Visitation Prayer throughout the Centuries


A Dance of Our Souls

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The Procession Embraces the World in Prayer

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PRISMS OF PRAYER- Visitation Prayer throughout the Centuries

Imagine- A dance of our souls with God; accompanied by the music of hidden cries, tentative whispers, or bold requests and heartfelt promises, alternating with the unison of sung chant, monastic gestures, and the ceremonials. This dance creates a powerful swirl of images that sweeps across our vision but nevertheless remains a mere silhouette of the mystical reality of any human being in the state of prayer.

The language of prayer- whether it is English, French, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Somali, or any other, and the place of prayer, whether it be a chapel in Annecy, a cloister in Mexico, a garden in Rwanda or an infirmary room in your monastery, simply encases  a mystery of infinite proportions- the communication of a soul with its God- its creator.

The secret of prayer remains just that-a secret- even to our own praying selves. Only God really comprehends our prayer.

Yet each of us, as Visitandines, or as Catholic lay women who commit our lives to prayer, do have some sense of our prayer life, our dance, and our love story with Our Lord.

Many of us would no doubt hesitate to share the profound intimacy of our prayer life with one another, although we pray together, daily. But sometimes we do capture it, in formal prayers, in journal jottings, in spiritual direction, in moments of deep friendship, or in a serious crisis.

And as an Order, we have a treasure, lying within the collected and various published writings of some of our Sisters of the past- whose walk with God has been preserved in books or annals.

Let’s  process together through the years and the countries with just a few of these Visitandines who have preceded us, taking this opportunity to  pray with them today, to enter their union with God, which encompassed their union with others.

Processing through Europe

We will catch glimpses of the different facets of their prayer life as through a prism as we experience their very words. Venerable Anne Madeleine Remuzat from Marseilles, France will lead us in our procession as we follow a route in France from Marseilles to Chambery where we will meet up with Sr. Mary Martha Chambon, then cross the border into Italy and arrive in Como to pray with Sr. Benigna Consolata Ferrero. Moving further eastward all the way to Hungary Sister Maria Margit Bogner will be our spiritual guide and then we will take a leap over the Atlantic Ocean to arrive in Mexico to sing divine canticles with Mother Maria Angelica Alvarez Icaza. Finally our pilgrimage will move northward into our own United States to Toledo, Ohio where we will take the spiritual advice of Mother Mary Agnes Faulhaber.

We can remind ourselves, as we approach these venerated Sisters, of Chapter Eight of our  Constitutions on prayer and spiritual reading, which states that “By vocation the sisters are called to the contemplative life. Throughout the day the sisters nurture this deep prayer of the heart in their personal prayer. Private prayer prepares and prolongs liturgical prayer. The one calls forth the other, since the life of prayer can be fully lived only through this twofold expression of faith and love.”1

Assuredly the staple of our monastic contemplative lives are the times we gather in community for our liturgical prayer. That is the fundamental call that we have: celebrating the Holy Eucharist and praying the Liturgy of the Hours. All of the Visitandines I reflect on were faithful to their community prayer.

Our Constitutions continue, “According to her human qualities and God’s gifts, each sister has her own form of prayer and her own way of union with the Lord.”2

As I’ve already remarked, usually this remains a secret between us and the Lord. But in the documented prayers of the various Sisters which I will share, their unique approaches and responses to God will become evident.

The Constitutions continue “Each one docile to the Spirit and trusting in God’s faithfulness endeavors to advance in prayer.”3

So let’s reacquaint ourselves with our Sisters in Christ who were privileged to have intimate moments with Our Lord from which we can now benefit. Let their prayers flow into you. We can consider this our meditation hour together.

The first generation of Visitandines, of course, includes our Foundress St Jane de Chantal who  led us  to have a simple gaze on the Lord; and the second generation brought us to St. Margaret Mary who  revealed to us the riches of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. But now it is 1696 and we are present at the birth of Venerable Anne Madeleine Remuzat.

She was born in Marseilles, Nov.29, 1696;  by Jan 23rd, 1713, she was a Professed Sister of the Visitation Monastery in Marseilles. Seven years later, in 1720, during the devastation caused by the plague at Marseilles, she understood that Our Lord was asking that a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart would be instituted. The Bishop of the Diocese established this feast on October 22, 1720.

The prism of her prayer therefore, takes shape as the Heart of Christ in her call to a deeper relationship with the Sacred Heart and an intercessory ministry that saved a city from the bubonic plague. I’d like to draw attention to her inner disposition that enabled her to be prepared for such a powerful ministry. This is how she explained her own attitude:

Whatever way God chooses to deal with me, to know that it is His good pleasure and that he is satisfied ought surely to satisfy me. Yes my God I promise Thee with all my heart that no matter what befalls me, be it ever so painful or irritating, I will always say “do just as it pleases Thee best, dear Lord.  I submit willingly to all. I cannot say more” 4

This is a fundamental Salesian stance to possess. God’s good pleasure is a hallmark of our spirituality, and it was a hallmark of her own attitude.

A broader perspective of her disposition is also evidenced in a vow she made:

“Today, December 8 1727, Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin, in accordance with the inspiration vouchsafed me, with the permission of my Confessor and Superior, and in dependence on their wishes- they being empowered to dispense me in case of scruple or embarrassment, I engage myself by vow to hand over to God all my prayers, works and sufferings to be used by Him for any soul to whom He may wish to apply them.” 5

This is a generous heart and also, a very obedient heart. One could almost say she made sure to cover all her bases! But I imagine her intent was to guarantee the accomplishment of God’s Will by prefacing her vow with such a deep state of obedience to her Superiors. Once qualified in this way, she gives God everything. Her prayers are handed over to Him to apply to any soul as God wished. She did not cling to her own intentions in prayer. Even beyond this, she gave the Lord all her efforts and good works and all the pain in her life, also using those characteristics to benefit the souls known only to God, not to herself.

