Monday, June 27, 2022

A Beautiful Testimony to the Power of the Original Liturgical Movement

Newly released from Arouca Press in collaboration with Silverstream Priory, NLM followers will no doubt want to make a point of reading a book which combines fine art, hagiography, and sound spiritual advice: For Their Sake I Consecrate Myself. I greatly enjoyed and benefited from reading it and consider it to be one of those precious hidden gems, lost in a world of more superficial entertainment and NYT bestsellers, that readers will still be thinking about years after they read it.

The biography of a young Polish nun of the last century, it is a fascinating snapshot of the fruits of the 1950s Liturgical Movement at its finest. “There is a question of equilibrium, of balance, in the supernatural order, as in the physical universe,” writes Abbot Philip Anderson about this book. “It was the God-Man, Jesus Christ, who re-established this balance on the highest level, after sin had unleashed ruin upon mankind. But some souls are called to fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ in their flesh for His Body, as Saint Paul tells us. How can this be? Let the story of Sister Maria Bernadette, who was surely one of those souls, lift a corner of the veil and draw you into the mystery. Maybe you too have a part to play.”

Known in the world as Róża Wolska, she was born in 1927. Reminiscent of Pier Giorgio Frassati in many ways, Róża was an avid athlete. In the early ’40s she was introduced to the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Tyniec. At that time Tyniec was in the vanguard of the Liturgical Movement, in its healthy phase; under the monks’ guidance, Róża’s spiritual life flourished, as friendship, lectio divina, and the sacred liturgy revealed the beauty of God to her.
Somewhat of a surprise even to herself, Róża felt moved to enter the Benedictine Nuns of Perpetual Adoration in Warsaw after graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1951. Those years were very difficult for the monastery, which was being rebuilt after the being bombed in World War II; the Communist yoke weighed heavily on the whole country. During these years, outwardly quiet but inwardly eventful, Sr. Maria Bernadette, as she was known in religion, struggled with how to overocome the old Adam and put on the new; in particular, her secular training in art had to be sublimated to monastic purposes, and in this regard she eventually produced many striking images of various sizes and for varied occasions.
After about ten years of living the monastic life, Sister Bernadette’s health began to fail, and in 1963 she was admitted into hospital for surgery. While there, she offered her life in reparation for the sins of apostate priests about whom she had read, particularly the so-called “Patriot Priests” who were supportive of the Communist government. Complications arose but doctors declared them normal symptoms of recovery; they were mistaken. “Both the sick and the doctors cannot get over the fact that a nun can be so cheerful,” she wrote to her parents shortly before her death. “I think that the glory of the Bridegroom grows through this, so I don’t even care anymore that my stitches hurt from laughing.”
A prayer card by Sr. Bernadette: "I to my beloved, and my beloved to me, [who feedeth among the lilies]" (Song 6:2)
As her strength failed, the wistful Gregorian melody for the Magnificat antiphon for the Ascension ran through her soul: “O King of glory, Lord of hosts, Who hast this day mounted in triumph above all the heavens, leave us not orphans: but send unto us the promise of the Father, the Spirit of truth, alleluia.” Sister Bernadette died on April 30th, 1963, surrendering her life into the hands of God.
Page from a Gospel book illuminated and calligraphed by Sr. Bernadette
Sally Read, poet and author of Night’s Bright Darkness, writes of this book: “The life of Sister Bernadette of the Cross is vividly detailed here. Her role as a child of God, in a world ravaged and abused by war and corruption, comes across as both heroic and ordinary.”

For Their Sake I Consecrate Myself is a new translation and revised edition of a Polish biography of Sister Bernadette. It contains numerous photographs and reproductions of her artwork, and extensive passages from her charming, humorous, and spiritually uplifting letters. “As we go through the pages,” Sally Read continues, “[Sister’s] very soul seems to be honed and polished before our eyes; she is both reduced and glorified by her pains. Her story is an illustration of what it means to suffer in Christ, and for the sins of others, and is given great immediacy and vitality by the examples of her beautiful art. Her words are meat for those who wonder about the role of suffering in life.” An epilogue in the book ponders the lessons of victim souls and how we are to make sense of this “scandal” in a world that has so much lost the understanding of the value of reparation and the practice of abandonment to the Father’s Providence.
A humorous drawing showing Sister's response to the psalm verse
"And he took me up from the deep waters"
Perhaps the strongest praise comes from Scott Hahn, who writes: “This book is a roadmap to true happiness, not only in the afterlife, but beginning here and now.” Drawing attention to the remarkable cheerfulness that suffused Sister Bernadette’s often difficult life, Dr. Hahn says: “Sister Bernadette was one of those souls who, while living with the Church, the liturgy, and the Scriptures, allow themselves to be led by the Spirit to pray and to suffer—generously and cheerfully. She made an offering of her life, and in these pages we can learn to do the same.”

For Their Sake I Consecrate Myself is available for purchase on Arouca Press’s website, on Silverstream Priory’s shop, as well as, Amazon UK, and other retailers. I hope that many will “take a chance” on this little-known story and find a special blessing in it.

A brief preview of the photos and artwork found in the book is available in a video released by Silverstream Priory: 

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