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Called anew (English)

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Called anew by Jesus-Christ let us live together...

God is the one who calls. He seeks a personal relation with each one of His creatures. And this call, like His love, is an eternal one. We receive His call in the course of time, that is, bit by bit, as our daily life goes on. His call grows in us, according to our openness and willingness to receive it. We are called personally, each one of us, day after day, by God, who bends over with love on our own scantiness and weaknesses. We are CALLED, and God is telling us : I am Yahweh, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name (Is. 45,3).

Angela merici was strongly conscious of her personal call : He was pleased, in his infinite goodness, to use me as his instrument (T. Pr. 6). She perceived this call as hers, but also as one given to each one of us, for God revealed Himself to us, too, giving us a grace of light : God has granted you the grace of setting you apart from the darkness of this miserable world (R. Pr. 4). How wonderful this grace is ! How grateful we are to be! You have to thank Him infinitely that, to you especially, He has granted such a singular gift (R. Pr. 5). An infinite Goodness inviting us to give Him infinite thanks !

We are CALLED BY JESUS CHRIST, just like the Apostles to whom He said one day, “Come, follow me” (Mk. 10,21). Since God wanted to be present among us through His Son, His call was heard through a human voice, through someone they could “see, hear, and touch”, according to St John. This call comes to us, too, through Jesus Christ. When we try to follow His examples, for He is the Way, we can see more clearly how to answer Him, each one according to her availability. Angela Merici herself was strongly aware of His calling her and his calling each one of us.

Who was Jesus Christ for Angela Merici ?
First, His greatness overwhelmed her. He is the immortal son of the Eternal God (T. 4,13), the King of kings and Lord of lords (T. 4,15), the Most High (R. Pr. 23) He also shows us how to answer His call, and points out the way, for He is the only Way to heaven (R. 4,4), the Truth (R. 5,5), and the Life (R. 4,4). Moreover, as Infinite Love, He seeks loving relations with us, He who is the Lover of us all (Couns. 5,38). He even seeks to be a loving Spouse (R. 11,35), and our Saviour (T. 10,18). He deals with us as a father and good shepherd (T. 10,9). Finally, He is our only Treasure (Couns. 5, 43).

Who is Jesus for me ?
What are my specific choices revealing that He is really the « only Treasure » of my life ?

Called anew

This call, we receive it « anew », just like Peter, after the Resurrection. Before, when he was on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, Peter responded to the first call with the fire of his generous nature. Without any hesitation, he left behind him his boat, his fish, his companions, and his father. He followed Jesus whole-heartedly, during His wonderful success in Galilee, then during a period of underhand opposition, followed by an open one; next, when crowds abandoned Him, even when Jesus was arrested. But during His trial, Peter weakened. Out of fear, he denied the Lord three times.

How was Jesus going to react, after His Resurrection ?
We know that He appeared to Peter personally, and later, on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, He called him again : Three times, Jesus asked Peter, Do you love me?
And then, You are to follow me” (Jn. 21: 17,22).

For us, it is the same. We can remember our first generous answer to His call. Since then, we have lived many years, with their weaknesses, and with our different “denials”, but also with our perseverance in following Him, step by step, day after day. Today, once more, Jesus is asking us insistently, Do you love me ? Then, You are to follow me, just as your are, with the weight of your past, but also with your love, a purified, renewed and strengthened love, You are to follow me.

What was Angela’s availability to the new calls of the Lord ? She experienced many various and unexpected ones. First, in the fields of Machetto, after having seen her sister in the joys of heaven, she was renewed in her life of prayer and self-denial. This as followed by the call to join the Third Order, so as to follow Christ as Francis did, in a life of prayer and poverty. Next came Brudazzo, with that mysterious mission entrusted to her. Many years later, Angela was sent to Brescia, where her life was entirely different from the one she led in rural Desenzano. Later on, she went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and there, on Mount Calvary, she felt a renewed call to share with others the grace of being spouses of the Most High. And in the end, during the last years of her life, she fulfilled her call to found the Company.

