Dear Guild Member,
One of the marks of every saint is becoming more sensitive to the needs and sufferings of others. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is part of the
Great Commandment taught by Christ himself. This love is not simply a general benevolence toward the poor and the needy but must be expressed concretely in caring for others, going out of our way to respond to their needs and taking positive steps to provide ongoing care. The more genuine our love, the more generous our efforts to reach out to others.
In this understanding of Christian charity, no one is a better example than Rose Hawthorne. Her own life was marked by sorrow and unhappiness. She lost her only child, Francis, at five years of age; a terrible cross for any mother. Her marriage, founded as it was by mutual love and affection with George Lathrop, her husband, was burdened with his weakness for alcohol and his inability to keep steady employment. Often on the move from one living situation to another, the relationship became so strained as to make living together impossible.
One might expect Rose to be preoccupied with her own troubles, but she heard the voice of Christ
calling her to give herself in the service of the poorest of the poor. In late nineteenth century New
York, this category fit those suffering from incurable
cancer, a disease that often disfigured and made the victim an outcast. Once she put her hand to the plow Rose never looked back.
Service to "Christ's poor" did not simply mean that this lady of culture, education and social status would put on an apron and offer gifts from her abundance. She decided to live among the poor, to beg for them as they did for themselves and to establish a home where they could live in dignity, cleanliness and ease as they faced their final days on earth.
So remarkable was Roses vision that she determined to provide the very best of care for the cancerous poor, for free. There was to be no class system, no "upstairs/downstairs" for her residents. She and her religious sisters would be the servants. The residents would be the object of all their care and concern.
It is significant that she referred to her residents
as "Christ's poor" because she found the source and inspiration for all that she did in Christ himself. She knew his love when her own marriage floundered; she knew his love when she lost her first-born and only child. She came to know the full meaning of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that she was loved by him and could depend on him for everything she needed. Her needs were great and depend on him she did.
This progressive awareness of the needs and sufferings of others is a sign of true holiness and when it reached the proportions of heroic response one can recognize the signs of Christian perfection. That was Rose Hawthorne, who as Mother Mary Alphonsa became truly heroic in forgetting herself and her own needs and came to live only to serve others.
We who revere her must struggle to find those who need our help. But first we must know Christ's love and follow where it will lead us.
Devotedly in Christ,
Fr. Gabriel B. 0'Donnell O.P.