Rev. MOTHER MARIAM THRESIA – DR. A. MATHIAS MUNDADAN, CMI.
14 May 1914 was a red letter date in the annals of the Christians of Kerala. It was on that day the Holy Family Congregation, the fifth indigenous Religious Community of Kerala, had its beginning. The Congregation celebrated the Platinum Jubilee in 1988-89. Its members number today more than thousand Sisters, spread over 125 Houses in and outside India. They, imbued with a special charisma for family apostolate, are doing various services in the Church and for the Society.
A simple rustic woman named Thresia, vibrant with intense love of God and man, was destined to be the foundress of the Congregation of the Holy Family. Thresia, later krtown as Mother Mariam Thresia, was born in Chiramel Mankydian family at Puthenchira in 1876. A challenging conviction had been haunting her from early childhood that God had chosen her for a special mission. An unusually fervent spirit of prayer and a continuous urge to do good to her fellow beings were evident in her from tender years. Her life was a fine combination of deep prayer experience and a burning desire for family apostolate. This boded well for the evolution of an original life style in the newly founded Religious Community. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, her spiritual father, was of immense help in actualising her vision, which she had in mind for a long time.
The writings of Mariam Thresia-a short autobiography, letters, exhortation, prayers and addresses-unveil the life story of the blessed woman. They unfold the story of the mystic whom God chose to found the Holy family Congregation in intimate collaboration with her spiritual director. Life of Mariam Thresia composed by the latter is an excellent witness to her solid sanctity and her heroic practice of charity.
Popular Concept and the Real Thresia
Mariam Thresia was a saintly woman, widely known, dearly loved and well honoured for years in Puthenchira and. Kuzhikkattussery where she spent all her life, and also places around. What fired the imagination of the people in the locality were strange stories about this ‘Mankydian Nun’. She has been enshrined in the minds of people as an exceptional woman experiencing extraordinary phenomena. She was seen hanging on the wall without touching the ground, wearing the stigmata on her body. She experienced even physically diabolical obsessions as well as heavenly visions. Some of the biographies have also helped to project this popular concept of Thresia. If we make an objective study of her life we will realise that Thresia had a personality quite different from this popular concept of it. The supernatural experiences of Thresia are some of the realities of her life. It is not any of these events that we see as the real core of her personality and essence of her spirituality; they are only signs of physio-psycho manifestations of divine intervention.
Thresia’s life was interwoven with mystical experiences. Evil spirits tormented her over a long period of time. She had to suffer its severity not only in her mind but in body as well. On the other hand, we find her having overwhelming experiences of heavenly visions, locutions, stigmata, etc., which were given to her as gratuitous gifts by God. Such incomprehensible events are not rare in the lives of many saints, as manifested in St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Theresa of Avila and St. Francis of Assisi.
We are naturally reminded of the temptations of our Lord in the desert. All the three temptations, which, according to the Gospels, He underwent, were physical and external. After the temptations an angel of the Lord appeared to Him and served Him. So also we are led to remember the Gospel account of an angel consoling Jesus at the end of His mental agony in the Garden of Gethsemany.
Theologians, scholars, scientists, psychologists and holy men have their own views, interpretations and opinions regarding such mystical phenomena. We can only be tongue-tied and stand in reverential awe at the mysterious ways of God for his chosen ones.
In the life of this blessed woman we come to know a series of mystical events such as the Holy Family visiting her, visions of hell and purgatory, exchange of hearts, change of name, reception of floral crown, piercing of heart with lance, insertion of ring on her finger, and stigmata. They are some of the supernatural experiences of Thresia, which are very much identical to the experiences of many a mystical saint. But it is good to understand that they are neither indispensable for the attainment of sanctity nor essential criteria to measure the degree of one’s sanctity.
Life History of Thresia
Thresia was born in a noble family of Chiramal Mankydian on 26 April 1876, as the daughter of Thoma and Thanda. She was baptized on 3 May of the same year in St. Mary’s church, Puthenchira. Her fifty year long life can be divided into four stages:
1. 1877 – 1888: Birth and childhood-She grew in the ‘fear of the Lord’ and sanctity, under the spiritual guidance of her saintly mother. She loved her mother dearly, but sometimes she had to act against her will in her pursuit to follow the will of God and to grow in the likeness of Christ. Her mother passed away when Thresia was twelve, in 1888, throwing the whole family into the abyss of deep sorrow.
