“Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.”
– T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets
We humans enjoy our heroes and our saints. There is something innate in us that wants to set them apart. Special. Different from the rest of us. That desire allows them to remain in that particular arena of life set aside from the rest of us mere mortals who must slug our way through the trials and tribulations of day-to-day living. Oh, there is no question about our interest in hearing of their struggles, but we prefer to focus on their heroic deeds and their overcoming great adversity for the greater good. If we do our job well enough, we preserve that gap that separates the heroic from the ordinary and allows the heroes and saints to be admired from afar and for us to be “off the hook.” The “heavy lifting” is left to them; we can enjoy an easy and comfortable existence.
What is so important about Saint Madeleine Sophie, in part, is the way the Society of the Sacred Heart has introduced her to us newcomers and how the Religious have helped us to see her as a real woman who had a deep and abiding faith but also had many times of personal struggle. She became weary when she had to deal with the politics of church and state. She became sad when her own sisters would not allow her entry to a house she had established. She struggled to give permission to eager young women who wanted to venture beyond the confines of France, and she mourned the loss of her dear friend when she said good-bye, knowing that once Philippine stepped aboard the Rebecca, she would never see her again. She was a real woman, heart and soul. Life was not easy for her. Life is not easy for us.
What makes her so heroic is not her list of deeds and accomplishments. She did not slay a dragon, nor did she discover a cure for leprosy. What makes her heroic is that she aligned herself with the will of the Holy Spirit. She never lost sight of the Society’s charism to make known God’s loving heart in a pierced and fractured world. She never wavered from focusing on her young charges – “for the sake on one child” – and she maintained a model of leadership that was founded on relationships.
Some say that she was a CEO of a global business. Perhaps. What is more important is that she reminds us daily, if we allow her, that each one of us is called to the same mission – the work. It is not just for glossy, holy card women and men. It is for you; it is for me, and it is each one entrusted to our care. Courage and confidence, she reminds us. Be God’s heart in the world, but first let God enter your heart and my heart. Therein the transformation begins.
It is good to hear the stories of her courage and her wisdom and her bravery, but we might do best if we hear more of her folly, her fear of fear and frenzy, her fear of possession, of belonging to another, or to others, or to God. That might help us on our path to sanctity.
~ Gerry Grossman, Head of School, Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart
Image: This painting was one of two placed on the original reliquary of Saint Madeleine Sophie in Jette-St-Pierre, a suburb of Brussels, at the time of her beatification (1908). It represents Sophie under the cedar tree she planted in 1920 in the garden of the Mother House in Paris, with the students of the convent of the Rue de Varenne (aka: Hotel Biron.) All of the age groups are represented, with the older girls looking out for the younger ones. This particular painting represented the apostolic side of the life of a Religious of the Sacred Heart. Its mate represented her spiritual life – the life of prayer. Both of these paintings are now in the General Archives in Rome.
This year's Feast of Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat marks the 150th anniversary of our beloved Saint's death. Find out more about Sophie on the Saint Madeleine Sophie website based on the biography by Sister Phil Kilroy.