Her ultimate goal most likely, is suggested by her simple mantra:

“May He reign, may I cease to be” 6

The essence of her prayer was her relationship to the Heart of Jesus. He Himself called her to this focus and she was faithful to the call.

Oh! That I had a new heart to love Thee with! Oh! That I had all the love of all the hearts in all  the world, so that I might give Thee Thy desert of love.”7

In addition to the litanies of the Sacred Heart with which we are familiar and that were drawn from the prayer life of Venerable Anne Madeleine , she also composed a special spiritual “fast or retreat” prior to the Feast of the Sacred Heart, with spiritual instruction and prayerful aspirations. She wrote of the essential preparation for this Feast as that of Silence, in three forms; that of the spirit, that of language and the third that of our whole selves.

As those three silences become united within, prayer honors our Lord in various ways: His holiness, truth, sovereignty and the divinity of His Heart. She prayed:

May I have, like your prophet, a heart contrite and humble which you do not scorn!

Speak Lord, and make me flexible to your word.

I adore O Sacred Heart of Jesus, your sovereign power and your hold on me and all your creatures. I wish to give to you the homage of the most perfect submission, command  me all that you will want, and give me all that you command me.

You do not want holocaust or sacrifice; I say; here I am.8

Venerable Anne Madeleine also gave advice about communal prayer. She once said to a Novice Directress:

“ My dear friend you will do me a great favor if you will encourage your novices to practice a form of devotion which we have undertaken here; to draw among ourselves the days that remain until Ash Wednesday  and let each one on the day it falls to her to make a spiritual retreat, one however which will make no exterior difference in her day; ask them to offer it in reparation for the crimes committed those days consecrated to pleasure, during which the Heart of Jesus is more than usually forgotten and outraged; assure them they will be repaid amply by the Divine Heart and that this devotion will greatly increase their fervor.” 9

Here’s an interesting way of praying for others, taking turns as it were in a sacrificial offering of the day and in a special way devoted to our Lord’s Heart. It’s creative; it keeps the flame burning throughout the week.

Sister Anne Madeleine Remuzat had an influence on other people. Public officials actually consulted here as well as private citizens. She emphasized the Love of God and devotion to the Sacred Heart in her responses. It is said that individuals turned to God in conversion of heart, those already faithful became more so, religious congregations grew in holiness and many young women answered the call to religious life.

The most famous challenge Sr Remuzat had was the same challenge that all of Marseilles received in 1720 when the bubonic plague erupted in that city.

Her prayers for society, city and the abasement of disease were heart-rending and accompanied by sacrifice and self-giving to a deep degree. The plague abated, returned a few years later, but again subsided.

Venerable Anne Madeleine’s ministry extended to the community’s apostolate, the boarding school.

It seems that parents in the early 1700’s seemed to be as pro-active in their girls’ education as we witness today; for it was under their appeal that Sister Anne Madeleine was named Head Mistress of the Visitation school in her community. Her prayer ministry and influence with others both in the school and wider community continued unabated, until her death in 1730.

Sr. Anne Madeleine  Remuzat  now steps back to let another Visitandine take the lead. We’ve processed into another century, 100 years beyond Sr. Anne Madeleine’s lifetime, and north 227 miles or 365 kilometers to Chambery France. It’s 1841 as we encounter our lay Sister and Servant of God Mary Martha Chambon who heads our procession.

The prism of prayer turns to reflect the Wounds of Jesus as Sister Mary Martha Chambon was drawn to a deep contemplation of the Lord’s Passion as her primary attraction in prayer. In addition she understood that she was to revive the neglected devotion to His Sacred Wounds.

As an illiterate lay Sister, she was assigned as the refectorian in the community’s boarding school for girls, and combined the most humble tasks with that charge: maintenance of the chapel and harvesting fruit from the orchard.

Nevertheless, she lived an intense prayer life; even during the Mass she could be rapt in God. She lived until Thursday, March 21, 1907, passing into eternity after 66 years of life.

The following promise typifies her prayer life and mission:

Oct 17 1867

“I,  Sr. Mary Martha Chambon, promise our Lord Jesus Christ to offer myself every morning to God the Father in union with the divine wounds of Jesus crucified, for the salvation of the entire world and for the well being and protection of my community. I will adore him in all hearts which receive him in Communion. I will thank him for deigning to come to so many hearts which are so little prepared. I promise Our Lord, with the help of His grace and in the spirit of obedience, to offer every ten minutes, the divine wounds of his sacred Body to the Eternal Father, to unite all my actions to his Sacred Wounds according to the intentions of His Sacred Heart for the triumph of holy Church, for sinners and the souls in purgatory, for all the needs of my community, those of the novitiate, the school and in expiation for all the faults committed there.”

An invocation followed: Eternal Father, I offer thee the wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ, to heal those of our souls. My Jesus, pardon and mercy through the merits of thy Sacred Wounds.” 10

This morning offering was supplemented by the subsequent aspiration that she prayed continuously, akin to the frequency of the Jesus prayer of eastern Christianity. Her prayer was universal, for the world, and local, for her community, mentioned in the same breath practically. It was oriented to each soul that had received the Lord in Holy Communion; the highest form of worship, adoration, was to be directed to the living Christ in each person while she expressed gratitude for His presence in the hearts of sinners.

