In the Grace of Vocation

IV. 1 THREE ADDRESSES For the First Profession of Sister Miriam of Little St. Thérèse July 16, 1940

"Induit nos, Genetrix Domini, vestimento salutis: et indumento justitiae circumdedit nos, alleluia." "The Mother of the Lord has clothed us in the robe of salvation: and she wraps about us the mantle of justice."

This is how we pray on the feast of the Queen of Carmel, on the solemn feast of our holy Order. For the Mother of God is the mediatrix of all grace. This is how every person, whom merciful love brings home after being lost, receives at her hand the garment of salvation, of sanctifying grace, and so is consecrated as a child of God. But on us who may call ourselves her children and sisters she confers another particular garment of salvation. As the Mother of the Lord, she chooses the souls she wishes to lead to her beloved Son and to bedeck with the bridal robe for his honor and pleasure. She it is who planted her order on the lovely summit of Carmel as a garden of delight for the heavenly King, and then dispersed it throughout the entire world. As the sign of her special favor and her motherly protection, she has given us the holy scapular. She already gave it to Your Charity(63) a year ago along with the holy habit, but it was then only on loan to you for practice in arming yourself for God during the probationary period. Now you are receiving it anew, since you are allowed to enter into a sacred alliance with the Lord of heaven and earth. That this holy celebration is combined with the feast of the Queen of Heaven is evidence of special maternal love, just as it was a special sign of love that the Mother of God gave you her own name.

Such special proofs of being loved oblige one to show special gratitude. When we receive the holy habit of Carmel, we pledge ourselves not only to extraordinary service to our divine Bridegroom, but also to his holy Mother. The garment of salvation is also called the mantle of justice. We are clothed in it with the instruction that we are to put off the old person and put on the new, who is created in the image of God in holiness and righteousness. By righteousness the Scriptures mean perfection, the condition of the justified person, who is made right again as she or he was before the Fall. By taking on the garment of righteousness, we thus oblige ourselves to strive for perfection with all our strength and to preserve the holy garment intact. There is no better way to serve the Queen of Carmel and to show her our gratitude than by contemplating her example and following her on the way of perfection.

Only a few words from the Virgin Mary have come down to us in the Gospels. But these few words are like heavy grains of pure gold. When they melt in the ardor of loving meditation, they more than suffice to bathe our entire lives in a luminous golden glow.

The first word that we hear in the conversation with the angel at the Annunciation to Mary is, "How shall this happen, since I know not man?" It is the simple recognition of her virginal purity. She had consecrated her whole heart and all the strength of her body, soul, and spirit to the service of God in undivided surrender. Thereby she pleased the Almighty. He accepted her surrender and blessed her with wonderful fruitfulness by raising her to be the Mother of God. She looked deeply into the mystery of virginity of which her divine Son later said, "Whoever can accept this, ought to do so." Her heart exulted in glory as she discovered what God had prepared for those who love him. She can give her beloved ones nothing better than a call to follow this way on which they, too, will attain wonderful fruitfulness and a blessedness beyond all imagining. As the symbol of the radiant beauty encompassing a truly virginal soul, she wraps the white mantle around you. It is to remind us always that we are invited to the marriage of the Lamb, called to sing in the choir of virgins that holy hymn of heavenly love that no one else can sing, and to follow the Lamb constantly without ever being separated from him.

As soon as the angel had heard Mary's avowal, he immediately dispelled her hesitation. God was not thinking of dispensing her from her vow. No, it is precisely because of her virginity that she is receptive to the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit that makes her fruitful. She is to become the virgin mother. And now we hear the Virgin's second word, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word." This is the most perfect expression of obedience. Being obedient means to listen to the word of someone else in order to submit one's own will to that of another. It is a virtue and in fact a discipline of justice when the other is a superior who is better able than we are ourselves to guide us to what is right.

Here justice [or righteousness] does not mean full perfection, but rather the cardinal virtue which gives to each his own. Truly perfect obedience is the obedience given to the Almighty, the subordination of one's own will to that of God. Jesus has given us the example of this perfect obedience, for he came not to do his own will but the will of him who sent him. And the Virgin practiced this perfect obedience when she called herself a handmaid of the Lord and actually was such, prepared to put all her faculties at the service of the Lord.

To this obedience we, too, oblige ourselves by our holy vow of obedience. We oblige ourselves to subject our own will to that of our superiors in the belief that the Lord himself speaks to us through their mouths and reveals his will to us. And who could know our needs better than he? So the way of obedience is the surest way to our eternal goal. And though full perfection does not lie in it alone, obedience remains the key to it. God, after all, wants our salvation, and when our will is in full unison with his, we can be certain that we will reach perfection. Jesus and Mary are also examples of this subjection of the will to an authority and order given by God: In silent obedience, both of them follow, at the slightest indication, him whom the heavenly Father has given to the Holy Family as a visible superior. They faithfully fulfilled the commands of the law that the Lord had established for his people and observed the regulations of spiritual and civil authorities.

