25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm 54:54 3-6, 8
Reading II James 3:16, 4:3
Gospel Mark 9:30-37
Pope Francis has asked us to reflect this year on the Consecrated Life. So here I am standing before you wondering what would you like to know. May I begin with some brief information and then a little sharing of my own Consecrated Life?
First let me say: Living a Consecrated Life is a response to the call of the Holy Spirit. This is done when a woman or man join’s a religious community where the individual understands this in accepting this call to consecrate one’s life by the public profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. This calls for one to dedicate him or herself to God and the needs of the people of God in accordance to the rule of the particular congregation. Usually one is called to a certain community by the Chrism of that community. That chrism is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to an individual or group for the purpose of serving the Church and the people of God.
A chrism is given to its members by the founders of that community and is made visible in the way they live their lives in their words, in the way they view things and in living the Rule and Constitutions they have chosen to follow. Basically it is a life of prayer and service lived out though community living. Scripture tells us: “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts and the same spirit. There are different forms of service but the same Lord, there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given to some benefit.”
When Father Mike called and asked if I would speak on the subject of the Consecrated Life, I began by reading the Scripture for today. These lines from Psalm 54 spoke to me:
“Behold, God is my helper; the Lord sustains my life. Freely will I offer you sacrifice. I will praise your name, O Lord, for it’s goodness. The Lord uplifts my life.”
In this prayer it says it all. I am have asked to say a little more. So let me begin.
“Behold, God is my helper. The Lord sustains my life.
Freely will I offer sacrifice: I will praise your name, O Lord for its goodness.
The Lord upholds my life.”
This prayer says it all. But I’ve been asked to say a little more. So let me begin. On Sunday November 30, 2014, the first Sunday in Advent, Pope Francis opened the Church New Year with the announcement that this Church Year will focus on Consecrated Life with a call to joyful witness. With that announcement came a challenge. Pope Francis reminded those of us in the Consecrated Life to once again live with confidence in God, not with lips but with our lives. HE called us to deepen our communion with God, by the outgoing rootedness of our prayer life and service to the people of God. Our Holy Father told us to “wake up the world by illuminating it with our prophetic and counterculture witness, and to be a witness in a different way of acting and of living. It is this witness I expect of you!”
As I prayed the words of Psalm 54 and St. Francis’s words about the Consecrated Life, I began to recall what brought me to religious life. Let me begin to say is that each religious could tell his or her own unique story as to what brought them to religious life. The stories of this would be as varied as the stars, but each would have its own twinkle. But now it is my twinkle.
I entered religious life because I had a sense or feeling that it was the life God wanted me to live, even though I had experienced a healthy dating life and was almost engaged to be married at one time. But I was inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi and how he lived his simple life by interaction with others. I saw this same spirit in the Franciscan Sisters I knew and saw that they were happy people. And I liked the quiet time to pray. But it was not that simple. This was God’s idea, not mine.
So we struggled, our tug-of-war, that went on for a few years. I kept telling God I had my own car, an old 1949 Plymouth that took more oil than gas to keep it running. I had a good teaching job I loved, I was independent making my own choices and decisions, and I was a long awaited adult now taking on the world.
But I was shadowed by this relentless call from God, “Come follow me.” One morning the school principal came to me excitedly and asked to meet with me after school and told me she had something exiting to share with me. So I responded. We met in her classroom and she told me that during the next school year they were gong to open a classroom for children with special needs, and they wanted me to be the teacher. She said her community and the parish would pick up the cost for the rest of my college education and special training for this position. I was greatly surprised and somewhat excited — what an offer! But then I pulled a paper from my pocket and explained to her that in September at the coming of the new school year, I was entering the Sisters of St. Francis in Oldenburg, Indiana.
She was quiet as was I. I finished the school year and worked the summer at CYO camp. At the end of the summer I entered the OSF Community. The morning after I entered I was called to the office of the Director of Novices and Candidates. She stated that she realized I had worked all summer and didn’t have time to gather all the clothes I would like to bring: like four pairs of shoes and I had brought one, and just a few more items on the required list. I quickly responded that I only planned to be there three or four weeks and that this was God’s idea, not mine, and I was giving God his try to get him off of my back, so to speak.
