Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Little Flower of India 印度小花

Last week I wrote about Blessed Assunta of China. This week, let us travel southward in spirit to India and look at the life of another holy nun, St. Alphonsa Muttathupadathu (1910-1946). The faithful in India will celebrate her feast day on July 28, and August 19 will be the 100th anniversary of her birth.

Path to the convent

St. Alphonsa was born on Aug. 19, 1910, at a rural village in Kerala, India. Her baptismal name was Anna, and her family called her Annakutty. She lost her mother while still an infant and her aunt, Annamma, became her "second mother."

Annamma was very strict with Annakutty, but she also loved Annakutty as her own daughter, and wished to arrange a good marriage for her. She chose a young man from a well-to-do family. When Annakutty learnt about the plan she was very upset, for she desired to become a nun.

Remembering some of the saints had marred their beauty to prevent marriage, Annakutty decided to cause herself physical injury so that she would not be able to go to church for the betrothal.

Annakutty intended to put one foot into an active fire pit behind her home, but she slipped and fell into the pit. Both her feet and legs, her skirt, and the ends of hair were burned. She managed to escape from the pit but fainted on her way to the house. The burn was serious and it was only after three months that she could walk about again.

Later, when Annakutty confessed this action to her spiritual director, he scolded her, and with childlike simplicity she said, "I didn't know there was so much fire!"

Annakutty's aunt, however, had not given up the plan for a good marriage. Annakutty, therefore, pleaded desperately with her uncle, telling him that she would rather die than marry. Finally her uncle gave in and let her enter the Clarist Sisters of Malabar in May 1927. In religious life Annakutty took the name Sister Alphonsa.

Path of suffering

As a young religious, Sister Alphonsa taught elementary school, but she was often sick and had to give up teaching. Sister Alphonsa continued to suffer from poor health. One time St. Therese of Lisieux appeared to her saying, "You are cured of your fever, you will never suffer from any contagious disease, but you will be tried unto death itself by other sickness."

On Oct. 18, 1940, a thief broke into Sister Alphonsa's room. The man was frightened by her screams and ran away, but the shock caused Sister Alphonsa to lose her memory temporarily, and she also lost her ability to read for 11 months.

Before long, Sister Alphonsa developed swelling in both legs which turned into leg ulcers. She received the last rites, but didn't die. Her health improved and she enjoyed three years of relatively good health. In July 1945 she developed stomach convulsions and vomiting that led to her death on July 28, 1946.

Sister Alphonsa suffered for souls willingly and quietly. In the midst of great suffering she attempted to smile and to speak cheerful words. There was great serenity on her suffering face.

Devotion of children

Sister Alphonsa was loved by children. She was their good friend, and they sensed her great love for them. When she was bedridden, they considered it a great honour to assist her, and they often asked her for advice and prayers to help them in their small trials of childhood.

After her death the children missed her. They visited her tomb and asked her prayers. When their prayers were answered, the children were vocal in their gratitude. Gradually the adults also asked her prayers. People began to lights candles at her tomb.

Eventually the Church began to study the life of Sister Alphonsa. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. People called her the "Little Flower" of India.

我上週提及獻身中國傳教事業的真福亞松大Bl. Assunta修女。本週,讓我們南下到印度,探索另一位聖人——聖雅芳莎.梅達樸St. Alphonsa Muttathupadathu (1910-1946) 修女。在印度,她的慶日在七月二十八日,而本年八月十九日是這位聖人的百歲冥壽。

步入修院

一九一零年八月十九日,聖雅芳莎出生於印度一條名為喀咯拉Kerala的偏僻小村,取聖名亞納Anna,家人慣稱她為小亞納Annakutty。聖人嬰齡喪母,由姨母安納姆Annamma養育,成了她的「第二母親」。

事實上,安納姆非常疼愛小亞納,視為己出,然對她管教甚嚴。小亞納及笄之歲,安納姆替她安排與一位家道富有的青年訂親。但小亞納卻有守貞修道之意, 因此甚為苦惱,想起曾有聖者自毁絹容以避婚嫁,遂想到要弄傷自己的脚,以期錯失訂婚之禮。

祇見小亞納走到屋後不遠烘烘的火堆,本想把一隻脚放到火中,誰知一個不小心,整個人滑跌到火裡去;頓時,她的雙腿、頭髮和衣裳都在燃燒。雖然她能奮力逃出火堆,但跑返家前不支暈倒。炙燒的傷,使她在三個月後才能重新走路。

她向神師私下透露實情,被他責備。小亞納天真地說:「我不知道那裡有那麽多火啊!」

可惜姨母配婚之意未減,小亞納惟有向姨父說明守貞修道的心意,甚至說明她寧死也不願出嫁,姨父最後拗不過她的堅持,一九二七年五月,讓她入瑪咯笆Malabar的加辣女修院Clarist Sisters,取名「雅芳莎修女Sister Alphonsa」。

受苦世途

年青的雅芳莎修女執教小學生,但因常生病缺課而被逼放棄放學。有一次,聖女小德蘭St. Therese of Lisieux顯現給體弱多病的她,說:「你的高燒將要減退,你亦不會再被傳染病感染,但你仍會因其它病痛纒身而導致生命的終結。」

一九四零年十月十八日,小偷進入雅芳莎的住房,把她嚇得死去活來。小偷因她的驚叫,抱頭而竄,她卻驚怕得短暫失憶,並失去閱讀能力; 十一個月後始恢復閱讀能力。又過了不久,雅芳莎修女雙腿腫脹,甚至潰爛,在領受病人聖事後,卻漸漸恢復健康,且維持了三年。一九四五年七月,她胃部抽搐,嘔吐不已,如是延至翌年七月二十八日去世。

聖雅芳莎修女甘心為眾靈魂默默受苦做補贖。在極苦中,她保持微笑,談笑自若;在她含忍苦痛的臉上,常帶詳和之面容。

疼愛孩童

孩童們十分喜愛雅芳莎修女,因為他們感受到修女的摯愛,是他們的好朋友。當修女卧病在床,能服侍修女變成他們的榮幸;他們喜歡聆聽修女的意見,遇有困難挑戰,他們特別要修女為他們祈禱。在聖雅芳莎修女離世後,孩童們十分懷念她:到她墳前,請她代禱;一旦得償,便歡欣致謝,漸漸成人們均為所動,效法孩童們請修女代禱,在她墳前燃點燭光。終於教廷查審雅芳莎修女的生平;一九八六年,教宗若望保祿二世把她宣福;二零零八年,教宗本篤十六世把她宣聖。眾人譽她為「印度的小花」。

Published at Pax Sinica column (July 19) of The B.C . Catholic newspaper