ROSE-VIRGINIE PELLETIER FOUNDED HER FAITH ON JESUS CHRIST AS ON A ROCK
Pope John Paul II
July 9, 1996
To Reverend Mother Liliane Tauvette Superior General of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
1. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Rose-Virginie Pelletier, in religion Mother Maria of St Euphrasia, on 31 July 1796 on Noirmoutier Island, the Vendee, France, I willingly join in the prayer and thanksgiving of the religious of your Congregation, which she founded.
Her childhood in an Atlantic port looking out towards the other continents predisposed Rose-Virginie to openness to the world, the desire to save souls and to pursue a missionary activity developed in her heart little by little. The beauty of her native island also gave her the taste for contemplation: marveling, she discovered her Creator and Saviour and learned to love him above all else.
However, from her childhood, in an age when the Church was exposed to many difficulties and persecution, she experienced suffering and separation from her family; she was thus spurred to put her one hope in God who revealed himself to her in his infinite love and immense mercy. Having seen how the rocks on the beach firmly withstood the pounding breakers which gradually shaped and polished them, she would found her faith on Christ as on a rock, a faith so firm that nothing could shake it. This would lead her often to give her sisters this instruction: "stand firm in God like rocks in the sea".
Throughout her youth she let herself be guided by the Lord, who formed her heart and mind for the service of the Church for which he destined her. She strove to deepen her spiritual life with total availability to the Holy Spirit's action. Like the saints of Carmel, she was to let herself be purified by the living flame of love, in order to reach the "transforming union" (St John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, II, 5). Lady of Charity of the Refuge, Sr Maria Euphrasia was only 29 years old when she became superior of the Refuge at Tours.
Six months later, aware that Christ's love cannot be known and spread in the world except through simultaneously experienced action and contemplation, she founded the Sisters Magdalens. Still today, all the religious of the institute are invited, after the example of their foundress, to make prayer the heart of their personal life. Prayer is a relationship of intimacy with God by whom one feels loved, and a conversation through which one is led towards the Lord in an impulse of filial trust. Thus "in this way they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church's love for her Lord and they contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness, to the growth of the People of God", (Vita consecrata, n. 8).
Contemplation which sustains love and the desire for perfection, is also accompanied by meditation on Scripture, recourse to the sacraments, the liturgical office and community life in the spirit of St John Eudes. The Eucharist has a special place in Christian and especially in religious life, for it shows the greatness of the love of Christ who saved the world by his sacrifice on the Cross. "the Cross of Christ ... is also a radical revelation of mercy, or rather of the love that goes against what constitutes the very root of evil in the history of man: against sin and death" (Dives in misericordia, n. 8).
As Mother Maria of St Euphrasia would say, it is from the Eucharist "that we draw the light, the strength and the life of our souls. This sacrament is the Church's true treasure. It is a treasure for us all" (Entretiens et Instructions, c. XI, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 1842). A person is already a missionary through life hidden in God.
3. Every baptized person who receives abundance of life, born from Christ's side, is called to walk in his footsteps, to witness to his purifying and effective presence, for God comes to work all new things in us and to "be at the service of all men by giving himself yet more to the Holy Spirit" (Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer for Masses of Reconciliation I). Each one is called to experience the Good Shepherd's mercy and to become a sign of this mercy among his brothers and sisters, wounded either by trials or by a seriously disordered life. To proclaim merciful love is the principal message which guided your foundress throughout her mission to young girls, women and families, who were experiencing spiritual, moral or material distress. Through relationships based on love and respect, those wounded in heart and body gradually regain their self-confidence and discover the healing power of Christ the Saviour, for nothing is impossible to God.
4. I encourage you to pursue and extend your charitable works, destined to persons who need a loving presence in order to develop psychologically and spiritually. This demands of you patience and strength drawn from Christ. It is your task to have the same regard for those to whom you are sent as Jesus had for his contemporaries. Every person is infinitely lovable, not because of his possessions or capacity to achieve but because he is in the image of his Creator and Saviour, in the likeness of "God [who] constitutes the immutable basis of all Christian anthropology" (Mulieris dignitatem, n. 6). Nothing, not even the offence, can totally or definitively efface this divine imprint in the human being (Cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II, a. 4 a.1, ad 2). The Apostle Peter himself aware of the weight of his sin, fell down at the Lord's feet, saying: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Lk 5:8). The Lord raised him up, sent him on a mission and made him a fisher of men, thereby showing that weakness is never an excuse for refusing to change or to walk on the way with Christ. When one is loved the past can be overcome, for no one is definitively lost to God and "there is no offence, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive" in the name of the Lord (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 982). The Lord requires that his disciples, when they have received forgiveness, become signs and witnesses of his mercy and hope in the heart of the world.
5. In rich and poor countries situations of distress are increasing. Young people are sometimes reduced to servitude, they are reduced to objects of exchange for economic reasons and their most fundamental dignity is held up to ridicule by unscrupulous adults. Following in the footsteps of your foundress, invent ever new and daring ways to express God's tenderness and mercy and the Church's motherly concern for those who are most in need of it! In particular, young people rejected by society need the greatest care. By providing for their human and spiritual training, for their physical and emotional health, guiding them with affection and care enables the young to gain confidence in themselves and leads them to realize that they are loved and valued in God's eyes. Only authentic love, a gift of God, lived with great patience and "an exquisite sensitivity" (St Maria Euphrasia, Entretiens, c. 59), respectful of each one's deepest being, can heal wounds, give peace of heart, and provide the means to build a personal future and find a place in society.
6. The Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd always have the specific vocation to form a family which can welcome persons in difficulty or who desire to live, an upright and beautiful life after sinning, by offering them a place to live where peace and love prevail. During a talk she gave in April 1840, Maria Euphrasia urged her sisters: "You are destined to become good shepherds", imitating Jesus Christ. The Lord makes use of a fraternal community, enlivened by great goodness and great charity, to set right what has been damaged, to treat the injured and to show that even the lost sheep has a share in the banquet when the person is disposed to respond to love. Every person is called to holiness by way of conversion and spiritual progress. We have a remarkable example of it in the Gospel. Mary Magdalen, the sinner who showed such love for Jesus, was also the first to meet Christ on Easter morning and was to announce his Resurrection to the Apostles.
As I entrust you to the intercession of Mary, refuge of sinners, of St Mary Magdalen, St John Eudes and St Maria Euphrasia, I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing to you, as well as to the religious of your institute, those who are associated with your missions and those who benefit from your aid in the different institutions for which you are responsible.
From the Vatican, 9 July 1996.
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