Homily for Mass for Various Occasions on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Religious Profession of Sr Venera Nicolosi OSU at the Maximilian Kolbe Centre, Castle Hill, 5 August 2017
What a privilege it is for us to be here and join in this celebration of a lifetime of witness, service and transformation. Each of us who are here feel indebted to her not only because of what she has done for us and what she has accomplished for the good of the community, but also because of the sign value in who she is. She has witnessed to us about the transcendence, about the ‘more’ of life and the possibility of transformation that we are are called to realise, whoever we are and whatever walk of life we have chosen.
I first met Sister some 17 years ago when she worked with me as the inaugural principal of this very school, St Angela’s. We sat in so many meetings and had so many discussions about the vision for the school even when it began with some portable classrooms on an empty paddock. Sister was and is a woman of strength in gentleness, wisdom in simplicity, courage in humility and farsightedness in patience. It is these qualities that enabled the vision to come to fruition as we can see it today. Coming back here after so many years is like walking down memory lane for me. Our lives took on different trajectories afterwards. But I am so thankful that she and her consorella are now working with me in the Chancery, bringing their distilled wisdom and feminine insight to bear on the life of the Church in Parramatta.
I chose for my episcopal motto “launch into the deep” to remind me of the call to step into the unknown. Sister might have not been a boat person like myself. But she has been a source of inspiration for me and many others in the way she embodies the boundary crossing spirit of Jesus. She points us to the beyond, the ‘more’ of life and the mystery of the God of love often manifested in unfamiliar places and people.
Religious have something like an innovative function for the church. They seek to renew her vigour by the radical commitment to the Gospel. Against the tendency to accommodate and compromise on the part of the mainstream, religious who dance to a different drum beat, hold the rest to the dream. In this sense, they are doing the greatest service to the Church not primarily by their works but the radical witness of their vowed lives. In Sister and her many years of witness, we see something of the God who calls us to personal integrity, authenticity and love.
Today is a celebration of God’s providential care and an expression of deep gratitude. It is a story richly textured with daring faith, generous love and unbounded hope. Behind the gentle and unassuming face of Sister, there lies a force to be reckoned with; God’s strength shown in human weakness. In the words of St Paul, it is the richness of the grace which God has showered upon us and we are truly grateful.
Even now as religious sisters face challenges in terms of vocations, especially here in Australia, they are not sitting around, moping and hoping for the good old days to return. They are busy getting on with the mission God has given them to do. They are busy with nurturing and delivering new life. They are like the embers in the ashes that will start the fire the morning after. The words of St Paul may best describe what many religious sisters today are doing “Death is at work in us but life in you”. That is divine creativity at work.
Dear Sister and friends,
It seems to me that the Church has a way to go yet in terms of appreciating women’s gifts and institutionalising them for the benefit of the community. Until we have truly incorporated women’s gifts and the gift of women, we will not be able to fully energise the life of the Church as Paul suggests. In fact, if the truth be known, it was the female followers who showed faithfulness and enduring love more so than their male counterparts. Nowhere else is this discrepancy more obvious than at the final hours of our Lord. I am convinced that if the Church has a bright future, it is due to the example of many female religious who are like those early female disciples, Mary Magdala, Mary wife of Clopas and most of all Mary of Nazareth. I ask you to continue to be for the church the icon of the inclusive, compassionate and all embracing Christ.
Be for us the example of living the Gospel of Christ suffering, dying and rising again. Then we can be certain that the loving God will take care of the rest. He will bring about renewal and transformation even if he takes us through a season of extensive pruning. Using the words of St Paul, we thank our God every time we think of you. As we pray for you today we pray with gratitude. For we are sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
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