27 January 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

Strive to be faithful to that which God has called you.

– St Angela Merici

 

Angela Merici was a lay Franciscan who founded the Company of St Ursula – named for the legendary princess and virgin martyr St Ursula, patroness of universities – in 1535, with the purpose of educating girls.

Born on a farm in 1474, Angela was orphaned when she was ten years old. She and her sister were taken in by an uncle. When her sister died suddenly without the last rites, Angela was very distressed. She was comforted by a vision of her sister in Heaven with a procession of angels and virgins, like Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28:12).

A Solemn Vow

The 15-year-old Angela became a Franciscan tertiary, a laywoman living by the spirituality of St Francis. She was very beautiful, and people often complimented her lustrous hair. To avoid the attention, she covered her locks in soot. She had vowed to dedicate herself completely to God as a consecrated lay virgin.

When she was twenty, her uncle died, and she returned to live with her brothers, on her own property which would have been her dowry had she chosen to marry. She received another vision, that she was to establish an association of virgins who would devote their lives to teaching young girls, ensuring they received the Catholic faith.

In obedience to God’s will, Angela gathered twelve young women in the city of Brescia and began her life’s work. These women made a commitment of their lives on 25 November 1535, the feast day of St Catherine of Alexandria, another early Christian virgin martyr. They were the very first teaching order of female religious sisters.

 

Sanctifying Society

Angela’s aim was to nourish and sanctify families through educating future wives and mothers in Christian virtue. She observed: “Disorder in society is the result of disorder in the family.”

Angela also wrote in her Spiritual Testament: “Mothers of children, even if they have a thousand, carry each and every one fixed in their hearts, and because of the strength of their love they do not forget any of them. In fact, it seems that the more children they have, the more their love and care for each one is increased.”

She knew that the family is the domestic church, the first school of love for every child, and if she and her religious sisters could foster the faith and intellect of young girls, that would produce significant positive flow-on effects for future generations.

Charity Begins at Home

Angela made a pilgrimage to Rome to gain the indulgences of the Jubilee Year. Pope Clement VII had heard of her virtue, and invited her to expand her work to Rome. However, Angela disliked the limelight, and chose to return to her humble hometown.

Angela taught her religious sisters to serve God while remaining in the world, teaching the girls in their own neighbourhoods, meeting regularly for prayer, and practising a form of religious life in their own homes, following a Rule of Life emphasising celibacy, poverty and obedience. Pope Paul III approved her Rule in 1544.

 

Incorruptible Saint

When Angela died in Brescia on 27 January 1540, there were 24 communities of the Company of St Ursula serving throughout the region. Her body was clothed in the habit of a Franciscan tertiary and was interred in the Church of Sant’Afra, where Angela had spent many hours praying at the tombs of the Brescian martyrs. Her body remained there until the church was destroyed by bombs in World War II. Angela’s incorrupt remains survived the bombing, and are still available for veneration in Brescia.

 

Woman of Faith

St Angela Merici’s life is a testament to the good which can flourish when a single person assents to God’s calling, becoming a flame which lights other candles, causing a cascade of love throughout space and time. Today, the Secular Institute of Saint Angela Merici or the Angelines are present in 23 countries throughout the world, including Singapore.

How is God calling you to serve today? Are there ways in which you can display God’s love to those in your neighbourhood, as St Angela did?

 

Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called. He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need, He will stretch out His saving hand.

– St Angela Merici

11 January 2022

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections

With the commencement of the new school year, various school leaders have been reassigned to new posts. After eight years of service as principal of CHIJ Katong Convent, Ms Patricia Chan has taken on a new posting, moving to the Ministry of Education (MOE) as Director of English Language and Literature in the Curriculum Planning and Development Division (CPDD).

 

Sweet Memories

Reflecting on her time in the CHIJ family, Ms Chan shares that her favourite memory is of Book and Music Week (BMW), a well-loved school tradition dating back more than fifty years. She explains: “It is a time where the formal confines of the classroom make way for spontaneous and experiential learning through the love of music, the written word and the arts.”

The spunky principal has aimed to do something memorable for her students in commencing the festivities each year. “In my first year, I dressed up as William Shakespeare and delivered my opening in iambic pentameter, while for the SG50 celebration in 2015 I performed a soliloquy as a Samsui Woman to celebrate the pioneers of Singapore,” Ms Chan reminisces. “Last year, I donned the IJ uniform to mark my coming of a full circle as a student and a principal, to drive home the message of time and space.”


