On All Saints' Day I mentioned the little "Saint's Lottery" we have here in the parish, and how it has been spiritually rewarding for some of our parishioners. Providence seems to be at work and the Lord is reminding us, as he does, of what the Saints mean for the Church and the faithful. Last year I drew out my own foundress, St Teresa of Avila, this year I drew out a Beata who really surprised me. Praying to her and about her in the last few days I see God is teaching me an important lesson at this time. Can I share?
My Patron for this year is Blessed Victoire Rasoamanarivo. You may not have heard of her: I had, but knew little about her. For one thing I am still struggling to say her second name - nearly there. She is Madagascar's first Beata and she was elevated to the altars by Blessed John Paul II in 1989.
Blessed Victoire was born in 1848 in the capital city of Antananarivo. She was a member of one of the noble families of Madagascar. Her mother was the daughter of the chief minister to the queen, her father was the brother of the commander-in-chief of the army. Her father died when she was young and her father's brother became head of the household and had an important role in raising his niece. The religion of her childhood was the native animist religion which also has a strong element of ancestor worship. Christianity was struggling on the island, and during Victoire's childhood there had been a terrible persecution in which many Christians had been martyred.
Around 1861 Victoire first meet the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny, she was sent to study at their school and here she encountered Catholicism at first hand. Observing the simple, devout life of the sisters and learning of Jesus she was converted and sought baptism. Her family were horrified, but despite their efforts to stop her, Victoire was baptised when she was fifteen years old. Her family threatened her with expulsion and told her that she could not be buried with her ancestors in the family tomb - the ultimate act of excommunication in Malagasy society. Victoire was not worried: "The missionaries will bury me with them", she replied.
Not long after her conversion she was given in marriage to the eldest son of the prime minister. She was not keen - she wanted to consecrate her life to Christ in the religious life, though the missionaries had advised her that things were dangerous enough because of her conversion, becoming a sister would make things worse for her and Christians on the island. She decided to remain a laywoman and live the Gospel in the world. Her husband, Radriaka, was a boorish creature. He was unfaithful, rough, a drunkard and an abuser. He continually attacked her verbally for her adherence to the Christian faith, joining his voice with many in Madagascar and at court who were scandalised by her Catholicism. She endured all these thanks to an intense life of prayer and service of others. As the years passed hearts were changed as Victoire, always serene, joyful and kind, emerged a woman who was willing to help others and could give very sound and wise advice. Her marriage disturbed many and she was advised, even by the queen, to divorce her husband because of his scandalous life. She refused: she was bound to him by the sacrament of marriage - she had managed to convince him to marry her in the Church. Besides, she said, how would it look if Madagascar's most prominent Catholic divorced her husband? Victoire's endurance bore fruit: she converted her husband just before he died.
In 1883 another persecution broke out and Catholic priests and religious were expelled from Madagascar. Before they left the Jesuit missionaries entrusted the tiny Catholic population to Victoire's care, and for three years she guided and protected the faithful, encouraging them to come to church for prayers every Sunday and to continue their catechetical formation and virtuous lives. Of all the trials she suffered in what would be three years of intense persecution, the greatest pain for Victoire was the absence of the Blessed Sacrament. When the missionaries and priests were allowed to return they found the Catholics to be vibrant in faith.
Victoire' last years were spent in prayer, voluntary poverty and helping the poor and the sick, particularly the lepers on the island. She was held in deep esteem by all, Christian and animist alike. She died on the 21st August 1894 after a brief illness. She was buried in her family tomb, but in 1961 her remains were transferred to the missionaries' cemetery; and then at her beatification her remains were entombed in a chapel dedicated to her in front of the country's Catholic cathedral.
Blessed Victoire was a source of consolation to her fellow Catholics in a time of great suffering. She herself endured many trials, meeting them with serenity, prayer and joy. Whenever people came to her almost overcome by the trial inflicted on Catholics she said: "Have trust in God!" And here is the lesson for me, and for all of us Catholics at this time. We live in a time when our deeply held beliefs are not just tested, but mocked, attacked and even becoming criminal as immoral laws are enforced. Here in Ireland more legislative acts are being introduced to the parliament which are repugnant not only to our Christian faith but also to basic, reasoning humanity. How do we cope? How we endure? When we are tempted to give up, how we overcome this temptation? We listen to Victoire: "Have trust in God!
As a priest called to teach the faith and strengthen the faith of my brothers and sisters, Blessed Victoire seems to me to be a powerful intercessor and friend. She loved the priesthood, assisted priests and offered her prayers and sacrifices to help her priests in their trials. I do sense providence in her being given as a patron for this year, and I suspect, well beyond. So if you are willing, please say a prayer for us priests today, and perhaps invoke Blessed Victoire for us. May she watch over all of us in our time of need and in these times of trial.