Today on the feast of St Benedict, the priest at mass spoke of the legacy the great saint had left us. I wish to share on a visit to the church named after St Benedict in Inner Mongolia. It was on 28 June 2012 when we arrived in Hohhot. Look at the photo above. There we were, travelling in our bus. The weather throughout our trip of fourteen days had remained kind. On this day we learnt that some much needed rain had been falling for three days, but had stopped on the day we arrived. So we were moving along ground that was both muddy and difficult to travel along.
While the majority of my companions in the bus were taking their forty winks, I was preoccupied and rather anxious, I have to confess, and I constantly held my breath as I feared the wheels of our bus would get stuck. Several years ago, in Kenya, while trying to see the flamingoes, our little van had got stuck in black mud and we had had to summon help. Here in Hohhot we were in a big bus with 29 people, and I could not see how we would be able to push the vehicle, if necessary. Perhaps our Lord was trying to teach me a valuable lesson. Where is your faith, my child? My friend and I took out our rosaries and started to pray . . .
Finally we made it and we all cheered as we saw the parishioners of St Benedict’s Church (1902)waiting for us. They had waited for a long time as our journey had taken more time than expected. Once I got off the bus, I shook the hands of fellow Catholics standing nearby. Two elders of the church were firing fire crackers as a sign to welcome us. I felt overwhelmed. I returned the many warm smiles. It was, as one of my fellow travellers said, almost like home coming. Here we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, and in the many churches we went to, the reception was always heartwarming. As I mentioned to one of the four bishops we met, I shed many tears throughout the trip - tears of joy and gratitude, tears of thanksgiving to our Lord.
At St Benedict’s Church my tears flowed profusely. I can say that I was not the only person moved to tears. It was not sadness that caused me to cry. It was not the poverty that I saw. I gazed upon our Lord in the tabernacle and I just cried and cried and cried. I looked at the painting of Divine Mercy and I cried again. Here you are, dearest Lord, here you are present with your people whom you love. Here you are, and blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God! Yes, I was moved because I experienced God’s presence so powerfully. It was so on many occasions. The Good Shepherd was leading us.
See the warm smiles as these Catholic brothers and sisters of ours knelt down to pray. Later when I went to kneel beside them and asked for a photograph to be taken, my tears started to flow again, profusely. The lady in the black looked at me and smiled. I had to explain that I was feeling overwhelmed. I also shared with her that I had been thinking if we would ever arrive at the church. In trying to explain the situation, may I suggest that one thinks of an enormous piece of land with no borders, no visible horizon. . . and one is like an ant, walking on and on. That was how I saw our bus travelling as our two young drivers did their utmost to take the right path. We were not even travelling on proper roads then. . . just tracks in no man’s land!
For sure, my thoughts also went to the early missionaries. How did they do it? There was no way for them to go except forward. In the wilderness, one had little choice. So I saw how strong faith in God must be. So many of the early missionaries were promised home leave after ten years, but how many of them made it? We visited some graves and learnt that many died within a few short years, stricken by disease or killed by locals. Lord, have mercy!
Here is one more gem from Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini’s book ‘Once More From Emmaus’. Tomorrow we celebrate World Day of Prayer for vocations.
“All are not called to live the same vocation in this wonderful kingdom of Christ.
God’s generosity is magnificent and its ways cannot be anticipated; it is always creative.
The rays that emanate from the gaze of God are many.
There are also calls to a special consecration, and the forms they take are both old and new.
These calls are invaluable sources of illumination, living testimonies that the freedom of Christ is at work in our deepest selves and that love is the purest form of the gift of life in the service of the brothers and sisters.
These vocations insistently remind us that the absolute good demands first place and that divine providence is at work amid the poverty of our means and the things from which we benefit.
These vocations are a source of great hope for tomorrow’s world, hope which the structures that presently burden us may keep from swiftfulfillment but will never extinguish.
