Healing the whole person: transformation through suffering
Updated: Feb 18
The word “healing” gets thrown around in society nowadays in ways that make us forget the substance and meaning of the word. In 2021, Google’s top trending search was “how to heal,” which indicates the Holy Spirit is working in all of us and leading us to freedom. Some call this a waking up of consciousness, others believe we are all one body and it’s the natural order of progression, and some even believe it’s a part of our biological evolution to gain control of our powerful abilities to heal ourselves from the inside out.
For those who are suffering – emotionally, mentally, physically – the concept of healing can seem so far out of reach, not possible for all but only available to those with resources, financial stability, accessibility, and exposure to the right people at the right time. But the truth is, we all have access to God, and he is a loving God who understands and knows our pain more than we can comprehend. The body’s capability to heal itself constantly astounds doctors, scientists, and researchers. Knowing this, we still tend to bargain with God in the midst of suffering: “If I only had ____ I could be of better service to God, myself, and the world around me”; “I will be happy when I heal from ____”; or worse “My body has failed me, I can’t even do what God designed me to do”. St. Josephine Bakhita rejected those ideas by her example of transformation through suffering on her way from slavery to sainthood.
St. Josephine Bakhita
Born in Sudan in 1869 under the humiliating conditions of slavery, Bakhita was sold and resold in the markets of El Obeid and Khartoum until she was bought by an Italian Consul, Callisto Legnani.1 The Consul was forced to return to Italy due to political strife in the region, and Bakhita obtained permission to go to Genoa, Italy with Legnani and his friend Mr Augusto Michieli. After pressure from Michieli’s wife, Legnani left Bakhita with them and when their daughter Mimmina was born, Bakhita became her babysitter and friend.2 While the Michielis were forced to move after an acquisition of a big hotel in Suakin on the Red Sea, Bakhita and Mimmina were entrusted to the Canossian Sisters of the Institute of Catechumens in Venice.
“Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars. I said to myself: Who could be the Master of these beautiful things? And I felt a great desire to see Him, to know Him, and to pay Him homage.” (St. Josephine Bakhita)
The Canossian Sisters were a blessing from God that led Bakhita to build a deep faith upon the foundation she had experienced in her heart since she was a young child, without knowing fully who He was. After months in the catechumenate, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation and her name was changed to Josephine. Walking with the Lord all those years, she rejoiced deeply in dedicating her life to God and was often found kissing the baptismal font and saying, “Here I became a daughter of God!”
When Mrs Michieli returned from Africa to take Minnina and Josephine back, Josephine expressed her desire to stay with the Canossian Sisters to serve God, who had shown her so much evidence of His love. By that time, Josephine had come of age and enjoyed the freedom of choice, safeguarded by Italian law. On December 8, 1896, Josephine Bakhita was consecrated forever to God in the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa. She was a witness of God’s love and was known for sharing her humility, simplicity and constant smile, winning over the hearts of many.
“Be good, love the Lord, and pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!” (St. Josephine Bakhita)
Transformation through suffering
We cannot compare our pain and suffering through infertility to the suffering St. Josephine Bakhita endured but we can look to her exemplary transformation through suffering. If St. Josephine Bakhita, despite her painful experiences, rejoiced in God’s love and exalted in God throughout human trafficking, torture and the horrific cruelty of man as a young child, then we too can seek the strength inside of each of us to endure whatever it is we may face on this journey. Perseverance, endurance, patience and an understanding of the depths of God’s love and our identity in Christ are great blessings, and truly all we need in this life.
No, it’s not easy. And no, it does not come naturally. It must be fought for in the same way Jesus fought and continues to fight for our hearts against the evil forces that try to bring us down every day. It’s not foolish or unscientific to believe in this type of divine love: it aligns our mind, body and soul to the way God created us. The Master of Science himself. I’m not talking about the kind of Father that Michaelangelo depicts in the Sistine Chapel. I’m talking about a God who is so omnipotent and omnipresent that we will not understand his works unless we walk in faith. Unrelenting, crazy faith that makes people around us think we might be losing it. If we avoid it – if we don’t walk through it, abiding in the call that comes from within us – it will come back roaring in a different face. Walk hand in hand with God like St. Josephine Bakhita did, and I truly believe with all my heart and soul that you too will be led to freedom.
St. Josephine Bakhita novena
The feast of St. Josephine Bakhita is on 8th February. Join us in praying this novena (beginning on Sunday 30th January) leading up to her feast day, asking this divine daughter of St. Magdalene for her intercession in our lives. Maybe we can unite our intentions to transform our suffering for the common good, rather than focusing solely on praying for a child. I pray this novena is fruitful for you.