Exhortation Given During Vestition
A Heart That is Attentive to Whatever God Asks
Exhortation given by Mother Catherine Marie, C.P. during the vestition of Sr. Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus
August 15, 2015
And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Your word.”
As this prayer arose from the very depths of her Immaculate Heart, Mary made a complete and ardent gift of herself to God’s plan. God had set His Heart on this hidden and unknown Daughter of Sion living at the eastern fringe of the massive Roman empire. And Mary chose freely to cooperate with God’s plan for our redemption. Her words to the Archangel Gabriel are so precious to the Church that for centuries, Mother Church has invited her children to pray them three times a day in the Angelus: “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to Your word….And the Word was made flesh….”
In Mary’s Immaculate Heart, the Holy Spirit had already formed a rich dwelling place of God’s joy and delight, adorned with the spiritual beauty of grace and virtue. Depending totally on God in poverty of spirit and obedience to His will, Mary’s heart was free for whatever God asked of her. Though very young, her heart was mature well beyond her years; and although poor in terms of material possessions, Mary was exceedingly rich in what matters to God (Luke 12). The Church honors her as the Queen of the Anawim, the poor and humble ones of the Lord.
Mary’s total gift of herself to God makes her the timeless model and teacher of all who hear God’s call in their hearts.
Today this admirable Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of our Passionist Congregation, prays within the mind and heart of our Postulant Nora: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to Your word.” With the Queen of the Anawim, Nora consents to take another important step on the journey toward her own total consecration to God in religious life. As a lowly handmaid of the Lord, Nora will be clothed with our Passionist habit, and with the white veil of one destined to become the pure bride of Christ Crucified and His helpmate in the work of redemption.
In addition to the holy habit, today Nora will receive her new name, Sr. Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. Like her holy patron, St. Francis of Assisi, Nora has left all things to follow Christ. She wants to become part of the “family of Jesus Crucified” standing with Mary at the foot of the cross. This first “leaving all things” is only a beginning of a lifetime work requiring a daily commitment to die to oneself in order to become more united with Christ. Yet in this very way, a religious becomes a counter-cultural sign, reminding people of the ultimate purpose of life, and of the true fulfillment of our heart’s deepest desires. To become a religious is to strive to become rich in what really matters to God. It is to hunger and thirst for holiness and for the inexhaustible treasures of heaven that no thief can steal away nor moth consume.
We know the importance in our Passionist tradition of this spirit of poverty and detachment. The call to live evangelical poverty was one of the original inspirations given to our holy founder, St. Paul of the Cross. Indeed, the first name of his little band of followers was: “The Poor of Jesus.” Later Paul wrote our rule that is permeated with the single-heartedness of the spirit of poverty. Attaining perfect charity was always Paul’s goal for us. He wanted us to be free to have the heart of a bride-soul whose daily preoccupation is that loving attention, that interior loving gaze on the Face of our Bridegroom.
Our revised Constitutions lay out for us this spirituality of poverty: we are to abandon everything for love of the Bridegroom; we are to draw inspiration from the poverty of Jesus which reached its greatest depth in the poverty of the cross; we are to strive to remain poor in spirit and poor in reality so that we are free to share our material and spiritual goods with others. The Constitutions emphasize a common life where everything is shared in common, and where each one places her gifts of nature and grace at the disposal of the superior. We are to be responsible and accountable to the community, lovingly submitting to the common law of work, while casting aside undue worry so we can depend on the providence of our Heavenly Father. And the goal of all of this is that we be transformed in God’s love, that we attain perfect charity as the brides of the Crucified.
Nora’s new name—Sr. Frances Marie—will remind us of our call to true interior poverty in pursuit of perfect charity. Nora’s patron will of course be St. Francis of Assisi, the “poor man of Assisi.” It is also significant that St. Francis is the first person recorded in the history of the Church as receiving the stigmata, that is, the wounds of Christ in his very body. Francis’ stigmata highlights for us another aspect of our Passionist spirituality, for we Passionists are to have the wounds of Christ impressed and engraved not in our bodies but rather in our hearts as the loving memory of His Passion. The Holy Spirit brings this about, the more we strive for humility and detachment. We should desire this grace, for it is the characteristic grace of our Institute—to have the grateful memory of the most sacred Passion of Jesus deeply engraved into our hearts and memory.
Nora’s devotional title fits in with all of this perfectly. She will be “of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus.” The Most Holy Eucharist is, as we know, the greatest treasure and wealth of the Church. Eucharistic spirituality implies detachment and poverty of spirit because it is the hungry that God fills with good things while the rich He sends away empty. To be “of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus” is to strive to be like an empty chalice or a poor and lowly wafer of bread destined to become the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
We know the profound Eucharistic spirituality of Our Holy Founder. We know how he wanted us to think of ourselves as tabernacles of the Blessed Sacrament, or as oratories where the Sacramental Jesus is exposed on the altar of our heart. To live in this manner implies the simplicity and freedom of a recollected heart. We remember the teaching of the Gospel that where our treasure is, that’s where our heart will be.
From these few reflections we can see the meaningfulness of the Passionist name to be conferred on Nora today: Sr. Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus. May she and all of us truly seek ever greater poverty of spirit as loving brides of the Crucified, interior souls who strive to be “of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus,” the greatest treasure of the Church. In this way, like Our Blessed Mother, St. Paul of the Cross and St. Francis, we will become “rich in what really matters to God.”