Gift of Self

“On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

In these final days of the Christmas Season we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany.  When looking at the persons of the Magi, what do we see?  We see searching, an encounter, an act of worship and an offering of gifts.  The Lord places in our heart a desire to search for Him, to know Him, to be in relationship with Him.  We know that our desires are not in vain, but that He longs to fulfill them with the gift of Himself.  Pope Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical Spe Salvi, “God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.”

As we begin a New Year of our Lord, it is fitting to recall all the blessings of the year gone past, and inevitably, our hearts are filled with gratitude and joy for the gifts extravagantly poured out on us by our Provident Father.  The Sisters of Life live completely on the generosity of our benefactors!  Our material poverty calls upon the generosity of others to make gifts of themselves and our spiritual poverty calls upon the Lord to radiate from within us to touch others.  The Lord raises up an army of people that support our consecrated life and apostolic work.  Their gift of self makes possible our gift of self– everything from the roof over our heads, the heat coming from the radiators, the food on our plates and the cars we drive are all provided for by our benefactors, who are lifted up in the prayers of the Sisters everyday.  Although we are grateful to our benefactors all year round, in the month of December we are able to tangibly express our thanks through an Advent Afternoon at a church in Manhattan every year.  This year Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, celebrated the Mass for our friends and benefactors at St. Paul the Apostle church.  The church was packed, with over 800 attending, and afterwards all were invited to the undercroft for refreshments and conversations with old friends and new faces.  To close out the afternoon, Mother Agnes gave a reflection on the value of ‘waiting’ during the Advent Season, and the need for silence to enter into the gift and mystery of God who makes Himself a gift for us.  With so much competing noise in our culture, she encouraged each to take a day of recollection, with Sacred Scripture, to prepare the way of the Lord.  At the end of the reflection the Sisters handed out taper candles, and in the darkness of the undercroft, with the warm glow of light coming from each small candle, we gathered around the Advent wreath singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” to hasten the coming of the Lord.

On Dec. 13th we hosted the Fiesta Guadalupe at Villa Maria Guadalupe, which definitely earned its title FIESTA! We began with Holy Mass, then we reenacted Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay, with a LIVE nativity- Mary, Joseph, a donkey, sheep and extra animals for the children (pony, bunnies, ducks, goats, and chickens!), a piñata breaking, mariachi band, and delicious Mexican food (I quickly learned that “caliente” means spicy!!!).  It was a great day for families!

Later that evening at our convent in Midtown Manhattan, we had our annual Christmas party for all the guests and their children that ever lived with us at Sacred Heart of Jesus, our holy respite for pregnant women.  More than any other convent, Sacred Heart of Jesus is where we witness first hand the heroic acts of self-sacrificial love and a generous gift of self each of our guests live daily as they welcome this new life entrusted to them.  With food, laughter, song and gifts for each guest and child, it was a joy to have them back once again with us and to experience the goodness and beauty of every person whom we have been privileged to welcome through the doors of Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent.

Dec. 19th our Visitation Mission in service to vulnerable pregnant women, hosted a Christmas party inviting over 500 women that we served this past year.  In the midst of a raging blizzard, around 150 women and their children attended one of the most amazing Christmas parties ever.  Looking out at the beautiful faces of children ranging from a newborn baby weighing 4 pounds, to a 9 year old boy, and knowing that God became a little child for us, we can’t help but marvel at the vulnerability of God. “On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11) He makes Himself a gift to us so we won’t be afraid to make a gift of ourselves.  A wise man once said, “What you are is a gift from God, what you have become is a gift back to Him.” What does that mean for you?  What treasures will you break open before the King of kings?  What kind of gift is God calling you to be for Him and for the world?  As we enter into this New Year of our Lord, we pray that our hearts be disposed to receive the gifts He desires to pour out on us, especially the Gift of Himself, so that we may become more fully the gifts we have been created to be for God and for others.

A word from our Founder John Cardinal O’Connor:
“I would suggest for all in the pro-life movement that particular painting that is called “The Madonna of the Streets” by the Italian artist Roberto Feruzzi.  It is a remarkable painting.  It’s of a woman with a yellow and blue shawl, a peasant’s veil.  She is holding the most beautiful baby you can imagine.  She is called “The Madonna of the Streets” because of the mistaken notion that this was a painting of Mary (the baby which the woman in the painting is holding is obviously the Christ Child).  This story is fascinating.  This was a diptych; half of it has been lost.  The story that the diptych intended to portray was that a woman of the streets who had just given birth to a child was looking frantically for some one, for some place to take care of the child.  She roams the city streets.  She turns a corner and there she meets a woman who is, of course, Mary carrying the gorgeous Christ Child.  She holds her child out to Mary and in turn Mary gives her the Christ Child.  The point of this story is that by the very fact that the woman is now holding the Christ Child she is transformed so that she sees herself as the madonna, hence the title “Madonna of the Streets”.  This is what Christ does to us.  The Eucharistic Christ; the Christ that we carry beneath our hearts.  The Christ that we receive from Mary.” (Jan. 10, 1990)