February 25, 1903 – September 21, 1988
Those who knew Mother Margarita know that throughout life her goal was to be faithful to Christ until the end. This was a predominant thought expressed in many of her speeches and finally realized at the end of her earthly life.
Some years ago, on Mother’s Golden Jubilee, Cardinal Timothy Manning spoke of Mother’s faithful adherence to this goal in his reflections on her life as we would see it at the time of her death. His words, so aptly put, brought with them an inner awareness of the way in which Mother lived the Gospel message. Today, 25 years after her death, it is fitting to revisit the beautiful words spoken about her.
This is the text of a homily preached on September 30, 1973 to commemorate the golden jubilee of Mother Margarita Maria, O.C.D.
Fifty years ago when Sister Margarita made her vows to God, she forfeited her rights to property, to marriage, and to her own will, and laying on the altar this holocaust of herself, she also laid there any claim to human praise. We must absent ourselves from that aspect of this occasion. It will be reserved, I think, for the moment of her burial, when she will lie in her coffin, for the catalogue of the things for which she must be praised.
There is in the Old Testament an episode whereby Abraham has a mysterious visit from three strangers who come to him in the tents by the Oak of Mamre and they have a message for him about his wife, Sarah that she will conceive and bear a son. And she is hiding behind the tent flaps. And she listens to this prediction about herself, and she laughs at what they have to say, and I think, really, that when the time comes for Mother’s lying here in death, and her soul is in heaven, and the preacher for the occasion will speak about her, that God will allow her to listen across the tents of heaven and hear some of the things that would be said about her. And she would laugh a little, I think.
And what will they say about her? Well, they will probably say that she was another Teresa of Avila who called herself God’s Wandering Lady. This lady had decided that she was going to reform all of Carmel in Spain, and she breaks away from the convent of the Incarnation outside of Avila, and she begins to found these small communities of the rigid rule of Carmel. There is at the same time a great movement of the mitigants, of those who want relaxed rules, who want to compromise with the day, who want the intercourse with the world at the parlor windows, and who are really ladies of the day. And this little Teresa goes around contradicting all of that and establishing these houses in the midst of that turmoil to prove that the women of her time could exist within the framework of the strict rule of Carmel. And, they would probably say that about this lady, that she too, could believe that there could be in the present day, the day of affluence, of ease, of compromise, of breaking down of cloister walls, there could still be a call to the asceticism and to the faithful adherence to the rule of Carmel, and that somehow God would say it is possible and you are blessed for it. It is just as realistic as to find in the cloister of Lisieux hundreds of years later, the same kind of asceticism that could verify a hundred years ago the validity of the rule of Carmel, in a world that certainly was totally contrary to that way of life.
They would probably say of her that she was the embodiment of the people of Mexico from which she sprang. She was the personification of the Mexican people who went through a period of persecution for their faith and who came into this alien Country not to see what this Country could do for them, but to see what they could do for this Country, and to enrich it with their culture and their faith and their nation’s glory.
And she came like Ruth. You remember Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi and was a pagan from across the Jordan from the land of Moab. Her Jewish husband died, and she was very close to her mother-in-law Naomi. And Naomi decided to come back to Bethlehem, to her own country, and Ruth decided to come with her and Naomi said, “Ruth, go back to your own people,” and Ruth said, “No.” And she said to Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go. Your people will be my people, your God will be my God, and wherever you will lie, there also will I lie.” And that is the personification of this, this journey from another country to here, making of this people, of this God, of this burial place, her own.
They will say of her that she was a unique combination of Martha and Mary, a woman who was busy… busy about many things; caring for her household, caring for all the temporalities that involve the service of the Lord; and yet all the while that reservation of the inner self for the presence of the Lord.
