In the Heart of the Church
Our Charism is a living out of the Paschal Mystery
During the Lenten season I have been praying through the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Passion in order to cultivate sorrow for my sins and a deeper gratitude for the salvation Christ won for us. As I meditated on the events that we recall during the Sacred Triduum it hit me: this is our charism. A charism is a special gift given by the Holy Spirit to someone in order to build up the Church. Blessed Maria Theresia, our mother foundress, was asked by God to build up the Church by living the charism of perpetual adoration and the works of mercy. As I was reflecting on Jesus’ Passion I was also contemplating the Sacred Triduum and the beautiful liturgies that will be celebrated as we enter into the Paschal Mystery: the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was then that I recognized that our charism is a living out of the Paschal Mystery. What other Christians get to commemorate once a year, we get to celebrate and live out during our entire religious lives. I would like to reflect on three aspects of our charism that parallel the Paschal Mystery: we keep Jesus company, we imitate His self-giving, and we live in the light of His resurrection.
I think that Jesus entered into His last days on earth with a holy impatience. The culminating moment of the Father’s plan was fast approaching. Jesus’ heart is bursting with love for us as He prepares to offer Himself back to the Father. Jesus knows that He was born for this (to suffer and die for us on the cross). Just as a groom plans his proposal to his bride and then waits for the perfect setting to ask for her hand, Jesus waits with eager longing to share His last Passover with His disciples. During the wedding proposal, the groom offers himself as a gift and fervently waits for his bride to respond. In the same way, Jesus offers Himself sacramentally to His Church (represented by the Apostles) at the Last Supper by instituting the Eucharist and then substantially at Calvary when He freely offers His gift of self on the cross. On Holy Thursday we give thanks for the gift of the Priesthood and consequently the gift of the Eucharist which we also celebrate as the gift of our charism. After the Last Supper, Jesus invites three of His Apostles to accompany Him as He prepares to enter into His Passion. He advises the Apostles “Remain here and keep watch with me (Matthew 26:38)”. This is exactly what our sisters do; for the last 154 years (without interruption) our sisters have kept watch with Jesus in our perpetual adoration chapel. This means that our sisters are interceding for the needs of the Church and the world at all hours of the day and night. You may be wondering- what are we keeping watch for? Well, although Jesus is no longer suffering in Gethsemane as He once did, His mystical Body, the Church is constantly suffering in her members throughout the world. We stay with Jesus and ask Him to protect our neighbors who are suffering in any way: morally, mentally, physically, or spiritually. We participate in spiritual warfare: we beg Jesus to distribute His grace to those most in need; we beg Him to free those trapped by sin, to heal those who are in pain, and to reconcile all division in the world. We dialogue with the Lord; we gaze upon Him; we ask for His healing and mercy. We mirror Christ’s presence back to Him; as He is perpetually available to us, we are perpetually available to Him. We also enter into the obedience that Jesus portrayed in His agony. All religious have experienced to some degree the tension that Jesus experiences as He struggles in Gethsemane to give His full consent to the Father’s plan. Just as Jesus works through His internal struggle through arduous prayer, religious accept and integrate their new ministry assignments through dialogue with the Father. Although consecrated obedience can be a true challenge, Jesus shows us that obedience to the Father leads to a participation in the redemption of the world. Our keeping watch with Jesus allows us to take on His mindset and urges us to share in His life of self-giving.
The most sublime example of Christ’s self-giving is His self-offering on the cross. The wounds of Christ give birth to the sacraments. St. John recalls that blood and water came forth from Christ’s side as He was pierced by the spear on the cross (John 19:34). The Church has always proclaimed that the blood and water represent the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist: Christ’s very life. It is through these sacraments that we live out our vocation since our consecration is a deepening of our Baptismal grace and our spousal bond with Christ is daily renewed through the reception of the Eucharist. Christ invites us into His self-giving on the cross. The sisters seek to live out this self-giving through our vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The Eucharist and the cross are inseparable. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the ratification of His promise at the Last Supper. Through gazing upon the Eucharist in our hours of adoration, we remember Christ’s self-gift on the cross through which the Eucharist was born. At the beginning of the Good Friday Passion Service the priest prostrates himself in front of the altar to symbolize Christ laying down His life for us on the cross. Every sister replicates this action right before she professes her perpetual vows. She freely offers her life to God and “pours out” her life in service to the Church just as Christ poured out His love on the cross. Although the cross was the supreme sacrifice of Christ, one could argue that His entire life was spent in self-giving love. In the same way, we seek to faithfully fulfill the demands of charity in our everyday lives as we await the day when Jesus will ask us to surrender our gift of life back to the Father. In this way, we always live in light of the resurrection to come.