Our call, just like Angela’s, has taken on new forms as the years went by. Today, the Lord is calling us anew and asking us to give Him a renewed answer, day after day. Angela Merici shows us the way : Seek and desire all the ways and means necessary to persevere and make progress to the very end (R Prol 10). Furthermore, she points out the means enabling us to answer “yes” to the Lord again.

First of all, she says, submit yourselves totally to His will (T. Pr. 22), …with a lively and steadfast faith (T. Pr. 23). Such was Mary’s attitude during the Annunciation, when she answered wholeheartedly and humbly, Be it done to me according to your word.

Next, Angela Merici invites us to a faith filled answer, receiving from Him what you have to do for love of Him (T. Pr. 23), whatever the ways, or the persons, through which His will may come to us, and to receive this will through love of Him, whatever may happen (T. Pr. 24). Only a total “yes”, can express all our love for Him. Angela also invites us to deep faithfulness and joy : persevere with constancy to the very end (T. Pr. 24) ; persevere faithfully and joyfully in the work you have begun (Last Leg. 22). Finally, she warns us not to weaken our love : …Take care not to lose your fervour (Last Leg. 23).

Am I available for each new call of Christ ?
for today’s call ?

Called by Jesus-Christ, let us live together...

When Saint Mark relates the call of the twelve Apostles, he specifies, He appointed twelve to be his companions and to be sent out (Mk. 3,14). Consequently, the first effect of this call was to bring them together with the Lord, to be His companions. The Gospel then goes on to describe how the Apostles were in daily relation with Jesus.
For Angela Merici, being companions was the same, for, she said, God willing, in His eternal wisdom, to call forth many women, especially virgins, that is, this our Company (T. Pr. 5). The word “company” etymologically can derive from two Latin words: “cum pane”, “who shares the same bread”, or “compages”, “uniting different parts in a whole”. The two, therefore, indicate a relation.

For Angela, God always calls us to relate :

  • First with Jesus Christ : You have been chosen to be the true and virginal spouses of the Son of God (R. Pr. 7). We are called to so glorious a life as to be spouses of the Son of God (R. Pr. 17).
  • Next, with Angela herself, for In His immense goodness, He has chosen me to be mother… of such a noble Company, even though, for my part, I am most unworthy of it; and having chosen me, He has also given me the grace to be able to govern it according to His will (Couns. 3,4-5). Therefore our relation with Angela implies our being her daughters, and trying to follow her examples and her guidelines.
  • Ninally, with our sisters : God has granted you the grace… of uniting you together to serve his divine Majesty (R. Pr. 4).

We know how much Angela Merici insisted on this togetherness in her Writings : Tell them that they should want to be united and in concord together (Couns. 5,20) ; live in harmony, united together, all of one heart and one will (Last Couns. Av. 1) ; living all together, thus united in heart, you will be like a mighty fortress (Last Couns. 15); confer together (Test 7, 2) ; together, they might also meet each other as loving sisters, and thus, … rejoice together, and together encourage one another (Test. 8,3-4).

How do I consider each one of my sisters, chosen, as I have been, to “be His companions” and “to be sent out” by Him ?
How do I favour our living together in community ?

At the heart of the world, the good news of hope

Very different are the meanings given to the word “world” : sometimes physical, moral, social or political ones. In Scripture we also find the « world » in its positive and negative aspects. The first one is positive : It consists of amazement before the world and its marvels, created by God. You created the world and all it holds (Ps. 89, 11). And Saint John sees the world as loved by God: God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son (Jn. 3,16).

What about Angela’s perception of the world ? She sees it with all its ambiguities. She sees it mostly with the eyes of faith. Having lived the greater part of her life in the country, she is sensitive to the beauty of the created world. In her prayer, she calls for God’s blessing on all His works : (Your Holy Name) be it blessed above the sands of the seas, above the drops of the waters, above the multitudes of the stars (R. 5, 26) ; and she mentions our rejoicing over blossoming paths (R. Pr. 27).

