May 1843, The Departure Ceremony: One bright May morning, a little company of four sisters set out from Le Mans (France) to join the Holy Cross colony in the New World. As the stagecoach drove away, Mother Mary of Seven Dolors whispered to them a last word of counsel. Sister Cenacle waved wishing she could go with them. Sister Compassion pressed into one of the sister’s hand a little statue of the Blessed Mother, saying confidently, “She will take care of you.”
July 1843: Four women arrive at Notre Dame du Lac … they were young, they were eager, they were filled with the Spirit of a young Congregation – zealous to share faith, to build the Church in the wilderness of America, to fulfill a dream of winning souls for Christ in America.
Sisters Calvary, Bethlehem, Nazareth and Sacred Heart – having been sent by our founder, Blessed Anthony Basil Moreau – were responding to two letters stating “the Sisters’ presence is so much desired here”. These four women, along with five Holy Cross men – one brother & four priests – were willing to spend their lives in service.
The reading from the Book of Kings speaks of using the first fruits and grains – trusting God that what was necessary was already there and, furthermore, there would be leftovers.
I wonder if our four sisters ever dreamed that their arrival would grow into this magnificent chapel where we share Eucharist today but more especially where we continue to be fed that we might feed others. In a world where there is so much need, we have a great deal to give. It may not seem like much to us but when it is shared it becomes more than we can ever imagine. The miracles worked by Jesus and Elisha needed someone to come along and offer what they had. Our generous God still needs us to do the same and still guarantees that if we do, great things will happen!
How often did our sisters pray: “Feed us O Lord, and answer our prayers!”
And for those of us gathered today, do we believe that we are being fed at this table? Do we share the good news of answered prayers?
From the time of our baptism, we have been called!
From our experiences of Church and community, we have been called!
Throughout our lives we have been, are being, and forever will be, called to be part of the body of Christ.
Do our actions or lack of actions suggest we are worthy of such a calling?
Paul tells us to bear with one another through love. We need to work on seeing the goodness within the rest of the members of the body. In love, let us work to build others up, rejoice with what is good, and hurt when others experience pain and suffering.
We read in the chronicles of the first 100 years: “Rendering services in a hundred ways, and making their influence felt in creating a home-like atmosphere, these devoted pioneer Marianites performed incredible labors.” Do we think of others and their needs before our own?
John’s Gospel notes the detail that the breads blessed and shared with the crowd are barley loaves. This is the food of the poor. It reminds us that God feeds and nourishes us, fulfilling our physical needs as well as our spiritual ones. In the Eucharist, we are sent to serve the poorest among us.
The story of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes recalls a particular aspect of the Mass. In this miracle, Jesus transforms a young boy’s offering of five barley loaves and two fish. In the offertory at Mass, we present the fruits of our labors, represented by bread and wine. These gifts, given to us first by God as grain and fruit, are returned to God in our offering of thanksgiving. God in turn transforms our gifts, making this bread and wine the very Body and Blood of Jesus. We also offer ourselves in this exchange, and we, too, are transformed by the Eucharist.
Our celebration is communal. It is more than just me or you! It is us!
Today as we look back and remember the arrival of our sisters, we are also commissioned to look forward:
Trusting God and each other: We have been blessed in abundance; today the family of Holy Cross stretches around the world. While we are four congregation, we are one family … trusting a God who is infinitely generous. We continue to discover the vision of our founder, who insisted that hearts and minds be transformed!
Believing in answered prayers: Those nine individuals who arrived in a new world saw their prayers being answered. I believe that we, like them, wake up to a new world each day trusting that our prayers are answered when people like you and me join hands around the table … having faith that there will always be enough, and realizing our God gives more than we could ever imagine.
Loving in ways we never dreamed possible: Close your eyes for a minute and consider the ways in which you have been used by our God to be a vehicle of love. Each time we are sent forth from Eucharist we have been transformed into an image of God. Let your life be a walking, talking image of hope.
The challenges of 175 years ago were different, but our sisters and brothers were nurtured at the Lord’s table. While it took but a few hours to arrive in South Bend from New Orleans, today as we celebrate Eucharist, we join with all who have gone before us and all who will follow us … so that our world may know zealous individuals who join together to win souls for Christ.
Serving others: “The table of bread and wine is now to be made ready. It is the table of company of Jesus, and all who love him. It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world, with whom Jesus identified. It is the table of communion with the earth, in which Christ became incarnate. So come to this table, you who have much faith and you who would like to have more; you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed; come. It is Jesus who invites us.” — An Invitation, Iona Abbey
Your Marianite sisters remind all of us that today, like long ago … Mary, our Mother, is caring for us.