Those Humbling Themselves Will Be Exalted

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Beatification of two religious Mary Theresa Scherer and Maria Bernarda Butler and of laywoman Marguerite Bays on October 29, 1995

1. "I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall be ever in my mouth" (Ps 33 [34]:2).

This Sunday's liturgy has taken these words from the psalm, words which are beautifully in tune with the joy of the whole Christian community which venerates three new blesseds today: Mary Theresa, Maria Bernarda and Maria Marguerite.

Switzerland rejoices above all to see three daughters of her land raised to the honors of the altar. I greet the numerous pilgrims from the Swiss Confederation who fill this basilica and I address a special thought to the Bishops, priests, religious and the many lay people.

God is pleased with the hymn of thanksgiving and praise that rises to him from the new blesseds and from the Church. And God listens to them when they ask his help (cf. Ps 33:18) for us pilgrims on earth and when they support us with their loving intercession.

In these blesseds is expressed the reconciliation by which the Eternal Father reconciled the world to himself in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:19). The liturgy recalls this in the Gospel acclamation.

In their hearts these blesseds possess "the word of reconciliation" (cf. Ibid.), whose fullness is Christ. In their lives they imitated the women of the Gospel who followed Christ and served him, and afterwards accompanied the Apostles. This sheds light on how, from the very beginning, women have contributed to writing the Church's history with their specific language: the language of the heart, of intuition and of dedication. In the course of this year, this fact has been recalled many times and today's beatification offers us further testimony of it.

2. Mary Theresa Scherer fought the good fight. Through her life and work she reminds us of the essential place of the mystery of the Cross, by which God proclaims his love and grants salvation to the world. By faith, hope and love man shares with his whole life in the mystery of the Redeemer's Cross and thus obtains a share in the mystery of the Resurrection. The Cross has a cosmic dimension as well; it raises the whole universe to Christ, the Lord of history.

From her earliest years, Mary Theresa showed an inward disposition to grace, which occasionally obliged her to make difficult decisions in order to answer the call that the Lord communicated to her through his Church. The dynamism of her personality and fervor however were no obstacle to her deep faith and to the moral demands motivating her actions; on the contrary, she used all her talents, allowing them to grow to perfection and to become fruitful in her personal life and for the mission she was called to fulfill for her brothers and sisters. Thus we discover the mystery of the relationship between the individual and his God: answering Christ's call to follow him makes one amazingly free to develop one's talents in abundant fullness.

After becoming aware of the sufferings and lot of the sick, she resolved to dedicate her life to the Lord as a religious in the Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross of Ingenbohl, which she founded first for the service of young people, then in commitment to the service of the very poor and marginalized, so that she was eventually known as the "mother of the poor". She agreed to forsake her educational work, which gave her so much joy, in order to obey the will of God. Mary Theresa realized that obedience "is the fastest way to reach the height of perfection" (Teresa of Avila, The Foundations, n. 5).

She found true happiness in making her life a gift of love for the Lord and for his beloved poor. She developed a special affection and concern for the hearing- and speech-impaired.

Mary Theresa remains an example for us. Her inner strength was a result of her spiritual life: she spent many hours before the Blessed Sacrament, where the Lord communicates his love to all who live in close relationship with him. But love does not abide in the human heart unless all the virtues develop there as well. The more her interior life grew, the more sensitive Mary Theresa became to the needs of the world of her time. In the difficult circumstances that 19th-century Europe experienced, she aided the peoples of Central Europe with her numerous foundations. In the midst of her tireless activity she never hesitated to say that one should have "one's hands at work and one's heart with God". She took special care to be faithful to her baptismal promises and religious vows. The commitment to following Christ is the triumph of the love of God, who takes hold of a person and requires him to do all he can in service to this love, in the knowledge of human weakness. Mary Theresa was aware that the guarantee of her fidelity lay in recognizing the limitations of her strength and in dedicating herself continuously to contemplative prayer and the sacramental life.

3. In this same age, another woman religious, Maria Bernarda Butler, heard a similar call to serve the poor and entered the convent of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Maria Hilf in Altstaten. As a perfect daughter of St. Francis of Assisi, she wished to serve God by serving her brothers and sisters. Her generosity was admirable. She radically detached herself from everything and risked her life for Christ, since her greatest wish was to proclaim the Lord to the ends of the earth.

She left Switzerland definitively to devote herself to serving the Church, first in Ecuador and then in Colombia, where she went to share the people's suffering, especially that of the poor, the sick and the marginalized. In this same country she founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Help of Christians, to whom she bequeathed the essential task of working for the salvation of men and women and for the recognition of their dignity as God's children.

Prayer was always the source of her apostolate, and especially Mass, the pillar of her spiritual life, the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice by which God unifies the life of each person and transfigures his humanity. Participation in the Eucharist achieves communion with God and new brotherhood in Christ. Love was at the heart of Maria Bernarda's life. She was convinced that the principal virtue is charity, the soul of all other virtues (cf. St. Vincent de Paul, Advice and Maxims, n. 46): love for God and men, which always leads to forgiveness; indeed, those who receive the Body of Christ cannot despise their brothers and sisters. Even when she was faced with persecution, she showed that the way surpassing all ways is love.

