Friday, August 30, 2019

Blessed Ghebre Michael: Pilgrim, Seeker, Ethiopian, Scholar, Martyr

Who is Blessed Ghebre Michael? He was a pilgrim, a seeker, an Ethiopian, a scholar, and a martyr for the faith.

He differs in three major ways from the other canonized and beatified members of our congregation. First, he was not European, but African. Second, we was not born Catholic, but an adult convert. And third, he was not a confrere.

Born in Ethiopia in 1790, Ghebre Michael was a pilgrim in life, always seeking truth. He became a monophysite monk at the age of 19 and was a gifted student. He remained restless in his search for the truth. He made a long pilgrimage from Ethiopia to Cairo to Rome to Jerusalem. It was on this pilgrimage that he met Justin de Jacobis for the first time. It was also on this pilgrimage in Rome that he found himself very attracted to the Catholic Church.

Ghebre Michael shared his desire to be received in the Catholic Church with Justin de Jacobis. He joined the Church in 1844. Six years later, Justin asked him to consider becoming a priest and Ghebre Michael agreed. He was ordained in January 1851.

Ghebre Michael helped enormously in the foundation of the clergy. He composed a dictionary of the Ge'ez language used in the liturgy. He wrote a source book about the Catholic faith which was simple and clear. He produced a textbook in dogmatic theology.

But Ghebre Michael was destined to suffer greatly. Just before being ordained, he had been imprisoned for two months at 60 years of age. Later, when persecution broke out, he was imprisoned again. This time, so was Justin de Jacobis. Justin was treated better than Ghebre Michael because his former colleagues among the Orthodox seemed to have a special hatred toward Ghebre Michael. He was tortured repeatedly and urged to renounce Catholicism. He was led from place to place in chains and, bloodied by beatings, presented before crowds. He was knocked to the ground often and, when he rose to his feet again and again, the people proclaimed him a second St. George, the saint who was said to have had seven lives.

The king, because of political pressure from the British and perhaps also because of the esteem Ghebre Michael had among the people, decided not to execute him. Rather, he decreed that Ghebre Michael must carry his chains to the end of his life. He trudged in procession from town to town behind marching soldiers, resisting appeals to renounce his faith. Finally, exhausted by the ordeal that lasted 13 months, he died on the roadside and was buried nearby at the end of August 1855. Many have tried to locate his grave, each without success.

Justin often referred to Ghebre Michael as "the generous athlete of Christ." Some years after his death, Justin sent a drawing of Ghebre Michael to Jean Baptiste Etienne, the Superior General. In the accompanying letter, he wrote:

"I beg you to accept the picture which I have the honor to send you. It catches the likeness of the subject so exactly that, when you consider the lack of skill in the matter of drawing on the part of the Abyssinian priest who did it, you must admit that it is really an extraordinary picture. To this picture of the Abyssinian martyr, Ghebre Michael, I have added an inscription in Latin in which I refer to him as a Vincentian seminarist. In fact, he was only a postulant because the time of his vocation could be counted only from the moment when he would have begun his intern seminary; by the date which had been arranged he was already in prison; however, in his heart, he already belonged to the Congregation."

Ghebre Michael was beatified as a martyr in 1926.

Written by Sister Patty Evanick, D.C.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Queenship of Mary

Hail Holy Queen, the only Mother of the Community of the Daughters of Charity!

Every year on the 22nd of August, we celebrate the feast of the Queenship of Mary. She is queen of heaven and earth and, for us Daughters of Charity, she is the only Mother of the Community and the Queen of the poor--the destitute, most-abandoned, the forgotten, the migrants and refugees, etc. From her lowliness and openness, she gave us the most precious gift of all, the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you”....through her “fiat” the “Word became flesh” and in whose Being, the world became reconciled to God. Her total gift of self made possible the salvation of all humanity and creation, as she spoke “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38).