As a sign of such a binding of the will, we receive this cincture, while we are addressed by the words that Christ spoke to St. Peter, "When you were younger, you girded yourself and went where you pleased. When you are older, another will gird you." Whoever allows herself to be led like a child in the harness of holy obedience will reach the kingdom of God which is promised to the little ones.

Obedience led the royal daughter of the house of David to the simple little house of the poor carpenter of Nazareth. Obedience led both of these most holy people away from the secure enclosure of this modest home onto the highway and into the stable at Bethlehem. It laid the Son of God in the manger. In freely chosen poverty the Savior and his mother wandered the streets of Judea and Galilee and lived on the alms of the faithful. Naked and exposed, the Lord hung on the cross and left the care of his mother to the love of his disciple. Therefore, he demands poverty of those who would follow him. The heart must be free of ties to earthly goods, of concern about them, dependence on them, desire for them, if it is to belong to the divine Bridegroom exclusively, if the will intends to follow every suggestion of holy obedience in unreserved readiness.

The three sacred vows supplement one another and require one another. One cannot fulfill any one of them completely without at the same time observing the others. The Mother of God has gone before us on this way and will be our guide on this way. Entrust yourself in childlike surrender to this loving Mother, dear Sister Miriam. Then Your Charity need not be frightened before the exalted immensity of what you have promised. The Lord who has called you and today accepts you as his bride will give you the grace to persevere in your calling and will give it through the hands of his Mother. And there is still another patroness at your side. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus shows you even in the little details of daily life how one can follow him and Mary in Carmel. If you learn from her to depend on God alone and serve him with a wholly pure and detached heart, then you can join with your whole soul in singing the jubilant song of the holy Virgin, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. For he has done great things for me, and holy is his name." And like little St. Thérèse you will be able to say at the end, "I do not regret that I have given myself to love."

The Hidden Life and Epiphany

When the gentle light of the advent candles begins to shine in the dark days of December a mysterious light in a mysterious darkness it awakens in us the consoling thought that the divine light, the Holy Spirit, has never ceased to illumine the darkness of the fallen world. He has remained faithful to his creation, regardless of all the infidelity of creatures. And if the darkness would not allow itself to be penetrated by the heavenly light, there were nevertheless some places always predisposed for it to blaze.

A ray from this light fell into the hearts of our original parents even during the judgment to which they were subjected. This was an illuminating ray that awakened in them the knowledge of their guilt, an enkindling ray that made them burn with fiery remorse, purifying and cleansing, and made them sensitive to the gentle light of the star of hope, which shone for them in the words of promise of the "protoevangelium," the original gospel.

As were the hearts of the first human beings, so down through the ages again and again human hearts have been struck by the divine ray. Hidden from the whole world, it illuminated and irradiated them, let the hard, encrusted, misshapen matter of these hearts soften, and then with the tender hand of an artist formed them anew into the image of God. Seen by no human eye, this is how living building blocks were and are formed and brought together into a Church first of all invisible. However, the visible Church grows out of this invisible one in ever new, divine deeds and revelations which shed their light ever new epiphanies. The silent working of the Holy Spirit in the depths of the soul made the patriarchs into friends of God. However, when they came to the point of allowing themselves to be used as his pliant instruments, he established them in an external visible efficacy as bearers of historical development, and awakened from among them his chosen people. Therefore, Moses, too, was educated quietly and then sent as the leader and lawgiver.

Not everyone whom God uses as an instrument must be prepared in this way. People may also be instruments of God without their knowledge and even against their will, possibly even people who neither externally nor interiorly belong to the church. They would then be used like the hammer or chisel of the artist, or like a knife with which the vine-dresser prunes the vines. For those who belong to the church, outer membership can also temporally precede interior, in fact can be materially significant for it (as when someone without faith is baptized and then comes to faith through the public life in the church). But it finally comes down to the interior life; formation moves from the inner to the outer. The deeper a soul is bound to God, the more completely surrendered to grace, the stronger will be its influence on the form of the church. Conversely, the more an era is engulfed in the night of sin and estrangement from God the more it needs souls united to God. And God does not permit a deficiency. The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.

Because hidden souls do not live in isolation, but are a part of the living nexus and have a position in a great divine order, we speak of an invisible church. Their impact and affinity can remain hidden from themselves and others for their entire earthly lives. But it is also possible for some of this to become visible in the external world. This is how it was with the persons and events intertwined in the mystery of the Incarnation. Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds and the kings, Simeon and Anna all of these had behind them a solitary life with God and were prepared for their special tasks before they found themselves together in those awesome encounters and events and, in retrospect, could understand how the paths left behind led to this climax. Their astounded adoration in the presence of these great deeds of God is expressed in the songs of praise that have come down to us.

In the people who are gathered around the manger, we have a analogy for the church and its development. Representatives of the old royal dynasties to whom the savior of the world was promised and representatives of faithful people constitute the relationship between the Old and the New Covenants. The kings from the far-away East indicate the Gentiles for whom salvation is to come from Judea. So here there is already "the Church made up of Jews and Gentiles." The kings at the manger represent seekers from all lands and peoples. Grace led them before they ever belonged to the external church. There lived in them a pure longing for truth that did not stop at the boundaries of native doctrines and traditions. Because God is truth and because he wants to be found by those who seek him with their whole hearts, sooner or later the star had to appear to show these wise men the way to truth. And so they now stand before the Incarnate Truth, bow down and worship it, and place their crowns at its feet, because all the treasures of the world are but a little dust compared to it.

