“The little Arab” — St Mary of Crucified Jesus

Author: Fr Mieczysław Piotrowski S.Chr.

The Muslim man went mad, drew his sword and with a single blow cut Mary’s throat. Next, his wife and mother helped him wrap the body in a sheet and dispose of it in a deserted place.

This is how the story of the martyrdom of Mary of Crucified Jesus (Little Arab Girl) began. Owing to her profound and simple faith, she lived her life surrounded by Jesus, the Virgin Mary, angels and saints. She talked to them as she did to the sisters in her convent. She experienced the presence of the supernatural reality as realistically as she did the material world that surrounds us. Her life abounded in ecstasies, bilocations, revelations, levitations, stigmata, prophesies, mystical states and struggles with demons.

Saints are sources of supernatural light in the world. They show that there is a spiritual dimension to the reality around us. They indicate the real existence of the Triune God who loved us so much that he became a true man and took upon himself all our sins, sufferings and death so as to save us all through his death and resurrection.

Childhood

Mary Baouardy, also known as the Little Arab Girl (St Mary of Crucified Jesus), was born on 5 January 1846, in the small village of Ibillin, halfway between Nazareth and Haifa. Her parents were pious Catholics of the eastern rite. As they refused to convert to Islam, they were repeatedly imprisoned, forfeited their property and had to move home. They were also afflicted by another, remarkable suffering: over the course of over a decade, their twelve children died after birth. So they went on a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to pray at the Grotto of the Nativity for the grace of having a child. Their prayers were answered: they had a daughter, Mary, and a son, Paul, a year later.

When the uncle threw a lavish party on the occasion of the approaching wedding, Mary brought him her cut hair on a tray. This was a sign that she intended to stay a virgin and belong only to Jesus

When Mary was three years old, her father died, followed by her mother, a few days later. The girl was adopted by a rich uncle, while her brother was brought up by an aunt. Mary remembered that when she was five years old, when she was very upset by the death of some little birds, she heard a voice in her heart: “Everything passes! If you give your heart to me, I’ll stay in it forever.” It was already then that she offered her entire life to Christ. When she was eight, she was very happy to go to her first Communion. Soon afterwards, she moved with her uncle’s family to Alexandria, Egypt.

Martyrdom

When Mary was twelve, she learned that her uncle had found a betrothed for her and intended to give her in marriage. She started to be presented with jewels and silk clothes embroidered with gold and silver threads. Mary did not even think about marriage, because she had vowed to God to keep her virginity for life. She stayed up all night and prayed. Our Lady appeared to her and said: “Mary, if you obey my inspirations, I will stand by you. Do not be afraid of anything.” After the prayer, the girl cut her long hair.

The next day, when the uncle threw a lavish party on the occasion of the approaching wedding, Mary brought him her cut hair on a tray. This was a sign that she intended to stay a virgin and belong only to Jesus. The gesture infuriated the uncle so much that he publicly slapped Mary’s face. As a punishment, he demoted her to the role of a servant and banned her from going to church, which was the most painful thing. Deserted by everybody, she pinned all her hope on Jesus and courageously persevered. After three months of humiliation, Mary felt a desire to see her brother, Paul. She wrote a letter to him and took it to a Muslim neighbour who was about to go to Nazareth, where her brother lived. Mary told the neighbour what fate had befallen her. The man sympathized with her but saw the main source of evil in the Catholic religion. Hence, he suggested that she become a Muslim and join his family. When she replied that she would never betray Jesus and that the true religion was proclaimed only in the Catholic Church, the Muslim man went mad, drew his sword and with a single blow cut Mary’s throat. Next, his wife and mother helped him wrap the body in a sheet and dispose of it in a deserted place.

An atheist doctor examined Sister Mary and said in amazement that a person who had sustained such an injury should not have survived, because the blow damaged several vertebrae

Mary remembered that after having her throat cut, she found herself in heaven. There was incredible light and the joy of the disinterested love of the Triune God, the Virgin Mary, angels and saints. Mary saw also her parents there and heard the words: “Your book has not been fully inscribed yet.” Upon this, the vision of heaven vanished.