Sister’s response was, “Oh, once we are here, we are here to stay.” I quickly replied as respectfully as possible, “Oh, no. The papers said I had six years to discern this call.” Without another work she smiled and sent me on my way. The next several months I spent learning about religious life, praying and learning how to properly clean, scrub, and polish everything in sight and being reminded that: “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” I felt I was certainly getting close to Godliness. And God and I continued our struggle of: do I stay or do I go. It was time for the next step.
As was the custom in those days one met with the Director of Novitiate in her office of Formation. She would ask, “What do you desire my daughter?” The candidate seeking the next step would kneel before her as a sign of humility and respond, “I seek to be admitted to the next step of Formation.” In my case, the Director told me to take the next week in prayer about my decision. I did so. Upon returning, because she knew of my struggle whether to go or stay, she again guided me to take this decision to prayer and return in a week.
A week later I again came to her and this time I began with this statement, “After the resurrection Jesus asked Peter, while they walked on the beach together, ‘Do you love me?’ This is the third time I am on my knees asking to take the next step. I don’t know if I can live this life. I will be wearing a hot robe of 100% gabardine and I am used to my casual and comfortable clothes, we will be wearing a veil for the rest of my life and I don’t like to wear anything on my head. I am a night person and we go to bed with the chickens. But this I know. If this is God’s desire for me to lead this life the grace will be there to do so and that is what I desire!” I was admitted to the next step.
Vatican II was ushered in and changes were the order of the day. Those first years following Vatican II were filled with meetings and more meetings, readings and more readings about our Foundress, plus charism talking, reflecting, and praying. The changes Rome was asking the Sisters to make in their lives, in their dress, in their ministries also included their renewing and updating their purpose and focus of their service to the church and reminding us again to look again at the needs of our times and the needed services for the people — as our foundresses had done when they started our orders. We were also asked to look at the needs of the people of God, and take our service to the people. Those years of intense listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer, listening to each other and God’s call were intense and we were called to pray individually as well as a community.
I was, along with my community, that I grew into the spirit and changes necessary to continue this journey of Consecrated Life, to continue to foster in simplicity, openness and joy the challenge of the Gospels as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus whose mercy, compassion, care of creation and to work tirelessly for peace and justice that brings new life for all.
Yes, after 54 years of living this life I give you testimony to this truth of which Pope Francis speaks: “Show to everyone that to follow Christ and to put his Gospel into practice fills your hearts with happiness. This happiness should be contagious so that people can share in it.”
What brought me to religious life continues to draw me to stay. I am still inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi and the Sisters who try and live simply so other may live — and do this with hearts full of joy. The charism of Hope is a message of the Gospels which bids me to share with those I gladly serve.
When I first began at Quincy Catholic Charities and I had some time as I was building my client list, I was working in the Food Pantry one Wednesday and a young woman came to use the service. She had three small children with her. As we walked around the counters to gather her supplies she placed her hand on mine and remarked, “You are so kind!” My reply came without much thinking, “It is easy to be kind to you. I know how much God loves you!” We continued our gathering of her supplies.
Perhaps this is best said in this reflection: “Blessed In Our Heritage.”
Blessed in our heritage:
the Gospel of Jesus,
the ideals of Francis,
the example of Mother Teresa;
Rich in our traditions:
faith to dare,
hope to seek,
love to endure,
courage to venture;
Challenged in our future:
by the needs of our times,
by the suffering of humanity,
by the love of Christ Jesus;
We rededicate ourselves:
to Gospel poverty,
to Ecclesial service,
to celibate love;
As we venture on:
There are many stories of experiences I could share about the rewards and challenges of this life as many of you could share from your life. But these are for another day. May I close this homily as a Consecrated Woman who many years ago consecrated her life to God and dedicated her life to the church, which is you, and all the people of God. By the public witness of my vows, may I say …
“I, Sister Ellen Miller, vow to God almighty, through the intercession of Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, of our blessed Father Saint Francis, and of all the saints, to observe poverty, chastity and obedience according to the Rule of Life of the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, and according to the Third Order Regular of St. Francis, and according to the approved constitution of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis, Oldenburg.
Lastly, I want to thank you for your support and prayers all these years for all of us in Consecrated Life may God bless you graciously. May you continue to pray for us as we for you.
And if there be anyone who may feel that “twinkle” to come and follow — it’s a great life. It’s a joyful life. And as Jesus would say, “Come and see.”
Sister Ellen Miller, OSF, lives in Quincy, IL, Sand is a social worker and counselor at Catholic Charities. She is a member of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Parish.