2. 1888 – 1902 : Thresia’s search for her vocation, her desire for hidden life, thirst for family oriented services, participation in the passion of our Lord, starting of diabolical seizures, the fulfillment of her cherished desire to get a spiritual director, are some of the notable facts of this period.
3. 1903 – 1908 : This is the most crucial period in her life. It is a period of powerful paradoxical experiences for her, such as diabolical attacks, severe trials, tribulations, frustrations, struggles on one side, and experiences of spiritual joy and calm on the other. She was able to open her heart fully with much confidence to her spiritual director for necessary advice and direction to guide her frail barque through the stormy sea, with deep faith, and tranquility of mind. 53 out of her 55 letters were written during this period.
4. 1909 – 1926 : The founding period of the Congregation. Thresia was led through mysterious ways, before the actual plan of God about her was revealed. She made fruitless attempts to run away to the forest to lead the life of an ascetic solitary. In 1910 Thresia was admitted in the Carmelite Third Order and she was given the special permission to wear the veil while at home. Her search for her vocation continued. She could discern that she was called neither to the Congregation of Franciscan Clarist nor to that of the Carmelites. Her inner urge to live in a separate house was made known to her spiritual father for the first time in 1903. The latter approached the Bishop for permission many a time. Her in satiable thirst for a house for prayer and solitude eventually came to fruition in 1913. A house got ready for the purpose. Rev. Fr. John Ukken blessed this house, and Thresia along with her three companions started residing in it. They led a life of prayer and service, which formed their style of Religious life. Thus a potential religious community was formed. Nobody could foresee then that Thresia was sowing a seed for a new Congregation or laying the foundation for C.H.F. On 14, May 1914, Bishop John Menachery, Thrissur recognised this community as the congregation of the Holy Family and it was officially declared in a solemn ceremony at St. Mary’s Church, Puthenchira. Thresia was allowed to make her perpetual vows and given the religious name “Mariam Thresia” which was already revealed to her by the Blessed Mother in 1904. Her three companions were accepted as postulants in the Congregation. The people of Puthenchira rejoiced in witnessing to the birth of the Congregation of the Holy Family. She went for eternal reward on 8 June 1926.
Steps taken for the Canonisation of Mother Mariam Thresia
The Mother has been specially blessed with numerous spiritual graces. Since the fame of her sanctity spread far and wide, and many were the blessings received through her, Rt. Rev. Dr. George Alappat, the then Bishop of Thrissur, went through all the record on the life of Thresia written by Fr. Joseph Vithayathil. The Bishop approved the publication of a prayer for her canonisation. The following year, on 8 June 1964, Fr. Vithayathil passed away. He was a man of discretion and perspicacity. His prudent decision that he would not take up the cause of Thresia during his lifetime has been thus realised. But he was sure that some day her cause would be taken up in right earnest. It is a standing testimony of her sanctity that in 1973 steps were started to study the cause of canonisation. In 1985 Rome declared that the steps were valid. The Servant of God was raised to the status of ‘Venerable’ on 28 June 1999. On 28 January 2000 the Holy Father declared her ‘Blessed’. The official declaration will take place on 9 April. Thus Mother Mariam Thresia is counted the third ‘Blessed’ of Kerala after the first two, Cyriac Elias Chavara and Sr. Alphonsa. She will be the first ‘Blessed’ of India in the new Millennium.
Spiritual Life of Thresia
According to the Christian concept, holiness is a gift of God. People can aspire for spiritual perfection. They can work towards it, through prayer, sacrifices and good deeds. All Christians have a calling to sanctity. But only some will take it seriously and lead a heroic life of virtue. They will be officially and publicly declared by the Church as ‘Blessed’ or ‘Saints’ after a long official process.
As we scrutinise the autobiographical notes of Mother Mariam Thresia, and her other writings, what touches us deeply is, her ardent desire to love God and to participate in the mystery of I Christ. The autobiographical notes start with the words: ” I had experienced an intense desire to love God from my early childhood.”
