On October 21. 1808, at the church of St. Nicolas in Chains in Rome, a newly ordained priest preached a sermon on the Precious Blood at the foundation of a new lay community: the Confraternity of the Most Precious Blood. It was a surprise this young man was chosen, although he’d already proved himself a great speaker. His name was Gaspar del Bufalo, and this occasion and the association with the spirituality of the Blood of Christ, led him to found a Society of Apostolic Life seven years later: the Society of the Precious Blood.
Gaspar was a native of Rome: the son of a servant, born on January 6. 1786. At the age of three, he was cured of blindness by the prayers of his mother before the relic of St. Francis Xavier at the Gesu church; this saint was to become his idol for the rest of his life. Early on, he wanted to become a priest and finished his studies so quickly he was given a dispensation to be ordained at the age of 22 (26 is the youngest by Canon Law). When Napoleon demanded the priests of the Diocese of Rome sign a loyalty oath to him in 1810, Gaspar said: “I cannot, I must not, I will not,” and spent the next four years in exile, relocated to a worse place every time afterward when he refused the oath.
He wondered what to do with himself after he was freed, and spent time preaching and working with the poor, until with the encouragement of Francis Albertini and the gift of an old monastery in Giano, he founded the community on the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1815. His community spread rapidly. Saint Vincent Strambi, a personal friend of his, said his preaching was like a spiritual earthquake. That earthquake reformed an entire town in central Italy called Sonnino (a story I told in this blog on 9/19 in my entry on Reconciliation).
He had more talents than preaching. He organized the renovation of a broken down monastery at Giano, San Felice, that served as the first headquarters of the community as well as its foundation site. He was a tireless worker for the poor and sick, and had a great talent for connecting resources and needs. The institute he founded had powerful opposition in Rome, and he had to go before three Popes to defend his work and keep his institute open. He turned down appointment as nuncio to Brazil, a move by his enemies to promote him out of business, and worked for the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. The model of mission preaching he organized included priest, brothers and lay people, and when his Mission Band arrived at a town, they reached out to everyone and every group. The geographic area he worked in personally was limited to central Italy, the territory of the former Papal States, and he did much to re-energize the faith of people disillusioned by the events of the Napoleonic Wars.
Although he never achieved his dream of becoming a foreign missionary like his hero, St. Francis Xavier, his community is spread throughout the world. He died in Rome, close to where he was born, on December 28, 1837. Since he was born on a major feast of the Church and died on another, his feast day falls on the anniversary of his great sermon that changed a great many lives, including his own.
The main focus of Gaspar’s preaching was the merits of the Blood of Christ. It is the source of reconciliation since its outpouring on the Cross washes away our sins. It is the source of a world wide community in the Church, binding us together every time we gather to share the Cup at the Eucharist, and flowing in the veins of all people, calling us to remember the dignity of all human life. It calls us as Church to be a people of justice, reconciliation, healing and solidarity; it isn’t an addition to basic Christianity, but a proclamation of Christ’s unconditional Love. This message changed my life, and is something the world needs very desperately right now.
Being a Missionary of the Precious Blood means (to me):
–finding prayer in the midst of distractions
–finding peace in the midst of conflict
–living compassion in a world set on vengeance
–living simply in a society of extravagance
–finding community in the midst of solitude
–feeling warmth and presence when cold and alone
–proclaiming Hope to those in despair
–proclaiming the cleansing power of Blood
–seeing how all who were far off are brought near through the Blood of Christ
–remembering all of the above are works in progress
Perhaps the greatest testimony to Gaspar’s occurred around fifty years ago. Blessed John XXIII visited the church of Santa Maria in Treviso in Rome, a small church just to the left of the Trevi fountain, where Gaspar’s remains lie today, to pray for the success of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope thought Gaspar represented many of the ideals he hoped would be expressed in the Council’s work. As we remember the Council, I think it’s a good time to think about Gaspar, what he preached and the vision he gave us of a world redeemed in the Blood of Christ.