Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In today’s Gospel passage from Mark, we read, “As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1: 16-20).
The call of the four Apostles in this passage is often used in the vocation circles as a particular model of what is known as the “call.” In this model, the Lord calls someone to follow him, and immediately the person answers the call and the vocational path is clear and immediate. This is quite different from the Samuel-like model we saw last week where the Lord calls an individual, but the Lord then sends the individual on a long and winding journey before the call is realized in practice.
Today we look at an individual who had a call similar to these four Apostles. She heard the call, and she immediately dropped everything to follow the Lord. Her name was Vibiana Torres.
Antonia Vibiana Manuela Torres y Acosta was born in Madrid, Spain, on December 2, 1826, second of five children. Her family had a small dairy business.
As a child, Vibiana attended a school run by the Vincentian Sisters. From a young age, Vibiana liked to gather children of the neighborhood and have processions in honor of St. Mary. As she grew older, she liked to visit the sick in her neighborhood and helped the Sisters at a free school for the poor that the Sisters ran.
Because of her attraction to religious things, it is not surprising that she felt God call her to serve him as a Religious Sister. What was surprising, however, was that she felt called to the contemplative life, rather than the active apostolic life.
So, when she was about 23 years old, she applied to a Dominican convent near her home. However, there was no room for her in the convent at the time.
A year later, in 1851, she heard about a priest named Fr. Miguel Martínez-Sanz who had founded a community of Religious women to serve the sick and poor of his parish who could not afford regular health care. And because of his devotion to the Seven Sorrows of Mary, he decided that he would start with seven women who would be called “servants” of Mary.
After choosing six women to be the first members of this new religious community, along came Vibiana. Although he had doubts about her strength for this ministry that would require much courage and hard work, Fr. Miguel chose Vibiana as the seventh member. On August 15,1851, the seven women dressed themselves in a Religious habit and took new names in Religious life. Vibiana was now Sister María Soledad.
The early days of the Sisters’ work were filled with great challenges. They had to get used to working with the sick and dying, and they had great poverty. At times the only food they had was garlic soup. Another problem was persecution by anti-religious laws of the government. The biggest challenge, though, was that the first Superior of the congregation tried to undo all the work Fr. Miguel had done.
By 1856, the group had twelve members. Fr. Miguel took six of the twelve with him to do missionary work, leaving Sr. Soledad as Superior of the Order. He told her that without her being in charge, the group would fold. Sr. Soledad did her best, but twice authorities removed her from office because of false charges.
Despite all of her challenges, Sr. Soledad was faithful to her vocation. She encouraged the other Sisters in times of trouble, and she always tried to help the Sisters see Christ in every patient they nursed.
The Religious community became well known in the greater society because of their heroic nursing care of the sick during the cholera epidemic of 1865. Pope Pius IX formally approved the Servants of Mary community in 1876.
On October 11, 1887, Sr. Soledad died from pneumonia. And on November 10, 1969, Pope Paul VI canonized Soledad. St. Soledad’s feast day is October 11th.
From the Scripture of today, and from Saint Soledad’s story, we can glean many things. Here are just three.
First, everyone has a vocation, or call, from God. Actually, we have more than one, for God calls us to do more than one thing in our lives. The greatest clue to God’s will for us is the desire he plants in our hearts. For example, God rarely calls us to do something with our life that we have no desire to do.
Second, sometimes we learn a calling early in life as Soledad did. Though she was clear about wanting to be in Religious life, she was not quite as clear as to which type of religious community would be the best fit. God helped her with this decision by first, ensuring the contemplative convent was filled at the time she wanted to join, and second, letting her hear about the new community Fr. Miguel was starting.
And third, all vocations have challenges and struggles. Fortunately, God’s grace is sufficient for us to overcome those obstacles or, to decide that the vocation we are following is not for us, and that we should pursue a different path.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2018.
- Ann Ball. “Saint Soledad.” In Modern Saints: Their Lives and Faces – Book One, Charlotte, N.C.: TAN Books, 1983, pp. 96-100.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Maria Soledad Torres y Acosta.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 10 August 2017.