Josephite Jubilarians (24 January 2015)
Homily by Michael Whelan SM
First Reading: Deuteronomy 1:29-32 & 2:7. Responsorial Psalm: "On Eagle's Wings". Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-16. Gospel: John 15:1-8.
Sisters, your lives are really the only homily needed today. Please hear what I am about to say as nothing more nor less than an honouring of your existence among us as women of faith.
The Canadian Trappistine nun, Jean-Marie Howe, gave a retreat to the Cistercian monks of Sainte Marie du Mont in France in 1997. Her opening gambit is peculiarly apt for our gathering here today. She said:
"One of the best known of the Desert Fathers of fourth-century Egypt, Saint Sarapion the Sidonite, travelled once on pilgrimage to Rome. Here he was told of a celebrated recluse, a woman who lived always in one small room, never going out. Sceptical about her way of life – for he was himself a great wanderer – Sarapion called on her and asked: 'Why are you sitting here?' To this she replied: 'I am not sitting, I am on a journey.'" [Jean-Marie Howe OCSO, Secret of the Heart: Spiritual Being, Cistercian Publications, 1999/2005, xiii.]
The essential journey in life is the inner journey, a journey of the heart. There is a delightful paradox in this truth – in journeying we abide, in abiding we journey. See how our three Readings reflect on this paradox.
In the first Reading, the Book of Deuteronomy speaks of the journey of our mothers and fathers in the faith, a journey through the wilderness, from slavery to freedom. The central figure in this journey is God – "Do not take fright, do not be afraid. Your God goes in front of you on the journey ...."
Their journey into the wilderness is certainly a geographical journey. But it is much more than that. It is a journey into the heart of God. Listen to the way the prophet Jeremiah speaks of that journey:
"I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown." (Jeremiah 2:2)
And the prophet Hosea:
"I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her." (Hosea 2:14)
In the second Reading, the First Letter of John tells us something momentous, yet it is too often overlooked: "Love is from God". If you and I have loved and been loved, it is of God. The command to love is in fact a remarkable invitation to be the sacrament of God's very Being.
Thomas Merton wrote in 1967:
".... we exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany." [Merton's response – "A Letter on the Contemplative Life" – is published in Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master – The Essential Writings, edited by Lawrence S Cunningham, Paulist Press, 1992, 421-431.]
John's Letter emphasizes the point:
"God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us ..."
The great privilege of our ministry is that we have a front row seat as God loves the world into freedom through our presence. This is incomprehensible and it is immeasurable and that is good. If it was comprehensible and measureable we would think we were in control and that would be bad – very bad!
In the Gospel – as in the Letter above – John uses a very special Greek verb. He repeats it eight times in this brief Gospel text and six times in the Letter – reminding us that this is a critical word for him.The word is meno (μένω) and may be translated in English as 'remain', 'stay', 'dwell', or 'make your home' etc. It is here translated with the English word 'abide'. This word takes us to the very heart of John's understanding of our relationship with Jesus: "Abide in me as I abide in you". Again this is not so much a command as it is an invitation to a new way of being, the gift that restores us to ourselves, the very essence of what we call 'the Kingdom'.
Your life over these past years, as consecrated women in the world, has been your 'Yes!' to that invitation. And your 'Yes!' is still happening. My prayer for you is simply this:
May you continue in your journeying and abiding, may you become more intensely aware that, as John reminds us, "God lives in us", may you recognize in every moment and every experience a sacrament in which "his love is perfected in us".
Finally, let me thank you for your journeying and abiding with and for God's people. Thank you for the time you have spent with countless children, helping them on their journey; thank you for being with teenagers who were struggling to find themselves; thank you for being a source of love and care and strength for parents trying to raise their children well; thank you for your care of those with disabilities, the mentally handicapped and
those who had no one to look out for them; thank you for the affirmation and respect you have given to indigenous people both in Australia and New Zealand; thank you for the games of cards you played with lonely priests and the meals you cooked for them; thank you for the ordinary days you have spent, being there for ordinary folk, in remote places, often working over distances our brothers in Rome simply cannot comprehend; thank you for the hot-bedding and other sacrificial acts that enabled Mums – like mine – to have their children welcomed into the world with a deep sense of their dignity; thank you for your quiet dedication, generous service and loving care that perhaps nobody even noticed – except God.