And the kings have a special meaning for us, too. Even though we already belonged to the external church, an interior impulse nevertheless drove us out of the circle of inherited viewpoints and conventions. We knew God, but we felt that he desired to be sought and found by us in a new way. Therefore we wanted to open ourselves and sought for a star to show us the right way. And it arose for us in the grace of vocation. We followed it and found the divine infant. He stretched out his hands for our gifts. He wanted the pure gold of a heart detached from all earthly goods; the myrrh of a renunciation of all the happiness of this world in exchange for participation in the life and suffering of Jesus; the frankincense of a will that surrenders itself and strains upward to lose itself in the divine will. In return for these gifts, the divine Child gave us himself.

But this admirable exchange was not a one-time event. It fills our entire lives. After the solemn hour of bridal surrender, there followed the everyday life of observance in the Order. We had to "return to our own country," but "taking another way" and escorted by the new light that had blazed up for us at those solemn places. The new light commands us to search anew. "God lets himself be sought," says St. Augustine, "to let himself be found. He lets himself be found to be sought again." After each great hour of grace, it is as if we were but beginning now to understand our vocation. Therefore an interior need prompts us to renew our vows repeatedly. That we do so on the feast of the three kings whose pilgrimage and affirmation are for us a symbol for our lives has a deep meaning. To each authentic, heartfelt renewal of vows, the divine Child responds with renewed acceptance and a deeper union. And this means a new, hidden operation of grace in our souls. Perhaps it is revealed in an epiphany, the work of God becoming visible in our external behavior and activity noticed by those around us. But perhaps it also bears fruit that, though observed, conceals from all eyes the mysterious source from which its vital juices pour.

Today we live again in a time that urgently needs to be renewed at the hidden springs of God-fearing souls. Many people, too, place their last hope in these hidden springs of salvation. This is a serious warning cry: Surrender without reservation to the Lord who has called us. This is required of us so that the face of the earth may be renewed. In faithful trust, we must abandon our souls to the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. It is not necessary that we experience the epiphany in our lives. We may live in the confident certainty that what the Spirit of God secretly effects in us bears its fruits in the kingdom of God. We will see them in eternity.

So this is how we want to bring our gifts to the Lord: We lay them in the hands of the Mother of God. This first Saturday(64) is particularly dedicated to her honor, and nothing can give her most pure heart greater joy than an ever deeper surrender to the Divine Heart. Furthermore, she will certainly have no more urgent petition for the Child in the manger than the one for holy priests and a richly blessed priestly ministry. And this is the petition today's Saturday for priests bids us make and which our Holy Mother has enjoined on us so compellingly as an essential constituent of our vocation to Carmel.

For January 6, 1941

Again we kneel with the three kings at the manger. The heartbeat of the Divine Child has guided the star that led us here. Its light, the reflection of the eternal light, is variously distributed in the rays around the heads of the saints whom the Church show us as the court of the new-born King of Kings. They allow something of the mystery of our vocation to flash before us.

Mary and Joseph are not to be separated from their Divine Child in the Christmas liturgy. During this time, they do not have a feast of their own, because all the feasts of the Lord are their feasts, feasts of the Holy Family. They do not come to the manger, but are there to begin with. Whoever comes to the Child also comes to them. They are completely imbued with his heavenly light.

Closest to the new-born Savior we see St. Stephen. What secured the first martyr of the Crucified this place of honor? In youthful enthusiasm he accomplished what the Lord said upon his entrance into the world, "A body you have prepared for me. Behold, I come to fulfill your will." He practiced complete obedience that is rooted in love and is revealed in love. He followed the Lord in what may be by nature the most difficult for the human heart, and even seems impossible: He fulfilled the command to love one's enemies as did the Savior himself. The Child in the manger, who has come to fulfill his Father's will even to death on the cross, sees before him in spirit all who will follow him on this way. His heartbeat goes out to the youth whom he will one day await with a palm as the first to reach the Father's throne. His little hand points him out to us as an example, as if to say, "See the gold that I expect of you."

Not far from the first martyr stand the flores martyrum, the tender buds that were broken before they had ripened to the act of sacrifice. There is a pious belief that the grace of natural maturity came to the innocent children beforehand and gave them the understanding of what was happening to them to enable them to give themselves freely and so be ensured martyrdom. Even so, they do not resemble the valiant confessor who heroically took on the cause of Christ. In their defenseless surrender, they are much more like lambs led to the slaughter. So they are the example of uttermost poverty. They have no other goods than their lives. And now even that is taken from them, and they allow it to happen without resistance. They surround the manger to show us what kind of myrrh we are to bring to the Divine Child: Those who want to belong entirely to him must deliver themselves to him in complete self-renunciation, surrender to the divine decision like these children.