This world is inhabited by many different people. Angela Merici mentions her dear ones, for whom she prays : father and mother, relatives and friends (R. 5,24). She also sees around her the world of saints : holy persons (R. 4,3) ; His chosen ones, who are well disposed (R. 4, 16). She is also deeply aware of the world she is living in, a world of suffering and wickedness : this miserable and treacherous world, where there is never either rest or any true contentment, but only empty dreams, or bitter hardships, and every kind of misery and wretchedness (Couns. 5:4-5). Treacherous, because it does not keep its promises ; no rest, with bitter hardships, because the many maids belonging to the Company, with no social laws to protect them, knew from experience the weight of long hours of work; a world full of empty dreams, which will never come true, as long as the heart of mankind does not change.

Angela Merici also perceived an ignorant and sinful world: the world of those poor creatures who do not know you, and do not care to be partakers in your most sacred Passion (R. 5:31-32). An unbalanced world that has lost a real sense of values, as is evidenced by sensual desires that… seem to lord it over the world (R. 4, 10), and many dissolute actions committed by Christians (R. 4, 11).

This is how Angela sees the world, as a whole, but she also looks upon it with her faith, for in spite of all its ambiguities, this world is loved by God, and the living sap of the Gospel and the loving action of the Spirit are active within it.

How do I consider the world, today’s world ?

The good news of hope

As we look upon the world with faith, we are led to bring it the Good News, and the message of its being called to hope, because Christ came into this world. The early Christians lived in an unbalanced world, similar to ours in many respects. Their style of life, their confidence in the future, and their peaceful joy questioned the pagan world. To these first converts, Peter wrote: Always have your answers ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have (I Pt. 3,15).
Angela Merici, on her side, saw people putting so much hope in the wealth they have gathered, so much attention given to refined and abundant food, so much support asked from relatives and friends, so much confidence in one’s self and one’s own resources and knowledge, (Cfr. R 10, 9-12), that she feels a special call for leaving it all aside and placing one’s hope and love in God alone (Couns. 5 22).

Above all, hope in God. She tells us : Have hope and firm faith in God, for He will help you in everything (Couns. Pr. 14-15). He wants nothing for you but only your good and your joy (cf. R. 10,18). You will never be abandoned in your needs. God will provide for them wonderfully (cf. Couns. 5,31). However, she is realistic; she knows that heavy daily problems can dim our hopes; that is why she asserts, Although at times they will have troubles or anxieties, nevertheless this will soon pass away and be turned into gladness and joy. And then, the suffering of this world is nothing in comparison with the blessings that are in Paradise (Couns. 5, 29-30). Her hope is theological, and founded on God’s promises, on that happy future awaiting us: Tell them this good news which I announce to them on behalf of Jesus Christ and of our Lady: how much they have to exult and rejoice, for in heaven a new crown of glory and joy is prepared for all of them, one by one, provided they stand firm and steady in their resolve. And they should never ever doubt this. (Couns. 5:24-26,28)

Because she hopes in God’s infinite power, Angela sees her sisters capable of making progress with His help. She acknowledges that it can be difficult in the beginning, but reminds us that the Lord is continually helping us to live nearer to Him. That is why she warns the local superiors: How do you know, you, that those who seem to you to be the least and lowest are not to become the most generous and most pleasing to his Majesty? (Couns. 8,3). He well knows what he wants to make of them, who (as Scripture says) can turn stones into children of heaven (Couns. 8, 5-6). Often, when we meet sisters after many years have gone by, we are amazed to see how true that is, and how wonderful is all that the Lord has accomplished in them.

Angela Merici goes even further. She invites us to plant seeds of hope, as she did : If you see one faint-hearted and timid and inclined to discouragement, comfort her, encourage her, promise her the blessing of the mercy of God, lift her heart with every consolation (Couns. 2,8).

