EUCHARIST IN THELIFE OF BLESSED MARY OF JESUS THE GOOD SHEPHERD – FRANCES SIEDLISKA,
FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF NAZARETH
EXALTED TO THE GLORY OF THE ALTAR ON 23 APRIL, 1989
IN ROME, BY BLESSED POPE JOHN PAUL II
It was in the nineteen century, in the mid eighties that our mission began. The entire communitywas very young at that time. The sisters struggled, often facing challenges, while making their first steps into different countries,
Our Foundress, Frances Siedliska and her small band of Sisters were eager to meet the needs of the emigrants they had committed themselves to minister to, by providing schools for their children. The sisters therefore chose to invite people who were financially “well off” to be a part of this important mission. Consequently, Frances Siedliska, a noble, Polis by birth …. and a Roman by choice woman, met a Roman Baroness Simeoni.
Baroness Simeoni had heard about these new nuns and their brave initiatives and decided to meet with them, face to face, before sharing her goods. When she arrived at the convent, our Mother Foundress greeted her in a tiny, simple parlour and kindly invited her to join her in “bowing “to the King of the house, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The baroness graciously and promptly followed Frances …. probably not expecting anything unusual. On seeing the sisters’ chapel, however, she was shocked and even somewhat scandalized by the profusion of flowers and the richness of the quality of the sacred vestments.
Not able to hide her reaction, she turned to Frances Siedliska and said in plain words: Why do you incur such expenses if you don’t have enough money… and this is not even a public chapel?Frances looked straight into her eyes and replied gently but firmly: I do this for no one but for my God. As daughters of Nazareth, we are bound to great poverty, however, the altar and all which affects the service of our Lord should be enhanced as magnificently as possible. I must write it into the Rule.The Baroness paused for a while, raised her head and answered: “That I like”.
BlessedFrances Siedliska, in religious life known also as Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, travelled a long way before she found the spiritual path for herself and her little Nazareth. She came to know different spiritual schools, she admired different religious orders for different reasons and different aspects of their mission. At some point she even said that if it were up to her, she would take what was the best from the Carmelites, Benedictines, Dominicans and others, combineall of this into one tradition, and offer it to her own religious family.
In God’s time and through God’s grace Frances became enlightened and captured by the mystery of the Incarnation …. And so her adventure withGod, ever living among us, began. “What a wondrous Mystery (!) …she wrote in her Diary! How appropriate for me. Upon Mary’s consent the Son of God descended into her womb and …Nazareth began”.
Taking upon Himself our human body, God hide Himself to the point of not being recognized by His fellow men, similar to us in everything but sin. “Isn’t He the carpenter son? Is not His mother the woman calledMary? ….people used to ask when they caught a glimpse of His inner power or heard about His miracles. Isn’t this HOST a piece of bread only? A kind of “nice symbol”?…..many may ask themselves when seeing someone receiving Holy Communion or kneeling before the monstrance during exposition.
Frances Siedliska, deeply touched and inspired by the ordinariness of the Incarnate Word, Who grew in wisdom and age under the protection and guidance of a human couple, chose the Holy Family as amodel for her new religious family.
While meditating on the fathomless mystery of Jesus’ long years in Nazareth, spent on completing everyday, domestic duties, Frances discovered that love is, first of all, about “being” and its name is presence. More, she understood that true Love and true Presence cannot be limited by time. True Presence must be eternal, just as God, Love Himself, is eternal.
Here we areat the very core of our Nazareth spirituality, which has the Eucharistic character par excellence.
When the Son of God came into the world, He established a lasting bond with the “earth dwellers”. All his words, deeds and mysteries were endowed with permanence. They were not merely part of a passing phenomena, but events of timeless quality. Ineffable as His Incarnation was, so too, was His plan for remaining with humankind, on earth, when He instituted the Divine Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
Blessed Frances rightly noted that …. for Jesus to have spent but a few years on earth, clothed in our nature and associating only with people of one particular time and place, returning to the Father forever …. would never satisfy the depths of His love.
Our Mother Foundress had no doubt that God, hidden in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, was the same Jesus who lived in the ordinary house with Mary and Joseph. In this regard –she said – we are as equally privileged and equally challenged as were Jesus’ immediate family, disciples and friends. At one point Blessed Frances even noticed that: “In the Eucharist Our Lord is even more hidden than in Nazareth; afflicted, he is the object of the contempt or indifference of many humans”.
She herself being deeply devoted to the Mystery of the Blessed Sacrament, Mother Frances wished to implant the devotion of the Holy Eucharist in her religious family and make it flourish and thrive. Her greatest desire was to make it possible for the Sisters to have periods of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament exposed. “He is the same – she used to repeat so often – Who was loved, cherished and served in Nazareth by his Holy Mother and Saint Joseph. He is the same Who should be adored, loved and served by us, the daughters of the Holy Family”.
Correlating Nazareth spirituality with a divine regard for Christ in the Eucharist, Blessed Frances was concerned not only about making provision for a tabernacle in every convent, but especially about forming her sisters in a way that empowered them to grow in love and desire for daily adoration.
In her “unusually vast”written heritage we find beautiful passages on the importance and privilege of the act of adoration. Mother has left us not only valuable and sound theological reflections on the Eucharist but has also shared many practical thoughts and advice related to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Our Mother’s final reflections are extremely touching, because they come straight from her heart and her lived experience. They are relevant and meaningful within all cultures and to all souls … and they are quite original.
On May 27, 1880, during a communal preparation for Corpus Christi, Mother Frances addressed the sisters with the following words:
“Moments spent before the Blessed Sacrament should be counted as most precious to us; we should anticipate our adoration with joy.
Once before our Lord, let us refrain from using prayer books, from borrowing the ready-made sentiments of others. Our Lord loves truth, and delights in simple hearts. He loves that which He Himself imparts to us through His inspiration. We can tell Him so much during the time of adoration.
And when our heart is sterile and we are unable to formulate our own out-pouring of love to Him, then, let us present Him our utter misery, which we have in such abundance.
If we are incapable of doing more than this, let us remain in His presence in all humility, making acts of love as we gaze upon Him. Such moments will prove to be of great benefit to us, because it is impossible to be so close to the Source of Love and Sanctity without being influenced by Him”.
“But love for the Blessed Sacrament,our Mother concludes, must be a practical love; it cannot be one of sentiment, but of action, for it must demonstrate a vital union with the hidden Lord. It must be a love capable of self-sacrifice”.
Our Mother Foundress returned home to her beloved Lord long ago. We, the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth have come through times of trials and various changes over 130 years of existence. One thing, however, remains the same: a daily practice of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a genuine attentiveness to the beauty of our chapels where Jesus remains with us in the form of the Eucharist. Our oral and written tradition reads: a Nazareth sister doesn’t save on flowers and lights for Jesus’ dwellings. He is the Host and the King of our communities and he deserves only the best from us.
Many others may ask as the Roman Baroness, Simeone, asked, “Why the waste on flowers and sacred vestments”?And many may ultimately respond as she did on realising the motivation behind the practice: “That I like”….. because such attention is rooted in a living practice of authentic worship, lovingly offered, to God alone.