Homily: Welcome and Reception of Maryknoll Sister Candidates 2007

We gather here today with great joy as we celebrate the Welcoming of Genie, Laura, and Linda into the Maryknoll Sisters' community as Sister Candidates,where they'll enter a new phase of their discernment to a life of service in community and mission with the Maryknoll Sisters. 
We also celebrate this special occasion of Abby's Reception into her Canonical Year as she continues to deepen the journey she began with Maryknoll as a Sister Candidate just last year. 
Each of these women have come to Maryknoll from the professional world, where they had careers and were already serving God and living their faith before finding their way to the Maryknoll Sisters' community.
Each one of these women has a unique vocation story to tell of how God led them to the Maryknoll Sisters through their desire to give themselves more fully to the service of God through a deeper experience of community and a call to cross-cultural mission. 
And so our hearts ring out with joy today, as the words of the psalmist echo through this gathered assembly: "I will play for God on my harp,with my lute and ten-stringed lyre. I will greet the Lord with my song. I will sing of the ways of my God."
How fitting is this joy of ours, Abby, Genie, Laura, Linda, as we celebrate with you this great call from God, to which you have opened your hearts and responded with "yes!" But I'm sure that you still have moments of hesitation, when you ask yourself, "what am I getting myself into?" or  "Just what exactly am I saying yes to?" 
Who isn't taken aback by the words from the prophet Jeremiah, where he says: Now the word of God came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet (a prophettess) to the nations. . . .     I have appointed you . . . to pluck up and to break down,to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
What an order this is, the job description of a prophet and prophetess, to denounce the injustices of this world, so many they truly are, and to anounce the Good News of God's Kin-dom, where we commit ourselves to being co-creators of a world where dignity, equality, and respect are the primary values by which we live as brothers and sisters in Christ. Wow!   
I can remember back to when I was studying Philosophy, before coming into Maryknoll. As I had more time for reflection, I started experiencing some anxiety and began reconsidering.
I remember speaking with a wise and humble 80-year old Monsignor, who had decided to go back to seminary and finish his M.Div. degree, since that wasn't required at the time he was ordained. I really admired this in him and so I asked if we could talk. I shared with Bill that I felt called to be a missioner, but that I really had a low self-confidence. I didn't think that I had what it took, to be a great missioner, like so many I knew.
I still remember how Bill looked at me with so much love and understanding in that smile of his, and he said to me, "I don't see that as a liability."  He said, I think it's good that you don't have a lot of confidence, because then you will have to depend upon God instead of relying on yourself. Then he said with a grin, "That's a gift!"
This is the same response that God gave to the prophet Jeremiah when he responded to God's call saying, But I don't know how to speak.  I'm too young! 
And God responded, Don't worry!  I'm leading you. Don't be scared!  You don't have to do it alone. I will give you the words and I 'll send you the strength you'll need. Just listen to my will.  Stay connected to me. We will be partners in this project. Co-creators of a more just and loving world.
O.K. that's better.  Maybe I can handle that.
Well, you know us humans. We give it over to God and then we take it back again. So often, we're tempted to believe that so much of it depends upon us. We want to take control and make sure it gets done, our way. That's where prayer comes in. And if we forget to pray, some thing or somebody will humble us and remind us that we can't do it alone. We need to be connected to God at all times.  When we get involved in ministry, we can so easily fall into the "Martha-mode." Working and expending all of our energy on so many good and admirable things and forget about the importance of prayer. Actually, Martha, in the Gospel, was only doing what was expected of a woman in those days, to wait on the visitor and offer hospitality. She was justified in her anger that Mary wasn't helping out.
Really though, this story is about something much more radical than that. Mary was sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to him speak. Disciples sat at their Master's feet to study and learn from them. So Mary was assuming the role of a disciple of Jesus.  What's so radical about that? In those days, a woman was prohibited from reading and studying the Torah, the law.  This was something reserved only for men.  And so when Martha protested that Mary was doing something that was only allowed for men, Jesus responded, "Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her."So, not only was Jesus affirming Mary's desire to study and learn, but he said that this will not be taken from her! Jesus was making a very radical feminist statement, saying that women had an equal right to study and learn the Torah, and to be his disciples.  Now that's even prophetic still, in our day and age, unfortunately. 
I think the words of Mother Mary Joseph, found on the inside back cover of the program, speak so well of the importance of balance and harmony in our lives as missioners. She says: "We soon learned that a missioner must be a contemplative in action: that our hearts must be on fire with the love of God, [people and all creation] faithfulness to times of prayer and trying to be constantly mindful of God's presence in our hearts."
Abby, Genie, Laura, Linda, you have chosen the symbol of the Chi Rho for the front cover of the program for this ceremony. But there's something different about this Chi Rho that we so often see as the symbol of Maryknoll's commitment. This Chi Rho you have chosen is made of bamboo, which for many Asian cultures is a powerful symbol of both strength and flexibility. Our prayer for you today is that you will grow to be as sturdy and flexible as the bamboo plant. May you become firmly rooted in the Word of God, as you sit at the feet of Jesus, listening to the gentle whisper within your heart on your journey of discipleship.
And may you blossom in flexibility and adaptability as you encounter challenges that will call upon you to love in even deeper ways than you may have ever imagined possible. May God bless you as you respond to the call to mission!

August 11, 2007

Fr. Dennis Moorman, MM