Divine Word Missionaries

Arnold Janssen
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MOTHER M. MICHAEL FORMATOR

Sr. M. Leticia, SSpSAP

s the Co-Foundress and first Superior General, she was the Formator, par excellence, of our fledgling Congregation, as it emerged from its primordial matrix, the Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters & subsequently, of the later growing congregation. She continues to shape the perspective of the present Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters and will certainly blaze the spiritual trail for the future Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters as long as the congregation lasts.

I mean to delineate 3 of the essential features of a formator & how Mo. M. Michael echoed/ translated them in her life by word, example and the integrity of her person.

(this is neither a treatise nor an in depth expose but simply a brief articulation of what each of you already know; it is just a matter of putting the data in a different tangent for the sake of emphasis.)

  1. A Formator is a Mistress of Life, one who molds/ fashions/ steeps her spiritual brood in the spirituality of the Founder and in the traditions of the congregation, thus empowering them to follow Christ more freely.

It is my conviction that Mo. M. Michael qualifies to be referred to as the "micro-icon" if not the icon, of St. Arnold's spiritual physiognomy, as follows: The book "Contemplation & Mission" mentions 3 levels of devotion in the spirituality of St. Arnold:

Level 1 - St. Arnold's deepest, most genuine & most operative level is recognizing & doing the will of God, Creator & Father. This implies seeking the will of God in the reality of daily life & striving to live in the presence of God.

Mother M. Michael possessed the ability to attend to the task of the present moment with tranquillity & composure because she saw even the smallest details w/in the context of God's plan. When coping with the exigencies entailed in starting new foundations, when dealing with persons of high rank & her way of handling unavoidable disappointments & failures, her trustful turning towards God & her total surrender to his holy will radiated calmness & firmness. She was heard to say again & again "what God wills" & "may God's will be done". It is no wonder that she possessed an indestructible peace for as the Imitation of Christ tells us " the perfect accomplishment of the will of God is one of the four things that brings great peace."

The will of God was the guiding star, so to speak, of her life. Come what may, she always remained at peace. "What God does is well done", she would say. Whenever she recommended a weighty matter to the prayer of the Sisters, she always added," we want to pray that God's will may be done in this matter". If severe trials or painful losses through death came to her, she at once referred it to the adorable will of God.

Level 2 - The devotion to the Holy Trinity was continuously nourished from this deepest level of living from God.

Devotion to the greatest and most sublime mystery of our religion, the Holy Trinity, held the first place in Mo. Mo. Michael's spiritual life She was wont to say," as often as we take holy water & make the sign of the Cross, say the Glory be to the Father or repeat the acts of faith, hope & charity given in the Quarter hour prayer; let us try joyfully & lovingly praise & bless the holy triune God." The doctrine of the indwelling of the holy Trinity in the soul held a special attraction for her. She often referred to it in her talks to the Sisters, telling them to regard each other as temples of the holy Spirit, living monstrances, mystical thrones on w/c the Holy Triune God dwells.

No one was more faithful to the exercise of Quarter hour prayer than she was. As soon as the clock struck, she interrupted her work or her conversation & said the prayer w/ every mark of devotion. She called it a precious legacy w/c, if rightly used, made it comparatively easy to remember the Divine Guest of the soul. The glorification of the Holy Trinity & the spread of God's Kingdom headed her prayer list.

Level 3 - His veneration of the Holy Spirit was based on the concept of the Trinity.

Mother M. Michael - as one walks up The gravel path leading to the Holy Spirit convent in Steyl, the Motherhouse of the Congregation, one sees over me main entrance a large stone carved medallion of the Holy Spirit, encircled by the words: In the shadow of your wings we dwell - symbolic of the loving veneration offered to the Spirit of Love by his cloistered servants. & tells us of the valiant woman who built this sanctuary - chapel & convent & dedicated it to the Holy Spirit.. She chose as the second motto of the congregation the liturgical aspiration - "Send forth your Spirit & she recommended the Sisters to use it frequently especially during their adoration hours. The beautiful hymn, the "Veni Creator Spiritus" is sung daily in the early morning hours in all the chapels of the congregation, sung with joyful enthusiasm as a tribute of love and gratitude to the Creator Spirit. The noon prayers begin with the sequence, "Veni Sancte Spiritus".

On Mondays, the spiritual reading for the community always dealt with the Holy Spirit & the afternoon devotions were always in his honour. Pentecost, with its preparatory novena, its celebration & its sanctifying octave, was pre-eminent among all the liturgical feasts celebrated at the Motherhouse. It was then that Mo. M. Michael was aflame with Pentecostal fire. 3 of the 9 foundations made during her term of office were dedicated to the Holy Spirit & a 4th one was dedicated under the title, Immaculate Spouse of the Holy Spirit.