(Photo: CHIJ Katong Convent Facebook)

 

Recalling a more challenging task, Ms Chan says: “Moving the school to a holding site for two years, overseeing the re-building of the school and moving the school back to Marine Terrace to its newly renovated and refurbished campus was also quite an experience. Embracing all the technicalities of construction, engineering and design was not without its difficulties – I was a fish out of water – but keeping sight of the core focus that we are building a conducive environment for work, play and study made the process exciting.”

 

Trust in God

Ms Chan ponders how her Catholic faith has guided her through her career: “As a person of faith, I know that God has a plan for everything. His ways are not our ways, and He always makes things good in His time.”

Recognising the hand of Divine Providence throughout her life, Ms Chan states: “I have learnt not to seek answers or solutions readily when things don’t turn out right; over time, I know the Lord will provide, I just need to have the faith and trust in Him.”

“More often than not,” she adds, “The answers or a way out is frequently through words and actions of others, or a change in the course of events, or sometimes, an inspiration of a brainwave which comes during unexpected periods.”

Turning to Scripture, Ms Chan reveals how the Word of God has sustained her: “My favourite quote from Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, has given me the strength to embrace the unknowns or the seemingly dire situations.”

 

Hope for the Future

Ms Chan expresses her hopes for the future of CHIJ Katong Convent, that it may “grow from strength to strength as a Catholic IJ school.”

“Specifically,” she adds, “For the staff – that they continue to grow in spirit, mind and skills for themselves and the charges they care for, and for the girls – that the school develops in them the strength of character to lead with care, to learn with passion, and to live with purpose as contributing members of society.”


Ms Patricia Chan donned the IJ uniform at the opening of her final Book and Music Week as the principal of CHIJ Katong Convent and reflected on how an IJ school inspired by the spirituality of Nicolas Barré set them up for life. (Photo: CHIJ Katong Convent Instagram)

 

A New Leader

Considering her successor, Mdm Hilda Tan Hwee Tsian – who has been rotated from Meridian Secondary School – Ms Chan says: “CHIJ Katong Convent is blessed to receive another IJ alumnus as her new principal. As IJ alumnus, Mrs Hilda Tan already has a shared experience and a common identity she can tap in charting the next directions of the school.”

Ms Chan continues: “The appreciation (Mdm Tan) has of the school’s history and heritage enables her to write the present in order to chart the growth of the school for future generations. She will have a good starting point.”

 

A Great Responsibility

Contemplating how her time as a Catholic school principal has formed her as a person, Ms Chan shares: “The oft-said statement that with authority comes responsibility, couldn’t have resonated more.  As a Catholic leading a Catholic school, I take it as a personal accountability to uphold the Catholic ethos and identity of the school.”

Drawing upon a Biblical theme, Ms Chan continues: “I pretty much likened it to the parable of the talents, where I am privileged to be leading a Catholic school and therefore much is to be expected of me.  Leadership has forced me out of my comfort zone in making my own faith journey more visible.”

Referring to the founder of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus schools, she affirms: “Understanding the charism of Blessed Nicolas Barré has also led me to grow in faith and spirituality in the way I lead the school and interact with my students and staff. This mindfulness has helped me calibrate how I need to think and act, especially with others.”

She concludes, “Being Principal of a Catholic school has given me the lens to consider how I might create an encounter with Christ for the people with whom I interact. This is a gift which I will continue to treasure and take to wherever I am.”

16 December 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Homilies / Messages, Reflections

Happy New Liturgical Year! Advent marks a new year in the Catholic Church. This is an important time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. Just as we prepare for the glorious joy of Easter with Lenten fasting and penance, so do we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ with the quiet contemplation of Advent.

“Advent” is derived from the Latin ad venio, “to come”. This liturgical season anticipates the Adventus Domini, the coming of the Lord. The sublime secret is that Christ is already here: He has been present in Mary’s womb since the Annunciation on 25 March.

Pope Benedict XVI taught us in his book Dogma and Preaching:

“Advent” does not mean “expectation,” as some may think. It is a translation of the Greek word parousia which means “presence” or, more accurately, “arrival,”, i.e., the beginning of a presence. In antiquity the word was a technical term for the presence of a king or ruler and also for the god being worshipped, who bestows his parousia on his devotees for a time.“Advent,” then, means a presence begun, the presence being that of God. Advent reminds us, therefore, of two things: first, that God’s presence in the world has already begun, that He is present though in a hidden manner; second, that His presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, of becoming and progressing toward its full form.

