It is extremely important to knowthat there is no saint who has ever reached the heights of the spiritual life without having meditated frequently on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many of them attributed to the meditation of the passion of our Lord, the beginning of that stage in the spiritual life in which they decided to give themselves entirely to God, to His most Holy Will. Saint Mariam Thresia is one among the most prominent personalities who lived with unquenchable fire in her heart for the Passion of the Lord. From her early age, the passion of Jesus had already etched itself deeply in her soul and she longed to love God. This is evident in her autobiography (Section A). Over and over again we find in her writings that she moved faster toward holiness with the help of this meditation on the sufferings of our Lord (Section, A). St. Bonaventure says: “there is no practice more profitable for the entire sanctification of the soul than the frequent meditation of the sufferings of the Lord.”
Mariam Thresia frequently exhorted and encouraged her daughters to contemplate the passion of Jesus. She was so filled with the love of Jesus the Crucified, which the Cross proclaimed. She saw contemplation of the passion as the most efficacious means to sanctity: “Always remember the birth, life and death of the Lord; meditate frequently on His passion” (Exhortation, no. 2). In exhortation no. 26, she reminds again “it is the meditation that makes a person saint. Therefore, during these days, you must meditate on the passion of our Lord.”
What is Passion? For the Christian, our greatest passion should be for God. It is the only way to serve Him. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and the greatest commandment” (Matthew 22: 37- 38). There are two Scriptural Words for Passion: 1) Zeal, to be zealous. We are told in Romans 12: 11, “Never to be lacking in Zeal,”but we are to keep our spiritual fervor. Passion is a spiritual dynamism. The disciples before Pentecost could hardly be called leaders or influencers of others. They were a group huddling in Jerusalem driven by, more than anything else, fear. But then they experienced the resurrection and the Spirit of God came and burned within them at Pentecost. The apostles became people driven by passion to get the message out. They became zealous for the cause of the gospel, filled with spiritual fervor.
2) Fire, to burn. Jeremiah says: “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in, indeed, I cannot” (20: 9). The Spirit’s fire was something beyond his control. The word of God had to come out even though it brought him into substantial difficulty. Saul, later called Paul, showed great passion for his Jewish religion and stirred up opposition to the early church because of it. His life changed dramatically after an encounter with God on the road to Damascus. A new passion consumed him. He fully embraced the revelation of Jesus Christ and spent the rest of his life evangelizing the world with the Gospel. He calls himself an ambassador for Christ, passionately seeking to reconcile people to God through faith in Jesus Christ. His passion made him willing to face whipping, persecutions, imprisonments, ship wrecks etc. for the cause of the gospel. And Paul tells us too to be passionate for the cause of Christ. St. Paul said that his sole ambition was to know the science of the cross, referring to the love that it contains: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1Cor 11: 2).”
Mariam Thressia saw the Passion as being the most overwhelming sign and pledge of God’s infinite love for her, and at the same time the door to union with Him. His Holiness John Paul II’s message to the youth of the world on the occasion of the 15th World Youth Day says: “Passion” means a passionate love, unconditioned self- giving: Christ’s passion is the summit of an entire life “given” to his brothers and sisters to reveal the heart of the Father. The Cross, which seems to rise up from the earth, in actual fact reaches down from heaven, enfolding the universe in a divine embrace. The Cross reveals itself to be “the centre, meaning and goal of all history and of every human life.”
