31 January, Monday – Loving the Unloved

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. In the reflection for Saturday, 29 January — ‘Who’s da man?’, there was an erroneous reference to Namaan by the writer when it was meant to be Nathan (2 Sam 12:10-17). We apologise for the error.

31 Jan – Memorial for St. John Bosco, priest

St. John Bosco (1815-1888) was the son of Venerable Margaret Bosco. His father died when he was just two years old, and as soon as he was old enough to do odd jobs, he did so for extra money for his family. Bosco would go to circuses, fairs, and carnivals, practise the tricks he saw the magicians perform, and then present one-boy shows. After his performance, while he still had an audience of boys, he would repeat the homily he had heard earlier in church.

He worked as a tailor, baker, shoemaker, and carpenter while attending college and the seminary. He was ordained in 1841. He was a teacher, and he worked with youth, finding places where they could meet, play and pray. He taught catechism to orphans and apprentices, and was chaplain in a hospice for girls.

He wrote short treatises aimed at explaining the faith to children, and then taught children how to print them. He was a friend of St. Joseph Cafasson, whose biography he wrote. He was confessor to Blessed Joseph Allamano. He founded the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) in 1859, a community of priests who work with and educate boys, under the protection of Our Lady, Help of Christians, and St. Francis de Sales. He founded the Daughters of Mary, Help of Christians, in 1872, and the Union of Cooperator Salesians in 1875.

  • Patron Saint Index

2 Sam 15:13-14,30;16:5-13

Mk 5:1-20

“Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you.”

The gospel story of the Gerasene demoniac not only teaches us about the power and authority of Jesus to liberate people from the clutches of the devil, but also the love, mercy and pity that the Lord has on all who call upon His name. The story shifts from its focus on a possessed man, to the sacrificial herd of swine, to the people of the area, and back to the liberated man. As much as it seems like the topic is on Jesus’ ability to rule over spirits, the passage is really about the salvation of man. Christ cares deeply about each one of us, the same agape love that our Heavenly Father showers upon us by sacrificing His son for our salvation. Even though we mere mortals aren’t capable of such unconditional love, as Christians, we are called to be an image of Christ and to imitate His love in our own imperfect ways.

What caught my attention particularly in today’s gospel is the description of how the possessed man was frequently bound with shackles and chains even though none of them could effectively restrain him. Night and day, he was crying out and bruising himself with stones. In our present time, it would be unthinkable to subject anyone to such forms of restraint. However, these practices were quite common just a few decades ago. I recall a book that I read from the late Jean Vanier titled ‘Becoming Human’, which encapsulates the early beginnings of communities for people with intellectual disabilities. Jean Vanier, is the founder of L’Arche, which is a network of communities across the globe for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, and those who wish to support and learn from them. Through this ministry, Vanier wrote about his insight into what it means to become human. In the book, Vanier cites the predicament of these differently-abled people back in the 60s, where the general public was severely lacking in the understanding and handling of the intellectually disabled. Cases where parents abandoned their child with disabilities were not uncommon; societies did not view mental sickness as a form of illness that could be managed, thus many of these kids ended up in asylums and mental institutions. Accordingly, caretakers and nurses of these institutions weren’t trained to handle such illnesses, hence many of the patients ended up being chained to their bedposts for their entire duration in the institutions. The severe lack of understanding of such intellectual disabilities back in those days resulted in gross mistreatment in many institutions; derogatory terms such as ‘crazy’ and ‘mental’ were not unheard of.  

Drawing the comparison to today’s gospel, the underlying conditions of the people involved were drastically different, even though similar methods of restraint were applied. The ignorance and lack of empathy resulted in many of these patients suffering inhumane abuses. It took decades for civilization to gradually understand more about mental illness and disabilities and ensuring that these sufferers were integrated into the society instead of being pushed to the fringes or locking their existence away. However, recognising these disabilities as a form of illness and learning about such medical conditions is only enough to achieve a civilised social order. True healing and salvation for the special needs can only come via the liberation of the human heart from oppression and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others. By building genuine relationships with people who have been marginalised from normal society, and by sharing our lives as an integrated community, it will in fact enable us to appreciate the marvels of belonging where one can grow to love others while discovering their strengths and weaknesses. Jesus healed the sick and enabled their reconciliation with the society not just through his powers and authority, but more importantly, through his love for the oppressed and marginalised. In today’s context, Jesus continually challenges us to ally ourselves with the excluded, as the path of love is the only gateway to true liberation and healing, as opposed to control and restraint.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Dylan Tan)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, we pray for all the communities assisting people with intellectual disabilities, for the gift of volunteers and staff; that all who are involved in this unique vocation will find the support and encouragement they need to help them integrate fully with the other facets of society, so that they too can experience the love that is truly unconditional. Give us the will and strength to accept the differences in individuals and heal us from our past experiences. May you shower your comfort upon us and give us the peace that transcends all understanding. Amen.     

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for all the blessings that you have brought into our lives. Help us to recognise that every human being is a wonderful and unique creation of yours, each with his/her own gifts and purpose on this earthly journey. May you constantly remind us to treat one another with respect and dignity.

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