Neither will the Savior allow him who was particularly dear to him during his life, the disciple whom Jesus loved, to be absent from the manger. He is entrusted to us as the example of virginal purity. Because he was pure, he pleased the Lord. He was allowed to rest on the heart of Jesus to be initiated there into the secrets of the Divine Heart. As the heavenly Father witnessed to his Son when he cried out, "This is My beloved Son, listen to him!", so the Divine Child also seems to point to the beloved disciple and to say, "No frankincense is more pleasing to me than the loving submission of a pure heart. Listen to him who was permitted to look at God because he was pure of heart." No one has looked more deeply into the hidden abyss of the divine life than he. Therefore, he proclaims the mystery of the eternal birth of the Divine Word in the liturgy each feast day during the days of Christmas and continues to do so at the end of daily Mass.(65) He participated in the struggles of his Lord as only a soul with bridal love could. He has drawn for us the Good Shepherd who goes after lost sheep. We can learn from John how precious human souls are to the Divine Heart and how we can give him no greater joy than of being willing instruments on his shepherding way. He has carefully preserved and transmitted to us passages in which the Savior witnessed to himself and made known his divinity before friends and foes. He has disclosed to us the shrine of the Divine Heart by recording for us the Lord's farewell address and his high priestly prayer. Through John we know how we are to participate as our destiny in the life of Christ as a branch of the divine vine and in the life of the triune God. While he was still alive, he was permitted to see the Incarnate God as the judge of the world in order to paint for us the mighty, enigmatic images of the mysterious revelation of the final days. He showed us this in that book which, like none other, can teach us to understand the chaos of this time as a part of the great battle between Christ and the Antichrist, a book of relentless solemnity and consoling promise.

John at the manger of the Lord this says to us: "See what happens to those who give themselves to God with pure hearts. In return, as a royal gift, they may participate in the entire inexhaustible fullness of Jesus' incarnate life. Come and drink from the springs of living water that the Savior releases to the thirsty and that stream to eternal life. The Word has become flesh and lies before us in the form of a little new-born child. We may come to him and bring him the gifts of our holy vows. And then, in a new year, we should go with him the entire way of his life on earth. Every mystery of this life that we seek to discern in loving contemplation is for us a fount of eternal life. And the same Savior, whom the written word presents to our eyes on all the paths he trod on earth in human form, lives among us disguised in the form of the eucharistic bread. He comes to us every day as the bread of life. In either of these forms he is near to us; in either of these forms he wants to be sought and to be found by us. The one supports the other. When we see that Savior before us with the eyes of faith as the Scriptures portray him, then our desire to receive him in the bread of life increases. The eucharistic bread, on the other hand, awakens our desire to get to know the Lord in the written word more and more deeply and strengthens our spirit to get a better understanding.

A new year at the hand of the Lord we do not know whether we shall experience the end of this year. But if we drink from the fount of the Savior each day, then each day will lead us deeper into eternal life and prepare us to throw off the burdens of this life easily and cheerfully at some time when the call of the Lord sounds. The Divine Child offers us his hand to renew our bridal bond. Let us hurry to clasp this hand. The Lord is my light and my salvation of whom shall I be afraid?

IV. 2 THREE DIALOGUES I am Always in Your Midst

Mother Ursula (Superior, kneeling before an altar with a picture or statue of St. Angela Merici(66)):

As I've done so often, I come to you at night,

Oh faithful mother, to pour into your good heart

The heavy burden of cares.

In the noise of day I am less aware of them.

Then tasks press upon me, people come,

They call me here; they call me there.

Everyone wants advice and comfort and help from this one

The neediest of all, who from herself

Can do nothing at all, and only from God's hand

Receives from moment to moment

What at that time she needs for them.

There is no time or space left for concerns about the future.

Then at night the still cell surrounds me

That is greatly loved and so often longed for earnestly.

Then out of the darkness there creeps something like a dark shadow

That whispers anxious questions to my ears:

The great host of daughters, richly gifted,

By long efforts appropriately equipped

To work gladly in the service of the Lord;

Full of burning desire to ignite

God's light in young human souls,

As their holy vocation requires

What is to become of them if suddenly

All of this should end, and when our vineyard

Passes from our hands to others?

What will become of them, become of our young people?

What am I to do, tell me, when young souls come

Knocking for entrance eagerly and in high spirits

Because God's call points them to his way?

May I consecrate their lives to an uncertain fate?

Saint Angela (speaks from the picture):

You could indeed give the answer yourself,

Have often enough, when others questioned you like this,

Led them to clarity and peace.

But I know well that one is wise for others

And for oneself as helpless as a child.

That's why it's right for you to come to mother,

And I will gladly help you bear your burden

You who bear the burdens of so many.

Mother Ursula:

How good it feels to become a child again

And rest without cares in mother's arms.

The gentle hand drives off the fever's heat,

And every pain is lessened before the tender eyes.

Will you now advise me what to do?

I'll listen calmly and obey, oh so gladly!

Saint Angela:

Let's do it as in your schools:

There the teacher is quiet and the student speaks.

