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Reflection after the Word

Sisters Linda Teresa Rozario, Ribilin Thongnibah, Rita Halam, Linda War, Eva Elizabeth Costa, Chandrima Taju, Georgina Acquah and Shardin Suting stand in front of the congregation during their initial profession.
Left to right: Sisters Linda Teresa Rozario, Ribilin Thongnibah, Rita Halam, Linda War, Eva Elizabeth Costa, Chandrima Taju, Georgina Acquah and Shardin Suting at their initial profession of vows.

by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC

On Saturday, May 27, Sisters Shardin Suting, Georgina Acquah, Chandrima Taju, Eva Elizabeth Costa, Linda War, Rita Halam, Ribilin Thongnibah and Linda Teresa Rozario made their initial profession of vows in the Church of Our Lady of Loretto at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana. Father David Eliaona, CSC, from Tanzania, presided at the liturgy. Sister M. Veronique (Wiedower), president of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, received their vows. We rejoice with these sisters and ask that you remember them in prayer.

Introduction

On this joyous day of initial profession, let us remember that each of us came into this world kicking and screaming. If we were baptized as children, parents and godparents smiled as we resisted baptism’s cold splash of reality right in the face. Maybe the same could be said of our own adult initiation into community life as consecrated religious. How many of us here today have had to gasp for the Spirit’s breath to stay alive, to find our voice, to speak our truth? I am guessing that most of us here have had more than one good cry or primal scream by the time we reached our tertian year or silver jubilee. We trusted the Spirit of God to transform our groans and moans into prayer when words failed us.

Though none of us remember the day we were born, many of us remember the day we celebrated our initial profession. Sad to say, I do not remember much of that day since it was very early in the morning and profession at that time was considered a private ceremony. Only a handful of professed sisters and general councilors were kneeling behind us in the pews, and we dared not look back to see who was there. Some of us have vivid memories of our initial profession and the joy we felt about making such a commitment, one we considered to be lifelong, perpetual, forever. For good reason, the Church and the Congregation date our anniversaries as consecrated religious from the moment we made initial profession of vows.

First Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Now to our readings. Repetition, repeating a key word or phrase, is a scriptural device to grab our attention. “Samuel! … Samuel! … Samuel!” This gathered assembly has asked you, Shardin, Georgina, Chandrima, “Do you know what you are doing?” Eva, Linda, Rita, “Are you fully conscious, awake and aware of the commitment you are about to make?” Ribilin and Linda Teresa, “Do you have the necessary integrity, spiritual discipline and focus to live this life to which you have been called?” All of you in this profession band, “How strong is your resolve?”

Your Sisters of the Holy Cross, who encircle you here today, share your resolve and have supported you to this point—and we will continue to do so. We admit that many of us have eyesight which has begun to grow dim. But when we look at you, when we hear your laughter in the dining room, we remember the days of our youth. As we tend the lamp of God to keep it from going out, we say among ourselves, “Ah, they are so young!” Thank God, because youth is brave, courageous and fearless. The young heart knows love. She opens her heart and trusts in the God who loved her first. She listens attentively. She holds the Word of God close and responds, “Yes.”

Second Reading: 1 John 4:7-16

Youth is also idealistic. In the second reading, the community of the First Epistle of John is not the idealized community of the Acts of the Apostles following the Pentecostal experience. The epistle was written at a time when the early Christian community was already severely tested, both within and without. All those words about “love” might obscure and mask the real-life situation of trial and persecution. The tone of the First Letter of John is not soothing, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.” Instead, the tone of the letter is rather desperate, given the context of discord and deception in the first passages of the epistle which lead up to today’s reading. “Who walks in the light and who walks in darkness? Whose authority can we trust? Who lacks the spiritual discipline and focus required in this new community?” To put it in the harshest terms, the author asks, “Who is the Antichrist who threatens the integrity of this community?” John says we are living in the “final hour,” at the end time. This is the hour of decision. The future is already here. He warns one last time. In effect, he pleads, “Beloved, let us love one another. Let your actions match your words. Keep your eyes on Christ. Do not be ignorant of the truth.”

Gospel: John 15:9-17

In John’s Gospel, to be ignorant of the truth is to deny knowing Jesus. Truth is not a dogma or doctrine. Truth is the very person of the Risen One who is our future made present. The Beloved Disciple’s account of the Lord’s Supper is written from the vantage point of the future, with a backward glance through the lens of resurrection. It is as if we are watching a film which opens with the final scene, or reading a novel beginning at the last chapter. The end has already been revealed. Jesus the Christ is the Logos, the Word, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End. In Him we move and have our being; in Him we will achieve wholeness and integrity ourselves. Our vowed life is rooted in the future to help us imagine and see what the Reign of God looks like, feels like—and even sounds like. In faith, we have ears to hear the Lord Jesus speaking to us today, “I have called you friends. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last …”

Application

Finally, the years of formation in the early days of Holy Cross did not always bear fruit that would last. I say to the profession band, be glad you did not live in the days of Father Edward Sorin. Just as postulants and novices were beginning their formation, Sorin sent them into classrooms to fill emergency staffing needs, against the advice of Mother Angela. Father Sorin said it was good experience but soon realized that was a mistake! Over the years the Church developed stricter canonical norms and standards for what constituted a religious order, let alone a novitiate. The novitiate is designed to help develop greater spiritual integrity, discipline and focus as a foundation for the rest of your years in Holy Cross. If the years of initial formation have been difficult, it is because heroic virtue has been required of you as women of faith.

When I was younger I thought of the novitiate as a test. Now I know better. Life itself is a test. It is not easy to be a Woman of Holy Cross. Nor is it easy to be a woman. Take a deep breath. Inhale most Holy Spirit. Let your “Yes” mean “Yes.” And, my dear sisters, laugh at the days to come. You are still young and brave. Love calls you.

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