She concluded with a resolution, in the form of a promise to our Lord.

Knowing in humility, that she could not keep this promise by her own efforts she called on grace first and then to lock this promise in her heart, she laid it on the foundation of an earlier promise or vow, that of obedience.

This promise is profound, an offering to God himself of the wounds of Jesus, and not an empty promise, for she would unite all her actions to those wounds, the reflections of our salvation. The intention was generous and not hers, but those of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her additional intentions were both broad and universal, and particular and local: for the triumph of the Church, for all sinners and beyond this mortal life, for the souls in purgatory. But she did not forget her own environment and added for their own community, for the school, for the novitiate and expiation for all the faults in this little world she had been called to.

The frequency was astounding, every ten minutes, in effect, continual. What a soul!

In pondering this mission of the Holy Wounds I recalled the phrase “we are founded on Mount Calvary for the service of Jesus Christ crucified” reflecting our Holy Founder’s  Book 12 of the Treatise on the Love of God, CHAPTER XIII where St. Francis de Sales wrote: “THAT MOUNT CALVARY IS THE ACADEMY OF LOVE.

And at last, as our conclusion,—the death and passion of Our Lord is the sweetest and most constraining motive that can animate our hearts in this mortal life: and it is the very truth, that mystical bees make their most excellent honey within the wounds of this Lion of the tribe of Judah, slain, rent and torn upon the Mount of Calvary

Theotimus, Mount Calvary is the mount of lovers. All love that takes not its beginning from Our Savior’s Passion is frivolous and dangerous. Unhappy is death without the love of the Savior, unhappy is love without the death of the Savior! Love and death are so mingled in the Passion of Our Savior that we cannot have the one in our heart without the other.” 11

It makes spiritual sense that Our Lord would want to emphasize a prayerful mode for remembering this aspect of our vocation, a way to prayerfully maintain our connection on the Mount of Calvary, the place we were implanted by the Lord through St Francis de Sales. The Chaplet of the Holy Wounds makes our association with the Mount of Calvary concrete.

In keeping with the prayer theme of her life the way of the Cross was her special devotion, while she made a Holy Hour every Friday in honor of the wounds

Yet Sister’s prayer life was diverse amidst her special concentration on the passion and wounds of Jesus.

She interceded for so many. With a deep horror of sin, she would pray:

My Jesus, take pity on your children. Do not look upon their sins.” 12

She interceded for her community in this manner: “I promise our Lord, Jesus Christ to offer myself every morning to God the Father in union with the divine wounds of Jesus for the well being and perfection of my community.13

She prayed for the worldwide Church: “Our Lady of the Rosary, protect the Church! Our Lady of the Rosary protect the Pope!14

Her humility was also evidenced in her prayer in times of personal failure: “See my Jesus I have no more power than this dust”, 15 referring to the typical charge she had of cleaning.

There is an immediacy about this kind of prayer; putting herself directly in the present moment, as our Holy Founder taught, and using the very things around her, even as he was apt to do, to enhance her prayer; in this case, the very dust she was sweeping!

One of Sr. Mary Martha’s favorite invocations was: “ Jesus Mary Joseph! I give you my heart, my spirit and my life!16

She had a very grateful heart: She rendered continual thanksgiving. Two words, Pardon, Thank you” and “Master, I am here to look on you and thank you”17 were often on her lips.

 Sr. Mary Martha Chambon lived on the Blessed Sacrament alone for four years and had a great love of the Eucharist. She would evidence her hunger in intercession:  “I beseech you for all your creatures. My God come quickly. Give me the Bread of which those who eat shall no more hunger. Give me the water of which they who drink shall not thirst for ever. O come my Jesus” and also “My Jesus I thirst for souls for your glory”18

She prayed for everybody: “O my beloved I give you my heart and the hearts of my mothers and sisters and of all your creatures, even those who do not love you. O my Jesus, how can it be that you have created these hearts and they do not love you they know not how good you are! ”19

Towards the end of her life, Sister would beg for the Lord to come.

“My all, my all, come o come 20

And He came for her at the start of the last century.

As we continue our procession we can carry this question in our hearts: How does a Visitandine who offers her life to end a war, pray? What is her general attitude to her own prayer?  

We are journeying east to Italy, to Como, across 230 mi or 370 kilometers through the late 19th and early 20th century, between the years 1885-1915, and touch upon the answer amid the spiritual wealth of Sr. Benigna Consolata Ferrero, who was born two generations after Sister  Mary Martha Chambon. This Italian Visitandine did not have a long life; her vocation in the Monastery only lasted nine years, but in those short years she developed, with the grace of God, an intense prayer life, but humbly simple.

Her prism of prayer ultimately will reflect the heart-rending images of World War 1.

In giving an account of her own prayer life, she shared the following:  

“I help myself as much as I can, thinking of something that will make me advance; if I cannot think, I protest to Jesus that I love Him, and abandon myself to His will, too happy to be all His forever, which I hope from his infinite mercy. I am always blind and deaf; but I repeat to Jesus my chant of perfect adhesion to His Will, and this consoles me infinitely.21

If left to herself in the more average, ordinary ways of prayer, no doubt her life would have been underlined by this simple approach. Meditation would take the form rather of the simple regard of Our Lord, as St Jane de Chantal so encouraged and followed. Loving Jesus would be her prayer; her pleading heart would call for mercy; His Will her all, her beautiful chant.

Yet she was not left to herself but was given the grace of mystical experiences so that she came to be known as the “secretary of Jesus” recording the words her heart felt were from Him. She was scarcely blind and deaf.

