In formal portraits, he strikes an imposing figure, with a heavy brow and with piercing eyes that follow you across the room.
But then when you open up his 368-page Journal — filled with trumpet blasts of inspiration and rallying cries for renewal — you understand why Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz's portrait is given prominent placement in every Marian residence around the world. You also understand why his Journal is required reading and why he's the model for the modern Marian.
"If I may ask, Lord," Blessed George writes in one of his many highly quotable passages, "let me be but a dishrag in Your Church, a rag used to wipe up messes and then thrown away into some dark corner. I want to be used up and worn out in the same way so that your house may be a little cleaner and brighter. And afterwards, let me be thrown away like a dirty, worn-out dishrag."
Just over 100 years ago, amidst an age of religious tyranny and toxic political upheaval, the Lithuanian native whom the Marians affectionately call Father Renovator set about to restore the Marian Congregation, which had dwindled down to one man. Blessed George rewrote the Marian Constitutions, inspired to take the Congregation founded in 1673 by Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski and make it flourish in contemporary times.
He gathered seminarians. He laid the groundwork for the growth of the Congregation, which today includes about 500 priests and brothers serving in 19 countries. Knowing the Marian religious could not bring the Gospel to every home without working together with the laity, he established in seed form what is now known as the Association of Marian Helpers. He also served as a bishop and an archbishop.
All the while, Blessed George suffered from tuberculosis of the bone. And all the while, he conducted himself in a spirit "more like the father of a family," as Fr. Marian Wisniewski, MIC, a novice under Blessed George, wrote. Indeed, Blessed George remains a father figure today for those who are the fruits of his labor — namely, the Marians, who first open that green Journal expecting it to be a chore but discover in it a spiritual treasure.
While his native land of Lithuania was under the oppressive domination of the Russian czar and nearly all Marian monasteries had been closed and confiscated, Blessed George (1871-1927) saved the Marians from extinction. The miraculous deliverance of the Marian Congregation and its reform may have been the strongest experience of God's mercy in the Congregation's history, an important confirmation that God cares for the Marians and that the Marians' charism is valuable for the Church.
Blessed George foresaw an important role for the laity long before the reforms of Vatican II and Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People. As early as Oct. 27, 1910, Blessed George wrote in his spiritual diary:
We must strive to gather and organize about us people of good will. We must train and prepare them for work. Then, together with them and through them, we must bring Christ into all things and all places, renew and revivify all things in Christ, gain all for Christ, attract all for Christ. Lord Jesus, enkindle our hearts with the fire of this zeal!
Blessed George was convinced that lay people can play a unique and powerful role in transforming society through lives of prayer and service. As the son of a poor Lithuanian farming family, who was orphaned at an early age, he knew the plight of the poor and workers. He also knew that those best equipped to meet the deepest longings and needs of society, especially its new poor, were dedicated Catholic laity.
Blessed George's insight about the laity is the very basis for the Marians' partnership with each member of the Association of Marian Helpers. His call to service for the laity has five main aspects: a desire to renew everything in Christ, cooperation with Church leaders, bringing the faith into the workplace, performing works of mercy, and enlivening one's service with a holy boldness that is a characteristic of genuine zeal.
For Blessed George, everything begins with Christ and all things must be made new in Him. For the layperson, Christ must also be the center of your life and the source of personal strength for all of your efforts in service. This can only happen when you make a concerted effort to develop a life of personal prayer — especially through reflecting and contemplating on the life of Christ in the Gospels.
Blessed George wrote in his Journal:
May our model be Jesus Christ: not only working quietly in His home at Nazareth, not only Christ denying Himself, fasting forty days in the desert, not only Christ spending the night in prayer; but also Christ working, weeping, suffering; Christ among the crowds; Christ visiting the cities and villages.
This focus on Christ and our life of prayer is a constant source of renewal for us in our service. It helps us avoid discouragement and "burn out" because we are centered on Christ as our strength.
As a bishop and a spiritual father, Blessed George recognized that a person's genuine spiritual growth and life of service in Christ would inevitably lead into a growing love for Christ's spouse, the Church.
Blessed George, who stressed the importance of caring for the neediest in society, knew that dedicated lay people would come to recognize in their hearts the truth of what John the Apostle teaches: "He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4:20).