Tomorrow morning the Universal Church will receive four new women for veneration, emulation, and intercession when the Holy Father Pope Francis raises to the dignity of the altars four female Blesseds:
- Jeanne-Emilie de Villeneuve;
- Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception Brando;
- Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas; and
- Mary of Jesus Crucified Baouardy.
I know next to nothing about the first three of these women, except that the first is French, the second is Italian, and the third is Palestinian, as is the fourth women. Having visited the tomb of the fourth woman during my pilgrimage to the Holy Land and having read a biography about her, I am happy to know a fair amount about her.
Born on January 5, 1846, Mariam Baouardy seemed set apart by the Lord even from a young age. She was playing with birds when she a young girl and decided to give them a bath because they were dirty, but all of the birds died in the process. As she buried them in sorrow, she heard a voice say to her, "This is how everything passes! If you will give me your heart, I shall always remain with you." Those words shaped the rest of her life.
Mariam knew great sufferings throughout her life, beginning with the death of her parents when she was two years old.
When she was thirteen, a Muslim tried to convert her to Islam. She refused to renounce her faith in Christ Jesus and he slit her throat with a scimitar and, thinking she was dead, left her (for the rest of her life, she had a 10 cm. scar on her neck).
The attack took place on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, September 7, 1858. About this attack, she later said, "On this same day I was with my Mother. On this day I consecrated my life to Mary. Someone had cut my throat, and the next day Mary took care of me."
In fact, the Blessed Virgin Mary nursed her back to health and revealed her life's work, saying to her:
You will never see your family again; you will go to France, where you will become a religious. You will be a child of St. Joseph before becoming a daughter of St. Teresa. You will receive the habit of Carmel in one house, you will make your profession in a second, and you will die in a third, at Bethlehem.
All of this came to pass.
When she began her novitiate in the Carmelite Order, she received the name of Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, a name that resonated deep within her soul. In all of her sufferings, she felt a particular closeness to Jesus, so much so that she said:
I offer my sufferings in union with Jesus and with all the martyrs who suffered for the triumph of the Church. I desire to immolate myself, to suffer, to be roasted, broken to pieces, for the triumph of the Church. I united myself to Jesus on Calvary, immolating myself with Him for the conversion of sinners and for the children of the Church. I offer my sufferings for the blind who do not recognize the Church, that they may know her.
So closely did she unite herself to the sufferings of the Lord Jesus that she received the grace of the stigmata on May 2, 1867. Mother Veronica recounted what she saw when she visited Mary of Jesus Crucified:
I found her sitting near her bed in great pain. She showed me her side, her feet and her hands. On these latter, in the place where they had been imprinted, that is to say on the upper part, there was a sort of blister, which formed the head of the nails, and in the palms the spot was black and swollen. At the place on her side, a little above the heart, there was the form of a cross all red and inflamed... I spent the night near her, and at five o'clock in the morning blood flowed from the wounds in her hands which I bathed, and the pain seemed to be alleviated. The blood flowed from the palm. The fingers were contracted and curved around, as if the nail had really gone into the palm; she could not extend them, nor take hold of the glass when I gave her a drink from time to time... About nine o'clock blood flowed from the crown of thorns, all around her head. I can solemnly attest that I saw blood coming from the holes of the thorns, one of which, in the center of her forehead, opened before me, and blood gushed from it. While I was washing it, it closed again, leaving her forehead without any mark, except the traces of blood. Her feet were white; one would have said the feet of a corpse, and the toes were stretched like those of one crucified. The wounds on the upper part bled, as did the wounds of her side. After three hours she was completely herself again, experiencing only a little weakness. I told her to get up, which she did by herself, and that evening she came to supper with the community.
Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified knew greater sufferings than most of us can scarcely begin to imagine. I know something of the pain of losing your parents as a child, but her other sufferings, I cannot begin to fathom me. Arthritis is one thing; the stigmata is quite another.
Still, our sufferings being small in comparison, do we not still often cry out to the Lord asking him to take them away? She did never made such a cry. Rather, she cried out the Sacred Heart, saying, "My God, give me, please, all these sufferings, but have mercy on sinners." Another time she said, "That Jesus may be content, that is all I desire. I accept all the thorns on my body, but tell the master of the rosebushes to close the thorns." She desired only to be the Lord's "little nothing," without recognition of any kind.
Through her acceptance of these sufferings and through the uniting of these sufferings to those of Jesus Crucified, Blessed Mary received many others graces from the Lord, as well. She received numerous spiritual ecstasies and the gifts of prophecy, levitation, and bilocation. So many graces did she receive from the Lord that Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified could say, "The Holy Spirit does not refuse me anything."
In the midst of her sufferings - and maybe even because of them - she knew she was deeply loved by God. She also recognized how little we love God in return. She said,
O my God, how ungrateful is man before His Creator! You are so good, my God, oh the ingratitude of creatures! O my God, my heart is too small; I would like a heart larger than the universe in order to love You, O my love!"
I think that by the end of her life she received such a heart and she shows us the way to receive a heart just as large; all we need do is take up the Cross. She died on August 26, 1878, at the age of 33. Let us ask Mary of Jesus Crucified to teach us to give everything to Jesus with the same love as she did.