Ed. This appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #72 Fall 2000, pp. 24-25, 27.
The Mysterious Ways of God’s Love
Sister Miriam Rose of Jesus O.C.D.
Shalom ha Mashiach!
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are My ways above your ways and My thoughts above your thoughts … Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are Mine.” (Isaiah 55:8-9; 43:1b).
When I look back over my 70 years and the many mysterious ways of God, I can truly testify to the truth that God’s ways and thoughts are far above anything we understand. God is mystery; He has created us in His image (Gen. 1:27) and our whole life is caught up in His mystery where through His mysterious ways and thoughts He purifies us and sanctifies us until He transforms us into His “likeness” (Gen. 1:26).
I was born in Cairo in 1929, the only child of Jewish Orthodox parents. My father died when I was very young, and my upbringing as a fervent Jewess was undertaken by my mother and maternal grandparents. We spoke Yiddish at home and followed all the ceremonies of our faith. However, because there were no Jewish schools around, I was sent to the Convent of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd because of their high level of education. As a Jewess I was dispensed from learning the Catechism but obliged to study the New Testament which was part of the school curriculum. I remember feeling angry at being obliged to study the New Testament and would be argumentative in religious classes. Purely to spite the Nuns(!) I learned the parables by heart. Amusingly, I carried off the highest marks in my final exam, topping 90 marks out of a hundred!
My childhood and adolescent years were marked with the anguish and anxieties of World War II. We heard many reports of various kinds of torture and horrors of the Holocaust. One of the most traumatic periods of my life was on July 1st 1942, a date deeply embedded within me, when as a Jewish 13-year old in Cairo, Egypt, I too was facing the Holocaust. The Nazis had made rapid advances in the Middle East and were already at the Egyptian frontier. News came through that in 20 minutes they would cross the border at El-Alamein and enter Alexandria. Apart from the extermination of the Jews which faced us in the ongoing Holocaust, it would have given Hitler power and control over the oil refineries all around.
The Jewish Rabbi had issued instructions for all the local Jews to have a “Yom Kippur” fast. We all fasted; then we waited … and waited … and waited. It was an eerie oppressive silence, wondering and waiting, and nothing happening. No news came through and no one knew why the Nazis had not crossed the frontier. Then, after 6 weeks, in mid August we heard that the Germans were being pushed back by the Allies though very slowly at first. The big offensive had begun.
I often wondered about the reason why the Nazis who were already at our frontier, ready to cross over, had not done so. It is only a few months ago I realized that all this was during the period July 1st to mid August 1942. St. Edith Stein was gassed at Auschwitz on August 9th 1942 and her offering was accepted by the Lord on our behalf and thousands of people were therefore saved, bearing the fruit of freedom for us all. These are her words:
“I have before my eyes Queen Esther, the Jewess, who interceded for her people with the King on their behalf. I am a very poor, helpless and small Esther, but the King Who chose me is infinitely great and merciful. I told Our Lord that I knew that it was His Cross that was being laid on the Jewish race. Most of them did not understand but those who did should accept it willingly in the name of all. I told Him that that was what I wished to do. I felt convinced that I had been heard though I did not know what the bearing of that Cross might entail.”
I did not understand it either at the time and the years were most spiritually dark for me. Because of all the atrocities and traumas associated with World War II, I had these burning questions: “What is the meaning of life?” “What is the meaning of all this suffering?” “Where is it all leading to?” “Can we ever be happy and have peace in this life?” My grandmother had an intense devotion to the coming of the Messiah, and every year, would spend a whole day fasting and sitting “Shiva” on the floor , would mourn the destruction of the Temple, praying and yearning for the Messiah to come in the future. But for me, everything went spiritually dark. All our religious celebrations which meant so much for me as a child ceased to have meaning. I had no answer for my questions and even the deep Jewish faith at home could not reach me.
A memory comes to mind here: during my summer school holidays, as a young girl I would often sing again and again the well-known hymn: Hail Queen of Heaven, not because I believed in Our Lady but because I liked the tune. Even this in later years did not give me peace, but Mary heard me even though I did not know it, and in retrospect I see it as one of God’s mysterious ways, where Our Blessed Mother was gently and in a hidden way leading me to her Beloved Son Jesus.
I was 20 years old and had secretarial training and experience by the time of political unrest and I decided to emigrate to Australia which was the only direct opening to us. Sadly, the door was closed to my aged grandparents. It was most heartbreaking to leave them but having given us their special blessing, encouragement and support, my mother and myself came to Perth early in 1951. We never saw my beloved grandparents again.
