The violence in the Holy Land is hard to ignore. The reports of unspeakable tragedies, the loss of human life and the sufferings that are being inflicted across the region (and across religions and nationalities) should make us all pause and offer a prayer. Perhaps “the little Arab” also known as “the Lily of Palestine”, a Carmelite nun who founded a convent in Bethlehem, is just the right intercessor for these times. Read on to meet this amazing saint, known for intense ecstasies and miraculous healings.
St. Mariam of Bethlehem
St. Mariam was born Baouardy (sometimes also spelled Maryam Bowardy) on January 5, 1846. The story of her birth is just the first of many miraculous occurrences that would follow her for the 33 years of her life. Reportedly, she was the 13th child (and first female child) of her parents, but she was the first child to survive beyond infancy. Her parents are said to have dedicated her to God through Our Lady’s intercession after a pilgrimage to Bethlehem to ask for a living, surviving child. Tragically, her parents died when she was only a toddler. She then went to live with an uncle who raised her.
The Poisonous Fish
Little Mariam’s life was punctuated by the miraculous from a very early age. She was said to have a very tender heart, but when her parents died, their dying prayer was that Our Lady be her mother, and God the Father, her father. This prayer was answered. Mariam had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and at the young age of five was observing the first Saturday devotions and entreating the intercession of Our Lady to the best of her little abilities.
One night little Mariam had a dream wherein a man came to her uncle’s house to sell them a fish. In her dream she was warned that the fish was poisoned. When a fisherman did, in fact, come to her uncle’s house the next day to sell a large fish, Mariam knew her dream was divinely inspired. She warned her aunt and uncle who did not pay attention to her insistence. So Mariam decided to sacrifice herself and offered to eat the first bite of the fish. This was enough to spur her aunt and uncle to action and upon butchering the fish, discovered it had ingested a venomous snake which had made the fish unsafe to eat!
The blue nun
When Mariam turned thirteen years old, her suffering greatly increased. Her uncle arranged for her to be married, as was the local custom; however Mariam had already dedicated her life and virginity to God. So she refused. On the morning of her would – be wedding, and after a night of intense prayer where she heard Jesus encourage her to follow His inspirations, Mariam told her uncle of her refusal. He tried to convince her otherwise. When Mariam would not give in, her uncle resorted to beating and yelling at her. Eventually, she was sent to work as a slave in the household as punishment.
While working in the kitchen of her uncle’s house, a fellow servant, a young man, made advances towards her. When she would not give in, he became to angry at Mariam that he cut her throat, dumped her body in an alleyway, and left her for dead. What happened next was a miracle:
“A nun dressed in blue picked me up and stitched my throat wound. This happened in a grotto somewhere. I then found myself in heaven with the Blessed Virgin, the angels and the saints. They treated me with great kindness. In their company were my parents. I saw the brilliant throne of the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ in His humanity. There was no sun, no lamp, but everything was bright with light. Someone spoke to me and said that my book was not finished.”Sr. Mariam’s recounting of her healing to her Mistress Novice in France.
Mariam spent an unknown amount of time in this “grotto.” It was in this place that the “nun in blue” made soup for Mariam. Before her death Mariam talked about it: “She made me some soup! Oh, such good soup! I have the taste in my mouth. She promised me that at my last hour, she would give me a little spoonful of it.” When she was much recovered, this “nun in blue,” who was Our Lady, told Mariam just what the rest of her “book” would include: “You will never see your family again, you will go to France, where you will become a religious. You will be a child of St. Joseph before becoming a daughter of St. Teresa. You will receive the habit of Carmel in one house, you will make your profession in a second, and you will die in a third, at Bethlehem.”
The road to the convent
Mariam never did see her family again. She found work as a servant with a few Arab-Christian families, and found herself traveling to Jerusalem, then to France by way of a detour to Beirut. Mariam was generous with the poor and determined to make a vow of perpetual Virginity at the Holy Sepulcher (Jesus’ tomb) in Jerusalem. Along the way she met a young man whom she later understood to be an angel sent to guide and protect her. Later on she encountered a man and a child who she realized was St. Joseph with the child Jesus. It was he who encouraged her to seek a convent and become a religious.
As she contemplated religious life, her life as a servant was still full of suffering. She endured 40 days of blindness, and then suffered from a fall that should have left her for dead. In both cases it was the Blessed Mother who miraculously healed her. In the midst of these sufferings she also received ecstasies (sometimes lasting for days!). Once she was in ecstasy for four days and said she visited Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Eventually Mariam found herself in the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition.
Mariam spent several years with the Sisters of St. Joseph and during that time experienced many ecstasies and even received the stigmata. Her superiors struggled with how to handle having such a nun under their care and direction and would order her under holy obedience to not experience her ecstasies during the day, and to not disturb the other sisters. Since God desires obedience, He allowed Sr. Mariam to obey. Yet, the Sisters of St. Joesph were not her final home.
Sr. Mariam was eventually given permission to become a Carmelite, partly because it was thought that a cloister would be a more appropriate place to keep her intense religious experiences more private. When she entered Carmel they only increased! At once point she was experiencing daily ecstasies and continued to have the wounds of the stigmata.
Sr. Mariam had so many miraculous experiences that it is impossible to recount them all. She would even float high above the ground! Once she was even seen above a tree! Mariam would not remember her experiences unless she was commanded to do so by someone who had authority over her. She was also unable to move – or be moved! – during an ecstatic episode, unless she was commanded to under obedience. What she did say was:
“I am in God, and God is in me. I feel that all creatures, the trees, the flowers belong to God and also to me. I no longer have a will, it belongs to God. And all that is God´s is mine.” Only love can fill the heart of man. The just man is satisfied with love and a pinch of earth, but the wicked man, with all the pleasures, honors, riches (he can acquire), is always hungry, always thirsty. He is never satisfied. “Pay attention to little things. Everything is great before the Lord. The Lord does not want robbery in the sacrifice. Offer and give Him everything. “In heaven, the most beautiful souls are those that have sinned the most and repented. But they made use of their miseries like manure around the base of the tree.” “Be very charitable; when one of your eyes sees what is not right, shut it and then open the other one! Change everything into good.” “If you love your neighbor, it is by this that you will know if you love Jesus. Each time you look at your neighbor without seeing Jesus, you fall very low.”– Sr. Mariam of Jesus Crucified
Sr. Mariam of Jesus Crucified, known as “the little Arab” since her time with the Sisters of St. Joseph died at the age of 33 on January 5, 1878. By this time, in addition to her many miraculous experienced, she had also endured a painful experience of the passion, penned two prayers to the Holy Spirit, and founded the Carmel at Bethlehem.
Perhaps the “little Arab,” who endured so much suffering, who traveled throughout the Holy Land, eventually settled in Bethlehem, who spoke so beautifully of love of neighbor and of God, is just the intercessor we need for these times. Together let us pray the prayers she wrote to the Holy Spirit and ask for her intercession for our world.
Sr. Mariam’s Prayers to the Holy Spirit:
Holy Spirit, inspire me. Love of God, consume me. Along the true road, lead me. Mary my Mother, look upon me. With Jesus, bless me. From all evil, from all illusion, from all danger, preserve me. Amen.
Source of peace, Light, come and enlighten me. I am hungry, come and nourish me. I am thirsty, come and quench my thirst. I am blind, come and give me light. I am poor, come and enrich me. Amen.
St. Mariam of Jesus Crucified, pray for us!
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