Blason  Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval

21150 Flavigny-sur-Ozerain

France


[Cette lettre en français]
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November 25, 2002
Saint Catherine Labouré


Dear Friend of Saint Joseph Abbey,

Conferring the honor of beatification on a hospitaller who suffered occasional nervous breakdowns is an act that might seem surprising at first. But in proclaiming Father Enrico Rebuschini blessed on May 4, 1997, Pope John Paul II comforted many men and women of our time who face similar difficulties, either in themselves or in loved ones.

Enrico was born in northern Italy, in Gravedona on the northwest shore of Lake Como, on April 28, 1860. His father, Domenico, an administrative clerk before becoming head tax inspector for Como province, was not in favor of religion. He would accompany his wife to the church door but remained outside. His mother, Sophia, a model Christian, was a native of Livorno in Tuscany. Enrico was the second of five children. After finishing his secondary school studies, Enrico, who because of his father's opposition could not follow his call to religious life, enrolled at the university in Pavia to study mathematics. A calm boy of good upbringing, he stayed only one year at the university, where anticlericalism aroused in him bitterness and disgust.

Upon his return to Como, he completed his military service with a year of volunteer work. In his free time, he was glad to isolate himself in prayer and good reading. A student at the Military School of Milan, he emerged from it a reserve second lieutenant, esteemed by his superiors who encouraged him to make a career for himself in the army. But when he got home to his family, he opted to pursue studies in accounting, in 1882 receiving a diploma with honors.

A path that didn't suit him

His sister Dorina's husband, who managed a silk business 45 km north of Como, welcomed him into his home and entrusted to him a job in administration. Harmony prevailed between Enrico and the household. Nevertheless, at the end of three years, there were signs that the young man was in trouble. Sadness could be read in his eyes. He confided to his father that this work in industry and commerce didn't suit him. He was 24 years old when he wrote to his brother-in-law: «The thought of forever remaining a burden rather than being a good assistant..., the fact of knowing at the same time that my parents will never be at peace as long as I remain in a path that doesn't suit my nature (and which makes me unhappy), has finally persuaded me that I have to give it up, for my mom and dad's good, for your good and for mine. I am telling you this with a painfully heavy heart» (August 9, 1884).

Enrico's difficulties were not caused by his choice of a profession that matched his talents and inclinations, but by his persistent attraction to religious life, an attraction his father was opposed to. Soon, despite all his efforts to accept his fate, he fell into a state of moral dejection. He was so thin that he looked like he was recovering from illness. At last, in the summer of 1884, after long discussions with his son, his father finally gave up, in part through the intervention of Blessed Guanella (a priest who initiated social institutions, beatified in 1964), who had all the monasteries in Como pray for this vocation.

Three months after leaving his job, Enrico enrolled in the Gregorian University in Rome to pursue ecclesiastical studies. There he won the esteem of his professors. He received the Minor Orders with this distinction: «Edifying conduct, with a very good spirit of the Church.» Towards the end of 1885, his parents and his Aunt Magdalena came to Rome and were happy to find him pleased and calm. Magdalena noted in her diary: «Enrico is content and at peace. I understand how he can feel this way. He is sure he is on the way that God has prepared for him.»

Through the winepress

But an unexpected obstacle suddenly arose—from March 1886 to May 1887, Enrico was overcome by a profound nervous depression. A very generous soul, with a sense of duty that never allowed half-measures, Enrico was prompted to perform excessive penances, without taking his frailty into adequate account. He needed to eat more, but he forced himself to imitate, even go beyond, the examples of mortification he saw around him, and thus was brought to a state of nervous and mental exhaustion, a frequent cause of depression. Before his time, when Saint Teresa of Avila arrived at a Carmel and found tensions and spiritual battles there, she first asked everyone to get an extra hour's sleep! Indeed, fatigue diminishes our capacity to resist, weakens us, and increases our vulnerability. One of the weapons the devil uses in spiritual combat is to overburden us under the appearance of good.

