Dear Marie Madeleine,
Today is the 5th of April, what we recognise as your feast day. I’m a little late, I’m afraid – I had hoped that I would have written something by now in tribute to you. I’ve been mulling over things for hours, thinking of what best to write or how to express it, but the attempts seem to fall short, at least for my liking.
The Sisters with whom I work are now having their Province Chapter. If I am not mistaken, there have been other Chapters running throughout the different regions of the FCJ-family over the past few weeks. To me, that is a sign of renewal, energy and commitment to formally live out the charism that you have brought to the world. I did however, ask if there was going to be any sort of celebration today, being your feast day. I know we’ve just had the beautiful feasts of Holy Week and Easter just past a week or so ago, but in my mind, a feast day is a little like a birthday – cause for celebration! The Chapter however, is still running, which means that the Sisters are in their communities, doing the things religious sisters do (I’m not a Sister myself, so I don’t actually know what goes on, I’ll admit!), so I decided that I’ll throw you and your memory a party right here – online, just like this.
You’re a great woman, and wonderfully inspiring. I haven’t known you for very long at all, and I am very new to your way of life and story. I did not attend one of the establishments that your Sisters set up in their mission nor did I have any other claim to a real connection with you. To be honest, I didn’t even know you existed until I met these wonderful Sisters. But part of my relatively newly formed role is to do just that – to get to know you, to get to know your spirit and the stories that have been inspired by you.
But being your feast day, I will try not to talk about myself, but talk about you instead. I’ve met my share of saints, founders and religious figures through history. You all aren’t a bad lot – courageous, faithful, devoted, discerning and compassionate, etc. That’s why you’re all part of the communion of saints, officially recognised by the Church and in Church history as outstanding, so much so that we, centuries later, still remember your name. But there’s something about you, dear Marie Madeleine, something about you that I really, really like; something about you that makes me pay attention.
I think it has to do with the realness of your story. A lot of saints and religious types have their stories either embellished by hagiographers or fanatics, and some of them sound rather unworldly to me, but yours is proof to me (not that I need it) that God really works in mysterious ways, and so visibly in the world. Ours is a God who meets people where they are.
I too, am striving for my own bit of halo, not in the sense of angelic hosts, but the call to sanctity that we are all invited to by our baptism and birth right. I pray and delight in the intimacy therein that is built upon with Jesus, and I do try in my own way to live out what I see as gospel or good news. But while these things might – at least in today’s culture – see me off to a convent quick smart, my life isn’t as simple as that.
I might have the characteristics of a religious sister, the makings of one in my heart, but in this life, I am a wife and mother. My vocation is in married life. Here’s where the connections come in. I love that although you eventually came to found a religious Society of Sisters, and was Superior of them, you were also a wife and a mother. And even though your husband died at a very young age, and very early on in your marriage, the life of Eugene your son, and his children and so on, continue that part of life which is your motherhood – something which many saints I know cannot claim for themselves.
But all in all, how wonderful God is – how beautiful and how great to be God’s instrument! It does give me hope, you know. My growing adulthood has found me striving for deeper union with God who loves us so much, so loves me so much. Therein lies the search for sanctity, supported by faithfulness in prayer and devotion to everything that is Christ’s light in the world. And now I can say, with thanks to you and your example, I am reminded constantly of God’s protective embrace; that with God, nothing is impossible, that with God, all is well. Sometimes the load of marriage and motherhood is heavy and I can’t carry it alone, so having your example of faithfulness to both states of life is a blessing for me. Your very story gives me courage and confidence in my own life to keep at it on this journey, and to not lose heart.
It is night time now, as I finish this letter. I would have had it written earlier but I spent the entire day with my children. I took them to the movies and their excitement and energy wore me out by the time we got back home. But always present in my heart today has been the desire to write something about you, in your honour and your memory. It’s not exactly how I thought it would be, but I’m sure God knows that my intentions are in the right spirit.
So dear Madame, dear Marie Madeleine – I thank God for you, for your existence and for the difference you have made to the lives of so many. I pray for you and pray with you that God’s will be done on earth and in heaven. Kindly intercede for us, in Christ’s name, and watch over us as we endeavour to further your mission, which was so clearly not yours, but Christ’s.
Happy Feast Day!
FCJ Mission & Identity Promoter, FCJ Sisters Australia
Note: According to IgnatianSpirituality.com, April is National Writing Month (though I assume, in America, since I’ve not heard of it down under…). Nevertheless, we’re encouraged to write letters in the spirit of St Ignatius who was a prolific letter-writer in his time. But hey, guess what: Marie Madeleine penned a few herself, many of which have been preserved and translated, giving us insight into her personality and passions.