Reflecting on the United States through the writing of Saint Mother Theodore
It’s a time of unrest and tumult in the United States – a deadly virus, natural disaster after natural disaster, violence in so many cities, a polarized political landscape, unemployment and business closures – on and on it goes.
On the other hand, it’s been a time of heroism and heroics in our nation – scientists and health care workers caring for those affected by the virus and working to discover an effective vaccine, firefighters and first responders giving their all; school administrators, teachers and staff designing safe and effective learning experiences for students; peaceful protestors making their voices heard; caring and effective police officers – on and on it goes.
Reflecting on the feast
On the occasion of Mother Theodore’s 2020 Feast Day, I’ve been wondering if her reflections about the United States of her time have anything to say to the United States of our time.
I’ve called to mind some of Mother Theodore’s perceptions of the United States. Remember, she was 48-years-old when she arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Up until her departure from France to the United States, she had never been outside of Brittany, a small geographic region in the northwest of France.
Mother Theodore was a “blank slate” in terms of the sights, sounds, geography and culture of the United States in general and Indiana in particular.
Perceptions of the United States
Because of this, I am drawn to her writings that capture the spirit of the United States as she came to know it during her 15 years of ministry here.
I offer these observations of hers not as political commentary or cultural criticism. I offer them solely for the purpose of our reading and pondering her impressions. Her comments, at least for me, invite thoughtful consideration of her words; openness to her perceptions; an honest assessment of how the words strike us as residents of the United States, as friends of Mother Theodore, as persons of faith.
I guess all I’m asking is that we read her words; consider if we resonate with them or not; to ask the Holy Spirit that we may hear what we need to hear and to do what we most need to do in the present moment.
The words of Mother Theodore
Mother Theodore’s words – taken from the Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guerin:
- Making the most serious reflections on what we beheld, and on our present position, I said to myself: Thus does life also pass away, now calm, now agitated but at least the end is attained. Happy … are they who can look out to the never-ending future with calm and confidence.
- It is difficult for many novices to understand the necessity of religious obedience, especially does this seem to be the case in this country where the spirit of independence is carried into everything,
- Our American sisters have not the tender piety of the French, but there is no hypocrisy … among them. They are … full of uprightness, of devotedness and of simplicity,
- Voyages, which are an image of life, are generally accompanied by a crowd of contradictions,
- These misfortunes of daily occurrence are not the only ones that afflict our unfortunate America. We hear of nothing but fires and murders … The explosion costs the lives of several persons, but of this scarcely anything is said in the papers … Instead a long list is given of the loss of money and of property,
- The most painful sight I saw in New Orleans was the selling of slaves. Every day, in the appointed places negroes and negresses are exposed for this shameful traffic … This spectacle oppressed my heart. Lo! I said to myself, these Americans so proud of their liberty thus make game of the liberty of others,
- To repeat: Voyages, which are an image of life, are generally accompanied by a crowd of contradictions,
- Sometimes I am so disheartened with this country that I feel as if I were carrying on my shoulders the weight of its highest mountains,
- This land was no longer for me the land of exile, it was the portion of my inheritance, and in it I hope to dwell all the days of my life.
Taking it to prayer
I’ve had more time to reflect, pray with Mother Theodore’s words than have you, dear reader. So I know that God’s Holy Spirit asks me to carry these words with me every day: Happy … are they who can look out to the never-ending future with calm and confidence.
What words draw you into prayer?
In the meantime, Happy Feast! Let’s celebrate with joy the life of a remarkable woman, our Saint Mother Theodore Guerin!