What do you think has made your mother great

And pleasing in the eyes of God?

What has evoked blessing on her work?

Mother Ursula:

What an immense question for a little child!

Are not God's thoughts about us actually

As high above us as the dome of heaven?

But I will risk the answer that occurs to me.

From tenderest youth, you have listened

To every stirring in the depths of your soul

That is only perceived in deepest silence.

And like a creature, that without turning

Goes sometimes forward, sometimes back, freely winged,

Even, according to the Spirit's movement that drives it,

So you follow the call of the tender voice,

A willing instrument in the Lord's hand.

Saint Angela:

I listened to his word of course,

That's true. And it is also true

That I would gladly be his instrument.

But don't you know that the day was already waning,

That I didn't see the way clearly until evening?

Did I not lose much time by hesitating?

Mother Ursula:

You put me to the test, but it seems to me

As though now I've found the proper guiding thread.

In unswerving faithfulness you waited

Patiently year by year; nor right nor left

Did you swerve from the path, although in the dark night

It always remained hidden from your sight.

Like that star that once led the wise men,

Above your head there shone the lofty goal

That early on had already won your young heart,

And then radiated in ever new clarity.

Hidden from the world, you persisted

Like our dear Lord, who for thirty years

In a narrow orbit spent his time

Doing lowly work according to human standards,

Instead of mighty deeds to earn great fame.

Even longer than he himself you remained in silence,

And in the silence God's work ripened.

Saint Angela:

You've recognized it: that is what God likes

Patient waiting till the hour comes

That he determines; in the dark to wander

As the Spirit's quiet movement leads us,

And unseen by human eyes,

To gather the flowers that bloom along the path.

The little buds daily given us at the hand of the Mother

Of the Son of God

He takes them to his heart: there they bloom

And never wither; their fragrance

Spreads sweet and strong with wonderful healing power,

Over all the world, closing wounds

That people's "mighty deeds" produce in it.

Mother Ursula:

This is the "little way" of great wisdom

That the flower of Carmel taught us.

Now I see that it is our way, too,

As it was yours for the longest time.

External action in a definite form,

To which we are accustomed, that we trust and love,

It is not reality, it can shatter

And maybe it is then that first the essence is revealed.

We will remain faithful at our posts

As long as it is pleasing to our Lord and God.

And our efforts will be as diligent

As if we never had to think about an end.

But if tomorrow or the next day

He takes our cherished work from our busy hands,

We will recognize that he can get along without us, too;

And willingly we follow where he leads

Be it to Egypt, be it to Nazareth.

Saint Angela:

Now where is the concern for your daughters?

Are you as sure that they too understand

The way that now is in your sight?

The young energies that want to get moving,

How are you going to steer them onto a new road?

Mother Ursula:

You do not frighten me with this probing question.

To be sure, I cannot say in a single word

How I would help myself if I could;

But I think that if I carry in my heart

With very special love each soul

That God entrusts to me, as you command

And strongly suggest to every mother,

Then at the right moment the Spirit will

Show me what is needed for each one.

Of course, the Lord leads each on her own path,

And what we call "fate" is the artist's doing,

The eternal Artist, who creates material for himself

And forms it into images in various ways:

By gentle finger strokes and also by chisel blows.

But he does not work on dead material;

His greatest creative joy in fact is

That under his hand the image stirs,

That life pours forth to meet him.

The life that he himself has placed in it

And that now answers him from within

To chisel blows or quiet finger stroke.

So we collaborate with God on his work of art.

But not just ourselves does he allow us thus to form

According to his suggestion: often a person does not hear

The soft voice that speaks within.

Perhaps she hears the soft beating of the wings

Of the dove, but does not understand where its flight

Is drawing her. Then someone else must come,

Gifted with a finer ear attuned and keener sight,

And disclose the meaning of the obscure words.

This is the guide's wonderful gift,

The highest that, according to a sage's word,

The Creator has given to the creation:

To be his fellow worker in the salvation of souls.

Saint Angela:

Then build God's kingdom

According to the wonderful fluttering of his Spirit,

And be sure that nothing will be lacking.

The vineyard that demands your efforts,

Even if it be a different one than up to now,

A different one than you yourself had thought.

Then you have one more question to resolve

To which you sought an answer tonight:

May you bind still other human beings

To an uncertain fate?

Mother Ursula:

How foolish now this doubt appears to me!

If God's call sounds within a soul,

When he leads it to our house's door

And to knock hard why should we not open

The door wide, our arms and our heart?

If he shows the way, then he also knows

That it is not a wrong track where people suddenly get lost;

No spurious way that ends in desert sands.

That step by step the road will be revealed,

I firmly believe. And in fact what is certain?

Where is "certain fate"? Yes, we see

And it's good that we are so confronted

How around us structures are becoming ruins

That seemed to us to have been raised for eternity.

One thing alone is certain: that God is

And that his hand holds us in being.

Then even if around us the whole world falls to wrack and ruin,

We are not ruined if we hold ourselves to him.