The girl awoke in a grotto; she was lying on a modest bed. Sitting next to her was a beautiful woman wearing a blue gown and stitching the wound on Mary’s neck. For almost a month, she took loving care of Mary. During that time, the girl slept and did not eat anything, while the carer would moisten her lips with water. On the last day of treatment, she gave Mary a bowl of soup, which the girl found especially tasty, and told her that God was taking care of all her needs and that she should completely trust God and love him with all her heart. She advised Mary to be happy always and thank God for everything, especially when she was afflicted by any suffering. She warned Mary never to heed Satan’s treacherous temptations. The woman also announced to Mary that she would leave for France and become a nun, would suffer a lot and would never see her family again.

The mysterious carer took Mary to a church in Alexandria to confess her sins and then disappeared. Only later did Mary realize that the mysterious carer was the Virgin Mary herself. The girl was completely healed, but a large scar, 10 cm long and 1 cm wide, remained on her neck. Many years later, in a Carmelite convent in France, an atheist doctor examined Sister Mary and said in amazement that a person who had sustained such an injury should not have survived, because the blow damaged several vertebrae. He took this to be a sign of the existence of the invisible, supernatural reality of God.

Servant

Mary was entirely on her own. She took up positions in domestic service in Alexandria, Jerusalem, Beirut and Marseille. She often changed homes, but wanted most to work where the work was hardest and she was treated badly.

While in Beirut, she fell ill and lost her vision. The illness was incurable. After forty days of total blindness, Mary asked Our Lady to heal her. The request was answered. She had a vision of Our Lady who gave her three instructions: absolute obedience, perfect love and total confidence in God. The presence of Our Lady was accompanied by great luminosity in the entire house and a wonderful fragrance. All the household members came rushing to the room where May had lain ill and found her completely healed.

Mary was special because of her unusually deep and simple faith. During a storm at sea, when the ship was close to sinking, Mary, kneeling on the deck, raised her hands in fervent prayer, asking Jesus to calm the sea. The storm ceased immediately and the ship was saved. The girl said: “If we had great faith, we would receive everything from God.”

After several years of wandering, in May 1863, Mary arrived in France and took up a job as a servant in Marseille. She participated in the Eucharist daily and prayed a lot. While staying there, she obtained exceptional graces: one day, after receiving Holy Communion, she fell into an ecstasy, lasting four days. All attempts by doctors to bring her back to normal failed. Her spiritual director told Mary to relate what she had experienced. She confessed that she had experienced the reality of heaven, purgatory and hell. She saw Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary among angels, apostles, martyrs, great hosts of virgins and those who had gone through great suffering while on earth. She remembered: “I saw myself teeny-weeny, like an absolute nothing, but in spite of that I felt all these souls embrace me with great joy.”

On the advice of her confessor, Mary joined the Order of the Sisters of St Joseph of Revelation in 1865. During her postulancy, she performed the simplest chores. Frequently, during the Eucharist and prayers, she would fall into ecstasies, and twice a week she would suffer the pains of Jesus’ passion and death. Stigmata appeared on her body – the bleeding wounds of crucifixion and crowning with thorns. These extraordinary states were wrongly interpreted by the sisters and Mary was expelled from the order.

Carmel

In June 1867, Mary applied for admission and was taken in by the Carmelite convent in Pau. She was twentyone but looked as if she was twelve. She liked everything there: the enclosure, silence, obedience, humility and poverty. Her religious name was Sister Mary of Crucified Jesus. Because she had difficulties reading, she wanted to become a lay sister, who does simple manual chores in the kitchen, laundry room, at the gate or in the garden. With her endearing simplicity and goodness, she won everybody’s hearts. The supernatural gifts which the Lord Jesus presented her with, such as ecstasies, levitations and stigmata, which in her simplicity she treated as an illness to be ashamed of, as well as attacks by the evil spirit made Sister Mary deepen her humility and consider herself “a little nothing” before the Lord. Certain manifestations of Sister Mary’s spiritual elevation, however, were a problem for the conventual community, especially when she fell into an ecstasy during Mass. It so happened that suddenly during a homily or after Communion, enraptured with Jesus’ love, she would start singing and dancing. During the ecstasies, she said words which the sisters scrupulously wrote down. On one occasion, she said: “Love God, seek only God, all the rest is nothingness! I have found the joy of my heart, finding my Creator! He who is all, is enough. I do not need anything else on earth.”

