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Living The Hope Of The People

Clara Marina Quintanilla, CND Claudia Marguerite Juárez, CND

In the context of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the birth of our foundress during this world health crisis, what does it mean for the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame to live the hope of the people? Let the words and testimony of Marguerite Bourgeoys enlighten and transform our hopes and expectations.

Marguerite was born on April 17, 1620. On April 17, 2020, the Sisters of the Congrégation de Notre-Dame were preparing to celebrate the 400th anniversary of her birth when the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the programs and activities carefully planned for this great celebration.

And so we asked ourselves, between suspense and rethinking, how should we celebrate this Jubilee among all this uncertainty? With whom should we be in solidarity? With whom shall we pray? How long should we wait? All in all, the questions were and still are many.

The retreat prepared for the Congregation was timely and providential. During Easter week, we were accompanied by the woman we would be celebrating on April 17, 2020. Re-reading Marguerite Bourgeoys’s Writings put us in the context of her story and ours, with her life experience and community vision. As a congregation, her sense of Church offers clues and becomes light in darkness.

Marguerite’s hometown of Troyes was once a place of commercial activity and great cultural richness motivated by the constant movement of travelers. It was a city with beautiful parish temples, remarkable architecture and stained-glass windows that inspired piety for those who visited them. Like many other French cities, Troyes was influenced by the vision of many women who had played an active and liberating role in society.

In the 17th century, Marguerite Bourgeoys lived a life of ongoing searches and challenges, inviting her to always go forward and establish a society actively supportive of and faithful to the main evangelical values (love, equality, respect, friendship, truth, justice…).

Marguerite was a woman with a broad vision who was daring, brave, and committed to liberating education, particularly for children and women. She had profound faith in a loving God who gave her the strength to answer the call.

“TOUCH OF GRACE”

When Marguerite Bourgeoys was twenty years old, she experienced what she described as a special touch of grace. On October 7, 1640, while participating in the Holy Rosary procession, she passed in front of the portal of Notre-Dame and contemplated a statue of the Virgin Mary (already known to her) and was impressed by the beauty of God's brightness through the image. Marguerite could not find words to describe how she felt inside except to say, “I found myself so moved and so changed.” This experience radically changes her life, transforming her and makings her ready to seek God’s will in every moment and circumstance. So great was her relationship with God that she asks herself, “But can we not take our birth from that time when God inspires us to give ourselves to Him knowingly and of our own free will? Living this transforming encounter led her to remain inserted in the crowd, in the company of her people and sharing the reality lived in her native city (Troyes) “enriched by a cultural and commercial life” as well as the hope of her contemporaries.

The touch of grace she experienced on October 7 made her search for God’s will. She knew first-hand the difficulties and the desolation left by wars. Her hometown, located on the trade route between Europe and Asia, experienced not only the commercial developments but also the armed conflicts of the time.

She knew the effects of poverty and illness. In her family she experienced the early death of her mother, three of her brothers and a sister. Disease was no stranger to her, there was an outbreak of the plague aboard the ships she was on during her first and second voyages from France to Canada. She recounts this experience with simplicity. She did not hesitate to accompany and care for the people who were infected on the ship and, as there were no priests on board, she stayed with them during their dying hours and inspired confidence in the loving God that accompanied her.

She devoted herself to the marginalized and excluded of her time, going to the peripheries of her city to educate and serve the very poor. She was always ready to learn, to face the struggles, and to keep hope alive. She developed her creativity and became a source of joy, good humour, and hope. She was a woman committed to action and searching for new possibilities. She cared for the people of the community.

A SPIRITUALITY OUTSIDE THE CLOISTER, OUTSIDE THE WALLS

Marguerite Bourgeoys had the grace of living a spirituality that sent her on the way, showing her the joy of being together, of announcing a new life, of a presence of hope in the early Church where life overcomes all death. Her call led her to seek options of transformation and choose an integral education for the people (particularly for boys, girls, and women). Every moment was ideal to teach, learn, dialogue, and create strategies that favoured a creative and harmonious way of living. She learned from her community experiences to walk, work, and seek answers with others.

She found in Mary of Nazareth a model of faith and hope, who was able to see God in her daily life. She discovered Him at her side, speaking to her through her sisters and brothers. Thus, her invaluable contribution to the life of a society based on the Gospel values and inspired in by mystery of the Visitation – Pentecost, sent her to a new world, accompanying the early community of Montreal and laying the foundations of education and faith in a new society.

At this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, re-reading the writings of our foundress inspires and motivates us to go towards others with the power of the Gospel that moved her; with the strength she found in the “journeying life of Mary of Nazareth” with the life project she intuited from Jesus’ life and commandments: "To love God with one's whole heart and one’s neighbor as oneself.” So much so, that she wanted this same desire imprinted on the hearts of her sisters: “If we could live this at least among us.”

Our charism and spirituality compel us to see the current world situation through the eyes of faith, inviting us to be attentive, to reflect on the consequences that will come, to live the challenges of this upcoming new order full of hope with others. That is why, during this time of illness and pandemic, giving us time to celebrate more intimately allows us to let her speak to us knowledgeably and from her experience of how to face the new times. Times of openness (despite confinement), of encounter (despite social distancing), of simplicity (despite hoarding), of leaving (despite stagnation).

  • Time of openness: Because it invites us to creativity and imagination, creating positive and contagious attitudes of hope, of searching for new ways and possibilities to follow our path, of strengthening empathy and concern for the needs of others. This is a time to do away with selfishness, consumerism, accumulation, etc. and to learn solidarity, detachment, care for common goods and the collective struggles of many good men and women.
  • Time of encounters: Because now, more than ever, we know that we need each other and that we walk together. This is a time of sorority and fraternity, of knowing ourselves brothers and sisters… a time of HUMANITY. It is a time to give identity to people who suffer, to give names and identities to people who are at the frontline defending public health. It is time to fill our hearts with faces and names.
  • Time to live simplicity: It is time for closeness, to have faith in the strength that encourages us, the strength to believe in life reflected in the ability to organize, to go with others, particularly the women defenders of life in all its forms, who offer with enthusiasm their reflection, questioning, alternative proposals for a full life just like the one proposed by Jesus, our brother, and as the one proposed by Marguerite Bourgeoys in Ville-Marie (Montreal).
  • Time to go: Marguerite Bourgeoys left for a new world with a small bag, with just enough to cross the Atlantic Ocean. She was sure that if God called her she would need nothing. We are living a crucial time, reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic show that our world will never be the same. We foresee a new configuration at all levels of our lives, not knowing what will happen. As consecrated women in Marguerite Bourgeoys’s Congregation, we have a guide in God who called us, a current project in the Gospel, and an example to leave for that new world. Like Mary, leaving in haste to go to the Elizabeth’s of our time, with what is necessary in our bags, these are always the beginnings.

 

 

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