St. Paul says “if Christ was not raised, then your faith is worthless (1 Corinthians 15:17)” and “if our hopes in Christ are limited to this life only, we are the most pitiable of men (1 Corinthians 15:19)”. Thankfully, Christ is truly risen and He lives among us! We principally live out the resurrection of Jesus in two ways: we allow His grace (made available to us through the Paschal Mystery) to transform us and we proclaim His resurrection by the witness of our lives. Jesus’ Resurrection is the source of our hope. Through Christ’s sacrifice, God has broken the bonds of sin and death that used to bind us. The gates of heaven are open and we are invited to live with God forever! When Jesus appeared to His disciples after the resurrection He set them on fire with His love. Their faith increased and their confidence in God’s love for them became unbounded. Jesus’ wounds confirmed everything for them; they must have been thinking “He really is God and He really did die and now He truly is alive and standing right in front of us”. Our sisters have an opportunity to share in the disciple’s experience of the risen Christ each time we go into our adoration chapel. As we greet Jesus, we renew our faith in His resurrection simply by the fact that we truly believe that the Jesus who is present to us in the Blessed Sacrament is the same Jesus that walked the earth with the Apostles. The Blessed Sacrament is a perpetual reminder of our future resurrection and the life that awaits us in Heaven. The second way that we live the resurrection of Jesus is that we proclaim His resurrection by the way that we live our lives. Our counter-cultural witness through renunciation of marriage and family (chastity), possessions (poverty), and even control over our very lives (obedience) proclaims to the world that there is something more to live for than just this earthly journey. We live the life of the Trinity: we receive Christ’s love in the Blessed Sacrament and we give our love back to Him, both in adoration and the works of mercy. Simply put, we seek to live the life of Heaven on earth. Perhaps our Mother Foundress says it best “in heaven we continue what already here on earth is the most cherished work of our grateful hearts: the adoration of God”. Another part of the Gospel that we are called to imitate is the scene where Jesus reveals Himself to St. Mary Magdalene after the resurrection and then commands her to announce His presence to the disciples. During our hours of adoration Jesus reveals His presence to us in an intimate way as He speaks to our hearts in prayer. As our hearts are filled with the hope and love of the risen Christ then we are able to share that Good News with others through our active apostolates of healthcare and education. We seek to instill that Easter joy in our coworkers and those whom we encounter in our ministry. People always comment on the joy that they witness when they spend time with our sisters. Is it any wonder that we are full of joy since we are privileged to live in such close proximity and intimacy with Jesus? We are blessed to have 6 chapels in our convent; our home is literally filled with the presence of Jesus who is the source of our joy! Christ’s love is all around us; we are constantly faced with the reality of His all-consuming love for us proven by His perpetual presence in the Blessed Sacrament.
We are truly blessed with our rich charism gifted to us by the Holy Spirit and passed on to us from Mother Maria Theresia. This charism which is planted in our hearts in Baptism is watered throughout our hours of adoration which causes it to bear fruit in our lives. As my understanding of the charism has been broadened and deepened through my formation, I have been given the grace to be ever more conformed to Christ. Every time I place myself in Jesus’ presence in adoration, He slowly transforms my innermost self. He teaches me to think like Him, to act like Him, and most of all to love like Him. As my perspective of religious life has expanded through the passage of time I can truly say that this life just keeps getting more and more beautiful. My hope is that Jesus will send us many more women to keep watch with Him, to imitate his self-giving, and most of all to witness His Easter joy to the world.
~ Written by Sister Mercy