October 23, 1997

[This letter in English]
[Dieser Brief auf deutsch]
[Esta carta en español]


October 23, 1997
Our Lady of Holy Hope

Dear Friend of Saint Joseph Abbey,

Consider that I have set before thee this day life and good, and on the other hand death and evil... I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life... (Dt 30: 15-19).

The Lord has placed us before the way of life and the way of death (Jr 21: 8). Jesus Christ reminds us of this in the Gospel when He affirms that there are only two ways: the one which leads to eternal life, and the other to destruction (cf. Mt 7: 13). This teaching of the two ways remains ever present in the catechesis of the Church. It is a call to the responsability incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CCC, 1696, 1036). It invites us to reflect upon the importance of our decisions.

An illusion

"Choose life! What does that mean? What must be done? What is life? Is it having the most we can? being able to do just anything, allowing oneself everything, knowing no other limits than one's own desire?... Isn't that the only possible answer today as it was yesterday? But if we take a look at our world, we see that this way of living ends up in an infernal circle in which reign alcohol, sex and drugs, that this apparent choice of life makes other people seem like rivals, that the goods we possess are always insufficient; it leads precisely to a culture of death, to weariness with life, to disgust with oneself, as can be seen everywhere today. The luster of this choice is an illusion created by the devil. Indeed, he is opposed to the truth, for he presents man as a god, a false god, who does not know love, but only knows himself, and draws everything to himself... This way of life is a lie, for it puts God to the side, and by that very fact, deforms everything" (Cardinal Ratzinger, March 5, 1997). The way of sin requires no effort; it seems pleasant, but it does not last, for it leads to eternal ruin.

The Christian way of life, when lived out generously and sincerely, is demanding; it is a narrow gate, a confined way, but it brings true joy and leads to Heaven. "Choose life!... that is to say: choose God. Indeed, He is life: Hear the voice of the Lord thy God, and keep His precepts... Love the Lord thy God, and walk in His ways, and keep His commandments and ceremonies and judgments, that thou mayst live (Dt 30: 10-16)... According to Deuteronomy, to choose life means: love (God), enter into communion of thought and will with Him, confide in Him, walk in His ways... Jesus shows us how we can choose life: Whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for My sake, shall save it (Lk 9: 24). The Cross is not the negation of life, nor the negation of the joy and the fullness of man's being. On the contrary, the Cross shows us the true way and means of finding life. Whoever keeps his life for himself and wants to take possession of it, fails his life. It is only by losing oneself that one discovers the way to finding oneself and one's life. The more men have had the audacity to lose themselves and give themselves, the more they have learned to forget themselves, the more in turn their life has become rich and exalted; just think of a Francis of Assisi, a Teresa of Avila, a Vincent de Paul, a Curé of Ars, a Maximilian Kolbe: all of them are figures of true disciples who show us the way to life, for they show us Christ. They can teach us to choose God, to choose Christ and thus, to choose life" (Cardinal Ratzinger, op. cit.).

"I want the work of God"

A young contemporary African religious has given the example of the choice of life by following Christ even to the supreme witness of martyrdom. According to the expression of Saint Benedict, she "desired eternal life with all spiritual longing" (Rule, ch. 4). She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on August 16, 1985.

Anwarite was a little girl of Belgian Congo, today the Democratic Republic of Congo (ex-Zaire, country of central Africa). She was energetic, willful, even exuberant, a bit sensitive and sullen. On the other hand, she was quite obliging and pious. Born on December 29, 1939, she was baptized in 1941. At fifteen years of age, she declared to her mother: "I want the work of God," in other words: "I want to become a religious." - "Wait, wait!" answered her mother who needed her for house-keeping and work in the fields. But, with her impatient nature, Anwarite did not know how to wait, and she entered the Congregation of the Holy Family. Her mother had to accept the fact. In spite of her impetuosity, or maybe because of it, the new nun proved entirely faithful to her vocation. She wrote in her notes: "I came here to follow whom? The superiors? The sisters? The children? All men? Not at all. Have I not come here for only one beloved, Jesus?... O Jesus, grant me the grace to die in this very spot rather than to leave You and return into the wicked world. You can not leave me unless I leave You first." And to her mother who tried to make her come back: "I have consecrated myself to God seriously, not jokingly. Whoever puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not worthy of the kingdom of God... I must be detached from my people, my clan, my tribe."

Mental prayer was of the utmost importance to her. She noted: "The hour of meditation is the time of rest and conversation with Our Lord, just as two fiancés babble together without dreaming of the effort and the fatigue. Even if your heart is dry, beseech anyway. The Lord Jesus will be surprised and will say: `Even if I turn My back, she does not get tired.' We are consecrated persons, we must think of the Spouse of our souls, ask for the spirit of silence, know how to converse with God in our heart. Lord Jesus, grant me zeal and a great love for prayer, so that I may progress in the spiritual life."