Sister’s childlike candor is evidenced in the following prayer that was no doubt influenced by the Scriptural passage from Mt 15:21-28 (also Mk 7:24-30)

“Listen, my Jesus the Cannanite woman told you that the crumbs were for the dogs; and I come to tell you that I would be content with those which the ants leave; for these little insects have never offended you and have more right than I to be fed.22

Her language is reminiscent of the saints and mystics, reflecting a theology of “spiritual childhood” similar to that of St. Therese of Lisieux.

Sister Benigna Consolata also had great confidence in God. She showed her confidence in creative and rather dramatic prayer from her heart:

“My Jesus I believe in thy love; though you should slay me I would believe in it still, Yes,  if I saw myself hanging by a thread above hell and this thread  were held by thy divine hand I would in no wise fear even though it should break. I would not be afraid because you could tie it together again. I know it is a great mercy on your part to treat me thus for should you deal with me as I deserve you would let me yield to the terrible temptations of the enemy.”23

Another example of confidence in very ordinary affairs and daily tasks is demonstrated in this precious incident, from Sister Benigna Consolata’s own words as she alludes to her mission as “secretary”.

“ONE DAY WHEN I WAS AID IN THE LINEN WARDROBE, I SAID TO MY Beloved: ‘Listen, my Jesus, if you wish that I should write, it is your affair, you must arrange it. We have a great washing to extend; then tell the sun to shine so that it may dry our linen; if not, we shall have to work several days, and it is you who will lose.’ Jesus, in His goodness heard my prayer; the weather was perfect. However I was not wholly satisfied; and I remarked to one of our Sisters that the favor Jesus had just granted would be still more manifest if it should rain the next day. As soon as we had taken in the washing all dried, a pouring rain came down. I was greatly embarrassed, but radiant with joy at proving once more that by confidence we can obtain everything we wish from Our Lord.24

Can’t you just envision that experience?

Sister’s prayer life grew in intensity and she prayed for others from the depths of her soul:

Jesus becomes ever more sweet in His guidance of me. He fills me with Himself…I have a continual thirst for prayer; I have a thirst for spiritual reading, but above all, I have a thirst for Jesus. There are moments in which I feel an immense need of God, an ardent desire to love Him for all those who love Him not, to supply for what they will not do for him. I do not see God, but I feel him, and I would like (to die) to be united to Him.25

At times Sister’s prayer might have seemed very sweet and childlike. Nevertheless this young Sister of 30 years was able to go to the limits of sacrifice.

In her own suffering she prayed: I am like a tree stripped of its fruits. Jesus, fiat always! All for love. My Jesus, give me Thyself, then take away all the rest. May Thy Holy Name be blessed!26

And on July 4, 1915, with the consent of her Superiors, Sr. Benigna Consolata made the sacrifice of her life, to obtain peace and help end World War 1. The offer was accepted by God. A year later, in July 1916, she began to decline. In August she developed pneumonia and had move to the monastery’s infirmary. Sr. Benigna Consolata died peacefully on September 1, 1st Friday of the month, about three o’clock in the afternoon.

As we move on in wonder, considering the holocaust of this simple Sister, another young Professed Sister steps up to take the lead, Sr. Maria Margit Bogner, who guides us northeast 613 miles or 986 km to Erd, Hungary, near Budapest.

Born in 1905 just a generation younger than Sr. Benigna Consolata, Sr. Maria Margit lived merely 28 years, until 1933, and was a contemporary of St. Faustina.

The prism of prayer of Sr. Margit reflects a deep interior life with Jesus and a particularly profound relationship with the Blessed Mother, exhibiting an intimate style of praying the liturgical cycles.

Her devotion was primarily Eucharistic. One June, she seemed to realize this and spoke in prayer to the Lord about it:

“Jesus, I feel that it is in your Eucharistic form that I must preferably love You. Your small sanctuary lamp must be consumed before the altar. O my Jesus, I ardently desire to prostrate myself more often before your tabernacle, to love you, to speak to you of my tenderness as I would do in heaven, where I would embrace your feet. Up there, my Jesus, one always loves you, one always adores you, but here, within the tabernacle, you are so alone, you are offended there.”27

Sister desired to do for God what others could or would not do. Sister Maria Margit also had a well developed relationship with our Blessed Mother. She expressed holy confidence and a desire for progress in perfection, in a practical way, in a prayer she wrote before the Feast of the Visitation.

“Very Holy Virgin, today, the Feast of our Holy Order, together we promise, because without you I do not dare to do it, we promise to your divine Son, my Spouse, that the Magnificat will be the response  to all that you will send me; no complaint will escape my lips, even if my heart must suffer much, even if nature revolts. O very Blessed Virgin, help me then with a big heart to sing the Magnificat!28

The holy boldness that Sr. Maria Margit exhibits in this prayer is captivating! She promises, for both herself and Mary, to Jesus, to live the Magnificat in heart and soul; that the Magnificat will be the only response to whatever the Lord and his Mother sends her in life. She accepts  the possibilities of suffering of her heart and the rebellion of her nature- these taken into consideration, her response, but only in humility with the Blessed Mother’s aid, will be the Virgin’s own hymn, the Magnificat.

What a beautiful way to face the future. This could become our own chant as we walk with our Mother into the struggles and challenges of our day.

Sister Maria Margit also prays in conjunction so very intimately with the Blessed Mother as the season of Advent begins.

