Dear Priests, Dear Sisters and Associate Members of Blessed Alphonse Marie,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we would like to thank God for the gift of Blessed Alphonse Marie Eppinger. When we venerate the saints, we might think that we are going back to the Middle Ages or why we should turn to the saints for their intercession and help, when Jesus is present in the Eucharist?
Is it not enough what God gives us or to turn to Him directly in our needs? I think that veneration of the blessed and saints, those who preceded us to eternity, strengthens us in one great truth, and that is the communion of saints. It is also the faith that our life doesn’t end after our death, but continues. We will not go to heaven to rest, yet with God’s strength we will continue in the desire that everyone would know greatness of God’s love. Thus we believe that also Blessed Alphonse Marie is in heaven. The Church refers her to us as an example and guide on the way of this life. I am convinced that on this exceptional occasion as it is a celebration of the 5th anniversary of her beatification God surely listens more carefully to the petitions of those who gave up everything to Him during their lives. However, her intercession is not limited to this day. We believe that Blessed Alphonse Marie can intercede also for us what we hold and bring in our hearts, if we ask her for her intercession.
Today’s beautiful day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary forces me to talk about Mother Alphonse Marie (MAM) precisely through her relationship to our Heavenly Mother. Mary had a great place and meaning in the life of MAM. We can say that little Elizabeth understood through Mary a certain reality of heaven already here on earth. Heaven is not only above, but heaven is active and present already here on this earth and among us. In her early childhood, little Elizabeth felt very strongly to draw by God. She listened with great attention when talking about God in her family. Here we see the importance of family and family environment in which Elizabeth grew. Her family practiced faith, met daily to pray the rosary, and especially during winter evenings, they talked about various events of Jesus’ life. Thus they saw that Elizabeth was very receptive. Once, when she heard about Christ’s suffering, she burst into tears which surprised everyone, how sensitive the child was. Later, when she was learning the first prayers repeated them again and again because she could not recite them by heart, her mother admonished her that she should not recite them anytime. She was especially attracted to the prayer “Hail Mary”. Because she did not know it by heart, she repeated them again and again, “Hail Mary, Hail Mary…” Her mother thought that it was not dignified and told her, “You have to ask the Heavenly Mother to teach you how to pray.” So little Elizabeth asked, ”Mary, my beloved Mother, please teach me how to pray.” When she remembered it, she said that suddenly she knew how to pray the basic prayers, “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” without making a mistake, which she had never been able to do before. It was her first existential experience of heaven. She felt that Mary had great power and that Mary was really present not only in the heaven, but also in our life. When we ask Mary something sincerely and with trust, she answers our petitions.
This is the beginning of her life which she developed as a modest girl in a peasant family. There, as an oldest daughter, she had to do everything which she was able to do. However, her great desire to be with God and for prayer, to use every moment to pray and to think about God on one hand and on the other hand a requirement to work made her struggle. She says that although she worked hard, she often left the work given to her by parents, or did it very quickly looking for every moment to retreat somewhere and pray. Her parents did not like the fact that she was seeking God at the expense of work. Then she heard inside of her the words of an admonition, “I like your obedience more than your prayer.” We see that even God is a realist. He does not want us to just sit in church when you, moms, at home need to cook or do laundry or go to work. Relationship with God does not pull us out of this world, but it teaches us to experience everything that our life is connected with even more realistically.
Suddenly Elizabeth felt in her soul or heart a desire to consecrate her life to God. A strong experience with the cross comes into this. She questioned her mother why Christ died on the cross. Her mother simply answered, “For our sins!” Elizabeth immediately made resolution, “Then I do not want to offend God so that He suffers even more.” At the same time she decided to teach and guide others and to remind them not to offend God with their sins. Then, came a period, probably of the hardest school of her life, a school of suffering. However, we have to realize that the first place in this school does not have suffering, but God. When we see her life, we may feel various and very powerful things about the cross and sufferings about which she spoke. However, the suffering is not the goal of our life. The goal of our life is the relationship with God, joy and happiness. However, suffering is the best means to achieve it.
Through three successive illnesses that she experienced, it seems that Elizabeth was withdrawn from the normal cycle of life and confined to bed. Precisely in this time her deepest experiences with God and human misery were born. I liked very much at the end of the beatification of MAM in Strasburg when the Archbishop of the Diocese highlighted three things, which according to his opinion, stood at the birth of the charisma of the newly established Congregation. In French, it’s three “S”: souffrance, solitude et silence. The charism was amidst suffering, solitude, and silence.
What a person normally says is a pain and a cross, for MAM it became a blessing. Illness and suffering pulled her out from the rush of this world so she could perceive the fragility of human life. When she suffered, she could no longer be stubborn, but rather humble and devoted. She was thus able to deal more easily with her stubborn nature. Perhaps no one blamed her when she prayed more at home lying in bed. Yet she went through both physical and spiritual sufferings. One, who was attracted very strongly to God through prayer, suddenly was talking about aridity. She was not able to pray as she did before; she could not have nice thoughts about God.
When Elizabeth underwent this trial of life, which can be called purifying of the soul, she learned to love God for His sake. Sometimes we pray well, too, when we feel joy, and when we are drawn to prayer. Maybe we pray well when we have some difficulty and we intercede God. However, when we pray and something else comes to our mind or when we cannot even say anything nice to God, and we sit uncomfortable in silence before Him with a feeling like we are sitting on pins and needles, that is when our true relationship with God is verified. Are we seeking Him for what He can give us or for Himself? Elizabeth decided to surrender fully to God. Amidst all of the suffering, silence, and solitude she had to renounce not only the joy of a relationship with God, but also her desire for a consecrated life. Because when she was bedridden, she could not be a religious Sister. In this condition no religious order would accept her. However, when finally a congregation could accept her, she did not receive consent from the diocesan bishop. She obeyed and shortly after she received the invitation to found the new Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer or Savior. We believe that it is the same Christ, either Redeemer or Savior, however, essentially what these titles carry is that Christ redeemed us by His cross and resurrection. The Mystery of the Cross shall be present in the mission of the new Congregation and shall accompany her daughters in everything they will do.
Another experience, which Elizabeth learned in the midst of her illness or what illness taught her, was attention to others. It was not only toward people who came to her for advice but she realized what it meant to be sick. She suffered on her body and thus she became the burden for her family, who had to work. Instead of having a helper in the family, they have a burden, someone they need to take care of. When Elizabeth realized all these things, together with God’s invitation she saw the need for a congregation of sisters, who would devote themselves especially helping to the sick.
Elizabeth, already as MAM, together with her Sisters, wanted to do everything she would do to help eliminate the suffering and misery of this world. Human sin will also be a part of this misery. The specificity of the established community was that they not only cared for the sick who would come to them, or they would establish a hospice, but they began to visit the sick in their homes, regardless of their religion. She wanted to serve everyone. Here again we can see the great love and wisdom of the good God, who, when He draws a person to Himself, not to keep him for Himself, but to teach him to live even more for others.
Therefore, today we want to thank God for this gift, which He gives us in MAM, who looking at her life said, “I have passed through physical and spiritual suffering of every kind, and I can assure you that the soul who can accept them and make them her inheritance or her treasure is happy”. These words come from the experience she went through. She realized that every suffering she went through bound her even more to God and revealed His presence in everyone suffering in body or spirit. That is why the cross became a source of happiness and blessing for her.
Today also we want to ask Blessed Alphonse Marie to intercede for us perhaps not physical external healing, even though we have the right to ask for that too, but to intercede for us an ever greater desire for God, so that we too can experience the spiritual realism that she experienced and to which she invites everyone. Amen.