A sign of contradiction may be “the distinctive definition of Christ and his Church in the world today”.
This is perhaps why when Elisabeth Canori Mora was beatified in 1994, a number of radical feminists reacted viciously. Toronto’s self-excommunicated Joanna Manning wrote a book Is the Pope Catholic?, in which she denounced the Church for presenting this woman as a model when it is obvious that ‘she jeopardized her own life and her children’s in what moral theology would recognize as an over scrupulous interpretation of the sacrament of marriage’.
It is true. Family abuse is a very serious problem and in certain extreme situations, the Church recognizes that the best option is temporary separation. However there is another way out.
Coming from a well off family and having received a good education, Elisabeth had everything going in her favor. She was born in Rome not far from the Coliseum. She had her own fling of wild life in her young adulthood, as she herself admits, “I allowed myself to be captivated by the vanities of the world”. When she was 22, she married a young lawyer, Christopher.
The cross – thanks be to God – always follows us. Her husband turned out to have deep psychological problems. Excessive jealousy led him to be suspicious of everything and everyone. His controlling attitude became more and more dominant. Even the visits of relatives were vexing to him. He became rude and touchy. During these tumultuous years, Elisabeth had two miscarriages one after the other. Then, two daughters, Marianna and Lucina.
Then as it happens many times, his feelings for Elisabeth started shifting to resentment and indifference. From extreme distrust his attitude changed to coldness. Obviously putting all the blame on her!
It is amazing how blind we can be. We always believe the problem is the other. I have seen it happening over and over again in relationships. Instead of looking squarely at ourselves, we shift our deep psychological issues to others. It is always the other’s fault!
He started an adulterous relationship. This wounded the sensibility of Elisabeth deeply. Adultery is always an injustice. He deserted his wife and children and spent all his money on this woman, reducing his own family to destitution. The family fell into extreme poverty. To pay creditors and safeguard the good name of her husband, Elisabeth was compelled to sell her jewelry, her wedding garments and many of her assets. She had to leave her fancy home and go to live a smaller house. The in-laws condemned Elisabeth claiming that ‘with another woman, Christopher would be much better off’!
To all this physical and psychological violence, Elisabeth responded with unqualified fidelity. Meekness and patience became her driving forces, as she wrote in her diary. And, ‘doing the will of God in all things’. Friends, even her confessor, advised Elisabeth to separate, but she believed in the power of the Sacrament of Matrimony. “A woman who is determined to be consistent with her principles often feels deeply alone”, Pope John Paul remarked in her beatification homily.
In her vision, a vision of faith, her husband had been entrusted to her. Through her, she believed, God will save his soul! A portrait of Christopher hung in a prominent position in their apartment, to remind herself and her daughters that this was his home. Reality is reality and to be a Christian is to be synchronized with reality!
Amazingly, she never spoke ill of her husband to her daughters. How much harm we do by disparaging our spouses in front of our children! She started making a living out of her hands.
Instead of closing herself in self pity, she opened her heart and her home to anyone who needed assistance. Remarkable how some people manage to transform a curse into a blessing!
The only response that she got from her husband was ridicule. He made fun of her for her ‘pious’ behavior, but she continued to speak well of him. She never lost heart. ‘He will come back’ she kept telling her daughters.
He did, but only after her death. On 5 February 1825, while being cared for by her two daughters, Elisabeth passed on to the other side. She was only fifty one years old.
The miracle happened shortly afterwards. Her husband not only realized his mistake and came back to faith but he even, nine years later, became a Conventual Franciscan priest!
‘To educate a woman is to educate a people.’ How true!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.