St Gerard Majella
One afternoon in May more than two thousand years ago a little band of Redemptorist missionaries stood on the ribbon of road that stretched from Muro, in Southern Italy to Rioneror. They were grouped around a tall, gaunt young man who had pursued them for miles. They knew well the delicate frame, the pale face, and the dark, eager eyes. The young man had pestered them all during the mission in Muro. Now he knelt panting in the dust of the country road and renewed his request to be accepted as a Redemptorist Brother.
Pityingly they shook their heads. One so delicate as he could never stand the hard life of a Brother. ‘Try me’ he persisted, ‘then you can send me away’. At long last, because of his persistence and reputation for virtue, they agreed. And back home his mother, who had locked him in his room to prevent him from following the Fathers found a rope (improvised from a bed sheet) dangling from an open window and on the table a brief note: “I have gone to become a saint”
Today in his native Muro there is a bronze statue of that young man. Become a saint he did, and his fame has gone out from Italy to the entire worlds as St Gerard Majella.
Gerard was the son of a struggling tailor. From his childhood he seems to have been specially marked out for divine favours, one of these ‘infant prodigies’ in the world of grace who early showed an extraordinary fondness for prayer, the Sacraments, fasting and long solitary visits to the church.
THE WORKERS’ SAINT
When Gerard was twelve, his father died. The boy was apprenticed to a tailor, a good employer, who did not interfere with the young worker’s prayers. But the foreman, a bully, cursed and beat the boy cruelly. Gerard took it all, literally, with a smile: ‘God’s hand is beating me. I deserve it’. He forgave the foreman and even shielded him from punishment. Later he accepted employment, which meant three years of drudgery and the lash of a bitter tongue, which hurt more than blows. Again there was no complaint. At twenty, Gerard was able to set up as an independent tailor, did his work well and cheaply, and showed himself strictly honest: ‘he never defrauded anyone off as much as a piece of thread’. And all the time there was unending prayer, fasting and, despite his none too robust health, penance’s whose mere recital causes a shudder among easy-going moderns.
Gerard was twenty-three when he made his dramatic and finally successful bid to become a Redemptorist Brother. He looked so frail that the Fathers thought he would prove *a useless Brother* as far as work was concerned. The monastery was poor, life was hard, but to everyone’s amazement Gerard did ‘the work of four’. He died before he was thirty, yet as though he were destined to serve as a model for every class of worker, he was in turn gardener, sacristan, cook, tailor, refectorian, infirmarian, carpenter, and doorkeeper. He was the ideal Brother—one who joined prayer and union with God to the work of his hands. A witness described him as ‘a man made entirely for God, unable to remain a single instant without God’.
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