Dr Sr Chrislin CMC
In closely following the spiritual journey of Mother Euphrasia with a view to delving deeply into the Marian dimension of her spirituality, based on her writings- Letters and Prayers- and on her biographies, one comes across the constant and profound action of nature and grace. The foundations of her spiritual edifice are laid on the deep rooted devotions to Jesus and Mary. Accompanied by a generous ascetical life which again was supported by profound Carmelite and Indian traditions, these generated in Euphrasia a lively zeal for union with God. Enunciating the sense of human existence, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “God calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength” (CCC no.1). In the case of Mother Euphrasia, this wholehearted seeking, knowing and loving of God is facilitated through no other means than through Mary. So thorough was the role she assigns to the Virgin Mother of God in her total existence that, in turn, through Mary’s help, Euphrasia was enabled “enabled to offer [her life] everyday for Christ and to cooperate with Him in the salvation of the world” (Cf. VC, no. 28).
Mother’s presence –active, tender and maternal- is seen constantly in the ascetical and deeply spiritual journey of Mother Euphrasia, culminating in the union with God, and thus living to the full “the mysterious principle of ‘consecration through renunciation’ and ‘fulfillment through consecration.’
Marian Devotions of Mother Euphrasia: A Symbol of her Commitment to the Virgin Mother
It is very evident that Euphrasia was influenced by the contemporaneous emphasis given to the devotional practices in her spiritual life. But her devotion to the Mother Mary proceeding from her ardent faith and the loving recognition of Mary’s dignity, fostered filial affection towards her and inspired Euphrasia to take firm resolution to imitate the Virgin Mother’s virtues and fulfill her will in all (Letters, no. 25&37). She adhered to this dedication so that through her devotion to the Mother, she was able to find Jesus- her Heavenly Savior and Divine Spouse- perfectly, to love Him tenderly and to serve Him faithfully. In this way, her relationship with and imitation of Christ facilitated by her close connection with the Blessed Mother, proved to be a touch-stone of her genuine devotion to the BL. Virgin.
For a superficial reader, Mother Euphrasia – in using the titles attributed to Mary in her devotions, like ‘the Mother of God’ ‘Immaculate Mother,’ and ‘Queen’ etc., - may seem to be favouring the ‘privilege-centered Mariology’ that characterized the post- Tridentine Church. But Mother Euphrasia’s life provides a complementary picture of the Mother of God as the Mother of mercies and graces, the Mother of ‘God-with-us’ moving with community of believers, as an advocate for human beings still on their earthly journey, and hope for their final union with her son. As A. Serra points out in connection with the Biblical descriptions concerning the queenship of Mary: “In the plan of God, which includes in an eminent manner, Christ and the Virgin Mother, there is a paradox: to reign means to serve, and to serve signifies to reign”(New Dictionary on Mary, p.1195). In other words, for Euphrasia, the privileges of Mary do not exclude the fact that this Mother is the ‘handmaid of the Lord’ and of the humanity as a whole.
Mother Euphrasia continued the apostolate of prayer through various Marian devotional exercises, which point to the universal character of her apostolic life dedicated to God, because of the plurality of prayer intentions. This is very relevant in the simple form of prayer like the rosary, and ejaculatory prayers, practices of which were very dear to Euphrasia. As is stated by a Dominican nun, J. Hastings, “in a very real sense, those who pray the rosary hold the world and all it contains within the loving and life-giving presence of Christ” (Rosary:Prayer for all Seasons, 1993, p.8) and His Bl. Mother, who in turn, is constantly interceding before Jesus, the only Mediator before God (cfr. I Tim. 2, 5b). The Church, its ministers and the public came into contact with her especially through the rosary. Thus she became a ‘benefactor of all’(Paul VI, Discourse, 1964). It is a proof that her devotion to Mary is not a superficial sentimentalism, neither is it an intellectual abstraction or illuminism, but it is a generous commitment to the Mother of the Saviour her Lord. She does not offer a devotion without influence on practical life.
‘Euphrasian’ Marian Spirituality
While dealing with the Marian spirituality of this Carmelite, actually what is involved here is a move from following Mary by imitating her and moving on to deeper communion with her through identification with her. It is an entering into a profound relationship with Mary so as to walk with her in a pilgrimage of faith, hope, obedience and charity. This is, for Euphrasia, a life of union with Mary, expressing an intense Marian experience as is evident in her letters. It is equivalent to a life habitually guided in dependence on Mary, under her maternal protection. Such a relationship with Mary does not terminate with her, but necessarily tends to an ever deeper communion with Trinity. Thus Euphrasia’s filial loving conversations with Mary, her spontaneity and readiness to fulfill whatever is pleasing to Jesus and Mary, and her experiences of union with them, are reciprocated on the whole journey to profound divine union and mystical marriage. As is seen in the above exposition, her life experiences show that these trends of a very close union with Mary and service of Mary in no way detracts from God. In Euphrasia’s own words, “Mary is the way which guides me to the spiritual mountain, Jesus Christ.”(Marianjaly, p.14) Euphrasia was, in fact, reiterating the belief of the Church of her time, especially under the Pontificate of Pius X, who, affirmed that “through Mary is opened to us the surest way of knowing Christ”(ASS, 36, 1903). Again, as the Marian Pontiff John Paul II continues to assert, “Mary in fact constantly points to her Divine Son” (AAS, 87, 1995) and leads all to Him. By all means, union with Mary of a soul is a notable testimony of the corresponding concept of the function of Mary in the spiritual life.
This experience is in conformity with the Carmelite tradition, in general, where the contemplative life and the exalted experiences related to it are very frequently perceived to have Marian characteristics and where Mary is seen accompanying the Carmelite contemplatives on their journey to divine union. According to some theologians, this Marian life has its foundations primarily on the spiritual maternity of Mary (mediation) to which the soul responds in the power of the Spirit of Jesus with the sentiment of filial love: and also on Mary’s singular union with God, which works in such a way that the contemplation of Mary leads the soul necessarily to the contemplation of Him. For the Carmelites, whose main work is prayer and contemplation,(St. Teresa of Avila, Way of Perfection) this has a specific importance. In harmony with the saying of Paul VI that ‘if one wants to be a Christian one has to be Marian’ (Discourse, 1970), Euphrasia seems to put forth through her life experience with Mary that ‘to be a Carmelite one has to be Marian.’ Likewise, for the CMC sisters as whole, ‘the Servant of God Mother Euphrasia, who coined a unique spiritual path through a hidden life of prayer and sacrifice’ by faithfully following the ‘Marian voice’ in her way to God, is an exemplary figure.