2017 Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Feast Day reflection
I think Mother Theodore might agree that the best part of her being declared a saint is the opportunity it has given us as her beloved community to come together to pray, to sing, to enjoy each other’s presence, to be in communion with one another, to recommit ourselves to carrying on her legacy.
I’ve been thinking a lot about us as that beloved community—Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates, SP and Providence Health Care co-workers, administration, faculty, staff and students of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, friends and ministry partners here and elsewhere.
As many of you know, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) meets each August for an annual assembly. Ever since the LCWR meeting this past August, I have been struck by a new awareness of the importance of our presence in the world as a community.
Hardly had our last conference started when Liz Sweeney, a Sister of St. Joseph and the conference’s contemplative guide, shared a quote from Ken Wilber, a contemporary academic and spiritual writer. He has said:
“The next Christ will be a community.”
“The next Christ will be a community.”
Later, Liz described this community as a “communion of ordinary people deeply committed to God, to one another, and to the world.”
Almost immediately, I found myself saying:
“I want to be part of that community….
I want US to be a part of that community.
I want all of us connected by the charism of Providence as lived by Saint Mother Theodore to be that community.”
A communion of ordinary people deeply committed to God, to one another, and to the world.
Please God, help it to be so. And on this day when we celebrate the woman who founded this beloved community, may she help it be so.
So, what does this really mean — the next Christ will be a community?
What captures my heart about this phrase is Jesus’ own admonition to each of us and all of us together to go forth and do as he has done … feed the hungry, bring good news to the poor, comfort the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives. Go and do likewise. Be the Christ.
I believe it is what St. Paul means when he says to us through the reading we heard today: “that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” And to be in Christ is to be a member of the living Body of Christ.
And perhaps it is what St. Luke means when he writes: “it is God’s good pleasure to open to you the reign of God.”
The good news of Jesus the Christ is that we participate in bringing about that reign of God with lives lived in love, a reign characterized by unity, healing of Earth, wholeness of relationships and peace.
Jesus was the Christ because of his extraordinary incarnation of love, God’s love. We ARE called to do the same.
That is the treasure for which Mother Theodore gave her heart. And that is the hope that she had for her beloved community—that we be an extraordinary incarnation of love.
In a letter to Bishop Bouvier in 1854, she wrote:
“The retreat has given to this good Father [Father Gleizal, the retreat director] the highest opinion of our Congregation. He found us having an excellent spirit at Saint Mary’s. He said so publicly. He was above all edified by our union. He thinks there is not another Community in the United States where the members love one another as they do at Saint Mary’s. The fact is that there does exist among our Sisters great charity….
The Positio of The Life and Heroic Virtues of Saint Mother Theodore names Charity as Mother Theodore’s crowning virtue. She wished charity to be the cardinal characteristic of the sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods—an all-embracing charity which would bind them together as one.
In her own words:
If all but understood the power of that one word charity; how it unites and binds and welds together.
I would like to suggest that charity might be the way we become strengthened as a communion of ordinary people deeply committed to God, to one another, and to the world.
Charity as a theological virtue is loving the way God loves. The two chief characteristics of God’s love are selflessness and sacrifice.
What did this virtue look like in Theodore’s life? Probably, you can name many examples without my help:
- Literally, she offered the gift of her life by leaving France to come to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for the sake of the education of children and the care of the sick poor.
- She forgave a bishop who sought to change the Holy Rule and remove her from office. And he conspired with one of her sisters in the process. Probably Theodore’s greater gift was forgiving the sister.
- Mother Theodore was seen by others to not only spend her energies to provide for the temporal and spiritual needs of the religious committed to her care but also to the poor that she might clothe them, that she might nurse them because she regarded the poor as God’s special gift to herself.
Beyond being charitable, Mother Theodore inculcated this kind of living through her letters and instructions. According to Mother Mary Cecilia Bailly, a contemporary of Mother Theodore and her successor, charity was Mother Theodore’s favorite theme during her spiritual conferences and instructions.
In forming her sisters as teachers she instructed:
- “Teach your students in what charity consists: is it in the occasional giving of an alms? That is something, but not everything. …
- Is it charity to refrain from conversation injurious to our neighbor? Certainly, and that is an obligation;
- But what about thoughts and judgments? …..never will we sound a discordant note in our own minds, nor will we intentionally touch a chord in the minds of others that will vibrate a dissonance.”
And listen to this spiritual advice:
- “It is our inability to go further than the surface that causes us to be so faultfinding, so unwilling to bear with the imperfections of our neighbor.”
So, if Father Gleizal were here today, what would he say about our charity? Would he be impressed by the way we love one another. Would he recognize us as a communion of ordinary people deeply committed to God, to one another, and to the world.
I leave that to you to answer—and I leave us with one very familiar thought from Mother Theodore as perhaps a way to live into an answer:
What have we to do in order to be saints? Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than what we do every day. Only do it for [God’s] Love…
And might I add — may we do this together as a communion of ordinary people deeply committed to God, to one another, and to the world.