His presence has already begun, and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom He wishes to be present in the world. Through our faith, hope, and love He wants his light to shine over and over again in the night of the world.

That night is “today” whenever the “Word” becomes “flesh” or genuine human reality. The Christ child comes in a real sense whenever human beings act out of authentic love for the Lord.

 

Advent is also a time in which we call to mind Christ’s Second Coming and prepare our hearts to receive Him at the end of days. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come, with the restoration of all creation ending our exile in this vale of tears. Various Advent traditions include the Jesse tree, which traces salvation history through Jesus’ genealogy; the Advent calendar, with a surprise for each day we count down to Christmas; and the Advent wreath, with candles representing Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Does your family practise any of these traditions? They can be both a fun and prayerful way to anticipate the magnificent celebration of Christ’s birth.

A beautiful Advent prayer is the St Andrew Christmas Novena, which encapsulates a deep longing for God’s arrival in the dark night of a world in need of a Saviour, a world hungering for Love. This Advent, let us be open to God’s quiet presence amidst the hustle and bustle of life, making room for Him to be born in our hearts so that we may bear Him to every person we meet, irradiating their lives with joy.

 

St Andrew Christmas Novena

Hail, and blessed be the hour and moment
at which the Son of God was born of a most pure Virgin
at a stable at midnight in Bethlehem in the piercing cold.
At that hour vouchsafe, I beseech Thee,
to hear my prayers and grant my desires.
(Mention your intentions here)
Through Jesus Christ and His most Blessed Mother. Amen.

15 November 2021

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Tags: Educators

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

The teacher is like the candle which lights others in consuming itself.

– Giovanni Ruffini, Italian poet (1807-1881)

 

You have most likely heard of St Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant Dominican friar who wrote the Summa Theologiae, a compendium of all of Catholic theology. But do you know he was taught by St Albertus Magnus – Albert the Great?

As a young member of the Dominicans or Order of Preachers, Albert taught theology throughout Germany. In 1245, he became a Master of Theology and then a full-time professor in the University of Paris, where Aquinas began to study under him.

Albert was the first in medieval Christendom to produce commentaries on all of Aristotle’s writings, introducing Greek and Arabic science and philosophy to Europe. He was also a keen botanist, biologist, mineralogist and astronomer, studying the natural sciences. He is thus recognised as one of the 36 Doctors of the Church, as the Doctor of Science and the Universal Doctor, because of the depth and breadth of his knowledge and teaching. The word “doctor” is Latin for “teacher”. The Doctors of the Church are saints who made significant contributions to theology or doctrine through their research or writing.

Aquinas’ fellow students teased him for being rotund and reticent, calling him “The Dumb Ox”. Albert overheard them and said: “Ox he is, and his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world.”

Building on his mentor’s work, Aquinas produced the pinnacle of scholastic philosophy, the Summa Theologiae, systemising Catholic teaching in harmony with Aristotelian principles, a profound marriage of faith and reason, the fruit of three decades of collaboration between Aquinas and Albert.

In 1260, Pope Alexander IV appointed Albert as the Bishop of Regensburg in Germany. Though he occupied an esteemed position, Albert refrained from owning or riding a horse, in accordance with his order’s vow of poverty. He walked all over his considerably large diocese, earning him the affectionate nickname “Boots the Bishop” from his flock. He also founded the University of Cologne, Germany’s oldest university.

Albert passed away on 15 November 1280, six years after his star pupil Aquinas. His body was discovered to be incorrupt upon exhumation three years after his death. Albertus Magnus is a patron saint of scientists, philosophers and students.

Reflecting on Albert’s life, we see how he gave glory to God through his vocation as a teacher, encouraging his students like Thomas Aquinas to reach their full potential and even surpass him. He was not just academically gifted, but also had a pastor’s heart, faithfully tending to the members of his diocese despite the daunting distance on foot. He is a shining example to teachers everywhere, to maintain the virtues of humility and charity while serving God, being a model of Christian discipline and bringing out the best in their students. From Albertus Magnus, we learn to appreciate God’s handiwork throughout all creation, from the tiniest plant or mineral to the glorious stars in the heavens.

 

Prayer to St Albert

Dear Scientist and Doctor of the Church, natural science always led you to the higher science of God. Though you had an encyclopedic knowledge, it never made you proud, for you regarded it as a gift of God. Inspire scientists to use their gifts well in studying the wonders of creation, thus bettering the lot of the human race and rendering greater glory to God. Amen.

