Sr. Vicenta Guilarte, F.I., Educator in the Faith, Poor and Happy

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Today I would like to invite you to look at 2 central aspects in the life of M. Vicenta Guilarte, Hija de Jesus. The first refers to her as an educator in the faith, while the second refers to her life of poverty. The two are tightly intertwined.

EDUCATING IN THE FAITH CONSTANTLY

We know that when Mother Vicenta was assigned to Leopoldina (Brazil), there was a drastic change in her workplace, from the classroom to the entrance lobby. But M. Vicenta continued to be, as always, an educator in the faith.

Among the beneficiaries of her educational action was a nonboarding student who was in the school for seven years and pointed to M. Vicenta as teacher and guide, identifying their relationship as one of friendship and continuous, daily formation in the faith, through an interaction that took place in the small corner under the stairs at the entrance of the school, where M. Vicenta used to stay. The effect of this relationship would be powerful enough to make the witness say, at the age of 75, "I keep her advice in my heart, which gives me strength and courage to live."  She said:

When she talked about God, it seemed like she was seeing him. Sometimes I, impressed, would tell her what I thought of her and she would reply: "No, my daughter, don't say that." She loved Jesus Christ very much and always spoke of the need to love him above all things: “Always love God; above all things we must love God.” I was amazed at the depth of her words and she repeated: "Love God above all things and you will be very happy." I, then, told her: “That's why you are very happy”. And she answered me: “That's why...” She always prayed for all people, mainly for sinners, and she told me: “That's why I'm educating you, so that you may value Jesus; many do wrong things because they had no one to teach them to orient their lives”...

Then there is the story of a little boy, Juanito, who came into contact with M. Vicenta and, like many others, struck up a conversation with her and became her "student." He met M. Vicenta when he went to the school as an altar boy, serving at the daily Masses that were celebrated there. He observed how Mother Vicenta, who almost never left her little corner, captivated everyone with her words and teachings:

 “She had the gift of penetrating the depths of the hearts of all people and, with her teachings and her words, she captivated everyone. ... She did a lot for people with her prayers and sometimes just with her word. She hardly left her little corner, but she always had a kind word that penetrated people's hearts... I learned to love God and my neighbor thanks to the teachings of Mother Vicenta. She was a person who never knew how to say “NO”. She welcomed everyone, from D. Delfín [the bishop] to the poor “Chico Doce” and “Deia” (a mentally ill woman who sometimes took alms and aid left in the Virgin's grotto). She did all this because she saw Christ in the person of her neighbor, in the person of her brother. She spoke as if Christ were near: “Christ is a friend; Christ is a brother."

She had unshakeable faith. ... she transmitted this faith to everyone through her conversations and teachings. I learned a lot from her. She always insisted that people can never lose faith and trust in God. "Have faith, because Christ will always attend to us in all our needs," the Servant of God told me. "Appeal to Him always using the name of the Virgin Mary," she repeated.

... she had a deep love for God and she tried to communicate this to people in her day-to-day, in her way of being and acting. ... Mother Vicenta's love for God was so intense that it allowed this reality to shine through before all people.

LIVING POVERTY JOYFULLY

There was another aspect of Mother Vicenta’s life that stood out. According to those who knew her, Mother Vicenta lived radical material poverty and extraordinary spiritual poverty. She lived in poverty for supernatural reasons, with tireless perseverance all her life and with visible joy. Her way of living her poverty was exceptional and far superior to what was common, making her a true witness and example for others.

All the sisters of the community knew that M. Vicenta lived her vow of poverty radically, having only what was necessary. And in the use of necessary things, such as food, clothing, shelter, and money, she rigorously exercised poverty. Among many, we quote only one sister here:

The servant of God practiced the virtue of poverty always and in all circumstances. Although she might have felt the need for something, she did not seek it. When I told her about this reality, she told me: "You have to feel poverty in your own skin." ...

Her notebooks also demonstrate her poverty. We didn't have individual rooms at that time; in her cell there was nothing; only what was absolutely necessary. She always said: "We must always have and live in poverty."

In addition to material poverty, she lived spiritual poverty in an extraordinary and energetic way. Of the sisters who had lived with her we quote only one here:

She always kept her spirit apart from temporal goods, concerned about spiritual ones. As a true Hija de Jesus, she lived poverty of spirit with all vitality.

The sister who lived with her the longest (for 27 years!) sums it up best: (this was the community cook)

I think Mother Vicenta did not care about the things of this world. She cultivated poverty of spirit. She was a lover of work, yes, and I never saw her fail in poverty.

And outside the community, the altar boy Juanito corroborates the previous description of Mother Vicenta:

She was a great lover of work and she preferred the simplest and most humble works. She always worked here as a gatekeeper. I learned with her that "if we want to have God closer to us, we must look for him in the humblest services." I know that service at the entrance lobby is not easy at all, but she sanctified herself by sanctifying her mission.