On another occasion, this is what she told the sisters about contrition: “I worried a lot, because of inadequate contrition. I was afraid that I did not have enough remorse for my sins. My Good Mother, the Virgin Mary, taught me to visit three stations before confession: the first in front of the gate of heaven, the second in front of the gate of hell and the third in the Garden of Gethsemane. I do as she has taught me and I am not worried anymore.”

Sister Mary often saw Our Lady in her visions. During one of the revelations, she heard: “thrice blessed is the soul that suffers! The span of life on earth is very short. After a short suffering on earth, this soul will always be with my Divine Son and the Father in heaven.” On one occasion, during Mass, Sister Mary saw two angels standing next to the priest. At a certain moment, she saw Jesus over the chalice in the form of a beautiful boy who suddenly turned into an adult man. She was pleased with the vision, but even more she wanted to know how Jesus, while staying in heaven, can be present in all places where hosts are consecrated. At that moment, she heard the words of Jesus: “May this mystery not surprise you. Is not natural light above everything? And why could the Begetter of the light not be, through his sacrament, in several places at the same time?”

“Jesus who created you for himself also wishes that you live his life of hardships, temptations, struggles and combat with the demon and sin, but he wants to lead you to victory with his divine power”

Sister Mary did not desire extraordinary, supernatural states such as stigmata, ecstasies, visions and levitations. She said: “You need to desire what God desires, but I view these states as punishments from God. It is so easy to feel pride! Pride is the source of all sins, and humility is the foundation of all virtues. It is pride that brings disaster upon us all; it is because of pride that man’s will rebels against God. A humble soul becomes light, lives in truth and approaches God, and God reaches out to it. God looks with greater love at a soul which returns to him through humility than at a faithful soul which is well pleased in its virtues.”

Stigmata

At Lent, Sister Mary fell into ecstasies every day, and bleeding wounds appeared on her body: stigmata or the signs of Jesus’ passion. She had visions then of Jesus, Our Lady and various saints. When she begged Jesus to take the stigmata away, she heard an answer: “I choose some souls so that I am glorified in them. The extraordinary gifts that I dispense to them are designed not for them but for others. These souls keep only suffering, which is like the thorn of a rose. However, after much suffering, they will become like a rose which opens. They will spread my fragrance and will blossom in heaven. […] A soul on its own can do nothing for God. It is God who works in it, surrounds himself with glory and grows in it as the soul withdraws, vanishes and annihilates itself.”

When the wounds of Jesus’ passion appeared on Sister Mary’s body, she was moved to an infirmary. At that time, her body emanated a wonderful fragrance. Her suffering would begin on the Ash Wednesday evening. First, large black scabs appeared above her wrists and on her feet. The stigma wounds would open on Friday morning and begin to bleed profusely. On the dressings applied to the wound on her side, blood left stains shaped like a cross. Sister Mary suffered together with Jesus throughout Lent, but the suffering was especially acute on Fridays. In a special way, she shared in the mystery of Jesus’ passion and death. The sisters wrote down the words which she said at that time: “Thank you, my God. I am ready to suffer even more for sinners, for the Holy Father and for the Church.” When the suffering was so intense that she was afraid she would not endure, she begged: “My God, have mercy on me, I am so weak. I am only a sin and should I complain about this suffering? No, no, my God. Jesus, how much you suffered! I am glad that I can suffer for you.”

During one of her ecstasies, Sister Mary said: “Jesus stayed in the desert for forty days without drinking or eating; he fasted for us. He was hungry and thirsty for souls. He cried, and when tears flowed down his face, he said: ‘Poor sinners, if you do not mend your ways, there is no heaven for you. I am not asking you why you have sinned, but why you do not mend your ways. I do not look at your past. I wish you would come to me. Come, and I will save you’.”

