To the Sisters of Lérida
Barcelona, March 5, 1853
For all the Sisters
Dear Sisters: I will repeat to you many times those counsels that form the spirit, according to the special vocation to what you are called or believed to be called, because it must not or never be forgotten. So that you will be only one spirit in different things, these principal virtues are necessary: 1st obedience; 2nd poverty; 3rd charity to one another.
By obedience you have to submit, as daughters, to a sister who has all the duties of a good mother. Each house must have a head, even if there are only two of you, and in all and for all the houses there must be a sister that will keep the governance of all the family. This is indispensable and necessary. You must obey the sisters who has the duty of a mother, with simplicity of spirit, with fidelity, conforming your will in everything, agreeing to her orders; and when you do not know her will, and when the case is urgent, decipher it. You have to obey one another blindly, promptly, joyfully, whether or not what is ordered conforms to your choice or judgment; be it favourable or not or contrary to nature; or contrary to your own will. To betray obedience is to betray God.
For the time being, until new arrangement, you have to obey Sister Juana. Many times with reason and without reason, you will be reprimanded, punished, interrupted, offended, and be denied of many things that you ask, but she will not have charity if she will not do so. She will have an understanding with me on what you have to do.
Secondly, charity commands you to dissimulate the faults of the one who governs you or is responsible of you; you have to suffer their peculiar character and temper, bear them in their bad days and in those times in which they are lured; likewise, they also have to bear yours, dissimulate them and correct them with love.
You must love not only the subjects and the superiors, but one another. The sisters, considering that those who represent God in the name of governance are superiors, they have to get to their feet as servants and slaves of God in the person of the one who governs. Love will make all reproofs easy to bear, will make all corrections beneficial and fruitful and all insignificant actions meritorious. The sisters who manage and govern must consider themselves servants of the house, be at the feet of all, rejoice and take delight of being the slaves of all the sisters.
Not only this, but a sister must be the servant of the rest, considering all others as ladies, to whom in the person of Jesus Christ she is ordered to serve. If there is love of charity among yourselves, how fortunate you are! Charity will form you only one spirit in God, vivifying and animating diverse bodies. If as such you will do, what peace and what tranquility!
Thirdly, if there is obedience and charity, poverty, penance, mortification and humility will be usual and realistic, I say inherent, because you will strive for the most bitter, the most difficult and laborious, and the most unpleasant.
Nevertheless, I have to warn you about penance and fasting; in this you have to go with much precaution. Understand well poverty and penance. You have to fast, and to eat poorly if the circumstances demand; otherwise eat what you have. Take care not to make excesses in this matter.
During Lent you are dispensed from eating meat and eggs for poverty, but if any one would like to buy a papal document with bulla attached to it, you are permitted for the reason of indulgences, but as long as your family pays for it.
There are many more things I have in mind I want to tell you, but I could not trust enough the pen: I will wait for a favourable occasion so as to tell you in person.
Do not forget me in your fervent prayers, especially in this Lenten season: I will have you in my mind and offer you daily to God in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. In prayer I will take care to consult God and to ask him continuously that you will be imbued with those virtues that with your own strengths you could not nor would know to acquire.
I trust in your prayers, in which I will be enlightened and be able to direct you well. Meanwhile you can always count on the solicitude and love of a Father and Brother who desires your spiritual health and sends you in this letter his priestly blessing.
Francisco Palau, Priest
WHAT WAS HAPPENING?
The two communities in Lerida and Aitona have been dissolved, and the “sisters” have been dispersed. Some of them were coming from the same families, some from Aitona, near to Lerida, some from Lerida itself. Protected by cautious silence of the bishop, it is not strange than one year or so they begun to gather again. We cannot confirm that it already had happened when Palau was writing this letter. It is possible. He mentioned Sr. Juana as superior and, as he himself affirms, he repeated same or similar counsels of common life he had already given in 1852, when he had organized houses in Lerida and Aitona (Letter 7). He was speaking in plural about “houses”; it can be considered that those are general principals, valid also for the future.
TOPICS OF THIS LETTER
Palau underlines the importance of being of one spirit; for this, he gives three counsels that, when thought of, are similar to the three religious vows:
- Obedience: the one in charge of a community is considered as a mother, to whom all others shall obey. It is to notice that obedience should never depend on own will, meaning, even when it is contrary to our wishes and opinions, it is still a commandment to be fulfilled.
- Poverty: it’s a natural consequence of obedience and charity, because it leads one to look for what is most unpleasant and fulfill it with the purpose of lessening the burdens of others. It doesn’t mean inventing strange penance or fasting in any special way, but simply taking life as it is without pretensions and demands.
- Charity: the kind of love that Palau is presenting is one of the simplest, but most difficult. He is not asking sisters to do great heroic deeds for others, but to simply bear with them in every day life. It consists in dissimulating shortcomings of others, not to overreact about limitations and mistakes that all of us commit thousands times every day.
At the end of this letter, Palau expresses his faith in the power of prayer, through which we can be able to achieve thing we wouldn’t be able to do with only our own strength. He invites to a mutual prayer for one another, to increase spiritual fraternity.
Sometimes we think that we need to do great things, extraordinary things for others. We get ready for those special situation in which in a heroic way we will show others how much we love them. And Palau is convincing us that true love lies in small, daily, ordinary matters. To love means to bear with limitations and shortcoming of others. It means to refrain of pursuing only one’s own will and one’s own desires and commodity. It means to consider needs of other a little more important that our own ones.
It’s curious how this situation of pandemic show who we really are in our daily love and care for others. I was surprised hearing people appealing to their “constitutional right” to stop wearing a mask in public spaces, because their “rights” (however they might interprete them) were more important than the safety of others. But our Constitution is Gospel, and our law is love, and all our right can be resumed in one: love one another as you have been loved.