St Raphaela Mary

Virgin, Founder of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart (entered heaven this day in 1925)

Dear Raff,

I can understand your consternation at not being promoted to president of the Newman Center.  I can understand it, but I don’t countenance it. Certainly, it would be just and prudent to put you in charge of things there, judging by the success of your efforts up to now, and by your evident dedication and dependability.  But (may I be blunt?) what right have you to complain if someone else is chosen? Is your work for the Church done out of love for Christ, the Church, and your fellow students, or out of misguided ambition, vanity, and egoism? I think you should reflect deeply on the example of today’s saint.

She and her older sister Dolores embarked on a vocation to the consecrated life soon after their parents died, greatly upsetting their other relatives in the little Spanish town that they called home.  But the order was disbanded, and St Raphaela had to hold together the little band of sixteen novices through sheer faith, while the bishop decided what to do with them. Just as they were finishing their training and as they were about to take their vows, the bishop announced that he had written up an entirely new rule for them to follow.  Raphaela was a bit perplexed – they had learned a different style of life and were unprepared (and unwilling) to follow the new directives, but if they refused they would all be sent home. So she took her courage in her hands, and the group secretly fled from the diocese to the protection of a benefactor, who hid them with some other nuns in a hospital and then went to Madrid to see about setting things right.  Then he died, and the little flock was left shepherdless. They persevered, however, under St Raphaela’s intrepid leadership and deep faith, until a Jesuit priest heard of their predicament and helped establish the Congregation of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart in Madrid, Spain.

A few years later, however, a rift opened between Dolores and Raphaela.  The older sister recruited some influential supporters, and they deposed the Foundress (who had been named mother superior of the new Congregation by the Pope himself), sending her to the Order’s convent in Rome, where she spent the next 30 years in charge of the housework.  It was there, suffering that humiliating and unjust sentence, that this remarkable woman achieved her remarkable degree of holiness. She never complained, never made any efforts to assert her “rights,” and she filled the house with joy, faith, and love until she died on the Feast of Epiphany in 1925.

The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “revelation.”  I hope that St Raphaela Mary’s example “reveals” how you ought to be behaving.  Continue serving the cause of Christ with all your heart, making the burdens and triumphs of those around you into your own, and God will see to it that the talents he has given you don’t go to waste.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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