She also had a keen awareness of being a daughter of the Church, of "our Holy Mother the Church", as she loved to repeat, since every Christian life develops in the heart of the Church, whose Head is Christ. She especially honored those who had received the priestly ministry, since they shared in the sanctifying power of the Lord, and would pray that they might exercise their ministry in accordance with God's will. It is for the Church and in the Church that each one receives the fullness of the Savior's graces. Thus we see that Maria Bernarda Butler was a resplendent pearl in the Lord's crown of glory and in that of his Church. The new blessed invites us to have this same love for God and his holy people, so that we may always be artisans of ecclesial communion, since: "Wherever the Church is, the Spirit of God is also; wherever the Spirit of God is, there is the Church and all her graces" (St. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, III, 24, 1).

4. Another Swiss Catholic also fought the good fight of faith. Marguerite Bays was a humble lay woman, whose life was hidden with Christ in God (cf. Col 3:3). She was a very simple person with an ordinary life, in which each of us can recognize himself. She achieved nothing extraordinary, and yet her life was a long, silent walk on the way of holiness. In the Eucharist, "the high point of her day", Christ was her nourishment and strength. By meditating on the Savior's mysteries, and particularly on the mystery of the Passion, she reached the transforming union with God. Some of her contemporaries considered her long periods of prayer a waste of time. But the more intense her prayer, the closer she came to God and the more devoted to serving her brothers and sisters.

For only those who pray truly know God, and in listening to the heart of God, they are also close to the heart of the world.

Thus we discover the importance of prayer in lay life. It does not distance one from the world. Far from it, it broadens one's interior life, disposing one to forgiveness and fraternal life.

The mission lived by Marguerite Bays is the mission incumbent upon all Christians. In her catechesis, she was eager to present the children of her village with the Gospel message in words that the young could understand. She devoted herself without reserve to the poor and the sick. Without leaving her country, she nevertheless kept her heart open to the dimensions of the universal Church and the world. With her characteristic missionary awareness, she established in her parish the Societies of the Propagation of the Faith and the Holy Childhood. In Marguerite Bays we discover how the Lord enabled her to achieve holiness: she walked humbly with God, accomplishing every act in her daily life with love.

Marguerite Bays encourages us to make our life a way of love. She also reminds us of our mission in the world: to proclaim the Gospel in season and out of season, particularly to young people. She invites us to help them discover the greatness of the Church's sacraments. Indeed, how will today's youth be able to recognize the Savior on their way if they are not introduced to the Christian mysteries? How will they be able to approach the Eucharistic table and the sacrament of Penance, if no one enables them to discover their wealth, as Marguerite Bays did?

5. Today Mary Theresa Scherer, Maria Bernard Butler and Marguerite Bays become elder sisters for the spiritual and missionary life of our contemporaries, especially for the religious families to which they belong and for Swiss Catholics.

On this occasion, I would like to offer a cordial greeting to the official delegation from the Swiss Confederation representing the authorities of the country, to whom I am sincerely grateful. I rejoice in particular at the large attendance of Swiss faithful who have come on pilgrimage for this beatification with all the members of the Episcopal Conference. I address my warmest wishes and encouragement to the Bishops and faithful of Switzerland. I hope that they will find in today's festivities a renewed call to personal holiness and ecclesial communion, for the glory of God, for the building up of the Body of Christ which is the Church, and for the world's salvation. Christian life is not inaccessible. It is a source of grace and joy within everyone's reach.

6. The background for today's beatification is one of the most evocative Gospel parables, that of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

The Pharisee, who went to the temple to proclaim his own self-righteousness to the Lord, did not leave it justified. On the other hand, the tax collector, who kept his distance, not even daring to raise his eyes to heaven, confessed his sinful state and went home with God's forgiveness. It is he who embodied the spirit of the covenant: his soul in fact "gloried in the Lord" (cf. Ps 33 [34]:3) and not in his own merits.

7. Dear venerable Sisters Mary Theresa, Maria Bernarda and Marguerite, on the day of your beatification the Church rejoices with the joy of the tax collector in Luke's Gospel (cf. Lk 18:9-14), giving glory to God whom you served here on earth with the same spirit praised by him in the Gospel account. Your humble, hidden lives have yielded abundant fruits of holiness. In you shines the glory of the blessed who followed in Christ's footsteps: "Those who humble themselves will be exalted" (cf. Lk 18:14).

Is this not the same truth proclaimed in Mary's Magnificat?

"God who is mighty has done great things for me.... He has raised the lowly to high places" (Lk 1:49-52). Magnificat anima mea Dominum!

And you, servants of the Lord who share God's glory in the Communion of Saints, intercede for us!

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 November 1995, pp. 1-4.

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