Remembering Mother Julia after 25 years

As the years go by there are fewer and fewer people alive who lived with Mother Julia and who met her or listened to her words of wisdom. Those who did know her and are still with us will never forget her kindness and the enlightening guidance she gave. They will recall a person who was at all times completely given over to God and to His cause. What she said came from the heart; her interest lay in the spreading of God’s Kingdom on earth, in following His will, in promoting the good of souls and of the Church. She loved Jesus above all and wished to belong to Him and draw others to the love of His Sacred Heart. The daily Eucharist was the centre of each day for her. She prepared well for it and received from it many special graces.

What about those among us who never met her, who never listened to her words, who never saw her at prayer? They will know her first of all through the thousands of letters she wrote, giving advice and guidance and formation, drawing upon her own life and experience of God. It is true to say that people are known, as they truly are, from their letters, more than from studies on any subject they may write about.

Secondly, we can get to know Mother Julia through the lives of her spiritual daughters and sons, who listened to her teaching and who followed her way of life in the Spiritual Family The Work. In their consecrated life they live and manifest in their work and conduct what Mother Julia taught and handed on to them. That seems to place a heavy responsibility on them. Yet they embody and personify what Mother Julia was like. In their lives and attitudes, in the choices they make and in the things they value, we can see a reflection of Mother Julia’s own life and teaching. In their spirit of service to others, in their readiness to help, in their unity and in the way they complement each other, in their insight to what is right and what is wrong, in the beauty of their liturgical ceremonies, in their love for God, for the Church and for souls and in the patience and the attitude they display when suffering and illness and even approaching death comes on them, we can perceive what Mother Julia was like and what was important and life-giving to her. 

The only title she was given and she herself used was “Mother”. For years she was known simply as “Mother”.  At the end of a correspondence she would very often write “Mother”. This word expressed what she wished to be and how others looked upon her. She truly was a spiritual mother to many and to all the members of the Spiritual Family The Work. Like all true mothers, her heart was filled with love and thoughtful charity. Every member of The Work had a place of honour in her heart. There were no second-class members in the Family of The Work, no one to be regarded as less deserving than the others. All were worthy of love and spiritual care. For a long time she was known simply as “Mother”.

All the spiritual graces which Mother Julia received were for the sake of The Work. When a person is given a particular task to accomplish in the Church, that person receives all the graces necessary for that mission. From 1938 she felt called to lead and build up a consecrated Family that would be united one heart and one soul. She and those who would be called to join with her would have to live the unity for which Christ prayed at the Last Supper: “That all may be one” (Jn. 17:21). That ideal may seem attractive, and so it is. However, it is demanding, because unity presupposes the practice of all the virtues. Together they form a bouquet. Love is what binds them all together in a single garland.

Many years later Mother recalls, in one of her letters, that grace of 1938. She writes: “‘May they all be one, even as you, Father, are in me, [and I in you], that they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’ (Jn.21:17). As from January 18, 1938, He [Jesus] called me and others with me to live this unity as a holy family, to make His life and His prayer ‘ours’; to work for Him and with him for this unity which in our days is so disjointed and fragmented. He gave us for this mission a charismatic grace in our holy vocation. He wanted it to be sealed and bound up, in a holy Covenant with the Sacred Heart of Jesus”.

As with every Foundress or Founder, the Lord Jesus planted in the heart and life of Mother Julia an attraction that made others follow her and learn from her. She seemed to young girls of her time to have something in her words and way of life that drew them to her. Some may think that it was the unusual gifts with which she was endowed, and that it was easy for her on account of those extraordinary graces which she had received. True, but that did not make everything easy for her. On the contrary, it demanded from her a more wholehearted obedience to God’s will, greater forgetfulness of herself and a deeper conversion of heart as well as the suffering of a dark night in the desert. We sometimes imagine that people like Mother Julia were always as holy as when we knew them. That is not correct. Otherwise they would not be models and examples for us who have to struggle at all times against weaknesses and faults. They also had failures and struggles, but they persevered with decision and determination. With God’s help, they continued to deny themselves and to do what the Lord expected from them. In many ways, it was a dying to themselves and to their own desires and a turning to God and to His good pleasure.

Mother Julia once said about extraordinary favours that in themselves they count for little, but that they leave the recipient with greater responsibility. The things that matter are our faith, hope and love, along with all the other virtues. Indeed, the virtues practised faithfully, and at times heroically, are the criterion of sanctity. As Mother Julia once said: “If these extraordinary favours and graces do not communicate to the person who receives them, the need for conversion, there is something in them that does not come from God.” In fact, when the Church has to decide on the lives of people considered to be holy, it always examines the virtues that they practised even to a heroic degree.

Because she cooperated faithfully with the many graces she received, and lived according to what God asked of her and what the Church teaches, she was given the grace to discern what was good and, on the contrary, what deviated from the truth. Those who lived with her or came into contact with her felt that her spirit of discernment was very sharp. The Sisters, and later the Priests and Brothers of her Spiritual Family, experienced that what she expected from the members of her Spiritual Family was demanding but liberating. It seemed to them that she could see into their souls and she urged them to be honest with Jesus and not refuse him what He asked of them. She was a talented guide and a caring Mother.

Mother Julia passed away twenty five years ago. The Spiritual Family The Work has developed well in these testing years. She promised to be with her followers, and she has been in their midst with the example of her life, the guidance given in her writings and the help of her prayers. Things have of course changed in the world, in society and in the Church, but she knew that “The Work was given to be a ray of Christ’s love and truth in the midst of the great changes of this century”. 
If we could speak with her now, what would she ask of us, what advice would she give? I imagine that she would exhort us to continue to do us what is contained in what we call her Spiritual Testament. There she spoke of the holy Covenant and the holy Eucharist; of God’s merciful and just love; of our duty to be grateful for the past and to look to the future with courage and trust in God’s providence; of our life of unity, prayer and adoration; and of our love and zeal for the Church.

Some of her own words are: “May God, the Lord of all consolation, strengthen your hearts and give you courage. You are able to experience the way in which He always accompanied us with the light and strength of the grace of our vocation, how he forged our unity in faith and sincere love, and how He brought us together to fulfil His holy will through the fruitful living out of our holy Covenant, so that we might carry on the mission which He wished to entrust to His Work”. We can take heart from these parting words of Mother Julia. Divine providence, which was so evident in her lifetime, did not cease to be active when she left us. Mother considered that she had done what the Lord asked of her in her vocation, and that she left the Work in a state of being able to continue her mission in the years that lay ahead.

May we believe all this, and continue our life with fidelity and fervour, remembering that the Lord is at our side, protecting and guiding as Mother Julia herself said in words that can be read on her Tomb in the Thalbach church: “God’s merciful and just love is searching for you. It watches over you, it waits for you. Go to Him in the Holy Eucharist.

We set out on the next twenty five years with this courage and hope, for God is with us. He will not disappoint us.  God knows what is best for us. So, as Mother Julia said, “let us love in the things that pass away that which is eternal”. And “Let us submit joyfully in faith to the decrees of his perfect providence. He is the Good Shepherd. We shall lack nothing.