Monday, October 3, 2011

THE WAY OF THUNDER, THE ROAD TO HEAVEN The Story of Celeste in Foggia

A Play by Sr. Moira Quinn, OSsR written in 2005 for the
250th Anniversary of the death of Ven. Maria Celeste Crostarosa, from:
The Autobiography of Venerable Maria Celeste

Narrated - Sr. Illuminata, Celeste, Male voice = Jesus, Alphonsus, Gerard, Priest

The Way of Thunder, the Road to Heaven 

J.      Go To Foggia.

N.      That is what our Beloved Lord told my dear younger sister Julia.  Who is Julia?  Oh, you know her as Sr. Maria Celeste Crostarosa.  She was our Holy Mother Prioress of the Order of Most Holy Redeemer here in Foggia, Italy.  I know you heard the wagging tongues that followed us here from Scala ever since Celeste made known her revelations from the Beloved of His desire for a new institute; one which would have for its law and rules His very life.  She has been called the ‘Mad Mystic,’ ‘the Witch!  Yes, she was strong, and spoke the truth from her heart, but she was really the humblest daughter of the Divine Will.  She was expelled from the monastery in Scala, you know; we were given no alternative than to leave with nothing but borrowed clothes on our backs and her name expunged from all the records.  That took place in 1733.  But our loyal and faithful friend, the saintly Alfonsus de Liguori knows well the whole situation. Ah, but that is another story.

But I can’t help thinking on how life was not easy for my dear sister.  Another disturbing incident occurred the year before we came to Foggia: Celeste and I, Illuminata, were interrogated by the Inquisition in strict secrecy as witnesses in an information gathering process against our dear friend Sylvester Tosquez who believed in my sister’s revelation and was instrumental in procuring for us an original copy of the Most Holy Rule. The outcome produced no charges against the pious gentleman but the relationship between Celeste and the Abbot, who at first invited her to establish a house in his baronial territory now found it no longer conducive to establish a permanent foundation there. 

C.      Go to Foggia!

N.      Yes, Celeste, we went to Foggia!  I remember it like yesterday.  It was the spring of 1738 and it rained!  The thunder!  The lightening!  But Celeste rejoiced as we traveled to Foggia and in ecstasy cried out with joy:

C.      This is a way of thunder for humanity. We are all being carried along this road as if to heaven!  We are in flight toward the Divine Being! And all humanity with us!’

N.      As we neared town some pious people came out to welcome us. They made us get out of our carriages that we might make a solemn entry into Foggia.  We covered our faces with our black veils and put on our crown of thorns.  We hung our crucifixes round our necks and they fell over blue mantles. We sang the Te Deum as we made our procession through town into the cathedral. There we offered ourselves to God and placed ourselves under the special protection of the Most Holy Virgin.  Needless to say, we attracted a large crowd.  Nobles, as well as the poor, gathered around.  We were a great novelty!   

Then we were led to our new dwelling.  At the foot of the stairs we knelt and kissed the feet of the Monsignor who welcomed us. He simply blessed his us and congratulated us on our endeavor, then took his leave.

C.      ‘The house was nothing but four walls. No chairs.  A few benches and a table, and a few earthenware jugs meant for the refectory. We had to borrow saucepans and other kitchen utensils, and other necessities from our neighbors.  And there are ten of us including two little girls! Yet the merciful God saw to our needs.’

N.      Yes, two children.  Celeste was our Prioress, I, Illuminata, was the Vicar, six young women came to join our foundation and two little lay girls. We called them ‘Educandes,’ as they were put in our charge to educate. On account of their age they were incapable of any work and useless to us other than the pension they brought in.  But we loved them and taught them of God.

          Oh, we had enough to live on; by means of the six choir sister’s dowries and the children’s meager pension we were able to feed ourselves and furnish the rented house.  Now that was a real miracle!  But almost immediately rumors spread throughout the town that we were dying of hunger.  That was not so.  However, our real hunger was for the Blessed Sacrament.  

