Church Life: April 2009 Archives

Mio Dio, la tua gloria!

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Ut Unum Sint

Although the Roman Martyrology notes the day of her death on April 23, 1939, the Cistercian and Trappist calendars commemorate Blessed Maria Gabriella, a nun of Grottaferrata in Italy, on April 22. Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità in 1983 and in his Encyclical on Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint, presented her again to the whole Church as a model of "the total and unconditional offering of one's life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit." Her monastic life was brief: three and a half years. She died after fifteen months of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five.

The Dilated Heart

Blessed Maria Gabriella is, in many ways, a woman to whom anyone touched by suffering and disability can relate, and for many reasons. The physical limitations that reduced her "doing" expanded her "being" until, at length, the Holy Ghost dilated her heart to the dimensions of the Heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. How can I not think here of my esteemed friend Vincent Uher at Tonus Peregrinus?

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Silence Turned to Praise

Blessed Maria-Gabriella is one of those who, having heard the Word, held it in silence: in the silence of wonderment, in the silence that confesses God present, in the silence that allows the Word to sink into the deep and secret places of the soul. For Maria-Gabriella, this silence turned to praise: a sublime praise uttered by Christ the Eternal High Priest in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. At the end of life, she confided: "I cannot say but these words, 'My God, your Glory.'"

Pages Become Transparent

Maria Sagghedù, leaving her native Sardinia for Grottaferrata, entered a monastery that was economically and culturally poor, although governed by Mother Maria Pia Gulini, an abbess who believed in keeping a window open onto the wider Church. Maria Gabriella lived a hidden life circumscribed by the cloister, by silence and by obedience. Her monastic life was short; she crossed the threshold of the Abbey of Grottaferrata in 1935 and died in 1939, a mere three and a half years later. It was Good Shepherd Sunday at the hour of Vespers, the Church's evening sacrifice of praise. The Gospel that day had been from Saint John: "There will be one fold, and one shepherd" (Jn 10:16). After Maria Gabriella's death, her sisters found that her little pocket edition of the New Testament, worn from use, opened by itself to the seventeenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. Those few pages of Jesus' Priestly Prayer, so often touched by Mother Maria Gabriella's feverish hands, had become almost transparent.

The Unity of the Mystical Body

Blessed Maria Gabriella's offering for Christian unity witnesses to the fundamental thrust of every monastic life, both in its canonical form within the enclosure walls, or in its interior expression, without cloister or habit, in the world. Monastic conversion is a movement from the divided, fragmented self to the whole self, healed and unified in the love of Christ. The restoration of unity is the great monastic work; it is the end and fruit of every Eucharistic Sacrifice. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches the end proper to the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the unity of the Mystical Body. Let us then go to the altar, letting go of things that fragment that unity, and ready to receive the gifts by which unity is repaired.

Read more about Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità here and here.

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Father Garrigou-Lagrange, professor of Dogmatic and Mystical Theology at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, wrote this in 1952:

The modern spirit of unbridled pleasure leads inevitably to destruction, as is only too evident from the past two wars. No genuine peace has resulted, precisely because men have refused to see the meaning of divine chastisements and to return to a life which is both naturally upright and Christian. And so the Holy Ghost has implanted in many souls the seeds of genuine and fruitful reparation.
In view of this widespread sterility in human endeavour many would-be reformers are asserting that what is needed is a new approach to the priestly and religious life, in order to adapt them to the needs of the modern era. So far as the religious life is concerned, they are of the opinion that its austerity ought to be mitigated since it is now out of date: time devoted to prayer should be cut down to leave more time for external activities. They would also adapt the priestly life to the spirit of the times: to them it seems no longer suitable for priests to wear a special dress or the tonsure or any outward sign of their priesthood, or even to recite the breviary--perhaps even celibacy has become outmoded--and so on.
But what is required is a careful study of the actions and ambitions of the saints, whether they were founders of Orders or excellent secular priests; and this study must be undertaken not in any mere historical or theoretical frame of mind but from a practical point of view. Neither must we neglect the perennial teaching of the Church and the Popes about the religious life and the priestly life. . . . We will then discover the real changes that have to be made, in a spirit of faith, trust in God, and self-diffusive charity.

The Very Reverend Father R. Garrigou-Langrange, O.P.
(1877-1964)
The Priest in Union with Christ, pp. 67-69
The Newman Press, 1952

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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