Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
On this day, we hear the interesting story of St. Joseph and how God sent him a dream so that Joseph would know what to do with his life (Matthew 1: 18-24).
The story begins with Joseph learning that his new wife, Mary, was pregnant. This was quite a shock for poor Joseph, for he had not had relations with her. Because he loved Mary and didn’t want to expose her to shame, he decided to divorce her quietly.
God, however, had other plans. While Joseph was asleep, God sent an angel to Joseph in a dream. The angel said that Joseph was to take Mary into his home. The angel then explained to Joseph that Mary had gotten pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and that she would bear a son. She and Joseph were to name him Jesus.
When Joseph awoke from his dream, he did exactly as the angel directed.
Unlike Joseph’s story, you and I don’t get an angel to come to us in a dream and tell us our vocation. Rather, we must discern it from the many clues that God puts into our paths. And even when we discern carefully, our paths don’t always turn out in the ways we expected. That is what happened in the fascinating life of a man named John Colombini who lived from 1305 to 1367.
John Colombini was born in Siena, Italy in 1305.
When he grew up, he got married, had a daughter, and became a successful businessman and a senator. He threw himself into making money and getting ahead in the material world.
When he was about 50 years old, however, he became enchanted with religion. Specifically, he was touched by the life of St. Mary of Egypt in a Lives of the Saints book that his wife had given him.
Soon, John began to give away large sums of money to the poor and spent several hours a day in church praying. He also threw himself into nursing the sick and caring for the poor. In fact, he began taking sick people into his house to nurse them, so that soon his house became more like a hospital than a home. This was all too much for his long-suffering wife. So, John made financial provisions for her and their daughter, and John began nursing full-time in the city’s hospitals.
He, and a likeminded former merchant, Francesco di Mino de’ Vincent, joined forces. Soon, other men were attracted to John and Francesco and joined them in their care of the sick. Unfortunately, the Siena city fathers became alarmed at the success of this unofficial religious community and banished them from Siena.
So, John left Siena with some of his followers and moved to other cities and villages. In the city of Viterbo, they became known as Gesuati – or Jesuats – because of their devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus and their frequent cry of “Praise be Jesus Christ!” Happily, the city of Siena eventually welcomed John and his followers back to Siena when an epidemic of bubonic plague broke out, and the city desperately needed the nursing and burial services of the brothers.
When Pope Urban V passed through the area in 1367, he received John and his companions and recognized them as a new religious community called “Apostolic Clerics of St. Jerome.”
This group was to be composed of lay brothers who led a life of great austerity and who devoted themselves to nursing the sick and burying the dead in little groups in towns and villages. A female branch of cloistered nuns was formed by John’s cousin, Blessed Catherine Colombini, and named the Sisters of the Visitation of Mary.
A few days after his group had received papal approval, Brother John died on July 31, 1367 as his fellow brothers were taking him back to Siena.
His congregation flourished until 1688, and the nuns continued until 1872.
Blessed John Colombini’s feast day is July 31st.
Today, God guides each of us on our life journeys. But instead of sending angels to appear to us in dreams to guide us in the specifics of our journeys, God speaks to us through the world around us.
This “world around us” includes books and magazines, television and movies, family and friends and coworkers, and teachers and preachers. This world also incudes the internal gifts that God gives us that shape our perception of the world around us. And, of course, our life experiences also play a major role in helping us discern our vocations in life.
But most importantly of all, God plants desires in our hearts. When young people take vocational testing, for example, they are asked about their desires. “Do you like to be indoors or outdoors more?” “Do you like working with people or with things more?” “Do you like working alone or with others more?” All of these tests are designed to capture the type of callings one might be good at.
But our desires are not enough. We also have to be sure that God has given us the necessary tool set to make our dreams a reality. If not, we need to come up with a Plan B. For example, if I had a desire to be a Harlem Globetrotter, I would need to discard that dream right away as I fail in so many ways on so many levels to make that a reality.
As we continue our journey to Christmas, it would be a good idea to reflect on how God is leading us on our own life journeys.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2016.
Story source: Robert J. Kus, “Blessed John Colombini,” in Fr. Robert J. Kus, Saintly
Men of Nursing: An Introduction, Wilmington, N.C., Red Lantern Presss, in progress.