22 October 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Reflections, Saints

For many who graduate from school, what endures beyond the grades and accolades is friendship. True friends share in each other’s joys and support one another through challenging times; they help each other grow in virtue, knowledge and maturity. St John Bosco, an educator of street urchins and founder of the Salesians, counselled:

“Fly from bad companions as from the bite of a poisonous snake. If you keep good companions, I can assure you that you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven; whereas if you keep with those who are bad, you will become bad yourself, and you will be in danger of losing your soul.”

 

Pope John Paul II, born Karol Józef Wojtyła – whose feast is on 22 October, the day of his papal inauguration – knew the importance of friendship as a young man. The German Nazis and Russian communists invaded Poland during his university days in 1939; the university was shut down and he was forced to work as a manual labourer, quarrying limestone. During that time, he met Jan Tyranowski, assigned by a Salesian priest as a student mentor. Jan introduced Karol to the Living Rosary youth groups, which continued to meet throughout World War II, keeping the faith while their priests were imprisoned.

Karol soon discerned a vocation to the priesthood, and Jan managed to attend his ordination on 1 November 1946 before dying of tuberculosis. As a young priest, Fr Wojtyła formed youth groups as his friend Jan had. These young men and women went hiking, attended retreats, and put on plays, despite being in a war zone. In these groups, the youth found freedom which was denied them by the oppressive regime which had seized control of all institutions, including schools. Through the apostolate of friendship, they were able to cultivate human flourishing in the midst of violent turmoil, helping one another grow holistically.

 


A young John Paul on a hiking trip. Source: voiceofthesouthwest.org

 

The word “friend” comes from a Proto-Indo-European word meaning “to love”. Pope John Paul II wrote in his book Love and Responsibility:

 

“Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person’s good.”

 

This echoes St Thomas Aquinas, who said, “Love is to will the good of another.”

In fact, what Jan and Fr Wojtyła did reflected what Jesus Himself did during His earthly mission. He gathered a group of friends around Him (John 15:15), teaching them about God the Father through His words and actions. These friends of Christ spread the Word of God throughout the world, inviting each of us today to join them in becoming friends of God. The most effective evangelisation is based on a solid foundation of friendship, where one receives the love of God through a friend. How can you share God’s love with your friends today?

21 October 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Events, Saints

This evening, the Infant Jesus Sisters invite everyone to join in the celebration of Holy Mass commemorating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Nicolas Barré, the founder of their order. Mass will be live-streamed online on YouTube, celebrated by Fr Derrick Yap, OFM.

Today’s feast concludes the jubilee year of the fourth centenary of his birth, a celebration which began last October 21. Nicolas was born the eldest of five children to Antoinette and Louis Barré on 21 October 1621 in Amiens, France. He was their only son; they probably expected him to take over the family business.

However, educated by Jesuits from the age of ten, Nicolas witnessed their prayerful life integrated with charitable action; the Jesuits provided free lodging for poor students. The Jesuits were a missionary order sending priests all over the world to share the Gospel. Nicolas was inspired to be a priest.

 

Serving the Poor

Instead of joining the Jesuits, he decided to become a Minim, living among the poorest people in town and serving them throughout the epidemics, famines and wars of mid-seventeenth century France. Their motto, Caritas, later influenced the spirituality of the “Charitable Teachers” assembled by Fr Barré: the Infant Jesus Sisters.

Fr Barré was a noted philosophy and theology lecturer, as well as director of the library at the Minim convent of Place Royale, Paris, France. He witnessed the terrible poverty of the people of Paris. During a period of illness, he prayed and reflected that many social ills were the result of youth lacking education, and hence a sense of purpose and direction in life. Fr Barré decided to invite two young women, twenty-year-old Marguerite Lestocq and eighteen-year-old Françoise Duval, to help teach impoverished girls. Three other ladies soon joined the work, known as “Little Charitable Schools”.

 

Growth of the Mission

After four years of running these small schools, Fr Barré invited the teachers to live as a religious community under the care of Divine Providence: the Charitable Mistresses of the Schools of the Holy Infant Jesus.

He wrote: “We should live in a state of complete dependence on grace, and however great the gifts and effects it produces, we should always focus on God Who is its source. As to our good deeds, we should remember that it is God Who deigns to act through us.”

Summoned back to Paris by the Minims, Fr Barré discovered that news of his schools had spread, and a wealthy woman, Marie de Lorraine, invited him to open more with her financial help. Together, they founded ten schools and a small hospital.

