From the Missionaries of Charity to the Missionaries of the Word: Part 2 of a Religious Sister’s Abandonment to Divine Providence
“The man who follows his own will independently of God’s is guilty of a kind of idolatry. Instead of adoring God’s will, he, in a certain sense, adores his own. The greatest glory we can give to God is to do His will in everything. Our Redeemer came on earth to glorify His heavenly Father and to teach us by His example how to do the same.”
Saint Alphonsus de Ligouri
By Carlos Briceño
In my previous post, I detailed the beginning of Mother Mary Catherine’s journey of abandoning herself more to Divine Providence. In this post, you will see that her journey experienced an unexpected turn.
If you recall, she belonged to the Missionaries of Charity (MC), the order started by Saint Teresa of Calcutta. But right before she was supposed to receive her final vows, she heard from the MCs that she was being sent home.
Her journey of becoming an MC sister was over. Her superior told her there was no official reason given, though it was probably due to how the strenuous work as an MC adversely impacted her asthma.
So she went back home, back to Wisconsin, with only two sets of clothes, a little bit of cash, no job prospects, and with no formal connection to a religious community, though she remained under private vows to the local bishop.
Has that ever happened to you? Where life is going one way, and then it veers into a different direction and heads down a road you never thought you would be on?
In praying about the MC’s decision, Mother Mary Catherine accepted it as God’s will, though she didn’t understand it because she felt the work she was doing with them was good because of how fruitful and sacrificial life had been.
“In the MCs, Mother Teresa always told us that to say ‘yes’ to God is the bravest word you would ever say,” she said. “She told me to never stop saying ‘yes’ to Him. Ever. That was in my heart. I said to Him, ‘Yes, yes, I will come home. I don’t understand what You’re doing, but, yes, I will come home.’ ”
She poured herself into prayer. But life wasn’t easy. She encountered what is referred to in the spiritual life as “the dark night of the soul,” a feeling of spiritual emptiness.
In his excellent book called Abandonment to God: The Way of Peace of St. Therese of Lisieux, Father Joël Guibert writes:
“Saint Bernard [of Clairvaux] clearly teaches that it is necessary to take things slowly before dramatically adopting a more radical abandonment: ‘The beginner who is driven by fear patiently endures the cross of Christ. The one who is progressing and driven by hope willingly bears it. The one who is consumed by charity, from this moment on, eagerly embraces it.’ ”
Driven by hope in God’s love and goodness, she persisted in prayer. Consumed by charity, she continued to surrender more, eventually finding work at a Catholic school at Aquinas Academy in Menomonee Falls, WI, teaching a class of three-year-old students.
“In hindsight, it was the greatest gift, being with three year olds,” she said. “It was like being with walking tabernacles.”
The children were teaching her how to walk with Christ on a daily basis, she said.
“He was teaching me how to walk with Him from this point on — utterly, completely; my hand in His. Trusting Him, good and bad; keeping my eyes on Him as Father,” she said.
At this point in Mother Catherine’s journey, I want to hit the pause button. I want to point out something important. In telling her story, I have compressed time. I have selected highlights from her life and organized them in such a way to create meaning and to show movement. It reads like a straight line, but there were lots of zigs and zags, occurring over many years and involving a lot of suffering.
She encountered Christ as a young adult and always gave herself unreservedly to Him, as a result. But there were levels of that surrender and abandonment; we all are faced with these levels. By sharing her journey, and her willingness to go deeper into a relationship with God, I’m trying to inspire you on your journey so that you, too, go deeper into your relationship with the Almighty.
I also find it important to note that, as much as she had surrendered and abandoned herself to God during her time as an MC, it was still nothing compared to the surrender and abandonment she experienced after going back home, after her almost 10-year experience with Mother Teresa’s order had ended.
In other words, abandonment is not easy, even for someone who was constantly practicing it in a congregation founded by a saint, and it all revolves around a “joyful yes” to the Father. That’s what abandonment is, she said: a joyful yes to whatever God allows through His Holy Will.
