Vicenta Maria Lopez y Vicuna Feast Day, Washington DC
It is an honor for me to join you this Feast Day of your Foundress, Vicenta Maria Lopez y Vicuna. I am a novice in learning about your Community, though I feel, along with my Redemptorist Brothers, very close to you. As a community, you exude the spirit of your Foundress, as I have come to know her through some of the reading material Sr. Ruby shared with me. I know she is very proud of you both individually and collectively, and is present to you in a special way this day, as she is with your Community throughout the world. As I was reading about her life and her passionate love for both God and for her mission to reach out to young women to support them in their education and formation, I started to feel like I did know her, because of my relationship with you.
What beautiful scriptural texts your Community has chosen to celebrate Sr. Vicenta Maria. Chapter 4, verses 7 – 16, of John’s Gospel, capture the special intimacy John had with Jesus, Jesus with John. And we know these Gospel words encircled Vicenta with irresistible desire, for they revealed a God who chose her in love to be God’s companion in helping young women to come to know their dignity as a daughter of God. Once Vicenta became convinced, through her faithful practice of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, that God was calling her to God’s Self, and calling her to make a real difference for young women without education and formation, there was no stopping her. Her father’s objections aside, Vicenta knew she had to obey God, her Lover.
What is it about saints, that though they had to face really challenging odds and seemingly almost impossible circumstances, they refused to give up?! Vicenta Maria had such faith that she refused to let discouragement or failure or sickness keep her from reaching out to more and more young girls and women and, together with her companions, to make a real difference in their lives. When you read about the roadblocks and hurdles she had to face from the very beginning, you have to agree that she was so convinced she belonged to God that God would ultimately have God’s way in guiding her to accomplish her dream. Yes, she would say, and later journal when her plans would be thwarted, “I must accept God’s Will;” but, on the other hand, she was determined that the welfare of young women was God’s concern, so she would only pray the harder to accomplish her goals. Formed as she was by her Jesuit spiritual directors, discernment was her regular prayer practice, placing herself over and over into God’s loving hands. She was molded by its invitation to be vulnerable and supple to the promptings and direction of the Holy Spirit. She knew that prayer should be time not spent telling God what to do and how to do it, but sacred time to listen . . . and to nurture just what Jesus invites us to in this Gospel – to be friends with Him. Vicenta Maria could never have done what she did do if she wasn’t convinced she was a friend in every sense to Christ. She knew his life, death and resurrection was all about our liberation from fear and debasement. Christ’s Passion was a siren call of love -- giving and receiving, lover to lover. And she knew her intimacy with Christ drew her closer to her sister companions, drew her closer to the young girls she experienced as the very Face of God. Her friendship and love of Maria, her namesake, only drew her closer to her bridegroom, Christ Jesus.
Vicenta Maria knew there was no real distinction between her love of God and her love of her young girls in need and her love for her sister companions, let alone her love for her family. How we Christians have been able to think we can love God but not love one another is pretty shocking, considering we have such fundamental texts as these Scriptures your Community has chosen to be the revealed Word of God for Vicenta’s feast day! It’s one thing to fail from time to time in patience or forbearance or selflessness with each other, but it’s another to imagine we can profess we love God and yet show contempt and condemnation for whole groups of people, be they people of color, or people of different origin or ethnicities, or people of different religions, or people of different political parties or ideologies, or people of different gender or sexual identity and orientation.
Pope Francis has called us to be a Church today, more like Vicenta Maria, and other love-filled Saints, to reach out and provide a safe harbor for so many people who have suffered rejection and discrimination. His Encyclical Letter, “Fratelli Tutti,” is all about what we as a Society and as a Church should be doing to make real the love of God. And not surprisingly, he uses the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate, as that brilliant Story did, that we can no longer continue ignoring the too many who have been beaten up and left to waste away or die by the side of the road. “Who is my neighbor,” was answered by a woman like Vicenta – those young forlorn domestic, often overworked and underpaid, workers, who were treated not with dignity and respect, but as chattel and slaves. Girls without status and prestige, pedigree or wealth, but girls who are our sisters!
It is that same kind of all-inclusive love Francis is calling us as a Church to manifest, a calling that would resonate indeed in Vicenta Maria, as hopefully it does in her followers. No one excluded from their rightful status as daughter and son of God. No one excluded from their God-given dignity. A dignity that is not earned, a dignity that cannot be bought, a dignity that does not depend or come from the conferral of others. A dignity that determines how we care for the environment and especially how climate change is affecting the poor. A dignity that determines how developed nations, such as the United States, reaches out to other nations in need, especially now during this pandemic and the desperate need for the vaccine by the countries of Central and South America, as well as of India and Asia. A dignity that determines how we advocate for the immigrant and promote policies that help them integrate into society and maintain the unity of their family and maintain their dignity with just employment and just wages. A dignity that builds bridges between peoples and religions and nations, knowing that either we all succeed, or we all will fail. A dignity that celebrates we are all connected, and we belong to each other.
I can only imagine how Vicenta Maria would be championing the vision of Pope Francis and would be determined to put flesh on his words, to make his vision hers, and to make it real. Well, I think she is, in you, and in the thousands of young girls and women you have raised up to their rightful dignity as daughters of our Lover God. May her words of joy be echoed more and more in every land and beyond where the Religious of Mary serve, “The Girls have triumphed.” Amen
Fr. Francis Galgani (Redemptorist fathers)