Disclaimer

NOTICE: I am a practicing Catholic, active and in good-standing with my local parish, who professes faith and loyalty to the Church. This ministry - my "little work" - is strictly a personal expression of that faith and loyalty, and not an officially recognized ministry in the Diocese of Honolulu. ~ Peter


Friday, April 1, 2016

Saint of the Month - April 2016: Blessed Elena Guerra

Bl. Elena Guerra
An Apostle of the Holy Spirit ~ Memorial: April 11th


"Pentecost is not over. In fact it is continually going on in every time and in every place,
because the Holy Spirit desired to give Himself to all men... and all who want Him can always
receive Him, so we do not have to envy the Apostles and the first believers; we only have
to dispose ourselves like them to receive Him well... and He will come to us as He did to them."

~ Words of Bl. Elena Guerra


An accurate portrait
of Bl. Elena Guerra's
facial features.
Not widely known outside of Italy, I hope to somehow change that fact because the life-message this foundress of a teaching congregation has to offer us is important and relevant for our times - it concerns devotion to the Holy Spirit, whose Divine Light the world needs now more than ever.

Elena Guerra was born on June 23, 1835. She was one of six children born of a wealthy family in the city of Lucca, Italy. Growing up she was afforded many privileges not allotted to many - she was educated in the best schools; trained in music and fine art; and studied French and Latin. As an added blessing, she was fortunate to have parents who were spiritually inclined, a trait which Elena inherited. At the age of 10, after her Confirmation, her spirituality was particularly manifested, via a profound devotion to the Holy Spirit and outward acts of charity.

In her youth, Elena actively volunteered with the Vincentians in Lucca and cooperated with them in assisting the poor and caring for the sick. She did this until she herself fell seriously ill at age 22, which left her bedridden for eight years (one source stated the illness as cholera). During this period of trial, Elena kept herself occupied with continued prayer and spiritual reading, especially studying Sacred Scriptures and the writings of early Church Fathers.

After Elena sufficiently recovered from her long malady, almost immediately she applied her deep faith experience and extensive spiritual knowledge to establishing a catechism association called the Society of Mary, Daughters of Saint Agnes. Its membership grew quickly and in 1866 the work evolved to become the Sisters of St. Zita, a female congregation which had the charism of providing solid Christian education to girls and young women. In fact, one of the girls to benefit from Mother Elena's work was none other than the mystic and stigmatist, St. Gemma Galgani (d. 1903). In 1887, the future Saint became a pupil of the school run by the Sisters of St. Zita and she was deeply impressed by its founder's influence.  Truly, holiness begets holiness!

St. Gemma Galgani (left)
was a student of Bl. Elena.
In 1870, Mother Elena traveled to Rome to attend a session of the First Vatican Council convened by Pope Pius IX. The event made an impact on her and it further fueled her tremendous love for the Catholic Faith. She was later inspired by mystical locutions to write a series of letters to the succeeding Pontiff - Pope Leo XIII - requesting that he address a growing problem of their time - anti-clericalism - by rekindling the power and devotion to the Holy Spirit within the Church. 

The Pope, on his part, was moved by Mother Elena's faith and persistence, and he subsequently acted upon her requests by issuing three papal documents - Provida Matris Caritate (an Apostolic Letter), Divinum Illud Munus (an Encyclical), and a letter to the episcopate - between 1895 and 1902. Furthermore, in 1897, after meeting with her personally, Pope Leo XIII made the unusual move of authoring a name change to Mother Elena's congregation to the Oblates of the Holy Spirit; a clear deference for the foundress and her dedication to the Holy Paraclete.

In her final years, Mother Elena was subjected to an unjust humiliation - some of her nuns opposed her changing vision for her congregation and managed to obtain her forced resignation from her position as Mother General of the Oblates. As typical of genuinely saintly souls, the foundress accepted the demotion with humility and continued to serve her daughters in whatever capacity she was ordered to. She also persevered in promoting devotion to the Holy Spirit through many written works, which are considered some of the best on the subject of the Holy Spirit and his charisms. The illustrious St. John Bosco once referred to Mother Elena as a "golden pen" in reference to the quality of her spiritual writings.

The shrine of Bl. Elena Guerra in Lucca, Italy, enclosing a wax figure and the relics of the Blessed.

Mother Elena died on Holy Saturday, April 11, 1914, at the age of 78. After her death, the foundress' memory was vindicated within the congregation and her sanctity was confirmed by the Church when her Beatification occurred on April 26, 1959. Today, the Oblates of the Holy Spirit continue to work and flourish, bringing the light of the Holy Spirit to such places as Italy, Brazil, Canada, Philippines, Lebanon, and Iran.

A Reflection
"... the world is bad, the spirit of Satan triumphs in perverted society and a multitude of souls move away from the heart of God. In these sad conditions, Christians don't think to direct unanimous supplications to the One who can 'renew the face of the earth'."  ~ From a letter of Blessed Elena Guerra to Pope Leo XIII

A Short Prayer
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

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