Through towns and villages Jesus went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’ He said to them, ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.
‘Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!”
‘Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside. And men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.
‘Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.’
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes about corrections. Joseph De Piro has an inspiring homily on this subject. On the fifth Sunday after Pentecost of 1919 he spoke to superiors of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus about sisterly correction.
“Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to intervene” (Jas 1:19).
Your Mother General asked me to give you a talk, and while I was trying to find a theme, I was struck by these words which are found in today’s Epistle. Since I’m addressing superiors, I see in them a guide to prudence; this is a virtue that everybody needs, especially those Sisters who Divine Providence has put in charge of a community. Therefore, let us examine closely the above-mentioned text, and I will divide my talk into three parts.
“Be quick to listen …”
What is the superior supposed to hear? And listen to whom?
A superior once told herself: “If for many years I was unable to keep in check my soul for a week, how am I supposed to keep in check the souls of my subordinates, about whom I know nothing, and indeed I’m completely different from them?”. The answer she got was the following: “God will be with you”. Yes, do not get discouraged: God is undoubtedly with you; however, you must do your part, which is precisely this, listening to God’s voice that tells you what is best for your community. “Quick to listen;” you must pay great attention to listen to the voice of God.
God guides, manages and sanctifies your community through you; this means that you are duty bound to be always near to God to listen to his voice, “quick to listen.” What is a community of religious sisters all about? It is a gathering of women that God deigned to claim as his special property; in doing so he appointed them as angels on earth, and through you he will guide them and shower them with his blessings. You must listen to him; you must be attentive to listen to his voice, to discern his promptings, “quick to listen.”
Where, when and how could one listen to the voice of God? The answer is in Holy Communion. First of all, you need to be free of any sins so that you could receive the Holy Sacrament every day. After Communion, having offered your sentiments of humility and gratitude for such a magnificent gift, you are to entreat him about the Sisters that are entrusted to your care: present each one to him, and pay attention to what he says for each Sister, “quick to listen.”
Pray, and above all, meditate. The half hour meditation should be for you, superiors, as a half hour special meeting with God. He will issue his orders to his representative – or rather, his secretary. The ear of your soul must all the time be prepared to listen to his voice, “quick to listen.”
Above all, you have another means to listen to his voice: his presence. Keep your soul always a temple of God; when you cannot do meditation, when communion time has passed, do not be discouraged: meet God within your soul and confer and pray with him, and pray in a special way for the Sisters that are entrusted to your care. I’m sure you’ll be very attentive if the Lord were to speak to you, “quick to listen.” Someone might be tempted by discouragement, another by thoughts that go against her vocation or of past memories, etc. If the infernal wolf were to win over one of these souls entrusted to you, you will not be to blame.
Therefore, use all means available to discern the voice of God: Holy Communion, meditation, and the presence of God within you.
“Do not be quick to speak.”
There is no doubt that sisterly correction is a sign of love: indeed God himself affirms this through the Apostle St John: “I test and correct those whom I love” (Rev 3:19). And St Paul: “But the Lord corrects the one he loves” (Heb 12:6). The father that loves his son punishes him. Even St Augustine says: “The one who does not correct, does not guide.”
Therefore, there is no doubt that sisterly correction is an act of true charity, love; however, since this does not depend only upon the sentiments and the maternal instincts of the superior but also upon the acceptance by the subordinates, it must be done with caution. That is why we need to remind ourselves today’s warning: “do not be quick to speak.” It helps us to correct the others with charity and prudence. After all, correction always entails some pain, and therefore caution is needed to render it less painful and more fruitful and beneficial.
Choose the right time – i.e. when both you and the other Sister are calm again.
Adapt your attitude according to the Sister’s character.
Eliminate all ill feelings of antipathy.
Punish the least possible.
Encourage a lot.
By quick to forgive.
Hidden mistakes are to be tackled in private.
Do not make a fuss too often about trivial things.
Keep in mind the age and the degree of virtue of the Sister.
“Slow to intervene” (Jas 1:19).
Here is another virtue that is much needed in a superior: “Learn from me because I am meek” (Mt 11:28).
St Gregory’s advice: by remembering the offenses that Jesus suffered for us: slaps, spitting, calumnies, was made fun of, even by the clothes they put on him. He accepted all this for your love; therefore, it is reasonable that we suffer a little for him.
When we consider the offenses that we receive, let us also remember the offenses that we have given others. If our subordinates fail in something, let us remember our sins of omission.
Water extinguishes fire; similarly, the memory of our own mistakes diminishes our anger.
Hope and trust in God
This norm of prudence is good for every person; it is even more so for the superiors that are in charge of a religious community.
What could be of help to observe this norm are trust and hope in God.
Hope is a theological virtue (a) because its primary object is God, and (b) because we cannot obtain such a virtue on our own.
The secondary object is the forgiveness of sins, sanctification grace, the light that shows us the path to follow, the strengthening of our will and all the other supernatural gifts that sour us go good.
The Prophet Jeremiah says: “Blessed is the one that puts his trust in God and abandons himself totally in Him. He will be similar to a tree that is planted along the river banks; this tree, whose roots spread towards the water, does not fear the heat of summer: its leaves will always be green and will always bear fruit”. You can see how useful this trust in God is: it is a source of gifts, blessings and of an anticipated happiness in this world, a happiness that is a preparation for that that is awaiting us in the other world.
The defects that go against this virtue: the superior must be a mother and not a sovereign:
Lack of hope is likely to lead to discouragement.
Let us have a look at this scourge. When a superior, on taking office, starts to put right all things, many would say that she is a good superior, perhaps because of the novelties introduced. However, at the first conflicts, she would find herself in front of an insurmountable mountain, and totally discouraged. How do we explain this? This happens because of lack of trust in God. Trust in God was not placed from the very beginning, and this resulted in discouragement.
Let us trust in God; in doing so our fear will be transformed into courage and our weakness into strength.
Let us defend ourselves against this defect. When we feel overwhelmed by our responsibilities, let us exclaim deep in our heart: “O God come to our aid. O Lord make haste to help us” (Ps 69:2).