Saint Angela:

Hold fast to this and so fortify those who are yours.

Morning is dawning, a new day is breaking.

Mother Ursula:

I greet it as though reborn

With its young light. I thank you

For your attentive solace during this night.

Oh, how faithfully you fulfill the promise

That you once made at your departure

To remain forever in our midst

With Christ, our heavenly spouse!

Therefore even now I won't say good-bye to you.

The voice may be silent that came to me

Tonight with a motherly tone.

Yet I know the mother is always at my side.

With her blessing, I go into the day.

Te Deum laudamus [We Praise Thee]

For December 7, 1940 [Feast of St Ambrose]

Ambrose (kneeling in his room before the opened Holy Scriptures):

Now the last one is gone. I thank you, O Lord,

For this quiet hour in the night.

You know how much I like to serve your flock;

I want to be a good shepherd to your lambs,

That's why this door is open day and night,

And anyone can enter unannounced.

Oh, how much suffering and bitter need is brought in here

The burden becomes almost too great for this father's heart.

But you, my God, you surely know our weakness

And at the right time remove the yoke from our shoulders.

You give me rest, and from this book,

The holy book, you speak to me

And pour new strength into my soul.

(He opens it, makes a great sign of the cross, and begins to read silently.)

Augustine (appears in the door and remains standing, hesitant):

He is alone I could go to him

And let him know the struggles of my heart.

But he is speaking with his God,

Seeking rest and refreshment in the Scriptures

After a long day's work and care.

Oh no, I'll not disturb him.

I'll kneel down a little here;

Then I'll surely take something of his peace with me.

(He kneels.)

Ambrose (looks up):

What was that? Didn't I hear a rustling at the door?

(He gets up.)

Come closer, friend, you who come at night.

In the dark I cannot see who you are.

(He goes to the door with the lamp.)

Is it possible? Augustine? Peace be with you!

You dear, infrequent guest, please do come in.

(He takes him by the hand, leads him in, shows him a seat, and sits down facing him.)

Augustine:

Oh, how your goodness shames me, holy man!

I really have not earned such a welcome.

Ambrose:

Don't you remember how happily I greeted you

When you stood here before me for the first time?

You, the star of oratory

That stirred Carthage to amazement,

That did not even find its match in Rome,

I was happy to see

Within the confines of my Milan.

Augustine:

Oh, if you had only seen into my heart!

I wasn't worthy to be seen by you.

Ambrose:

I saw you often when I spoke to the people.

Your burning eye hung on my lips.

Augustine:

Your mouth overflowed with heavenly wisdom.

But I was not interested in wisdom.

I did not come for wisdom.

I only heard how you put together the words;

Only an orator's magic power attracted me.

That, what you spoke Christ's holy doctrine

I wasn't eager to know, it seemed like vanity to me,

Already refuted by my teachers long ago.

But while I listened to the words alone,

I was drawn I hardly noticed it into the meaning.

One word of Scripture oft repeated

Deeply affected me and gave me much to think about:

"The letter deadens," you said, "The spirit gives life."

When the Manichæans laughed over the Word of Christ,

Was not this because those fools

Only understood what they were reading literally,

While the spirit remained sealed to them?

Ambrose:

But the Holy Spirit's ray fell on you.

Thank him who freed you from error's chains,

And thank her, too, who interceded for you.

O Augustine, thank God for your mother.

She is your angel before the eternal throne;

Her commerce is in heaven, and her petitions

Fall, like steady drops, heavily into the bowl

Of compassion.

Augustine:

Yes, I surely know what would I have become without her?

Oh, how many hot tears did I cost her,

I, her unfaithful son, who really don't deserve it!

Ambrose:

Therefore, she now weeps sweet tears of joy,

And she is richly rewarded for all her suffering.

Augustine:

She already wept tears of joy when she perceived

That I had escaped the Manichæan net.

I was still deep in night, tormented by doubts.

But she assured me optimistically

That the day of peace was now no longer far away.

While still alive, she was to see me entirely safe.

Ambrose:

The Lord himself probably gave her certainty.

Her firm faith did not mislead her.

Augustine:

But I still had a long way to go.

My teaching post had become unbearable for me.

The frivolous game of the orator's art rankled me.

I sought truth, and I no longer desired to waste

The spirit of my youth in colorful pretense.

From Milan I fled into isolation.

My spirit brooded in unrest.

Ambrose:

I waited here for you how much I wanted

With God's help to guide you to the harbor!

Augustine:

Oh, how often I stood here on this threshold!

You did not see. There came crowds of people

Who sought help from the good shepherd.

I looked on for a little while and then silently went away.

At times I also came upon you alone, like today,

Immersed in the study of your beloved books.

Then I did not risk shortening your meager rest.

I knelt here a little near you

And discreetly slipped away. Today, too,

It would have happened thus if you had not discovered me.

Ambrose:

Thank my angel who led my eye to you.

But tell me now what brought you here.

Augustine:

I already wrote you that God's ray lit on me.

Before my eyes stood all the misery of my life.

It choked me, clamped my chest,

I could no longer breathe at home

And fled out into the open.

