In my word to you last week I highlighted the significance of the role of our Redemptorist Saints and Blessed, who shape our Redemptorist spirituality and our experience of living in a Redemptorist community. This is a gift that we do not wish to keep to ourselves, but want also to be a part of all our Redemptorist parishes throughout the world.
Today we celebrate another very significant Redemptorist feast, that of St Gerard Majella. I say this not because I happen to be named after him! His real significance is that he was a Redemptorist brother, and one of the earliest companions to our founder, St Alphonsus Liguori. Ever since, it has always been clear to us that belonging to the Redemptorist community is first and foremost being a community of brothers who serve the Church in a variety of ways. We have living witnesses to that here in our own parish at Holy Redeemer with the presence and the service of Br Richard and Br Gavin. They serve our Redemptorist community and our parish in so many ways, such that we would be much impoverished without their presence amongst us. This is why I constantly remind you that Holy Redeemer parish is not served simply by the parish priest and assistant priest, but by the community as a whole. Today gives us an opportunity to reflect on the great gift of St Gerard Majella, and to give thanks to the brotherhood of the Redemptorist community.
St. Gerard Majella was born in Muro Lucano, Italy, on April 6, 1726, into a poor family. From his parents Gerard learned the love of prayer and sacrifice. When his father died, Gerard, being the only son, had to provide for his family by working as a tailor. At age 14 he sought to enter the Capuchin friary but was rejected because of his poor health. After a short time as the domestic servant of the bishop of Lacedonia, he returned to tailoring but earned a minimal income.
In April 1749 after attending a Redemptorist mission in Muro, Gerard succeeded in getting himself accepted by the congregation. Following a trial period and a year of novitiate in the house at Deliceto, he professed religious vows on July 16, 1752. Gerard was noted for his observance of the Redemptorist rule and collecting money for the material needs of the community. His presence to people who were weighed down by poverty and illiteracy was a sign of hope to them. Gerard had great empathy and testified to trust in the love and the compassion of God.
During his five years as a lay brother in the congregation, Gerard was remarkable for his apostolic zeal, patience in sickness, love for the poor, deep humility in the face of false accusation, heroic obedience, spirit of penance and constancy in prayer. He wrote numerous letters of spiritual direction. The Lord favoured him with many spiritual gifts, including prophecy, the reading of people’s hearts, and the gifts of miracles. He died at Materdomini on October 16, 1755. He was just 29 years old.
Gerard was beatified by Leo XII on January 29, 1893, and canonized by St. Pius X on December 11, 1904. He is invoked as patron of mothers, especially in time of pregnancy. Couples hoping to conceive a child also seek St. Gerard’s intercession.
One particular miracle explains why Gerard became known as the special patron of mothers. A few months before his death, Gerard visited a family and accidentally dropped his handkerchief. One of the girls spotted the handkerchief moments after he’d left the house and ran after Gerard to return it. “Keep it,” he said to her. “You may need it someday.”
Years later, when the girl—-now a married woman—-was on the verge of losing her life in childbirth, she remembered the words of the saintly lay brother. She asked for the handkerchief to be brought to her. Almost immediately the pain disappeared, and she gave birth to a healthy child. Word of the miracle spread quickly. The mothers of Italy took Gerard to their hearts and made him their patron. At the process of his beatification one witness testified that he was known as the saint of happy childbirth.
May St Gerard Majella intercede for our families and our parish today.
Fr Gerard, CSsR