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St María Maravillas de Jesús
Professed Nun of the Order of Discalced Carmelites (entered heaven on this day in 1974)
Your stress over exams is revealing. I happen to know that you study responsibly, you have kept up with your work, and you are gifted with a good dose of intelligence. Besides, you’re only a freshman, and these are only your first college exams. To be so concerned about them that you can’t sleep, that you can’t eat, that you have become a worry to your roommates, therefore, is unreasonable; it’s out of proportion. So where does it come from? If you stop to reflect for a moment, I’m sure you will figure it out. It’s because you are – dare I be so bold as to say it directly? – vain. Your sense of self-worth is not based on what God thinks of you (and he thinks an awful lot of you, judging by the crucifix); it’s based on what your peers and your parents and your professors think of you. And if you don’t excel everyone else on your exams, you fear that they will think less of you. That, indeed, explains the intense suffering that you are going through as exams draw near.
I’m glad you told me about it, because now you can take advantage of this first exam period to start working seriously on relocating your self-worth to a more stable (and truer) place: the heart of Christ. I think today’s saint can be of special inspiration for you.
She discovered her vocation as soon as she reached the age of reason. Her grandmother used to read the lives of the saints to her when she was a little girl. At age five, she heard the story of the virgin martyr St Agnes, and Maria was so inspired by it that she made a vow of chastity right then and there (though she didn’t really know what chastity was). Even so, her childhood was normal, and very healthy – her father was Spain’s ambassador to the Vatican, and a devoted family man and faithful Christian as well. He died when she was a young woman, and soon thereafter she confided to her mother that she still desired to consecrate her life totally to Christ. Reluctantly, her mother approved her entrance into the severe order of the Discalced Carmelites. Maria thrived there. She was chosen, even before her perpetual profession, to head up the foundation of a new Carmelite convent in the exact geographical center of Spain: the Hill of Angels. It was to be the first of an almost miraculous series of over a dozen foundations, interrupted but not squelched by the ravages of the Spanish Civil War, which closed the convent at the Hill of Angels and forced her and her sisters to go into hiding, then flee to France, then relocate to northern Spain. Through the hardship and the foundations, she remained a rock of faith and hope – she was superior of her communities for 48 years. To her dying day, in spite of multiple, debilitating heart attacks, she encouraged in every way the many Carmelites and laypeople who visited her, even providing for the growth of a poor house, an orphanage and a school near her last foundation, such that a mini-city sprang up there after her death.
Her achievements are truly marvelous (which is appropriate, considering that her name means “Mary full of the Marvels of Jesus”), but the relevant lesson goes back to the very beginning of her walk with Christ. As a girl, she took too much pleasure in winning other people’s approval, forgetting that Christ himself had been rejected, and so his followers must be willing to sacrifice worldly praise for the sake of God’s Kingdom. She explains how she realized this fault, and what she did to remedy it: “One day I found myself with several individuals whose judgment I greatly esteemed, and whom I knew to be in my favor in every way; in leaving them, I delighted in these thoughts when I distinctly heard inside myself, ‘And as for me, I am considered a fool.’ These words [of Jesus] made such an impression on my soul that from then on, all these vain desires changed very quickly into the ones I have had since then: to be despised.”
But don’t think the problem just went away when she told it to. It was her main point of spiritual work for the rest of her long life. Read what she wrote to her confessor long after she had already been serving as superior of her community: “I am writing to you today to ask you with all my soul, for the love of God, to make use of the greatest possible severity towards me, that you never give me what I would like, that you despise me in front of the Sisters and that in their absence, you give me what is bitterest… I have a burning thirst for this!” She wanted to be like Christ, who was rejected and scorned by the world, in order to bear fruit for his Kingdom. But to do so, she needed to daily put to death her natural desire for praise, in other words, her vanity.
If you consider this example, and begin doing something about your own misplaced self-esteem, I am certain you will find the results marvelous, just at St Maria Maravillas did.
Your devoted uncle,