Silver Jubilee of Profession of Sister Michelle Hawkes O.P. and Sister Rosaleen Shaw O.P.
I’m sure today’s gospel has been used at the religious professions of many monks, nuns, friars and sisters over the past two millennia. It may even have been read at the religious professions of Sister Michelle and Sister Rosaleen who mark the Silver Jubilees of their profession as Dominican Sisters today. Like Her Majesty the Queen on Wednesday, neither Sister Michelle nor Sister Rosaleen want to make a big fuss, and both Sisters decided to mark the two individual occasions together and quietly today, with a few prayers and a simple lunch. Which is good for me because the gospel applies not only to those who have made religious profession, but for all of us who count ourselves as followers of Christ. We can’t all commit ourselves totally to Christ like Sister Michelle and Sister Rosaleen have done, and God doesn’t expect us to; because the Church consists of many people from many different backgrounds with many different roles to play, much like a machine with many parts which all contribute to the working of the whole. The fact that Sister Michelle and Sister Rosaleen have persevered in their intention to live as Dominican Sisters is a cause for celebration, as it is for anyone else who reaches such a milestone in their life. And so today we thank God for their service and their dedication to this community over the course of twenty five years and we wish them every blessing and happiness during the next twenty five. We pray that God may bring to completion the good work he has begun in you.
Sadly, not everyone is able to persevere in the life God has called them to. The occasion of a Silver Jubilee of Religious Profession or Priesthood or Marriage shows us it is entirely possible to stick at a calling or vocation. And yet the trend nowadays is to give up too easily when the going gets tough, and there’s always a good excuse.
Every so often you hear people who lapse from the practice of their Catholic faith say something like: well, I don’t go to Mass any more because the priest told me off in confession; or, I was treated badly by the nuns when I was at school, so I don’t bother with the Church anymore: or, all those people that go to Church are hypocrites, they go to Mass on Sunday but the rest of the week they live and behave like everyone else.
Now I’m sure all of us have heard complaints like these and many more, and maybe a few of us have felt the same way from time to time. Some people seem to think that by going to Mass they are doing God a favour, or that by missing Mass they are getting their own back on him. For all of us, the Gospel message today is a hard one.
Today Our Lord tells us that the question won’t be whether you were upset by someone, or whether you were treated badly, nor in the end will it be you who rejects God, or Christ, or the Church; no – what we have to be careful about is that in the end God does not reject us. Because we believe in an all loving God we can easily forget that he is also a ‘just’ God and that while he calls all humanity to follow him, only some will be chosen, because only some will respond to God’s call. As Our Lord says in another place: “for many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14)
And not only that, Our Lord also tells us that if we don’t measure up to what he expects of us then he will reject us. If we don’t measure up we cannot belong to him. These are hard words and Our Lord doesn’t pull any punches, he is clearly speaking quite plainly and we can’t interpret his words in any other way or mitigate their impact. His words are a direct challenge to our way of life and our relationship with him. And so how do we measure up?
Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God – knowing this and accepting this puts us in a difficult position and we must be prepared to live with the consequences – and the consequences are absolute faith in Jesus Christ, and total, unswerving commitment to his way. Our Lord clearly tells us: “If you wish to be my disciple you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow in my steps. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel will save it”.
We must be under no illusion: commitment to Christ is a serious undertaking and it will mean persecution, it will mean taking unpopular stands, it will mean swimming against the tide, it will mean being criticized and rejected, for some it might mean laying down your life, your wealth, your resources, your talents and even your very selves, on the line. In a nutshell it will mean sacrifice. It will mean taking on the enemy of truth in the world, and, God help us, even the enemy that has found its way into the Church. The days of dithering around and sitting on the fence are fast coming to an end for us. Like some of our ancestors in the faith the time is coming for us to make a stand.
The Prophet Isaiah speaks of the suffering servant, but as Our Lord himself tells us everyone who follows the Gospel will be a suffering servant. The way of the Christian is very much the Way of the Cross. And I’m sure both Sister Michelle and Sister Rosaleen will tell us that there have been times over the past twenty five years when life hasn’t been easy, and like many religious they may even have been tempted to pack it all in. But they didn’t. They persevered and they tapped into the grace God gave them when they gave themselves to Him.
At the end of the day, with the Lord of Life it’s everything or it’s nothing. As his followers we have to be hot or cold, if we are somewhere in between, as Our Lord says ‘lukewarm’, then he will spit us out.
Yet, even in this Jesus is a merciful Lord, and what he wants is love, not sacrifice. Our Lord wants you to give yourself to him, but if you should fail, if you should fall, then he will help you get to your feet again: what I want is a humbled contrite heart, a willing and generous soul.
Our Lord demands a great deal of us, but in everything he asks he gives the strength to those who truly seek him with a sincere heart, he loves those who loves his brothers and sisters, he rejoices in the one who returns to him, even after they have failed. And if you do give him your all, he will give you in return, everything. For he says: if you give up your life for my sake you will save it.