C.      ‘We were much grieved.  The bishop would not consent to our having the Blessed Sacrament in our house until it was our own. Without this sweet company we felt ourselves like bodies without the soul.’

N.      We came here at the invitation of Canon Joseph Tortora, who was a great spiritual friend of Celeste while she was reforming the Dominican monastery in Nocera.  His invitation was to make a foundation for the girls of the merchant middle class of Foggia. Canon Tortora took note of the rumors and gossip about the welfare of the educandes and became determined to buy a place for the new foundation.

C.      ‘Soon we found a large house in Foggia which had once belonged to the Sisters of St. Claire. It had a beautiful view over looking the countryside. It had a church and a choir and all the necessary offices. 
And such a pretty little garden!  By the grace of God we moved into the Monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer on October 4th 1739 and the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the Church at once and we began to pray the Offices in public. We also put into practice all the Rules which the Lord had originally given me while in the monastery of Scala.’

N.      Yet we did not have leave from Rome for the enclosure.  Because our protector, Canon Tortora, feared that the rigor of our rule might cause the parents of the few educandes we had to take their children away. The only way to obtain permission for the enclosure from the Canon was that we had to wait until we had the requisite number of nuns. 

          Sadly, evil tongues continued to persecute the work of the Lord.  And then, to make matters worse, in the spring of the following year a neighboring tower fell on the Monastery killing the poor niece of the Canon and injuring another girl.  All the inhabitants of Foggia rushed to the monastery to remove the debris under which lay the children. On seeing the ruin and the lifeless child all the parents wanted to take their children home.   With tears in her eyes Holy Mother Celeste spoke solemnly with the panic-stricken people.

C.      ‘The Eternal Decrees of God are at once adorable and unfathomable. This tragedy is the work of the devil.  Take your children if you must for the Lord will easily send those souls whom he had chosen as His Spouses.’

N.      With such, and other kindly words, the parents’ hearts were softened and they left their daughters in the Monastery.  The Lord even inspired other persons of good families to place their children in the convent and thus the Lord slowly began to establish the new foundation.

C.      ‘This little, newly planted garden became for the Lord one of very sweet perfume, so great was the love of retirement, and of a holy and hidden life!’

N.      Mother Maria Celeste gave the young and tender souls in her care daily instruction to form them in Religious life with spiritual lectures and meditations.  She enlightened our minds on the points of the Holy Rule by sharing with us her mystical conversations with her Beloved Spouse.

C.      Let me share with you what I have heard from my Divine Master about the Three Treasures of Perfect Love.  The First Treasure is Zeal for Souls.  At Communion time my Beloved said:

Sacred Heart Dali
 J.      I awaited you most anxiously. With my right hand I press you to My Heart. Enter into My Heart and consider the beauty of all the souls which I have created in My Image.   I wish you to love them with the same burning love that I do.  Love Me in them.   Just as I thought more of them than Myself when I was on earth, so you must forget yourself and think of these souls whom I love so dearly.

C.      I felt Your Heart within me.  I could hear it beating! I also heard the beating of all the hearts of those which You have created and redeemed enclosed within Your Heart. And my heart also was with them in Your Heart.  My Beloved, henceforth, I will bind within my heart all the souls You love with cords of charity.  

N.      Thus, in this union of hearts the Divine Master revealed the Second Treasure of Perfect Love:  Abandonment.
J.      Contemplate what you are in truth: a child at its Mother’s breast. Desire nothing except what comes from this breast which nourishes you.  Rest in the arms of My Divine Providence and seek rest there in all difficulties: in pain, in doubt, in humiliation. Sorrow cannot penetrate this enclosure. Do not judge My plans from a human point of view, nor strive to understand more than I show you.  Abandon yourself to My good pleasure.  Live a life of love as a child at My Breast.

C.      My Beloved, I abandon myself to you. May I comport myself in your presence with the candor of a child with its mother.  Teach me to pass over every human judgment in this life that I may be pure in memory, pure in will, pure in the functioning of the senses, pure in love.   Yes, my Love, I yearn to drink of You to the point where my soul becomes inebriated with Your Divine Love.  Oh how I am fed with Your love when I rest in Your Presence! 

