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Retreat Conference given Mother Shirley-Anne
(Easter Retreat 2001 GOOD FRIDAY)


THE BRIDES OF CHRIST

by Mother Shirley-Anne

When one conjures up in their mind the picture of a bride, it is usually an image of a beautiful young woman dressed in a long gown of virginal white, a delicate and modest veiling surrounding her head and her arms, and an aspect of happiness, expectation and love. This is our image. But here we view the bride on the human level, the earthly aspect: we think of the physical union which unites man and woman, which makes of them one.

Today we know the Brides of Christ are not of this category, but of a far higher and more perfect plane. A bride is a lover of a man. A Bride of Christ is one whose soul loves the Soul of Christ.

The general thought of a Bride of Christ conjures up a picture of a Religious Nun, clad in Habit - and veiled - who has taken the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to God; who has given her life over to Him, totally, in one of self-sacrifice, mortification, self-giving, until death. She has aligned herself, totally, with Jesus; has taken His interests as her own, namely the saving of her soul and the salvation of all souls. This is indeed a Bride of Christ. Christ is her Spouse. She lives for Him and His Divine Will.

However, what we have now come to understand, especially living in the Order the new way of Consecrated Life, is that we are all Brides of Spouses of Christ according to the manner in which we live and love. To be a Bride of Christ is to be a lover of His Soul, to put Him first in all things, to place His interests above our own and to live the Holy vows according to our state. Here we have a "marriage" or "wedding" of souls.

In the Gospels, Our Lord says: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself". Note - with all your soul. Jesus, in effect, invites all with these words to be His Bride, His Spouse. Jesus, the Spouse, the New Church, invites us to the Wedding.

Now, in the Gospels there are many examples of these holy souls who lived for Him - true Spouses, true Brides. The soul has no gender, being neither male or female because it is spirit - it is made in the Image and likeness of God - therefore it is attracted to its origin. True lovers of God: their souls yearn to be as one with their Beloved. Our souls were created with a spark of the Divine Fire. The Fire of Love generated the soul, and the soul retains that spark of Love.

At the time of our Lenten observance, we focus, particularly, at this very hour on Our Saviour Who hangs between Heaven and Earth. He hangs suspended, His Life Blood seeping down upon the Earth, purifying and cleansing. He bathes His Holy Mother with His Precious Blood - She who has no need of the purifying Blood because of Her Immaculate State. At this time, Jesus suffers his last Agony, and I can do no better than to focus on the greatest of Saints, the Holiest Woman: Mary, the Bride of Christ, the most perfect Bride. The true Bride, the faithful Bride, the loyal Bride places the Will of Her Spouse before all else. Here the great Co-Redemptrix suffered the immense agony of seeing the One whom Her Soul Loves, being done to death. She stood there willingly and assented to the greatest Sacrifice. Is not this the most wonderful example of perfect Love? She suffered atrocious agony in heart and mind, in union with the Will of God. It was God's Will that His Son should suffer thus - and so it was Hers, but at what an enormous cost. The most perfect union of Souls. Can you imagine the suffering of His Holy Mother - it is beyond all comprehension, for She Loved with a Holy Pure Love and was loved in the same way - such an exalted, supremely Holy, Marriage of Souls. The Soul of Jesus united with the Soul of His Mother. The Soul of God united with the Soul of the Mother of God. Mysteries beyond under-standing.

If you are a lover of the "Poem of the Man God" and have read in these pages of the Love between Son and Mother, you will understand the beginnings of the depth of perfect love.

Let us stand beneath the Cross with Our Blessed Lady - She Who, before the Soul of Jesus departs, becomes Our Blessed Mother, given to us out of Love, as a dying legacy from the Lover of our souls.

Beneath the Cross stood the three Mary's, the main-stay and support of the Mother. The greatest penitent Saint, Mary of Magdala, who from a notorious sinner of worldly passions, found true worth; true love: what can we say about this Bride of Christ who, in a life of sin, fell so far that seven devils were cast out of her, but whose heart was won by Mercy - the Love Himself. Yes, the call of Love, the Lover of her soul touched a chord in her heart. Christ, the Lover, wooed her soul and claimed it, drawing it to Himself - and she responded to the Grace offered. She recognised in Jesus her Saviour, and true Lover. She became - from a woman of the world - the greatest example of the mercy of God. Once she found her way she flew to the embrace of God and took refuge there. She who could not bear to be away from the Master: who sat at His Feet, drinking in His words of salvation - so much so that the more practical Martha remonstrated about her. But Mary drew her strength from her Lover, and she would need His strength to survive the hours to come - the battering against her faith - when she awaited the Resurrection of Him Whom her soul loved. Mary, who would have fought to the death to protect Jesus, followed His Divine Will and, although her heart was broken, turned to the Mother; to be the support and strength of Her who would be the most afflicted.

