Struggling to see as God SEES.
If only we could see as God sees.
In 1776, as part of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote the following:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
And yet, in 2021, our actions as a nation have revealed that the endowment of our Creator of certain unalienable Rights equally to all has not been obvious at all! From our treatment of Indigenous Peoples, to centuries of institutional slavery of Black Peoples, to the incarceration of Asian Peoples, and the denial of access to our country of immigrants of color, especially black and brown People. And what about the right to Vote: initially for the privileged few white men; eventually to women; and fought for by Black and Brown Americans as well as immigrants of many cultures. The restriction of voting rights in our day challenges Jefferson’s claim that all are created by God with unalienable Rights.
If only we could see as God sees.
Angela Merici knew this struggle to “see as God sees” in her time, in the context of her church and especially on behalf of the women of her day. In the 16thcentury, the papacy was perceived as a position of power and wealth and so various forces recognized three popes at once, further dividing an already divided Church. The Art of the day revealed a new movement among the People of God which emphasized a spirituality that was individual and interior. Groups of Christians emerged which gathered men, women, religious and clerics who were separate from the church and often anti-institutional. Leaders of these groups, like the Barnabites and Jesuits, were then persecuted by the church during the Inquisition. At the same time, many women were mystics, and were sought by aristocrats to live on their premises as a way of protecting their “household, their castle”. Known by many families of Brescia, Angela was aware of as well as a part of this new movement. But her participation was different.
Seeing as God sees, Angela brought together a group that aspired to include everyone. “We do not want to exclude as followers and adherents. . . men, women, grown-ups, children, young, or elderly.” Her company operated democratically as Sisters elected all members of leadership as well as their priest confessor. The daughters included women from every social class and reversed societal norms by freely electing members from the lower class to provide leadership for members from higher social classes. Angela’s form of governing was understood in terms of love and of protecting the honor and freedom of the daughters. What were the freedoms she protected? The daughters chose where and with whom they would live; they determined the form their work and ministry would take; they had their own money and determined their own dress.
The greatest freedom that Angela provided for her daughters was a spiritual independence. For the first time in history, Angela declared in her Rule that women who lived outside the convent could be considered a Bride of Christ. The daughters were to obey the counsels and inspirations which the Holy Spirit unceasingly spoke in their hearts. The sister’s interior relationship to Jesus Christ and commitment to God Alone was the only requirement. The sister was to enter the company joyfully and of her own will. Angela insisted that God had given free will to everyone, consequently, leaders were to invite, propose and counsel, but never force anyone.
Angela’s Company offered women independence, self-sufficiency, charismatic authority, an opportunity to express their intellectual capacities as well as public visibility. They needed neither a man nor a wall in order to grow in relationship with Jesus Christ. On the human level, Angela’s Company offered love, trust, and friendship because of the network of “informal relationships” among the virgins as these were based on solidarity, affection, and new “familial bonds.”
For Angela and for us, “Seeing as God sees” expands our awareness in mind and heart so that we act solely out of love of God and care for others. For God has given freedom to each person and God does not want to force anyone, but only “propose, invite and advise.” Like St. Augustine, Angela tells us: “Love God and do what you will.” I pray for a world where this is self-evident!