Christ’s passion was an oft recurring theme for Mariam Thresia in contempltation. Each time she encountered the Crucified Lord in meditation a new passion consumed her soul.When she considered how passionate God is about her, to the point of dying for her, she felt intensely drawn to Him. She demonstrated her fervor by an increased longing to be with Him. She fed on His Word and spent time in prayer communing with Him. Her greatest desire was to obey and please Him by doing only His will. Mariam Thresia co-operated in a particular way in the redemptive work of Christ. The cross was reproduced in her life, and she was given the grace of the Stigmata because of her passion for the Crucified Lord. She embraced the cross for love of Christ, in deep communion with him and in imitation of the Master, offering herself with Him, in Him, and like Him, for the conversion of sinners and to make reparation for sins. This event mentioned by Fr. Joseph Vithayathil clearly shows the depth of her interior union with the suffering Christ: “On Wednesday, 27 January 1909 at the time of meditation after midnight, Jesus gave Thresia ‘His Five wounds’ in a visible way. The stigmata appeared on both sides of the hand and the legs and on the chest…” (Diary: History of Mariam Thresia, p. 173).
The more she experienced the love of the Crucified Lord, the greater she desired to share the pain of the beloved. She drew from the passion the strength and encouragement she needed to bear the sufferings of love. For her suffering was not only an inevitable experience in human life, but for her suffering was a vocation, a call of God, a mission filled with compassion. She allowed herself to be consumed by God. Her soul was purified in fire, molded by the cross, and transfigured in divine love. She accepted suffering and pain as treasure, as gift from God, as grace. At an even deeper level, she saw suffering as a share in the passion. “On 16 July 1905. She began to suffer pain and troubles continuously of the feet. These pain and afflictions have been permitted by God to test her faith and love for God… There was pain everywhere, from the top to toe” (Diary: History of Mariam Thresia p. 116). The means of mastering suffering lived by Mariam Thresia in her life remain suitable and valid for all of us who try to avoid sufferings that come to us because suffering today is a problem which challenges everyone.
The world we live in is a complex world: in chaos, crisis, and with challenges. On the one hand we see people with access to dazzling advancements in technology and improved standards of living. On the other, we find millions whose lives are broken by wars, rampant criminality, inequality, corruption, poverty and lack of access to some of the most basic human needs. There are broken families and broken relationships. What is the heartbeat of God in our troubled world? What does he care about, delight in, and ask of us as his ambassadors, his followers? Mariam Thresia is our response and a role model who was ablazed with the passion for the Lord and her experience of the Spirit’s fire was something beyond her control as in the life of Prophet Jeremiah. She gained a passion for following Crucified Christ first, which led her to a compassion for the lost, which led her to action, and then a harvest of the souls. Yes, she set out for the harvest of the souls through different means. The fire in her heart was so burning with love and passionate fervor for her crucified Jesus that she could not but burst forth her enthusiastic excitement to save the souls, living and dead.
“The consecrated life is a history of passionate love for the Lord and for humanity,” says the Apostolic Constitution Vultum Dei Quaerere on Women’s Contemplative Life (22.07.2016). The burning passion for God who is UNSEEN can only be legitimately expressed in truth by loving those brethren in Jesus whom we CAN SEE. Without passion, without zeal, without fervor, we are lifeless and faith is so easily cast aside. In the present hectic world it is easy to allow things to deviate consecrated persons from devotion to God. Many religious are entirely lost in their work, neglecting their contemplative dimension. Authentic religious spirit and vitality have been drained off by excessive institutionalization. The security of religious institutions has removed the basic insecurity demanded by the Gospel (See Matt 5: 3-12). These and other things will steal our passion for the Lord. Blessed Mariam Thresia helps us to rediscover the essence of religious life which is love, and its demands.
Love gives. Love is not self-seeking. Love cannot keep anything for itself. This kind of love is becoming increasingly foreign to us. We must make a concerted effort to dwell on this crazy, extravagant love of God until it captures us again in the flush of romance. We need to fall in love with Jesus. It is the only cure for the indifferent heart. The moral courage and conviction we lack, the absence of zeal and fervor in our faith is easily cured, if we will purposely incline ourselves toward Him. It is a sweet romance that beckons us…let us fall in love with Jesus again! As St. Augustine prescribes we need a new romance: “To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances, to seek Him the greatest adventure, to find Him the greatest human achievement.”
Sr. Dr. Aruna Jose CHF