Thresia felt an extraordinary urge within her to love God. The awareness of this urge gripped her whole self. It took the dimensions of a challenge. She pondered in her heart; How to face this challenge? How to overcome them? These thoughts almost continuously tormented her and led to a sort of conflict in her mind. She did not allow this conflict to remain as conflict but searched for ways and means courageously to face the challenge. She surrendered herself to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and started with all earnestness to pray and do penance. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament in the Church, confession of sins, receiving communion and live participation in the liturgical functions gave a great boost to her spiritual quest.
Her Deep Rooted Faith
Mariam Thresia’s spirituality is very deep and wide. She practised divine and moral virtues heroically. Her desire to love God and to fulfil her mission kept burning in her all through her life. “If God is God” is a phrase, we find, repeated in her writings. These words are an expression of her strong hope and trust in God. She always wanted “not her will but the will of God” be fulfilled in her. She believed that God sees everything, knows everything and everything will be well and beneficent for her even if it appeared otherwise.
The spirituality of Thresia centered on the passion of’ the Lord. Christian spirituality is a participation in the mystery of Christ. Many great saints of the Church meditated on the sufferings of Christ and cultivated a strong desire to suffer and die for Christ. “Either suffer or Die” for Christ was the motto of St. Teresa of Avila. For St. John of the Cross, it was “To suffer and to be humiliated” for Christ. Thresia used to steep herself in the passion of Christ even from childhood. She was filled with a complete sense of nothingness and wanted to suffer for Christ with joy. Her mystical vision and life emerged from her recollection and meditation on the sufferings of Christ. She preferred sickness to health, failure to success, pain to pleasure, for identifying herself with Christ. It was the desire to conform herself to the suffering Lord that prompted her to have recourse to a variety of penitential exercises, some traditional and other her own inventions.
To be united with Christ became a burning passion in her life. She cultivated a holy indifference to, or the spirit of complete detachment from worldly pleasures and honours. All this was in preparation for a total dedication to a life of prayer and service. This preparation was a long process. The Lord was well pleased with this servant of His and willed to bless Thresia with imprinting in her body permanently His five wounds. This happened in 1909.
Heroic Practice of Charity
Thresia’s life of prayer and contemplation paved the way for a total dedication to the service of the poor. Brushing aside all oppositions and prevailing customs and conventions, she took up the challenge of her special mission of family apostolate. She engaged herself in acts of charity, not for worldy appreciation but for love of Christ. She hastened to the midst of the poor and destitute, to the sick and to the sinners, to the downtrodden and to the abandoned, with great apostolic zeal; to wipe out their tears and to lift them up from the rut of their sinful life and to fill them with Christ’s spirit. Many appreciated her ways, some despised her and still others branded her as an obsessed woman. But the undaunted Thresia, motivated by the spirit of Christ, visited the homes of all who needed her services, without regard for caste or creed, and attended to their spiritual and temporal needs: preparing them for happy death and for receiving sacraments; praying for them; doing sacrifices for their recovery; even collecting funds to meet the needs of the poor. She hated nobody; she had no complaints.
Submission and Obedience
Two aspects of Mother Mariam Thresia’s spirituality are her submission and obedience to her spiritual father and to her ecclesiastical authorities. With patience she waited without any complaints to know the will of God submitting herself to the full control and directions of her spiritual director, Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, and subjecting herself humbly to Rt. Rev. Dr. Menachery, Bishop of Thrissur, undergoing all the trials thrown at her, even when the Bishop stamped her hysteric. Her spiritual father had been her real guide and support, and a source of inspiration to forge through the trials and temptations and to lead her soul to Christian perfection. Like a child she opened out to him everything happening in her: divine inspirations, operations of the Holy Spirit in her, her confusions, struggles, diabolical attacks, revelations, apparitions, etc. She had her own vision of life and opinion. But in order to make sure of its validity and authenticity she always sought the help of her spiritual father.
Mother Mariam Thresia is a symbol of mystic spirituality steeped in the passion of our Lord. It is a spirituality founded on faith and hope, and moulded in the love of God and man. It is a spirituality having good foundation under the direction and control of her authorities; a spirituality sprouting beautiful flowers of natural goodness rooted in the love of God.
