BL. EUPHRASIA: A WOMAN OF GOD
Dr Sr Maria Anto CMC
For the Church in India, it is a season of grace, a season of divine favour. The announcement of the date for the canonization of Bl. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the founder father of both CMI and CMC Congregations, the first two indigenous Congregations for men and women respectively in the Syro Malabar Church and Bl. Euphrasia, a holy nun hails from CMC who followed rightly the Charism given to the Congregation, brings delight for the Church in India, especially the Syro Malabar Church the second largest Church of the Oriental Rite. Yes, the Church in India prepares herself to receive her 2nd and 3rd canonized saints who belong to the great Carmelite order which is renowned in the universal Church in giving birth to saints both well-known and simple. The thirst for God, the longing to see God is part of Carmelite tradition. Bl. Euphrasia cherished and possessed this heritage of Carmel. Her call to Carmel was to line up along with the heavenly indwellers to intercede constantly for the people of God on earth. “God has called me not to live a good life, but to live a most virtuous life like that of a saint” (cf. Letters of Bl. Euphrasia, page 373). This was one of the life convictions of Bl. Euphrasia. Now when the Holy Father Pope Francis announces the date of her canonization, she directly proves that she lived up to her life conviction. Even though Euphrasia desired to become an unknown saint like St. Therese of Lissieux, she became a known one, a canonized saint, a bliss showered on few holy people. Being the first CMC saint she challenges CMC sisters to be faithful in living the charism which in nutshell is to become saints and to help others to lead saintly life.
A Brief Sketch of Life
The blessed birth day of Mother Euphrasia is on 17th October 1877. Kattur – a small village of Trichur district of Kerala – was fortunate to receive at its lap this holy child named Rosa. The parents of Rosa, Elavathungal Antony and Chalissery Kunjethy were practising Christians. Apart from Rosa they were blessed with three sons and a daughter named Kochuthresia. The providence of God did not allow Kochuthresia to be on earth a long time. Her untimely death shocked the entire family.
The material riches and fortunes of the family could not give satisfaction to the little heart of Rosa. From childhood onwards she longed for God, as a patch weary land thirsts for the water. Nothing could turn her away from this God orientedness. Her longing for God was so strong that at the age of nine she could freely offer her virginity to God Almighty. As history witnesses all the ‘stubborn’ efforts of her father to change her heart was in vain and at the end Elavathungal Antony bent his head and knees in front of the divine providence. With a weeping heart he gave permission to Rosa to embrace religious life. Thus at the age of 11 Rosa was brought to the boarding at Koonammavu which was started in 1868 then called Educumdath.
St. Teresa’s convent at Koonammavu is the first indigenous convent (Congregation) founded by Bl. Kuriakose Elias Chavara with the help of an Italian Carmelite Missionary Rev. Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD on 13th February 1866 with the intention of being an ‘Abode of Virtues’ for the girls of Malabar. The first members of this Congregation were servant of God Vakayil Eliswa, her daughter Vakayil Anna, Eliswa’s sister Vyppissery Thresia and Puthanagady Clara. Except the last, the other three members hailed from the Latin Rite. The founding of a Congregation beyond the boundaries of Rites recall the wide hearts of the founding fathers who aimed the good of the Church, the people of God. 24 years the convent at Koonammavu accepted all girls who wished to lead virtuous life and desired to learn languages and handicrafts. In 1887 two Vicariates were formed (Thissur and Kottayam) for the Syrian Catholics and thus they were separated from the Latin Vicariate of Verapoly. As a result the convent at Koonammavu came under the Vicariate of Trichur and the sisters belonged to the Latin Rite were taken away to Verapoly in 1890. A second division of the Syrian Vicariates took place in 1896 establishing three Vicariates namely Changanassery, Ernakulam and Trichur and Koonammavu convent came under the jurisdiction of Ernakulam Vicariate. Bishop John Menachery the first native bishop of Trichur had taken all the inmates of Koonammavu convent who belonged to that Vicariate to Ambazhakadu. Thus including Rosa 9 Aspirants, 3 novices and a few boarding girls along with Sr. Beatrice went to the Vicariate of Trichur on 9 May 1897. The very next day, receiving the headdress these 9 aspirants entered in the next stage of religious formation called postulancy. On that day Rosa received her new religious name ‘Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus’. On 10 January 1898 she had her vestition and first profession. After three years of life at Ambazhakkad along with others Sr. Euphrasia was transferred to the newly built convent at Ollur and took her perpetual profession on 24 May 1900. She spent her consecrated life doing humble services lovingly. The services which she rendered in the convent include Assistant superior, Novice mistress (1904 – 1910) and Superior (1913 – 1916). Rest of her life Euphrasia was leading as she wished always a hidden holy life, known only to heavenly indwellers and from there she was uprooted to be planted in heaven which was her sole aim in life. On 29 August 1952 the choirs angels sang happy birthday to her in heaven. Last 62 years unceasingly she showered and still showers flowers of graces to this valley of tears.
