Saints for the Road(kill)

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February 3, 2013 by lucieromarin

No one needs me to tell them why the lives of the saints are so helpful, but I did want to share two stories I’ve only recently discovered, not only because they show that it’s not only the outsiders who can hurt us, but because they show that even when disappointment or betrayal comes from one’s own community, it need not mean the destruction of one’s deepest self.

Blessed Therese de Soubiran (1837-1889) was the foundress of the Society of Our Lady of Auxilatrix. A widow named Frances joined the order, ascended in rank and popularity, produced a report showing that Therese was guilty of serious financial mismanagement, had Therese expelled from office and then from the community itself (so that, after twenty years of religious life, Therese was homeless, publicly disgraced, and forced to go from religious house to religious house begging for shelter and admittance), wiped Therese’s name from all the community records, and then expelled Therese’s sister, too. After fifteen years of exile, Therese died. Her former sisters, now chafing under Frances’ incapable rule, made their dissatisfaction known, and she too, left the community. The succeeding Mother General discovered not only that Frances had faked the records ‘proving’ Therese’s guilt, but that she was also not a widow. Her husband had been alive throughout her entire religious life.

Saint Raphaela Mary de Porras (1850-1925) was the foundress of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart. Her four elected advisors (including her own sister) turned against her, forced her resignation, and then, to ensure that the truth about their politicking remained secret, falsely declared her to be mentally unstable and sent her to another house where she was left to sweep and sew for thirty years. At the time of her death, no one in the order – other than her enemies – knew that she had founded it. Her Superior stayed away from her funeral.

Both of these saints lost everything to the machinations of their fellow religious. Neither of them fought back, neither of them complained, both of them forgave.

I don’t believe that the message of their lives is that we are obliged to keep silent at all times, no matter what injustice stands before us, though I can see how their stories could be used this way. Rather, I think the message is that real forgiveness is a stabilising influence. Both saints remained peaceful – and, in some way, joyful – during their respective trials; this is not possible where silence or endurance is yoked to a cult-like understanding of the Church. It’s only possible when additional virtues give some secret freedom to the heart.

The most telling example given to me in my own life came from an Anglican man who, after a single, unjust decision made by a new minister, was fired from his position in the parish. In the work of a moment, he lost his apostolate, his community, and his income.  These days, though, if you happen to meet him and fall to talking about work, he’ll just say, “The time came to move on.” In other words, he found the exact mid-point between two extremes; he didn’t practice a false, complete silence about the injustice, yet he moved past the injustice. It doesn’t dominate him, and that’s why he’s not committed to vindication or revenge.

People like me need to take note!

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