N.      Finally, the Third Treasure of Perfect Love is found in union with the Love of the Cross.

J.      Listen to me from the pulpit of the cross which I have planted in your heart.  Contemplate only Me crucified in yourself:  crucified in your body with its weakness and infirmities, crucified in your soul by its aridities and loneliness, crucified in its sadness and loss of human consolation. There you are united to me on the cross.  Desire me day and night and whatever be your crosses, they will always come from God for your good. Know this and you will find happiness and eternal joy.

C.      Oh, how great is the beauty which I see on this Mount of Calvary! I see a river of blood which waters and gives life to tender grass and fresh flowers.  These flowers are those who are suffering a martyrdom of love and the mortification of the cross.  Oh my Beloved, grant me a place among these flowers where I may spend the rest of my days with you on this Mount of Love.

N.      In 1742 we were finally able to obtain enclosure for our growing community.  It was during Easter week that by the Will of God the first educande along with seven others took the habit. Five were choir sisters, they were from the bourgeoisie, and three were lay sisters.

C.      Canon Tortora, our Ordinary Confessor, did all the ceremony: cut the hair of the newly professed Sisters and sang the solemn Mass to the joy and consolation of all, and to the greater glory of God. 

N.      In 1745 fifteen Redemptorists, under the direction of their Blessed Father Alfonsus, came to preach a mission in the four parishes of Foggia.  While preaching on Our Lady with his usual fervor, Alfonsus fell into ecstasy when a ray of light came forth from the Madonna’s face and illuminated the features of the holy preacher.  He extended his arms towards Mary and was raised a few inches above the floor of the pulpit as though he were about to fly to his beloved Queen.  The immense crowd in the cathedral witnessed this!  Such was the holiness of our dear friend. 

C.      Alfonsus called on us during this mission to condole with me over past sorrows while admiring the fervor of the Monastery.

N.      And the virtues of the foundress Maria Celeste, whom the whole town of Foggia now venerated as a saint. 

C.      In his goodness of heart, on seeing how humbly we lived in our new foundation and of our financial difficulties, Alphonsus sent out one of his Father’s to beg alms from the wealthy families of Foggia on our behalf and we all rejoiced greatly in heart when he was wonderfully successful.

N.      Early in the year of 1747 Alfonsus, wanting to assist another monastery in a delicate matter, told his correspondent, a nun, to …..

A.      Give your letter privately to Mother Maria Celeste.  Tell her that it comes from me and that, for the glory of God, she should pay for the letter and send it on to its destination. 

C.      Our holy friendship never ceased to exist between us.  He was a great consolation to my heart and a protector of the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer.  In 1752 dear Alfonsus sent a humble, saintly lay Brother to be our spiritual director.  He loved prayer and chanted the Office with us whenever he came and was often transported by a mysterious power would cry out in ecstasy:

G.      Oh. riches, oh Wisdom, oh unfathomable depths of Divinity! How unsearchable are Your Judgments, O Lord!  Sisters, love God, let us love God!

N.      Yes, my sister Celeste had another beloved friend among the Redemptorists:  Gerard Majella.  His spirit matched her own in the desire to be constantly united to God and the desire to do everything for the love of God.  Their saintly friendship was founded on mutual esteem. On each of his numerous journeys to Foggia Bro. Gerard looked upon his visits to the Monastery of the Most Holy Redeemer as a privilege.  For Gerard, to be sitting in the parlor with Maria Celeste was to be in intimate union of soul with her.  They so enjoyed their spiritual conversations!  And how they exhorted each other to the greatest perfection!  Bro. Gerard held Celeste’s direction in such high regard, he called her Venerable Mother, that he made it his business to procure subjects for our Monastery. 
C.      During Holy Week in the year of our Lord 1755, Bro. Gerard felt an irresistible urge to spend that week in our Monastery.  He had a premonition that a supreme trial was at hand.