Yes, it was Jesus Himself who had asked for this support for His Holy Mother during His Agony. Mary fulfilled the task given to her by her Spouse and it was she to whom Our Lord Appeared first after His Holy Mother, on Resurrection morn. She merited that singular privilege by the love for her Lord, and through the whole of her remaining life Mary lived in total union with her Jesus. She lived only for Him; she, who had walked beside Him in His Earthly ministry, had witnessed His immeasurable sufferings; His unbounded Love and thirst for souls, joined with Him in His quest - the quest of salvation of her own soul and the souls beloved of God She spent her years in solitary exile expiating the sins of her youth.

Many years she lived in a lonely grotto on the coast of France, her soul communicating with that of her Jesus - with that of her Lover. And, as her life ebbed away - her life of penitence, her body worn out from mortification and penance, her strength spent - she calls for her Lover, the Beloved of her soul, yearning for His return once again. Her being is almost consumed with love - and she hears once again the same Beloved Voice of old; the Voice she heard in the garden so many years ago when she was young and full of vigour; the voice that wiped away the agony and brought complete joy to her soul. The name, "Mary", said in the strong melodious Voice of her Jesus. "Rabboni" - He comes for her. Mary, who washed His Feet with her tears, wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed and anointed them with fragrant ointment on the threshold of His Death, is rewarded in like manner by the visitation of Jesus, the reward of His Love for her. Jesus Himself comes to her - she hears Him say: "Mary, I will precede you into glory. Kiss My Hand and lie down in peace. Rest, give Me your thorns; now is the time for roses. Rest and wait. I Bless you, Blessed one"! He lies her gently on her poor couch. She is now in an ecstasy of love. He is gone.

Then a "Radiance" enters the grotto, carrying a Chalice which he places on the little Altar and worships. Mary kneels and worships, also. Her strength is slowly ebbing - her spirit soaring Heavenwards. The Angel takes the Chalice and gives Mary her Jesus, as Food. The Angel departs and Mary falls back on her cot in her ecstasy and the Eucharistic union cuts the thread of her life. Her soul unites with that of her Jesus in complete union. Mary Magdalen is the symbol of the soul in love with God; the soul who gives herself, exclusively, to Him; consuming for Him all that she is and all that she has. She is the symbol of all those souls who give up, in whole or in part, exterior activity in order to consecrate themselves more fully to the immediate service of God, and devote themselves by a life of intimate union with Him.

We look at the other Mary's who faithfully stood with Our Lady: Mary Cleophas, sister in law of Our Lady and mother of Saints James and Jude. This woman, a widow, who knew Jesus from baby-hood; whose own children had had the privilege of being educated by Our Lady. This true believer who, after the death of her husband, followed the Master, seeing to His needs and comforts. Hers was a life of service; a true Bride of Christ.

The third Mary, Mary Salome, Mother of Saints James and John. She who recognised the treasures of the Kingdom of Heaven and pleaded for her sons to sit at the right and left of Jesus in Heaven. It was she, with Suzanna, who went to the tomb and joined with Martha and Mary Cleophas, to anoint the Body of their Lord, led by the redoubtable Mary of Magdala. These first Nuns - one might call them - for these were true Brides of Christ and merited, by their fidelity to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, to be amongst the first recipients of the smile on the Face of Christ. The Holy women, who by their obedience and true love, were given the Grace and privilege of Our Lord's smile. Brides of Christ, lovers of His Soul, wedded in a union of love.

