In the days following the Newtown tragedy many people are applying the concept of hero to those who lived and died with dignity offering themselves for the good of others. The adults at the Sandy Hook School can certainly be labeled as a heros. We can also bestow the title of hero on those who responded: police and fire personnel, healthcare professionals and social workers, and members of the clergy and consecrated religious.
Here on Communio I want to single out the good and exemplary witness of Monsignor Robert Weiss, Father Ignacio Oritgas, Father Luke Suarez, Sister Mary Ellen Genova, CSFN and Sister M. Thaddeus Rajka, CSFN. The deacons are to be mentioned here, too. Each of them, with affection for the self lived the law of the Gift given in spirit of the family.
One can make the sobering statement that these people responded to the tragic circumstances because their job dictates such presence. To a point this true but there is a missing component in this line of thinking: the responders, including the clergy and sisters, responded in such way because there humanity reaches out ordinarily to those in need because of deep sense that people in need are part of a family.
With the presence of Sisters Mary Ellen and Thaddeus with their extended family in a time of tremendous need at the Newtown events I’ve been reading a history of the Congregation of Sisters of the Family of Nazareth
, Out of Nazareth
, by Sister M. DeChantal, CSFN. Because I was educated by the sisters of this religious group in New Haven, CT, I wanted to know more about what urged them on. In some circumstances you sort of know intuitively what makes people do what they do but there is often a deeper matter at hand that often goes unknown. The Newtown experience is one of those events where the family needed healing, love and a human and Divine presence.
Blessed Frances Siedliska (aka Mother Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd), the foundress of the order, inculcated in the women who followed the charism of the congregation a love for family life, a love of learning, especially Scripture, a love and care for the sick and the family, a love for missionary work, and a love for being rooted in prayer, especially the Liturgy. What is ties all this together for me, is a line of Sister DeChantal’s that gave me perspective of what and why Sisters Mary Ellen and Thaddeus did for the victims of the shooting, and their continued presence today, lies in that Blessed Frances understood and therefore communicated what it meant to be from Nazareth,
To avoid the purely human formulation, they [the sisters of the congregation] would have to enslave themselves to the Gospel, for it characterized the life of Christ as one of mystery and heroism, not as a life of convenience. … she [that is, Blessed Frances] concerned that they should not be missing the supernatural ingredient in their life of dedication, if they aspired to a life rich in fulfillment; she urged them to perform their services to others when they have first sought a loving union with God.
Hence, the point is not to give a panegyric or to make an apotheosis of the nuns. My point is to recognize the sign given by Grace. The early images of the responders at the Sandy Hook School gave me an awareness of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth Mary Ellen and Thaddeus is clearly rooted in what I quoted above. All of this made my heart stop for a second as I saw the unrolling of a hard reality: I became aware, the world saw, a concrete presence of love in action.
The measure of the person is how he or she uses free time and God-given gifts for others. Here the measure is a move from the natural setting of Nazareth to an equal natural setting, the street; from prayer to prayer-in-action. From Nazareth to the street is a sign of the Incarnation, a witness of hope in a time of nihilism. For me, seeing the sisters on TV and in print was an experience of love that echoed the life of the Good Shepherd. What we see here is what we all ought to live in our circumstances.
Characteristically, a Nazareth sister always has as her touchstone the Gospel because it guides the building of the Kingdom. Thank you, for the witness that the Gospel is possible to live, Sister Mary Ellen and Sister Thaddeus.
Blessed Frances Siedliska, pray for us.