Letter to Saint Louise
By: Sister María Ángeles Infante, DC
[This article first appeared in Anales, volume 120, #2, March-April 2012 and has been translated and reproduced with the permission of the editors]
Dearest mother: I address you in this manner because I have no doubt that you are the woman who, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave birth to the Company of the Daughters of Charity and within the structure of the Church you gave it institutional form. Vincent spoke about this reality most clearly in the conference that he gave to the first Daughters of Charity when he referred to your virtues: With how much greater reason should we reflect on the one who is your mother because she has begotten you! You did not create yourselves, Sisters, she is the one who made and begot you in Our Lord (CCD:X:582).
Together with all the Sisters of the Company I write to you today to wish you happy birthday. You celebrate 352 years of risen life and of joyful presence in heaven where you rejoice in God’s holiness, love and eternal communion … where you rejoice with the poor who now experience salvation. What a joy! What a grace! In the name of all the Sisters who have a great love for you I want to say: congratulations! Do not forget to intercede for us before God the Father!
As I write this letter I am reminded of the words you wrote to Sister Anne Hardemont on August 29, 1648. I often recall and read those words because it is there that you reveal yourself as a true master of holiness: I beg you, my dear Sister, frequently to send us news of yourself and of our dear sisters. I hope that they are filled with holiness so that they may work usefully at God's work. It is not enough to visit the poor and to provide for their needs; one's heart must be totally purged of all self-interest, and one must continually work at the general mortification of all the senses and passions. In order to do this, my dear Sisters, we must continually have before our eyes our model, the exemplary life of Jesus Christ. We are called to imitate this life, not only as Christians, but as persons chosen by God to serve Him in the person of His poor. Without that, my dear Sisters, the Daughters of Charity are the most pitiful creatures in the world (SWLM:260-261 [L.217]). Yes, mother, we have to remember that in order to do God’s work and serve the poor, we need to be holy and irreproachable before God … you know that at times apathy and routine can diminish our passion for holiness.
I know that you like to receive news from the Sisters and therefore let me share with you the following: in the midst of the present worldwide economic crisis many Sisters in the Company have been very creative. They have invented new ways to obtain resources that they can use to provide food for those people who lack the funds to provide for themselves. More and more you will find the Sisters ministering in soup kitchens and shelters for the homeless. The suffering of the poor is a sword that pierces the heart of many Daughters of Charity.
During these days we have little time to write to you because the computer, the radio and the press have, at times, take up so much of our time … we are also decreasing in numbers and this reality has caused much pain for some of our Sisters and has also created an atmosphere of pessimism and discouragement. As a result the Superiors have organized a series of gatherings to prepare for the next Reconfiguration of the Provinces in Spain. The Southern Province composed of Canarias, Seville, and Granda, is moving forward at a rapid pace while the other Provinces are moving more slowly. The Sisters who were in the seminary at the same time have come together and recall their first love and at the same time are surprised by the effects that the passage of time has had on them. Yet they and, in fact, all of us, open our minds and hearts to enter more fully into community life, to accept the will of God and to engage in the process of revitalizing our charism and thus revitalize our life together in the new situation of reconfigured provinces. How wonderful!
These gatherings help us to keep our eyes continually focused on our model, the exemplary life of Jesus Christ, whom we are called to imitate. These events also help us to live with an attitude of gratitude for the gift of vocation, for having been chosen by God to serve God in the person of the poor. These gatherings are not a waste of time! They provide us with an opportunity to continue our formation which in turn enables us to make real one of your great concern, namely, that all the Daughters of Charity be animated and encouraged by the spirit of Jesus Christ … You reminded us about this a few weeks before your death and you repeated these words over and over again. You want us to give life to these words … you reminded Sister Marguerite Chétif, sister servant of the community in Arrás, about this when you wrote: Blessed be God for everything! May He grant the Company the strength and generosity to maintain within itself the primitive spirit that Jesus instilled in it through His Spirit and by His holy maxims. Let us often give ourselves to God so as to obtain from His goodness the generosity needed to advance His glory by fulfilling His designs on the Company (SWLM:673 [L.651]).
I very much like the words you wrote on January 2, 1660 to Sister Jeanne Delacroix when she was leaving Paris to go to Châteaudun. You were concerned that the Sisters could fall into a form of activism and thus forget to live and act in accord with the spirit of Jesus Christ. It was for this reason that you wrote: let me know if, while they are occupied with exterior service, the sisters' minds are directed toward vigilance over themselves so that, for the love of Our Lord, they can overcome and control their passions by refusing their senses anything that might cause them to offend God. You realize that, without this, external actions, although they are for the service of the poor, cannot be very pleasing to God, nor can they merit a recompense for us because they are not united to those of Jesus Christ who always worked in the sight of God, His Father. You are well-rooted in this practice. my dear Sister, and thus you experience the peace of a soul that is dependent upon her Beloved (SWLM:678 [L.656]). We have a great need to be reminded of these words and to live united to our Lord, Jesus Christ as we go about our daily work! … Intercede for us so that we can minister in the same manner as Jesus did: with our eyes fixed on God, the Father.
As I conclude this letter I want to remind you about another of your concerns: vocations. We are also very concerned about the future of the Company and we pray for vocations and invite young people … But we live in a secular world, in the midst of a culture that gives little attention to the reality of a vocational call. Give us strength to not grow weary in giving witness to charity, in praying to the Holy Spirit and in inviting others to follow the path of Jesus Christ, the path that you have shown to us … You have revealed to us the attitudes and the aptitudes that our candidates need! … This year some provinces are celebrating 2012 as a Year of Vocations.
It is good for all of us to remember your words about vocations, words that you shared with Sister Marguerite Chétif on January 16, 1660 when she was going to Arrás: So you have not found any girls who want to give themselves to the service of Our Lord in the poor as members of the Company? You surely know that some of our sisters have come from farther away than Arras. However, this requires strong characters who desire to reach the holiness of true Christians and who want to die to themselves by mortification and a veritable act of renunciation, which they already made at the time of their holy Baptism, so that the Spirit of Jesus Christ may abide in them and grant them the strength to persevere in this way of life which is totally spiritual, although they will be employed in exterior works which appear lowly and despicable in the eyes of the world but which are glorious in the sight of God and His angels (SWLM:674 [L.651]).
Give us some help from on high! You, who were so devoted to the Holy Spirit, intercede on our behalf so that the same Spirit might touch and move the hearts of young people to follow Jesus Christ, evangelizer of the poor. With a daughter’s love ….
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM