Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the Profession of First Vows by Sr Mary Sophie Boffa CSFN at Our Lady of Czestochowa Queen of Poland Church, Marayong
Readings: 1Sam3:1-10; John 15:1-8
16 February 2019
This morning, we have come together to witness an event, which is becoming a rarity. Some of you might remember the days when priests and nuns were more numerous.
It was not unusual to have a dozen or more sisters making their religious profession together and the whole town practically came to a standstill for the spectacle. But the fact is that nowadays, fewer and fewer are opting for religious life. Some would even conclude that its best days are behind.
They are ready to write obituaries for a life so glorious in the past but now hopelessly riddled with crisis. So, what Sr Sophie is doing this morning appears to be even more puzzling and incomprehensible to them.
Poverty, obedience and chastity do not make sense unless you appreciate the transcendental value in them. Religious life does not make sense unless God is the first point of reference in who you are and what you do. It is incomprehensible unless God and His kingdom are your primary and immediate concern.
Make no mistake, have no illusion: religious life is not for the sentimental or the nostalgic. Sr Sophie can tell you that life in the convent isn’t exactly song and dance like the nuns in The Sound of Music. No nostalgia, no illusion, but only an enduring faith and an unquenchable thirst for God will do.
Religious life is not meant to be a numbers game. Quality, not quantity, that marks their presence. Substance, not the size of the group, that makes the difference. Religious are at their best not necessarily when they are numerous and powerful in their institutional strength.
Rather, it is the radical witness of their vowed lives. It is the ability to influence others like the critical yeast in critical time. 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.
The readings we have heard proclaimed today speak of new beginnings and of the God who engenders hope in times of transition and uncertainty. This God challenges us to walk the road of vulnerable trust and generous commitment. In the first reading, the Book of Samuel recounts the story of his own calling at the transition time between the judges and the kings.
It was an unlikely vocation because he was not meant to succeed his master Eli. Samuel was chosen ahead of Eli’s own sons, just as David was chosen ahead of his elder brothers.
The story puts in bold relief the biblical notion of God favouring the underprivileged, the common and the unworthy. St Paul would say “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
The Gospel reinforces this biblical notion through the metaphor of the vine. Jesus describes himself as the true vine. In contrast to the ravaged and unfruitful vine of Israel, he bears the fruits that God the owner seeks. That is so because Jesus is prepared to walk the imminent journey of self-emptying. He is the vine that undergoes the paschal process of dying and rising again.
We should be under no illusions about the demands of discipleship. Jesus warns us of the costs of being his disciple in this way: “Every branch in me that bears no fruit, my Father cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes to make it bear even more.”
The church as a whole needs pruning. But each of us too must not shy away from the fundamental task of dying to what is not worthy of Christ. Each of us needs to be pruned and nurtured in order to grow and bear the fruits expected of his followers.
The church in Australia, like the old Israel, has been humbled and ravaged, not just by hostile forces but also by our own failures. But it is not necessarily a bad thing that we now have to start from a position of weakness and vulnerability in order to regain our trust and indeed our Gospel compass.
Your profession today is a sign of hope and an embodiment of the paschal mystery. Indeed, your life can be likened to the vine that undergoes the season of pruning so that it can bear abundant fruit. 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.
Let us pray for Sr Sophie that she may persevere in the path she has chosen and about to commit herself. May Mary the model of religious teach you to live your Fiat each day. May her maternal love guide you as you endeavor to follow Jesus in his journey of self-emptying to the cross and witness with an undivided heart to the infinite love of God.