As Pope Francis desired during this year of Mercy, the feast of Saint Agostina which we are celebrating today, has assumed an entirely special meaning.
In fact, we can serenely enumerate the Saint of Pozzaglia among the Saints of Mercy; those Saints who across their lives have portrayed God’s love, love and perfect communion which is present among the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, to many persons who lived in their times, thanks to their example and their intercession. In fact, mercy means the love coming from the heart, from God’s paternal and maternal depths who chooses to stay close to our material and spiritual misery.
The meaning of God’s mercy has been clearly described by today’s Word of God.
God’s mercy resembles that of the shepherd that goes against any economic reasoning. He leaves the other 99 sheep to go and find the lost one. On finding it, he doesn’t kick her to make her join the rest of the herd, but he takes her in his arms, holds her close to his heart and goes away joyfully! Each time we are found by Jesus like the lost sheep, we should likewise rejoice and go out into the world and witness the Love which we have received.
A kind of love which is not witnessed by words but by Gospel facts, through charity – in the footsteps of Saint Agostina – like the woman in the Gospel who on finding the lost coin, calls her friends and neighbours and relates her joy to everyone. She probably even offered them something because she had found a big treasure which she had lost!
I mean that kind of mercy that resembles that of the father who had two sons. He gave his first son his part of heredity while respecting his freedom even to squander all his paternal goods. But in front of the son who returns not really because he was sorry, but above all because he was hungry and empty handed because he abused of his freedom and lived as if God didn’t exist, the father goes out to meet him, he fills him with dignity and suggests to him the house as the place of celebration and forgiveness. Mercy means also going out like the father towards his elderly son who can hardly forgive his sinful but repented brother. We sort of do the same thing when we pretend to be better than the others and we get annoyed when we see that the others are treated kindly and that our perseverance on the right path and our faithfulness to God are not acknowledged.
Mercy is the behaviour of a God who does n’t wait for us behind a table to guide us or even to forgive us but on condition that we return to him repented; but God, in Christ came out of himself, became sin for us and almost touched the limit of sin, died for us to redeem us and hence save us from sin. He gave us a new possibility to participate in Eternal Life.
Agostina (in baptism Livia), has strongly felt this Mercy across the example of an honest, laborious and religious family where they were used to do good. She received love, that family love which is so important even today so that the children may grow up happily without complications, capable to give themselves to the others and even ready to risk for the sake of love.
Out of love Agostina, a hard worker, wasn’t even afraid to take risks to defend the rights of her co-workers in front of the foreman who also existed in her times.
But God’s mercy which she personally felt, just as St. Paul felt it – although her situation was highly different from his (Agostina has never persecuted Christ and the Church ...) – urged her to give herself entirely to the Lord on the path of total self-giving as a religious. Thus at the age of 22, she joined the Sisters of Charity and was thus called to practice God’s love and mercy in the Hospital of Santo Spirito in Rome which was defined as “the gymnasium of Christian charity”. She personified and practiced love and mercy as she chose to come out of herself with the One who in a perfect manner came out of himself for our love – Christ- to the point of heroism.
In a climate hostile to faith – it was the time of the Roman question – while the male and female religious were sent away from the hospitals, the Crucifixes were removed and they rendered the life of the Religious utterly difficult to the point that they were prohibited to speak of Christ, Agostina, more with deeds than with words, across a silent presence but full of God’s mercy, continued to proclaim the Gospel, God’s mercy to the men and women whom she encountered. She thus proclaimed in the first place, God’s love among the children, then among the tuberculosis patients where she contracted the disease and then by loving the poorest patients, the violent and vulgar sinners such as Romanelli, who in front of Agostina’s love, patience and forgiveness will kill her on the 13th November 1894. As she was dying he was even forgiven by Agostina herself and received the same mercy which she had received from God. Dear brothers and sisters, we too, must always be merciful with everyone, especially with those who are mostly in need of mercy!
Sure, Agostina didn’t only practice mercy but she implored it for her and for the world, for her and her patients, for her and especially for the biggest sinners, precisely as Moses did when he asked God to forgive the elected people, whom God led towards freedom, towards the promised land, while the people were building their false idols, the golden calf in order to live as if God didn’t exist.
Dear brothers and sisters, compatriots of Saint Agostina, dear Sisters of Charity, the Saints’ Sisters, dear nurses, personnel who works in the hospitals and who today are here to honour your Holy Patron, let’s try and ask ourselves if we feel loved by God. If we don’t feel it, let’s try and look at our sins, at our miseries and ask God to forgive us. He always forgives us, in case – as the Pope often repeats – we are the ones who tire to ask him to forgive us...
Full of mercy, let’s ask God to make us capable to proclaim it to the others as we go out of ourselves to go towards them in order to find ourselves again. Let us decide to do it not only by words but concretely, by being patient and competent in our work, across our mutual relationships, with charity, forgiveness, with the joy which we receive whenever we are forgiven and when we forgive; when we are loved and when we love, so that everyone may find in us - devoted of St. Agostina, Christians who are capable of living the joy of the Gospel and of transmitting through honesty of life and our promises, through faithfulness to God who loves us – God’s love and Mercy, hence creating those small spaces of pardon and mercy, of peace and joy, which, if we put them near each other, they will create by time, that small world which we all need more than ever before.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and St. Agostina intercede for us. Amen.
Mauro Parmeggiani - Bishop of Tivoli
Homily for the feast of saint Agostina Pietrantoni - Pozzaglia Sabina, Sunday 11th September