In spite of all the calamities, wars, injustice and violence of her epoch, Angela does not lose her hope in the future, because this future is also in the hands of God. Leave it God. He will do marvelous things in his own time, and when it pleases him. (Couns. 8,9) She gives courage to her daughters, when they suffer from doubts and perplexities, facing a world in constant change and she tells them: Without doubt, Jesus Christ will be in your midst, and as a true and good master he will enlighten and teach you what you have to do (Last Leg. 5).

Above all, she is certain that the little plant of the Company, just coming out of earth, this little plant, challenged and sometimes scorned by her contemporaries, will last until the end, for it is in the hands of the One who planted it: He will never abandon this Company as long as the world lasts. (Last Leg. 7).

Do I look upon this world… my sisters… the future, with hope ?

The good news or reconciliation and solidarity

Reconciliation

We cannot find the words of « reconciliation » and « solidarity » in Angela’s Writings, but these invite us to harmony and peace within ourselves, and around ourselves, and to strong and efficacious efforts to contribute to spreading them around us. Angela’s living faith leads to live effectively Saint Paul’s beautiful words : It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation (2 Cor. 5,18).

Therefore, reconciliation is a gift, offered to us by Christ who lived thirty-three years in this world for love of us. Angela lived it intensely and wanted to share it with those surrounding her.

The reconciliation God wanted to bring with her own weaknesses, Angela first humbly asked for it : Strengthen my affections and senses so that they do not stray, neither to right nor to left, nor turn me away from that dazzling face of yours (R.5, 18-19). She admits that only the Lord’s love can purify the negative tendencies she experiences within herself : I pray that you deign to receive this most vile and impure heart of mine, and to burn away its every affection and passion in the fiery furnace of your divine love (R. 5, 36-37).

With love, she expresses how much she regrets the past and shows she is reconciled with it : I deeply regret that I have been so slow to begin to serve your divine Majesty (R. 5,27). Deign, O most loving Lord, to forgive my so many offences, and every fault that I have ever committed (R. 5,23). She also begs pardon for her slowness and her hesitations: I deeply regret that I have been so slow to begin to serve your divine Majesty (R 5, 27). And she requests the Lord to give her the strength and the grace to change: Therefore I am compelled, day and night,… to call out and to cry to heaven, and to beg for mercy and time for penance (R. 5, 22). She knows how much she needs the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the necessary medicine for the wounds of our souls (R. 7,1).

However, if Angela Merici is reconciled with herself as a sinner, which is part of everyone’s experience, at the same time, she proclaims the gifts the Lord has give her to do His work, gifts enabling her to organize, to govern, to foresee, to direct others spiritually, to encourage them. He has been pleased, in his infinite goodness, to use me as his instrument for this great work of his, even though for my part I am a most inadequate and useless servant ; he has also, in his usual goodness, given and granted me such grace and gift as to be able to govern them according to his will, and to provide for their needs and wants, especially those concerned with directing them and sustaining them in the life for which they have been chosen (Test. Prol. 6-9).

The next step, as Paul wrote, is that of handing out this reconciliation. Angela Merici entrusts it her Company. She first asks the members to dare express repentance for their faults, because they may have weakened their love: We advise to ask pardon… to preserve charity (R 8,12). Above all, she asks them to live true reconciliation made of mutual support, esteem and helpfulness : Be bound to one another by the bond of charity, esteeming each other, helping each other, bearing with each other in Jesus Christ. For If you strive to be like this, without any doubt, the Lord God will be in your midst (Last Couns. 2-3).

To what extent do I live reconciliation… with God ?
With myself ?
With others ?

Solidarity

You together are Christ’s body. If one part is hurt, all parts are hurt with it.
If one part is given special honour, all parts enjoy it. (I Cor 12: 26,27).

