A defence pronounced in 1617 by the religious sister that Benedict XVI has declared venerable
Mary Ward was born in the England of Elizabeth I, when it was difficult to be Catholic, and to fulfill her religious vocation she emigrated to Saint-Omer in France. But her attempt to practice an active life dedicated to teaching, inspired by the rule of the Jesuits, met with many difficulties. Despite her journeys to meet Popes and try to convince them, she never received their approval, even though she had already founded monasteries and schools in various countries. Today, more than four thousand religious, the British Ladies (Ladies of Mary???) , claim her as their founder. Returning from a journey in the autumn of 1617 she came to the monastery of Saint-Omer, where she found the nuns in a state of discouragement caused by a phrase that a Jesuit minister had addressed to them and she delivered a forceful speech to them – a speech which is important for all women, from which we quote excerpts.
What I say today in a general context is addressed to each of you individually: my concern is that you love the truth. If there is a discrepancy between intention and action, then there is falsehood present. Who would trust a friend or a creature, if there is duplicity between those who are involved?
When Mr. Sackville commended us and our way of life, he mentioned the fact that it has been held in high regard by perceptive people and esteemed by the cardinals of Rome as witnessed by the reverend minister who was appointed there at the time, but with the corollary "until the enthusiasm fades, and fade it will, because, on balance, these are only women."
Dear mother, I wonder if he really knows us. (...). Fervour is the desire to do all things well; it is a grace freely given to us by God, which disposes us towards him and his works, and which is quite undeserved on our part. It is true that fervour often dampens, but why? Because we are only women? Certainly not. Rather, it is because we are sinful people, and in this respect we are in no way different from the opposite sex.
For this reason the question is not that we are women, but because we are imperfect women who do not always seek the truth, but are content to live in falsehood. Veritas Domini manet in aeternum: the truth of the Lord will endures for ever. Note that this is not the truth of men, nor the truth of women, but the truth of God, and this divine truth is divided equally between both women and men. If our fervour stops, it is not because we are women, but because we do not appreciate the need to live in the truth of God (...)
Many religious women, and also men, have lost their fervour, because they have forgotten that this grace of God is given in anticipation of the future and is in fact a sign of the foreknowledge of God and his providence towards us; I am sure that you have already heard this, I know that I have heard it myself and from people much wiser than me. Since these religious sisters have failed to appreciate the favour accorded to them, they cling to consolation in prayer and the satisfaction gained from what they do for God. Originally they entered religious life with the desire to give up everything for the truth that is God, but, I repeat, they fell into the dangerous trap of placing too much trust in the feelings of comfort and pleasure. And when those consolations have receded, prayer had become difficult and God had seemingly abandoned them, they themselves thought that they had lost their fervor.
But it is a mistake to think this in way: fervour can be found in dryness and monotony, because fervour is not derived from feelings, but from a desire to do good, and women can have that desire in the same way as men. So we see that, with respect to fervour, there is no difference between the sexes. Even women can do great things for God, as we have seen from the examples of many women saints. I truly and sincerely hope that in the future women will do great things for the kingdom of God (...)
I implore you all, for God's sake, to put above all your trust and then your affection and your dependence in God only, not in your superior or this father or that other person, so that, if they were taken away, all is not lost. I'm certainly not saying that affection is a bad thing, or even a certain dependence: what I am saying is that these things can get messy and destructive. (...)
May God grant that each one understands that women, if they so desire, can also aspire to a state of perfection. I am quite sure that we could achieve great things, if only we wanted not to believe that we are incapable of doing anything because we are "only women".
I hope you can understand what I am saying about truth and can understand it well, when you have had the chance to reflect on it. It may be that some of you still do not grasp the last point, but perhaps, in time, you will come to see its importance.
I know of a father of the Society, who arrived recently in England, and of whom I have heard that he would not want to be a woman for anything in the world because he considered that women were incapable of knowing God
I could have told him the experience I have had to the contrary but I resisted and just smiled. I could have sympathized with his lack of judgment, but no, I did not want to say this; he is a man of very good judgment, I wanted to say a lack of experience. (...)
In conclusion, then, all that I have to say to you in this session is to repeat my prayer that you may love and seek the truth.
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