When we analyse her life through her own writings it is clear that she has been a very mature woman having her own vision of life and strong convictions. Natural qualities related to her intel lect, mind, imagination and heart are really beautiful. She acquired much depth and width and beauty to her spirituality through her commitment and contemplation. The spirituality of Thresia was not a shallow spirituality entertained in a sentimental and imaginary world. Her life is not something planned for self-satisfaction. After getting moral certitude regarding the plan of God through her spiritual father and Church authorities, she surrendered herself completely to God and to the service of the people of God. It is because of this, that her mystical spirituality and founding charisma have become authentic.
Some Lessons from the life of Blessed Mariam Thresia – Br. Osmond Kudoloh, Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana, Africa
This write up is an attempt aimed at bringing to the fore one or two lessons I have drawn after reading about Bl.Mariam Thresia. It must be clear to all who will read this that I do not consider myself worthy to write about such a pious person of the Christian or specially of the catholic faith. When I was reading the biography of Mariam Thresia it came to a point that I almost shed tears due to the torments and pains she went through. Despite this, I was happy and consoled by the fact that she was able to endure and subsequently triumphed over the many tortures that came her way. The life of Thresia was dominated by trials, temptations, obedience, concern for others, unwavering hope, faith and trust in God. St. Paul in Romans 8:35 enumerated a lot of things which are likely to come between us and our Saviour Jesus Christ. These things which Paul mentioned are very big obstacles to the growth of the Christian spitrituality. Though Thresia experienced so many trials and tribulations, she still remained faithful and focussed on Christ. Her success in enduring the trials could be attributed to the grace of God and her personal efforts. Bl. Mariam Thresia exercised a great sense of fortitude and resilience in the face of adversities.
In her difficulties she was consoled by the Holy Family Jesus Mary and Joseph, some saints like Theresa of Avila as well as support and comfort from her spiritual director and her family members. If she were not prayerful, humble and dedicated, she would have been broken by the attacks from the devil. Determination pays and for us Christians we must always be focused on the goal no matter the circumstances. Apart from the attacks from the devil, she also practiced some form of self mortification geared towards strengthening the soul and controlling the demands of the flesh. If we want to grow in spirit we must be ready to do penance and self mortification.
Another important thing about the life of Bl. Mariam Thresia is her love for neighbours. Sometimes we find it very difficult to practice the gospel values especially love of neighbour. Thresia was concerned not only with the love of neighbour but how to bring comfort and relief to the neighbour. On several occasions she would move to people’s aid no matter the time of the day though sometimes she would be exhausted and weak. When a vision came to her about a neighbour who was sick, in purgatory or on the verge of death, she never hesitated. She would rise and visit those who are sick and those on the point of death and comfort, pray and prepare them to face death. Love of neighbour goes beyond giving of gift to them as exhibited by Thresia. Bl. Mariam Thresia offers us an example and importance of obedience. At a point in life we will have to be under the leadership and authority of somebody. This might not seem pleasant to us but all the same it is vital for us as followers of Christ. Bl. Mariam Thresia was obedient first to God and then to her spiritual director. If she had not obeyed God and her spiritual director and gone to pursue her own agenda or lived according to her own personal dictates she would not have been successful in her endeavors.
Finally Bl.Mariam Thresia depended solely on the body and blood of Christ for survival. She frequented the Church to attend Mass and receive the body and blood of Christ. If she was unable to attend Mass, God sent messengers to bring the body of Christ to her. If we wish to be numbered among the saints one day, the life of Bl. Mariam Thresia is an example for us to follow.
The Foundress and the Co-Founder – Chev. Joseph Vithayathil
The article was written by the late Chev. Joseph Vithayathil in 1982. He describes how he met Rev. Mother Mariam Thresia when she came on a visit to his house. He was tremendously influenced by the heroine’s sanctity in which he had absolute faith. In this article he gives us his impressions of Rev. Mother and also of her relationship with her spiritual father, Rev. Father Joseph Vithayathil :-
It was about seventy years ago that I saw Mariam Thresia when she came to our house for help to put up a prayer house for herself and her associates at Puthenchira. Although not a nun then she was called “Mankidian Kanniastry (nun).” She looked a very Plain woman – rather dark in colur and with features in no way attractive, modest in dress and in speech she passed for an ordinary country woman. Many strange stories were being told about her mystical experiences, scourging by unseen hands, being huddled up in the attic of the house or nailed on the wall, about her stigmata and the bleeding of the heart. These happenings were differently interpreted by different people. Some said that these were pranks of the devil who had possessed her.
