Ursuline President Sister Jean Anne Zappa, OSU, gave the following reflection at the Mass celebrating the feast of St. Angela Merici on January 27, 2023.
One word that seems to connect all three of the readings today is perseverance.
In the first reading, we hear of the God of compassion who is in the midst of ambiguity and uncertainty in human life and the limits in human knowledge.
Fear of the Lord in the Old Testament is really meant to be awestruck by God, to be astonished or astounded of God’s mercy; we trust and have hope because God is compassionate and merciful. We persevere because we are never forsaken. Like Sirach, Angela’s 5th counsel says, “Have faith, keep up your courage and trust in God.”
We certainly live in ambiguity and uncertain times now, be it in the church, society, or our own congregation. We see perseverance in the people of Ukraine, Peru, or on the border, who persevere for hope in the midst of their uncertainty. We see the witness of those who seek justice and never tire.
Are we able to persevere and trust as our foremothers Angela and Salesia did? There were wars, social upheaval, diseases then too, but that did not stop them. They persevered and had expansion of the mission and witness to the gospel in sacrifice and in love in the midst of war, plague and much uncertainty. Like them, we need to be encouraged by the words of Sirach.
In Colossians, Paul reminds us to persevere in the Christian life, and in relationships, reflecting that we are to live as God’s chosen ones. Paul gives us the virtues we are to strive for and how we are to exhibit them in time of uncertainty, pursuing the Christian life, not giving up, but having words of encouragement, being in touch with Gods plan.
Angela in her rule on virginity tells us how important relationships are with each other. She reminds us to be joyful, build community, be full of charity, have faith and hope, avoid grumbling or gossip. She says to be honest and persevere to live the Christian life, being gentle and compassionate and full of love. As we journey in our uncertainty and ambiguity, are we able to persevere in the life we were called, chosen to be in relationship with our faithful God, each other and all we encounter?
In the gospel, Jesus is not talking about salt as flavor but the value of salt. If we persevere, our light will shine and will have the value as salt to preserve and strengthen our resolve of our goodness and not lose heart. We have value if we put on Christ, as Paul says. We have value as we strive to live in the presence of God. We are to reflect that value to the world, not hide it. Show your gifts and share your gifts with those you encounter. Do not shy away from pursuing and reflecting God in your life, no matter what the obstacles, not matter what the uncertainty and share that light with others.
Jesus invites us to keep seeking and pursuing and letting the light shine, no matter how discouraging it may be, or what roadblocks may come into your life. We are people of faith—our call is to reflect the love of Christ to shine before all, and to reflect the fidelity of God.
I would like to share an example of perseverance in the life of Ursuline Sister Luisa Schiantarelli. Maybe you have heard of her. She is the one who pursued the canonization of St. Angela beginning in 1748 and which did not happen until 1807, five years after she died on the eve of the Feast of St. Angela, Jan. 26.
Her dad’s business failed; she lived in poverty with her mother, traveling across Europe trying to find a way to make a living. She was orphaned at 18 and her Jesuit uncle brought her to an Ursuline convent in Rome in 1738.
She was gifted in languages, so she was asked to translate some documents on Angela Merici and with that, she became interested in Angela’s life, leading her to seek canonization of Angela. However, she came across many obstacles in her quest for Angela. Despite Church regulations, funding, missing documents and various delays she never wavered or was deterred. She knew in her heart this was her call and mission.
As Sister Luisa pursued the canonization of Angela, she said she came to know the fidelity of God even in the midst of a war, sickness, financial challenges and changes of church regulations during her quest for the canonization process. She never had enough funds, but she found ways to make the canonization happen, always going back to square one and readjusting her plan. She persevered to the end.
A quote from Sister Luisa’s biography said: “Her fidelity to the mission allowed her to unite all Ursulines in the universal church, preparing the way for greater awareness and real union of heart and spirit among the daughters of Angela; an unchangeable bond to live the spirituality of Angela and the widespread evangelizing power of the gospel in the world.” A side note: Luisa was the only woman and only woman religious postulator named for the cause of a saint until recent times.
Yes, like our foremothers, we live in the midst of tensions and uncertainty; there are challenges and ambiguity, but we have a call and we know for certain that God calls us to be one with God and each other; to be a witness to those we meet, to those we walk with on the journey. Let us not lose hope.
Let us have the courage that Sirach calls for; pursuing virtue and good relationships as Paul challenges us and the inspiration of Sister Luisa to persevere and pursue what we know is of God and our call. Let us recapture the spirit of the gospel, the spirituality of St Angela. Let us recapture the widespread evangelizing power of the gospel and our charism, so as Jesus invites us, our light will shine before others that they may see the good deeds we do and glorify our gracious God. As St. Angela says, “let us persevere faithfully and joyfully in the work we have begun.”
You that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy,
do not stray lest you fall.
You that fear the Lord, trust in him,
and your reward will not be lost.
You that fear the Lord, hope for good things,
for lasting joy and mercy.
Consider the generations long past and see:
has anyone trusted in the Lord and been disappointed?
Has anyone persevered in his fear and been forsaken?
has anyone called upon him and been ignored?
For the Lord is compassionate and merciful;
forgives sins and saves in time of trouble.
Woe to timid hearts and drooping hands,
to the sinner who walks a double path!
Woe to the faint of heart! For they do not
—Sirach 2: 7-13
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
—Colossians 3: 12-17
“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
—Matthew 5:13- 16