(EDITOR’S NOTE: In last week’s column, a paragraph was omitted inadvertently. For this reason we are re-printing the entire article as the paragraph is crucial for understanding as to why Pilar Maturana went to Berriz in the first place. We apologize for the mistake.)
The opening scenes of the American television series, Mission: Impossible (1966-1973) always included, “(Name), your mission, should you decide to accept it . . .” The show was a product of its time about secret government agents. Later five movies followed from 1996 to 2015, with the sixth now set to be released in 2018.
Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. Vocation is a call from God to live in a particular lifestyle and BE the person God created you to be. Calling us by name, God invites us to respond. In that response, we are free to choose. Traditionally, religious life as a sister or a brother and priesthood are called religious vocations. Single Blessedness and Marriage are the other two vocations in life. Mission, on the other hand, is a sending, “to go” wherever you are sent, to DO what you are asked to do. As Christians, we hear Jesus say to us as he said to his disciples on that first Easter, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (Jn20:21) Yes, we each have a mission in life!
Over these past weeks we have been sharing in this column about Blessed Margarita Maria Maturana. She was a woman of her time, who heard God’s call, responded and discovered the mission that God dreamed for her. Let us see how . . .
She was a twin, born on July 25, 1884, as Pilar, along with her sister Leonor in Bilbao, Spain. They were the youngest of five children of Don Vicente and Dona Juana Maturana. Their oldest sister, Maria Dolores (Lola) who was almost like a second mother to them, was already a teacher; she supplemented their education by tutoring them at home until they were fourteen.
The parents nourished the growth of their children, including encouraging good reading and the development of a life of faith. The twins participated at Mass, made visits to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Mother, made little sacrifices, tried to help the poor. They had the same desire: to love Jesus. The “soil” of their very beings was being cultivated.
“The twins were inseparable. They helped their mother selling books and this job actually fueled Pilar’s love of reading. Nearby was a school for naval cadets. Two of them got interested in the twins, visiting the bookstore often. Soon Dona Juana came to the realization that the relationships with these young men were moving a bit too fast for her daughters. They should not see them anymore. Leonor acquiesced; Pilar had some resistance.”
The irony is—what on the surface seemed like a punishment—was actually the means by which God prepared Pilar to hear his call to her. Yes, in- deed, “Much in life depends on how you look at it!”
Lola, the older sister believed the only way to remedy the situation was to send Pilar away for a while. This is how Pilar came to Berriz–to attend the boarding school there. It was January 10, 1901. As she was welcomed to the school as its newest boarder, one of her future classmates was trying to close a window with little success since the window sill was swollen and would not allow her to. She exclaimed, “How hard it is! It’s impossible to close it.” Pilar simply looked at her and said, “If it can’t be done, leave it alone. Nobody yet has ever done what is impossible.” This remark became widely known throughout the school and time would tell exactly how ironic it would be.
Pilar was only there at the school for one year. She became loved, however, by both her class- mates and the nuns. In their retreat that year, she heard the questions which St. Ignatius (the founder of the Jesuits) had asked himself: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What am I going to do for Christ? A spark ignited in Pilar that day; a seed had been planted.
When Pilar returned home, she shared her desire to be a religious in Berriz with her twin Leonor. What she did not yet know was that Leonor also felt called to religious life. At first the desire was for both of them to enter Berriz, but Leonor told Pilar one day, “Look, the hardest thing for me to give up is you. Were the whole world put on one side of the scales, and you on the other, you would outweigh it infinitely more. So, I want to give everything to God a complete sacrifice. We shall separate forever.”
Dona Juana, the twin’s mother, was not keen on her daughters’ decisions. She asked them to wait at least until their 19th birthday, which they obediently did. Their resolve did not change. Leonor entered the Carmelite Sisters of Charity in Vitoria and Pilar entered the Mercedarian convent in Berriz, taking the name, Margarita Maria. The year was 1903. At that time to be a nun in Berriz meant: separation, grills, renunciation of the world–that is to be a “cloistered nun”.
The story does not end there, however. We know that it continued . . .We know that later–in 1926, after years of the Spirit at work in the school and in the con- vent, the grills of the convent were opened and the new Institute of the Mercedarian Missionaries of Ber- riz began to spread throughout the world “to proclaim the good news.” The Mission that everyone said was IMPOSSIBLE for cloistered nuns, became POSSIBLE, through Mother Margarita’s vision and the unity of mind and heart of the entire convent of nuns. This was the only time in the history of the Church that a cloistered convent became missionary—MISSION: POSSIBLE when The One who sends you is the Lord Jesus.