In time, the Infant Jesus Sisters became an institute of pontifical right with communities in five continents, educating children throughout the world. Fr Barré was consulted by St John Baptist de la Salle, who founded the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools to educate boys.

 

Arrival in Singapore

When founding the LaSallian St Joseph’s Institution in Singapore, Fr Jean-Marie Beurel wrote to the Infant Jesus Sisters in France, asking them to send missionaries to start a girls’ school. The sisters arrived in 1854 after an arduous journey by ship, and founded both a school and an orphanage for babies abandoned at their “Gate of Hope”.

The sisters trusted in God’s providence, teaching by day and supporting themselves as embroiderers by night. Their mission expanded to Japan in 1872 and Thailand in 1885. In Malaya and Singapore, they established 83 schools. Today, there are eleven Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) schools in Singapore.

The CHIJ badge, designed by French students in 1894, bears the motto Simple Dans Ma Vertu, Forte Dans Mon Devoir: Simple in My Virtue, Steadfast in My Duty. It is a reminder to persevere in one’s responsibilities despite all challenges.

An IJ education forms students holistically, building their characters for the lifelong love and service of God and others. As the hymn to Father Barré says: “Touch many hearts to follow in your footsteps/To dedicate their lives to youth and poor/… to make Christ known and loved.”

At Blessed Nicolas Barré’s beatification in Rome, on 7 March 1999, Pope John Paul II said: “Nicolas Barré tirelessly sought to lead both the people he directed and the charitable teachers to the prayer of the heart, inspired by contemplation of the inexpressible mystery of God Who out of love became a human being and even a little child.”

Today, we celebrate his legacy of faith and love which has formed so many young Singaporean women throughout the generations. Join the IJ community in praying the Mass at 8pm on YouTube.

8 October 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Homilies / Messages, Reflections

In school, teachers often repeat learning points so that they will sink into our heads and hopefully surface when required. As we study at home, we memorise and exercise knowledge through repetition. This also applies to muscle memory, as exemplified in the 1984 movie The Karate Kid. Musicians, dancers and athletes train for hours, going through the same motions over and over again, until they perfect their performances. Acquiring basic life skills like cooking, riding a bicycle or driving a car also entails repetition, until the actions and knowledge involved become second nature.

The same principle applies in the spiritual life. In Jewish custom, ancient prayers like the Psalms are recited every day. Catholic monks and nuns continued this tradition through reciting the Divine Office eight times a day, praying all 150 Psalms every week in the Middle Ages. As laypeople were mostly illiterate and could not learn the psalms, they began to pray 150 Hail Mary‘s in honour of the Incarnation (based on Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42), interspersed with the Our Father and Glory Be to the Holy Trinity. These are said while contemplating the principle events in the lives of Jesus and Mary. The Rosary is a thoroughly scriptural prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus cautioned us not to pray “vain repetitions as the Gentiles do” (Matthew 6:7). He was an observant Jew and would certainly have memorised the Psalms through many days of prayer; indeed, He quotes them while dying on the cross. In this Gospel, He was warning His disciples against the superstitious ways of the pagans, whose idea of prayer and sacrifice was simply to appease their capricious gods by saying the “right” words, regardless of their inner dispositions.

 

Jesus goes on to teach His disciples to repeat His personal prayer, which we know as the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer. In this prayer, we address God intimately, identifying ourselves as His children. The Our Father contains the four cardinal points of prayer: adoration, supplication, repentance and thanksgiving. By reciting this prayer with sincerity, we learn how to speak with God the Father as Jesus does; we are drawn into the divine life of the Holy Trinity. This simple prayer is so rich that the early Church Father Origen wrote a whole treatise on it.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen reflected on the Rosary:

‘The beautiful truth is that there is no repetition in, “I love you.” Because there is a new moment of time, another point in space, the words do not mean the same as they did at another time or space.

Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of the woman he loves, is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into a different word. So the heart takes one expression, “I love you,” and in saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe. That is what we do when we say the Rosary, we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

Each time it means something different because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour’s love.’

This month of October is the Month of the Holy Rosary. Even if you cannot commit to five decades a day – which takes about fifteen to twenty minutes – try meditating on one decade a day, perhaps while travelling to school. St Louis de Monfort suggested: “In each mystery, after the word Jesus, add a word to recall and honour the particular mystery. For example: Jesus incarnateJesus sanctifying, etc. as it is indicated at each decade.”