In the garden I sought a quiet place,

Fled into the presence of the faithful friend himself.

Finally, a stream of tears burst forth.

Then from a neighbor's house there urged itself on me

A child's voice singing clearly.

I heard the words, "Take and read."

Again and again it rang in my ears

As children endlessly repeat.

But to me it comes from another world:

It is the call of the Lord! I leap up

And rush to Alypius who is still sitting and thinking.

The book lies beside him where I was reading it.

I open it. There stands for me the instruction;

I found it clear in the Apostle's word:

"Give up feasting and carousing at last,

Arise from the bed of soft sensory lust.

Renounce all the contention of frivolous ambition.

Look instead at Jesus Christ, the Lord."

Then the night receded, and day began

I took to the road in the presence of the Lord,

My friend Alypius hand in hand with me.

Ambrose:

Thank God, who had mercy on you!

How wonderful are your ways, Lord!

Augustine:

I wrote to you and asked for your advice.

You recommended to me a good teacher.

In the prophecy of Isaiah I found

The servant of God, the lamb, that suffered for us.

And things grew brighter and brighter in my eyes.

We did not rush, yet let us now speak to you

In longing and in humility:

Lead us to the baptismal font and wash us clean.

Ambrose:

Oh, bless you, my beloved son!

There is no one whom I have led with greater joy

To the holy bath that gives new life.

Come soon and bring me your faithful friend.

Augustine:

There is yet a third person whom we are leading to you:

Adeodatus, my beloved child.

No doubt a child of sin through my fault;

But now the child of grace through God's goodness.

He is a youth, almost still a boy in years,

But with more wisdom than his father.

He brings the Lord an undefiled heart,

And it is pure hearts who see God.

Ambrose:

So soon a thrice-blessed day will beam for us.

O Augustine, don't look back into the dark anymore.

Before me now radiant lies your path.

The light that God ignited in your heart,

Will shine brightly into the farthest times,

The whole church will be filled with it.

And countless hearts will be inflamed

By the love consuming your great heart.

Oh look with me up to the throne

Of the thrice Holy One!

Don't you hear the choir of holy spirits?

They sing their holy songs of praise

Full of thanks in inexpressibly great joy,

Because the lost son has found his way to the Father.

(Both stand listening; then Ambrose intones:)

Ambrose:

Te Deum...

 

Augustine (sings the second half-verse, then alternately together with the invisible choirs.)

Conversations at Night

Mother (at night in her cell, having fallen asleep while writing; awakens with a start):

The pen fell from my tired hand.

So much I still intended to do today.

Yet midnight is near and nature

Demands her due and won't be pressured.

I'll try to finish just this one letter.

(Writes a little; her head again sinks onto the table two clangs of the bell she jumps up):

The turn(67) now in the middle of the night?

(Someone knocks.)

Now there's a rapping at the door it's opening. My Jesus, help!

A womanly form (enters, dressed like a pilgrim; speaks):

Peace be with you!

Oh, don't be afraid! What's approaching you at night

Is a supplicant who has no other weapons

Than raised hands.

Mother:

Oh, so speak!

I'll gladly do whatever you ask

If it's within my power. The fear has vanished.

Your word is mild and your expression peaceful.

It seems to me to be coming from eternity,

And it arouses a longing for heaven in my heart.

So come and rest. You've surely traveled a long way.

(Points her to a seat.)

Stranger:

Thank you for your goodness. Yes, I have traveled far

From land to land and from door to door.

I am seeking lodgings.

Mother:

Looking for lodgings? How the word touches me!

I am reminded of that pure one, the Immaculate,

Who once about this time also sought lodgings.

(Kneels down):

Oh tell me! Are you she herself, the Virgin Mother?

Stranger (raises her up):

I am not she but I know her very well,

And it is my joy to serve her.

I am of her people, her blood,

And once I risked my life for this people.

You recall her when you hear my name.

My life serves as a image of hers for you.

Mother:

A riddle, unusually hard to understand

How am I to grasp it?

You are a woman whom we recognize as an "example"?

You staked your life for your people?

And you certainly had no weapon, either, then,

Except those hands raised in supplication?

So are you Esther, then, the queen?

Esther:

That is what people called me. You know my fate.

Mother:

As much as is in the holy books.

It always touched me: As a tender child

You lost your father and your mother.

Esther:

The good uncle was father to me and mother.

But no he led me to the real Father,

The Father of all of us high in heaven.

My uncle's heart burned hot with passion,

In holy ardor for God and for his people.

He raised me for them. So I grew up

Far from home and yet protected

As in the temple's quiet sanctuary.

I read the holy Scriptures of these people,

Who were now enslaved in a strange land,

And fervently implored that a savior come to them.

Mother:

Like our dear Lady, and also like her,

Suddenly an unforeseen fate befell you.

Esther:

The king's messengers traveled throughout the land

To look for the most beautiful bride for the king.

I was called to the palace before I knew it.

The eye of the Lord fell on the poor maidservant.

Mother:

When I read of it in the Book of Books,

My heart became so heavy that it seemed to me

I saw your soul full of deep pain

And unshed tears.