During Mass, when the priest raised the Eucharistic elements and the passion and death of Christ were made truly present, Sister Mary would fall into an ecstasy and the wounds on her head, side, hands and feet bled profusely. The gathered sisters could palpably experience the reality of Calvary. In ecstasy, Sister Mary said: “Everything passes. My God, wrap your mercy around poor sinners. “Everything passes. My God, wrap your mercyIf they understood your word, if they believed in your presence in the tabernacle, if they remembered that everything passes, they would mend their ways. Poor sinners! Why do you offend him who gives you everything? Go to God, listen to his word.” around poor sinners.

On Thursday of Easter Week, at 2:00 p.m., Sister Mary sweated blood, which gave off an incredible smell. Later, she suffered the torture of scourging. The sisters gathered round her heard the lashes of a whip. On Good Friday, the stigmatic shared all the spiritual and physical sufferings of the Saviour. Blood flowed profusely from all the stigmata. When the sisters washed her bleeding feet and hands, the body where the wounds were was transparent. On the Saturday, the suffering would recede, and Sister Mary would begin to feel the joy of resurrection.

On 24 May 1868, during prayers in a hermitage, Sister Mary received a special grace from Jesus. With all her strength, she desired to be united in love with Jesus. At a certain moment during an ecstasy, she said: “Jesus pierced my heart.” The Lord Jesus pierced her heart as he did the hearts of St Teresa and St Padre Pio. This is a special sign indicating a mystical unity of man with God. St John of the Cross writes that such a gift is given to people called to a special mission in the Church. It is called the grace of transverberation or the piercing of the heart. This is a real wound, an actual piercing of the heart. If not for the special, miraculous intervention of God, any person who sustained such a wound would immediately die. That the wound to Sister Mary’s heart was real could be seen only after her death. The Carmelite convent at Pau wanted to keep her heart. When a surgeon, Dr Carpani, took the heart out of Sister Mary’s dead body, everyone could see that it was pierced right through and that the edges of the wound had dried up. How could Sister Mary have lived for ten years with such a wound in her heart? Medicine cannot explain this, but there is nothing impossible for God.

I will suffer a lot

To expose the insidious activity of evil spirits, who hide and persuade people of their non-existence, Jesus warned Sister Mary that she would suffer demonic possession. She, in turn, informed her superiors about this: “Jesus will give Satan the power to torment my body for forty days. I will suffer a lot. Demons will have power only over my body, while my soul will be concealed. Jesus promised me that he would lock it away so that it would be beyond Satan’s reach. Demons will bring me to such a state that I will make many mistakes on the outside, although I will not sin. My will will be of no use here. I will be like small children whose mind is still dormant and who for this reason are not capable of any sin. Jesus wants me to suffer without consolation. I will drink the cup like Jesus did, but I will drink from it only a mere drop and he drank all of it, didn’t he?!”

She offered all the suffering that awaited her for the Church, the Holy Father and priests, for the conversion of sinners and souls suffering in purgatory. On the day before the possession, Sister Mary had a vision of Jesus. He put on her shoulder a huge cross which caused her severe pain.

For what purpose did God allow this terrible suffering of demonic possession? Mystical theology and great mystics call this state a passive purification. To prepare man for even closer unity with himself and provide a special share in the salvation of sinners, God thoroughly purifies by allowing Satan to harass, torment with obsessions and even possess. The Lord Jesus allowed evil spirits to control Sister Mary’s body for forty days.