N.      In truth, Bro. Gerard wanted to be near the Venerable Mother, that he might find light and strength from being at prayer with Celeste who had her self gone through so many great trials. 

          A few weeks after Easter we heard, indeed, that the holy Brother was in disgrace and relegated to the solitude of his cell.  My sister would not hear of any calumny against him and imagined he had been, again, giving away too much in charity.  Celeste wrote him a little note:

C.      We are sorry to learn that you are suffering through your own over-generosity and that it prevents you from coming to edify us.  May God’s Will be done! We are praying constantly for you, and trust the powers of evil will not gain the victory.  Wherever we may be, let us seek only God.  Let us go to Him by doing His adorable Will.  And then let us love Jesus Christ, Who has so loved us!

N.      Praise be the Most Holy Name of Jesus for Bro. Gerard was cleared of all wrong doing. Yet he fell ill, as did my dear sister Maria Celeste. 

For years now she had been writing down all her spiritual experiences as poems, Dialogues with her Spouse and Exercises of Love for Everyday.  As Celeste felt her death approaching she wrote:

C.      How beautiful death is after a life lived well, in a life of dying and in a death which brings Life.  Death is but a most peaceful sleep in which the soul makes its final journey to its homeland so as to arrive at its true Center and at the moment of death is the possession of the Beloved Good.  That is why there are no tidings more happy or joyful for a soul that loves and takes delight in death at the hands of its Beloved than one who is secure in possessing Him through His mercy.

N.      On September 14, 1755, Bro. Gerard lay on his deathbed.  He turned to the brother attending him and smiled weakly,

G.      I have just seen the soul of the Venerable Mother, Sr. Maria Celeste, wing its flight to heaven like a dove.  She has gone to enjoy God.

N.      It was true.  On the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, September 14, 1755, my dear sister Maria Celeste’s last wish was to hear the Passion of her Beloved Spouse read.  All the Sisters were gathered in vigil around her bedside. When the priest read,

P.      It is finished.

N.      She sighed her last breath and became the possession of her Beloved Good.  We tolled the bells in our church tower announcing her death and a cry went up in Foggia, ‘The holy Prioress is dead.  The saint is dead.’

In her breviary I found this prayer written in her own hand, wrinkled and yellowed from much use over the years.  It read:
C.      Oh may Your word, like a fiery arrow, pierce my soul to wound it forever with Your Divine Love. You have told me to be like a flaming torch, always burning before You to enlighten souls.  But how can I be so, since of myself I am only darkness? I will be a torch, a sun even, if You will always remain united to me.  I beg of You, by Your infinite mercy, that it may be so.

N.      We, her Daughters, took these words to heart. One hundred years later we celebrated with all of Foggia the anniversary of our Most Venerable Mother Maria Celeste’s death. And because of it inquiries were made from Scala and we were joyfully reunited with our Sisters in the first Monastery under our beloved Rule.  Now, two hundred and fifty (six) years later we rejoice with all our Sisters in every corner of the world in the life of Maria Celeste Crostarosa, the Servant of God.

C.      This is a way of thunder for humanity. We are all being carried along this road to heaven!  We are in flight toward the Divine Being! And all humanity with us!

 Reflection Questions:
  1. The Lord asked Celeste to begin a new foundation in Foggia. Not an easy task.  Where in my life is the Lord asking me to move?  How does that feel?

  1. The Three Treasures of Perfect Love:  The Lord said the First Treasure was Zeal for Souls.  Celeste felt the beating of all hearts in the Heart of Jesus.  Do I hold all souls in ‘cords of charity?’

  1. The Second - Abandonment: the Divine Master asks Celeste to be like a child at its mother’s breast.  Do I have that kind of trust in God’s Divine Providence? What holds me back?

  1. The Third Treasure – Love of the Cross.  From the cross Jesus told Celeste that all ‘crosses come from God for your good.’  Does that bring you ‘eternal joy?’ 

    5.  Celeste enjoyed the spiritual friendship of St. Alphonsus
         and St. Gerard.  How important are spiritual friendships
         to me?

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