As St Josemaría Escrivá said: “Blessed be that monotony of Hail Mary’s which purifies the monotony of your sins!” The Dominican friar Lacordaire observed: “For Christians, the first of books is the Gospel and the Rosary is actually the abridgement of the Gospel.” Deepen your relationship with God and His mother with this timeless prayer.

27 September 2021

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Tags: Educators, Parents, Students

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Categories: Homilies / Messages, Reflections

September is the month of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose feast was celebrated on the 15th of this month, the day after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Mother Mary, the first disciple of Christ from the moment He was incarnated in her womb, is the pre-eminent example of compassion, the ability to suffer with another person. Her Immaculate Heart was pierced by the sharp sword of sorrow as she watched her only son, her beloved God, suffer and die on Calvary.

Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in Calvary and the Mass:

“Have you ever remarked that practically every traditional representation of the Crucifixion always pictures Magdalene on her knees at the foot of the crucifix? But you have never yet seen an image of the Blessed Mother prostrate. John was there and he tells in his Gospel that she stood. He saw her stand. But why did she stand? She stood to be of service to us. She stood to be our minister, our Mother.

If Mary could have prostrated herself at that moment as Magdalene did, if she could have only wept, her sorrow would have had an outlet. The sorrow that cries is never the sorrow that breaks the heart. It is the heart that can find no outlet in the fountain of tears which cracks; it is the heart that cannot have an emotional break-down that breaks. And all that sorrow was part of our purchase price paid by our Co-Redemptrix, Mary the Mother of God!”

Today is the feast of St Vincent de Paul, a saint who also exemplifies compassion, known for his charitable works. Vincent’s father paid for his education by selling the family’s oxen. His father believed that a good ecclesiastical career would enable Vincent to be financially independent and help support his family.

Educated by Franciscan friars in France, the young Fr de Paul was captured by pirates and sold into slavery (like St Patrick). His third owner had forsaken Catholicism, but Fr de Paul brought him back to the faith; they fled by night over the sea to France, from whence Fr de Paul accompanied a cardinal to Rome. From there, in 1609 Fr de Paul was chosen to go on a secret mission to the court of Henry IV, King of France. That’s when he met Queen Marguerite and became her almoner, that is, a chaplain who is in charge of distributing money to the poor.

In 1617, Fr de Paul established confraternities of charity for the spiritual and physical relief of the poor and sick of each parish. From these, with the help of St. Louise de Marillac, came the Daughters of Charity, “whose convent is the sickroom, whose chapel is the parish church, whose cloister is the streets of the city.”

Fr de Paul organised the rich women of Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, founded several hospitals, collected relief funds for the victims of war and ransomed over 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. Fr de Paul reflected:

“It is not sufficient for me to love God if I do not love my neighbour. I belong to God and to the poor. God loves the poor, and consequently He loves those who have an affection for the poor. For when we love anyone very much, we also love his friends.”

The Daughters of Charity were long renowned for their work in orphanages, homes for the aged, and hospitals. They were the first active Order created for women and their particular style of dress reflected the clothes worn by peasant women in St. Vincent’s native Normandy. Yet their most important contribution, perhaps, is the fact that they were among the first professional nurses. Until Florence Nightingale came around with the Red Cross, nursing was strictly an occupation that was left to women religious and others who could share in their work. In this, the Daughters of Charity were truly pioneers.

Here is a description of them:

The Daughter of Charity is one of the sights of Paris, the city of her birth. She is more omnipresent than the gendarme. In her billowing blue gown and white headdress she walks the boulevards, the back streets, the alleys. She descends into the depths of the metro and climbs to the heights of the garret.

She is never without the huge market basket slung over one arm, and packed with the foods and medicines of her trade, nor the black cotton protect her starched white linen from the sudden rain. She moves ceaselessly, silently, seemingly unaware of the bustle and roar about her, seeking her quarry; and her quarry is always the same: the poor, the hungry poor, the sick poor, the evil poor – but always poor.

Her convent is the house of the sick, her cell the chamber of suffering, her chapel the parish church, her cloister the streets of the city or the wards of the hospital; obedience is her enclosure, the fear of God her grate, and modesty her veil.

May we learn from St Vincent de Paul and his Daughters of Charity to be truly compassionate disciples of Christ, bearing love for every person. As the hymn to his compatriot Father Nicholas Barré says:

“Touch many hearts to follow in your footsteps
To dedicate their lives to youth and poor
Drawn by the Lord to make Christ known and loved
Fill us with zeal, humility and faith
Pure love and strength and courage without fear
To keep your spirit alive in our hearts.”

Such compassion is the fruit of a truly Catholic education.