The contribution made by consecrated women in the Church is beyond measure. The Maronite Church is no exception. The time has come for the Eparchy of Saint Maron to foster and sponsor a community to assist the priests in the pastoral care of the Eparchy. Sister Marla Marie Lucas has approval to do just that. She and the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light will begin officially (ad experimentum) this June 2008. Please find below an article on this new beginning.
By Rick Allen
The Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn takes the historic step this June 2008 of establishing the first congregation of active religious sisters of the Maronite Church within the United States. Called the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light, these sisters will assist parish priests throughout the eparchy in a variety of pastoral work, ranging from directing religious education programs, to working with families, youth, and the elderly.
The congregation will be started by Sister Marla Marie Lucas, a sister of 26 years in the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, who has been given permission to leave her Monroe, N.Y.-based congregation to begin this work. Sr. Marla Marie, the daughter of Lucas John Lucas and the late Zahia Beshara NeJaime Lucas, grew up with a deep appreciation of her Maronite heritage.
“The Maronite Servants of Christ the Light is a timely gift of the Holy Spirit to our Church. Over the years, many religious vocations from our Maronite faithful have entered the Latin Church congregations, as I did,” says Sr. Marla Marie. “Young women in our Church now have the opportunity to live out and deepen their Eastern spiritual heritage in service to Maronite parishes. The Blessed Virgin Mary is our model and inspiration.”
Radiating Christ’s Light
The identification of the congregation with Mary is key the element of its charism, says Sr. Marla Marie, who chose “servants” as part of their name after Mary’s own pronouncement at the Annunciation that she was “the servant of the Lord.” Then, “Christ the Light” draws on a pre-eminent image of Jesus in spirituality, particularly in the writings of St. Ephrem, explains Sr. Marla Marie. “Our liturgy is woven throughout with reference to Christ as light or different metaphors of light.”
“As consecrated women, we are to radiate the light of Christ, the light of his merciful love and hope to those we serve,” she says.
“When I reflect on my years in the Parish Visitors, I see God’s providence, in bringing me back to the Maronite Church,” says Sr. Marla Marie. Her diversity of experience in pastoral work, whether as a director of religious education, evangelization, working with young people and families, or caring for the needs of the poor and sick in various parishes in New York, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, and Connecticut, has given her the training in areas where there is a great need in the eparchy and will open an outlook on vocation to a new generation of young people.
“Spiritual motherhood” is a theme Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized in his teachings, notes Bishop Gregory John Mansour, who had approached Sr. Marla Marie in 2007 to ask her to start a new religious congregation in the eparchy.
“It’s the Pope’s insight, indeed the Church’s insight, that the Church needs consecrated women devoted to the service of others pastorally,” notes Bishop Gregory.
“These women will be doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and helping in the pastoral work of our communities. They can teach catechism, and help with youth, young adults, married couples, programs for children and families, visits to the sick and dying or those who are grieving. They’ll work alongside the priest in a variety of different ministries,” says Bishop Gregory, who emphasizes the value of the consecrated women’s “feminine touch” in the Church’s work.
The sisters in the new order will live the communal life of the convent, through contemplative prayer, meals, fellowship, silence and solitude, and exercise and rest, even as they do pastoral work in parishes. Daily prayer will involve communal recitation of the Divine Office, daily Divine Liturgy (Mass), Eucharistic adoration, spiritual reading, and recitation of the Rosary. A prayer life centered on the Eucharist and devoted to Mary will be “our whole-hearted response to God and the source to nourish us to live in community and serve in the apostolate of parish life.”
As the congregation’s foundress, Sr. Marla Marie will receive habit of the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light in June. It consists of a gray tunic and black scapula embroidered with a gold Rabbula Cross, an ancient symbol of Christianity found in Lebanon and in a 6th century Syriac Gospel Book. The contrast of the cross will also symbolize Christ’s light shining in the darkness, Sr. Marla Marie explains. Using a traditional wood of Lebanon, the sisters’ olivewood rosary will remind them of their intimate connection to the Mother of God.
A Congregation for the New Millennium
So how does one start a new religious congregation at the beginning of the Third Millennium? It seems the tried and true method used by men and women of the Church since ancient times: pounding the pavement and meeting people in the midst of the world. Starting in June, Sr. Marla Marie plans to visit each of the eparchy’s 40 parishes that stretch across 16 states from Maine to Florida.
“It will be Sr. Marla’s responsibility to go out, knocking on doors, welcoming women, talking to parishes, meeting the priests—putting the shingle out asking people to join her in this,” says Bishop Gregory. The eparchy will support the order financially with the hope that it will eventually become self-sustaining. “My hope is [in the next several years] to have five or 10 women interested in the consecrated way of life,” says Bishop Gregory. “They could really make a difference in the life of this Church.”
The Maronite Servants extend the invitation to Catholic single women ages 22-40, who can generously offer their life in service to the Maronite Church “to share the gift of their spiritual motherhood to nurture the faith in God’s people,” explains Sr. Marla Marie. “If God has called me to this work, I know there are young women out there that He has put his hand on to come and join me in serving the Church. It’s a great privilege to be called as a consecrated woman to lay down your life for the Church. It’s also a challenge, but one that brings rewards and great joy.”
There’s a strong likelihood that the congregation will eventually be established in the Massachusetts area because there are nine parishes within commuting distance, but a final decision has not yet been made, she adds.
Sr. Marla Marie will join the eparchy’s vocations team headed by Rev. James Root, the rector of Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in Brooklyn and Director of Vocations. At the Maronite Youth Organization’s annual retreat, which includes young people from both eparchies, members of the team will talk about the meaning of vocation, says Fr. Root.
“The energy that Sr. Marla Marie has, her charism, will be very attractive to women today who want to spend time in honoring and working for the Church and what it stands for. Young people are seeking out God and looking for the right responses,” observes Fr. Root.
Sr. Marla Marie, who graduated from George Washington University with a journalism degree, also did a turn in The Washington Post newsroom as assistant to the celebrated editorial cartoonist Herblock. She knows the value of the new media in the New Evangelization. The Maronite Servants of Christ the Light have a Web site www.maroniteservants.org, to meet young people “where they are,” she says. The site, which will eventually include a blog and other multimedia, will help to promote vocations by explaining the congregation’s work and mission. But Sr. Marla Maries hopes it will also foster an understanding of Maronite spirituality “a great gift to the Church which we should be eager to share with the Western Church” and the wider world, she adds.
“To be a sister is to be a spouse of Christ and spiritual mother to all his children,” notes Sr. Marla Marie about her vocation. “I’ve been blessed with the call and privilege to serve the Church as a sister for these last 26 years. Now our Lord is calling me to a challenging adventure which I gladly embrace – with his grace.”