“O Blessed Virgin, I am close to you, I press up against you in silence, without uttering a word. It is Advent. Our heart quivers. My Mother, I take refuge with you, this Advent is also for me a true Advent, you know it. Put your hand on my heart, o holy Virgin. Do you feel it? Isn’t it so, this poor machine will not be able to go well much farther, anymore? My holy Mother, I wait with you. We listen to the palpitations of His Heart. However, O Holy Virgin, I die of desire to really hold Him in my arms with you. My Holy Mother, forgive my boldness, I am dust, I know it, but I am driven irresistibly; I ardently desire His arrival in me. I would hold him tightly in my arms, to protect him from all offenses, to delight Him with my love, to avoid the wounds caused by the coldness of hearts. May he listen to the soft murmur of my lips, the ardent quivering of my heart! O my little Jesus, I beg you, look at me, plunge your eyes in mine! I cover them with kisses, in order to hide from them all that could cause you sorrow. Sleep, Jesus. I, during this time, will beg for you the love of hearts. I will ask of them that they will let themselves be filled with your graces, to receive your spirit so that you can come back to life in them.”29

The depth of intimacy in this Advent prayer is incredibly profound, the imagery so tangible, her humanity so prominent. She presses up or squeezes against her heavenly Mother and speaks of being one heart with her, in the anticipation of the birth of Jesus. She has the simplicity of a child, as well as boldness, in inviting the Blessed Mother to physically lay her hand on her heart, desiring her to feel its beat, weakening with the great anticipation of Jesus’ birth. She repeats her union with the Blessed Mother; together they await the birth of the infant Jesus, listening.

She knows herself and declares her own boldness in the midst of her insignificance to the Blessed Mother but shares her deep desire to hold this Child, to protect him as a mother would. She identifies as one with the Blessed Mother in Motherhood, in the way she would care for the infant Jesus.

Having as it were, received the Blessed Mother’s assent, by virtue of her unity with her, she turns to the unborn Jesus and addresses him with tender, protective and ardent words.

Having expressed her motherly protectiveness, she moves outward to pray for others, first ministering to the Lord himself by begging for the love of others’ hearts towards him, and ministering to others by encouraging them with her prayer to be open to the Lord’s graces and spirit so that Jesus himself can be born in them.

What she has, she shares and wants to build in others. So the circle of her concern and love widens from the profound intimacy with the Blessed Mother to all.

Sr. Margit Bogner had been a founding member of the new foundation in Erd, Hungary, going as a new member of the Order. She tried to resemble Jesus in all ways.

Her missionary zeal for others was infectious and her ministry of prayer took the form of an outreach to the missions.  Her goal was souls and in the midst of her intimacy of union with God, she never forgot this goal. Listen to this delightful way she expresses her missionary role:

It was a beautiful evening of summer, and joyously Sister helped to water the kitchen garden. She had already refreshed a quantity of vegetable plots.  The Superior observed her at her window. When Sr. Margit she saw her, she exclaimed:“Oh my Mother, how many small Chinese I baptized”. This thought made her forget heat and tiredness. “The missionary colonies of a Visitandine do not have borders. Today, I baptize in China, tomorrow in America. I sow the seed of the faith everywhere but I help also the missions of Europe, today here, tomorrow over there. Where the Visitandine passes, hearts blaze up like the lamps in the night. She must cross the world and seek souls, by her small sacrifices, to lead them to Jesus. He counts on us. Let us not cause him disappointments; He must recognize us in souls. Our vocation is the redemption of souls.” 30

The deep and affectionate intimacy, the outpouring of emotion in her prayer to her Beloved, did not obscure the love she had for her neighbor, all over the world. She was an ardent missionary and declared it to be not only her own vocation, but that of all Visitandines. She never lost sight of her outreach as an essential value of her prayer ministry.

The final prayer I’d like to share gives a presentiment she had about the shortness of her life and her approaching death which was to occur at age 28 of tuberculosis.

“Jesus, today is the last day of my retreat. O my Jesus, how the fire of your Heart is consumed!

Yes, my Jesus, you cannot give me more, my heart is invaded by a river of grace and love! What will I give you my Jesus? All belongs to you. My misery alone is my good. I give it to you. You accept it, don’t you? It is necessary that you take it; you know that my union with you depends on that.

Jesus, these inexpressible, uncommon feelings enliven me. You reveal to me an unknown side of your Heart. It seems to me that you are in a hurry to give me all your graces, because time is short. Your love causes me physical pains, so much is extreme.

You want to annihilate in me all that displeases you. The Father who is giving the retreat spoke to me like a prophet. O Jesus you know that I do not want to penetrate your intentions, You know that I do not want to go towards you before the designated time, but I feel that the   dawn of my true life approaches. O my Jesus, the dawn of my life. You know, the Paschal day when you call my name ; Maria Margit. And you pronounce this word as sweetly as the first Passover Jesus it still resounds in my heart. I am thirsty for this word. My Jesus won’t you call me quickly? O for this reason I aspire to hear this word.” 31

She died in 1933. We are awaiting her beatification. The cause is in process.

And now we process across the Atlantic Ocean, hopefully by ship or plane! 6440 mi or10400 km and arrive in North America, in Mexico, giving the leadership in our procession to an accomplished spiritual guide, Mother Maria Angelica Alvarez Icaza, mystic, Foundress, Superior and Federation President. We’ll walk for a long time in this procession, 90 years, from 1887 to 1977, her lifetime. The shape of her prism of prayer forms an outline of the nation of Mexico, for she was ardent in her intercessory prayer for her native land.

She was also a poet whose mission was to spread the songs of divine love from her heart’s experience to the world.  

