Friday, July 28, 2006

Blessed Alphonsa of India - July 28

On Blessed Alphonsa Muttathupadathu of Bharananganam (Memorial: July 28)

Pope John Paul II

The Church throughout the world rejoices with the Church in India as Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception are raised to the ranks of the Blessed in the great Communion of Saints. This man and this woman, both members of the Syro-Malabar Church here in Kerala, advanced to great heights of holiness through their wholehearted co-operation with the grace of God. Each possessed an ardent love of God, yet each followed a distinct spiritual path.

Sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, born a century after Father Kuriakose Elias, would gladly have served the Lord with similar apostolic projects. And indeed, she possessed a personal devotion to Father Kuriakose from early in her religious life. But the path to holiness for Sister Alphonsa was clearly a different one. It was the way of the Cross, the way of sickness and suffering.

Already at a very young age, Sister Alphonsa desired to serve the Lord as a religious, but it was not without enduring trials that she was finally able to pursue this goal. When it became possible, she joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation. Throughout her life, which was a brief thirty-six years, she continually gave thanks to God for the joy and privilege of her religious vocation, for the grace of her vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

From early in her life, Sister Alphonsa experienced great suffering. With the passing of the years, the heavenly Father gave her an ever fuller share in the Passion of his beloved Son. We recall how she experienced not only physical pain of great intensity, but also the spiritual suffering of being misunderstood and misjudged by others. But she constantly accepted all her sufferings with serenity and trust in God, being firmly convinced that they would purify her motives, help her to overcome all selfishness, and unite her more closely with her beloved divine Spouse. She wrote to her spiritual director: "Dear Father, as my good Lord Jesus loves me so very much, I sincerely desire to remain on this sick bed and suffer not only this, but anything else besides, even to the end of the world. I feel now that God has intended my life to be an oblation, a sacrifice of suffering" (20 November 1944). She came to love suffering because she loved the suffering Christ. She learned to love the Cross through her love of the crucified Lord.

Sister Alphonsa knew that by her sufferings she shared in the Church's apostolate; she found joy in them by offering them all to Christ. In this way, she seemed to have made her own the words of Saint Paul: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" . She was endowed by God with an affectionate and happy disposition, with the ability to take delight in ordinary and simple things. The weight of human suffering, even the misunderstanding or jealousy of others, could not extinguish the joy of the Lord which filled her heart. In a letter written shortly before she died, at time of intense physical and mental suffering, she said: "I have given myself up completely to Jesus. Let him please himself in his dealings with me. My only desire in this world is to suffer for love of God and to rejoice in doing it" (February 1946).

Both Father Kuriakose and Sister Alphonsa bear witness to the beauty and greatness of the religious vocation. And I would like to take this occasion to direct my thoughts particularly to the men and women religious who are present here and to all the religious in India.

Truly extraordinary is this day in the history of the Church and Christianity on Indian soil. It is important, too, in the history of the pastoral ministry of the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Saint Peter. It is the first time that he has had the joy or raising to the glory of the altars a son and a daughter of the Church in India, in their native land.

-Taken from the Homily of His Holiness John Paul II at the Mass of the beatification of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conceptionon 8 February, 1986 at Nehru Stadium, Kottayam during his Apostolic Pilgrimage to India.

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