A Hidden SoulSixty–three years ago, in the heart of Rome, died one of those hidden souls whose entire life is but a silent offering. The holiness of such souls is brought to light when, providentially, one discovers that their action, although discreet, is wonderfully fruitful in the mystery of Mother Church.
Maria Sieler, who died in Rome in 1952, was one such soul. Austrian by origin, she settled in the Eternal City in 1939 to pursue and consummate a life yielded entirely to Christ, and to plant there the seed of the work that Heaven had asked of her.
Childhood in Austria Born on February 3, 1899 in Winterdorf in central Styria, she was baptized the following day. Her parents were modest but very devout farmers. They had five children; Maria was the second of these. At six years of age she lost her father. His death reduced the family to poverty. At a very young age, Maria was obliged to begin work on the family farm and to care for her three younger sisters. Her childhood was divided among the school, the farm where she worked as a shepherdess, and her visits to the church. Very early on, she received two mystical graces, which were to orient her entire existence.
Conversation With Jesus One day at school, while the teaching Sister was explaining prayer and recollection to the children, Maria heard a voice coming from the crucifix of the classroom, saying: “Look at me and pray with fervour. By means of this prayer, you will arrive at conversing with Me, as do men among themselves.”
Shortly before her First Holy Communion, while she was speaking with a companion, a voice that was wholly interior said to her sorrowfully: “I am so little known in the Most Holy Sacrament! Men do not believe, and they do not want to receive Me. And yet, I desire so much love, and I expect from you much love, for the others!” And, at the same time, a kind of ecstasy took hold of the little girl. From this moment forward, Jesus was the confidant of her heart. He engraved within her the love of silence and of solitude, and an attraction to the religious life. “My first love, my only love, was Jesus . . . my heart had to belong to Him, to Him alone . . . I have sought only Thee, O Jesus,” she wrote at the end of 1942. She received Holy Communion very regularly: daily, beginning at the age of fourteen, for so had the Parish Priest determined for her out of prudence. Beginning at this period, she set about praying every night for long hours, often with her arms extended in the form of the cross. After 1913 the end of her studies left her with more time.
Crisis In 1915-16, however, she went through a little crisis of lukewarmness, brought on mostly by a certain feeling that Jesus had distanced Himself from her. She no longer felt His presence as she once had, and this caused her suffering. Immediately, nonetheless, she asked herself the most important question: “Is it God alone or, rather, His gifts and consolations that I am seeking in prayer” She was able to pass through this night of the senses, this darkness of the soul and dryness of the heart, with profit. This “night” became for her a time of spiritual ascent.
Sickness In July 1917, during a retreat at the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Graz, she made the offering of herself to Jesus, and resolved to consecrate herself in the religious life. By a mysterious design of Providence and in view of her future mission, Maria had, for a time, to renounce this project. Johann, her only brother and the eldest, fell on the front at Assiago in 1918. Then, in December 1918, Maria suffered a grave illness of the lungs and had to receive the Anointing of the Sick. The illness lasted three years, during which time her calling became clearer: Jesus was asking her for the complete oblation of herself, a victimal oblation. Graces of union and heavenly favours abounded, but the young girl, stricken with fear, hesitated to surrender herself. Jesus asked her, “When will you surrender yourself to me totally, as an oblation. How long will you hesitate? I desire to make you my spouse of the Cross and to make you all offering for Myself. My life will become your life, full of suffering as yet veiled to your eyes.”
Victim Soul for Priests Maria’s vocation became clearer. She was to be a soul of offering in whom the Lord might renew His Passion. Already, the divine exigencies had prevailed over her own desires and over her health. The victim was ready. The High Priest was calling her. On December 8, 1923, Maria committed herself definitively, by the double vow for which the Lord had been asking: perpetual chastity and victimal oblation. Right from this hour she received a profusion of graces and lights on her vocation: not visions, nor apparitions, nor sensible revelations, but astonishing intellectual lights of a remarkable and amazing depth and doctrinal certainty. Her mission was defined by Jesus: a radical immolation for the profound intentions of the Church and for the renewal of the priesthood: “I want to pour out my love again upon men, as I did in apostolic times, and you must be for Me the instrument of the outpouring of my love.”
Not Called to the Cloister This calling was soon to manifest itself in a great trial. Already torn between the rhythm of her daily life and the aspirations of her soul, she regretted painfully her inability to consecrate her life to God in a cloister because of her precarious health. A novena to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who had just been canonized, brought some improvement to her health, and she enter the Good Shepherd (Convent) of Graz in April 1926. A few weeks later, her deficient health obliged her to leave this Congregation to go to the Sisters of the Cross. She finally left the latter on June 29, 1926, gravely ill and having received from Jesus the indication that her place would never be in a monastery.
Universal Renewal of the Priesthood The trial was a terrible one, but the young woman came out of it purified and ultimately abandoned to the will of God. In the course of the autumn of 1926, Jesus said to her again: “I am preparing a universal renewal of the priesthood, and you must immolate yourself for that.”
