We commemorate the historical day of the Congregation on 29 April 2014. Celebrating this day becomes our opportunity to reflect, explore and give meaning to our spiritual experience in the Congregation, which reminds us of the event now 177 years ago. On the exact date of 29 April 1837, Mother Elisabeth Gruyters founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St Charles Borromeo in Maastricht. Reflection first of all starts from the history of the Congregation.
29 APRIL 1837, the Feast of St. Peter, Martyr. Notwithstanding all the comments of the people that we were poor and also that the city of Maastricht had been closed for six years, God gave the two of us courage and strength to start this work (EG 46).
The above event reveals two important things. Firstly, it describes the situation of Maastricht as a ‘closed city’. Secondly, it tells us that God granted Mother Elisabeth the grace of courage and strength to start the establishment of the Congregation.
From history we know that, at that time, the Netherlands were in crisis because of the impact of the French Revolution in Europe. The situation in Maastricht at that time is clearly described in EG 46, 51, 52, 27, and 28.
These articles show that the city of Maastricht found itself in a situation of ’chaos’. The word ‘chaos’ is derived from the Greek language Xaos, which means that the situation is chaotic and disorganized. It is in this situation of crisis that Mother Elisabeth was granted the grace of courage and strength of faith to establish the Congregation. What was the power within her that made that she dared decide to say YES to the offer or the call of God in the concrete situation of her days?
Mother Elisabeth revealed that the Experience of God’s Love (cf. EG 39 and 41) is a power in itself. Mother Elisabeth experienced how God loved her unconditionally (cf. EG 94 and 98). Through the process of continuous discernment and prayer before God, Mother Elisabeth felt enabled to say YES to God’s invitation and mission. In some other parts of her book, we can find that the process of spiritual discernment (=discretion) is always performed by Mother Elisabeth (cf. EG 8, 11, 17, 149, 150, 156).
The situation of ‘chaos’ or crisis at that time in Maastricht, was a field of service and of giving herself to God. Mother Elisabeth came and presented herself as a messenger of God, Who gave hope in a world of ‘chaos’ and crisis.
If we go back to the source of our life as followers of Christ, we can learn from the Scriptures. The prophet Isaiah gives an overview of how the mission of the Servant of God is present in the world and gives hope. This overview can be found in Isaiah 42: 3-4: “He will not break off a bent reed or put out a flickering lamp. He will bring lasting justice to all. He will not lose hope or courage; he will establish justice on the earth…” Although there seems to be no hope, the mission of this prophet is to give new hope.
Matthew and Luke (cf. Mat 6: 25-34, Luke 12: 22-31) also remind us that we should not worry because God has provided what we need. Sometimes we become anxious and worried when faced with circumstances that are not clear to us or are not comfortable. The gospels of Matthew and Luke invite us to dare let go of our faith and trust in God.
How can we bring the spirit of Mother Elisabeth in our life and our mission in the society?
As religious, we are granted the grace to follow Jesus Christ more closely. We experience the love of God that is total and unconditional as Mother Elisabeth describes it in EG 94 and 98. We are invited to draw our strength from and in Jesus Christ Himself, just like Mother Elisabeth always drew her strength from Christ (cf. EG 39 and 41; John 4: 4-15).
Life as a religious is a choice as well as a witness to the people living today. We, as religious, are not only called, we are also sent. Our mission involves and takes part in God’s work of salvation embodied concretely in the apostolate by serving others who are in need. We can learn from Mother Elisabeth. She was able to make the right decision and realized her mission as a prophet in her time because she was always practicing spiritual discernment and continuously praying. She opened the door and received the presence of the poor children and even took care of them physically and spiritually. Mother Elisabeth encouraged them to further evolve towards a good life and trained them with various skills such as sewing, etc. All services rendered to the poor thus became prophetic actions of Mother Elisabeth.
We, her daughters, are sent to live out and continue to foster Mother Elisabeth’s spirit amidst people living today.
May the remembrance of this historical day in the Congregation which is 29 April 2014, become an opportunity for us to make this spiritual event meaningful and may it further encourage us to put into practice our spirituality both in community life and in the apostolate entrusted to each of us.
Happy Feast Day to All of You!