Mother Mary Joseph on August 4, 1930, gave her first reflective formulation on the "Maryknoll Spirit," which was a key to all her later reflections on its meaning. We share some excerpts from this conference:
"As one lamp lights another nor grows less, so nobleness enkindles nobleness."
From the Poem Yussouf by James Russell Lowell
We can easily see the meaning of these words. We know that if we take a candle and light another one, the light of the first does not lessen, rather it gives light to the second one. And so it is with us, with our virtues. Kindness begets kindness and charity begets charity, and the first act does not grow less, rather has it increased. If we could only be conscious that every act of kindness will beget another act of kindness, and an act of charity will bring another act of charity, how little trouble we would have in life.
Now all of this applies to our life as Maryknoll Sisters and the spirit of our congregation depends very much upon the application of those very words, "as one lamp lights another nor grows less, so nobleness enkindles nobleness." We know every community has its own distinctive spirit, and we hear a great deal about the "Maryknoll Spirit." Those of us who have been here from the beginning have seen people come to Maryknoll, who had in mind that they would see something here that had been very much exaggerated, that a lot of the talk they had heard about Maryknoll was really publicity.
But thanks to God, like the scoffer who went to church to laugh and remained to pray, so many who have come prepared to be indulgently kind to Maryknoll, have remained and gone away admiring the special gift of God to us, which is our spirit. A spirit is something that is intangible and it is hard to describe. Now what is the "Maryknoll Spirit?"
I only know that I like to feel that people see in us real simplicity, that guilelessness of which Jesus spoke when He saw Nathaniel approach Him, "Behold a person without guile" - no subterfuge, no hypocrisy.
I like to feel that people see reflected in our eyes the charity of Christ, and on our lips the words that speak of the charity of Christ; that they find our ears filled with the charity of Christ and closed to gossip and scandal, but ever sympathetic to the grief and sorrows of others.
I like to feel that they see in us the spirit of mutual love and tenderness which certainly existed in the early ages of the Church when the non-Christians said, "See how they love one another."
We have tried from the beginning to cultivate a spirit which is extremely difficult and which for a long time might have been misunderstood even by those who were nearest to us. That spirit is the retention of our own natural dispositions, the retention of our own individuality, having in mind of course that all of these things need to be corrected where radically wrong, and all of them super-naturalized. I say it is a most difficult spirit that we have chosen for ourselves.
After all, it is not so difficult to settle upon a particular type which you would wish your Sisters to resemble, marking out certain observances, certain postures, certain poses, and you can cut every Sister out according to a pattern or, rather, you can pour her into a mold and have her turn out marked with the outlines desired. But for us, that sort of development will hardly do.
We expect to go out and live among those who may be suspicious of us, who may not like us, who may respect us only when we have proven our virtue, our sincerity and our usefulness to them. And for this we need all our individuality, all our generosity, all our graciousness and simplicity, all our powers of gentle persuasiveness. In fact, we need all of the things which the good God has given to us.
And each one of us, in her own work, with her own particular attractiveness, is to be used by God as a particular tool to do a particular work and to be present to particular people. How sincerely then should we lend ourselves to this sanctifying of our own natural qualities, and how easy it is to explain it to others when we ourselves understand it.
Now what are some of the qualities that our experience tells us are necessary to fulfill our Maryknoll vocation? What should we be if we are going to make those about us happy? It is a good thing to keep in mind the word "others." How do I affect others, what can I do for others, how can I help others, how can I see the grief of others? Think always of others and you will not have time to think of yourself. You will come upon one of the necessary characteristics ~ generosity.
There can be no Maryknoll Sister, no missionary worthy of the name, that is not heroically generous, generous to the very last inch of her being, generous in the giving of her time, of her talents, generous in her thoughts, generous in every possible phase of life.
I share a passage from a letter which one of our Sisters wrote: As yet I have suffered no ill effect from the climate. There is only one fever I dread, the S.P., or self-pity bacillus. From my short mission experience, I have become conscious that self-pity and lack of generosity are the most destructive germs that can enter a missioner's soul.
