Monday, November 23, 2020

Mother Henriette and Covid-19

In Jesus, we find all: his birth, life, death: this is our rule.


By Karol Huar sscc (Indonesia)

It must be confusing for some people when reading the title of this writing. Is there any direct connection between Mother Henriette and Covid-19? Why does the title of this writing is Mother Henriette and covid-19? In the next part of this writing, I will tell why does the title of this writing is Mother Henriette and covid-19.  

We all know that in October 1793 she and her mother had been sent to the Hospitalières when they had been caught hiding some non-compliant priests in their house. It must be said that the law which condemned to death anyone hiding persons who were to be deported went into effect the day before October 22, 1793, when Madame Aymer and her daughter (young Henriette) were arrested. Consequently, the provisions of this law were not known in Poitiers, and, at least legally, no one could be condemned to death for having violated it. So the penalty she and her mother received was imprisonment, which was not as frightful as the prospect of the scaffold.

We can imagine how inconvenient the situation in prison is. Generally, the prison in Indonesia is overcapacity. For example, in the situation in Lapas Kelas 1 Cipinang, East Jakarta, hundreds of prisoners sleep in a crowded corridor. There is no distance between them. Their backs touch each other. On their right and left side, there are also prisoners in the cell. Mother Aymer and her mother also experienced the same when they were in prison. The prisons were ancient convents. The rooms were not enough for an excessive and ever-growing number of prisoners.  A thousand miseries derived from this situation, making daily existence a painful martyrdom, especially for the Aymers, accustomed to a life of luxury.


 When on September 11, 1794, the gates of the prison opened for the Aymers and they were able to return to their home, Henriette viewed her life in a different light and desired only to give herself to God. Her former life seemed to her but vanity. She needed a guide. At that time she heard Father Coudrin preached and felt such harmony between her spirit and the priest’s way of preaching that she decided to have him as her confessor. This, however, confirmed the choice she had made instead of changing it, and from November 1794 on, she made her confession to him.

Mother Henriette was imprisoned because of hiding some priests in her house. We all are now also “imprisoned”. The SARS-CoV-2 which causes covid-19 is successful to put us in prison. When covid-19 attacked Indonesia at the beginning of March, we all were “imprisoned” in our own house. Almost one billion people in the whole world were quarantined at the same time. Covid-19 is successful to threaten our existence as a human. From Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and Whatsapp I can catch how many people show their anxiety, confusion, desperation, and also fear. It is not anxiety, confusion, desperation, and fear of someone.  Those belong to all. Even we become imprisoned by all those feelings. Then we are not only the prisoner of covid-19, we are also the prisoner of our feelings. We are also put our smile (facial expression) in prison because when we go somewhere we have to wear masker. We are obliged to wear masker as one of the basic standards of health protocol in this pandemic situation. The longer this pandemic lasts we become more anonymous to others. Because we limit our direct encounter/physical encounter to our close friends, our family, and also those we love. Ok, our encounter can be mediated virtually through video call, zoom, and google meet. But the virtual encounter can’t substitute the physical encounter. The warmth of laughter in the direct encounter is experienced differently from the laughter through a video call. I just want to say that the “experience of imprisonedness” (pengalaman keterpenjaraan) bring human to an existential crisis. This view may seem hyperbolic to some people. But, the reality is until now we can’t know when covid-19 ends. We have no power to reject covid-19. Those who deny the existence of covid-19 are those who haven’t accepted reality. We can’t deny, we can only adjust to the reality of covid-19. One of the ways to adjust to this situation is by fostering a growth mindset. Exactly, on this occasion, I want to relook to one phase in Mother Henriette’s life, her prison experience, to learn how to face our “experience of imprisonedness”. And the question is what is Mother Henriette’s inner disposition?

Historically speaking, we all may agree that her experience in prison is the turning point in her life. It is her conversion. Henriette views her life in a different light and desires only to give herself to God. Her former life seems to her but vanity. When she left the prison at 28 years of age, she had matured; she was dead to the easy, superficial life. She had become a strong woman tending toward an ideal. In the face of the violence, the hatred, the destruction, she understood that it was urgent to re-establish the reign of love. Her aid and contacts with the “Society of the Sacred Heart” led her to discover a new way.  On the foundations of her personality, and matured by all the events through which she had lived, she began the second and decisive stage in her life: contemplation.  “When you established adoration…and you gave me an hour, without doubt, you fixed my destiny”, she wrote to Father Coudrin. When she was received as an extern into the Society of The Sacred Heart, she didn’t demand much. She asked only to be allowed to occupy a corner of the room in which the Blessed Sacrament was reserved, hidden in the wall. There she spent the whole day, praying in silence, while she sewed or embroidered to help her mother. She arrived in the morning, left in the evening, spoke to no one, smiled gently at everyone, and . . . that is all. When she was not kneeling on the prie-Dieu, she had sewing or embroidery in her hands, but her spirit was at prayer.

While she was in prison, she rejected to be the prisoner of her former life and also all her feelings (fear, guilt, anxiety, confusion, etc.). That was why soon after freed from prison she confessed all her sins to begin a new chapter of her life. When she joined the society, she spent long hours before the blessed sacrament. In every activity, her spirit was at prayer. She directed all her mind, heart, body, and work toward God. God called her above all to an interior movement. She continued to circulate in the same space, but her spirit was elsewhere: solely in God.  She implemented the central norm of the founder of the congregation: “In Jesus, we find all: his birth, life, death: this is our rule.” So the inner disposition of Mother Henriette is always direct all her life all time and all time to God. In Jesus who is present in the blessed sacrament, she finds everything: his birth, life, and death. That becomes the rule of the congregation.

I can say that reading the messages of Mother Henriette on Jesus’ birth, life, and death in the context of the covid-19 pandemic means preserving hope. She has undergone so many difficulties and then concluded that she relied on Jesus’ birth, life, and death as her rule of life. Her rule of life directed her especially in facing a difficult situation. In this pandemic situation, we learn from Mother Henriette to direct our mind, our heart, and our body only to God. It means we are building our interior life (our relationship to God) as our foundation. As long as our interior life is getting strong day by day (our foundation is stronger), we are not easy to be carried away by our anxiety, fear, confusion, and desperation. We will not be imprisoned by our feelings. We continue our life by preserving hope. This pandemic will end. We do not know when, but bit by bit we can adjust ourselves in this new normal era. We do not curse our days but we adjust ourselves while keeping finding ways to help others. It is inspiring to remember the words from Eleanor Roosevelt, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness”.

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