Because most people are focused on what they want, rather than on what God wants, achieving that joyful state of “yes-ness” is not easy. But you have to persist, especially in working on becoming more humble, so that your energy and focus remain on understanding that, without God, we are nothing.
Here is what St. Teresa of Avila says on the matter:
“Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers, and the soul should sometimes cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the grandeur and majesty of its God. It will learn its own baseness, better thus than by self-contemplation, and will be freer from the reptiles which enter the first room where self-knowledge is acquired. Although it is a great grace from God to practice self-examination, yet ‘too much is as bad as too little,’ as they say; believe me, by God’s help, we shall advance more by contemplating the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of earth that we are.”
Everyone’s faith journey is different, but what remains universal to the concept of abandoning yourself to Divine Providence is this: to embark on the process of learning how to seek God with the trust and confidence of a child is to be on the highway that leads to heaven.
“It goes back to being a child being led by the Father,” she said. “Are you willing, can you make a decisive choice, to let God lead your life? Can you do that? That’s the first big ‘yes,’ where everything changes, where you just get a grip on the fact that you are just a child, and a very little one, and either I’m going to let Him lead my life, or I’m going to be miserable. He’s an all-loving Father. He’s going to always give me my freedom, but He’s leading me on a path that will lead me to be ultimately and extremely free and happy.”
And that is the challenge for all who read these words: are you willing to be childlike enough to trust God the Father? Are you willing to obey His will, no matter what that entails in life? And are you willing to adopt the following mindset, which Father Jean-Pierre de Caussade describes in Abandonment to Divine Providence:
“Everything that happens to us, in us, and through us, embraces and conceals God’s divine but veiled purpose, so that we are always being taken by surprise and never recognize it until it has been accomplished. If we could pierce that veil and if we were vigilant and attentive, God would unceasingly reveal Himself to us, and we would rejoice in His works and in all that happens to us. We would say to everything: ‘It is the Lord!’ And we would discover that every circumstance is a gift from God; that human beings, frail creatures though we are, will never lack anything; and that God’s unceasing concern is to give them what is best for them.”
On May 1, 2014, the order that, with God’s grace, Mother Mary Catherine founded, the Missionaries of the Word, became a Public Association of the Faith destined to become a religious institute. It was the culmination of a lengthy discernment process under the leadership of Bishop David Ricken, the bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, which is where the seat of the community is located.
In the previous years, she had experienced a lot: accepting a role as principal at the Aquinas Academy; getting a Master’s degree in education; grieving the loss of her dad, who had been shot in the line of duty, became semi-paralyzed and then later died; and then dealing with the stirrings in her soul to see if it was God’s will to start a religious community.
Here’s the image she shared about how she felt about this journey. When she hadn’t fully abandoned herself to God, she felt like she was pedaling a bicycle off the main highway. The going was slow.
“To me, abandoned means like being on a tandem bicycle and having the Holy Spirit on the front seat,” she said. “You don’t have to do any work. You simply allow Him to carry you in the direction that He already is going.”
Mother Mary Catherine will tell you that the fruits of abandonment are great freedom, joy and peace — and, yet, what halts us from going after this state in our own spiritual lives? One big reason I know from my life is the Cross. When I think of abandonment, I think of Christ on the Cross. He’s half naked. His arms are spread open. He’s as vulnerable as any human being can get in life. He got there because He obeyed His Father’s will. He trusted. But He also suffered.
Fear from suffering often halted me in trying to get on the tandem bicycle on the highway to heaven. What I have learned is that when fear knocks, Love answers.
Love in the form of Sacrifice.
Love in the form of Obedience.
Love in the form of Mercy.
Love in the form of Humility.
Love in the form of Forgiveness.
Love in the form of a bleeding and bruised Suffering Servant.
Love in the form of Surrender.
Love in the form of Abandonment.
Love answers with these words: “Yes, Father, not my will, but Yours be done.”
For more information on abandoning yourself to Divine Providence, go to https://sotpm.design.blog/. To learn more about the Missionaries of the Word, the community of religious sisters that Mother Mary Catherine founded, go to https://www.missionariesoftheword.com/