Gladys Aylward: A Heart for China

Last week I had the chance to speak to a group of local women — and my mother, who had never heard me speak in public until then — about a group of women I’ve come to regard as my spiritual mothers: Women whose example led me, as surely as Moses led the Chosen People to the Promised Land, to where I am today. They (clockwise from upper left): My confirmation namesake, Amy Carmichael; Gertrude “Biddy” Chambers, widow of Oswald Chambers; Gladys Aylward; Mother Teresa; Elisabeth Elliot; and Corrie. ten Boom. (I’ve linked each of their names to my favorite books by or about them, in case you’d like to learn more.)

Like Moses, most of them did not “cross over,” as I did, into the Catholic Church (Mother Teresa is the only professed Catholic among them). And yet, each of them left an indelible stamp upon my spirit through their lives and writings.

Tonight mom and I finished reading the book about Gladys Aylward, the British missionary to China (1902-1970), whose story was retold (with great liberties) in the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. After twenty years preaching the Gospel to teems of people suffering under Communist oppression, she felt the Lord call her back home. At first she was incredulous — she had by that time become a Chinese citizen, dressing like them, eating like them, even thinking like them. And yet, she said,

“England, seemingly so prosperous while other countries passed through terrible suffering at the hands of Communist domination, had forgotten what was all-important — the realization that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual…. I knew that I must go back to the land of my birth. I must return to do what I could to dispel the spiritual lethargy that had overtaken so many. I must testify to the great faith of the Chinese church. I must let people know what great things God has done for me” (The Little Woman, 136).

This was nearly fifty years ago, and yet not much has changed. The “underground” Church of faithful Christians continues to suffer and to struggle, and even to die.

Pray with me for the Holy Father, for the Christians in China … and for all those on the front lines, who seek to ease the suffering of the “least of these” who continue to suffer simply for naming the Blessed Name. Mother Gladys, pray for us, that we might not be afraid to stand with your beloved people.

Another much admired figure, from the Civil War era at Notre Dame, I’d like to write about one day: Sister Angela Gillespie.

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Day 38: Yes!

40day-yellowStart with the Prayer of Abandonment

On March 25 each year we celebrate the Annunciation, when the    Blessed Virgin Mary gave her assent to God’s plan, by which she was to become the Theotokos . . . the God Bearer.  Her “yes” set a series of events in motion that would change the whole human story, making us not just friends but children of God.

Today. Holy Thursday, we celebrate a “yes” of a very different kind:  The moment when the Son of God gave his yes — freely and without equivocation — to God’s redemptive plan. It was the ultimate gesture of love, offered for the benefit of a group of people who had demonstrated time and again unprecedented disregard for such unmerited divine favor.

abraham isaacNow, the question comes back to us:  What are we willing to sacrifice?  When we are called to take up our cross and follow, exactly what form will it take? Are we willing, like Abraham was willing to give up his son Isaac, to give up the most precious thing in our lives out of love for God, trusting him even to the point of death?

Do you know this kind of uncompromising love, the kind reflected the words of Amy Carmichael in her spiritual classic “Calvary Love” (an excerpt of this book may be found here):

If I hold on to choices of any kind, just because they are my choice, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into self-pity and self-sympathy; If I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a span at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love. …

If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.”

Talk about it: Today churches all over the world prepare for the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual, imitating the Lord’s actions towards his disciples. How does this rite apply to your marriage? How does it give you another opportunity to say “Yes” to God?

40 Day Challenge, Day 38: Yes!

abraham isaacStart with the Prayer of Abandonment

On March 25 we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation, when the    Blessed Virgin Mary gave her assent to God’s plan, by which she was to become the Theotokos . . . the God Bearer.  Her “yes” set a series of events in motion that would change the whole human story, making us not just friends but children of God.

Today. Holy Thursday, we celebrate a “yes” of a very different kind:  The moment when the Son of God gave his yes — freely and without equivocation — to God’s redemptive plan. It was the ultimate gesture of love, offered for the benefit of a group of people who had demonstrated time and again unprecedented disregard for such unmerited divine favor.

Now, the question comes back to us:  What are we willing to sacrifice?  When we are called to take up our cross and follow, exactly what form will that burden take? Are we willing, like Abraham, to give up the most precious thing in our lives out of love for God, trusting him even to the point of death?

Do you know this kind of uncompromising love, the kind reflected the words of Amy Carmichael in her spiritual classic “Calvary Love” (an excerpt of this book may be found here):

If I hold on to choices of any kind, just because they are my choice, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into self-pity and self-sympathy; If I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a heart at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love. …

If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.

40-Day Challenge: Palm Sunday

   Happy Palm Sunday!

 On this final Lenten Sunday as we head into Holy Week, let me congratulate you on making it this far in the Challenge. With each passing day as we abandon ourselves more fully to our vocations as Christian wives, God takes up residence in the spaces left as we abandon old habits and seek to establish loving virtues, to strengthen our marriages in perfect love.

In honor of Palm Sunday, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite hymns, written by my confirmation namesake, Amy Carmichael (whose biography A Chance to Die, by Elisabeth Elliot, is one of my all-time favorite books), entitled “From Prayer That Asks” (to the tune of “Faith of Our Fathers”):

From prayer that asks that I may be sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fainting when I should aspire, from faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things; from easy choices, weakenings,
Not thus are spirits fortified; not this way went Thy Crucified.
From all that dims Thy Calvary, O Lamb of God, deliver me!

Give me the love that leads the way, the faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire, the passion that would burn like fire.
Let me not sink to be a clod; make me Thy fuel, O Flame of God!