On June 26th, 2013, we commemorate the 149th anniversary of Mother Elisabeth’s death and at the same time make a start with celebrating the historical moment which will mark the 150th year of her death on June 26th, 2014. It is certainly a very special event for our Congregation worldwide. We, therefore, invite all of you to make this spiritual event a meaningful and joyful one, full of gratitude to God.
Why is it so important for us to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Mother Elisabeth’s death?
In the Bible, 150 is a special number according to the Book of Genesis: ” The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days” (Gen 7: 24). This text tells about the story of God and reminds of the intolerable human wickedness as a result of which God thought of an effective plan to destroy all beings in the flood (Gen. 6: 13-17). God chose and guided Noah, a righteous and just man, to build an ark of 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. The ark probably had the same capacity as a variety of large cargo ships today.
Noah’s faith did not waver when he was told about the aims and purposes of God. He believed that the unprecedented disaster would come. Building an ark was certainly not an easy task. However, “Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.” In fact, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” (Gen. 6: 22). Noah fulfilled God’s instruction to build the ark exactly and accurately. Noah did this with the help of his wife and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth and their wives.
Noah not only built the ark, he also warned the people around him and served God faithfully. He was a “bearer of justice and truth”. However, the people ignored him. Given the spiritual and moral depravity of the people at that time, it is not difficult for us to imagine how the family of Noah might have become a mockery and was subjected to taunts and insults of the neighbours who were skeptical. He was considered stupid and mad. But he was not afraid. Noah succeeded in giving spiritual advice and support to his family.
Not long before the rain fell, God told Noah to enter the ark. When Noah’s family and the animals were inside, God shut the door, so that the mockers couldn’t enter. And when the flood came they were all swept away (cf. 2 Peter 2:5, Matthew 24:38, 39). Rain fell for forty days and forty nights that the waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days. Only Noah, his family and the animals in the ark survived. As they were in the ark, there is no doubt that Noah led his family to reflect on this experience and be grateful to God.
The story of this salvific action of God to Noah and his family can become an interesting inspiration for us when reflecting on the salvific action of God to Mother Elisabeth through ‘the ark’ of the Congregation which she had established. Although these two models lived in a very different era, they more or less show common aspects. Both were righteous, just and faithful; both trusted in God and constantly walked with Him, both faithfully listened to God and observed God’s commands, and both were considered prophetic as they were able to speak the truth, do justice and were grateful.
Mother Elisabeth died at the age of nearly 75. At that time she had been professed as a religious for 25 years and a few months. Psychologically seen, a 25-year-old woman is somewhat more stable, understands her obligations and responsibilities, and is mature and confident in dealing with matters she encounters in her life. Her ‘maternal’ capacity has also developed. The same goes for our Congregation. Over the past 25 years Mother Elisabeth experienced God’s presence; God, who accompanied and led the Congregation. The number of members of the Congregation significantly increased. And when Mother Elisabeth died the number of members of her Congregation amounted to about 54 sisters. The Congregation was growing and flourishing. This, however, was neither her first concern nor her ultimate goal. To Mother Elisabeth spiritual life’s growth and development were the most essential. Therefore, to her, the growing unity of each member with the Divine was the most fundamental cornerstone for which the ark of the Congregation had been established. And the same way she grew in her understanding about the will of God, she also grew in finding ways to realize the love of God through her prayer, her encounter with others, and her services both in the community and the Church as well as in the society.
Like Noah, Mother Elisabeth was a loving person and a bearer of justice and truth: right and just in loving God; right and just in serving others. Poor and abandoned children deserved love, protection, and holistic education (cf. EG 51-53, 146, 149). People who were sick and found themselves in miserable circumstances needed to be visited, prayed and cared for and their souls needed to be achieved (cf. EG 27-37, 108-121). The sisters who were under her care were equipped with spiritual weapons in order not to be influenced by the wicked world, they were accompanied and supported by spiritual advices so as to be able to serve well. They were defended and protected when they were treated unfairly and when they experienced challenges and difficulties in their lives, they were approached gently and compassionately (cf. EG 70, 76, 107, 133, 146-149, 155).
By doing so, she emphasized the truth, justice, peace and compassion which are the fundamental virtues in our commitment to religious life. These virtues became well articulated as she did what she said. She accomplished them by being humble and consistent. The Congregation has thus become a source of abundant blessings both for its members and for others, regardless of age, physical/psychological condition, race, religion and social status, as God is merciful and loves every human being without any boundaries and unconditionally.
Mother Elisabeth had a simple and clear vision. Her motivation and her way of thinking were neither complicated nor convoluted. She did not pretend and had a clear focus. Her lifestyle and deeds were also simple and apparent, especially in following and winning the will of God. She was a prudent woman, who could read and write well. Her writings were more in a form of phrase, sometimes less coherent, and make us laugh. This shows her originality or authenticity. That’s her all over. The unconditional and compassionate love of God through Jesus Christ Crucified had always been the passion or motivation for her deeds and words and characterizes each set of sentences we read on every page of her simple booklet. As to Noah, God called and moved Mother Elisabeth to serve Him.
