Sr. Mary Magdalen Celebrates 50 Years of Cloistered Life
A week ago today we had a wonderful celebration of Sr. Mary Magdalen's Golden Jubilee of Passionist Profession. It was a very small celebration including Bishop Medley, some priest friends, family and friends.
Fr. John Vaughan, a long-time friend of Sr. Mary Magdalen's family, gave the homily. It was very inspiring. In it he includes a quote from Pope Francis' recent Apostolic Exhortation to Nuns entitled Vultum Dei Quaerere. Unfortunately there has been some bad press about the document ("nothing new under the sun!") but here is a good summary.
Enjoy the homily!
In the summer of 1964 I was preparing to enter my third year of seminary formation. It was at that time that I heard there was an older parishioner :) who was going to enter a Passionist Monastery in Owensboro (she was 19 years old when she entered!). I did not know her – nor did I know what a Passionist was either, but I was happy to
know that someone else from St. Thomas More was discerning a religious vocation. Although I didn’t meet Sr. Mary Magdalen until after I was ordained, through the years I got to know her family well, painting with her father and brother, and through them came to know Sr. Mary Magdalen even before I met her. Through these many years I have been blessed by her prayers, support and encouragement.
The readings from Sacred Scripture chosen for our Mass provide a beautiful focus for our celebration today. The prophet Hosea reminds us that more than fifty years ago God allured Sr. Mary Magdalen to the desert on Benita Ave. Forsaking the love of a husband, she answered the call of Jesus who invited her to find the fullness of life and love by devoting all her energy, all her life, to loving the one who first loved her
In the second reading St. Paul speaks to us of the weak and foolish. Sister, you are no more foolish or weak than the rest of us -- but neither were you chosen because you are the holiest, the smartest, or the most talented. Such is the mystery of a religious vocation. I came to realize that during my years of formation as I watched talented and very capable classmates leave the seminary. I am reminded of the well-known saying that “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies those He calls.”
Undoubtedly there were those who looked upon the body of Jesus hanging on the Cross who thought Him foolish, disillusioned and a failure. Today there are those who see Religious Life, especially contemplative, cloistered life as foolishness, a waste of time – perhaps as an attempted escape from the trials of “real life.” We know, however that contemplative life is not an escape but a different way of being immersed in the “joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties….” of all humankind. (Gaudium et Spes)
In the Gospel of St. John today Jesus speaks to us of love. For these fifty plus years you have devoted your every waking moment to a life of love – doing all you can to remain in the love of Christ who has first loved you and called you his “friend.” Sister, your life of love has led you to pray unceasingly for the needs of the Church and the world. The Church is better because you responded in love and fidelity to the one who first chose you.
July 22nd was a significant milestone for two reasons. For the first time the commemoration of St. Mary Magdalen was observed as a Liturgical Feast. I’m sure the new Feastday was a particular cause of joy for Sr. Mary Magdalen. The elevated importance of this celebration placed St. Mary Magdalen liturgically on par with Apostles & other well-known saints, highlighting her importance in the life and mission of the Church. Her obvious love and friendship with Jesus is an example to all of us. It was that love that lead her to stand at foot of Cross as Jesus gave His life for us and then three days later drew her to the tomb where she was the first to encounter the Risen Lord. Commissioned to share that Good News with the other disciples she has been called the “Apostle to the Apostles.” You have undoubtedly found much inspiration from your patron saint and have benefitted from her spiritual companionship through the years.
Secondly, on July 22nd you received a special gift from Pope Francis for your feastday. It was on that day that he made public an Apostolic Constitution on Women’s Contemplative Life entitled “Seeking the Face of God.’” (Vultum Dei Quaerere). In this document the Holy Father highlighted the foundational values of contemplative life, characterized by Silence, Listening, and Stability.
These values are so contrary to our contemporary world. In our world of political campaigns, sound bites, TV’s in multiple locations throughout a home, ear-buds and I-phones etc., where do we find the silence? Who takes time to listen? On some Sunday’s I take an extended time of quiet after Holy Communion thinking to myself that this may be the last moment of silence many in the congregation will have all day. Your contemplative silence is a witness, a gift and an important reminder to all of us that it is in the silence that we will hear God speak.
In a rapidly changing and hectic world, a world of great mobility and temporary jobs and commitments, your witness of stability and permanence is also a welcomed gift.
Pope Francis quotes St. Augustine, “You have made us for yourself O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Whether known or realized, all the longings, the hungers, thirsts and desires that drive our lives and motivate our decisions are essentially a search for God. Contemplative Life is a Prophetic life standing as a sign of that which is truly important, the “one thing necessary.” True happiness is our relationship with Jesus Christ, our way, truth and life. Your witness is a profound gift to the Church and to the world.
Sr. Mary Magdalen, as we celebrate your five decades of faithful witness, we first of all celebrate God’s faithful love for you and all of us. You are the first to acknowledge that it is only by God’s grace that you are here and have accomplished anything, mindful of St. Paul’s words to us today, that “whoever boasts, boasts in the Lord”
Allow me to share an extended quote from Pope Francis which I think is timely and so very appropriate for our celebration today.
Dear Contemplative sisters, without you what would the Church be like, or those living on the fringes of humanity and ministering in the outposts of evangelization? The Church greatly esteems your life of complete self-giving. The Church counts on your prayers and on your self-sacrifice to bring today’s men and women to the good news of the Gospel. The Church needs you! It is not easy for the world, or at least that large part of it dominated by the mindset of power, wealth and consumerism, to understand your particular vocation and your hidden mission; and yet it needs them immensely.
The world needs you every bit as much as a sailor on the high seas needs a beacon to guide him to a safe haven. Be beacons to those near to you and, above all, to those far away. Be torches to guide men and women along their journey through the dark night of time. Be sentinels of the morning, heralding the dawn. By your transfigured life, and with simple words pondered in silence, show us the One who is the way, and the truth and the life, the Lord who alone brings us fulfilment and bestows life in abundance. Cry out to us, as Andrew did to Simon: “We have found the Lord.” Like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning, announce to us: “I have seen the Lord.” Cherish the prophetic value of your lives of self-sacrifice. Do not be afraid to live fully the joy of evangelical life, in accordance with your charism.” (Vultum Dei Quaerere #6)
Sr. Mary Magdalen today we acknowledge your fifty years of doing just that! We thank you for your witness, your fidelity and your prayers. Above all, we thank and praise God who first called you and has given you to all of us as a beacon of life, a sign of hope and as a companion on our pilgrimage to the Kingdom
Know of our prayers for you as you embrace the Cross of Christ and continue your life’s quest “Seeking the face of God.”