Some Lessons from the life of Blessed Mariam Thresia – Br. Osmond Kudoloh, Archdiocese of Accra, Ghana, AfricaThis write up is an attempt aimed at bringing to the fore one or two lessons I have drawn after reading about Bl.Mariam Thresia. It must be clear to all who will read this that I do not consider myself worthy to write about such a pious person of the Christian or specially of the catholic faith. When I was reading the biography of Mariam Thresia it came to a point that I almost shed tears due to the torments and pains she went through. Despite this, I was happy and consoled by the fact that she was able to endure and subsequently triumphed over the many tortures that came her way. The life of Thresia was dominated by trials, temptations, obedience, concern for others, unwavering hope, faith and trust in God. St. Paul in Romans 8:35 enumerated a lot of things which are likely to come between us and our Saviour Jesus Christ. These things which Paul mentioned are very big obstacles to the growth of the Christian spitrituality. Though Thresia experienced so many trials and tribulations, she still remained faithful and focussed on Christ. Her success in enduring the trials could be attributed to the grace of God and her personal efforts. Bl. Mariam Thresia exercised a great sense of fortitude and resilience in the face of adversities.
In her difficulties she was consoled by the Holy Family Jesus Mary and Joseph, some saints like Theresa of Avila as well as support and comfort from her spiritual director and her family members. If she were not prayerful, humble and dedicated, she would have been broken by the attacks from the devil. Determination pays and for us Christians we must always be focused on the goal no matter the circumstances. Apart from the attacks from the devil, she also practiced some form of self mortification geared towards strengthening the soul and controlling the demands of the flesh. If we want to grow in spirit we must be ready to do penance and self mortification.
Another important thing about the life of Bl. Mariam Thresia is her love for neighbours. Sometimes we find it very difficult to practice the gospel values especially love of neighbour. Thresia was concerned not only with the love of neighbour but how to bring comfort and relief to the neighbour. On several occasions she would move to people’s aid no matter the time of the day though sometimes she would be exhausted and weak. When a vision came to her about a neighbour who was sick, in purgatory or on the verge of death, she never hesitated. She would rise and visit those who are sick and those on the point of death and comfort, pray and prepare them to face death. Love of neighbour goes beyond giving of gift to them as exhibited by Thresia. Bl. Mariam Thresia offers us an example and importance of obedience. At a point in life we will have to be under the leadership and authority of somebody. This might not seem pleasant to us but all the same it is vital for us as followers of Christ. Bl. Mariam Thresia was obedient first to God and then to her spiritual director. If she had not obeyed God and her spiritual director and gone to pursue her own agenda or lived according to her own personal dictates she would not have been successful in her endeavors.
Finally Bl.Mariam Thresia depended solely on the body and blood of Christ for survival. She frequented the Church to attend Mass and receive the body and blood of Christ. If she was unable to attend Mass, God sent messengers to bring the body of Christ to her. If we wish to be numbered among the saints one day, the life of Bl. Mariam Thresia is an example for us to follow.
The Foundress and the Co-Founder – Chev. Joseph VithayathilThe article was written by the late Chev. Joseph Vithayathil in 1982. He describes how he met Rev. Mother Mariam Thresia when she came on a visit to his house. He was tremendously influenced by the heroine’s sanctity in which he had absolute faith. In this article he gives us his impressions of Rev. Mother and also of her relationship with her spiritual father, Rev. Father Joseph Vithayathil :-
It was about seventy years ago that I saw Mariam Thresia when she came to our house for help to put up a prayer house for herself and her associates at Puthenchira. Although not a nun then she was called “Mankidian Kanniastry (nun).” She looked a very Plain woman – rather dark in colur and with features in no way attractive, modest in dress and in speech she passed for an ordinary country woman. Many strange stories were being told about her mystical experiences, scourging by unseen hands, being huddled up in the attic of the house or nailed on the wall, about her stigmata and the bleeding of the heart. These happenings were differently interpreted by different people. Some said that these were pranks of the devil who had possessed her.
They did not believe in her sanctity and contended that her external acts of piety were mere pretentions calculated to deceive people. Others regarded her, a saint and interpreted these happenings as acts of molestation by the devil who tried to wean her away from God. She was indeed a controversial figure at the time I saw her. That the stories about her mystical experiences were true is out by tangible evidences. When she came to the house of father Joseph Vithayathil, her spiritual director at Kongorpilly, She had this experiences and her blood – stained jacket is still preserved in that house. A similar occurrence took place when she went to her mother’s house at Thuravoor where also her blood – stained jacket is kept. Such a jacket is preserved in Kuzhikkattussery Covent also. But these mystical experiences by themselves do not prove her sanctity. They can be explained away otherwise. The Bishop himself did not attach much value to these happenings and looked upon her with suspicion.