Intimate friendship

In fact, prayer and the Christian way of life are inseparable. The life of a Christian is a life of intimate union with God. In fact, without prayer, we forget Him who is our Life and our All. Prayer is necessary for our perseverance in good: if we do not let ourselves be led by the Holy Spirit, we fall back into the slavery of sin; and, how can the Holy Spirit be the guide of our life, if our heart is far from Him? "Nothing is equal to prayer," says Saint John Chrysostom; "for what is impossible it makes possible, what is difficult, easy... For it is impossible, utterly impossible, for the man who prays eagerly and invokes God ceaselessly ever to sin (mortally)." Our Lord exhorts us to pray continually (cf. Lk 18: 1), and, following Him, Saint Paul the Apostle tells us: Pray without ceasing (1 Th 5: 17). "We have not been commanded to work, to keep watch and to fast constantly, but it has been laid down that we are to pray without ceasing" (CCC 2742). "We must remember God even more often than we breathe" (Saint Gregory Nazienzen). This untiring fervor in prayer can come only from love. Against our sluggishness and our laziness, the struggle of prayer is that of humble, trusting and persevering love. It is always possible to pray: "It is possible to offer fervent prayer even while walking in public or strolling alone, or seated in your shop,... while buying or selling,... or even while cooking" (Saint John Chrysostom).

Prayer was not the only food in Sister Anwarite's spiritual life. She also attached great importance to the sacraments, and especially the sacrament of Penance: "Jesus looks down upon the sinner," she wrote; "He penetrates intimately into his heart in order to convert him. If you confess a great sin, don't think that you will be despised; the priest will have respect for you because of your simplicity. Whoever confesses his sins without shame, even if they are great, is a hero." She also cultivated the spirit of sacrifice, which she called, "eating bitter things."-"When the Lord Jesus called us, He asked us to sacrifice the things of this world, human love, our very person."

Her heart was entirely devoted to Mary. She loved to recite her favorite prayer, the Rosary, in which she found joy and strength. She recited so many "Hail Marys" and Rosaries!... in the linen-room, the kitchen, the sacristy, or while watching the students... She read with eagerness The Glories of Mary by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori.

Clamorous glee

Anwarite, now become Sister Maria-Clementine, maintained her childish character: naive, over-sensitive, enthusiastic, clamorously cheerful. She tried to help everyone, and naturally, complicated everything, satisfying no one. She always felt like singing, excelled in drumming, playing the comedian and making people laugh till they cried. She always acted precipitately, ran up the stairs four steps at a time, and sometimes spoke so hurriedly that she stammered. Nevertheless, her uprightness was immense, her piety sincere, her charity deep. She applied herself with humble simplicity to her work, proved persevering and fully obedient in her tasks. "My Superior does not sleep well," she noted, "for she is always thinking of what she must do so that her daughters may make progress. My duty is to help her by obeying her orders. If the superiors reprimand or humiliate you, you take your own defense, which means you do not yet have humility. If we want to obey out of love for God, our obedience must be accomplished in a spirit of faith."

One day, as some novices were coming back from an apostolic outing, a young man made them an immodest proposal. Sister Anwarite answered the troublesome fellow: "Why did you say that and why do you want to hurt my sisters? Go away! You are acting like a man out of his mind. We forgive you, but go away!" Sister Anwarite had great love for virginity. She had entirely consecrated her body and soul to Christ.

A precious incentive

"The chastity of celibate men and virgins, inasmuch as it manifests the oblation to God of an undivided heart, is a reflection of the infinite love which binds the Three Divine Persons..., love which impels to respond by total love for God and brethren" (John Paul II, Vita consecrata, March 25, 1996). The vow of chastity taken by consecrated persons is a response to the challenge which the pleasure-seeking culture reigning in the world addresses to the Church.

This hedonistic culture "unbinds sexuality from every objective moral norm, by often reducing it to a game and a consumer's good, by giving in to a sort of idolatry of the instincts, while having the means of social communication as complice. The consequences of this state of things are there for everyone to see: diverse transgressions, accompanied by innumerable psychological and moral sufferings for individuals and families. The response of consecrated life resides first of all in the joyous practice of perfect chastity, as witness to the power of love for God in the frailty of our human condition. The consecrated person testifies that what the majority holds to be impossible becomes, with the grace of the Lord Jesus, possible and authentically liberating. Yes, in Christ it is possible to love God with all one's heart, by placing Him above every other love, and to love every creature with the freedom of God! This is one of the witnesses which are necessary today more than ever, precisely because it is so little understood by the world. It is offered to every person-to youths, to fiancés, to spouses, to Christian families-to prove that the strength of God's love can work great things even amidst the vicissitudes of human love...

"It is necessary that consecrated life present to today's world examples of chastity lived out by men and women who give proof of balance, self-control, initiative, psychological and affective maturity. In this testimony, human love finds a solid point of support, which the consecrated person draws from the contemplation of Trinitarian love, revealed to us in Christ... Consecrated chastity appears as an experience of joy and freedom. Enlightened by faith in the Risen Lord and by the expectation of the new heavens and the new earth, it also constitutes a precious incentive for education in chastity, which is necessary in other states of life" (John Paul II, ibid., 88).

