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What do the Society of St Margaret, the County of Antrim in Northern Ireland, the 218th Field Artillery Regiment of the US Army, and the Art Work Rebels Tattoo Parlour in Portland, Oregon have in common? They all share the motto, per angusta ad augusta, through trials to triumphs. The motto is appropriate to each: County Antrim, has passed through The Troubles to peace; in World War 2, the 218th hauled their howitzers by hand, through five miles of thick jungle in New Guinea to defeat the Japanese; and the tattoo parlour was blown up in a gas explosion two years ago, but has been resurrected. The motto is accompanied by a charming image of a skull with a rose between its teeth, which they can reproduce as a tattoo. So if any of you were wondering what to buy Sr Carol as a present to mark her life profession……
Per angusta ad augusta, through trials to triumphs. What a realistic, hopeful motto that is. In the spiritual economy nothing is wasted, all is useful, all can be turned to good. It could be the motto of many of the great saints and martyrs of the church, like St Teresa of Avila for example. For twenty years this giant of the church struggled to pray, she complained of spiritual dryness, of distractions so bad she said it was ‘like having a madman in the house.’ Without this dry seedbed, would she have been able to write so eloquently about prayer, and teach us weaker Christians who struggle to pray?
St Teresa was persecuted terribly by members of her own Carmelite Order, who vehemently opposed her reforms, which only confirmed to her that she had to persist. If what she was about was not God’s will, then the devil would not bother to assail her. They thought she was mad, just as some people think it is madness that the Priory should continue with just two sisters. St Paul reminds us that God takes the apparently foolish to shame the supposedly wise.
St Teresa was able to perform the superhuman feat of rejoicing in her sufferings, because in them she was united to Christ, deepening her understanding of his passion. It was a graphic image of the scourged Christ which had brought Teresa to her senses and made her see how terribly she had mistreated Him. After this she could endure anything because suffering brought her closer to him.
Through the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, our sufferings, trials and tribulations can be turned to good. Through them we can have some idea of what others are going through, though we can never presume to say, ‘I know how you feel.’ However we can be living proof that they will pass through them. The danger comes when we are so confident of our own capability and sure of our opinion that our pride inflates and leaves no room for Christ. However, when we are a weak, when we are forced to come to the Lord for help, then we are made strong.
Per angusta ad augusta confirms our belief that God is good to those who are faithful, that he doesn’t leave us to drown in the turbulent waters of life, but throws us lifebelts to keep us afloat. A Sister of St Margaret has many such lifebelts: she has the infinite blessing of spending time in the company of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and the daily Mass; she has the anchor of the daily office, that consecrates the day and keeps her close to Christ; and she shares the devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. To recite his name is the shortest affirmation of faith; to utter his name is to declare ,‘God saves’. At our most desperate, when prayer feels impossible, the utterance of his name alone, saying the name ‘Jesus’, can allay our fears and save us from despair.
We can all share those good practices. But what a Sister has which sets her apart is the Rule of Life, and the vows she makes of poverty, chastity, obedience and charity. This is not just a recommendation, a suggestion or a good idea, but a rule. Sr Carol will make solemn vows to live according to the rule of this Society until the end of her life. She cannot do this by her strength alone, but only with the help of God.
Christ’s command to love another is binding on us all. John Mason Neale amplified this command to: Love, first, love midst, love last. Where there are difficulties, the rule states, Sisters should speak the truth in love. What a solution to the world’s troubles is that injunction: to say what needs to be said; to hold sacred the truth, that essential quality of Jesus, the way, the truth and the life; and to speak the truth with a pure loving motive that seeks to achieve a resolution to the problem.
Both John Mason Neale and St Teresa of Avila believed that convents should be joyful places. Neale stated that the life of a Sister should be marked by a spirit of joy. Teresa said how much she disliked ‘long faced saints that make both virtue and themselves abhorrent.’ Sister, today we share your joy as you make your life profession. Through your human weakness, may the Holy Spirit increase in you the desire to live and love as Christ commands, aided by the rule of the Society of St Margaret, that you may pass through trials to triumphs, per angusta ad augusta.