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CEREMONY OF FIRST PROFESSION
Sr ELAINE OF THE HEART OF JESUS & Sr MARTINA OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
ST PETER’S CATHEDRAL, BELFAST
SATURDAY 23 SEPTEMBER 2017
Readings : Hos 2.16-17, 21-22; Ps : Magnificat; 1 Cor. 12.31, 13.1-13; Jn 15.9-17
I “Three things that last” (I Cor 13.13)
My dear Sr Elaine, my dear Sr Martina, in the presence of this great gathering of your families, relatives, friends, and parishioners you have both responded in full voice to the invitation of your Novice Director, Sr Kathleen, and to the question assigned by the rite to the bishop and addressed to you in the name of the Christian community.
We are all delighted to be with you on this great day in your respective lives, when you make your First Profession. We thank you both, Mother Mary Josephine and the community at the Convent of the Adoration Réparatrice for the invitation to join with you here in St Peter’s Cathedral where you participate each week in Sunday morning Mass. On your behalf and on behalf of the community of Sisters I welcome all your relatives, friends and guests to St Peter’s.
Sr Martina and Sr Elaine, we have heard your simple, humble and triple layered response to the question put to you at the beginning of this rite of profession.
Today some three years after your entry into the convent your request is for three things : the mercy of God, the prayer of your family, and thirdly, for admission to the institute of Adoration Réparatrice. After three years of formation, prayer and community life your request is for God’s Mercy, for our Prayer and for life in religious community. And you ask for these gifts – for what are they but gifts – in order to continue in the mysterious, yet religious and spiritually eloquent way of the foundress of Adoration Réparatrice congregation, Mother Marie-Thérèse. That way is expressed succinctly in the headline of the booklet for today’s ceremony : “Receive my life and communicate my life to others”.
The profession of love of God and personal option of lifestyle that you make today in the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, in self-commitment to a life of adoration, penance and good works is a response of deep love for God, revealed to humanity in the life of Jesus Christ. At the same time your profession is a commitment to love and care for all of us, for those who live in these streets, for all who come to your door and for all of humanity without exception, especially for those who suffer in any way.
Your radical choice of life and lifestyle, courageous, counter-cultural, demanding and even puzzling as it may appear, speaks directly of those three things that, as St Paul remarks in the second reading, last and endure : faith, hope and love (I Cor 13.13). And the love St Paul speaks of is the self-sacrificing love, (for which St Paul used the Greek word, agapé), as revealed and modelled in the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
II The readings chosen for liturgy of the Word : love, God, joy
The readings you have chosen from biblical literature, from the Word of God, for this ceremony invite reflection on the mystery of divine love, that mysterious power and reality which is the ultimate source of your vocations.
The first reading, taken from the prophetic literature, from the book of the prophet Hosea, evidences the use of literary devices in the form of an oracle to portray the divine-human relationship. It is a text from the eighth century before Christ and emanates from a time of political, economic and cultural disaster and religious indifference in the history of Israel. Against this background the prophet Hosea proclaims and recalls the reality of the God. With the use of potent imagery (viz. reference to the wilderness, vineyards, escape from Egypt, betrothal) full of cultural and historical resonance for the Jewish people of his time, he assumes the voice of God to state, re-present and promise the restorative power of God’s abiding care and love. The extract you have chosen ends with a significant shift of subject, a shift from “I” of the entire text to “you”! And notice the content of the closing assertion : after the enticing and intimate language of the opening couplet, this final line (Hos 2.17) asserts that the addressee will come to “know” (Hebrew yd’) God in a deeply personal, transformative and affective way.
No doubt in the years of life and living, in your professional lives, as in the years of your formation, there were times, phases and experiences of “the wilderness”, where mysteriously God found you, “spoke to your heart” (Hos 2.16) and enabled you to “come to know the Lord” (Hos 2.22). It is this “great adventure into the heart of God”, to use your phrase in the interview you both gave to Suzanne McGonagle and published in The Irish News on Wednesday past (20 September 2017, pp. 1 and 3), that fires your profession as Religious today and powers the glow and warmth of the unconditional love you, and all Religious, are called to make available to humanity.
We, women and men of the twenty first century, stand in ever greater need of your self-sacrificing love and care, rooted in God and godliness, for our fragile humanity and societies.
Key qualities of the primacy of that self-sacrificing love are outlined in the well-known and exquisitely crafted lines from St Paul’s first letter to the Christians of Corinth (1 Cor 12.31, 13.1-13), a thriving, multi-cultural, sophisticated port city. Just as these lines of St Paul celebrate the invincible and enduring power of love, so the author of the gospel according to St John, another exquisitely written text of religious literature, weaves a presentation of faith in God as a dynamic of love, as a friendship as opposed to the domination or fear characteristic of slavery and also as an abiding disposition of joy (Jn 15.11). Today we pray with you that, through the faith in God and the love which inspire your vocations to religious life, you will ever infuse our society and world with that Christ-inspired joy, the “joy of the gospel”, as Pope Francis has called it.
III A ray of joy and hope for the entire Christian community and society
As we acknowledge the Christian joy that your vocations and existence as a community of Sisters among us bestows on this city, on this land, on the Church local and universal, a few further thoughts come to my mind.
Firstly, for reasons most likely linked to our city, the figure of C. S. Lewis and many of his writings come to mind and in particular, what one might call his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Christian faith, the pathway that leads into it, or its re-discovery, the Christian way of life itself, is a personal adventure, paved with ennobling surprises. In similar vein the figure of the foundress of your Congregation, Théodelinde, Bourcin-Dubouché (1809-1863), daughter of a high-ranking civil servant in finance, child of a family which did not attend Church, comes to mind. She came to Paris to study painting where she developed her significant talents as a painter. There she frequented literary, cultural and social circles until in her thirties God surprised her and the rest is the history of her remarkable life as Mother Marie-Thérèse, foundress of the congregation of the Adoration Réparatrice, and later to be declared Venerable by Pope Pius X on 19 March 1913. Christian tradition and civilisation, reflected in persons such as C. S. Lewis and your foundress, is a treasury of inspiration for human existence and cultural and religious renewal.
Secondly, though this first profession of vows takes place in one particular tradition and confession of the Christian faith, it sits in the shared tradition of Christian life and faith. Religious life is found in various forms also in the eastern Churches, in the Orthodox traditions, in the Anglican and reformed traditions. In all Christian traditions the lives of women and men in convent and monastery are signposts to the mystery of God, revealed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Today, as we gather around you both, one thinks of Pope Francis’ call to Religious “to wake up the world … to be prophets who witness to how Jesus lived on this earth” (Apostolic Letter to all Consecrated People, 21 November 2014, II. No.2.)
And thirdly, remembering that just over one year ago Mother Mary Josephine received the first profession of your fellow Sister, Sister Maire of St Joseph, present with us today, we give thanks to God for the generosity of life and spirit of all religious women and men who dedicate their lives totally to the gospel of Christ.
As we now proceed with the rite of profession and as Mother Mary Josephine, Superior General of the Institute of Adoration Réparatrice, receives your promise of profession and accepts your vows, we also recall that you make this profession on the feastday of St Adomnán and St Padre Pio, the first a monk, hagiographer, author and jurist (law of innocents), the second a person of renowned skills of spiritual insight, pastoral care and communication.
May your many talents, like those of these two saints, and of your Venerable foundress, Mother Marie-Thérèse, continue to flourish and blossom with those of your fellow Sisters in the service of God and of all whom you meet on the path of life, so that, as the final blessing of this ceremony will pray, “you may bear the burden of your sisters and brothers and may live as a family of Sisters who show forth the image of the love of Christ” for all.