What can 21st century brides learn from a priest and sister who lived one hundred years ago?
Encounter is a gift women uniquely are able to give.
Blessed James Alberione and Venerable Mother Thecla Merlo, two founding members of the Daughters of Saint Paul, recognized the mediums of film, music, radio, and literature as goods that can share with the world what is true, good, and beautiful. Against the odds of transatlantic travel, the Great Depression, limited resources, and simply fear, Father Alberione and Mother Thecla’s conviction in the Father’s call ultimately led to the establishment and development of a thriving, faithful order of sisters.
The Daughters of Saint Paul travel the U.S. and worldwide using media to evangelize, and have hubs in several cities across the country. In these cities, the order’s materials and publications are sold in stores known as Books & Media Centers.
On a recent visit to the sisters’ Provincial House in Boston, I was struck by one of Father Alberione’s thoughts on his mission and took a picture of a plaque expressing them: the order’s book centers, he said, “are not places of business, but centers of light and warmth in Jesus Christ. The book center is not like any other book store. It is a ‘church’ where the Word of God is distributed...it is sacred...Light, holiness, and joy are the goals sought. The counter is a pulpit.”
The counter is a pulpit. This idea echoed a deep desire I feel to help those I encounter throughout the day--however briefly or extensively--to feel seen and heard.
Making meaningful eye contact with someone, conveying sincere interest in him or her even in the answer to the simple question how are you?, wishing them a good day; all these actions reveal a Christ-like love and tap into something essential: the human heart’s longing to be known.
In the nature of femininity and womanhood, I see a particular ability to help others (even including strangers) feel valued and known. To create a culture of encounter--one that seeks to acknowledge and respect another’s dignity, to push past surface-level interaction, to look up from our phones. The word encounter conveys a true seeing and a dissolving of walls. That’s a dynamic--a culture--I want to help create.
Saint Edith Stein wrote, “the destiny of every woman is to be bride and mother.” Your personal pulpit might not be a store counter, but in the workplace, in your family, on your wedding day.
The sister hosting my visit described how the order’s centers are true their name; genuinely, she said, they are centers of conversation, trust, and faith. She described how passerby coming into the store quickly sense they’re in the presence of those who will truly listen to them. Frequently, these guests will share past or current struggles and pour out their stories.
When we, as women, receive another’s story with respect and attention, we give a gift of encounter. Every woman, no matter what her vocation, career, hobbies, or personal style, is called to receive love and let her love be received as a gift. She is called to be a shelter for others’ hearts, a refuge. She is called to a rich interior life--Our Lady herself, an ultimate example of womanhood, “kept all these things” at the birth of her son, “reflecting on them in her heart.” In moments of transcendence and of the ordinary alike, as women our gifts of receptivity and interiority allow us to communicate love and attention to all we encounter.
What does encounter look like on your wedding day? It looks like letting your love speak for itself, drawing your guests to enter into the Mass. It looks like a few moments to hug or shake hands with guests during your reception meal. It looks like showing attention and care to your bridal party and families. It looks like total receptivity.
All of it points to an encounter with the one is love himself. Like Our Lady in her joy at the Visitation, let your soul “magnify the Lord.”
Not every encounter you engage in will be profound or lengthy, nor should it create a spirit of moral superiority or righteousness. Developing habits of attention and receptiveness to others, though, is an embodiment of who we are: brides, women, with a particular genius for interaction and encounter.
Consider what it is you desire to embody and reveal to others with your unique strengths. Aim to reveal the love of God: a love that is particular, unconditional, all-encompassing, abundantly merciful, and forever faithful.