SISTER MARIA IMELDA VALENCIA
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Death, from whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing Your will! The second death can do no harm to them. Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks, and serve him with great humility. These are the last verses of the Canticle of Brother Sun composed by St. Francis.
Francis knew that if we live in God’s grace we have no fear of death, for we have already died to our self-centeredness and we no longer live for ourselves, but for God. For this reason, Francis praises Sr. Death, for the second death can do us no harm.
In John’s Gospel, we hear that Jesus foretold His death, and subsequent glorification. “I tell you solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”
Sr. Maria Imelda heard the call of Jesus, “Anyone who loves his life, loses it; anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for the eternal life.” She listened to the wisdom of the Gospel as a young girl. She was blessed to have loving parents who were in love with God and were wonderful examples. She came from a very large and happy family – she had 11 brothers and sisters: 1 died as a baby and 5 other siblings preceded her in death. Today at this liturgy two of her sisters are here: Josefina and Maria, and one niece. They represent all the Valencia family who are grieving Sr. Imelda’s death.
At a very early age, she was attracted to the austere life of the Capuchin Poor Clares in Uruapan, Michoacan, Mexico. At the age of 13, she entered the monastery in 1946. Although it would be several years before she received the habit and began her novitiate, she was so happy to live the life of prayer and adoration as a daughter of St. Clare. Maria del Rosario, the name given to her at baptism, learned how to make hosts, cook for the community, help in the laundry, embroider vestments, and mastered the organ and piano.
She was invested with the habit of St. Clare on May 12 in the Holy Year of 1950 and given the name Sr. Maria Imelda. She made her first profession on the Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14, 1951 and four years later on that date, in the year of 1955, she made her final vows to live in poverty, chastity and obedience as a cloistered nun. Her life would become invisible and in a very deep sense, she lived a hidden life, like St. Clare and the Poor Clares whom she followed.
St. Clare was a bright light which radiated all of Assisi and during Clare’s lifetime her monastery spread throughout Italy and around the world. She was a forceful and yet very humble woman, who listened to the whispers of God, and would not be deterred by anyone. She held on to the way of life that Br. Francis gave her. She wanted to embrace Jesus in His poverty and His humility, and nothing would distract her from that. Clare’s holiness of dying to herself and gazing on the Lord made the fragrance of her love reach to the people of Assisi and throughout Italy, and even the world. The Pope was worried that her life was too austere, and the way of poverty would leave her sisters without any security, and so he tried to persuade her to follow a different Rule from the one that she wrote.
The Pope came to realize that Clare was truly embracing the poor, humble, crucified Christ, and the security of her Order was and will always depend on the providence of God.
Eight hundred years later, Maria Imelda followed the dream of Clare to live her life totally and exclusively for God. She wanted to embrace in her arms the God made flesh, and wanted His crucified body to be comforted by her friendship and love. In her prayer, she was more in touch with humanity than most of us. God let her hear the cry of the poor and the suffering. They became loud in her silence. Their pain became real for her. Jesus was continuing His Passion in the sufferings of humanity, especially the least among us. She comforted Jesus in His sorrow by raising up to the Father all those who needed grace in their lives. Like all of us, Sr. Imelda had to embrace her falling human nature, which always wants to give in to temptation. Rather, like Christ, she emptied herself of any self-centeredness, and was willing to die to herself, so that Christ could rise in her. This meant that she had to renew her commitment every day, and like the Virgin Mary, to say, “yes” to God.
When she entered the monastery at the age of 13 and experienced such happiness as a bride of Christ, she thought she would live there for the rest of her life, until God called her home. As we know, God had other plans. The community of the Capuchin Poor Clares of Uruapan asked for volunteers to open a new foundation in Wilmington, Delaware. Each sister was given a ballot and if she felt after a seven-day retreat that God was calling her to become a missionary in the United States, she was to leave the ballot in the urn.
On December 12, 1986, accompanied by 7 of her sisters, she arrived at Philadelphia International Airport to begin this unknown mission in a foreign land at the age of 54. Sr. Imelda never had the facility to learn English; nevertheless, she found an incredible joy and peace in her new home in Delaware. As St. Augustine says, “In His will is our peace”. Can you imagine never understanding a word the preacher is saying, or participating in a conversation, always needing a translator? What sacrifice! But for Sr. Imelda, it was just another way of dying to herself so that Christ will rise.
The last moments of Clare’s death were recorded with these words: “Go now; it is quite safe to leave, for you have a good guide for the journey; go now, for He who created you has also made you holy; He has always kept you safe and loved you with a tender love, as a mother loves her son. Be blessed, Oh Lord, for creating me”.