Sunday, May 11, 2008



Virgin - Co-foundress of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians

Mary Domenica was born on May 9, 1837, in Mornese (Alessandria). At fifteen, she joined the Association of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate and began her apostolate among the young people of her village. A serious attack of typhoid, at the age of 23, had a profound spiritual effect on her. The experience of her own physical fragility, on the one hand, deepened her abandonment to God and, on the other, encouraged her to open a sewing school to educate the girls in work, prayer and love of God.
Encounter with Don Bosco - Thanks to her intense sacramental life, and under the wise guidance of Fr. Pestarino, she made great progress in the spiritual life. On the occasion of Don Bosco's visit to Mornese (10-8-1864) she said: "Don Bosco is a saint and I feel it". In 1872 Don Bosco chose her to begin the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters). As Congregational Leader, she proved a capable formator and teacher of spiritual life. She was cheerful and serene, and spread peace wherever she went. She radiated joy and involved other young people in her dedication to the education of women.The Institute developed rapidly. At her death, she left her Daughters an educational tradition, permeated by Gospel values: the search for God, whom we come to know through enlightened catechesis and ardent love, responsibility in work, sincerity and humility, austerity of life and joyful self-giving. She died in Nizza Monferrato on May 14, 1881. Her remains are venerated in the Basilica of Mary Our Help in Turin. Her feast is celebrated on May 13.

1st Reading - Revelation 19,1.5-9a
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 1, 26-31
Gospel: Lk 10, 21-28


The readings of today highlight an important aspect in the life of Mary Mazzarello – her deep humility and simplicity. We have only to remember how she constantly ceded to others and was always hesitant to accept the leadership of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate and then of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

In the letter to the Corinthians Paul constantly highlights the antithesis of the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God. What and who the world considers wise God considers foolish and meaningless. Instead God values things that the world considers foolish. Thus the cross and suffering, humility and simplicity are important considerations in God’s sight. Paul reminds the church in Corinth that they have this claim on God’s love – the fact that none of them were great in the eyes of the world.

Luke, a disciple of Paul, continues along the same lines in the Gospel passage given to us this morning. Interestingly the solemn prayer to the Father that introduces this reading is the only such solemn opening other than the Our Father in the Lucan gospel. Jesus begins by praising His Heavenly Father for this magnificent revelation – that the poor, simple, illiterate, ignorant are often chosen ahead of the rich, clever, intelligent ones. The KOG overturns what the world considers important and essential. The simple and humble are in direct communication with God, the see God and they enjoy the joy of that experience. In this experience of emptiness and unworthiness they realize that their entire life depends totally on God.

These elements can be so aptly applied to Mary Mazzarello. She who did not know how to write until she took the reins of the nascent congregation, was chosen for her magnificent gifts of head and heart, for her deep union with God and her limpid sanctity to lead and guide the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.

In the letter he wrote for the Centenary of the Death of Mary Mazzarello in 1981, Don Egidio Vigano – the seventh successor of Don Bosco – highlights two distinguishing characteristics of the spirituality of Mary Mazzarello (among many others). Her deep and profound mysticism and her radical simplicity and asceticism. These are the vertical and horizontal axes of her spirit that enabled her to reach out to the poor and the needy entrusted to her care. She had already seen those entrusted to her in her vision at Borgoalto as she recovered from an almost fatal attack of typhoid. She seen many young people appealing to her to come and help them. And a voice said to her: “I entrust them all to you.”

To comment on her mysticism in a few words is difficult but just a glimpse at her Eucharistic piety would be sufficient. She was very close to the Eucharistic Jesus. From her days at the window at the Valponasca where she would adore the Eucharistic Jesus being exposed in the Church at Mornese…to the way she transmitted her closeness to the Eucharist to her companions in the early days of the Institute. We are told of how beautifully she would describe Jesus. Don Costamagna commented that hearing her describe Jesus present in Holy Communion one had the distinct impression that she was seeing Jesus not just with the eyes of faith but with her bodily eyes. On one occasion in the whole community there was one very sad postulant. When asked why she was sad she lamented her inability to receive communion that day. “After all that Mother said about Jesus present in the Eucharist I feel so sad that I was not able to receive him today and will only be able to do so tomorrow.” The spirit of Pentecost prevailed among the early sisters.

Along with her deep mystical moments Mother Mazzarello was known as a woman of profound asceticism and simplicity. Much of what she did may not be stuff for imitation but we need to look beyond the practices to the reason for this total self-abnegation. We know that there was abject poverty prevailing among the early sisters. Money was hard to come by and their diet left most of them feeling hungry after each meal. Many of their visitors were astounded at how they managed to survive. In fact it seemed to Don Bosco to somewhat exaggerated; and after a number of deaths among the young members he had to intervene several times personally to moderate the rigors of the community. But this frugality made for a very happy community with genuine warmth and concern.

Finally it seems that this profound mystical depth and her deep simplicity and asceticism made her totally available for the mission entrusted to her by God – leading the young and the poor to salvation. Knowing the loving heart of God and detached from all earthly things she was able to be the humble instrument in God’s hand to make this world a better place.

As we keep the Feast of Mary Mazzarello may each of us imbibe her spirit – the spirit of the anawim – the humble, simple and the gentle….may this lead us to be deeply united with God in a profound mysticism and may it help us be totally detached from all worldly things with a radical asceticism. Then we will experience God’s action in our lives and be transformed by his grace.
As our Salesian sisters prepare for their 22nd General Chapter with the theme: “Called to be, today, a sign and expression of the foreseeing love of God.” We pray that following the example of MM they may be able to live a deep mysticism and radical asceticism and simplicity thus enabling them to make their lives a living expression of God’s love for those to whom they are sent.

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