175th Anniversary of the Event of January 20th

“She did not utter a word, I understood all”

We are celebrating 175 years of God´s revelation to Alphonse Ratisbonne through Mary.
Today we can reread Fr. Marie Alphonse`s life and reflect on all the events of his life. In an instant Alphonse Charles Tobias Ratisbonne, a non-practising Jew, became a Christian, and he consecrated his life to God. (Book 2, pg.20) Moreover, we can see how God was leading him through people since he left Alsace, France at the end of November 1841.

There are some important details before the 20th of January, 1842 in which we can see how Alphonse was guided by God. In Alphonse´s life, there are a lot of mysteries that lead him to have a deep experience with the Mother of Jesus. For instance:

  • When he was approaching Naples by boat on December 8th, people were celebrating the Feast of Mary´s Immaculate Conception, and Alphonse asked

“the reason for this warlike noise in the peaceful land of the Popes.” (Book: The Event of January 20, 1842, pg. 132)

  • Also, when he was in Naples on January 1st he went into a church and prayed for his family.

“I remained standing, leaning against a pillar, and my heart seemed to expand and breathe in an unfamiliar atmosphere… I begged God to give me some indications to guide me in my plans to improve the lot of the Jews, a thought which never left me.”
(Book: The Event of January 20, 1842, pg. 132)

  • Moreover, he could not resist a short trip to Rome. There he found a childhood friend, Gustave de Bussiere. Also, Alphonse met Baron Theodore de Bussiere, who was a friend of Fr. Theodore, and we remember that in 1841 Fr. Theodore sent the Baron a copy of the life of Saint Bernard, the so-called author of the Memorare. (Book 2, pg. 140)
  • Also, Alphonse put the Miraculous Medal of the Immaculate Conception around his neck and he continually repeated Saint Bernard’s prayer, the „Memorare.
  • In addition, when Alphonse visited the ghetto (Jewish quarter), his experience was very deep and he felt various strong emotions.

All these events were very important, and we can see how he was a sensitive and sympathetic man regarding the reality of the Jewish people at this time. If we look at the history of the congregation, we see that he always worked a lot and took responsibility through his ministries with children and sisters in Jerusalem.

Also, Alphonse had a deep encounter with Mary who is a woman of silence. He said:

”She did not utter a word, I understood everything.” (Book: The Event of January 20, 1842, pg. 26)

We can see in the Bible what Mary was like:

“She treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2, 19)

Alphonse fixed his eyes on Mary´s hands, which were a sign of pardon and mercy, and he said:

“I have never ceased to see Mary’s intervention as the hand of God Himself, not a chastising hand but a merciful hand; this is what kept me confident even in the darkest days.” (Book: The Event of January 20, 1842, pg. 55)

Also, his experience with Mary is an invitation to walk with her and to sing the Magnificat as she did in the Visitation when she saw the fulfillment of God’s promises.

Fr. Mary Alphonse had real confidence in the Virgin Mary. He said to Sr. Eleonore:

“I shall tell you my secret. I tell everything to the Blessed Virgin, I confide to her all my worries, my anxieties, my cares and then I leave it — to her. How could I be sad? I know well that in this way everything will happen according to God’s will and for the best. Then I rejoice in advance.” (Book 5, pg.277)

Mary was very important in Fr. Alphonse’s life until he died:

“His eyes closed and while Sr. Eleonore whispered: “Mary…Mary” he gave two gentle sighs.” (Book 5, 305)

Also, when he was dying

“He asked those around him to pray with him, to recite the Memorare. He frequently said this short prayer.” (Book 5, pg. 303)

What was January 20th to Alphonse? He mentioned in 1876 to sisters at St. John in Montana:

“Sometimes people wonder what January 20 is. It is quite simple: January 20 is a light. And in this light, there is another light: Mary – Sion / Jerusalem. It is Mary in broad daylight.” (Book: The Event of January 20, 1842, pg. 55)

So we can say and reflect on the reality that Fr. Alphonse was living this light in Jerusalem. He said in a sermon on January 19th, 1881, given at the Ecce Homo:

“Forward march, lead the Daughters of Sion to Jerusalem!… Sion is the work of Mary’s glance, Jerusalem is the work of her heart.” (Book: The Event of January 20, 1842, pg. 102)

Fr. Theodore loved his brother Fr. Mary Alphonse with all his heart. He said: “Father Mary is my other half.” (Book 5, pg. 263) Fr. Mary Alphonse was an impetuous, spontaneous, intuitive, humble and realistic man and he had extreme charity and was totally devoted to the cause of Israel. Also, he helped and encouraged Fr. Theodore to found a catechumenate (composed of Jewish and Christian children from needy families). In addition, the event of January 20th and the Memorare repeated by Alphonse were very important and special for Fr. Theodore and it was one of the significant signs that God gave to him to found our congregation Notre Dame de Sion. (Constitution #2 and #55.1)

“All for Sion: this is God’s work; this is Mary’s bequest” (Book: The Event of January 20, 1842, pg. 95)

Andrea Chacón, Novice NDS
Ein Karem