Foundation Day – MSJ Motherhouse November 6, 2010 “The God of Lizzie Armer” Presented by Sister Michaela O’Connor
“Other people are good…but there was something in her that was unique andindividual – quite unlike anyone else. There seemed to be no barrier between her and the Divine Source of Life, not even the slightest. She was simply an unobstructed channel for Divine influence. The great reserve of her nature – the way in which she withdrew all that she felt into her inmost self – so that her emotions remained inviolate, her exquisite sensibility so that she remained sensitive and tender as a child all through her life,untouched by the hardness of the world.”
These words, spoken by Father John Prendergast, himself a deeply spiritual man centered in Christ, were a testimony to the spiritual character of Sister Dolores Armer shortly after her death. In these words we see reflected his observations of what she became in the course of her mortal life, her heroic virtue. But how did she become what he observed? To what spiritual center did she attune herself in order to become all that he saw in her and more? How did Lizzie perceive God so that she aligned her desires and dreams to the Divine? Who is the God of Lizzie Armer?
In reading her words, in outlining her life, we see the God to whom Lizzie dedicated her every breath. We become more aware of the vision of God that drew our foundress to live and move in oneness with Christ so that in seeing Him she saw the Father, she found and walked the way, the truth, the life. The God of Lizzie Armer was, before anything else, an intensely personal God who desired a deep relationship with her.
“From eternity … God thought of me. I was yet in the abyss of nothingness, and God gave me a place in his thoughts. I was in his mind and his heart, for he loved me with an everlasting love.”
Her deepest belief was in a person, the person of Jesus through whom she knew and sank deeply into the wonder of the loving God. Love was something she knew and understood through the fact of her experiences of human love in her own family and the family of the Tobins. She experienced love in the Church among the family of believers, a love she saw poured out in giving, especially to the poorest around her, in the generous examples of Bishop Alemany, Father Prendergast and the very active witness of practical action on the part of her foster parents. Lizzie, first of all, knew God in love.
A pattern can be discerned in the life of this woman. An enormous crisis of some kind knocks away all of her supports. Acute darkness results from the circumstances that engulf her. She responds by seeing the Lord present in her life, expecting him to act, she envisioning his actions to save her, and God does just that. She experienced God loving her and her response was to determine to live in his love, moment by moment, and always.
She could only follow the path she walked because she BELIEVED in his love. The result was an unbreakable relationship of a most personal kind. The basic focus of the spiritual life of Lizzie Armer was the Paschal Mystery. It was the heart of whatever she did, the joy of her life. Jesus was, for her, total savior. Like St. Paul she believed in the living power of the Cross, a freeing power, a power that is NOW.
Either Jesus keeps his word, or he does not.
Cling to Jesus, rely on Jesus, believe in his love, nothing is beyond his power, she seems to say. I believe that he is loving me every moment. I will rejoice and enjoy my relationship with him despite any and all difficulty and in the midst of it. So, first and foremost, the God of Lizzie Armer is personal, loving, a true savior revealed in the life and death moments of human existence.
This God is trustworthy.
“Confidence! Oh, how sweet that word is to my lips. Absolute abandonment into the arms of a tender, merciful and loving Father who brings good out of evil even when everything seems lost.”
Lizzie’s God is a God of peace, and Lizzie’s peace is one of having everything in her life in regard to her Dear Lord in its proper place.
Sister Dolores says: “Religious gravity is not an austere unrelaxed seriousness, nor is it a repulsive coldness or indifference of manner which is so much more calculated to repel others than to attract them to God; its sense [is] in scientific language where it expresses the tendency of bodies toward their center in which, and in which alone, they find perfect rest — the true center of the religious is God.”
Jeremiah in the first reading tells us that God’s plans are for our welfare and that when we call upon God, God will listen, God will be with us if we seek him with all our heart.
She says: “It is in the depth of your soul, and the most intimate part of
your soul and the most secret recesses of your heart that you ought to seek
God, for it is there He must be felt …; go down, therefore, often in this intimate recess, … remain there… in order that you may merit the visits of the Holy Spirit.”
The psalm enticed us to savor the goodness of the Lord. The alleluia encourages us to wait for the Lord. The second reading from Romans admonishes us to hold on to the good and overcome evil by rejoicing in hope, enduring affliction and praying always. Or, as Sister Dolores would have it:
“Make up your mind to bear all with humble patience. And let nothing alarm you. Be patient in tribulations, fervent in prayer, and fearless in labor.”
The God drawn out in lines of presence, relationship, love and trustworthiness by Lizzie Armer is a God of peace, a living God, one who
continually calls to us through the events of our lives, a God who we can know intimately through his Word – the words of the Scriptures and the Word made flesh. “Go often before the Tabernacle; take the image of your crucified God into your hands and you will learn everything.”
Father Prendergast once more tells us something of her spirituality when he says, “The sufferings of Sister Dolores were very much like that of the woman she chose as her patroness, the Mother of Sorrows. Sister’s lessons in living and uniting herself with Christ were constant, and were everyday occurrences of life, death, sickness and service, patient meditation and pondering all these things in her heart.”
Lizzie Armer then, our Sister Dolores, knew and believed deeply in a personal God of love, revealed in the person she loved the best – her Jesus. his relationship was built on confidence, peace and intimate knowledge of the Word of God. It was experienced in her incorporating the Paschal Mystery into her everyday life and her ongoing conversation with God. She celebrated life, she was joyful, she was confident, and she was strong in awaiting the Lord. She was not afraid for she knew that the Father was giving her the Kingdom and she worked for what would never wear out nor be stolen away. In the truest way possible, her heart was where her treasure lay.
Sister Dolores was a very practical woman; she faced reality as it was. And for her, the deepest reality was the God who gave her life, guided that life and invited her day by day into a richer, more profound life.
The final word about Sister Dolores’ God will come again from her own words. These are from letters addressed to one of the Sisters, but I invite you to hear these words as from a letter addressed personally to you, Sisters and
Associates, for her esteem for you has not changed and she looks from within the heart of God upon you with great tenderness and love.
“You did not choose him. The precious grace came first from him. But you, my dear sister corresponded to that grace, and no one knew the sacrifice you made in corresponding to it, but him for whom it was so lovingly made, and who alone can and will reward you. Try to be faithful to every grace that will follow until you meet him who you “love best”, and then, my sister, how little will every sacrifice appear.
“… He always selects humble instruments to do his divine work.
He has, no doubt, a work – and a great one – for you to do, and when the time comes, he will give you all the grace and strength necessary. I often think of you and never without repeating an aspiration to the Holy Spirit to make known his Holy Will to you. For in doing that dear Holy Will there is stored a priceless treasure, there are joys beyond all measure, there alone is truest pleasure – in God’s Holy Will. No human power its power can sever, t’will be our joy in Heaven, God’s sweet Holy Will. No matter where it leads us to on earth.”
(From two letters of Sister Dolores)