St. Marguerite Bourgeoys (1620-1700)
"God closes a door and then opens a window," people sometimes say when dealing with their own disappointment or someone else’s. That was certainly true in Marguerite’s case. Children from European as well as Native American backgrounds in seventeenth-century Canada benefited from her great zeal and unshakable trust in God’s providence. Born the sixth of 12 children in Troyes, France, Marguerite at the age of 20 believed that she was called to religious life. Her applications to the Carmelites and Poor Clares were unsuccessful. A priest friend suggested that perhaps God had other plans for her. In 1654, the governor of the French settlement in Canada visited his sister, an Augustinian canoness in Troyes. Marguerite belonged to a sodality connected to that convent. The governor invited her to come to Canada and start a school in Ville-Marie (eventually the city of Montreal). When she arrived, the colony numbered 200 people with a hospital and a Jesuit mission chapel. Soon after starting a school, she realized her need for coworkers. Returning to Troyes, she recruited a friend, Catherine Crolo, and two other young women. In 1667 they added classes at their school for Indian children. A second trip to France three years later resulted in six more young women and a letter from King Louis XIV, authorizing the school. The Congregation of Notre Dame was established in 1676 but its members did not make formal religious profession until 1698 when their Rule and constitutions were approved. Marguerite established a school for Indian girls in Montreal. At the age of 69, she walked from Montreal to Quebec in response to the bishop’s request to establish a community of her sisters in that city. By the time she died, she was referred to as the "Mother of the Colony." Marguerite was canonized in 1982.
In his homily at her canonization, Pope John Paul II said, "...in particular, she [Marguerite] contributed to building up that new country [Canada], realizing the determining role of women, and she diligently strove toward their formation in a deeply Christian spirit." He noted that she watched over her students with affection and confidence "in order to prepare them to become wives and worthy mothers, Christians, cultured, hardworking, radiant mothers."
The first reading (1 Samuel 1.9-20)
"..Hanna rose and took her stand before the Lord, while Eli the priest was sitting on his seat by the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. In the bitterness of her soul she prayed to the Lord with many tears and made a vow, saying, 'Lord of hosts! If you will take notice of the distress of your servant, and bear me in mind and not forget your servant and give her a man-child, I will give him to the Lord'...."
A reflection on the first reading
Time and again people are in very desperate situations. No one seems to be able to help them, except God. We are surely reminded of the feelings of Hanna the mother of Samuel in the Old Testament. She desperately wanted a child. No one could help her, only God. But that help of God is what ultimately matters and it is available through prayer. When a person is desperate, that person ought pray, and pray repeatedly, never losing heart. The prayer will be answered unless he gives up on God, should God in his wisdom delay. He will know how best to answer the prayer, and what the answer should be. The answer may come unnoticed, and when looking back, it may surprise. Hanna's prayer was heard, and wonderfully.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (1:21-28)
They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are— the Holy One of God! Be quiet! said Jesus sternly. Come out of him! The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek. The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, What is this? A new teaching — and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him. News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
One of the things that is taken for granted in any research into a great teacher - if the materials are available - is the development of that teacher’s thought. Buddha developed in his insight into suffering and evil. He came to see that enlightenment and the attainment of Nirvana was the answer. Mahomet developed in his understanding of what he considered to be his revelations. Aquinas developed in his thought, and there have been many studies of the development of the thought of John Henry Newman. Jesus Christ also developed in his humanity. We read in the Gospel of St Luke that the child Jesus "grew and became strong, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him" (Luke 2:40). But one of the many notable things about Jesus Christ is that, from his first appearance on the public scene, he is filled with the powers and authority that marked his person. He knows who he is, he knows his divine mission, he knows his great powers, he knows what is to be revealed, and he knows his final end. He is absolutely assured in his confrontation with opposition - such as the opposition he encounters immediately from the demons. This seems to have been the first kind of resistance our Lord met with - that mounted against him by the satanic world. Then there followed that which came from the religious leaders. Our Gospel scene today is drawn from St Mark, which many scholars regard as being that of Simon Peter. Christ has been baptized by John; his public mission has commenced; he has returned to Galilee and his preaching has begun; he has called the first of his apostles - Simon and Andrew, James and John; he has just taught in the synagogue of Capernaum. All are amazed at his doctrine and the authority with which he taught it. That is to say, at the outset of his public ministry, precisely as prophet Christ manifests supreme authority. Let us linger a little on the demonic reaction to Christ’s teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum.
The entire synagogue is in a state of wonderment and admiration for Jesus. They had not seen anything like his authority among the scribes. This spectacle of Christ’s manifest authority seems to have been unbearable for an "unclean spirit" there in the synagogue. Christ has not sought the demon out, and without any provocation, it shouts out against Jesus. The anger and anguish of the demon seems to be spontaneous amid all the fascination with the person of Jesus - so holy, so strong, so assured, so towering a person does he seem from the very outset. The devil, speaking as if part of a whole company, causes a further sensation. It demands that Jesus leave them alone. It throws an accusation at him of being vindictive, harsh, cruel, and all this without cause: "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" It childishly attempts to throw Jesus off balance by revealing to the assembly his secret: that he is the unique Man of the ages: "I know who you are, the Holy One of God." It is the bravado of one who knows it is all over, now that this One has appeared on the scene. The devils may even have guessed that this Messiah is much more than a mere man, and they are in confusion before him. Jesus immediately acts with sovereign ease. The demon is silenced by his mere word, and driven out. The devil, shouting in helpless anger - like one smashing the windows and slamming the door as he leaves - "shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek" (Mark 1: 21-28). The entire spectacle exuded power and authority. There was no struggle by Christ, no hesitation, no uncertainty as to his powers and knowledge. He was the Master and Lord of the situation and of all things pertaining to God. It was, we might say, all part of the opening shot and it sounded like a thunderclap. Things were to be different from that point on, and all could see it - even the devils. No-one then, nor at any point in the future, could dominate Jesus Christ. The climax of his domination occurred when he freely submitted to the Cross, and with that came the victory.
As we contemplate the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry, let us marvel at his goodness and his greatness. He is great! He shall be great, the Angel had said to Mary when he asked her consent to God’s plan. He is great! There is nothing better that we could possibly do than place ourselves by his side. He is the stronger man who has come to defeat the one in possession. Let us then be one with him and make his mission our own, and do so every day.