In a new letter, Benedict XVI praised the story of a woman who lived “the inner drama of being a Christian” and dedicated her life to the spiritual encounter with Christ in eucharistic adoration and other practices.
The pope emeritus wrote that his own personal experience was similar to what Mother Julia Verhaeghe went through in a letter to the author of a new biography.
The writer, Father Hermann Geissler, is a former official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and a member of the Spiritual Family “The Work” that Mother Julia founded and Pope John Paul II designated as a family of consecrated life in 2001.
In his letter to Geissler, made available to CNA, Benedict did not hide the fact that he had “the fear that her life could be of little interest as a whole because it lacks any external drama.”
Benedict praised the author for making “the inner drama of being a Christian visible, writing a genuinely fascinating biography. The external path of this life, which leads from Belgium through Austria and Hungary to Rome, with a focal point in Austria, becomes a reflection of the interior path through which this woman was led.”
“In this way, the true drama of life becomes visible, which is found above all in the encounter with Paul and, through him, with Christ himself, allowing others to retrace it,” Benedict added.
“All the external and internal drama of faith is present in her life. The tension described here is particularly captivating because it is similar to what I have experienced since the 1940s.”
The biography, titled “She Served the Church: Mother Julia Verhaeghe and the Development of The Spiritual Family The Work,” explores the period from 1950 to 2001, from the second postwar period to the recognition of the Family, four years after the founder’s death in 1997.
The book is divided into four parts and includes testimonies, excerpts from Mother Julia’s letters, and other archival documents. Furthermore, the book contextualizes the life and choices of Mother Julia, connecting them to the situations of the time, of which Mother Julia was a careful observer.
In the introduction, Father Thomas Felder and Sister Margarete Binder wrote that “the following pages tell of a woman who had neither a particular culture, nor good health, nor any economic means.” Yet, they added, “a fire burned in her heart.”
This fire is the basis of the encounters that formed her life: first of all, the one with St. Paul; then the one with Pope Pius XII, who appeared to her in a dream and who predicted the Second Vatican Council; finally, the encounter with Cardinal John Henry Newman, to whom “The Work” has a particular relationship.
These meetings and relationships are part of a spiritual path to encountering Christ. Geissler’s book tells of these encounters with delicacy, without sensationalism, demonstrating that prophecy comes only when one is open to listening.
From the meeting with Pius XII, a great intuition was born: the human and humanizing element of the Second Vatican Council will try to take over, going beyond what must be the center of the Church, namely the sacred.
In the face of growing secularization, the Spiritual Family “The Work,” guided by Mother Julia, emphasized eucharistic adoration. It is a daily habit in every house of “The Work.”
The book also describes how Mother Julia felt the same enthusiasm and concern for a unified Europe, just as Brussels was preparing to host the 1958 Expo. Her view was always one of spiritual renewal, of a return to Christ.
Perhaps there was no external drama, but the restlessness of Mother Julia’s soul that Benedict refers to is good, open to reflecting on the issues of the time.
In Geissler’s book, one perceives the constant amazement before the mystery of Christ, which leads her, already elderly, to visit the Holy Land and experience the desert.
The life of Mother Julia told in this book is of a woman who could look at her times with the concreteness that comes only from contact with God.