She was profoundly loyal to her native land of Mexico and lived during its most tumultuous era. Her prayer focused so strongly on her native land’s plight even as in her interior life and union she reached the heights of mystical marriage and beyond, with Our Lord Jesus.

In the context of the Mother Icaza’s patriotic love during the nation’s struggles, she mused:

“Now my soul has been troubled and what I will say to you, my Father? Will you remove me from this bitterness? No, Father, for that reason you have sent me to the Earth. 

Afterwards I thought: Jesus, as a man, had a country also on earth; no one as He has suffered for his nation… With this it seemed our two hearts were founded on the same love and the same pain.32

Let’s explore some aspects of her prayer life.

“Eternal Father! I offer to you by means of the Holy Virgin the precious Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ to appease your divine justice and to obtain pardon and peace for Mexico.” 33

This was an aspiration she prayed repeatedly for her country. Her country’s need was always present to her and in her prayer.

“Nothing is impossible for you, my God; but you are going to save us. Why did you urge me so much to beg for Mexico? Can it be that my prayer will be left useless being thus so that you can be the one that begs in me? I am so sure of you that I immediately give you thanks for everything; certainly I yield the greater glory to you. Long Live Christ the King! Long Live Our Holy Mother of Guadalupe!” 34

From this prayer spoken so directly and animatedly we can see the effort, the time and the intensity for which Mother Icaza interceded for her native land of Mexico, giving glory in confidence to the Lord in the holy boldness of her expectation of Him and of the patroness of her country, Our Lady of Guadalupe.

She also spoke in a confident manner to the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit:

“O Holy Spirit! To you the Mexican nation is especially consecrated; with your infinite power you can change the face of my homeland; give us an eminently Catholic government; holy and just laws; this is the gift that I hope to receive from the August Trinity on the 25th anniversary of the spiritual marriage.” 35

Mother Icaza specifies what she wants; in praying for the government she asks for its Catholicity and for justice. And the profound mystical aspect of her relationship with the Lord gives her the confidence of a bride when she calls out for an anniversary gift as a wife married for 25 years just might do. She unites the extraordinary gift of the mystical union she was highly privileged to receive as an individual with the welfare of her entire nation.

And she prays from her exile in Spain (1916-1948) around the time of the resolution of turmoils there; she has not forgotten the land of her birth.

“My God, I give you thanks for what we are seeing in Spain; grant to me this victory for Mexico; I confide it to your Heart.” 36

In her union with the Lord, she discovered her mission; to write of the Lord’s infinite love, divine love, his songs of love to souls. She wrote over a thousand of these love songs, some reflecting deep and profound intimacies of soul.

But some also reflected her experiences, of exile, of living under persecution. It contains aspects of a dialogue with the Lord.

An Account of Conscience 37

To Speak of the Present Circumstances of Retirement that has formed the Soul in the Interior and Begs for the Necessities of Mexico

 

What you now do thus exiled from your beloved monastery?

within my soul, a quiet retirement, I have formed.

it is a temple, a reliquary of the august Trinity

there I adore Him prostrated in spirit and truth

There I have my delights

The Lord has them too

This pleases me my daughter

Follow it so that all is well.

I have and I keep my treasure,

in my own heart;

I do not need anything,

because my possession is God.

 

Only one thing causes sorrow to me,

The offenses to my Beloved

I beg, O Mother, end

This kingdom of sin.

You who show to Mexico

Love of predilection

move away the evil that has invaded

this your loved nation

 

That the errors are extinguished,

that it does not lose the faith;

that to the Church and its members,

respect and love are given.

 

That your children are not lost

The children of your nation

and that, our King is always,

the Sacred Heart

The Servant of God was very devoted to Our Lord’s Heart and wished that the knowledge and love of God would extend to the whole world. Sanctity would lead to an apostolic fruitfulness. She prayed that Jesus would embrace all.

“Heart of Jesus, come and reign in us.”38

As we complete our celebration of our 400th anniversary with this gathering, it might be interesting to note Mother Icaza’s comments on the 300th anniversary in 1910. At that time, her community had just moved into a newly constructed monastery in Mexico. That was before their expulsion from the country to Spain.

This is how Mother Maria Angelica remembered the 6th of June 1910:

“On June 6th we celebrated the third Centenary of the foundation of our Holy Institute of the Visitation, which was conducted with the greatest possible solemnity within our souls as exteriorly, with great joy. I enjoyed rays of light in the middle of the shadows of my daily life.39

I think we could echo these sentiments.

Mother Maria Angelica Alvarez Icaza died in 1977and her cause is also before the Holy See.

Finally we prepare ourselves for the final stretch of our procession and a very long walk north from Mexico 2259.4 miles, into our own United States as we pass through the 93 years between 1870-1963,  praying with the American Visitandine Mother Mary Agnes Faulhaber. Like Mother Icaza, her contemporary, we process with a highly gifted Sister whose talents for leadership shone out wherever she was. Not only was she elected Superior of Georgetown but as we know eventually was inspired to found our Monastery in Toledo.

Administrative skills, maternal care, the professionalism expected and performed by a Sister elected to such positions, surely influenced Mother’s prayer life.

Her prism shines especially brilliantly with her prayerful and spiritual advice to her Visitandine Daughters. Her identity as a Visitandine is also profiled prominently within her prayer.

Let us first gently peer into the sentiments of Mother Agnes’s own soul.

