Homily given by Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta
Holy Mass for Various Occasions on the 25th Anniversary of Religious Profession of Sr Grace, Sr Paula and Sr Lucyna of the Holy Family Sisters, Our Lady of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland War Memorial Chapel, Marayong, Saturday 29 October 2016.
Dear friends and Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth “Jen Dohbri”,
It is a great honour for me to be here with you and to celebrate this milestone, the Silver Jubilee of Religious Profession of Sr Grace, Sr Paula and Sr Lucyna, the three sisters not of the Blue Mountains but right here in Marayong.
Twenty-five years ago, they dedicated themselves to the charism of the Holy Family of Nazareth Sisters, pledging to extend the Kingdom of God’s love to others by living the spirit of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Well, they could not have extended it any further by coming all the way to the other side of the world from their native Poland and Belarus. And we are grateful to them for doing so and for enriching Australia with their witness and service.
I chose for my episcopal motto ‘launch into the deep’ to remind me of the call to step into the unknown. But I reckon the sisters give me a run for my money because they too took a huge leap of faith and came to very unfamiliar shores.
In coming to Australia they also defied the odds, overcame the hurdles and made their mark in this country. Their ministry in parishes, schools, communities, among the young, the old, the displaced, the needy, the poor … have truly made a difference.
Pope Francis challenges us not to cling to our security. We are told to abandon our culture of comfort and go to the periphery. We must be less of an enclosure for the virtuous but more an oasis for the weary and downtrodden. We must be less of an experience of exclusion and more of an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity.
The sisters have been doing just that day in and day out, even without saying it out loud. They have been working at the coalface realities of the Church and the margins of society. They have been for us the sacrament of God’s love for the world.
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 these gentle and unassuming faces 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 ambers 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.
St John Paul II wrote that religious are first and formost called to be the icon of the transfigured Christ. The transfiguration here is the result of the deep and personal union with Christ and at the same time the result of the suffering with Christ. Jesus alludes to this in the farewell discourse: remain in my love the love that is born on the cross, and then we shall bear fruit.
Religious life will change in its expressions, shapes and sizes. We should not fear these changes. The only thing we should fear is the failure to bear the wounds of the suffering servant and to be the icon of the transfigured Christ for our Church and for our world.
I want to conclude this homily by reaffirming my respect and admiration for you. In a way, we bishops, priests, male religious have a lot to learn from you. In the Gospels, it was 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 transfigured 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. May the Holy Family of Nazareth, intercede for you and accompany you on the journey of faithfulness.
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. Amen. Na zdroevie.