They did not believe in her sanctity and contended that her external acts of piety were mere pretentions calculated to deceive people. Others regarded her, a saint and interpreted these happenings as acts of molestation by the devil who tried to wean her away from God. She was indeed a controversial figure at the time I saw her. That the stories about her mystical experiences were true is out by tangible evidences. When she came to the house of father Joseph Vithayathil, her spiritual director at Kongorpilly, She had this experiences and her blood – stained jacket is still preserved in that house. A similar occurrence took place when she went to her mother’s house at Thuravoor where also her blood – stained jacket is kept. Such a jacket is preserved in Kuzhikkattussery Covent also. But these mystical experiences by themselves do not prove her sanctity. They can be explained away otherwise. The Bishop himself did not attach much value to these happenings and looked upon her with suspicion.
The one person who stood by her and was her main support was her spiritual Director, Father Joseph Vithayathil. He knew her intimately and had complete faith in her sanctity. The life of Mother Mariam Thresia is closely connected with the life of this saintly priest. In all her difficulties she sought his advice and always acted according to his directions. When she was tortured by the devil he comforted her and strengthened her faith. As directed by him she narrated to him all that happened. And she used to write down everything in a note book in her own hand. I had the privilege of reading it. Whatever explanations one may give to the strange happenings recorded in that note book it cannot be doubted for a moment, for it contains a true version of what Mariam Thresia told him soon after the occurrences and what he observed.
We can appreciate the meaning and significance of these mysterious happenings only when we know deeply religious Mother Mariam Thresia was and how devoted she was in her service of God she spent long hours in prayer at home and in the Church. Her devotion to our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament, the fervor with which she received him everyday, her meditation on the passion of our Lord, the acts of mortification and penance she practiced, her daily visit to the poor and the sick, her readiness to undergo any sacrifice for helping others, particularly for converting sinners, the patience with which she endured the troubles in her family and the scandals of her detractors and her deep humanity bear ample testimony to her extra –ordinary sanctity. The reasonable explanations for the mysterious happenings about Mariam Thresia recorded by Fr. Vithayathil is that she was made to pass through an ordeal for perfecting her religious life and for preparing herself for the great task God had ordained for her, that is the founding of a religious congregation.
The sudden change in the attitude of the Bishop towards her, the extra – ordinary manner in which the congregation was founded, the wonderful progress it made in a very short time, the great number of favours obtained by those who sought her intercession during her life time and after her death, all go to show that she was one closely united to God and was used by God as his instrument to fulfill a particular mission.
The founding of the congregation of the Holy Family, the construction of Mother House at Kuzhikattussery and the establishment of some of the early houses of the congregation were the result of the joint endeavours of Mother Mariam Thresia and Fr. Vithayathil and after the death of Mother Mariam Thresia in 1926. Fr. Vithayathil continued the work of founding new houses and starting new educational and charitable institutions and mission centers. Before his death in 1964 when he was nearing the age of 100 years, he had the satisfaction of seeing the new congregation making marvelous progress, both in the number of institutions and houses. Imbued with the spirit of their Holy Foundress the Holy Family sisters are now working for the glory of God in different parts of India and even outside India. From 1914 when the congregation was founded till 1964 when he died Father Joseph worked for the congregation. In a sense he is the co-founder of the Congregation. He was the spiritual Director of Mother Mariam Thresia from 1902 and continued as such till her death. He had a great part to play in the formation of her religious life. It may not be an accident that he died on the 8th of June, the day on which Mother Mariam Thresia also died. They are both buried in the chapel of Mother House at Kuzhikkattussery and their tombs remind the visitors of the lives of the two great souls who worked jointly for the fulfillment of the divine mission.