The simba

Sister Anwarite was strongly determined to remain faithful to her Divine Spouse, if necessary even unto martyrdom. She envied the holy virgin martyrs, Maria Goretti, Agnes, Blandine, Agatha, Lucy, Cecilia: "If something similar happened to me, I would remain faithful and follow Jesus to the end without saying a word... Yes, when things are such, one must have the courage, with the grace of God, to die rather than commit a sin." God heard her prayer.

1964. The Congo, which had obtained independence just four years before, was in the midst of a civil war. The followers of Patrick Lumumba, rebel leader assassinated in 1961, organized a "people's liberation army," commanded by General Olenga, who had recourse to the services of a tribe called the "Simba."

On November 29, 1964, at noon, the Simba (who had assassinated the Bishop of Wamba, Mgr Wittehois, on November 26) arrived at the convent of the Sisters of the Holy Family. Several of the nuns took flight through the underbrush where they met the Superior General, Mother Kasima, who, with a group of orphans, was on her way back from collecting manioc leaves. Mother Kasima very calmly brought everyone back to the house. The Simba commander reassured the terrified religious, explaining that he had come in order to lead them to a sure refuge in Wamba. Quickly the sisters prepared their baggage. Sister Anwarite took her notebook and a small statue of the Blessed Virgin which had been given to her three months earlier. About four o'clock in the afternoon, the truck carrying the thirty-four sisters started off. While they recited the Rosary, the rebel soldiers sang ambiguous songs.

Arriving at Isiro, the community was led to the residence of Colonel Yuma Deo. Then, pretexting a lack of space, the rebels announced to the sisters that they would be lodged in another house. Their conductor, however, had received the order to keep Sister Anwarite, for Colonel Ngalo wanted her for his wife. As for Colonel Olombe, he had chosen Sister Bokuma. At that, Mother Kasima broke in and protested. She received a blow, and then Yuma Deo said: "Since you speak thus, I am going to call my soldiers to dirty all your daughters." Sister Anwarite intervened: "Why do you want to kill Mother Kasima? Just kill me."

Colonel Olombe then commanded Sister Anwarite to get into the car to be taken to Ngalo's house, and he even forced her and Sister Bokuma into the vehicule. But, as he went off for a moment, the two religious got out and refused to get back into the car: "I do not want to go and commit this sin; if you want, kill me!" cried Sister Anwarite. Olombe then started to hit the two nuns savagely with the butt of his rifle. Sister Anwarite said to him: "I forgive you, because you do not know what you are doing." With one arm broken and her face swollen, Sister Anwarite repeated before losing consciousness: "This is what I wanted." The Simba who were witnesses of the scene, thinking that Olombe had lost his mind, took his rifle, but he, misunderstanding their action, cried out: "Simba! come quick, they want to kill me." Two young Simbas came running, bayonnettes in hand. "Stab this sister, thrust the knife into her heart!" Four or five times or even more, they pierced her through, as she lay groaning. Olombe then took his revolver and shot a bullet into Sister Anwarite's chest, which was still breathing. She expired on December 1, 1964, at one o'clock in the morning, a virgin and a martyr, as she had wished. After the murder, Olombe calmed down and had Sister Bokuma transported to the hospital. The other religious were transferred under cover to Wamba.

Daily fidelity

"The Church proposes the example of numerous saints who bore witness to and defended moral truth even to the point of enduring martyrdom, or who preferred death to a single mortal sin. In raising them to the honor of the altars, the Church has canonized their witness and declared the truth of their judgment, according to which the love of God entails the obligation to respect His commandments, even in the most dire of circumstances, and the refusal to betray those commandments, even for the sake of saving one's life...

"Martyrdom is an outstanding sign of the holiness of the Church. Fidelity to God's holy law, witnessed to by death is a solemn proclamation and missionary commitment `usque ad sanguinem,' (even unto bloodshed) so that the splendor of moral truth may be undimmed in the behavior and thinking of individuals and society. This witness makes an extraordinarily valuable contribution to warding off, in civil society and within the ecclesial communities themselves, a headlong plunge into the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man: the confusion between good and evil, which makes it impossible to build up and to preserve the moral order of individuals and communities. By their eloquent and attractive example of a life completely transfigured by the splendor of moral truth, the martyrs and, in general, all the Church's saints, light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense. By witnessing fully to the good, they are a living reproof to those who transgress the law (cf. Wisdom 2: 12), and they make the words of the Prophet echo ever afresh: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Is 5: 20).

"Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth, and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Indeed, faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment. In this he or she is sustained by the virtue of fortitude, whereby-as Saint Gregory the Great teaches-one can actually `love the difficulties of this world for the sake of eternal rewards' " (Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, August 6, 1993, nos. 91-93).

Blessed Clementine-Anwarite, obtain for us from God the courage to live according to the demands of the Gospel and to reach Heaven with all those who are dear to us, living and deceased.

Dom Antoine Marie osb.

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