Have you ever been in the position that you were asked to take on a project that you knew was going to result in a lot of headaches and extra work, but you took it on anyway? That has happened to most if not all of us in our working lives—even those of us who work in the Church!
It certainly happened to St. Gaspar del Bufalo, our founder, whose feast day we celebrate on October 21. St. Gaspar founded the Missionaries of the Precious Blood in 1815 in the small town of Giano in the Italian countryside. He was a hard worker and a spirited preacher, and throughout his life he attracted the attention of many people—including the pope. In 1826, when St. Gaspar was 40 years old and his young Congregation was only nine years old, Pope Leo XII summoned him to Rome.
St. Gaspar and the pope got along well, so he didn’t have to worry about being fired. He did, however, have to worry about being promoted! Because that’s what the pope had in mind. The pope told Gaspar he wanted to elevate him to archbishop and send him as the papal nuncio to Brazil. It’s hard to say no to the pope, but Gaspar knew that the appointment would likely be disastrous to him personally and to the Congregation. He told Pope Gregory that he’d like to have a few days to think about it—and then turned down the position as diplomatically as he could.
In his biography of St. Gaspar, St. Gaspar, Saint of the People, Don Rafaele Bernardo, C.PP.S., writes that “the pope finally relented but he [assigned Gaspar] to the Holy Congregation of the Propaganda Fide,” or the Propagation of the Faith, the department of the Vatican responsible for the Church’s missionary activity. It was the right subject matter for St. Gaspar, but the wrong position.
St. Gaspar served faithfully but it just about killed him to spend so much time away from his Missionaries and the people of God. You see, St. Gaspar loved more than anything else to organize missions in the Italian countryside. He’d preach until he was hoarse to large crowds of men, women and children. The people who knew him said he was an inspirational preacher, and that he had the gift of drawing people near through the blood of Christ (Eph 2: 17). In that way, he was a true missionary without ever setting foot outside of the country where he was born.
Even while he was working for the pope, Gaspar found a way back to his primary calling, diving into preaching and other ministries in and around Rome in addition to his office work. Gradually, the pope realized that St. Gaspar’s true vocation could never be fulfilled in an office—and so he released Gaspar to return to a life of traveling, preaching and overseeing his Congregation. Gaspar once said that “the ministry makes me light as a feather. I never feel so well as when I’m on a mission.”
Just because Gaspar wasn’t “light as a feather” when he was working in a department of the Vatican doesn’t mean that the work wasn’t necessary and valid. Sometimes we have to do what we don’t want to do. It doesn’t mean the work doesn’t need to be done. And maybe you’re the right person for the task, even if the task gives you a headache. Gaspar stayed true to his calling, when he was doing what he most loved, and when he was working in a position that he found less rewarding. Everything that came into his hands received his best effort, because he believed that’s how we should work when we’re working to build God’s kingdom. “Let us resolve each day to belong entirely to God, who is the fount of grace, of mercy, of love,” he once wrote.
So today, as we celebrate Gaspar’s Feast Day, my prayer for the Precious Blood family is that we all do our best in the spirit of St. Gaspar, whether we’re working on something that is close to our heart, or on something that gives us a stomachache. I pray that all of us—you, me and all the children of God—are blessed with the strength, courage and endurance of St. Gaspar, who went through good days and bad days with the same conviction that the Precious Blood of Jesus would save us all.