Learning from Philippine, Woman of Faith

What comes to mind when you hear Philippine’s name? This question surfaced one day for us when younger members of the Indonesian region had gathered. We were delighted to learn that the Indonesian mission began when Philippine was canonized. We are blessed that Philippine, a woman of courage and faithfulness, is patron of our area.

To imagine what Philippine and her companions felt during their voyage to the New World helps us to understand that they were all woman of faith. They only saw the sea and sky. They suffered from illness; they had no appropriate food. The sea terrorized them with winds and waves. Uncertainty awaited in the new land. Philippine’s close relationship with Jesus sustained her and enabled her to live with hope during these perilous times. Her prayer, “My God, I have left all things for you,” reveals that she was a “woman who prays always” even before the Potawatomi said so.

We experience terrifying moments like hers nowadays, but in different ways. When we leave home to seek what God wants of us, we are uncertain and fearful. When everything seems uncertain, when people feel hopeless, when hatred and jealousy increase while love and forgiveness decrease, can we become a sign of hope for people around us?

Philippine shows the way. Strength for the journey of life comes from contemplation of the pierced Heart of Jesus. May the Love of the Heart of Jesus, which sustained Philippine, mold us to be holy and to be a blessing for others!

Henni Sidabungke, RSCJ, Area of Indonesia
Image: Henni Sidabungke, RSCJ

The New Frontier

"Domine, in simplicitate cordis meus laetus obtuli universa..."

After the fall of communism in Russia, Moscow became a special place of mission for RSCJ. In the time of Philippine, numbers of residents of the village of Florissant were baptized each Easter. Every year, numbers of adults, prepared by the RSCJ of Moscow, receive the sacraments of Christian initiation at Easter.

After the Revolution, France needed “workers” for a new evangelization, but the call of America was still more important to Philippine because the Indian peoples had heard nothing of the Good News of God. “Here I am!” was Philippine’s answer.

Philippine encountered many difficulties in the New World: poverty, sickness, hard work, loneliness, and corrupt ways. In all those contradictions a LIVELY FAITH was her support. This faith was expressed for her by obedience through an ongoing relationship with Sophie. It was also expressed in an honest dialogue with the clergy of Louisiana.

The fruitfulness of her labours came from her acceptance of suffering of all kinds, of humiliations and failures. Her consolation came from long hours of prayer at night before the Blessed Sacrament, where she drew new strength and peace from the Heart of Jesus. "It is less by succeeding than by putting up with setbacks, that you are destined to please me" she heard one day during prayer.

The rebirth of the Church in Russia challenges languages, cultures and many nations on the borders between Europe and Asia. We must respond as RSCJ. What are the calls of the General Chapter 2016? Let us be guided forward!

Maria Stecka, RSCJ, Province of Poland
Image: Maria Stecka, RSCJ

Grace and Grit: Mysticism and the Cross

Can a painting shout and whisper? This one does. It shouts of grace and grit; it whispers about the cross.

The starkness of the black and white habit, the angular, almost ugly face expresses the austerity that characterized Philippine. Yet there is a softness that speaks, too. I think the quality communicated is grit. Her beatification process spoke of Philippine's "severe mortification" with all that connotes of Jansenism and masochism. The woman in this painting has all the grit and determination needed to follow through on her vision yet does not seem centered on self as the Jansenist and masochist must be. All through her life she had the grit to do what needed doing no matter what the cost. It was what needed doing that called forth that self-denying strength we identify with her. The painting has a mystical quality. The almost bizarre stance of the head - simultaneously facing in and out of the bonnet - says "the 'within' and 'without' are one." It is hard to tell which way she faces. The impression is of a woman worldly-wise and other-worldly. It is not hard to imagine her as "the woman who prays always."

The painting has a subtle message about the cross. Actually, there is no cross on this habit. Where it would be, over the heart, hangs an oak leaf. Muted in color and size, this "cross" does not focus our attention. Whether the artist intended it or not, I don't know, but this treatment speaks to me. The cross is an oak leaf. In French, of course, Duchesne means "of oak." The message is that her very self was her cross - as is the case, I suspect, with most of us. There is a subtle peace about this oak leaf over her heart. There is nothing startling about there being a leaf where a cross should be. The painting whispers a message to me. Accepting a nature - with all the flaws and flamboyance we know to be Philippine's - has transformed the very core of her being into both the heart and cross of Christ.

Nance O'Neil, RSCJ, Area of Indonesia
Image: William Schickel

Truest Joy

To those of us who think we are too old to do something, we have only to look to Philippine Duchesne for inspiration. At nearly 50, she left home for Louisiana, and at 72 she trekked to Sugar Creek, Kansas, to live among the Potawatomi. When, at a certain moment, we may say, like the disciples on Mt. Tabor, “We will sit down now and do no more,” Philippine invites us to move off the mountain into the mud of life, from altitude to sea level, from Grenoble and Paris to New Orleans and St. Louis. When, amid despair and powerlessness, when language fails us, Philippine, the woman who prays always, beckons us to courage and confidence born from unceasing contemplation, as if to say, “Excuse me, but we have God’s work to do.”

Mary Hotz, RSCJ, Province of the United States - Canada
Image: Harry Webber

Toward the Unknown

One who starts out toward the unknown does not see the difficulties of the path right away because the gaze is directed in the distance. So Philippine, when she embarked on the Rebecca on March 21, 1818, and sailed toward an unknown world, was nearly fifty years old; but she had the energy of youth, the urgency to carry the Gospel to those who did not know it, and a heart full of hope. She did not yet know that often the plans of God do not coincide with ours, even though the French Revolution beforehand and the long wait afterwards had prepared her. Later, other painful events would remind her that “if the seed does not die, it will not bear fruit.” And then, alongside simple people who spoke a language incomprehensible to her, she would be only “the woman who always prays.” But along the way, she would encounter other dangerous setbacks: practical difficulties, the climate, the food, the slowness of the mail, health ever more fragile, relationships that were not easy, and finally … Mother Galitzine. In this way, the intrepid Mother Duchesne, by the way of suffering, humiliation and prayer, arrived at that fullness of the gift of self that transformed her.

I think that Philippine is great, not only for her apostolic zeal, but for the way in which she let herself be led, bent, and nearly shattered by great and small circumstances. Across the length of her long and difficult life, she always obeyed, God above all, but also superiors and religious and civil law, because she understood that the mission entrusted to her was that of “bearing witness to the love of the Heart of Jesus” by word and action, but perhaps even more by humble, silent prayer.

Rachele Gulisano, RSCJ, Province of Italy
Image: Luciana Lussiatti, RSCJ, Province of Italy

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