Lenten Reflection by Denise Bondy:
Lent 2016 brings us back to the desert. For my husband and me that means the desert of western Arizona as well as our own personal deserts.
There are people who don’t like the desert. They think of it as a place of vast nothingness, a barren, lifeless scene interrupted only by poisonous creatures and thorny, dangerous plant life. My experience, after half a dozen winters in Arizona, is that the desert holds such warmth, beauty and peace that I wish everyone I know and love could experience it. It is far from barren. The plant life is extraordinary and there is nothing that compares with spring blooming in the desert. I know that there are rattlesnakes out there but they are, for the most part, shy and reclusive. I don’t bother them; they stay far away from me. When I am in the desert in the months of Lent I feel like one of those small lizards, sunbathing on a rock, enjoying the peace, quiet and sunshine. I can relax, meditate and pray.
The time we spend in our own spiritual deserts can be like this too: a time to step back, relax, and enjoy the touch of God inside our very selves; a time to refresh and rejuvenate for the work that we are called to do. This is the Lent I pray that my Vincentian family will have.
Here in the desert, where I have fewer responsibilities than back home, I enjoy reading about our Society’s saints. I like to remind people that St. Louise de Marillac and I share a birthday, August 12, but she was born 354 years before me. St. Louise’s feast day is on May 9 (previously was March 15) so I was searching the world wide web for interesting information about her.
Here are a few things I learned:
- Louise was born out of wedlock and never knew who her mother was. Her father formally recognized her as his child and although her stepmother didn’t seem to like Louise, he raised her until he died when she was 12 years old. This meant that Louise received a very good education and was exposed to people of position and power.
- Although Louise felt a calling to the religious life at an early age, she was guided into marriage to Antoine le Gras, secretary to the Queen Mother. Their marriage produced a son, Michel. Michel’s marriage produced one grandchild, Renee Louise le Gras.
- After the death of her husband, Louise sought the religious life and eventually co-founded the Daughters of Charity with St. Vincent de Paul.
- Louise was a work-a-holic, by almost anyone’s standards. She died at the age of 68, about six months before St. Vincent de Paul died.
- Louise’s will is very interesting. Although she came from a wealthy family and was well connected in Paris society, she insisted on a most humble funeral. She wrote, “For my funeral I declare that I do not wish any greater expense to be incurred than what is usual in the funerals of our deceased sisters. Anyone wishing to do differently never really cared much for me…” Her grave marker was to be a wooden cross with crucifix and the words “Spes Unica” (our only hope).
I was impressed by Louise’s instructions, in her will, for her granddaughter, Renee Louise, who was only a young child when her grandmother died. St. Louise’s will instructed that her granddaughter was to hold an annual dinner for the poor, in whatever parish she was residing, and that she was to serve dinner to these invited guests herself. I wonder if I can leave instructions like this for my grandkids?
It isn’t too much of a stretch to call ourselves Vincentian members of St. Louise’s family, is it? As such, I’d like to think that we are instructed in the same way as Renee Louise was. We must continue to nourish the poor, however they experience poverty, with our own resources and our own hands.
Have a warm and serene Lent,
Denise Bondy serves as the Spirituality Committee Chair of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Ontario Regional Council of Canada. Her monthly reflections can be found on the SSVP Ontario Member Site: http://www.ssvp.on.ca/mem/thoughts.php.