Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Witness of "Sister Cider"

Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Acclaim her for the work of her hands,
And let her deeds praise her at the city gates.
—Proverbs 31:30-31

We often fall into the trap of thinking that living the Gospel means doing extraordinary things. Certainly the experiences of so many of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East and Africa—who are witnessing to their faith in heroic ways—remind us that any one of us could be called upon at any moment to give our life for Christ, but, for most of us, our life of discipleship will be lived out in small, daily sacrifices and times of prayer.

I think that one of the great tragedies of our faith tradition is that much of the beauty of the lives of the Saints has been lost within a haze of miracles and martyrdoms. But, like each of us, these women, men, and children lived ordinary lives. What set them apart wasn’t that the majority of their actions or prayers were extraordinary—what was extra-ordinary was the integrity of their lives and the faithfulness with which they performed even the simplest tasks.

One wonderful example of this is Blessed Martha Le Bouteiller.

Born in Percy, France, on December 2, 1816, Aimee Le Bouteiller entered the newly formed Sisters of the Christian Schools. Although, as one biographer states, “she was not particularly gifted in any way,” she was healthy, willing to work, and desired to serve God with her whole heart. She received the religious habit in 1842, at which time she was given the religious name “Martha,” which would suit her very well as she began a life of service to her community and its students.

After professing her religious vows in 1844, she worked in the community’s kitchen and then began to tend the garden, especially overseeing the production and preservation of homemade cider and stored foods, earning herself the nickname “Sister Cider.” During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), the sisters sent their boarding students home and accepted wounded soldiers, who would have otherwise had little shelter or care. Sister Martha’s resourcefulness enabled the sisters to feed all those who sought their care for more than six months.

Although she entered her community during the life of its founder, Saint Marie Madeleine Postel, Sister Martha developed a close relationship with the second superior, Saint Placide Viel, whom she supported throughout years of unrest and tension within the community. Finally, after nearly forty years of quiet, humble service, Sister Martha collapsed as she was working and died a short time later on March 18, 1843. She was beatified by Saint John Paul II in 1990.
While she seemed to accomplish very little in an external sense, she is a powerful witness to the transforming and life-giving power of faith at work in daily life. Her simple, holy life reminds us that each of us, no matter how unremarkable our life might seem to be, is able to become a saint.

A prayer in honor of Blessed Martha Le Bouteiller +
O God, by whose gift Blessed Martha persevered in imitating Christ, poor and lowly, grant us through her intercession that, faithfully walking in our own vocation, we may reach the perfection you have set before us in your Son. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal)

This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and posted on their website the week of March 15, 2015.

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