These special calls of yours, O Lord, are the richest gifts of your freedom. And you know how much we need them.”
Here is another gem. . .Listen, the Master wants to speak to your heart today!
“Every soul is to be loved and served sincerely, selflessly and without demanding a return.
Freely given service is especially pleasing to Me, for gratuitousness is the mark of My own divine self!
Disinterested service is the most beautiful characteristic of any vocation.
Are we not called to give freely what we have received as a gift from God?”
Indeed, we are, dear Lord. Freely we have received, teach us to freely give. As you have taught St Francis of Assisi from whom St Angela Merici herself learnt many valuable lessons as a Franciscan Tertiary for many years of her life, teach us too. We desire an ‘evangelical’ way of life, a simple, selfless, open and courteous way. But, as poor sinners, we are weak. Help us, Lord!
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini is a gifted writer and a favourite with many of us. Recently, in his book “Once more from Emmaus” I was blessed to be able to glean from it many gems. Listen to this one, and see if you will be moved to go and get a copy for yourself. A well written book moves one to action. It makes one resolve to live more fully, more graciously, and don’t we all know that only the good Lord can give us the grace to do so.
“it is the manner of life that, above all else, makes a disciple credible and worthy of respect. And what is this apostolic manner of life if not the simple, poor, selfless activity of the Gospel?
Tenderness to the weak,
strength to the stubborn,
no compromises with those in power,
a heart full of trust in the goodness of God
and in his unpredictable providence.
Use this world’s goods sparingly, cautiously, prudently, as means and nothing more. As God’s gifts that keep the heart free. . .”
Let us reflect . . .
Here is an inspiring testimony from one of our companions, Johanna Eny, in the Company of St. Ursula – Indonesia
Since childhood I had always wanted to become a nun. My parents and relatives strongly supported me. They were always praying that my dreams might one day come true. After High School I joined the Franciscan Sisters in Semarang. Everything went well until I was a first year novice. I became seriously ill and was hospitalized for three months. After I got well, I was told that I could not continue my novitiate.
It fell hard on me and I rebelled. Why, Lord, should I leave? I had regained my health and I felt strong. But the decision of the Council could not be altered. I was sad, disappointed and angry. With mixed feelings I went home. My father welcomed me with open arms. He consoled me and advised me to accept the decision of the superiors. Time passed, and by and by I could accept my situation as God’s will for me.
I got a job and many friends. One was particularly close to me and became my boyfriend. We made plans to marry. But somehow our relationship was broken. Again I was angry and disappointed and almost broken hearted. But I did not want to get drowned in my problems. God raised me up, and when I was offered a job at the Ursuline Convent, I immediately accepted. I had to work because my aging parents needed financial support.
I came to Bandung in 1996. The desire to dedicate my life to the Lord was still alive in me. Someone suggested that I try again to enter religious life. But I was afraid that I might fail a second time. I came to know St. Angela and used to pray in “Le Grezze”, a replica of her house in Desenzano. I felt close to St. Angela; she was always listening and bringing my prayers to Jesus.
It was also in Bandung that I came to know the Secular Ursulines at their annual assemblies with Elisa Tarolli. I was touched by their joy and simplicity. A sister explained to me that by becoming a Secular Ursuline I could dedicate my life to the Lord and still support my parents. It was too good to be true! No convent… no marriage… but here is another possibility, God’s mysterious way for me. And so I took this road.
When I spent the holidays in my hometown, the neighbours asked, “When are you going to marry?” They thought it was high time for me to marry. But I answered that I had chosen celibate life, however, without any visible signs. They found it strange, because in my village women do not usually remain single. With the passing of time, however, people got used to the idea and could accept me as a secular Ursuline.
