A new phase in Maria’s life
Prepared by Sister Alexandra Eisenkratzer Rgs
(Based on talks by Sr. Gudula Busch and Dr. Claudia Kolletzki, Germany)
In 1885 help arrived unexpectedly in the person of Abbot Ildefons Schober OSB from a monastery in Austria who had come for a visitation of a Benedictine monastery near Porto. The monks had a good relationship with the sisters of the Good Shepherd. Maria invited the abbot to give a retreat.
During the following years he became her spiritual director and they corresponded frequently with each other. From their letters we have important insights in Maria’s spiritual life. She entrusted Abbot Schober with her intense, mystic encounters with Christ. Maria experienced deeply the blessings and sufferings of this special call – already as a young woman. She had thought that this was normal and would happen to all people who believe – until she became aware that nobody understood her. Maria had been deeply touched by the following words of the Gospel in Luke at the age of 15, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” (Lk. 10:27). It meant “all or nothing” for God and she received the grace for this absolute and radical way in faith. There was no room for another love.
However Abbot Schober noticed a too narrow spiritual concept coming from her strict upbringing but also from the theology of the time: her permanent feelings of unworthiness and sinfulness, her urge to suffer for the church, her exaggerated view of poverty etc. He encouraged her, “Loosen the fetters from your neck, imprisoned daughter of Zion”. His words met her soul like lightening and in the beginning she was scared of the new freedom they promised.
Maria’s health deteriorated further and she received the sacrament of the sick but she didn’t want to acknowledge the seriousness of her situation. As soon as possible she was up and running again. She travelled to Angers having been invited to the Golden Jubilee of the superior general and combined this trip with a visit to Aachen and Münster and met some of her family. At her return to Portugal many people greeted her at the station and the children were overjoyed to see her again.
“High time” in Maria’s life
Her illness progressed. From 21st July 1896 she was unable to get up by herself anymore. She was carried on a chair into the community room. It caused her agonizing pain but with her cheerfulness she would hide it. Different doctors treated her with procedures that were torture: electrical shock, glowing iron put on her back. Maria existed between life and death. In spite of her illness she did not stop to write or dictate letters and to look after the affairs of the house.
To her delight her parents and her cousin Wilhelm visited her in September 1896. Her mother remembered later that Maria was so full of fun that they laughed with her until the tears ran down their faces– but it didn’t take long until they became aware of the true state she was in.
In Porto the word was spreading that the seriously ill superior of the Good Shepherd was a saint and people prayed in churches for her recovery. More and more people knocked at the door of the convent and wanted to speak with Maria: noble and ordinary people, priests and lay people. Maria saved marriages, organized Baptisms and First Communions, looked for workplaces, found boarding schools for children, provided a young married couple with a dowry and she brought many, many priests back to the first love of their vocation. Her cousin Wilhelm said that he became a Benedictine monk because of her influence. At this time Maria experienced deep mystic visions which gave her strength – again nobody knew of these except her spiritual director.
Maria’s health continued to worsen – the diagnosis was now tuberculosis of the bones. She again received the sacrament of the sick and gave orders in the case of her death. A sister from Münster came as an assistant.
On 4th June Maria surprised her confessor with the notice, “The Lord gave me the directive to write to the Holy Father with the request to dedicate the whole of humankind to the Sacred Heart.” During her entire life Maria was passionately dedicated to the devotion of the Heart of Jesus. She saw this Heart as the light illuminating the whole world, as an ocean of love, of compassion and kindness. Maria called herself “Apostle of His Heart” – like a ‘fisherwoman’ she wanted to draw all people to Christ. Twice she wrote to Pope Leo XIII and tried to convince him to dedicate the world to the Heart of Jesus. Already for some time the Pope had in mind to open the jubilee year 1900 with a special dedication of the world. 1899 the public use of the Litany to the Sacred Heart was permitted and the 11th June proclaimed as day for the dedication of the world.
At this time Maria was totally paralyzed and her inner organs failed. Shortly after the feast of Corpus Christi she learned from the newspapers of the Papal Encyclical “Annum Sacrum” with the above announcements. The Pope had told Maria’s parents already at a private audience and congratulated them on “this chosen soul”. Maria was overjoyed and spoke with her assistant about the preparations for the Feast of the Sacred Heart which should be celebrated in the most solemn way in the convent but she did not live to be present. In the afternoon of 8th June 1899 around 3.00 pm Maria died. In the chapel the sisters began the 1st Vespers of the Tridium of the celebrations for the dedication of the world to the Heart of the Lord.
At her funeral Maria was carried like the poor – six members of noble families volunteered for this last service… it was never seen before that these lords carried a coffin through the city. It was not a custom in Porto that people would follow by foot in a procession, except for the very poor and never would women take part. However a great crowd of men and women followed her coffin carrying candles in their hands… (…this was witnessed by a priest).
Out of her uncompromising love for God and the people Maria had given everything: her homeland and family, and her own self. May she inspire us with her love of the Heart of Jesus: this heart is the centre of all centres – in Christ, God himself/herself has a heart for all people, for each one of us – it is a heart that only loves.