The longer you live,
the more is your generosity
going to be called upon.
Mother Mary Joseph - 1930
Try to make it a rule that in all things, which are not of vital importance, that you yield. You know it takes strength to yield. Of course if you yield just for the sake of avoiding a scene where there is a matter of justice involved, then you are wrong, but in other matters always be the one who is ready to yield to another. How much happiness it will give you! It is like oil in a machine; things will run so much smoother if you keep this in mind.
There is another trait which I think is most important for a missioner, almost a sister- virtue to cooperation, and we call it adaptability. Adaptability is that power of creating anywhere that we may be sent the feeling of fitting in, and of attempting anything which you are asked to do. You will always find that you are going to be moved about from this work to that, from one house to another, from one room to another. It just seems to be part of our life.
If we allow ourselves to go on inwardly rebelling against these changes, inwardly wishing that this might not be so, boiling, seething inside, then we are going to ruin our minds as well as our bodies. We need to train ourselves to go up or down, in or out, with this person or that, in any work whatsoever and still try to the very best of our ability to accept these changes.
If we school ourselves
in the way of the "Maryknoll Spirit,"
God can work miracles
through our hands.
Mother Mary Joseph - 1930
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Excerpts from "Hearts on Fire,"
Centenary Edition, Orbis Books, 2012:
One hundred years ago, the small band of women who came to Hawthorne, NY, dreamed with audacious hope of spreading, preaching, and witnessing to the mission of Jesus to the ends of the earth. They created a life in community that utterly relied on God's providence. That hope, in the loving providence of God, gained depth, courage, and meaning with the realization that the world they vowed to serve also called for an ongoing conversion and transformation.
Over the years we, Maryknoll Sisters, have immersed ourselves in cultures and with peoples, governments and geography totally different from our own. We have also continued to experience a God who is always with us, and the awesome surprise that God also waits for us in these landscapes of life into which we are sent. Again and again, we encounter other dreamers in search of the sacred and the quest for meaning. On this road, we join our sisters and brothers on a pilgrimage to engage in God's emerging dream through Jesus.
Today we are ready to begin our second century of mission with nearly 500 Maryknoll Sisters already in position in and for a globalized world. We have been blessed and hold promise for our church and world! We welcome the future, nurtured by the past. The fire and passion for mission continues to burn steadily within our hearts, lit long ago deep in our souls. So we recall a blessing by our Founder, Mother Mary Joseph, some 75 years ago on our 25th Anniversary, January 6, 1937:
And so tonight I thought we would drink a little toast to our past, particularly in thanksgiving for all that God has given to us—to the blessed memories of the past, whether painful or pleasant ones—and to our future, to hope that God's blessings will rest upon us and that each and every one of us, individuals, and we, as a Community, will correspond fully to the graces that God will give us.
Janice McLaughlin, M.M., ends "Hearts on Fire" with the words:
Our 100 years have taught us the incredible diversity and richness of cultures and the need to preserve them from extinction. It has also taught us that the message of Jesus is as relevant as ever. In the words of our Founder, Mother Mary Joseph:
"The dominant factor in our lives is love, love of God and love of neighbor."
She described our spirit as being
"a reflection of the love of God."
Our numbers are fewer and our nationalities more varied but we seek to be faithful to her vision and we look forward to the future with hope. Our Founder's words to one of the pioneer women sum up the attitude that will usher us into the next 100 years:
"Let's just go together and see
what God has in store for us!"
Mollie Rogers (MMJ) to Margaret Shea
(Sr. Gemma) in 1912
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A Pause for Reflection
Let us give ourselves to grateful prayer for the Gift of Maryknoll.
For we are blessed by God's Spirit and empowered by MMJ and companions willing to walk uncharted paths into the future!
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The above Reflections were adapted fromTo the Uttermost Parts of the Earth by Camilla Kennedy, MM; and Hearts on Fire, Centenary Edition, by Penny Lernoux, pp. 290-291, 301
Maryknoll Contemplative Community and the SistersCentennial Retreats-Reflection Committee