But above all they will probably say that she is the embodiment of
the woman who graces the last chapter of the Book of Proverbs, the Ideal Woman who rises in the night, who weaves clothes for her household, feeds them, about whom her husband at the City Gates can boast. But the line that is most significant is that this woman (an extraordinary thing in the Old Testament), this woman, she considers a field and she buys it. And we will find that same reference used by our Lord about a man who discovers a treasure in a field and he sells all that he has to buy the treasure. And the Latin word for the treasure is “Preciosa Margarita.” He sees this treasure and he buys it; and this woman of the Old Testament sees something in this field and she buys it. And people will come and say in another day that this woman, (she’s supposed to be dead now and not listening!) she saw a field here beneath these mountains and she realized that there was some treasure here that was worth owning, and all that she had; her life, her days, all her possessions were spent, expended, forfeited, in order to own the field. And look at the treasure she found. All these buildings and all the operations that occurred here: the love for the sisterhood, the care of priests, everything that blossoms here, all of which is a unique treasure, a “Preciosa Margarita.”
Why, or what is the motivation for all of this? It’s Spanish certainly. Somewhere way back in the life of Teresa of Avila thereentered a young man twenty-four years of age, not five feet tall, (That’s why the Carmelites, the best of them are all small, you see). And she calls him her little Senequita, her little Seneca, and he decides to do what she did for the Carmelite Cloisters of women, he was going to reform the cloisters of men. It was a very tough job. They didn’t like it. They threw him in jail and he spent many, many years in extreme poverty, but he is the one who phrased the whole Spanish asceticism and brought it into focus in the great doctrine of the Ascent of Carmel, and all the Spanish asceticism that saved the Christian faith after the Reformation is summed up in that, and every so often, that thing comes to life. It is like the blood of Januarius in Naples, that every so often liquefies, boils over – so, this doctrine of the Senequita, every so often in history, it comes to life as a brilliant, effervescent, living, and we find it here, this dilation of all that asceticism, and it’s very simple, Ignatius used it (with all due respect to the Jesuits who are present – they beat him to it!). But, first of all it’s the realization that the Ascent of Carmel begins with the mortification of our natural impulses, as Ignatius phrased it: “We are made to know and to love and serve God, and thereby save our souls, and everything that God has created was made to help us to save our souls, and therefore we should use or abstain from using any created thing insofar as it helps us or retards us from the salvation of our souls.”
And that is the beginning of the Ascent of Carmel, that we are people of a fallen nature. We have wayward instincts since Adam, and no amount of horizontal psychology or therapy is going to cure those ills. It can be done only vertically in the sense of bringing these things subservient to the mind that is attuned to God so that the mortification of the senses, of these desires is the first step in this Ascent to Carmel. And the second is the dark night of the soul, because at night time there is no light. That which normally gives us perspective, and we see things clearly as they are, is removed from us and we are in darkness. And that is the analogy that John of the Cross used for faith. We cannot see conclusively conclusions as the result of several propositions so that the mind is totally convinced of a truth. We don’t do that. We are walking in darkness, and God’s word is spoken to us through the Church, the only lamp which we have. Now, we can discard the lamp, and we can exalt our own personal consciences. We can invoke the conclusions of the cultures of the times and pursue our own religious life as is being done so extensively today. But, not the person who walks with faith, which goes through the dark night of the soul not understanding why, but knowing only that this single lamp has been lighted for our feet, and it is the voice of Peter, the voice of the Church, the voice of the Bishops speaking to us.
And the third part of that Ascent is this intimacy of conversation with God. Sometimes, Teresa of Avila scolded Him because, you know the famous episode where she’s crossing a river in a flood and she has a rather loud mouthed muleteer that is rather vulgar about the whole thing, and she begins to complain to God. And God says to her, “Well, that’s how I treat my friends.” She said: “No wonder you have so few of them!” And that’s the familiar prayer that these choice souls have when they converse with God. It’s an intimacy that we who are worn with the world, cannot understand.
These, now, are some of the reflections that we have for her funeral. We think that perhaps it is all summed up thus in the devotion which they have in this Community to the Sacred Heart. There’s the whole love of Christ and love of His people, the converse of faith as it is in the heart. And it is perhaps again crystallized in that moment where our Lord appeared to Thomas after the Resurrection, Thomas who is doubting. He calls Thomas over to Him, and He says: “Thomas, put your hand in my side, and be not faithless but believing.”