Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.
This feast celebrates the central belief of our faith about God, that is, that there is only One God but Three Divine Persons in God. The three Persons are God the Father, Creator of the Universe and often simply referred to as “God”; God the Son, the Redeemer who took for the form of a human named Jesus and is often simply called “Christ;” and God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier who brings humanity many beautiful gifts such as wisdom, zeal, courage, and others.
On this day, we hear a very important message from St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. Paul write, “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you” (2 Corinthians 12: 11-12).
Before looking at this passage in greater detail, let’s look at the story of a woman who is a model of someone who lived her life encouraging those around her. Her name was Margaret Haughery.
Margaret was born in Ireland to a poor Catholic family. When she was five years old, however, her parents immigrated to the United States with some of their children – including Margaret – and lived in Baltimore. When Margaret was only nine years old, though, an epidemic of yellow fever struck Baltimore. Margaret’s parents died in the epidemic, leaving Margaret an orphan.
A poor couple adopted Margaret, and Margaret lived with them until she grew up. As a young adult, Margaret got married and had a child of her own. To get away from the cold of the north, Margaret moved to New Orleans. Unfortunately, her husband died and then her child died. Suddenly, she found herself all alone in the world once again.
From her background, Margaret knew the value of hard work. As a newly widowed woman, Margaret worked all day long in a laundry ironing clothes. As she worked, she would often gaze out of the window and see children from a nearby orphanage playing in the streets.
When a cholera epidemic struck New Orleans, many parents died. Soon, there were so many orphaned children in the city that the orphanages could hardly keep up. Margaret, though poor, decided she needed to do what she could for the orphans. Therefore, she went to the Sisters of Charity and gave her time and talent to them. Not only did she give some of her wages to the Sisters’ work, she also worked for them.
Soon, Margaret had saved enough money to buy two cows, and then she began delivering milk with a little cart she had bought. Because she was such an excellent businesswoman, in spite of the fact that she had never learned to read and write, she was able to buy more cows and build a new orphanage.
In time, Margaret was able to buy a bakery. Then, instead of being known as “the milk woman,” she became known as “the bread woman.”
When the Civil War came, Margaret continued giving to orphanages, driving her bread cart, and giving food to hungry soldiers and the poor. She even built a steam factory to bake her bread. By this time, everyone in New Orleans knew of this amazing woman, and she always had a kind word to any person who came to seek her advice, be they rich or poor.
When Margaret died in 1882, the people of New Orleans learned that despite Margaret’s humble beginnings, and the fact that during her life she continually found herself giving money to orphanages, she was able to save $30,000, which she left to orphanages in her will.
The people of New Orleans decided to make a statue of her. Many believe it was the first publicly funded statue of a woman in the United States.
Margaret Haughery was an inspiration to people of her time, but it is an inspiration to people today. Margaret lived what St. Paul was telling the early Christians – to encourage one another and help one another.
Margaret’s story, and the message we hear from St. Paul today, can teach us many things. Here are just three.
First, as Paul notes, all of us are called to encourage each other. Even the smoothest life journey is filled with challenges, setbacks, and struggles. Even those people who seem to glide through life have problems that we don’t see. No life is stress-free. Thus, everyone needs a little help on their life journey, and Christians are called to provide that help to others.
Second, when Paul calls us to live in peace, we need to remember that in Catholic Christian theology, the word “peace” means “harmony.” That means we are called to follow the Lord by having our actions be in harmony with our actions. For example, if we say we value the virtue of generosity, than to live in peace means that we need to actually be generous. Our behavior needs to match our professed value. Another way of saying this is that we need to “walk the walk” and not simply “talk the talk.”
And third, a word needs to be said about Paul’s idea that we should “agree with one another.” This is not an absolute rule. In fact, Catholic Christians are required to NOT agree with one another if what others are saying or doing is against our conscience. For in Catholic Christianity, one’s conscience is one’s ultimate guide in determining right from wrong for that individual.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be good to reflect on how we support others on their life journeys.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, 2017.
- Sara Cone Bryant. “Margaret of New Orleans.” In Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Heather McNamara (Eds.), Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul: Inspirational Stories of Overcoming Life’s Challenges, Cos Cob, CT: Backlist, LLC, 2012, pp. 128-130.
- Contributors to Wikipedia. “Margaret Haughery.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 5 April 2017.