Beatification of Sister Alphonse Marie Eppinger
(Strasbourg September 9, 2018)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, the Church of Strasbourg is pleased that one of her daughters, Sister Alphonse Marie Eppinger, is registered to the list of the blessed and can serve her as a model for a life in the Gospel. We know that the whole diocese has been preparing for this day by reflecting on the universal call to holiness and asking the question of how to become holy now a day. The solemn event of the beatification, 150 years after her death, is a providential opportunity to rediscover the relevance of her message and the actuality of the figure of this outstanding woman, given a living witness of Christian life with a deep spiritual imprint.
During her lifetime, Blessed Alphonse Marie through her saintly life and heroic Christian virtues inspired the admiration in those whom she met.
Above all, two aspects have particularly determined her life: to know what pleases God and to fulfill his will.
Already, as a child – when she was still called Elisabeth – she saw one day on the way a station of the Cross and she asked her mother: “Why did they crucify Jesus?” “My child, he was killed because of our sins,” said the mother. “But what is a sin?” Elisabeth insisted. “It is an offense to God …” “Then I do not want to offend him anymore!” She exclaimed. “From then on,” she writes later, “I have every day the desire to know what to do to love God and not offend him … This thought deeply shocked me and made me to obey”.
But we must not think that Elisabeth was a perfectly pious and obedient child; on the contrary she had a strong personality and was often rebellious. She tells herself: “During my adolescence, I had to fight a lot against my temper irritable … If someone contradicted me, I got angry. And when my parents ordered me to do a job and I had to go out, I often disobeyed … So I prayed like this: “Jesus, you know that I want to obey. Give me the grace to know you and love you “. Then begins a serious and demanding commitment: Elisabeth gradually learns to listen to the voice of God. She grows in intimacy with him until she becomes aware of two crucial aspects: how much God loves you and how many people remain indifferent to that love. Even deeply moved by the love of God, she longed very much that all people experience the infinite love of God. Thus, in her heart, there is a strong desire to become herself an instrument of the love of God: she wished that, through her, all could experience how much God loves them.
This intense and joyful embodiment of the love of God does not leave the persons they meet with indifference. Indeed, attracted by her way of life and inspired by her words, a small group of friends gathered with her, to contemplate the Gospel, and the compassionate Heart of Jesus: the attitude of Jesus towards the people who suffer physical and mental pain and the sinners. She wants to form her heart and that of her friends after the Heart of Jesus to be, like him, the Good Samaritan. She feels the call of Jesus: “Go and do likewise!“ (Luke 10:37) as an invitation from Jesus that was personally addressed to her. This is how the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Saviour is born, called to live the charism of Elisabeth, who from now on will be called Alphonse Marie. It is a charism centered on the mercy of God. This mercy is concretely implanted by going to the poor to meet their spiritual and material needs. Mother Alphonse Marie wants to live and practice the works of mercy with her sisters.
Under the direction of Mother Alphonse Marie, we see her young sisters make simple and concrete way to help relieving the suffering without making any differences of religion or social class. They become missionaries of charity, and courageously engaging in epidemics: some die infected with diseases. They remain day and night at the bedside, show inventiveness to save lives, and reduce the risk of infection, assist the dying; comforting the families and urge, them not to lose hope. During the Crimean war, they cared the wounded in the field hospitals, and followed the army in its activities. Dr. Kuhn, the doctor of Niederbronn wrote: “These pious young women are not content to nurse the sick, day and night, exposing themselves to the risks of contamination and overcoming disgust, to face the risk of infection and to overcome their disgust, but they also go to the huts of the poor, bring them spiritual comfort. They behave gracefully in the face of harshness, educate them to cleanliness where they were neither present nor appreciated, and also teach the children of the remote villages where there are no teacher or schools. “
Where does this missionary zeal come from that Blessed Alphonse Marie Eppinger implanted in her sisters? She had learned the gift of self-surrender by contemplating Christ the Saviour died on the cross. Her ardent desire was to live and work for Christ, to imitate him his gentleness, his humility, his love, seeking to please Him alone. She was always happy to say: “To see God in God, to see God in his neighbor, to see God in everything.” These words are a wonderful summary of the extraordinary testimony to the Gospel of the new Blessed. They are very much up to date. It is extremely necessary nowadays to witness to authentic Christian love: not as an abstract idea, but as concrete help to others, especially to the weak and poor, who are the body of Christ. The Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us of this saying that, “a love that does not acknowledge that Jesus has taken flesh, is not the love God commands us to do. To acknowledge that God sent His Son, became man and how we lived, means to love as Jesus loves; to love as Jesus taught us; to love and go the way of Jesus. And the way of Jesus is to give life “(Homily of November 11, 2016 in Sainta-Martha).
Throughout her life, Blessed Alphonse Marie Eppinger witnessed, in words and deeds, that Jesus not only came to us to speak about the Father’s love, but that as a person He embodied His immense mercy by healing those whom he meets on his way. She has recognized the wounds of Jesus in the poor and needy humanity and has become for them the instrument of the merciful love of God. The experience of our Blessed, who have taken the example of the Church as a model to follow Jesus, encourages us to love the people we meet every day and become the instruments of God’s merciful love for them.
We are celebrating this rite of beatification in a city that is, in a sense, the heart of Europe, because it contains the basic institutions of the European Union. From here, an urgent appeal goes to the entire European continent, which is more and more tempted by selfishness and withdrawal. This is the call of Blessed Alphonse Marie: this courageous and strong woman, with her testimony of extraordinary Christian life. She invites all Europeans to have an open heart, to witness to an effective and open-minded love, ready to meet those who are in need: the weak, the oppressed, the rejected, the sick, those who flee from the situations of war, violence, and persecution.
Let us praise this woman loving in God and tireless dispenser of his mercy to suffering humanity. Let us honor the faithful servant of the Gospel and a fearless messenger of the love of God. Let us take her message and follow her example to be credible witnesses of Christ, who is our peace and our hope.
Let us say together: “Blessed Alphonse Marie, pray for us!“
It is important, indeed, that those who discover the generous work of the daughters of the Foundress of Mother Alphonse Marie, who are present all over the world, especially working among the poor, the elderly, the sick and the disabled understand the origin of this continuing apostolic dynamic.
Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints