Homily from Sr. Mary Andrea's First Profession
by Fr. Joseph Mills, Passionist Oblate
There are so many beautiful things going on here this afternoon. It's like holding up the proverbial diamond and letting the light rays reflect off each of the many facets. Where shall we begin? Let's look at the first reading Jeremiah: " Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you." There you have it. We could stop here; of course you know we won't.
Sr. Mary Andrea, you've pondered and prayed these inspired words of the prophet Jeremiah over and over again. You're saying "It really is the Lord's idea before it was mine." Jeremiah has some misgivings, but the Lord eventually wins out. Our presence here today is proof aplenty that the Lord has won out with you too.
Someone said "The Lord doesn't call the qualified; he qualifies those he calls." We believe you are both called, and qualified. We thank you for inviting us to be part of this celebration.
I suspect many a young girl, or young woman dreams of standing at the altar beside her beloved , eager to pronounce those two little words "I do." With these words a man and woman commits him/herself to the spouse in the sacrament of matrimony. Today, Sr Mary Andrea, in the presence of this Passionist community, in the presence of our Bishop, the family and friends here assembled, is ready to pronounce these first vows. She is ready to vow to promote devotion to and a grateful remembrance of the Passion of Christ, and the vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and enclosure.
Does it make any sense to the world, that a beautiful young woman world commit herself to this contemplative Passionist way of lfe? Probably not, for the most part. St Paul the Apostle says that in the eyes of the world this whole ceremony borders on the absurd. Why would anyone do what Sr Mary Andrea is about to do here in our presence? St Paul answers that he and Sr Mary Andrea will preach Christ crucified. Despite what the world might say, as a matter of fact, and as a matter of faith, what we are about today bespeaks the power of God and the wisdom of God himself. Our weakness plays into the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
With Jeremiah, we have already admitted that this day has its roots in the very mystery of the everlasting and ever-loving God. This eternal perspective, of course, is beyond our comprehension. But we can, as it were, eves-drop on another celebration- the day that Sister Mary Andrea's parents stood before a priest and uttered their own words: " I do."
Dave, you and Carol Jean, on the day of your wedding, your priest shared an exhortation with them. (You may or may not have heard him!) It's one of the most beautiful reflections in the old liturgy, what is now being called the Extraordinary form of the Mass. Among other things, Father spoke over you these words:
Sacrifice is usually difficulty and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.
Carol Jean and Dave, today this entire community expresses its thanks to the two of you, for the gift of your love, your sacrifices, your joys over these many years as you have brought these children to life, each one of them being a blessing to you and to so many. Today we focus on Andrea. But it is your sacrifice, love and joy that provides a solid foundation for this occasion. Without the expression of that "I do" on the part of the two of you, there would never be this celebration of first vows uttered by your daughter Andrea. Over the years, you've known sacrifice, love, joy. You've shared these virtues with your family. Today we gather around this Passionist Community and your daughter, Andrea, to highlight again the place of sacrifice, love and joy in all our vocations.
In a homily at a wedding, the Lutheran minister, Dietrick Bonnhoefer, who was killed by the Nazi in 1942, once gave this advice to a young couple: 'Today, you are young, and very much in love and you think that your love can sustain your marriage. It cannot. Let you marriage sustain your love." Sr Mary Andrea, let your religious profession sustain your love.
A religious calling, love and prayer all work the same way. They cannot be sustained by mere feelings and good intentions. The recent stories coming out about Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta remind all of us that consolations can come and go. Good feelings, - I call them warm fuzzies - can come and go. It is the profound commitment that you will make today, along with God's sustaining grace and the support of a strong community like you find here at this monastery....These will continue to support you all your days. Sister, there may be days when you don't FEEL God's presence. Believe us, he will be there with you. He'll never leave you. He says "You can trust me."
I like what one writer said of Mother Theresa: She continued to "serve a God who stopped returning her calls."
Of course, the greatest support of all is the Lord Jesus himself in the Eucharist, the Source and the Summit of the Chrisitian life. Pope John Paul, in that letter he wrote on the Eucharist shortly before his death, said, in the opening words: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist." Sr Mary Andrea, you, and all of us here present, are drawing our life from the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist, Jesus says "This is my body." In each of our stories, in our own vocations, we can pray these words along with Jesus, with the priest, and the whole Church: This is my body given up for you. It is Christ who sustains us, day in and day out. He gives himself up for us in his Sacred Passion and death. We commit ourselves to uniting ourselves in that moment of his death and rising. These Passionist Nuns keep reminding all of us how we are to be forever linked to our Lord in his finest hour.
Today is very special for the obvious reason, the celebration of Sister Mary Andrea's first profession. There's more. Today we are celebrating the feast of St Paul of the Cross, our holy founder. Believing as we do in the communion of saints, we acknowledge the presence here around this altar the countless women and men who have gone before us and are gathered around the heavenly throne of God. Today, we can imagine that St Paul of the Cross together with the other women and men of the Passionist Congregation are crowded around the front of the heavenly assembly for this special celebration. In a moment of silence in this Eucharist, we can almost hear them singing "May the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and the sorrows of Mary be forever in our hearts." From their place heaven, they see the Passion and death of the Lord Jesus from a different perspective. Today, they are singing for you, for all of us.
Many who come to a wedding would probably admit that one of the highlights of the event is seeing what the bride is wearing. There are no surprises here this afternoon. We know and can see how Sr Mary Andrea is garbed. Her outer appearance simply reflects what's going on inside of her. She says "I want to die to the world so as to be completely alive for Christ, in Christ, and with Christ, especially in that mystery of his sacred passion."
The Passionist habit, the insignia, the ring, the veil, and today - the cross and the crown of thorns - all these tangible effects speak volumes to us and to the world that seems not to understand the mystery of this particular calling. The inner reality and significance of vows is hidden from view, but the outer appearances point to the beauty, the depth, the mystery of this event. We are struck with a kind of awe and reverence.
Your parents and family have played such a prominent place in your vocation story. As I just said, Sister Mary Andrea, we join you in thanking all your family for all they've done to encourage, love and support you. This entire Passionist Community here at Whitesville has been among your greatest cheerleaders. Mother Catherine Marie and all the others were pulling for you to make this day possible. But there's one particular sister in the community who had a unique influence on you. She is a friend of one of your sisters. - Sr John Mary, who was baptized Theresa, has a bigger smile than she usually has this afternoon. Sr Mary Andrea, you've written about the inspiration and guidance she has been given you.
I'm reminded of that account in the Book of Zechariah in the Old Testament. The prophet spoke how ten Gentiles from every tribe and nation would take hold of the sleeve of him that is a Jew and say 'We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.' You took hold of Sr John Mary's sleeve and said as much when she was so eager for you to come with her to this community. Sr John Mary, you played an important role. But it was the joy, Sr Mary Andrea tells us , that she saw in the whole community that drew her on. Actually, it was Christ Jesus, who was doing the inviting.
I'm thinking too of those many, many young people that you, Sr Mary Andrea, associated with and worked with on those TEC teams, and on those experiences with Youth 2000. Of course you can't keep up with them all, but you can keep them in prayer. Perhaps your own personhood and example then and now might become a grace for one or the other of the young women, or men, to consider a religious vocation. They'll remember you as an adventuresome young woman. Perhaps others will follow you. Of course, how could I leave out your nieces, nephews and many cousins?
What we're about here this afternoon will affect unknown numbers of people, here in our local community, but far beyond, indeed to the whole world. There are no boundaries to God's love and God's grace.
On this feast of St Paul of the Cross, we conclude with his words spoken may years ago, but spoken afresh to all of us at this celebration. He exhorts us:
Proclaim the message of the Cross in the Sacred Wounds of our most lovable Redeemer opened more by his infinite love than by the hard nails, so that we may drink the saving waters of grace in these springs of eternal life.
These are words of blessing from the lips of St Paul of the Cross, who founded the Passionists. We thank God for him, and for all who have been and are every day inspired by his love and devotion.
We suggested at the beginning that this occasion is so beautiful, so resplendent like a diamond.
It's been said that a diamond is forever. Not really! But Jesus Christ IS forever. Really!