Writings from the Unabridged Rule of St Magdalene of Canossa

Archive for February, 2011

Charity Towards God – Rule I

RULE I – Prayer

Prayer is the exercise by which the soul draws close to the Lord. By thus learning to know him in some way, she becomes ever more disposed, and enkindled with the desire, to love Him. Hence, in order to imitate Jesus Crucified who showed His love for the Fath­er in a special way by accepting death and death on the Cross, and in order to carry out more easily the first great Commandment of Charity, the Sisters are recommended the practice of Mental Prayer of the Heart, certainly not less than half an hour in the morn­ing and half an hour in the evening.

Saint Magdalene writes in the Preface to her Rule, “Since God Himself is Charity, being His Children, we owe Him a reverent, tender, filial love.” For her, this is the starting point for every Canossian Daughter of Charity, to come before the Lord in quiet prayer. She understood, if a Sister fails to spend time before the Lord, in prayer and contemplation of the love shown on the cross, “nothing would be achieved in our neighbors.” It is to this degree she saw the two precepts of charity – the love of God and love of neighbor – intertwined.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta confirms this need for prayer in her own experience of working with the poorest of the poor:  “Without prayer I could not work for even half an hour. I get my strength from God through prayer” (A Simple Path, M. Teresa of Calcutta, 1995).

Actually, Saint Magdalene wasn’t satisfied with the sisters having an hour of meditation a day; she thought the time was too little. She wanted her Daughters to have big hearts full of love, which comes from spending time before the King of Love. And only then, fueled by the Love found in prayer, is the Canossian properly ready to meet the needs of her brothers and sisters, loving them with the heart of Christ on the Cross.


Preface to the Rule

To the Daughters of Charity – Servants of the Poor,

My dear Sisters, God has given you a great gift by giving you a vocation to this Holy Institute of Charity and you have the duty of responding worthily to such a big grace. This makes it very necessary to consider well the aim of this Institute in order to understand Its Spirit and be imbibed by it, as well as its objectives which must be particularly contemplated in order to carry them out. Hence, with humble thanks to the Lord and with a generous and constant heart you may then practise faithfully all the means that you will find prescribed in the following Rules through which to reach the happy accomplishment of your aim.

There is no doubt that all the Holy Institutes have proposed the assiduous contemplation of the Life and Passion of Jesus Christ or a more perfect imitation of His life in their Holy Institutions. This Institution too, therefore, which is the last and least in the Church of God, would be off the path if we wanted to propose any other aim but this.

It is true, in considering our name of Daughters of Charity, Servants of the Poor, it would seem, and in effect  it  is, that  our  principal  aim  should  be  the fulfilment of the two great Precepts of Charity: to love God with all our heart and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God. Since God Himself is Charity, being His Children, we owe Him a reverent, tender, filial love, and as Servants of the Poor, we owe them our attention, labour, care and thoughts. However, the fulfilment of these two Precepts is not the entire scope of this Institute, it involves more: to fulfil them by reproducing, as far as is granted to us poor creatures, the Holy Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, imitating Him in the interior and exterior virtues of which He deigned to give us a particular example, by leading even ourselves a submitted, humble and hidden life, totally engaged in looking for the Divine Glory and the Salvation of Souls. Further, it means animating all our actions and work with the Spirit of Jesus Christ, a spirit of charity, gentleness, meekness and humility, a spirit of zeal and fortitude, a most amiable most generous and most patient spirit.

In order to achieve these things, here are the objectives contemplated in the Institute: the particular sanctification of each individual Sister and the constant exercise of the works of charity. My dear Sisters, there is no doubt that the first objective is so bound to the second that little or nothing would be achieved in our neighbours when one is failing in the primary aim. This is so, not only because, as St. Paul says, even martyrdom would be useless without charity, that is, love of God, the Source and Substance of Holiness, but also because the first fruit produced in our neighbour is all work of Grace. The saying of St. Joseph of Cupertino is good for us here: He says that as man uses a trumpet which is useless without sound. in the same way how would it be possible for God to deign to make use of us for others when we render ourselves unable to hear His voice ? Besides, no matter how much we respond to the Lord, we always tarnish by our poverty His Divine Grace that passes through our hands to our Neighbours, what would happen then, if we were to close the way to the Divine Source? Moreover, if what the Saint said is true, and without any hesitation we can affirm it is, that one who is not burning with zeal herself cannot set others aflame, then what kind of fire do we need in order to train, educate, console and talk to our neighbour in the Holy Works of Charity?

My Sisters, do not be frightened at seeing the height of the aim proposed to you or in considering the Holiness of the Spirit that is asked of you and the greatness of the objectives contemplated God who always chooses the weakest and most unsuitable instruments in order to confound the wise and the strong, wished to start this Holy Institute Himself alone. He who has deigned to lead us, will complete the work of His Mercy as long as on your part you acknowledge your unworthiness, weakness and ignorance, but at the same time and abandon yourselves entirely to Him. You must put into practice, however, the necessary means that are suggested to you in order to reach the happy attainment of your aim and these are the strict observance of the following Rules In these Rules the Lord has provided the means both for your own personal sanctification and for the general sanctification of the Institute and likewise for the sanctification of your Neighbour in the various Branches of Charity embraced by your Institute.

However, before beginning the Rules, I must let you know who it was that obtained the carrying out of this work from the Lord and who has directed it up to now. It is Our Lady of Sorrows who was constituted Mother of Charity under the Cross when, at the words of her dying Divine Son, she gathered all of us, sinners though we are, to her heart. I beg all of you to regard her always as your one and only Mother, as a duty of justice, truth, gratitude and humble, devout affection.

Everything that has been done up to now is her work and you must never make the mistake of thinking that someone else might have done anything. Hence, behave as true Daughters of Our Blessed Lady of Sorrows, consoling her in her sorrows with the holiness of your life, mak­ing ourselves a shield and protection for her afflicted heart by trying to prevent it being pierced by new wounds, that is, endeavouring, as your vocation requires, to prevent sins. In order to obtain all these things, it is necessary that you observe strictly the Rules that follow below. I would like to bring to your notice that you will find these Rules divided and, so to speak, applied to the Virtues of which our Great Model gave us a special example on the Cross in order to render it easier and clearer for you to carry out the great and global objective con­templated in the Institute, that is, the fulfilment of the two great Precepts of Charity according to the Spirit and imitation of Jesus Christ Crucif­ied The first of these virtues was His most ardent love for His Divine Father for whose glory He consumed the great Sacrifice. Therefore you will find that the first of your Rules will be those judged necessary to give you the means kindling within yourselves Holy Charity towards God.

Hence, the Rules which follow are concerned with other virtues especially practised and re­commended by Him. It is intended only to give some principles, as Holy Charity in substance includes not only the fulfilment and fullness of the Law but also the Life and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ and all His teachings.