The one person who stood by her and was her main support was her spiritual Director, Father Joseph Vithayathil. He knew her intimately and had complete faith in her sanctity. The life of Mother Mariam Thresia is closely connected with the life of this saintly priest. In all her difficulties she sought his advice and always acted according to his directions. When she was tortured by the devil he comforted her and strengthened her faith. As directed by him she narrated to him all that happened. And she used to write down everything in a note book in her own hand. I had the privilege of reading it. Whatever explanations one may give to the strange happenings recorded in that note book it cannot be doubted for a moment, for it contains a true version of what Mariam Thresia told him soon after the occurrences and what he observed.
We can appreciate the meaning and significance of these mysterious happenings only when we know deeply religious Mother Mariam Thresia was and how devoted she was in her service of God she spent long hours in prayer at home and in the Church. Her devotion to our Lord, in the Blessed Sacrament, the fervor with which she received him everyday, her meditation on the passion of our Lord, the acts of mortification and penance she practiced, her daily visit to the poor and the sick, her readiness to undergo any sacrifice for helping others, particularly for converting sinners, the patience with which she endured the troubles in her family and the scandals of her detractors and her deep humanity bear ample testimony to her extra –ordinary sanctity. The reasonable explanations for the mysterious happenings about Mariam Thresia recorded by Fr. Vithayathil is that she was made to pass through an ordeal for perfecting her religious life and for preparing herself for the great task God had ordained for her, that is the founding of a religious congregation.
The sudden change in the attitude of the Bishop towards her, the extra – ordinary manner in which the congregation was founded, the wonderful progress it made in a very short time, the great number of favours obtained by those who sought her intercession during her life time and after her death, all go to show that she was one closely united to God and was used by God as his instrument to fulfill a particular mission.
The founding of the congregation of the Holy Family, the construction of Mother House at Kuzhikattussery and the establishment of some of the early houses of the congregation were the result of the joint endeavours of Mother Mariam Thresia and Fr. Vithayathil and after the death of Mother Mariam Thresia in 1926. Fr. Vithayathil continued the work of founding new houses and starting new educational and charitable institutions and mission centers. Before his death in 1964 when he was nearing the age of 100 years, he had the satisfaction of seeing the new congregation making marvelous progress, both in the number of institutions and houses. Imbued with the spirit of their Holy Foundress the Holy Family sisters are now working for the glory of God in different parts of India and even outside India. From 1914 when the congregation was founded till 1964 when he died Father Joseph worked for the congregation. In a sense he is the co-founder of the Congregation. He was the spiritual Director of Mother Mariam Thresia from 1902 and continued as such till her death. He had a great part to play in the formation of her religious life. It may not be an accident that he died on the 8th of June, the day on which Mother Mariam Thresia also died. They are both buried in the chapel of Mother House at Kuzhikkattussery and their tombs remind the visitors of the lives of the two great souls who worked jointly for the fulfillment of the divine mission.
Mother Mariam Thresia was a humble illiterate woman and father Vithayathil was an ordinary priest with no special abilities of his own. Why did God choose these two people as his instruments for founding a religious congregation? The same question may be asked about the choosing of poor illiterate fisherman by Christ as his apostles. Why was an ordinary woman chosen as the mother of our Lord and a humble carpenter as His foster – father? For answering these questions, one must have a clear idea of what man is in relation to God. All that we are and all that we have are merely gifts of God given to us in various degrees like the talents in the parable of our Lord. The more the gifts the greater will be the responsibility. It matters not what part you play in the drama whether of the printer or the clown. What matters is how you play this part that is allotted to you – how you make use of the gifts God had bestowed on you. You have got the freedom to use these gifts either for the glory of God or for your selfish ends. When you use them entirely for God’s glory by surrendering yourself to Him you become His instrument and He works through you. To have this attitude towards God one should have unquestioning faith in him and true humility of heart. It is such people that are chosen by God to spread His Kingdom in this world. Both Mother Mariam Thresia and Father Vithayathil had these virtues in an abundant measure. Therefore they were able to achieve what others, more learned and gifted, could not. This is the lesson we learn from the lives of these two servants of God.