Mother Mariam Thresia was a humble illiterate woman and father Vithayathil was an ordinary priest with no special abilities of his own. Why did God choose these two people as his instruments for founding a religious congregation? The same question may be asked about the choosing of poor illiterate fisherman by Christ as his apostles. Why was an ordinary woman chosen as the mother of our Lord and a humble carpenter as His foster – father? For answering these questions, one must have a clear idea of what man is in relation to God. All that we are and all that we have are merely gifts of God given to us in various degrees like the talents in the parable of our Lord. The more the gifts the greater will be the responsibility. It matters not what part you play in the drama whether of the printer or the clown. What matters is how you play this part that is allotted to you – how you make use of the gifts God had bestowed on you. You have got the freedom to use these gifts either for the glory of God or for your selfish ends. When you use them entirely for God’s glory by surrendering yourself to Him you become His instrument and He works through you. To have this attitude towards God one should have unquestioning faith in him and true humility of heart. It is such people that are chosen by God to spread His Kingdom in this world. Both Mother Mariam Thresia and Father Vithayathil had these virtues in an abundant measure. Therefore they were able to achieve what others, more learned and gifted, could not. This is the lesson we learn from the lives of these two servants of God.
Bl. Mother Mariam Thresia is beatified not only a matter of great pride to the entire Syro-Malabar Church, but is also a matter of great help for all Christians to get the heavenly blessing through her intercession. May Bl. Mother Mariam Thresia remind every one, the family values for which she stood and worked and gave her life so that they may be inspired to take their right in this difficult circumstances of modern materialistic influences.
Bishop of Thamarassery
MARIAM THRESIA : THE REAL MOTHER – Bp. Bosco Puthur
(From the Homily on June 8, 2003 at Mariam Thresia Shrine, Kuzhikattussery)
At the outset let me extend to everyone greetings and best wishes on the occasion of the feast of the Blessed Mother Mariam Thresia. This being also the Commemoration of the 39th death anniversary of Rev. Fr. Joseph Vithayathil, who was the guiding light in the Mother’s life, I pray that all those who seek the intercession of these two extraordinary persons may be abundantly blessed by our Lord God!
Who was the Blessed Mother Mariam Thresia? One who experienced the love of the Divine Father in a special way; a pious soul who received on her physical self the stigmata of the Lord; One who struggled hard to bring to the families around her God’s saving grace. She was a consolation to the families, a heaven for the poor and comfort for the dying. On this occasion of festal celebration, we become her disciples and devotees when we take on and carry out in our lives the Blessed Mother’s divine mission.
Mother Mariam Thresia begins the narration of her life history thus: “From childhood my soul agonised with an intense desire to love God”. This acute experience of the love of God was the centre point of her life. Mother was a person who invested herart and soul in the Lord, surrendered herself to His Fatherly Divine care, enjoyed His Fatherly Love and shared it with others. Her life shows that this was not always a pleasant experience. She walked along the painful path of misunderstanding and rejection. The story of her life illustrates how a God fearing person’s life is beset by temptations and struggles. A soul that desires and strives for the love of God is sure to be subjected to an unexpected volley of trials and tribulations. In the words of the apostle, St. Peter, “Your enemy, the satan, is running around on the look out for someone, anyone, to consume” (I Pt 5:8).
If this is what had happened in the life of Mother Mariam Thresia, then how will we be exempted from such experience? At such trying times, let us remember that we are called to experience the power of the Divine which transcends the power of the evil spirit. Mariam Thresia’s was a life scarred by wounds. I imply not just the five stigmata – the wound – mark imperceptible to the senses that she received on herself. Though born in an aristocratic family, she had to live in utter poverty. Acute financial stringencies and the alcoholic tendencies of her father and brother, death of her dearly beloved mother when she was only 12, taking up on her slender shoulders the staggering burden of a large household at this tender age – all these bitter experiences marred her childhood and adolescence. And beyond these psychological scars, she imbibed in her heart and on her body the stigmata of the Crucified Christ. In order to channel the love of God to all those who lived around, she came to our midst like a missionary, like a mother.
