For the Sisters of Venerable Mother Alphonse Marie,
200 years have passed since September, 1814, when Elizabeth Eppinger first saw the light of day in the Vogez valley.
This jubilee is an opportunity to refresh the memories of our beginnings, to sketch the profile of a woman filled with courage and initiative-- a woman for whom contemplation preceded action; and for whom the obligation to serve the neighbor unselfishly led to and culminated in
a union with God.We are invited to give thanks for nearly 53 years during which Elizabeth – Sister Alphonse Marie—by accepting and responding to God’s grace, awakened a new wonderment of a God who works miracles. As we recall her life, her sanctity, and her history, we recognize the courage with which she responded to the Gospel passage,
“Go and do likewise!” (Luke 10:27)and realize that these words continue to be the plan of life for the Christians of the 21st century and the third millennium. She believed it was possible to foster a life of faith in fragile situations and to preserve the sanctity of life in forbidden places. Her spirit and charism live in us and in this way she is personally present among us. How would she respond to our questions today? Let us listen…
Mother Alphonse Marie, you came from a Christian family at a time when being
I come from Niederbronn, a lively resort town. My parents were simple, courageous people who taught us to love God and neighbor. We had the custom of praying the rosary and the litany of the Blessed Virgin every evening except when there was extra work. At these times, we prayed the litany and five Our Father’s and five Hail Mary’s. Our parents often spoke to us about the love of our Savior.
What influence did your parents have on you?
My parents were my first teachers of the faith. I remember one childhood experience which deeply shocked my soul and which has accompanied me throughout my life. I often thought about the suffering of Christ and at one time, I asked myself, “Why?”. On that day, my mother took me to work with her in the field. On the way there, we passed a roadside cross and I asked my mother, “Why did they crucify our Savior like that?” She answered, “Our sins have done that, my child.” Then I asked her, “What is sin?” Her simple response led me to make the following resolution: “If that is a sin, then I will never do that again.”
What do you remember about your time in school?
I set off for school full of hope and joy because I had a great desire to hear more about God and to get to know Him better but a great disappointment awaited me. The teacher assigned me a seat near some children whose speech was course and indecent and I had to listen to them. I was unable to sleep just thinking about school. Fortunately, after six months I was given a seat close to the teacher’s desk from where I could attentively follow his instructions and explanations. I no longer had to listen to the bad words of my schoolmates. I was happy again to attend school.
What was your favorite subject?
The catechism was my favorite subject. I looked with great respect at the priest who entered the classroom. At first, I was too young to attend the instructions of the priest. At the age of 10, I was included among the older girls, and I remember, that we, the youngest ones, sat directly under the pulpit at his feet. It was wonderful. Whenever I returned home after receiving lessons from the priest, my soul was completely immersed in all that I had heard.
Judging from what you said, I suppose that the respect you showed your parents was also reflected in your attitude toward your teacher and the priest who instructed you. Do you remember them with joy?
I was very grateful to my teacher and the priest. When I heard my classmates fabricate lies or contrive evil against them, I wept and prayed asking God to change the hearts of those who were spreading such gossip. When I saw my classmates mock the teacher, I prayed in tears to God not to let such an indignity occur. I was even more painfully troubled when my classmates refused to obey our parish priest.
How was it for you when the years of childhood, filled with the love of God
With the passing of time, I realize that these years were a great blessing but at that time, it was difficult. My adolescent years were filled with great inner suffering. I had no taste for prayer; time for prayer filled me with dislike and weariness. Sometimes I was terribly bored during prayer. I knew that I could not let this be and so, decided to speak to my confessor and follow his advice. It was not easy. My inner suffering lasted about one year and took its toll on my body and my health deteriorated. The one thing that helped me during this time was obedience to my confessor.
In what ways did your health deteriorate?
At seventeen, interior sufferings were added to my bodily illness. At the beginning, my bodily sickness was very painful but my interior suffering was even more violent. I imagined that death was imminent. I could not speak because of the great pain but could only make signs. My psyche was extremely strained and I suffered with tuberculosis for almost three years.
Did you not want to lash out at God and question why He permitted this
No, on the contrary, I found my little crucifix my one source of alleviation. During the endless hours I was in bed, I prayed the prayer that learned as a child asking God to help me keep a clean heart, to reach holiness, and to do His Will in all things. It was in these moments that I began to think about consecrating myself to God. Sickness had become for me a school of life and I learned to be sensitive to the suffering of other people.
Today, people have a problem with suffering and wish to eliminate it. What would you recommend to them?
I know that sufferings are crucifying but they are necessary. Suffering can free us from ourselves and can lead us to give ourselves completely to God. The thought of heaven can encourage all who suffer.
The question of Christ’s suffering and that of all people was important in your life. The answer to this question for you was that you realized that through suffering you willingly participated in the work of salvation and it gave you the courage to establish a religious community. Please describe the principle of this community.
The spirit of the Daughters of the Divine Redeemer should be the Spirit of Jesus Christ. His Spirit should so totally animate and penetrate them that it becomes apparent in all their words and actions. The mission of our community is to be everywhere where our neighbors suffer.
What made you decide that as a Sister of the Divine Redeemer, you truly wanted to serve above all, the poor and the sick?
It was my constant determination and intention to serve and help the poor and sick day and night. I hoped to receive God’s help and trusted in God’s mercy as well as the protection of the saints. I believed that God would always be next to me and would hear my payers.
Jesus’ love of God and neighbor was demonstrated most of all in His prayer
Genuine prayer comes from the heart. Do not think that you are forbidden to speak with God in the way you feel interiorly urged to do. On the contrary, lay your feelings, your wishes, your needs candidly before Him – whatever these may be. We cannot know God’s Will when we do not have a relationship with God in prayer.
What if God does not hear our prayer?
It is not possible for God not to hear us if we put all our trust in Him and ask Him earnestly. It God lets us wait, it is for our good.
What is the importance of prayer?
A soul that does not pray goes to meet her doom. As the body cannot exist without nourishment, so the soul cannot live without food, particularly without prayer.
To the command of love belongs the love of neighbor. How do you understand this?
No effort, no exertion, and no sacrifice should be too great for you when it is demanded by the love of your neighbor. How sad it is to see souls approaching the altar of the Lord and nourishing in their hearts aversion, dislike, contempt, a type of hatred for their neighbor. Let us learn how to bear with others and, most of all, to forgive and to forget.
Mother Alphonse Marie, in the Eucharist you found the true center
To live gazing on the cross and drawing spiritual strength from the Eucharistic presence, and the sacrifice of the cross builds community and forges unity among the Sisters.
Why is the credo of your life:
“Everything for God and for the salvation of souls”?
God is my all. What about the salvation of souls? I love sinners and see them as creatures of God and objects of His love. I would give my life and blood for their salvation. God created people for happiness and I want to help them reach it.
Disasters occur daily even though we live in a super technological era.
In the trials of life and death, let us not seek vain honor and people’s acknowledgement. Try to please only God. Fight bravely like the soldiers of Christ. Do not submit to weakness and steadfastly resist hopelessness. Humbly follow Christ in His love, kindness, and suffering. I fear the vanity of earthly glory like fire. I always remind my Sisters to think more of God and neighbors than of themselves. I cannot allow the world to glorify my Sisters. Our reward and glory is only in God.
Mother Alphonse Marie, thank you for the interview. Is there anything you would like to add?
Have courage! God is with you when you do His Will.