiet for long periods, speaking infrequently, but always joyously.
In 1887, Sister Rafqa was sent with five other sisters to found a new monastery in Jrabta, Batroun in Lebanon. She did as she was asked, working patiently and diligently as she was able despite her suffering. In 1899, she became blind and paralysis set in.
Eventually she was confined to bed, mostly paralyzed and only able to lie on her right side. Her body withered, but her hands remained capable, and she used them to knit socks. A wound developed in left shoulder, which she referred to as "the wound in the shoulder of Jesus." This continued for seven years.
On March 23, 1914, she received her last communion and called upon Jesus and the Holy Family, then went to her reward in Heaven.
After she was buried in the monastery cemetery, a light appeared on her grave for three consecutive light and was witnessed by many.
In 1925, a case for her beatification was opened in the Vatican and the investigation into her life began in the year following.
In 1927, her grave was exhumed and she was reburied in the monastery church.
Pope John Paul declared her venerable on Feb. 11, 1982, and she was beatified on Nov. 17, 1985. She was finally recognized as a saint on July 10, 2001.
Pain, suffering and civil unrest, this was the fate of St. Rafqa. She did complain or curse her existence. Instead she made the most of it. This could be a great example for us today and the fate that we are experiencing now.
Are you right with God?
If the world ended today would you be ready or would you have been caught not being prepared?
Brothers and sisters, what should you take away from this reflection? This is a great question for you to ponder and here are four things you should think about.
First, learn to endure pain and hardships like St. Rafqa did. This is actually a good thing, it increases our faith in Him and we learn to turn to Him even more.
Second, we should learn to serve our Lord with all of our heart and mind. We all have a vocation and we all have talents. Put them to work for Him. Find yours. If you do not know now- pray, pray, pray. Once you find your vocation, serve, serve, serve. Do it like St. Rafqa did
Third- You are not the only person who has problems. Look around you - do we not all have problems? Problems are the real issue here, it is how we handle that problem that is the issue.
Fourth, just like St. Rafqa who lived during the civil unrest that was in the last 100 years of the Ottoman Empire, our world is changing right before our eyes today. There are more Christians being martyred today than in the past 2000 years. Many need our help today.This weekend our Church will have a special collection to help the Ukrainian people with humanitarian aid. They are currently engaged in trying to stop the Russians who invaded their country a month ago in less than six hours. So a country the size of Texas has held off the largest country in the world and a country with more nuclear weapons than any other country in the world. So far 25% of the people have been displaced and over 10% of the population has fled to other countries. Give, give , give, give. Give. Do this in honor of what is right. Do this in honor of St. Rafqa. Just do it. Amen