July 30, 2014
Homily for SSJ Jubilee Mass at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart ChurchWatertown on July 12
Putting everything in its proper historical perspective, 50 and even 65 years isn’t a long time, not really, particularly when you are right in the middle of living it. Nevertheless, Sisters, the years in which you have ministered so faithfully as a Sister of St. Joseph have seen events that have had truly seismic implications for our world and for our Church.
Review with me, for just a moment, some of what’s happened over the years of your consecrated life as a Sister of St. Joseph.
We’ve been through: 9/11, Watergate, the Cold War, the clergy sex scandal, the resignation of a pope, the introduction of Internet, I-phones. We’ve celebrated the 1980 Lake Placid Miracle on Ice, suffered through Vietnam, AIDs, welcomed the microwave oven. We’ve seen six Popes and we are on our sixth Diocesan Bishop, and then there were the hoola-hoops.
We’ve seen the legalization of abortion and same sex “marriages,” enjoyed the Beatles & Rolling Stones & Elton John, witnessed the closing of Mater Dei College, watched (on color TV, no less) everything from Bonanza to Saturday Night Live to Oprah to NCIS.
During the last half century that college football team from South Bend, Indiana has won I think at least one national championship. Then there’s the Common Core curriculum, Facebook & Twitter, and the death of Elvis, we think.
In the midst of such happenings, and so many more, and while some of you struggle with your own serious health concerns and those of your loved ones, your love of Christ has impelled you (2 Cor.5:14) to faithfully proclaim the Gospel. Such enduring love has taken your mission to our Catholic schools as educators and administrators.
Such faith has led some of you to a deep commitment to serve the unique needs of our Native American sisters and brothers and our military families.
One among you has studied and written an invaluable history of the Church of the North Country and others have gifted your congregation as its Superior.
You continue to evangelize and so lovingly minister to those who are spiritually, educationally, and economically marginalized - the rural poor. You have prayed for and worked to protect the unborn.
In all of this, each one of you has, and continues to be, a witness of hope and true inspiration for all of us. Thank You, Sr. Christine! Thank You Sr. Helen! Thank You Sr. Annunciata! Thank You Sr. Yvonne! Thank You Sr. Eamon! Thank You Sr. Maureen!
While acknowledging the truth of your faith-filled and self-less ministry, you know that it hasn’t been and is not about you, but about the One whom you have committed your whole life to: it’s all about Jesus Christ. God’s ever-abiding Spirit and Eucharistic Presence have been your staple.
Christ-led, Christ-fed and hope-filled you celebrate your identity and find your mission at Holy Eucharist.
And so, on this festive occasion in which we gather to celebrate your daily “Yes” to the Lord, it is fitting that we feel all of our hearts beat with profound joy before God’s Altar of Thanksgiving
In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Consecrated Life, Vita Consecrata, St. John Paul II wrote that “The consecrated life is a precious and necessary gift for the present and future of the People of God, since it is an intimate part of her life, her holiness and her mission.” (VC, 3)
My dear Sisters, hear again these powerful words from one of our most recently canonized saints: your life “is a precious and necessary gift for the present and future People of God.”
Each of your lives is precious, is necessary, a gift for all of us. I’m sorry for the times the Church’s behavior doesn’t reflect your giftedness to us all.
Sisters, your own personal relationship with Jesus Christ and generous response to His call helps us all on our journey of faith.
After all, as the exhortation goes on, “the first missionary duty of consecrated persons is to themselves, and they fulfill it by opening their hearts to the promptings of the Spirit of Christ. Such witness helps the whole world to remember that the most important thing is to serve God freely.”
God has the fulfillment of His plan for us at heart, and for the last 50 years plus, dear Sisters, He has been achieving it with your consent and cooperation.
No vocation is born of itself or lives for itself. A vocation flows from the heart of God and blossoms in the good soil of faithful people, within the experience of a community, a family of love.
Your vocation continues to blossom as a Sister of St. Joseph within your religious community and within the larger Church community.
Everything comes from God and is His gift: the world, life, death, the present, the future, and you; you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. Christ continually summons us by His word to place our trust in Him, loving Him with our whole being. Every vocation, even within the variety of paths, always requires an exodus from oneself in order to center one’s life on Christ and on the Gospel. It is an exodus that leads us on a journey of adoration of the Lord and of service to him in our sisters and brothers. (Pope Francis, World Day of Prayers for Vocations, 11 May 2014)
I believe that you have learned three particular needs over these last 65 and 50 years to facilitate that exodus from self:
First, the need for forgiveness. A failure to give or to seek forgiveness burdens us and obstructs our spiritual growth.
A second need: the need for joy: As Pope Francis noted, “You should be real witnesses of a world of doing and acting differently. Religious should be men and women who are able to wake the world up.” You promote growth in the Church by way of attraction—joy-filled witness. Again, the author to the Letter to the Colossians writes of “singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” Live joy-filled lives!
Forgiveness, Joy and Prayer are ingredients you have combined well these many years as a Sister of St. Joseph. Through the grace of God, you continue to serve as inspirational women for me personally, and for all those whose lives you continue to touch.
Because of your “yes” every day for the last handful of decades, because you have “put on Christ,” untold number of souls have been sanctified and families blessed -- and the numbers continue to increase! You make such a difference.
Congratulations and God bless you and all the Sisters of St. Joseph abundantly for making such a sacred impact on each of us! St. Joseph pray for us all.
Photo by Sister Jennifer Votraw, SSJ