Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Holy Innocents - The Founder of the Precious Blood Community


O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying, grant, we pray, that the faith in you which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
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Paralleling the suffering on the innocent children of the environs of Bethlehem is the Flight of Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus into Egypt:

The Flight in the Desert

by Brother Antoninus

The last settlement scraggled out with a barbed wire fence
And fell from sight. They crossed coyote country:
Mesquite, sage, the bunchgrass knotted in patches;
And there the prairie dog yapped in the valley;
And on the high plateau the short-armed badger
Delved his clay. But beyond that the desert,
Raw, unslakable, its perjured dominion wholly contained
In the sun's remorseless mandate, where the dim trail
Died ahead in the watery horizon: God knows where.

And there the failures: skull of the ox,
Where the animal terror trembled on in the hollowed eyes;
The catastrophic wheel, split, sandbedded;
And the sad jawbone of a horse. These the denials
Of the retributive tribes, fiercer than pestilence,
Whose scrupulous realm this was.

Only the burro took no notice: the forefoot
Placed with the nice particularity of one
To who the evil of the day is wholly sufficient.
Even the jocular ears marked time,
But they, the man and the anxious woman,
Who stared pinch-eyed into the settling sun,
They went forward into its denseness
All apprehensive, and would many a time have turned
But for what they carried. That brought them on,
In the gritty blanket they bore the world's great risk,
And knew it; and kept it covered, near to the blind heart,
That hugs in a bad hour its sweetest need,
Possessed against the drawn night
That comes now, over the dead arroyos,
Cold and acrid and black.

This was the first of his goings forth into the wilderness of the world.
There was much to follow: much of portent, much of dread.
But what was so meek then and so mere, so slight and strengthless,
(Too tender, almost, to be touched)--what they nervously guarded
Guarded them. As we, each day, from the lifted chalice,
That strengthless Bread the mildest tongue subsumes,
To be taken out in the blantant kingdom,
Where Herod sweats, and his deft henchmen
Riffle the tabloids--that keeps us.

Over the campfire the desert moon
Slivers the west, too chaste and cleanly
To mean hard luck. The man rattles the skillet
To take the raw edge of the silence;
The woman lifts up her heart; the Infant
Knuckles the generous breast, and feeds.

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In some places today, it is possible to celebrate the optional memorial of St. Gaspar del Bufalo (1786-1837), founder of the Precious Blood Fathers, a community I got to know while I was serving as auxiliary bishop in Toronto.  Here is how the Catholic Herald presented him recently in their "saint of the week" profile:

The priest whose preaching was like a ‘spiritual earthquake’


Gaspar del Bufalo developed a special devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus and founded a Congregation of Missionaries in that name.

He was born in Rome on January 6, the son of Antonio Quarterione, cook to the Altieri family, whose palace was close to the Church of the Gesù. His birthday being the feast of Epiphany he was named after all three Magi; Gaspar, however, prevailed.

Through his mother Annunziata, the boy became fascinated by St Francis Xavier, “the Apostle of the Indies”, whose relics are displayed in the church of the Gesù. At seven he ran away from school with the ambition of being martyred while converting the heathen.

Instead he studied at the Collegio Romano. A minor seminarian at 12, he began to organise works of spiritual and material relief to the poor.

This charity was extended after Gaspar was ordained in 1808, when he began to concentrate his care upon the carters and peasants in the Campagna Romana.

The Roman church of San Nicola in Carcere possessed a piece of cloth supposedly from the cloak of the Roman centurion who had pierced Christ’s side while He was on the Cross. 

In 1808 one of Gaspar’s friends, Francesco Albertini, made this fragment of cloth, with its blood stains, the object of his special devotion. Gaspar became swept up in Francesco’s enthusiasm, and from that time the Precious Blood became the guiding inspiration of his life.

After Napoleon’s troops entered Rome in 1809, and Pope Pius VII was deported, Gaspar refused to take the oath of allegiance to the new regime. For four years he was imprisoned.

After Napoleon’s fall, Gaspar made his way back to Rome and placed himself at the service of the Pope. Pius VII delegated to him the not inconsiderable task of restoring religion and morality to Italy. It was after a preaching mission in Giano, near Spoleto, that Gaspar formed his Congregation of missionary priests, which would be formally approved by Pope Pius VII in 1815.

The Congregation was at first based on the church of St Felice at Giano. A second foundation was created in 1819, and a third soon afterwards at Albano, near Rome. Gaspar wanted a house in every diocese in Italy.

The Pope asked him to give especial attention to the Kingdom of Naples and the Papal States, where brigands were rife. As time passed, however, Gaspard made an enormous impression throughout Italy

His preaching was described as “a spiritual earthquake”, which brought multitudes of conversions, not least among Freemasons. He also helped to inspire Blessed Mary de Mattias to found a parallel Congregation for women. 

After his death the fame of Gaspard del Bufalo spread beyond Italy, especially among the ultramontanists in France. He was canonized in 1954.    (

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