For Mother Vicenta, only Christ mattered. The things of this world did not matter to her. Her poverty arose from supernatural reasons: to be poor for Christ, to be totally dedicated to the will of God, in obedience to the Rule, seeking only to love God and her neighbor completely, and to dedicate herself to her duties, especially at the entrance lobby. In the words of two Hijas de Jesus:

The Servant of God practiced poverty, living it to its last consequences.

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The virtue of poverty was lived by Mother Vicenta to a heroic degree, as a true Hija de Jesus. She said: "If God is poor, I have to be poor." She wanted to be poor for Christ.

Mother Vicenta practiced poverty to a heroic degree in her simplicity, in her total surrender to God’s will.

The manifestations of this virtue were evident. She was always very poor because she lived in poverty in a spirit of submission to the will of God and in obedience to the rule. She had nothing special or superfluous and she always tried to live in poverty of spirit, in addition to material poverty.

Among many, we quote only one testimony from a former student of the school:

She had only what was necessary for her to live and she constantly sought poverty of spirit, notably loving people and everything she was doing, especially her work at the entrance lobby.

With her eyes fixed on God alone, the Servant of God saw work as a gift from Him, and she could find Him in whatever task given to her. Two sisters who lived with her tell us this:

She had a great love for work, which she considered to be a gift from God, and she showed a predilection for the lowest positions.

She had great respect for work and she loved what she did.

Although she was a teacher, she didn't mind staying at the entrance lobby. For her, all occupations were the same. For this reason, she affirmed: "God is everywhere, in big things and in small things".

Thus she was able to accept humble positions with love, docility, naturalness, and even enthusiasm:

She was deeply passionate about what she did and loved her work, not caring that it was humble. She always cultivated true poverty of spirit, and in this, she excelled. (from a former student of our school)

She loved her work and manifested her poverty by remaining in a humble task, throughout her life in Leopoldina, even though she had a teacher's degree. (from her last Superior)

From a former student who knew Mother Vicenta for 30 years:

She manifested this poverty in her preference for the humblest tasks, in which she saw an opportunity for the glorification of God. If she became vice superior, it was because she was a person of great knowledge, but, nevertheless, she never boasted about it. Many here did not even know such a thing. I know that the Servant of God tried to hide this reality very simply.

Wanting nothing for herself, she practiced poverty with untiring perseverance all her life, with fortitude and with all naturalness and simplicity.  In the words of her last superior:

The Servant of God practiced poverty to a heroic degree, obeying everything that the congregation ordered. She did not wish for anything, she wanted nothing and she never wanted anything for herself all her life.

In the community, she constantly allowed others to choose the best, taking the worst for herself, without complaining or worrying about anything: (from 2 sisters who had lived with her, the second being her last superior)

She deeply cultivated the spirit of poverty and distinguished herself among the other sisters in not complaining about anything that was given to her. On top of that, she was always the last to pick things out; when she was going to do it, the best had already been chosen.

She stood out from the others by not worrying about anything; for her, what was strictly necessary was enough.

From a former student who kept in touch with M. Vicenta until the latter’s death:

The Servant of God was always a person who was very stripped of and detached from all material goods, and she lived the virtue of poverty throughout her life to a heroic degree. She lived poverty with great efficiency and fortitude.

From a sister from another Congregation who had known M. Vicenta for 9 years and who witnessed her last moments as her nurse:

The Servant of God lived poverty to a heroic degree. She was totally detached from and stripped of all material and earthly goods. She lived poverty with impressive simplicity.

A former student pointed out her joy and humility in living in poverty:

She was very simple even in her way of dressing and she distinguished herself from the others because she lived her poverty with joy and humility. I never saw her angry or moody.

From the wife of the school carpenter whose daughters studied there:

The Servant of God practiced poverty to a heroic degree. She lived poverty with deep gratitude.

She appreciated the poorest occupations and took immense pleasure in serving others. It was there, in the entrance lobby and in the chapel, that I met her, always serving and smiling.

Her testimony and her example impressed and attracted even people from outside the community who came into contact with her. A witness who had known M. Vicenta as a student and continued to interact with her until her death says:

She practiced the virtue of poverty to a heroic degree; her testimony of self-deprivation was impressive. She had nothing as hers; everything was for the poor and those in need of her. She loved her work very much, not caring that it was considered humble.

She never failed in the vow of poverty and this delighted the people who associated with her.

From another former student:

The Servant of God practiced the virtue of poverty in total detachment from material things and through dazzling dispossession.

She had practically nothing; only what is strictly necessary to live, and she taught us to live the evangelical values ​​of "not hoarding treasures here on earth".

The catechism tells us basically who man is – he is created by God, for God, and only in God will he find the truth and happiness he is searching for: 

The desire for God is written in the human heart because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for... (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 27)

Was this what Mother Vicenta meant when she said, “That’s why I’m educating you, so that you may value Jesus; many do wrong things because they had no one to teach them to orient their lives”? Because this was after she told the student, “Love God above all things and you will be very happy.”

Practicing the virtue of poverty trains us to seek God, not other things...

Mother Vicenta’s life was a gift of God to us, to the Congregation, to everyone. Our life, too, is a precious gift of God to ourselves and to others. What are we doing with this gift?

Mother Vicenta, pray for us!

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