This total change in my life did not give me the peace I was craving for. I attended Yom Kippur at the synagogue that year where the Rabbi spoke eloquently about the Messiah of the future. I left with an intense longing for a Messiah right here and now because I needed Him right here and now. My intense longing had reached a climax. “Has He come or hasn’t He come?” became my intense question. I had the loan of a book by a Jewish Rabbi: Peace of Mind but I did not receive the inner peace I was longing for. Some Jewish ladies, in good faith no doubt, accused me of having Catholic leanings which I found quite amusing as I was quite oblivious of that fact. A Catholic friend then lent me Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book Peace of Soul. My spiritual hunger for a Messiah here and now for me reached a climax when I decided to spend the whole weekend November 2nd-4th 1951 in prayer and fasting and I began to read Peace of Soul. When I came across the words “Not my will but Thine be done” I happened to raise my eyes outside the window and, to my utter amazement, I saw a huge white cross in the sky, from one end of the horizon to the other, while at the same time I was overwhelmed with a deep inner peace I had never experienced before, at the same time I KNEW beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus the Messiah HAS come and is there for me. My search for Truth had ended; I was now in the valley of light being filled with His light and love. I had come home in God at last! I further understood that by becoming a Catholic I was not abandoning my Jewish faith, identity or heritage but fulfilling it. This flooded me with joy.
Five days after God gave me the gift of faith I was introduced to the Bishop of Perth who undertook my instruction. He baptized and confirmed me on Holy Saturday April 12th 1952. It was at the Carmelite Monastery that I received my First Holy Communion on the following day, Easter Sunday, April 13th.
In the months that followed I began to experience a different yearning. As I realized that Jesus has come, has suffered and has died a most bitter humiliating death for me, I wanted to return to Him love for love in the complete gift of myself, and He called me drawing me to Carmel to live the contemplative life of prayer and sacrifice. I found a position for my mother as a househelp and believed that she would be able to manage alone. Applying for admission to Carmel I was admitted on March 25th 1954.
Mum had barely recovered from the shock of my becoming a Catholic; my becoming a Carmelite was a most terrible emotional blow for my dearest 50-year old mother, but she bravely took up her new life. However, her poor knowledge of the English language did not improve as she was used to French and Yiddish but what was most heartbreaking was that she felt increasingly isolated and alone, linguistically, socially and culturally. She never complained, so I was totally unaware of the true state of affairs in her regard. She was also working extremely hard and her health was deteriorating. It was only much later that I realized Mum had felt abandoned by all, even by God Himself. She felt no one cared, that God did not love her and what was most tragic was that she felt she was not worthy to be loved by God or by those around her. As I slowly began to realize that things were wrong, after great anguish of about three years, I finally left the Monastery on October 5th 1964, to be with my mother.
It was a tremendous relief for my mother to have me with her again. I resumed secular life working as a secretary, and dedicating myself to making my mother’s life secure and happy, especially rebuilding her self-esteem. I joined the Carmelite Secular Order and took a private Vow of Perpetual Celibacy. I also became involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. When I received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, my Yiddish which I had forgotten over the years—as we spoke in French over the years—came back, to Mum’s great delight. In November 1977 we went to Queensland, where I joined Emmanuel Covenant Community, a lay community offering spiritual support and fellowship.
After Mum went back to God in a very saintly death in July 1990, I reapplied and returned to Carmel, Perth. I made my Perpetual Profession of Vows on November 9th 1995 which had a distinctive Jewish flavour brought out by the magnificent opening violin rendition of the Kol Nidre, which I had specially selected to honour the Holocaust victims and my grandmother who also died on November 9th 1957. Mum’s Sabbath candlestick was beside me on the sanctuary.
As I look back over the years these words come to me with deep feeling:
“Thus says the Lord: I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart … I will betroth you to myself for ever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love; I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness, and you will come to know the Lord.” (Hosea 2:16; 21-22).
God the Father has indeed lured me and in the depths of my inner wilderness, has sent His Son Jesus to be my Messiah and my Spouse, through the workings of His Holy Spirit. I could never be grateful enough.
Mary, our Most Holy Beloved Mother has likewise played a vital part in my life. I did not know her over my dark years but now I can see so clearly how she has extended her hand, holding mine in hers through the various storms, whispering in the silent depths of my heart: ‘Do not be afraid, I shall be with you’.
St. Edith Stein’s offering of her life in the Holocaust in 1942 has bonded me to her, intertwining her life with mine. Her presence has been with me and I am here to witness to all this.
My most cherished mother and grandparents have not only set me an example of their lives, but have sacrificed their lives totally for me. Their love for God continually inspires and guides me.
In retrospect, I can now see, through all the sufferings and anguish I have been through, the clear pattern of God’s mysterious ways of His Love. It is my prayer that as you read this, you too will be filled with God’s embracing love in all that happens in your life.
Glory to God Who is infinitely great and merciful.