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Journals and Letters week 39: The loving guidance of a mother

(Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters” pages 346, bottom, to 356, mid-page. This is located in “Part VI: Later Letters (1846–1856)” starting with “Spiritual Counsels.” Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore’s writings every week.)

Our reading this week offers us the opportunity to situate some of Mother Theodore’s notable quotes in the context of the events in which she was living. Both editions (1999 and 2015) of the “Calendar of Daily Quotations” from Mother Theodore’s writings are rich sources of her love, wit, wisdom, humor and deep spiritual life.

Words of wisdom

Among those that had a ring of familiarity for me this week were the following: “It would be better to be guarded in your words than always asking pardon.” (347) “Repent of your sins and failings; take resolutions to do better and, after that, be quiet. The more we stir up a dung-hill the more it exhales bad odors. … ” (350) And, “The heart understands the heart. As yours was speaking in your letter, mine understood its language.” (348)

The first and second statements were in response to letters from Sister Maria and the last one was in a letter sent in response to Sister Gabriella.

Mother Theodore’s words to Sister Maria continue the spiritual counsels we have been reading about over the last few weeks. They offer us a glimpse of Mother’s care and concern for this young sister in her formation, and they also hold much wisdom for us today. In struggles we may be facing, we, too, may need someone to lovingly challenge us and guide us in realizing the effects our shortcomings have on us and on those with whom we live, work and worship. And, surely, the reminder that unnecessarily continuing to “stir up a dung-hill” can give us pause to rethink a behavior that can cause such an undesirable outcome!

Affection and tenderness

In her letter to Sister Gabriella, we have the beautiful reference to “heart language.” The affection, tenderness and deep spirituality that is recorded in these two sentences must have brought great joy and affirmation to Sister Gabriella. And, in our present-day reading, these words convey Mother’s legacy. They impel us to trust, opening our hearts in love to others so that we can share at the deepest level our joys and sorrows with one another.

Shared daughters

The daguerreotype of Sister St. Francis

This week’s selection also includes two letters to Mme. Le Fer that hold both profound affections as well as great amusement in their content. There is great love shared between Mother Theodore and Mme. Le Fer, both for one another and for Sisters St. Francis Xavier and Mary Joseph, their “shared” daughters. Mother Theodore takes great care to assure Madame that her daughters are well cared for. She even provides a list of livestock that support a healthy menu for their meals, commenting that good bread and some Bordeaux wine are available.

The delightfully amusing story centers on a trip to Terre Haute that Mother Theodore makes with Sisters St. Francis and Mary Joseph to arrange for a daguerreotype of Sister St. Francis that will be sent to Mme. Le Fer. The purpose of the trip was not disclosed until they had been underway for some time. And, of course, Sister St. Francis needed to be convinced to agree. Mother Theodore was very creative in using a “vein of persuasion” that focused on visualizing Mme. Le Fer’s reaction to receiving the daguerreotype of her beloved daughter. And, in her writing about the specific details of the experience of the “operation” (the process of creating the image), we can sense what an amusing and fun event this must have been for them all.

For your reflection

I have witnessed a situation that brought to mind the quote: “The heart understands the heart. As yours was speaking in your letter, mine understood its language.” My experience happened while facilitating a grief support group. Two of the participants seemed to connect at a very deep level, a heart level, about the experience of their husbands’ deaths. Have you witnessed something like this, either in person or in a letter? Would you like to share the circumstances here?

What would the experience of riding to Terre Haute with Mother Theodore be like today for you? What would you see, talk about, laugh about … ?

Next week > page 356 to page 364 bottom. This is located in “Part VI: Later Letters (1846–1856)” starting with “To Sister Mary Xavier … ”

View the complete reading series.

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Linda McMahon

Linda McMahon

Originally from Philadelphia, Linda had a 25-year career as a navy nurse. She then served as a parish adult faith formation coordinator, an on-call hospital chaplain and a hospice bereavement specialist. A Providence Associate since 2007, Linda lives in San Clemente, California with her husband, Randy, and their 2 cats.

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  1. Avatar Jeannie Smith on July 3, 2021 at 5:21 pm

    Dear Linda! Not a surprise, my friend, that the same sentences grabbed me! And I was feeling akin to poor S. Maria, so I went back to last week’s letter to her and had to laugh when Mother said to her: “You are very foolish, my dear Sister, to be tormenting your imagination with the fear of losing your mind. …. Believe me, my daughter, we cannot lose what we never had.” Apparently Maria must have compared herself to a priest of “fine intellect and good judgment and keen mind”, but must have had some sort of nervous breakdown. Mother’s humor was made subtle by her sentences about the priest before that last little jab at Maria! You had to think twice to get that!
    I also loved Mother’s statement in her letter to S. Mary Xavier “…it is always with regret that I leave St. Mary’s.” Can’t we all resonate with that? It always used to tear my heart out whenever I’d drive out those gates – not so much anymore now that I am an Associate!

  2. Avatar Denise on July 8, 2021 at 12:51 pm

    Linda – for the first time ever I paid more attention to the phrase “than forever asking pardon.” I’m not so good at that part of MTG’s idea. Thanks for raising this idea up to our awareness. It’s so needed during these nasty times.

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