One of the Jewish parables runs as follows: A Rabbi named Joshua Ben Levi was living an intensely prayerful life, expectant of the saviour to come. He remained in the synagogue in ardent prayer, hoping to see the saviour face to face. One day as he was walking, he saw prophet Eliah. He was sure that the saviour has come. Running to Eliah, he asked, ” Has the saviour come?” “It has been quite some time since his arrival ” Eliah replied. “Where?” the Rabbi enquired, and Eliah answered, ” on the outskirts of the city, there live a group of sick people. They are covered with sores and in pain. Saviour is one of them”. “How can I recognize him?” And Eliah answered the Rabbi’s anxious query, “One among these wounded men is tending the sore of the others. He is the saviour”.
This story conveys a moral. All of us are wounded, covered with sores and in pain. We represent the saviour. We are His missionaries. But our problem is that we are so obsessed with our wounds and miseries that we tend to ignore the pain of our brethren; we forget our mission. The hurtful wounds that were inflicted on Mother Mariam Thresia by her family, relations and fellow-villagers were many! But she viewed them all as the manifestation of the scars on the Divine body of her Lord. This is where the difference lies between the Mother and ourselves. We have our own scars-of poverty at home, father’s alcoholism, our lack of education, conflicts with our neighbours, our own inadequacies, lack of love of our partner, inconsiderate behaviour of our children and so on. These scars tell us to transcend the human hurts and identify with the scars of the crucified Christ and take up the challenge of becoming healing missionaries among the sinners and the destitute.
This is the Silver Jubilee year of Sir Edmund Hillary’s conquest of Mount Everest. The victory on the top of Everest has been hailed as the most dramatic historical event of the past century. At the time of the Silver Jubilee celebrations, a scribe asked the 83- year old legend, ” What was the most significant event in your life?” He replied thus, “Through the acquaintance of the Sherpa whom I met while climbing the mountain, I came to know about the poverty-stricken Nepalis. Making use of my influence and fame, I could build hospitals, dispensaries and schools for the poor people of Nepal. This is my greatest achievement.”
Today if we were to ask the Blessed Mother what was the most significant event in her life, she would perhaps say, “what is significant is that I was called upon to share in the love of God the Father; that I could take on the wounds of the crucified Christ; that I was inspired by the Divine spirit to provide solace and succor to the poor and the suffering, and to be a refuge to the dying.” To share the extraorddinary love of God in this ordinary life of ours is the zealous mission that we are to undertake. Without the basic concept of Family apostolate, there is no meaning to the existence of the Congregation of the Holy Family. This is incidentally, the fundamental mission of not only the Holy Family Sisters, but that of any dedicated person, priest or layman. The secure foundation of the society rests on Christian families filled with faith, love and optimism. When the family falters, the society disintegrates. The responsibility of women and dedicated sisters to visit and help sustain families is much more than that of men and the priests.
The former president of the U. S. S. R., Mikhail Gorbachev was asked once what was the reason for the downfall of the republic. He said, “Perhaps scholars and intellectuals would cite the loss of military might, lack of economic security, weakening of communism etc. as reasons for this. But I would say that Russia has disintegrated because the Russian women found no time to be mothers and to be the hearts of their families. More than any other country, Russia was the land of equal opportunities for women along with men and that was why women abandoned their families and concentrated on their careers which resulted in the crumbling down of the family relations, the weakening of the society and the decline of the Soviet Republic.
Dear Parents, especially mothers, you take care of your families. You are the heart and the light of your family. When the heart is no more, when darkness displaces light, the family cannot go on. The strong message that Mother Mariam Thresia imparts is that we should share the experience of divine love in our families. Through house visits, let us console the poor and the dying, let us channel the grace of God to our brethren. This is our exalted mission – a most exacting mission.
In the face of all adversities, Mother Mariam Thresia sought the will of God ,relying on His grace, and embarking on a prayerful, penitent life. The story of the Mother exhorts us to fulfil our life’s mission inspite of all obstacles-unfaltered, optimistic, and ever relying on the grace of God. On this occasion, I remember with gratitude our beloved Father Joseph VithayathiI. The embassy of a priest is to recognize and encourage the inspirations of the divine spirit in the human, and to lead him along the path of holiness. For a long period of 24 years, Father Vithayathil led the way for Mother Mariam Thresia, recognizing the divine spirit in her human soul, emboldening and guiding her. May there be many more such priests in the Catholic Church, who are moulded in the model of this holy priest, Rev. Joseph Vithayathil.