As servants of those who are poor and sick, the founders of the Daughters of Charity, St. Vincent and St. Louise, inculcated the love and imitation of the Virgin Mary (Constitution 15b). We look to Mary as our model of humility, simplicity, and charity.

“Blessed are you among women”...Mary’s deep faith and trust in God led her to fully surrender her whole being to the great ‘unknown’; to motherhood and family life, to the throngs of suffering and pain, and finally to the hope in the resurrection of her Son. She bore all for the sake of Jesus’ salvific mission as priest, prophet and king.
Whoever seeks to follow Jesus encounters Mary who received Him from the Father. She was the first Christian and the consecrated Virgin par excellence, present in the life of the Company from the beginning (Constitution 15a). Like Mary, we are to embrace the plan God created for us with steadfast love and unflinching hope.

“Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”... the Holy Spirit came upon her and God’s only Son grew in her womb. Fully God and fully human, Jesus became the revelation of the new covenant, the most awaited one, Christ, the Messiah. Though He was God, he emptied himself and became human like one of us (Philippians 2:6-7).

On Oct 18, 1655, St. Vincent spoke to the sisters about their Common Rules “the main purpose for which God has called the Daughters of Charity and brought them together is to honor our Lord Jesus Christ as the source and model of all charity, serving Him corporally and spiritually in the person of the poor” (Coste Volume 13b doc 149, pg. 147). We believe that in serving those who are poor, we serve Jesus himself.

“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners” … “ theotokos” - the God-bearer, continues the mission God entrusted to her as fulfilled in her lifetime, her relationship with God, the Father and the Holy Spirit, and with her Son, Jesus and his disciples. She is our daily intercessor, our mediatrix of God’s mercy, hope, and grace.

Through her apparitions all over the world, she continues to remind us of God’s unconditional and everlasting love for humankind. Her ‘yes’ shows the boundless possibilities whenever we exercise our fundamental option in responding to God’s invitation to live holy lives in service of God and others.

Mary, Queen of heaven and earth, and of those who are poor, pray for us.

Written by Sister Marie Rachelle Cruz, D.C.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Assumption of Mary

Mary's Assumption! What does it mean? Why did it happen?

Let's go back to Mary as a young teen in Nazareth. It is believed that she led a very ordinary life with lots of hard work helping her mother with household chores. The family was an integral part of the local village, so Mary could be counted on to participate in the events.

Imagine, one day being totally taken aback by this stranger greeting her and telling her that she has found favor with God. So much so that she was asked to participate in God's plan to bear His son to the world. She questions and then accepts. "I am the servant of the Lord, I will do as God wills."

If that wasn't enough, she hears about her cousin, Elizabeth, who is pregnant although late in life. She drops all and goes on foot to care for her during the last three months before her baby is born.

Her own delivery would not be easy. She and Joseph go on a long journey to Bethlehem, his family's origins, to register for the census. Scarcely arrived when the baby is due, but where to go? In an animal shed, she gives birth to the Son of God. Both she and Joseph are awed by the visits of shepherds and kings to see this baby boy.

Shortly after the circumcision, Joseph is warned in a dream to take Mary and the child and flee to Egypt. Once again, a long journey, this time with a newborn to unknown places and situations.

So it was throughout Jesus' life: teaching Him His duties as a young Jew, accompanying and supporting Him as He began His ministry. How could Jesus not know and love this beautiful, loving mother? Even in His horrible sufferings and death, Mary was present. She remained with the disciples in prayer as they received the Holy Spirit. John had taken her into his home as his own mother. Her life of giving, loving, and supporting continued until her death. What better gift could Jesus give her to show His love for her than to bring her to His side in heaven?

Remember her mantra from the very beginning with the angel, "Be it done to me according to your will." It followed Mary on earth and is with her in heaven as she does whatever God asks of her. May we follow in Mary's footsteps.

Happy Feast of the Assumption of Mary!