Esther:

It was hard indeed.

Yet it was God's will, and I remained

The poor maidservant of the Lord at the king's palace.

My faithful uncle followed after me.

He often came to the palace's door and brought news

Of our people's needs and danger.

So there came the day when I approached the king

To plead for rescue from the deadly enemy.

Life or death hung on his gaze.

I leaned on the shoulders of my maid.

But I was not alarmed before my husband's wrath.

The eye that met mine was entirely friendly.

In full favor, he handed me the scepter.

Then my spirit was borne out of time and place.

High in the clouds there was another throne,

On which there sits the Lord of Lords, before whom pales

The earthly lord's vain glory.

He himself, the Eternal, bowed down

And promised me the salvation of my people.

I sank down before the throne of the Highest as though dead.

I found myself again in the arms of my husband.

He addressed me lovingly and said that any wish

Whatever it might be he would grant to me.

This is how the highest Lord freed his people

Through Esther, his maidservant, from the hands of Haman.

Mother:

And today another Haman

Has sworn to annihilate them in bitter hate.

Is this in fact why Esther has returned?

Esther:

You're the one who says so

Yes, I am traveling through the world

To plead for lodgings for the homeless,

The people so scattered and trampled

That still cannot die.

Mother:

How unusual!

Don't you die as other people die?

Were you carried off like Elijah

Who, as people say, also wanders as a pilgrim?

Esther:

I died a human death, was buried

With royal pomp; but an angel accompanied

My soul, its guardian,

To the place of peace; it found its rest

in Abraham's bosom with its ancestors.

Mother:

In the bosom of Abraham like Lazarus?

Esther:

Like all who faithfully have served the Lord

As their ancestors did. We waited there in peace,

Still far from the light, so always in longing.

But there came a day when, through all of creation,

There occurred a fissure. All the elements seemed

To be in revolt, night enveloped

The world at noon. But in the midst of the night

There stood, as if illumined by lightning, a barren mountain,

And on the mountain a cross on which someone hung

Bleeding from a thousand wounds; a thirst came over us

To drink ourselves well from this fountain of wounds.

The cross vanished into night, yet our night

Was suddenly penetrated by a new light,

Of which we had never had any idea: a sweet, blessed light.

It streamed from the wounds of that man

Who had just died on the cross; now he stood

In our midst. He himself was the light,

The eternal light, that we had longed for from of old,

The Father's reflection and the salvation of the people.

He spread his arms wide and spoke

With a voice full of heavenly timbre:

Come to me all you who have faithfully served

The Father and lived in hope

Of the redeemer; see, he is with you,

He fetches you home to his Father's kingdom.

What happened then, there are no words to describe.

All of us who had awaited blessedness,

We were now at our goal in the heart of Jesus.

Mother:

That's enough, or my heart will break

In longing for such great blessedness.

But no speak further, speak of the homeland!

Esther:

Now in the mirror of eternal clarity, I saw

What happened after that on earth.

I saw the church grow out of my people,

A tenderly blooming sprig, saw that her heart was

The unblemished, pure, shoot of David.

I saw flowing down from Jesus' heart

The fullness of grace into the Virgin's heart.

From there it flows to the members as the stream of life.

And again there came a day when she the Blessed One

Was borne on high by a choir of angels

Up to the throne of the Almighty.

Her head was adorned with a crown of stars

And like the sun she was bathed in heavenly light.

But now I knew that I was bound to her

From eternity in accordance with God's direction forever.

My life was only a beam of hers.

Mother:

And you left this blessed light

To tread the paths of earth again?

Esther:

That is her will, and mine as well.

The church had blossomed, but the masses

Of the people remained distant, far from the Lord

And his mother, enemies of the cross.

The people are in confusion and cannot find rest,

An object of disdain and scorn:

It will be thus until the final battle.

But before the cross appears again in heaven,

Even before Elijah comes to gather his own,

The good Shepherd goes silently through the lands.

Now and then he gathers from the depths of the abyss

A little lamb, shelters it at his heart.

And then others always follow him.

But there above at the throne of grace

The Mother ceaselessly pleads for her people.

She seeks souls to help her pray.

Then only when Israel has found the Lord,

Only then when he has received his own,

Will he come in manifest glory.

And we must pray for this second coming.

Mother:

Like once the first I understand exactly.

You were the pathfinder for the first coming.

Now you are clearing the way to the kingdom of glory.

You came to me do I now understand the message?

The Queen of Carmel sent you.

Where else was she to find hearts prepared

If not in her quiet sanctuary?

Her people, which are yours: your Israel,

I'll take it up into the lodgings of my heart.

Praying secretly and sacrificing secretly,

I'll take it home to my Savior's heart.

Esther:

You have understood, and so I can depart.

I am sure the guest will not be forgotten

Who came to you at the hour of midnight.

We'll meet again on the great day,

The day of manifest glory,

When above the head of the Queen of Carmel

The crown of stars will gleam brilliantly,

Because the twelve tribes will have found their Lord.

Farewell!


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