ANGELA MERICI: SANCTITY FOR TODAY By Fr Alberto Margoni *
(*Born in Desenzano (Brescia), the birth place of St Angela Merici, Fr Margoni is a priest in the diocese of Verona. He is also a journalist and the director of the weekly periodical Verona Fedele since 1st October 2006. Fr Margoni writes in the daily paper Avvenire and L’Osservatore Romano. He is the author of the book ‘Angela Merici, L’Intuizione della spirtualita secolare (Soveria Mannelli, 2000). For three years Fr Margoni was the Archbishop’s delegate for the Company of St Ursula – Daughters of St Angela Merici of Verona.
Here is an extract from Fr Margoni’s article. Foot notes have been left out.
4. Living in the city: A pledge for testimony
We will now discuss the importance of giving first preference to our testimony. Never before was it so important for a Christian or even more a consecrated person to feel the need of being called to live in the city and be the yeast that has the power to change, re generate and lead persons to Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI said,” Your apostolic work should reach all mankind. Be it in the Christian or the civil community, you must strive to do good, to communicate with all and be witness by your Christian behaviour to give sense to a disorientated and confused society, because of its multicultural and multi religious members.”
And what a better place to draw a study of human nature than from the writings of Angela Merici, where a person is really the centre of importance because it is only through Christ and in our relation with others that our existence really finds meaning.
This is the real meaning of living in the city. There, where we find good and evil, holiness and sin, a reality that is confusing if not ambiguous. Nevertheless, it is in the city where man is privileged enough to meet God. It is built, inhabited, sanctified, consoled, made cheerful and saved by the Lord. Yet in it, we find human pride, confusion, idolatry, sin and misery. In the very heart of the city, a Christian finds himself struggling to please God against evil. The lay consecrated person has to fight suffocating erotic deeds, the greed for money and the quest for power, with poverty, humility and purity (even if not bound by the vow of chastity). No monastery will help you pray better, nature will not give you serenity, and the walls of the cloister will not safeguard your virtues.
The city that puts you to the test, purifies and sanctifies you. However, it is also a city where one can live, practise evangelic charity, and be a witness of Christian hope, which is so urgently needed by the world today. Even if it is true to say that St. Angela did not specify particular Apostolic and social pledges, the consecrated person who lives in the world like any other Christian is still called to generate hope in the places where she lives by her way of life and to practice Christ’s charity. In the meeting which the church held in Verona on the 4th October, the Pope, in one of his early speeches, said, ” We know it is not easy to hang on to our faith and to follow Christ, on the contrary it is a continuous battle. The church is therefore still a sign of contradiction in following Christ’s footsteps. However, we must not lose hope, on the contrary we should always be ready with an answer when asked about our hope. We must answer “with courtesy, respect and with a clear conscience” (l Pt 3, 15 – 16), with that gentle strength which comes from our union with Christ. This must be shown by our thoughts, words, actions and behaviour.”
Our testimony is given by all we do in our daily life; at home, at work, in the church, during festivities, in all that concerns our culture and citizenship. It is only by means of these various testimonies in the world that one can understand Christ’s love for humanity when He gave in to His Father. In a similar way, the testimonies can be a proof of your saying yes to God’s will. This yes involves man’s freedom and intelligence, his will and faith. Moreover, once we freely chose to say yes to consecrated life, we are able to give ourselves fully to God, and by having faith in Him we can bring joy to others in the world.
5. A project for life to be made known
I have already quoted the Pope about public testimony. This helps me to touch on a last point and which helps me to go deeper into the theme I was asked to talk about, which is of utmost importance today, Communication. It is not my intention to be a sociologist or a mass media reporter. However, having had some limited experience when I assisted the Company of St. Ursula in the town where I live (This will be my starting point) helped me to consider and go deeper in the subject and come up with more mature ideas which I am now pointing out to you. I start by quoting the title of the article in a magazine that dealt deeply with the various aspects of religious life. 9 You will be right in stating that it does not concern you. However, I will touch briefly on this subject as an introduction. One of the articles was “A world out of this world” 1 and a paragraph discussed the theme “A world that is slightly known, distant and strange”. This referred to all religious and consecrated institutions, to the fact that they were recognised only by their habits, their structural organisation and the way they communicated with the media, only by means of reports in magazines. Therefore, I wonder what is said today about secular institutions where members are not recognised by their habits, do not live in a community and where communication with the media is still lacking although this is of fundamental importance. If you are not seen, you are non-existent.
Let us put aside the question of the habit, which is not important for secular institutions (even if it is only a question of wearing a belt). “The same can be said of living in community. However, let us question what is being done today to make people aware of 1) our existence, 2) who we really are and 3) what our charism is.
Once a seminarian, a student of theology, referred to his aunt, a daughter of St. Angela, as “my aunt, the nun”. This I could not contradict because of my limited experience. If a student of theology thought this of his aunt, imagine what ideas the priests of the diocese had! If they are aware of their existence, how many people still think of the daughters of St. Angela as nuns or lay nuns, or consecrated persons whose duty it is to teach, to be catechists or to be a help to the clergy in their parish or as housekeepers to the priests. If this is what a great number of priests think, I dare not imagine the confused ideas of the lay people. So I ask, besides having contacts with many people, besides the importance of being the invisible yeast which is absorbed in the pastry yet gives it shape (it is the only ingredient which makes the dough rise not the sugar, nor the flour), are you known to the clergy and lay people? Are you mentioned in the weekly Catholic periodicals? Do the Catholic radio stations talk about you? What are you doing to make yourselves and your special charism known? I am aware that these are stupid questions. Nevertheless, how can a person think about your charism, your project for life, if he does not even know that you exist? Now, do not think of invading the mass media. Just consider the most effective way of communication as your primary objective; this is a pressing necessity for all religious and secular institutions, movements, associations and even the parishes.
Besides being informative, this communication can also help to increase vocations. As for myself, prior to my ordination, were it not for the publication of my testimony in the periodical of which I am now editor, I would not have taken a deeper interest in the life of St. Angela. Thanks to the support and help of the Federation (to which I am eternally grateful), I am sure I would not be here with you today (even if some of you might think you are better off without me). Joking apart, I will be presumptuous to the very end, knowing that you will forgive me. If Angela were to repeat to her daughters, the words “Take action, move, believe, try hard, hope, and shout out to the Lord ….) I think she would not mind the necessary communication, because this does not invade one’s privacy but can also serve as an announcement for vocations. Remember the words of Christ “The sons of darkness are smarter than those of the light”.
We still ought to be grateful to the Lord today for the way St. Angela founded the Company and the secular institute for consecrated life, her life two centuries ago and her canonisation by the church made her a model for all Christians to follow. She opened the way to holiness and through her, even today, we follow the path of holiness and therefore every woman who lives in the world finds her fulfilment. Let me mention Elisa Tarolli and many others with her.
Their testimony and your daily testimony tell us that Angela Merici’s life has the power even today to lead women to answer to God’s call for holiness.