The Prophetic Order of Bp. John Menachery
It was only the providence of God that brought to light the hidden spirit filled, mystical life and humble services of Bl. Euphrasia. For this God chose the instrumentality of Bp. John Menachery. Thus it happened: Little Rosa’s life at Koonammavu was shaken by serious illnesses. When one after another she was attacked by these deceases, even the sisters had thought of sending her back to home. Hearing her prayers in tears, the Holy Family blessed her with a miraculous vision. Sr. Anjes of Jesus, the superior of St. Teresa’s convent at Koonammavu wrote all the details of this vision and sent it to bishop John Menacherry. Thus she concluded the letter: “After this vision these I wrote down from this child’s heart. Before this event happened, it had been decided to send away this child without allowing her to join the convent. Because of this event and the child’s modesty, piety and order, etc., only later decided to receive” (cf. Mother Euphrasia Letters, page 373). Bishop John Menachery considered this letter seriously by the grace of God and ordered Rosa to write to the bishop directly the state of her spiritual life. As history proves it was indeed a prophetic order. As a result today the Church is blessed to have 80 letters of Bl. Euphrasia which disclose well her deep and high spirituality and mystical experiences. Her letters are so simple but mystical. They recall how she enjoyed the daily routine life inside the convents. Her continuous request to destroy them soon after reading was unheard by the bishop by the special grace of God. Thanks be to God, therefore we could pierce into her inner world where she enjoyed the heavenly bliss along with heavenly beings. From these letters one can easily trace out that her crystal clear soul always was in union with God; her constant fight against evil powers found its result then and there and such fight enabled her to fly up above in saintly life.
A Contemplative cum Mystic
Mother Euphrasia was indeed a contemplative and a mystic. The inner disposition of her soul, the profundity of her spiritual life can be read out clearly from her letters. Her closeness to Jesus and Mary, her devotion and love towards the Blessed Sacrament, her constant fight against the evil powers, her ‘blind’ commitment to fulfill the divine will through whatever channels it might come and above all her virtuous life were stepping stones for her heavenly visions and mystical experiences. As a Carmelite her dedication to be always in the living presence of God, to ponder over the Word of God and to contemplate the eternal love of God and thus to reach up to the seventh mansion where the mystical union takes place were found its fruits very soon. Along with the great mystics of Carmel St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of Cross, Euphrasia can also be counted. Those who go through her spiritual letters once or twice will not be able to grasp the depth of her God experience. She was really a woman of God who was conversing constantly with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Choirs of Angels. The richness of these heavenly experiences did not take her away from doing selfless services to all those who are in need.
Custodian of the Tabernacle
It is just and right indeed to call Euphrasia as the keeper of the Tabernacle. Her presence in the Chapel was so regular and constant. Whenever she gets time she would be in and around the Chapel. Therefore it was easy for the sisters to trace her out when an emergency comes. Like Mary the sister of Martha in the Gospel of Luke, Euphrasia tried to choose the better part which cannot be taken away from her (Lk. 10: ). Some of the letters underline the loving whisperings that she heard from the Eucharistic Lord. Since most of the time she spent in front of the tabernacle, she was called as ‘the keeper of the Tabernacle’ and ‘the praying mother’.
A Lover of the Sacred Heart
The devotion of Bl. Euphrasia to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was unfathomable. Receiving the new religious name as ‘Euphrasia of Sacred Heart of Jesus’ itself enabled her to love the Sacred Heart ardently. As her future life showed, her existence itself was unthinkable without the constant loving dedication to the Sacred Heart. Her life was totally guided by the Sacred Heart whose presence gave her joy and peace of mind. Revelations of Sacred heart is one of the main themes in her Letters. When she became the superior of St. Mary’s convent at Ollur, the first thing she did was to keep the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the centre of the community room saying Sacred Heart of Jesus is having the sole authority. This reminds us the action of St. Teresa of Avila in 16th century when she became the superior of the incarnation convent at Avila in Spain. On the chair of the superior, St. Teresa kept the statue of Mother of Carmel and said to her sisters that it is not she but the mother of God is their superior. If mother of God is the superior the sisters can expect only good things from her. Following the example of this holy grandma of Carmel, Bl. Euphrasia’s sought the special grace of the Sacred Heart to fulfill the entrusted duty of the superior.
A Woman for the People of God
Being a woman of God never forced her to turn away from the people of God. How closely she related to God, with the same intensity she could dedicate herself for the people especially for the poor and downtrodden. Among those who approached her for help, no one had gone with heavy heart. She could console them with the grace of God. Poor people and children enjoyed special graces through her prayer and help. The girls and women who worked in the convent compound were always at very dear to Bl. Euphrasia and she paid keen attention in fulfilling their needs. She never allowed them to shed tears. Thus she lived really the spirit and enthusiasm of her founder father Bl. Kuriakose Chavara who always kept a soft corner towards the poor and needy.
Bl. Euphrasia, a woman of God stands as a ‘threat’ to the contemporary consumerist global community. Her sheer simplicity, prayerful life, visions, mystical experiences and unselfish dedication are challenges to the current world where for majority God oriented life is incomprehensible. So too her attitude towards the poor and downtrodden is unimaginable to the present world which under the title of ‘global village’ defrauds the poor and makes the rich, richer. In other words, Bl. Euphrasia indeed is a question mark for today’s world where materialism, power and money take the lead. Without changing its outlook, contemporary web world will feel uneasiness in front of this great but simple saint.