Enrico returned to his family. He also made a stay in a clinic. In Magdalena's diary can be found the following notes: there are «moments when the hand of God has weighed down on us and has plunged us into suffering... What a month of silence and what suffering at this time. May God at least put an end to this and give us back our treasure.» Eight years later, in recalling this period, Enrico would write, «I was sent to a spa. There God restored my health by giving me total confidence in His infinite goodness and mercy.»

A great spiritual capacity

Before recognizing his vocation as a hospitaller, he experienced what it means to suffer. He would have been able to say, as Pope John Paul II has said in our time, «I too know, through personal experience, the suffering that physical disability brings, the weakness brought on by illness, the lack of energy for work and the sense of being unable to lead a normal life. But I also know, and I would like to make clear to you, that this suffering also has another, sublime aspect. Namely, it gives a great spiritual capacity, for suffering is a purification for the one who suffers and for others, and if it is lived in the Christian dimension, it can be transformed into a gift offered to complete in one's own flesh that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for His Body which is the Church (cf. Col. 1:24). To you, dear sick people all over the world, the main actors of this World Day, may this event bring the announcement of the living and comforting presence of the Lord. Your sufferings, accepted and borne with unshakable faith, when joined to those of Christ, take on extraordinary value for the life of the Church and the good of humanity» (Message for the First World Day of the Sick, February 11, 1992).

In May 1887 the depression receded, and Enrico fully recovered his health. He experienced relapses, but they were less prolonged and less serious. Specific remedies for his illness did not exist at that time. The trial was overcome by a progressively more correct understanding of God, which brought about a filial relationship based on trust. The best feature of our Blessed's spirituality would from then on be the consideration of the infinite ocean of mercy found in the Heart of Jesus, of the maternal tenderness of our Mother, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, whom the Church invokes by the consoling title of «Health of the Sick.»

During the summer of 1887, Enrico was employed at the hospital in Como. But shortly thereafter, he was graciously dismissed because, instead of working in his department, he spent his time in the hospital wards at the bedside of those sick who were the poorest, the neediest, the isolated, for whom he sacrificed his last dime and even his own clothes. He also made numerous visits to the poor and the sick in their homes. His contact with these sufferings gave birth to his vocation as a hospitaller.

Abandoned to Mary

In a notebook he jotted down his spiritual program, which was inspired by the ways of perfection proposed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He also wrote there: «The Most Blessed Virgin, to whom I have abandoned myself in order that she might find me a task suited to my weakness, obtained a position for me in the administrative department of the civil hospital, where I was working several hours a day. I spent the rest of the time alone, in pious exercises... Seeing as how I could not continue in this way and feeling called to embrace religious life, my spiritual father (when I revealed to him my attraction to the religious family of Saint Francis) suggested to me that of Saint Camillus, which seemed to him more suited to my circumstances and also because he feared for my health. I did it without discussion—I embraced it immediately.» Reading the life of Saint Camillus confirmed Enrico in his choice.

Born in the kingdom of Naples in 1550 and endowed with extraordinary vitality, Camillus de Lellis first entered the military profession, but shortly thereafter sank into debauchery, then was hospitalized in Saint James' Hospital in Rome. Profoundly touched by the extreme poverty in which the sick stagnated, he became a volunteer nurse, then gathered several companions who would form «the Company of Servants of the Sick,» or Camillians. Himself a sufferer of stomachaches and headaches, stones, ulcers, and almost permanent boils, Camillus circulated through the wards, a sick man among the sick, attentive to the needs of all. He died in Rome on July 14, 1614. The Church has proclaimed him Patron of hospitals, the sick, and sisters of charity.