In accordance with Paul’s statement, Angela Merici , in her Writings, expressed her never-ending solidarity, promising to help us and to be with us, even from heaven : Now I see them and know them better, and can and want to help them more. I am continually among them with my Lover, or rather ours, the Lover of us all (Couns. 5, 36-38). However, her « heavenly » solidarity was preceded in this world by a strong togetherness. First of all, she expresses

  • Solidarity with the world of sinners, and asks pardon for herself and for them. She is even ready to give up her own life to come and help them : Willingly (if I could) I would shed my own blood to open the blind eyes of their minds (R. 5, 34).
  • Solidarity with her sisters, promising to help them even after her death : I shall always be in your midst, helping your prayers (Last Couns. 20).
    She asks the local superiors to show solidarity in her name, thus giving us a true picture of the way she acted herself : Often, as you have time and opportunity, especially on feast days, go and visit your dear daughters and sisters, and greet them, see how they are, comfort them ; encourage them (Couns.5,1-2). Angela also reveals a particular solidarity with those who suffer, those you see disconsolate, doubtful and faint-hearted.
  • solidarity with the people around her : As Agostino Gallo testified during the Beatification Process in Brescia, Angela Merici was of great help for many persons. She never missed an opportunity to make peace… She counseled and comforted each one as best she could. « Helping, making peace, counseling comforting” – these verbs show how much she was attentive to any kind of suffering. We need not be astonished, therefore, that in her Rule she gives norms indicating her solidarity with those in need.
  • With victims of injustice, being deprived of their wages: If it should happen that one of the sisters, being an orphan, could not get what is hers, or if, being a servant, or a maid, or the like, she could not obtain her wages… then let the four men… take the matter in hand (R. 11:15-16,19).
  • With the aged and sick. It probably was not yet the case of the new Company, but Angela foresaw that it would be necessary to assist and serve the sisters so old that they could not support themselves; visit and assist, and serve by day and by night, if it is necessary, if one of the sisters is ill (cf. R. 11, 29-30).
  • With those looking for work, that she be placed where she can feel at home and live honestly. (R 11,28). This responsibility, entrusted to the lady governors of the Company show how Angela wanted her daughters to be happy and work in a favorable climate. We could almost speak about a “job agency” before they actually existed !
  • With those who are left alone : a house should be rented for them…or, let one of the others receive her in her house (cf. R. 11, 25-26). Angela even foresees that subsidies be given to the one who welcomes a sister in her home, so as not to weigh on her modest income.

We do not have any text about Angela’s having a particular care for the poor, but we do find several cases where she showed her solidarity with those in distress : She shared the plight of refugees, when fleeing to Cremona, the discomfort and dangers of a trip to the Holy Land, especially when her group had to hide for several days, so as to escape from armed Muslims. Gallo tells us that she could bear cold, extreme heat, and hunger, (when the city of Brescia suffered famine, after floods had ruined all the crops. We know that she voluntarily shared the plight of the poor, sleeping, as they did, on a mat on the floor or on a chair, eating, as they did vegetables and fish, seldom meat or bread.

Finally, we should remember her solidarity in joy. Angela Merici asked the members of the Company to meet each other, rejoice together, and together encourage one another (T 8,3-5). We have many reasons to live solidarity in joy : Les us rejoice because of the faithfulness of our sisters according to the light of the Holy Spirit, according to the times and circumstances (Last Leg. 14). Let us rejoice because if we live together as is required of the true spouses of the Most High, we shall easily overcome all dangers and adversities, but also defeat them to our great glory and joy. (cf. R Pr 23,25). Let us rejoice, because without doubt, Angela shall always be in our midst, helping our prayers. (cf. Last Couns. 20,22). Let us rejoice, because we will all meet together again in those joyful and new feasts of heaven (Couns. 5,3). And let us share our joy. In our behaviour towards others, let us be joyful and always full f of charity, and faith, and hope in God (cf. R 9, 11,12).

To what extent do I really live in solidarity with those who suffer ?
With those who experience joy ?

Sister Marie Seynaeve
Ursuline of the Roman Union

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