With the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta nearing, the thought of honoring this wonderful woman who we associate with India is exciting. As well-known as she is, however, India is hardly without other saints, too. Upon only a bit of research one sees that the list of holy ones is rather large, from the names of those whose cases have just been opened, to those already canonized. But when many of us think of saints from India no doubt the ones who come to mind first are those who were not actually from there, such as St. Thomas the apostle or St. Francis Xavier the great Spanish Jesuit missionary, and of course, Mother Teresa who was a native of Albania, (though she can rightfully be ‘claimed’ by India since the origins of her religious community and just about all of her ministry were in that very populous nation.) India is a country where the majority of the population is either Hindu or Muslim, but there are also enclaves of Christians; among the ranks of these are many from the Syro-Malabar rite,* one of the many rites which exist within the Catholic Church. The particular saint I would like to highlight was from this community, referred to as “the Praying Mother” by those who knew her because of her reputation for deep prayer throughout her life. This holy one, whose feast day is August 29, is St. Euphrasia Eluvathingal, from whom we can learn much about prayer and humility.
St. Euphrasia was born in 1877 in the village of Katoor in the Syro-Malabar archdiocese of Trichur, Kerala, India, and was given the name Rosa. Her mother was rather devout and taught her how to pray the Rosary and also about her patron, St. Rose of Lima. At the age of 7, Rosa had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary who she said taught her how to pray with the angels. A few years later when she was in school, already at the Carmelite convent she would eventually enter, she had a vision of the Holy Family during a serious illness which almost claimed her life. She believed that the Holy Family saved her; this vision was detailed in a letter written by the Superior of the community at that time. Taking the name Sr. Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she entered the community in 1897 and lived as a Carmelite until her death on August 29, 1952. For much of her religious life she was in frail health, yet she managed to be novice mistress for nine years and then superior of the community for three years. During her religious life she was known to spend long hours in prayer for repentance, reparation, and intercession for the sick or for Church leaders including the pope, bishops, priests and religious. Her story is actually rather nondescript, and yet her reputation as the Praying Mother was well known to those throughout the archdiocese.
Unlike (soon-to-be Saint) Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who would spend her life picking up the poor from gutters, St. Euphrasia ‘picked up’ the sick and those who served God’s people through her prayer from behind the convent walls. Known for her humility and deep devotion to Jesus, she offered advice and love to those who came seeking guidance, but her ministry consisted mostly of intercessory prayer. Her impact was deep, even though she rarely, if ever, left the walls of the convent during her religious life. What we can learn from the Praying Mother, then, is that we do not have to do spectacular feats in order to grow in holiness, but rather we need to respond to the call which we have been given. Not all of us are called to spend endless hours in a chapel, and not all of us are called to go into the streets of the city helping the poor, but all of us do have a call to grow in holiness using whatever gifts we have received. St. Euphrasia teaches us that obedience to our call means simply being who we are and letting God work with what we offer Him in return. It is God who gifts us with growth in holiness; it is His work, not ours. But what we do is to cooperate with God, allowing Him to do His work in us (since He never forces anything on us) by desiring growth, making an offering of our lives as a return gift to Him in response to His love. We simply need to enter into the life we have been given with eyes and ears open to that which is before us. Our ministry lies in being responsive to grace and to the situations which present themselves daily.
In the first reading of the Sunday Mass of this week the writer says that we are to conduct our affairs with humility and that the more we humble ourselves, “the greater” (holier) we are. He goes on to say, “What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not.” (Sirach 3:21) The writer is saying that we should not seek grandiose gifts or works, but instead we should seek humility which will open our eyes to the opportunities which arise each day. Jesus emphasized the same point in the Gospel (Luke 14: 7-14) when He said for us not to seek a high position. Similarly, we should not seek to do things because we think they are higher, more important, or more difficult. That would be prideful. We should instead contribute our efforts to the areas in which we have been gifted or called. No matter how small or unseen, all work done for God builds the Kingdom and all efforts are needed. Jesus taught us to live simply with love, mercy, and compassion and in so doing we will grow in holiness. We do not have to seek holiness, but with the proper disposition, a sincere heart, it will find us.