Jesus Forsaken in the Blessed Sacrament Maria Sieler was called to share all the sufferings of Christ, notably after her Holy Communions. “After Communion, Jesus made me feel the sorrows of His Heart. An unspeakable pain, poured out from His Heart, flowed into mine, and I thought I would die from it.” She felt the sufferings of Jesus because of the lukewarmness, the indifference, and the disregard of Christians, especially toward the Most Holy Sacrament. “He often showed me how much He is forsaken and so little honoured in the Blessed Sacrament, and the scant attention paid Him, the Lord, whom they treat as nothing. He showed me the pains of His Heart, and allowed me to feel them and to share them.”
Wounded for Priests She also received the sublime and terrible grace of stigmatization, but obtained from Jesus that the wounds should remain invisible. “I felt the pains of the Wounds of the Saviour and of His pierced Heart, of His Head crowned with thorns. I faltered under it.” At the heart of these sufferings, Maria, receiving lights that always more precise, discovered her particular vocation in the Church militant: to be a victim of holocaust for the priesthood. “I want to renew the Church through priests and, in this way, give her new graces! I want to give new priests and new shepherds to my Church. . . .”
Painful Revelations Concerning Priests She had painful revelations, notably concerning the unworthiness of priests and their tepidity with regard to the love of Jesus:
How I love my priests! How I thirst for their love! I would see my life relived in them. They must be the joy of my Heart, but how I am rejected, offended, and disdained by them! They become a shame for my Heart and a scandal for my Church! Souls who should be saved by them are going to their perdition because of them! Souls ought to be able to find again the way to my Heart, through priests . . . but so many priests live self-seeking lives, (caught up) in their passions, and souls cannot come to Me through them, because the way traced by these priests is sullied. It is neither pure nor straight. I so love my priests. . . .
Certainly, these hard words contain nothing new, and they are not addressed radically to all priests: Christ has communicated to other prayerful souls the same laments spoken to Maria Sieler, and He has always had the gentleness to clarify that they are directed only to certain priests. But the faults of consecrated souls are especially grave; they affect the salvation of the souls entrusted to the very ministry of priests.
Spiritual Discernment Maria Sieler received the most important and abundant communications from Jesus between 1926 and 1932. Her later years, while just as rich, were more a kind of deepening of these in silence and in prayer, in sacrifice and in immolation. All her revelations, carefully noted, were submitted at the time to the control of Monsignor E. List and of the Dominican theologian, Father Garrigou-Lagrange, who was the young woman’s director. Among her correspondents and friends, she counted Monsignor Graber, the bishop of Regensburg, and Monsignor Merk. The former was the founder of the Work that the Lord wanted to raise up for the radiance and renewal of the priesthood.
The Great Loss of Faith In addition to these abundant lights on the sanctification of priests, Maria Sieler heard, over the years, moving reproaches of the Heart of the Jesus, the announcement of a crisis in the Church and the clergy, and that of grave and trenchant chastisements for all unworthy souls of priests.
In her notebooks, Maria Sieler wrote:
In countless hours of grace and of prayer, the Lord made me see, many years ago already, a great loss of the faith, which would go on increasing. All of hell will be unleashed and will do everything possible to cause great damages to the Church. Jesus made me know two ways: I must be a soul of offering for the renewal of priests, of the priesthood, and for the renovation of the Church.
A Work for Priests She received from the Lord, at Rome, a very precise mission: the regular foundation of a priestly work:
This work must have for its own name: The Work of the Great High Priest, because it is I Myself who will be its only Founder. In this Work, I will form priests in great number, who will live fully of my spirit, because this is what I desire for the times that are to come very soon!
Jesus promised new graces of choice to the priests who would belong to this Work: they would be "an example for each of their brothers in the priesthood, serving them out of love in their acts and their words, without division or compromise." This work would be “international, regrouping priests from the monastic state as well as from the statute of priests serving in dioceses, regular and secular.”
Death This whole foundation matured in prayer and in sacrifice for ten years, in an existence entirely surrendered to God, but Maria Sieler never saw the realization of it. She died prematurely, all alone in her room, in the night of July 26th to the 27th, 1952. She had just returned from a final pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Francis in Assisi. She was discovered on the 29th; she appeared asleep, kneeling on the floor, against her bed, with her head resting on her arm. Her face was radiant. The Lord had come, like a thief, noiselessly, during one of those vigils in prayer that she offered Him, with her arms in the form of a cross.
Bishop Graber Establishes the Work Many years later, on April 7, 1971, one of the most faithful friends of Maria Sieler officially founded the Work of the Great High Priest, together with thirteen other priests. It was Monsignor Rudolf Graber, the bishop of Regensburg (Ratisbonne).
(I translated this short biographical notice of Maria Sieler from the French in 2008.)