Saturday, January 23, 2010

Blessed Mother Marianne Cope (1838-1918)

Though leprosy scared off most people in 19th-century Hawaii, that disease sparked great generosity in the woman who came to be known as Mother Marianne of Molokai. Her courage helped tremendously to improve the lives of its victims in Hawaii, a territory annexed to the United States during her lifetime (1898). Mother Marianne’s generosity and courage were celebrated at her May 14, 2005, beatification in Rome. She was a woman who spoke "the language of truth and love" to the world, said Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes. Cardinal Martins, who presided at the beatification Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, called her life "a wonderful work of divine grace." Speaking of her special love for persons suffering from leprosy, he said, "She saw in them the suffering face of Jesus. Like the Good Samaritan, she became their mother." On January 23, 1838, a daughter was born to Peter and Barbara Cope of Hessen-Darmstadt, Germany. The girl was named after her mother. Two years later the Cope family immigrated to the United States and settled in Utica, New York. Young Barbara worked in a factory until August 1862, when she went to the Sisters of the Third Order of Saint Francis in Syracuse, New York. After profession in November of the next year, she began teaching at Assumption parish school. Marianne held the post of superior in several places and was twice the novice mistress of her congregation. A natural leader, three different times she was superior of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, where she learned much that would be useful during her years in Hawaii. Elected provincial in 1877, Mother Marianne was unanimously re-elected in 1881. Two years later the Hawaiian government was searching for someone to run the Kakaako Receiving Station for people suspected of having leprosy. More than 50 religious communities in the United States and Canada were asked. When the request was put to the Syracuse sisters, 35 of them volunteered immediately. On October 22, 1883, Mother Marianne and six other sisters left for Hawaii where they took charge of the Kakaako Receiving Station outside Honolulu; on the island of Maui they also opened a hospital and a school for girls. In 1888, Mother Marianne and two sisters went to Molokai to open a home for "unprotected women and girls" there. The Hawaiian government was quite hesitant to send women for this difficult assignment; they need not have worried about Mother Marianne! On Molokai she took charge of the home that Blessed Damien DeVeuster (d. 1889) had established for men and boys. Mother Marianne changed life on Molokai by introducing cleanliness, pride and fun to the colony. Bright scarves and pretty dresses for the women were part of her approach. Awarded the Royal Order of Kapiolani by the Hawaiian government and celebrated in a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, Mother Marianne continued her work faithfully. Her sisters have attracted vocations among the Hawaiian people and still work on Molokai. Mother Marianne died on August 9, 1918.

Soon after Mother Marianne died, Mrs. John F. Bowler wrote in the Honolulu Advertiser, "Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life in all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage and smiled sweetly through it all."

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 3:20-21

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, He is out of his mind.

Christ at work
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There is a difficulty in the interpretation of this Gospel passage that is noted by many commentators. For one, it is not clear from the Greek whether it is Christ’s "family" (Greek: hoi par outou) or his friends, or others who wanted to take charge of him. Nor is it clear whether it was he or the crowd that was said to be "mad" (or better, "beside himself" — exestee). That is, it may have been the crowd that appeared to be "beside itself." Our Lord’s friends wanted to take charge — or manage — the crowd, for it — the crowd — seemed "beside itself" in pressing on our Lord from all directions for his help. The point is that the Greek is a little obscure in the matter of what certain words refer to, and so different translations are legitimate. So let us refrain from too much detail in interpreting the meaning of this brief passage. What is very clear is our Lord’s entire immersion in his mission. He had given himself over to the service of God’s people. Now, let us remember that Jesus was not simply a profoundly religious and dedicated man — he was all of this, but immeasurably more. We are speaking of the Son of God. It is God who is given over to an unstinting service of his chosen people. The great God! In the Sistine Chapel in Rome there is a famous painting of God touching the hand of Adam and giving life to him. That touch can be seen as extended to all of creation. By the touch of God all things are sustained in being, and God transcends all else in his infinity. God transcends all, and does so ineffably. The thought of this, though, can leave an impression that God is far from man and creation, whereas he is indescribably near. But this nearness of God which is philosophically comprehensible is, as it were, outshone by further facts. The fact is that he became one of us. So extraordinary was this fact that, ever since the Incarnation many have refused to accept that the man Jesus Christ is actually God. But further to this, the incarnate God became man’s friend, and set out to serve man in a way that must absolutely transform our impression of the one, only and infinite God. God is man’s friend, and consumed with the desire to serve him.

Our Gospel passage today (Mark 3:20-21) presents our Lord as utterly immersed in the service of needy man, so much so that, as we read, "he and his disciples were not even able to eat." Throughout the Gospels we see this unbounded zeal in Jesus. At the outset, Christ fasts for forty days in the wilderness. For all his penance, we do not read of John the Baptist doing this. John the Baptist awaited the people as they came to him, but Christ travelled wherever he could throughout the land of the chosen people of God. He went to towns, villages, farms. We can imagine people thronging to him from right, left and centre. At the same time we can imagine him visiting individual farms — and other homes. He invited himself into the home of Zacchaeus the chief tax collector. He dined in the homes of leading Pharisees, on their invitation. He made his way to the home of a centurion who had requested his presence. It was a ministry of consuming service, and whole nights were then spent in prayer to God his heavenly Father. Christ was a man of work, and this means that God is a God of work. He works for our salvation, and the intensity of his love and dedication to which our brief passage today alludes, translates into a corresponding love and dedication to us. Each of us is loved by Jesus Christ as if there is no one else for him to love. Each of us who is baptized has been taken into a personal union with him and invited to live, by personal choice, a life consistent with that personal bond. The picture of Christ having no time to eat because of the needs of the crowds pressing around him, ought be for each of us a picture of his love for us. As St Paul wrote, Christ loved me and gave himself up for me. It also means that we are called to serve others in need. Let us note that not only Jesus had no time to eat. His disciples also had no time to eat. They were caught up in the life of service which marked the ministry of Jesus. So too with us. Every day we are called to spend ourselves in a Christ-like service of our brothers in need. When we do this, it is Christ who is loving and serving others through us.

There are two fundamental aspects of the life of the Christian, and indeed, of any human being: work and prayer. We are called to serve others every day by our work — and we have the picture of Christ at work in our Gospel passage today. Our work must be sanctified and made holy. This is done by doing it as well as we can for love of Christ and our fellow men. At the same time we must grow in our life of prayer. Christ spent himself for the salvation of souls by day, and much of the night he spent in prayer with his heavenly Father. Something of this must mark our lives too, according to our proper measure. Let us give ourselves over to it, then!

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