On September 27, 1887, Enrico Rebuschini, 27 years old, entered the Camillians in Verona. The first attitude that he proposed to have was that of friendliness. This most necessary virtue did not come easily to him. He already had experience in professional work, while his companions in the novitiate were still in adolescence, and loved freedom, recreation, and noise, quickly turning serious thoughts into amusing puns. He therefore made a point of having a positive opinion of others, in spite of their faults or irritating attitudes. This ideal was sometimes difficult for him: «I am letting myself be taken in,» he wrote, «by fits of antipathy towards one of my holy companions. Sometimes he asks me about my studies, and instead of replying gently and just satisfying his question in a friendly manner, I answer this question irritably: 'I don't want you to ask me anything.' All this is the fruit of pride combined with a lack of union with my companions in love. I would like to think of nothing but doing the greatest good possible at all times.» In everyday reality, his resolution to be friendly was often destroyed by temptations to rash judgments and feelings of antipathy... But he did not let himself be discouraged by these battles. He renewed his intention to see in others the temple of God. He looked at the Crucifix and courageously resumed the slow work of softening the heart.

Relapses

His good-naturedness attracted the esteem of his superiors who, in consideration of the studies he had already completed in Rome, had him ordained a priest during his novitiate, on April 14, 1889. The bishop of Mantua, who conferred on him the sacrament of Holy Orders, was Bishop Sarto, the future Pope Pius X, a friend of the Camillians. Enrico's perpetual profession took place on December 8, 1891. But Father Rebuschini was prone to relapses of nervous depression. These relapses were a consequence of his predominant fault—a perfectionist nature which led him to spiritual undertakings that did not take his nervous frailty into sufficient account. In the years 1890-1891 he experienced another depression and suffered greatly from a spiritual trial. Too concerned with thoughts of eternity, he was strongly tempted to believe he was damned. His appointment as chaplain to the hospital allowed him to recover his balance and calmness by helping him to forget himself in attending to the afflictions of his neighbor. But in 1895 the beginnings of another depression could be seen. He had been named vice-novice master and professor of theology. However, because of a lack of self-confidence, he considered himself incapable of taking on these tasks. A state of constant tension ensued. His superiors had to release him from these responsibilities and, thanks to God, he quickly regained his stability. Finally, in 1922, a long spell of difficult responsibilities and an overload of work brought about a final depression which he overcame in a few months.

In light of these manifestations of depression, one might be tempted to think that Father Enrico had a gloomy and wavering nature. But it must be observed that between the attacks of 1895 and 1922, over 25 years of normal activity passed, during which he admirably took upon himself heavy responsibilities with great generosity. Then, from 1922 until his death in 1938, for over 16 years, he more than ever showed a stable equilibrium and complete serenity. Father Joseph Moar, who worked alongside him during the last seven years of the Blessed's life, affirmed in the beatification process that it was only through biographies that he had learned of the depressions Father Rebuschini had experienced. «When I knew him, he was utterly balanced and always his same old self. It had never occurred to me that he might have been able to suffer from depressions.»

By means of these sufferings, Father Enrico was able to practice the principles of Christian wisdom that the Holy Father Pope John Paul II gives to the sick: «Dear sick persons, I would like to leave in your memories and in your hearts three little lights which are valuable to me. First, no matter what your suffering might be, physical or moral, personal or within the family, apostolic, even ecclesial, it is important that you come to a clear awareness of it, without minimizing or overstating it, and with all the stirrings it engenders in your human sensitivity: failure, the uselessness of your life, etc. Then, it is essential to move forward on the path of acceptance, yes, to accept that this is how things are, not through blind resignation, but because faith assures us that the Lord can and wishes to bring about good from evil. So the greatest gesture remains to be made—that of oblation. The offering, brought about by the love of the Lord and our brothers, permits us to attain a level, sometimes a very high level, of theological charity, which means losing oneself in the love of Christ and the Blessed Trinity for humanity. These three steps experienced by each of the suffering, according to each individual's speed and grace, give him amazing interior liberation. Is this not the paradoxical teaching brought to us by the Gospels: He who loses his life for my sake will find it?» (Message to the Sick, Lourdes, August 15, 1983).