Who else do we see beneath the Cross? We see the pure virginal John; the youth who understood his Master; the youthful forerunner of the celibate Priesthood; the pure lover of the Soul of Jesus. We see this young man in his purity and chastity. He found his soul's desire in the mystical realm of love. He, of all the Apostles, lived in the Divine Will and manifested it by his life. He, the youngest, the purest, who understood the Heart of his Jesus more so than any other. He who was so close to Jesus that His Head rested on the Heart of his Beloved. It was he to whom Jesus entrusted His priceless "Treasure": His Mother. How united were these souls: Jesus and John, the Lover and the Beloved. How the young John suffered; but how like his Master he became - for his Gospel written in later years, lives and breathes with the love of the Master. John, indeed, was a Bride of Christ and spouse of His Soul because of his virginal purity and love.

Who else braved the wrath of the authorities that fateful day to perform the last offices for Jesus, the care of His Mortal Body. Certainly tentative and fearful, but their love and respect for the Master gave them the courage to come forward - Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. They professed their faith and love. Their souls loved the Love.

Saint John the Evangelist

We now look back a short week in time. Not many days before the Passion, we see Jesus in company with Lazarus; the resurrected Lazarus. This young Noble - the richest man in Judea, but one of the purest of hearts to love Our Lord - had suffered much. He, because of the life his sister had led, had been ostracised by many. He could not hold up his head because of the great blight on his family name. He saw his mother die of a broken heart. He saw his sister, Martha's, chances of making a good marriage dashed, but he found his joy and solace in the Love of Jesus, and who became so dear and beloved of Jesus, his true Friend, that Jesus wept at his death, shedding Tears and sighs of great distress.

Lazarus, who was asked by Jesus to remain at home, was not given the solace of being with his Jesus to the end. He obeyed the Divine Will and remained at home - commissioned to stay behind to gather the scattered Apostles and bring stability to their unbalanced minds and hearts. The love of this best friend of Jesus was shown in his desire to fulfil the Will of God for him. He who also would also have fought to the death for Jesus, obeyed and remained afar off, but whose mind and heart were united to those of his Spouse.

Brides / Spouses - the terminology differs, but the substance remains - the union of souls in love, in obedience, with the Will and Soul of Jesus.

There are many examples throughout the Gospels of the traditional Bride of Christ - Palm Sunday: Annaleah - whom Jesus Loved so much as to acquiesce to her request. She could not bear to see the death of her Beloved. It was beyond her capability to see Him suffer in such a way, and Jesus in His Mercy and Love, took her pure soul at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Is there any more touching scene in the pages of the "Poem" except that of Jesus with His Mother, than that of Our Lord's visit after His Resurrection to the Mother of the Demon? Is there any more poignant scene than that of poor Mary of Kerioth, who had for her legacy the motherhood of the great betrayer? Yet Jesus comforted this soul whom He Loved and who loved Him, and yet she was for-ever tied to the memory of the son she had produced. She who merited by her sorrow and Love, to feel the Tear of Jesus upon her. The love of this Bride and the sorrow of this Bride of Christ was great indeed. She who gave birth to the traitor, suffered so much, in a minor parallel, to the Mother of the Saviour.

I return for a brief glimpse to the Glorious Saint Joseph, the just man, totally attuned to the Will of God. He, who out of all creation, was chosen to be the Guardian and Provider of the Son of God. The soul of this pure man wedded to the Soul of God. He who travelled the road of life with Jesus, who fulfilled his role to perfection. Is there any more Glorious Saint besides the Immaculate Queen?

Saint John, the Baptist, who leapt in the womb of his mother in recognition of the approach of the One whom his soul loved.

The Mother of the Saviour whose Will was en-closed in the Divine, was indeed the most perfect Bride of Christ. The marriage of Her Soul to that of Her Son was the most perfect union. The United and Undivided Hearts totally as One, united to the other. Where Her Jesus is, there is Mary, the great Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. She who merited by Her perfect Love to be the forerunner and perfect type of all Religious women in all time.

As we stand at this present time - with Our Lady, the Holy Women, Lazarus, the faithful apostles and Disciples - we turn our own thoughts to the scene of Calvary. We united ourselves with the sufferings of the faithful ones in their witness of love. We look to Our Heavenly Father in true love and adoration, in gratitude for His Supreme Gift of Love to us. The Love of the Father is beyond comprehension - that He would willingly sacrifice His Son and Daughter for our salvation.

Compassionate the Father's Heart in these moments, for His Heart suffers as He witnesses the sufferings of His Sacrificial Lamb: in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


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