St. Euphrasia teaches us to dedicate ourselves to prayer. It would be nice if we desired to spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament or in our rooms in prayer, but that is not always realistic to those who live active lives. However, we do need to spend some consistent time in prayer in order to cultivate the eyes and ears we need to become aware of our specific call. If we want to become sensitive to others, it is important to let Jesus teach us how to see the opportunities for service and care which are there. We can develop an attitude of prayer which becomes the atmosphere of our daily lives, so that when we are not actively praying, we might see every moment as either filled with beauty, pervaded by the presence of the magnificently creative God, or aware of the suffering Jesus who is with His people in need of care. What St. Euphrasia teaches us is that it is our attitude which makes all the difference. She had no intention of being well-known, but rather she simply responded in humility to the One she loved. It was her love for Jesus which inflamed her love for His people to such a great extent that since her death miracles have occurred through her intercession. She has not ceased in this love, but continues to be true to God’s call from her place in Heaven with her beloved Lord Jesus. Her tomb is a pilgrimage site in India, with many claiming to have had healing through the intercession of this humble sister, now a saint.
It is important for us to recognize that (thankfully) not all saints are the same: they can be active or contemplative, religious or laypeople, of various ethnicities, and live in many different times and places. Therefore, we can all become holy, but in our own way, as we are. Our works and our prayer do have effect: the smallest thing done with love can move mountains and bring healing and joy to those who might not find it otherwise. St. Euphrasia reminds us that we have received a call from God, given uniquely at our baptism, and for most of us as it was for her, it might seem nondescript. But wouldn’t it be a wonderful return if we, too, could be a ‘praying mother, father, sister, or brother’ for someone else or for the wider world? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could put our efforts into action through works of mercy and kindness so that our lives touch those of others? It is more than just possible; it is our call as followers of Jesus Christ. Therefore, whether it is through action or prayer we can do as Jesus teaches us, which is to open our hearts “to the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind who cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:14) In doing so we will become like St. Euphrasia, responding to the Lord in humility.
May we ask for the intercession of St. Euphrasia, the Praying Mother, that we might respond as generously as she did! May we ask the Praying Mother to help our world to grow in peace which will prevail over the evil spirits of greed, hatred, rivalry, intolerance, suffering, poverty, and violence! May we respond to the graces we have been given, returning our efforts as gifts of love to Jesus! May we have a desire to grow in prayer that our eyes might be open to opportunities for kindness and mercy! And may we be moved to an attitude of prayer, conversing often with the Lord! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
(For Fr. Roy, SJ, a priest of both the Syro-Malabar Rite and the Latin Rite, and a good friend.)
NOTE: Next post will be Sept. 12
* Here are some links which are helpful in understanding the Church in India and the Syro-Malabar Rite. The rite refers to the ritual used for liturgy and includes some small differences in prayers and tradition, though basically within the Catholic Church it is the same Mass being said universally. The majority of Catholic Churches use the Latin (Roman) Rite, but there are other rites which are part of the one Catholic Church.
-About the Syro-Malabar Church: http://www.syromalabarchurch.in/syro-malabar-church.php
-About the Catholic Church in India, with a list of holy men and women: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_in_India
Here are some links to information I used in researching St. Euphrasia:
The first photo is of the Marth Mariam Syrian Catholic Church (Syro-Malabar Rite) in Kerala, India. It is found in the above Wikipedia link. I chose this because the church is located in the same area of Kerala, India, where St. Euphrasia lived as a sister.
The second image is a painting of the Praying Mother, St. Euphrasia Eluvathingal. I chose this image because it not only captured the likeness of St. Euphrasia, but in it she is holding a crucifix and her rosary, showing her to be a woman of prayer. I also liked the gentleness of her face and smile. It can be found at https://www.rejijoseph.com/product/st-euphrasia-008/
Third, is an icon called Jesus Christ Extreme Humility by Fr. William Hart McNichols. I chose this icon because it seemed to highlight the teaching of Jesus in the passage from Luke. Jesus taught about humility because He was humility incarnate. Only a magnanimous, merciful God of Love would choose to come humbly into the world and then leave it in the most humiliating of ways. Jesus lived what He taught as a perfect example for us of what it means to pour ourselves out for others. You can find this icon at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/jesus-christ-extreme-humility-036-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Next is a photo I recently took in Kenilworth Park in Washington, DC. I chose this because of the serenity and peace that the lily pond seemed to communicate. But if you look really closely, not all the lily pads are the same. It spoke to me symbolically of the saints who are not all the same. Some of the lilies even managed to put forth beautiful flowers, like a saint wrapped in the 'odor of sanctity.' Either way, they show us that although the lily pads seem nondescript, they are all capable of putting forth beautiful flowers, just as we can blossom into holiness if we cooperate with the invitation of grace.
Last is another of my photos, taken in a church in Turin, Italy. I chose this photo because the woman was a solitary pray-er; she was rapt in prayer before the altar with the icon of Mary above it, having sought a place where she could pray without distraction.
Heart Speaks to Heart