The growth of the Company in Indonesia is rather slow. The question most frequently asked is, “Who will guarantee my life when I am old?” One day a young woman came with her mother. She asked what the requirements are to become a Secular Ursuline. I answered, “A happy, joyful and mature person, who loves Jesus above all and wants to serve Him in His brothers and sisters.” “Who guarantees your life when you are old?” I turned to the mother and asked her, “Madam, do you expect your children to guarantee your life when you are old?” She said, “Of course not, I should make provisions for that myself and not rely on them.”
I explained that as Secular Ursulines we have to guarantee our own life. God gives us health to work and we are taught to save money for the time when we are too old to work. But we have to rely on God, because he is our only hope. He will not abandon us for He is our Spouse and we are His beloved ones.
With the passing of time I learned more and more about St. Angela and her spirituality. The more I know her, the more I love her as our Mother: firm, wise, simple, humble, loving and caring, especially for the weak, and above all her motherly love.
My peak experience was when I made my consecration for life in the Company. I was driven to the chapel in a wheelchair! I could not walk because my foot had been crushed by a gas tube. On that day also my eldest sister whom I loved dearly passed away. Again I was puzzled by God’s mysterious ways. I was happy, at the same time helpless and sad. And God gave me a very beautiful gift, the gift of friendship, love and solidarity shown by my sisters in the Company.
From day to day I grow in the awareness of God’s immense love for me. I could not believe that I was chosen to go to Rome for the Bicentenary Canonization of St. Angela. I was thrilled to be there in Rome, among the Sisters of the Company from all over the world. I could not speak Italian, nor English, but I know the universal language of LOVE which our Mother Angela has taught us.
I am very grateful to the Federation for having organized this beautiful Congress. You did everything so well. Those grace-filled days are engraved in my heart and I will not forget them as long as I live.
Like St Angela let us listen to “the Counsels and Inspirations which the Holy Spirit continually sends into the Heart”.
We are happy Ursulines, children of God, called out of the shadows of the world to walk in the light of Christ.
‘How happy is this union and concord! So, long for it, pursue it, embrace it, hold onto it with all your strength; for I tell you, living thus united in heart, you will be like a mighty fortress, or a tower impregnable against all adversities…”
St Angela also said: “And I shall always be in your midst, helping your prayers.”
Santa Angela, Ora Pro Nobis!
“Do now- Do Now- what you’ll wish you had done when your moment comes to die.”
risk new things,
stick with it,
then be ready for
Beware of trying to accomplish anything by force, for God has given every single person free will and desires to constrain none; he merely shows them the way, invites them and counsels them.
From ‘The Dark Night’ by St John of the Cross,
“when the imperfections are gone, the soul’s suffering terminates and joy remains.”
A profound thought. St John, you have given me so many inspiring thoughts. I seek to understand better the spiritual life and I thank God for you and the example you have set. The fire – the purification. … the long slow process of becoming one with the Lord. When the fire finally consumes the log and the log and the fire become one, then it can truly be said that one no longer lives…Christ lives in me. There is the need for detachment and the rememberance that only God counts in the final analysis. All else pass. Only Love remains.
This is no coincidence. The Secular Ursulines in Indonesia enjoy the hospitality of the Carmelite fathers when they made their annual retreat in 2008. I was blessed to have been there with many others and even now, the memories of those days spent together remain. This year 2011 our sisters in Indonesia were again privileged to have gone once more up the mountain in Bali, and once again they enjoyed the hospitality of the Carmelite fathers.
I remember clearly the homily that Fr Joseph gave, drawing on the spirituality as expounded by St John of the Cross. Praise God!
St John of the Cross, pray for us!
In all that I do, it matters not what I am doing. What matters is Who I am with, in the midst of my activity. His Companionship is my anchor, my stability, my Joy.
‘Often he slept only two or three hours nightly and spent the remaining hours praying in the chapel. Sometimes the friars would find him lying on the chapel floor with his head on his cape. There he rested with his God’ Richard P Hardy on John of the Cross.
Prayer: Grant me this singular grace Dear Lord to fall to my knees whenever you awake me.