Congratulations to our Jubilarians. This year we celebrate. Sister Maelisa, Oak Jubilee eighty years professed. Sister Brenda, Platinum Jubilee seventy years professed. Sisters Maria and Marie Henry Diamond Jubilees sixty years professed and Sister Ann Golden Jubilee fifty years professed.
One of my favourite chocolates is called “Baci.” It is produced by the world famous chocolate producer “Perugina,” in one of Saint Francis’ most beloved cities Perugia, just outside Assisi. I like Perugina first because I’m a glutton for chocolate … but secondly because inside the wrapping of every chocolate, we find a “love message.”“Baci.” The English translation of “Baci” is “kisses.”
Well, I think that’s the way God speaks to us. For most of us, God does not reveal Himself by sending the Angel Gabriel or by knocking us off our horse. Rather, every day, He sends us countless “baci,” kisses from Heaven, each containing a message of love. I could not help thinking of this when I received from Sister Ann, the Prioress General of the Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena, Newcastle, Natal, South Africa, and Golden Jubililarian, the Worship Aid for this special Mass, which I am honored to celebrate and preach at in the company of my brother priests. Thank you, dear Sister! This celebration of the Jubilee of six Dominican Sisters – Sister Ann, Sister Maria, Sister Mary-Henry, Sister Brenda, Sister Maelisa and Sister Stephany, with us in spirit in South Africa – takes place in the year when the entire Dominican Order celebrates the 800th Anniversary of its foundation (more on that later).
Today’s Mass takes place on the Feast of Saint George, Patron Saint of England. He, too, left all to follow Jesus, even to the point of martyrdom; And could we not have more appropriate Readings from the Scripture, confirmed in the lives of these Jubilarians and all you Sisters: “To the thirsty, I will gift a gift from the spring of life-giving water.” How many gifts have you received in these years of First Religious Profession! “We are only the earthenware jars that hold the treasure, to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” Yes, in these years, we have witnessed our fragility, the difficulties, problems and persecutions that Saint Paul speaks of. But through all, God, who first called us, has remained faithful to the promise of Jesus: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”All of this you have witnessed because of your Profession as religious. Religious Profession entails the total sacrifice of yourself. To lose one’s life. But only to find another…“Behold, I make all things new,” as the Book of Revelation promises. You do not condemn the goods of this life, Sisters, but rather you see them in their proper order. An order which reveals that God Himself is the source of all goodness but that no good thing of this world, including marriage, can ever be put above Him. You know then that for Christ’s sake you have forfeited all of these goods and have decided to be consecrated perpetually to Chastity.
Religious Profession, above all else, means, like the Blessed Mother, to speak your own fiat — “Let it be done.””Let it be done to me according to your word, O Lord, all the days of my life.” Sisters losing your life only to find a new life reveals the true path of freedom. Consecrated perpetually to Obedience. Religious Profession is, in the end, not so much what you do for God but what God does for you–and through you, for the Church. “The Almighty works marvels for me,” the Virgin Mary proclaims in today’s Psalm, “Holy is His name!”
For Religious Profession not only changes you, Sisters, it also changes the world around you.
It makes the world look up and take notice and see the powerful hand of God at work in your lives.
Your Poverty makes the world question its riches–your Chastity makes the world examine its morality–your Obedience makes the world challenge its apparent autonomy. But when all is said and done, Sisters, it is NOT important what you do as a religious sister, what time you’re scheduled for the Chapel, what letters you answer in assurance of prayers, no, it is just important that you ARE a religious sister–and everyone who comes in contact with you is changed by that consecration–a consecration which by the grace of God endures one’s entire life time. And then you are guaranteed to change the world–a guarantee that is certain because the Dominican Order has been changing the world by its Religious Profession even since its beginning–a beginning which coincidentally also had a small number of women. You are six; they were nine women.
The year was 1206, November 22, to be exact, the Feast of Saint Cecilia. Saint Dominic had gathered to himself before the altar of God nine women willing to bind themselves to the Lord in the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Nine women, whose names are not as common today as they were then but bear repeating nonetheless. Those nine Sisters were Adelais, Raymunda, Berengaria, Richarde, Jordana, Gugliemina, Curtolana, Claretta, and Gentiana. It was at the Monastery of Saint Mary in Prouille in Southern France. This Monastery and these nine Dominican Sisters were going to be the very heart of Saint Dominic’s new preaching mission. These nuns would be the steady support of prayer that would fuel the efforts of his newly assembled preachers.
These consecrated religious would be the strongest witness to their world of the Truth of the Catholic Faith for they dedicated their lives to Christ, their Mystical Spouse, by professing Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience–perpetually. But what was overwhelmingly unique about this Dominican foundation of religious women is that, it seems, they too would even share in the apostolic work of Saint Dominic. They would not only consecrate their lives to the Evangelical Counsels but they would also establish their monastery as a centre for Catholics to come and learn about their Faith.
Father Bede Jarrett O.P. remarks that this foundation was to be “apostolic, educational, and a refuge from hostile surroundings.”For at that time and in that region of France, there were great and many errors concerning the Catholic Faith. People were easily led astray and away from the Church; But these nine Sisters were going to change all that. Saint Dominic’s solution to the whole problem was to consecrate these nine women to the Lord. His solution was prayer in the face of adversity, his solution was teaching the Truth to combat and conquer all error, and his solution was the Lord against all odds to beat the world.
And because Religious Profession always does change the world, it did that day as well. November 22, 1206 was really the “unofficial beginning” of the Dominican Order–not officially recognized for another ten years, but still it all began that day, in Prouille, with nine religious sisters, gathered around Saint Dominic, consecrating their lives to the Lord.
And today, in a way, we relive that original foundation. Today, Saint Dominic gathers to himself once again before the altar of God religious Sisters all of you, and, in a special way our Jubilarians. I know you all know each others names but your names bear repeating as well, for they are just as important to the life of the Order as those original nine Sister Ann Cunningham, Sister Stephany Thiel, Sister Marie-Henry Keane, Sister Maria Tuohy, Sister Brenda Hayes and Sister Maelisa Coffey.
Like those original nine Sisters of Saint Dominic, all of you are charged, especially in this 800th Anniversary Year, to continue the same task–to change the world by the life you live. To evangelize and teach the Truth of Christ and of His Church in everything that you—by every prayer that you offer—by every word you study—by every penance you observe—by every Rosary you pray—by every moment of silence you enter—by every sacrifice you make—by every Eucharist you receive. Be consumed with the call to holiness and the search for Christ in every aspect of your life.
Those original nine Dominican Sisters changed the world and the Church around them and I personally have every confidence that you do the same–because Religious Consecration has always changed the world!! After all, I am a son of one of your schools, Saint Michael’s in Garston.
There is a beautiful passage that I found in the Constitutions for the Dominican Nuns. And I know that you have your own legislation that is proper for your Congregation but these words it seems to me, sum up what it means to be a Dominican woman, whether in the 13th or the 20th century:“Therefore, the whole life of the nuns is harmoniously ordered to preserving the continual remembrance of God. By the celebration of the Eucharist and the Divine Office, by reading and meditating on the Sacred Scriptures, by private prayer, vigils and intercessions they should strive to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. In silence and stillness, let them earnestly seek the face of the Lord and never cease making intercession with the God of our salvation that all men and women might be saved. They should give thanks to God the Father who has called them out of darkness into his wonderful light. Let Christ, who was fastened to the Cross for all, be fast-knit to their hearts. In fulfilling all these things, they are truly nuns of the Order of Preachers.” LCM, 74, IV.
Sisters, Happy Jubilee—800 years, 80 years, 70, 60, 50 years!
And, with love, my love, let us all receive the greatest of “baci”: Jesus, who descends from Heaven now in the Eucharist to claim us as His bride!