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January 01, 2020 Wednesday 04:30:46 PM IST

Mystic of Small Things

Creative Living

Born in Puthenchira, a little hamlet in Kerala on 26thApril, 1876 and elevated to the Sainthood by the Catholic Church on 13thOctober 2019, the life of St. Mariam Thresia bears witness to how the mystical content within one’s inner core anchors him/herin the midst of chaoticturbulences of life and makeslife livable. St. Mariam Thresiadiscovered a kind of interiority that rendersindividuals, whoare otherwise marred and mutilated by the daily chores, with an unfathomably deep serenity andprovides humanrelations,which are otherwise flimsy and fragile, with an irresistibly freshfragrance. Works for developingsuch a center ofgravity withinthe core of individuals and at the heart of familiesearnedSt. Mariam Thresiathe title,“the Prophetess and Apostle of Families”. The indigenous religious congregation for women she founded in 1914, the Congregation of Holy Family (CHF),with its 2000 odd memberswork on a global platform to carry forward her mystic visionofempoweringfamilies with single-minded attention.

 Life of Mariam Thresia

Thresia was born into a family, which wasfragile and fragmented. She was the third of five children of her parents. Addicted to alcoholism, her father and brothers ruined the peace and prosperity of the once rich family. Thresia considered it as her life’s mission to develop a remedy to the apathy of the individuals, which leads to the failure of familiesand evolved strategies to empowerthem from within.

Thresiahad a natural taste for spiritual life as a child. She used to observe practices like vigil and fasting from a tender age of 8. Her mother, who mentored her in the beginning, had to often dissuade her from going extreme. After the death of her mother, as Thresia was just 12 years old, she had to conclude her studiesandassistthe conduct of herfamily. Against all odds,Theresa grew up in spiritual maturity and wisdom, gathering insights fromherexperiments with her own life.She alsoadopted Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth,as own mother thereafter andfondly attached the name of Mary to her own and name to be called Mariam Thresia ever since. She also decided to remain chaste all through her life, after the example ofMary, the ever virgin.

An inner call for solitudeoften temptedMariam Thresia to sneak away from home to lead a life of penance in the woods, which she overcame realizing the Will of God for her.In1902 she met with a profound spiritualmentor in Fr. JosephVithayathil, the vicar of Puthenchira parish. Through him she made repeated requests to the then Archbishop of Trichur, Mar John Menachery to permit her to enter religious life. On his advice she joined the indigenous religious congregation of the Carmelites of Immaculate Conception. But soon she realized that Carmelite lifestyle was not suited to quench herspiritual thirst and soon returned to her home parish. In 1913, Mariam Thresia along with her three companions started to live together in a “house of solitude” just like hermits and dedicated themselves with visiting of the sick, caring for the poor and supporting families around the house. Finally, in 1914, Mariam Thresiaofficially founded thenew lifestyle that perfectly suited her spiritual vision and named the new spiritual way as the “Congregation of the Holy Family (CHF)”. It visualized a life dedicated to intimate encounter with Godin solitude and to the total service tofamilies. CHF took a special careto educate girl children in an attempt to equip them to shoulder equal responsibilities in a family.Until her death in 1926, she served as the superior and mentor of the newly founded congregation. Her last prayer at the deathbed was to the Holy Family of Nazareth: "Jesus, Mary and Joseph; I give you my heart and my soul,"a small prayer, which summarily depicted her life.

The Holy Family

The family of Jesus of Nazareth is commonly referred to as the Holy Family. It consisted of three persons: Jesus, Mary and Joseph, oftendenoted as JMJ. Joseph, a humble carpenter of Nazareth was a righteous man, as he was described by the evangelist Matthew (Mt. 1:19). His righteousness, however, surpassed that of Pharisees and the teachers of the law (Mt. 5:20). His unfathomable love and adoration for his proposed wife Mary got expression in his decision to “divorce her quietly”, in an apparent effort to protect her from public humiliation and prosecution, on becoming pregnant before they got engaged. He was also a man with amazing sensitivity towards the movement of the spirit within him surrounding him. He often received cues to resolve the riddles of his life via dreams. As per the instruction in a dream, he accepted the pregnant Mary as his wife, which laid foundation to the Holy Family.

The salient feature of the members of the Holy Family was their mystical skills. Mary was fond of reflecting over the sacred mysteries. “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart,”(Lk 2:19) writes Luke describing events at the birth of Jesus, as shepherds narrated how angels directed them to the manger Jesus was born. Her husband Joseph also had great sensitivity to the voice of God (Mt. 1:20; Mt. 2:22). Jesus himself was in constant communion with God, whom he considered as the “heavenly Father”. As born mystics, all three of them encountered God in their daily chores. In fact, it was this deep interiority of the Holy Family that kept it intact and helped it to overcome the most turbulent and trying situations, which no ordinary family could have survived!


The Champion of Families

St. Mariam Thresia captured a key principle of stability and inner strength of human relations from the very Holy Family.She partook in the mysticism of daily life, the Holy Family celebrated in their communion, which helped them master thechores of their lives.Hence, for St. Mariam Thresia, empowerment of a family was,by no means, a purely material project toprocure for it wealth, health and mirth; rather it was through and through a spiritual project toreassure it with richness of serenity and tranquility. What she missed in her own family, she encountered in the Holy Family!

St. Mariam Thresia was blessed with explicit symptoms of mysticism like ecstasy just like the celebrated mystics like St. Theresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross. She also ownedstigmatalike St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio.However, she did notlike to elaborate on them in public at all. On the other hand, her ability to be a “mystic of small things” in the simplicity of daily chores after the model of the Holy Family, was something precious for her and she was eloquent to deliberate on it. St. Mariam Thresia was careful to impart this skill of deeper interiority and mindfulness to her own communityof sisters and through them to the multitude of families worldwide. She considered it an elixir that magically united individuals and helped them get along with excellent synergy lifelong. In modern times,as relationships turns transient and as familiesbecomes precarious, themagical cure of “mysticism of small things” shall keep millennial familiesserene and secure.

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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