Written by Sister Marian Hamwey, D.C.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Have You Been Transfigured?

In Matthew 17, we hear the story of Jesus' Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. Three apostles - James, Peter, and John - witness another "threesome," a brilliantly radiating Christ conversing with Moses (the Law) and Elias (the Prophet). This took place just six days before Jesus conveyed the manner of His death to His apostles.

Reflecting on this gospel, the elements of prayer, community, and service shine through. During prayer before Jesus in the tabernacle, the Daughters of Charity witness Christ's hidden divinity in the Eucharistic bread. Prayers and mass are offered for those we know, serve, and minister. Gathering together in community, we are strengthened to bring Christ to those who are poor.

Let us reflect on our service of Christ in need. Daughters of Charity have been known as a community that visits the needy in their homes. Sometimes we go with another sister or with a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, going in twos to the "mountain top." We talk, share, laugh, and cry with the third needy neighbor.

The needs are various: food, rent, bills, transportation, listening ears, stopping eviction, and especially hearts, friendship, mentoring, budgeting, supporting, and praying! Tears stream down faces or a wrinkled brow thinks and prays through a situation. The brightness of the Holy Spirit inspires a sense of solution or support of the family.

Christ is the rule of the Daughters of Charity.

After the visit, we pray, "Lord, it is good to be here. Let us set up a support system so the family can help themselves." We often visit again for continued friendship and support. Our hearts are different; our prayers are transformed. Service Changes.

Have you been transfigured?

Written by Sister Ann Claire Rhoads, D.C.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Justin de Jacobis: "I Hand you the Key to My Heart"

On one occasion, Father Robert Maloney, CM, former Superior General of the Daughters of Charity and the Congregation of the Mission, said, "If I had to pick a single Daughter of Charity to present to the sisters as a model, it would be Rosalie Rendu (1786 - 1856). If I had to pick a single Priest of the Mission to present to the confreres, it would be Justin de Jacobis (1800 - 1860)."

His choice of Sister Rosalie is interesting, but not surprising. Whether she was praised or criticized, she always responded in the same way, "I am a Daughter of Charity and only that." And it is as a Daughter of Charity that she is known, loved, and imitated across the Vincentian Family.

The choice of Justin, however, is a bit puzzling. What does a nineteenth century Italian Vincentian who spent the last 20 years of his life in Ethiopia have to say to Vincentians today who are so far removed from Justin's life experiences? Another remark by Father Maloney sheds some light on his selection. He explains that an Ethiopian seminarian had told him that, for the first 15 years of his Vincentian formation, he had believed that Justin was Ethiopian. It was only at the university that he discovered that "our Saint" was Italian.

How had this happened? For this young man, it was simple. Justin had become "one of us." Before embarking for Ethiopia, Justin was determined not to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. For over a century, brave, dedicated European missionaries had gone to Ethiopia and other mission countries throughout Africa and Asia to bring the Gospel. Many of them had died for their efforts. But overall, they failed. Why? Experience showed that it was because they had brought with them, along with the truths of the Catholic faith, the language and culture of their country's origin.

After much prayer, Justin decided to take another approach to win the hearts of the Ethiopian people. A century prior to Vatican II, he adopted the tenets of enculturation and embraced the traditions and culture of the people. He dressed as an Ethiopian monk. He learned the three languages of the country. He ate Ethiopian food. He moved around the country on foot, staying with people, praying with them and transmitting to them his profound love and respect for them and their positive values. His simple dwelling was open to all who came: Coptic clergy, the sick, those in need. He succeeded in winning many followers. To ensure that the church that had blossomed on Ethiopian soil would continue to flourish, he worked for the formation and ordination of local clergy.

Justin is one of the lesser known Vincentian saints, but he deserves more. He is a challenge to the entire Vincentian family to so act that those we serve will be able to say of each of us he/she is "one of us" whoever and wherever they are.

Written by Sister Louise Sullivan, D.C.