Like Noah, also Mother Elisabeth constantly lived and walked with God. Those who constantly live and walk with God also trust in God. They always depend on God who ‘takes care of us so that we live’ and ‘provides everything we really need’ (cf. EG 15, 23-24, Ps. 84: 11; 119: 37). They become close to God. The Psalter says, “The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” (Ps. 25:14). Fear of God or piety led Mother Elisabeth to continuously build and maintain her deep relationship with God, to the strongest level of her intimacy, so that she could understand wholeheartedly God’s ways; God, who openly told her about His plan for her (cf. EG 6).
Thus we learn that a pious lifestyle is an abundant blessed life. Getting along with God and understanding His covenant which He has given us is a very beautiful blessing that will become an inner strength in the life of the Congregation. However, having been blessed with a devout and pious Foundress does not guarantee that we will have a good spirituality, because everyone should build her own relationship with God. This is certainly not an easy matter. But we believe in the grace of God that continuously works in each one of us. God created us in His own image so that we can recognize ourselves in and respond to Him. He created in our personality the elements compatible with His personality. We have been given a mind in order to understand and respond to His thoughts. We also have the will to respond to His will. God opens Himself to be known. He also offers Himself to be close with and dear to us. If we want to welcome and respond to His offer or not, entirely depends on us. One thing is certain, God will be very happy if we welcome Him and make Him our dearest friend.
Finally, we come to the other aspect i.e. thankfulness. Like Noah, also Mother Elisabeth grateful to God. Mother Elisabeth saw God as: the One who maintains life and will take care of everything (cf. EG 26, 32); as The One who calls, accompanies, and blesses every human being with what they need (cf. EG 49, 63); as the God who cares for the poor (cf. EG 52) and the God who loves human beings unconditionally and knows no boundaries (cf. EG 30-41). These experiences enabled her to take part in the suffering of God caused by human’s hardheadedness (cf. EG 100) and made her chose to always be with Jesus (cf. EG 140).
The expression of gratitude of Mother Elisabeth was genuine. It reminds us that God does not sleep. In all circumstances: difficult or easy, pleasant or troublesome, sick or healthy, God invites us to remain faithful to His presence. He has his own ways to manifest His works of salvation. He also trusts us. Therefore He chooses and accompanies each one of us even though we are not perfect.
Dear sisters, it is through this grace-filled event that we would like to express our union and communion with Mother Elisabeth and her first community members. We also would like to honour our Founding Sisters who once lived and who eventually returned to the bosom of God. We are grateful for the blessings which allow us to constantly experience our relationship with God. Mother Elisabeth and these Sisters have made history in the life of the Congregation with their stories and memories, both written and non-written. Their stories and memories -all in their own unique way- have shown us the portraits of women who, with all their heart, soul, and power, compassionately loved Jesus Crucified till the end. We celebrate and honour their faith and courage. We also cherish their memories, prayers and recreations. We, therefore, consider ourselves blessed as we have taken part in the struggles that strengthened them and which have become an inspiration for us.
Finally, in order to welcome the 150th anniversary celebration of Mother Elisabeth’s death, we invite you to join our congregational movement at different levels according to the situation and condition of your respective Area by holding the following activities:
At the general level:
- To make this year a year of Jubilee of the Congregation with the theme: “Praise the Lord with a grateful heart” (Psalm 150, EG 139). This theme will be explored by means of various spiritual activities, such as retreats, recollections, community prayer, etc.
- To hold holy hour or novena prayer starting from July 26th 2013 and lasting till May 26th, 2014.
- To celebrate thanksgiving mass on June 26th, 2014. For this mass we encourage you (depending on your situation) to invite young people, our employees and/or mission partners followed by an open house.
- To include in our daily prayer a special intention for vocation.
- To produce a compilation booklet of reflections on the inspiration and charism of Mother Elisabeth through prayers, poetry, prose, songs and meditative drawings as highlight of our Jubilee celebration.
At community/unit/regional/provincial level:
- To encourage sisters to write prayers, poetry prose, songs and make meditative drawings on the inspiration and charism of Mother Elisabeth. To be submitted to the General Board.
- To write articles on the inspiration and charism of Mother Elisabeth and publish them in the local newspapers, magazines, etc.
- To creatively produce a story telling of the sisters who have passed away.
- To hold a seminar for the youth in honour of Mother Elisabeth on: ‘Women in the story’.
- To watch the DVD documentary film, Arches and Bridges with the youth.
- To make a pilgrimage to the cemetery of Mother Elisabeth and/or sisters predecessors.
- To plant 150 (fruit) trees together with our co-workers and/or mission partners as the expression of our gratitude and care for the mother earth.
Let us continue to trust God and encourage each other to show love and do good works. May the Name of the Lord be blessed forever and ever. Amen!
Happy feast day to you all!