“IN OUR OWN DAYS too, the Church is constantly enriched by the witness of the many women who fulfill their vocation to holiness. Holy women are an incarnation of the feminine ideal; they are also a model for all Christians…”(Pope John Paul in his stunning encyclical “On The Dignity of Women”)
Marie Louise has no claim to fame. She is a simple Filipino woman, born in Kalibo, Aklan in 1957. They were thirteen in her family. A very normal life. A Christian family.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is right when it affirms that the home is the first school of Christian life and “a school for human enrichment”. “Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous — even repeated — forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life.”
When she was twenty she joined the Neocatechumenal way in her parish of Mary the Queen Parish (San Juan, Metro Manila). Through this Way, she started a journey of deepening her faith.
She got married to Ricky and they had six children – all born by cesarean section. Two of them has problems – one has a cleft palate and the fifth was born deaf and mute. Many advised her to be sensible and take birth control pills. Her answer was always a downright no. “I will never take the birth control pill, now or ever.”
“I thank God for showing me that a child does not come from me. It is God who gives a child or none at all. I realized that to enter into this grace means to be open to the will of God in how many children I would have or would not have.”
Marie Louise was also asked to catechize and she helped in the announcement of the Good News in a nearby parish in Cavite. Her pastor also invited her to help with the parish pre-baptismal classes and also counseling unwed couples. “No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who ‘labor and are heavy laden’.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
When she was thirty-eight, she was diagnosed with acute leukemia. She was pregnant with her seventh child at the time. This was January 1995 – just during the Tenth World Youth Day and the second pastoral visit of Pope John Paul II to Manila.
She had an option. Either take a full dose of chemotherapy immediately which would have harmed the baby, or save the baby but risking seriously her life. She opted for the second option. She and Ricky saw clearly that this was God’s will for them.
On June 30, 1995, she gave birth to a baby boy, Peter Paul, again by cesarean section. There were many complications because her RBC and blood platelets were very low; her urinary bladder got torn up during the delivery. The whole operation took 3 hours. The baby weighed 6.2 lb. at birth.
Writing to her elder son from hospital, she said : “Mama should have died but God made it possible for Mama to live. God wants me to be with you to be a mother and wife to Papa.”
However her leukemia was relentless. After delivering the baby, she underwent chemotherapy six times which debilitated her physically and emotionally. “My body feels so weak and full of pain.” She had to live in a semi-quarantine state so as not to catch any infections. “How I long to carry Peter Paul, to feed, burp him! How I long to be with my children, to hear their little voices!”
Yet, her attitude during all this trial was amazing.
Writing to her Neocatechumenal community, she uses words which sound so alien to our mundane ears. “My dear brothers of the first Community…. I give thanks to God for giving me this Leukemia. Not because I want to have it, but because of it, God opened my eyes, revealing to me so many things. Now I understand what it is to be enlightened, or to be blind, or to be in darkness.”
“Because of this leukemia I have to undergo chemotherapy every month and the pain and suffering I go through, teaches me humility in front of this history that God has willed for me. Even though how much I want to fight and rebel against this Kenosis, I cannot. There seems to be no escape from these pains and sufferings. Because of this sickness, I pray more often to have the strength to accept this history. And sometimes in my weakness, I find myself so tired, that I do not want the chemo anymore. Often I ask God when this suffering will end and whether I will ever be cured of Leukemia or not. This has taught me to really live and appreciate each day.”
In the same vein, she writes to her son, “God has given me this sickness to show me how good God is. It is only at this moment that mama really experienced the great love of God and immense mercy of God that God wants all of us to go to heaven.”
She wants earnestly to go back to her family and live with her husband and enjoy the kids. “I am so afraid to die. On the day I discovered I have Leukemia, I prayed hard to God not to allow me to die, for the sake of my children who are still young. I want to see them grow up.”
Yet the fear of death slowly looses its hold on her. “Mama experienced death when I was in the operating table and its really a miracle that I live,” she writes to her elder son John. “Mama wants to tell you not to be afraid of death because death is not painful and is something beautiful. Mama experienced that. When you die, God is so good that you go straight to heaven.”
Growing in faith also put her values in the right order. “My Ever-dearest John, Papa and mama have always told you to study well. To study well is good but we forget to tell you that the most important thing is to have faith in God – to believe that His plan for you is good and do God’s will.” I think it was the Master who once affirmed that we should look first for the Kingdom of God and then everything will be given to us.
“Mama is enduring all this”, she continues telling her son, “not because I am brave or strong but because of all your prayers and the grace of God sustaining me.” And to her community, she writes a postscript in her last letter which reveals the source of all this strength. “I thank God especially for the community through the celebrations of the Word and Eucharist and the scrutinies in preparing me to accept my Leukemia.”
Less than one month after writing these letters, on September 1, 1995, after praying the morning prayers, Marie Louise gently crossed the threshold from this life into Eternal Life. She was 38 years old.
She was never able to play and to hug her son Peter Paul here on earth. She will have all eternity to do that .. and more, in heaven.
(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.