“It was not I who chose hell for you people. You make this choice yourselves”

Exactly as announced, at noon on 26 July 1868, Satan started to use Sister Mary’s body and speak through her mouth. Mouthing horrible blasphemies, he encouraged sisters to disobey their superior (“old hag”), leave the convent and start enjoying earthly pleasures. Exorcisms made the demons leave Sister Mary’s body, but for a short time. During those short spells, she could receive Communion, talk to other sisters or confess. There were days when an entire legion of demons entered her. Her suffering was terrible and the cries terrifying; at moments when she regained control of herself, she pronounced acts of love of God and that she completely accepted his will and offered her suffering for the conversion of sinners. She said: “My God, I love you. I want to suffer for you. If this is your will, I will suffer until the end of the world. Jesus, make me fulfil your will. I want to be liked by you only.” This heroic attitude of Sister Mary only worked up the fury of Satan, who yelled, howled and cursed.

The Lord Jesus gave Sister Mary’s body into the power of Satan, but forbade him to do anything against her chastity. Exorcisms and the words of a priest had great force. On the priest’s orders, the demons had to stay silent at night.

Sisters sometimes heard Sister Mary speak: “I cry, Jesus, because I do not suffer enough for you.” After attacks by Satan, she repeated: “Nothing else, only suffer for Jesus.”

Bishop Lacroix was kept informed of all this. On 16 August 1868, he wrote Sister Mary a special letter. Here is a passage: “Jesus who created you for himself also wishes that you live his life of hardships, temptations, struggles and combat with the demon and sin, but he wants to lead you to victory with his divine power as he himself was victorious. After he had let the demon tempt him, he also let the demon tempt you, but he will defeat him [in you] as he did in himself. Jesus defeated hell through the cross. The nails that nailed him to the cross shackled demons, while his crown of thorns became the crown of glory.”

The evil spirits failed to make Sister Mary utter a single word of complaint, although there were days when 100 demons tormented her terribly. After every attack by the forces of evil, Sister Mary repeated: “I unite with Jesus on Calvary by offering myself together with him for the conversion of sinners. My God, be blessed!”

She united her sufferings with those of Jesus at all the stages of his passion and death, from the treason of Judas until the death on the cross. In the course of that great suffering, she was supported by the presence of Jesus, Our Lady and the saints. Mary offered her suffering for “the blind who do not know the Church” and for all those who fight it and hate it, for hardened sinners who reject God’s mercy and follow the road to hell.

One day, the Lord Jesus appeared to Mary and said: “It was not I who chose hell for you people. You make this choice yourselves. There is no such soul that convicts itself before I first have spoken to its heart a thousand times. I came to earth; I took on your nature and became a small child – obedient, poor and humble. I suffered all this for you. It is not I who damn you, it is you who damn yourselves when you choose sin and reject my mercy.”

In the final hours of the possession of Sister Mary, Lucifer himself came. Her body first turned all red and after a while it changed to black. Smoke started rising from it, and it gave off a strong odour of tar. There were all the signs of agony. The noon of the fortieth day of possession approached. Suddenly, everything changed. Sister Mary of Crucified Jesus hovered in levitation over her bed. Her face and entire body were transfigured and radiated supernatural beauty. All those present were kneeling and, experiencing the joy of heaven, wept with happiness. The resurrected Christ entirely transfigured the tormented body of Sister Mary.

“Thrice blessed is the soul that suffers! The span of life on earth is very short. After a short suffering on earth, this soul will always be with my Divine Son and the Father in heaven”

The witnesses to those dramatic events experienced not only the terrifying presence of demons and the reality of hell, but above all Christ’s all-powerful love. Through his death and resurrection, he definitively overcame Satan, sin, hell and death. The Lord Jesus offers to us all a share in his victory through the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. The only thing we have to do is to reject and loathe any and all sin, and throw ourselves into the depths of God’s mercy.

“Do not be afraid of anything,” St Mary used to say,” His mercy is unfathomable. People are afraid of Jesus. They see an executioner in him, but his eyes have such a fatherly expression, don’t they? He is mad about man! He loves the humble and poor; he does not love the haughty. Never seek the support of creations, but call to God. If because of some sin or misery you fall to the very bottom of a precipice, call more loudly, move his heart. I’ll teach you a small trick. Tell him: ‘Lord, I am alone, at the bottom, in a very low place, my arm and my leg are broken, I am weak, ill, please, do come. I can barely call to you anymore and I do not want any other help than from you!’.”

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