Here is an excerpt from Mother M Agnes’s annual retreat in 1923:

“With the assistance of thy grace, my dear Jesus, I shall endeavor to live in complete dependence on thy holy will as made known to me by our rules, constitutions and particularly our Directory. This spirit of dependence is to be directed in a special manner to the loving and gracious acceptance of the surprises thy loving heart has in store for me. To love, honor thee in my neighbor, this being the great desire of thy Sacred Heart, bearing in mind that a thought contrary to charity wounds thee to the very heart. Grant me the grace to henceforth shape my life in such a manner that it may truly be a life of union with thee, a life of action with thee, a life of intention and affection with thee. Mayest thou ever predominate, my sweet Jesus, in my every thought, word and deed and may I truly be extinguished.” 40

This is clearly a heartfelt prayer of a Visitation Sister who has deeply imbibed the groundwork of the Order into her very being. The key elements of this retreat promise reflect the pinnacle of a fully formed Visitandine: Dependence on God’s Will, complete self-effacement, generous charity, union with God and deep faithfulness in obedience to our Rules and Constitutions

Her openness to God’s surprises in her life reveals an aspect of her personality that stands willing to let go and let God be in control.

She had taken St Francis de Sales as her spiritual guide, meditating his teachings phrase by phrase. His Spiritual Directory and the little book Interior Spirit were her daily bread throughout her life. She loved them!In the next short excerpt of her prayer, Mother focuses on another key aspect of our charism:

“I will endeavor with Thy Grace, O Jesus, my one and only love, to do everything in the spirit of profound, sincere and unfeigned humility, ever realizing my utter nothingness and begging Thee to be my substitute.” 41

The virtue of humility would be her keynote. Mother’s attitude is one of dependence upon grace to make the effort to grow in this quality and to be focused on the reality of her own status as a Child of God, as one created to love Him above all else.

She would repeat to her Crucified Jesus: “I will say a hundred times a day: This is my hope, the living source of my happiness, the heart of my soul and the soul of my heart. Nothing shall ever separate me from his love since I desire life only that I may become a holocaust of sweetness agreeable to his divine eyes.” 42

While all of us could repeat this as our own mantra, the unction from the heart of a Superior with often overwhelming responsibilities makes this prayer all the more poignant.

Mother Mary Agnes prayed conscientiously for the community she was elected to head over many terms of office.

“Dear Holy Father and Holy Mother, plead my cause and that of the community before the most Holy Trinity. May we be inundated with the spirit of our Spiritual Directory.” 43

Her duty as Superior was clearly as spiritual leader of the Sister in community and she also addressed many notes to them during her solitude retreats, gathering them in to her own retreat and sharing it as she went along, with her inspirations. Her letters to her sisters reveal, in an indirect way, her life of prayer and more directly her spiritual leadership as she guided the souls and the prayer life of her community.

“There is something our dear Lord wants of us, dear Sisters. It may be called: Reciprocal Donation, or sacrament of Suffering- as such it is unlimited. He wishes us His spouses to avail ourselves of it repeatedly, day and night. Considered as a Sacrament, it contains the following: the outward sign- all that contradicts nature. The inward grace-more abundant life of Jesus within me. The fruit he so ardently desires- souls, many souls saved from the abyss of sin. These word- gracious- smiling Yes , dear Jesus my only Love.

Will you not, dear Sisters, in the reading of this, make to Jesus an immediate and loving acceptance of every occasion of his good pleasure from now until he calls you to himself in the eternal consummation in unity? This is the reparation and atonement he asks of his chosen souls in the Visitation.” 44

In her spiritual and motherly guidance, Mother Mary Agnes wove together and promoted a seamless prayer life that would develop the Sisters’ interior union with our Lord, reflect the charism of the Order and serve the ultimate purpose of ministering to other souls. Sacrifice and suffering were not absent from this spiritual garment, but rather its very sacrament. Saving souls in suffering, with a smile and with profound Love was her deep-seated goal.

Mother M Agnes’ had a strong Eucharistic spirituality which reaches a summit of intense beauty as she writes to her Sisters. Listen to this exquisite Eucharistic imagery:

“Jesus has pledged himself to be our Eucharist to the end of time and he in turn calls us to be “living hosts of perpetual sacrifice offered to God on the altar of Calvary to serve unceasingly Jesus Christ crucified. May a spirit of loving atonement and reparation ever animate us to be forever the Eucharist for Jesus. Let us give him liberty, as the great high priest, to consecrate us over and over again whenever and as often as he wishes. (This we will do by loving acquiescence to his holy will in the manifestation of his good pleasure from moment to moment…the watchword, Thy Will, dear Jesus, not mine.)

And, “Oh may our community be indeed a ciborium filled with thirty-six living hosts offered in atonement to our offended God each morning at the Elevation of the Mass. May the gift of prayer be bestowed on you in abundance..This will be my daily prayer for you to the end of my life. 45

We become Jesus and let Him live in us, we live Jesus, by imitating all the aspects of the life of the Lord, even to His greatest miracle, that of becoming Eucharist for us. Like an exchange of hearts, this is a Eucharistic exchange, He is Host for us, and likewise, we are living hosts for Him, and the needs of all people. Not forgetting the Mount of Calvary on which we are founded, this is spiritually where we make our sacrifice to our High Priest and Lord. The profundity of the thought- to be consecrated not just once, or even with every time we renew our vows, but over and over in loving acceptance of His Will, completes the liturgical image of the perpetual liturgy of life. Mother sealed it with her own promise of this daily prayer throughout her own life, for her beloved daughters.

And finally, Mother states in an intimate fashion,

“..into the Heart of Jesus I have place you individually by name, pleading for each dear Sister to be favored with new unfolding of the secrets of God’s love.”46

Beyond her own personal interior growth and sterling response to her own Sisters how did she guide them and herself in praying for the broader world?

