Thursday, March 19, 2015

St Joseph's Day

Today's community Mass was offered for the repose of the soul of a Sister Maria Regina, whom I had never even heard of until her death notice came in yesterday's email. We don't get just the bare details (name, date of birth/vows/death) when a sister dies, but a brief (one page) biography, lovingly written by our own Mother General. (Before she became Mother General, she had been writing the death notices, and she just continued doing it; it's not part of the Mother General job description.) The notice is read in full to the community here just before Mass. I have never reproduced a death notice in my blog before, but this sister's witness cries out for it, even if I skip lightly over some parts:

Sr. M. Regina entered the Congregation in the community of Rome on 7 Oct. 1953 after finishing high school. Reminiscing about her sister, Sr. Assunta, who died several years ago, Sr. M. Regina wrote, “We were a religious family, made up of Dad, Mom, and 6 children (5 girls and a boy). We loved one another very much and were closely united among ourselves. I entered the Congregation 6 years after Sr. Assunta. When I told her that I too wanted to become a Daughter of St. Paul, she replied that she didn’t think I was suited to the religious life. In fact I was a ‘free spirit’–probably the least religious of all the members of my family.”
[After first vows in 1957, Sr M. Regina was assigned to our health care community outside of Rome and got a degree in nursing. For a few years she worked in bookstore communities, but was called back to the medical field for a second stint lasting almost a decade when, in 1987,] the Superior General asked her if she would be willing to go to the Congo as a missionary. With true Pauline zeal, Sr. M. Regina willingly embraced a completely new situation, which she quickly learned to love. She lived through dramatic moments in both Kinshasa and Lubumbashi, due to the fact that the civil war in neighboring Rwanda was having serious repercussions in the Congo. In 1991, she wrote to the Superior General: “After my experiences in Kinshasa, I am now in Lubumbashi. Thirty-six hours after my arrival, the end of the world exploded here too. Life is harder here than it was in Kinshasa. But the Lord has been faithful to his promise, “Do not be afraid; from here I want to cast light.’ He has been with us in every sense of the word.” Together with the rest of the community, she lived the turbulent days in which invading soldiers ransacked the city. The sisters’ only weapon was prayer, which obtained for them the grace of emerging unscathed from the hands of the guerrilla fighters. A few days later, the little group was able to escape from Lubumbashi and take refuge in Zambia. It was a time filled with danger but the unstable situation did not diminish in the least the heroic apostolic zeal of our Congolese sisters.
[After 25 years of missionary life, she was recalled to Italy.] The last years of Sr. M. Regina’s life were not easy for her but she accompanied her sufferings with the generous offering of herself to the Lord for the needs of the Congolese people. 

When I was living in Rome in 1998-2001, I was stationed with another missionary sister who had lived through the civil wars. The Italian sisters could have left with a UN transport, but they stayed alongside the African sisters and people. The sisters witnessed horrors, and entrusted themselves to the mercy of God every night as they barricaded the convent doors and windows. Every morning, they swept the shells and casings from the upstairs terrace and put them in a bowl in front of Our Lady's statue. Our sisters in Pakistan are probably best able to identify with the kind of trust it takes to live in such a precarious situation. It is the same trust that St Joseph had to live by, one day at a time, as the sole guardian and protector of the Incarnate Word and his Immaculate mother.

Last year I posted the ''St Joseph Angelus" as a way to remember Joseph's remarkable, if largely invisible, role in the history of salvation. I posted it again on the Angelus blog; you might want to use the prayer today, since the Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary doesn't get all the devoted attention it deserves.

This feast of St Joseph is also the anniversary of the pontifical approval of the Holy Family Institute, one branches of the Pauline Family. Members share the apostolic spirituality of Blessed James Alberione and make the same three vows as religious priests, brothers and sisters do, although they observe them according to their sacramental vocation as married persons. Yes, chastity: every Christian is expected to live this virtue, which is not identical to celibacy. Chastity, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "means the successful integration of sexuality within the person" and actually fosters "the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman." Poverty and obedience, too, take a different shape when lived in consecrated married life. The Holy Family Institute is the fastest-growing of the ten Pauline institutes, perhaps in part because it responds to the desire to really live as the Holy Family: in deep union with one's spouse, fostering the growth of their children "in wisdom, age and grace." 

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