Cloistered though she was, Mo. M. Michael endeavoured in a modest way to spread devotion to the divine Paraclete outside the cloister, With ecclesiastical approval, she founded the Eucharistic Mission League, its twofold purpose being to promote devotion to the Bl. Sacrament & to the Holy Spirit.

Again & again she admonished the sisters to allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit; as the Sisters went about the round of daily duty, they were to be attentive to the gentle whisperings of the Holy Spirit & faithfully follow them. She had many little sayings to enkindle the zeal of the Sisters, for example: "For a Servant of the Holy Spirit, every day should be a new Pentecost; every breath, 'come Holy Spirit'; every deed, 'send forth your Holy Spirit; & every heartbeat, Lord Jesus, send us from the father the Holy Spirit'.

On her 70th birthday, she reflected on her vocation to a congregation especially dedicated to the Holy Spirit, on the happy outcome of her difficulties & on the countless blessings that had entwined her life like a golden chain & acknowledged that she owed everything 10 the Holy Spirit.

REFLECTIONS: How steeped are we, as formators, in the charism of St. Arnold & Mo. M. Michael so that the formandi entrusted to us could imbibe (as in the process of osmosis), the precious heritage our congregation possesses, the way the spiritual daughters of Mo. M. Michael did, during her lifetime; if steeped enough, could we still improve on it? If not steeped enough, how shall we go about deepening ourselves in our spirituality? An article from the Cistercian Studies mentions the need to discover the DNA . of our charism in order to be truly, what we say we are.

  1. A Formator catalyzes spiritual growth in those entrusted to her care - by affording them space to be with their emotions & to be inwardly the same, open to them, ready to welcome them regardless of what they say. The formator's greatest responsibility is to make herself as perfect an instrument as possible through continuous kenosis so as to facilitate the work of the Holy Spirit. By remaining balanced, the formator balances the Sisters.

She did lay great stress on individual guidance. She did everything possible to understand each & every Sister, in order to be able to help each according to her individual character/ needs. Despite her manifold tasks & cares, she always showed the greatest interest in every Sister who approached her. She never considered the time lost that she spent in trying to help them. She was interested in the well being of the Sisters & always sought to do what was best for them.

Her cheerful disposition was impressive & generated a priceless family atmosphere. She practiced great patience, fortitude & perseverance in contradictions & crosses. When founding one of her convents, she encountered many difficulties but viewed them as messengers of God's grace & blessing. Come what may, she was always mistress of herself, firm & unshaken like the giant oaks. Being thus, she was a tower of strength for the Sisters.

REFLECTIONS: Although this 2nd feature of the formator comes with grace and time, it is also facilitated by the sense of compunction and repentance each time one fails, e.g. by yielding to the natural impulse rather than to holy indifference, wherein one accedes to what the Father allows at this point in time, succumbing to the cross of our Lord and experiencing the peace of the Holy Spirit.

  1. The task of a formator is not in the first place a task of teaching things. She does more by help presence than by the words she is saying. God's presence in her is the most integrating factor. The most important thing for her is not the formation of others as her union with God, for this is the first thing she gives, not by talking about it but by being balanced in the peace of the Holy Spirit. Her own prayer is the most important thing in the whole formation, not so much in the sense of being an example but that the prayer changes the formator. By what prayer does for the formator, her influence becomes a holy influence.

It was the light of the Holy Spirit obtained in prayer that guided her in the discharge of her tasks. Mo. M. Michael exercised a remarkable influence in her community. She was pleasant & unassuming, & the calm natural way in which she went about everything gave her great power over the hearts of the Sisters, It was her example that attracted them. Her religious life was joyful & resolute, solid & steadfast that she drew the Sisters after her. They strove to improve their own personality, to develop their God-given talents as she had done. When it was a question of God's glory, she did not hesitate to undertake difficult things despite obstacles, to bring them to a successful issue. Her perfect fidelity to every duty, even the smallest, did not come naturally but had to be won, until it became a golden thread running through the common places of her daily life,

Hopefully, from this brief sharing, even if it meant only scratching the surface of the depth & breadth of Mo. M. Michael's spiritual inscape or lineament, we had a glimpse of how she effectuated the spirit she assimilated from our Founder and embellished it with her own exuberance.

REFLECTIONS: does our prayer change our perspectives/ attitudes toward God, our Sisters/ formandii, situations / things?