Wars, especially World Wars 1 and 2 were the urgent world events that lay outside the cloistered walls of the Toledo Visitation, as well as lesser conflicts, such as the Spanish Civil War. Elected again in 1936, for example, Mother was concerned for the Church in Spain which was suffering. In addition to prayer, the Sisters made sacrifices, and each month practiced a particular virtue to obtain a Catholic victory. Mother Agnes sent generous supplies of clothing for the Spanish Sisters in sympathy and concern for their well-being.

The wars intensified the spiritual and prayer life of the community. The Sisters prayed for the return of peace to the world and the eternal salvation of the combatants. They offered prayers and actions, privations and sacrifices for this intention.

Mother Mary Agnes wrote to her Sisters during World War 2, from her retreat,

“Your Holy Communion of Sunday has been promised to me; another infinite treasure! What better intention can we have for it than that of reparation during these sad days when the poor world is striving hard to obliterate God! O let us dear Sisters in proportion to the world’s wickedness, strive to give our divine Lord an abundant life in our souls by the practice of humility, frequent Consecrations in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with its Elevation at every moment of the day, and pleading for the restoration of an abiding peace throughout the world. 47

Mother Mary Agnes’ approach was consistent; whether encouraging the Sisters for specific intentions like the end of war, or general for salvation of souls, what predominated was her love of the Eucharist, the virtue of humility, the theme of consecration and faithfulness to the Visitandine way of life.

Finally she encouraged the community in their relationship to the real demands of our world remembering St. Francis de Sales’ counsel to remain in the presence of God.

The disturbance and terrible unrest of the world today are due to the fiendish efforts of the enemy of the Lord to banish every vestige of God from the hearts and minds of men- to make it a Godless world. Shall we not then, dearest Sisters, make every effort to take God’s part by paying honor glory and reparation to our Lord and master, our divine Spouse? The efforts we will make, aided by his grace, to keep ourselves in the realization of God’s presence will be more pleasing to the Heart of our Lord who will then live, reign and rule in us. The purchase money for this inestimable grace is fidelity to all that our Constitution on religious Modesty requires, and all this will be a most fitting preparation for the days when Jesus will call you to be alone with Him alone. 48

Mother Mary Agnes served many triennials, but became physically weakened in her later years. Her noble life passed into eternity in 1963.

So our Procession ends right here as we conclude this portion of our sacred, historic walk together. Not only have we processed through time and across distances, but we have gently entered into our Sisters’ hearts and souls.

As we continue to meet together in our celebrations, I hope we are encouraged by the wisdom we have experienced to be sensitive to the depths of one another gathered here now. Hidden within each one of us is a heart of prayer as tender and profound as those of our ancestral Sisters whose souls we have been privileged to meet today.

May God bless us!

Given by: Sister Susan Marie Kasprzak VHM

June 23, 2011

ENDNOTES

1.Constitutions on the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary, Chap.Vlll, p. 69

2.Ibid, p. 70

3.Ibid, p.70

4.Sisters of the Visitation of Harrow, Life of the Venerable Anne Madeleine Remuzat, M.H. Gill & Son, LTD. 1920, Chap. XV, p. 59

5.Ibid, p. 193-194

6.Ibid, p. 110

7.Ibid, p. 95-96

8.La Venerable Anne-Madeleine Remuzat, Lyon, 1894, French Edition, Appendice, p.40**

9.Sisters of the Visitation of Harrow, Life of the Venerable Anne Madeline Remuzat, p. 80.

10.Lady Cecil Kerr, Sister Mary Martha Chambon of the Visitation, Alexander Ouseley, Limited, 1937,  Chap.IV, p.40-41

11.St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Vol II, Chap. 12

12.Lady Cecil Kerr, Sister Mary Martha Chambon of the Visitation, Chap XX p. 37

13.Ibid, p.77

14.Ibid, p. 91

15.Ibid, p. 54

16.Ibid, p. 121

17.Ibid, p.75

18.Ibid., p 93

19.Ibid., p.67

20.Ibid., p162

21.M.S. Pine, A Life of Love, Sister Benigna Consolata Ferrero, John. P. Daleiden Co., 1927 & Georgetown Visitation Convent, 1921, p. 92

22.Ibid., p.92

23.Ibid., p.83

24.Ibid., p.78

25.Ibid., p.106

26.Ibid., p.117

27.Elemer Csavossy, S.J. Une Tombe Pres Du Danube, 1935, p. 65 **

28.Ibid., p.67

29.Ibid., p.76

30.Ibid., p.93

31.Ibid., p.73

32.Pedro Fernandez Rodriguez, O.P., Biografia de la Madre M. Angelica Alvarez Icaza, Vol. 1, Editorial San Esteban, Salamanca, 1993, p. 36      **

33.Ibid., p.31

34.Ibid., p.50

35.Ibid., p.51

36.Ibid., p.49

37.Ibid., p. 406

38.Ibid., p. 38

39.Ibid., p.159

40.Sister Mary Teresa, VHM, Purchase Price, The Story of Mother Mary Agnes, Monastery of the Visitation, Toledo, Ohio, 1966, p. 97

41.Ibid., p. 88

42.Ibid., p. 116

43.Ibid., p. 112

44.Ibid., p. 119

45.Ibid., p. 119

46. Ibid., p.119

47. Ibid., p.127

48. Ibid., p.120

**Translations from French and Spanish by Sr. Susan Marie Kasprzak, VHM

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