Homily for Foundation Day for the Sisters of Mercy at Mother Mary Clare Dunphy Memorial Chapel, Parramatta, 5 December 2020
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14; John 1:1-2; Luke 1:26-38
A future made possible because of us
It is a great joy for us to be here in the chapel dedicated to Mother Clare Dunphy in order to celebrate the traditional foundation day of the Sisters of Parramatta Mercy and the Diamond Jubilee of Religious Profession of Sr Janet Woods and Sr Carmelita Cassar. We are indebted to these jubilarians not only because of what they have accomplished in those long years, but also because of the sign value in who they are. They have witnessed to us about the transcendence, the “more” of life and the possibility of transformation that we are called to realise, whoever we are and whatever walk of life we have chosen.
Religious life is going through a profound transition. This often means a diminished presence and low morale. We believe, however, that this transition can catalyse religious into a more purposeful and even more radical mode of living and service. Just as the Church as a whole is being made more compact, may religious lead the way in increasing our impact as an authentic sacrament of the Kingdom.
It is so easy for us to be seduced by the temptation of security in numbers, institutional visibility, prestige, and influence. The lure of nostalgia can make us blind to the newness of God’s unfolding design. But this time of transition, which is characterised by diminishment and insecurity may actually allow us the precious opportunity to identify with the “remnant faithful” of the exile and to learn the power of vulnerable trust. It is a time for deepening of commitment, of grounding in our core values. Religious are so much the ground troops for the Church as the catalysts for its renewal, exploring new frontiers and possibilities. They are to inspire and to keep the fire of the Gospel burning brightly.
We are greatly encouraged by the way Pope Francis is calling us to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit and not to be smothered by the ashes of fear and concern in defense of the status quo. “We must not fear newness, we must not fear Christ, the new.” We are mindful of the prophetic summons to the newness, so that the matrix of brokenness becomes the venue for new possibility. Let us not be afraid of the dying of the old just as the prophecy of destruction is followed by the fresh hope of a new dawn.
Religious, with their characteristic embrace insecurity of vulnerable trust, will play a critical role in summoning the prophetic courage and imagination of the whole Church in order to find the rhythmic patterns of fruitfulness. Our history is a journey into chaos, discovery, and reimagination writ large. We have known too well that there is never a time to settle into false securities: numbers, prestige, and visibility of congregational influence et cetera. Discerning and living the creative power of the Spirit through the paschal rhythm of life and death has been our strength.
The Word of God today reminds us that God reveals himself in ways beyond our thoughts and expectations. We must be prepared to let go of our desire to be in control and accept the way of God with humility and courage.
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah speaks to King Ahaz concerning God’s plan for his people during the turbulent time prior to the collapse of Judah, the Northern Kingdom. Ahaz has allied himself with the powerful King of Assyria at the expense of its sibling rival, Israel. Isaiah, though, goes against the grain of survival politics. He told Ahaz that God would save his people not through powerful alliances but through a vulnerable and helpless child.
The Gospel reinforces this lesson through the story of the Annunciation. Mary’s life was thrown into chaos when she was told of God’s plan. In spite of the mystery and uncertainty, Mary gave that generous faith-filled response, “I am the handmaid of the Lord and let it be done unto me according to your word”. Like King Ahaz, Mary, and Joseph, we must be open to God’s way, which often shakes us out of our familiar and secure environment. It is not easy to learn to adapt to new ways. Yet the message to them was clear: They can no longer do business as usual. They must align their attitude and behaviour in favour of God’s revelation through signs of the times.
Religious are essentially in between people. Our task is to live the creative tension between the pain of the present and the hope of the future. Let us pray that we may be faithful in this task even if like Moses, we don’t live to see the reality we fight for. May we be strengthened to accompany God’s people for the journey towards a future that may not be for us, but, can be because of us.
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