They couldn't resist

In 1890 Father Enrico was named chaplain for the military and civil hospitals in Verona. The clerics and religious, as well as the soldiers, considered him a saint. His holiness was of itself the quietest that can be imagined for a chaplain. It was not based on dazzling deeds but first and foremost on the exemplarity of his life in the service he rendered to the sick. In his apostolate, he had the gift of touching the most hardened hearts. The parish priest in Vescovato testified to this: «On more than one occasion, I was at the bedside of a sick person with Father Enrico. My parishioners, to whom I had been unable to administer the sacraments back home, (the parish of Vescovato had at that time a reputation for being «difficult») often would confess and receive Communion with serenity and joy when they were at the clinic. When I asked them how they came to this decision to receive the sacraments, they answered that with a priest like Father Enrico, they couldn't resist because he had the words and the attitudes to convince them.»

Father Rebuschini's success with souls can be explained by his union with God, especially by his pious celebration of the Holy Mass, his fervent recitation of the breviary, his adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and his remarkable love for the Most Blessed Virgin. His genuflections were marked with great respect. At the elevation of the Host during the Mass, he would stop for a moment in adoration. The Our Father, which is prayed with the very words Jesus used, seemed to him the most moving moment of the Holy Sacrifice.

At the beginning of May 1899, Father Enrico was sent to the convent in Cremona. The first charge entrusted to him was that of serving as chaplain to the Camillian Sisters. The following year his Superior also named him the bursar of his community. A man of interior life and prayer, Father Enrico carried out this responsibility, which was not to his liking, in order to do the will of God. He had at his disposal neither office nor secretary. But he could rely on the cooperation of active and intelligent Brothers. As part of his regular routine, he had to buy various goods, fix any plumbing or electrical failures, keep the clinic's operating room functioning, make the vegetable garden and henhouse at least marginally profitable, oversee the production of wine in the cellars, and prepare the salary budgets. But the extraordinary labors continued over the course of the years—renovating the kitchen, connecting to the city electric system, roof repairs, installation of central heating, not to mention difficulties caused by the insolvency of the bank in which the community's modest savings were kept...

Optimist as a matter of principle

Father Enrico's management style was marked by certain principles that his successor related. «He taught me criteria for prudence in managing the household finances. For example, he always wanted us to buy quality goods so as to serve the sick well, and he always wanted items to be paid for right away... He was an optimist as a matter of principle in his opinions of others, and only reluctantly would he resign himself to admitting anything bad about someone else. He always excused other's intentions.» A lawyer reported, «Father came to consult me in Cremona to request my professional services in a civil case connected to an inheritance going to the Saint Camillus clinic, the validity of which the heirs were contesting. I had various opportunities to see Father and to deal with him... He always seemed to me to possess extraordinary simplicity and a rare detachment from earthly things and interests... I recall the edifying impression that I came away with when I was called to attend to this inheritance. He showed that he looked after the interests of the house, but at the same time he attracted attention through his goodness in his way of doing things and the total absence of a spirit of quibbling.»

Attentive to those who suffer

Father Rebuschini exercised the duties of bursar for 35 years, until 1937. But starting in 1938, his strength began to fail. He was 78 years old. «Father Enrico's last days were marked by exemplary serenity and perfect abandon to Divine Providence,» a neuropsychiatrist who studied the saint's life from a medical standpoint reported during the beatification proceedings. In the first days of May, having received the Sacrament of the Sick, Father Enrico asked forgiveness of everyone for the bad examples he might have given, for his imperfections, for everything that might have offended anyone. He also asked that they pray for him, leaving to God any judgment on his life on earth. On May 9, at 6 o'clock in the morning, Father Vanti celebrated Mass in Father Enrico's room. At the moment of receiving Communion, the dying man stretched out his arms, received the Body of the Lord with great piety, then folded his arms and was absorbed in prayer. The supreme meeting with his beloved Lord took place on May 10 at 5:30 in the morning. «His example,» said the Holy Father during the beatification, «constitutes for all believers an urgent invitation to pay attention to the sick and to those who suffer in body and spirit.»

Through the intercession of Blessed Enrico Rebuschini, we pray for you, for your loved ones, for all those who find themselves faced with nervous weaknesses or diseases, so common in the modern world, and for all your intentions.

Dom Antoine Marie osb.

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