I went on retreat a few weeks ago (now that I’m posting only once a week, I don’t have to tell you when I’m gone!), and there I read an interesting book entitled A Memory for Wonders. It is the autobiography of a woman who was raised to be a militant atheist and Communist, but who ended up as the abbess of a Poor Clare monastery! Her name is Mother Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard.
There are a number of wonders recounted in this book, mainly having to do with the way God personally intervened in her life to teach her things that her parents refused to teach, things she couldn’t have learned any other way. She had lived with her grandparents for a short time while still an infant, and they secretly got her baptized, so her soul was open to the influx of grace. She was far too young to have learned anything from them, but the Lord was now more free to work in her soul.
Her parents never even told her there was a God or anything about Him (and later, as she grew up, they only fed her with a hateful anti-Catholicism). But God began to work on her little soul quite early. She describes this experience when she was just a child in Morocco after several days of a fierce, burning sandstorm:
“Suddenly the sky over me and in some way around me, as I was on a small hillock, was all afire. The glory of the sunset was perhaps reflected in the myriads of particles of powdery sand still floating in the air. It was like an immense, feathery flame all scarlet from one pole to the other, with touches of crimson and, on one side, of deep purple. I was caught in limitless beauty and radiant, singing splendor. And at the same time, with a cry of wonder in my heart, I knew that all this beauty was created, I knew God. This was the word that my parents had hidden from me. I had nothing to name him: God, Dieu, Allah or Yahweh, as he is named by human lips, but my heart knew that all was from him and him and him alone, and that he was such that I could address him and enter into relationship with him through prayer. I made my first act of adoration.”
She said that subsequently she somehow decided to kneel down by her bed to pray to pray at night, and then: “I had never seen anyone kneel down in worship, but there was an instinct telling me to do so and, in the morning, to offer the day to the unnamed One who had created me and all beauty, all goodness, all being in the universe.”
The Lord inspired her even more directly than that, with infused knowledge. Her parents never allowed her to see any religious writings or pictures, but once when she was looking through a gift catalog, she saw a picture with three crucifixes for sale. She was drawn irresistibly to the Man on the Cross, but she did not know his name. She writes: “But while I was silently looking at these strange pictures, I suddenly knew: this man on the cross had been killed, and it was for all men, women and children. It was for me. He was a man, but he was also the Son of God whom I was already adoring as Creator and loving, universal presence. He was God. I would not have formulated this in one sentence as I do now, but all this was gathered in one insight and clearly formed even with words in my mind, contrary to my first ‘sunset’ religious experience, which had been purely intuitive. It is very difficult to explain, because this complex theology was taught to me in a moment and looked perfectly simple and as evident as a first principle, given as absolute truth.” She ripped out that picture and kept it in a secret place, and would often return to gaze upon it and kiss it.
On another occasion, she saw a picture of Mary, not knowing who she was, but then suddenly: “Something fills my heart, and again I know: she is the Mother of the Crucified One. I still do not know his name, but now I know hers; it is written [on the picture]: Mary! … I repeated, ‘Mary is his Mother.’ Like everything that I knew this way, it seemed evident, normal, and matter-of-fact. I did not wonder how a woman could be Mother of God. It looked perfectly sure and fitting.” Such were the ways the Lord taught this chosen child.
As she grew up and received a secular education and more Communist indoctrination, a number of other experiences still took her more deeply into her relationship with God, which was always more or less hidden, though she did have a couple of Catholic friends. The Lord was preparing her for a total consecration to Him in religious life, but this was not yet in her thoughts. She had just had a pleasant and youthful romantic experience, and without making a whole lot of it, assumed that she was destined for marriage as most people are. But while vacationing in France, she went to Lourdes, still not knowing very much about the Catholic faith. Here’s what happened there:
“In the recurrent murmur of the rosary, I looked up again at the white shape in the rock hole [i.e., the statue of Our Lady in the grotto] and tried to repeat the unfamiliar words of the Ave Maria (Hail Mary). Suddenly Mary spoke very distinctly in my heart a few perfectly clear words: ‘You are not meant to marry.’
“I was astounded… Even when I heard, or, rather, received these words in my heart, the idea of religious life did not come to my mind; it was too far from my world. But I understood perfectly that our Lady had just forbidden me not only marriage but also, and even more, any kind of complaisance for whoever would pretend to love me. A whole area of life, of pleasure, of experience, intimacy and fruitfulness was suddenly and forever closed to me. I was very conscious of the loss; but something rose in me: a movement of love and trust. My response was wordless and total. There at the feet of the Virgin and consciously into her hands, I surrendered myself to the Lord who was claiming my life. The impression was very strong and left no room for doubt… It was done.”
I’ll leave it to you to discover the rest of her story, which is a unique testimony to the power of and love of God, and an insight into his mysterious ways.
It’s a good book, and all the more so since it is true. People today may sometimes wonder where God is and what He is doing in this world that seems to live without reference to Him. Yet such testimonies of the wonders He can and does work ought to be an encouragement to seek and to trust this mysterious Man on the Cross, this “One who had created me and all beauty, all goodness, all being in the universe.”