Sister Denise welcomes new associates
General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson’s reflection on the Feast of Our Lady of Providence during the Rite of Commitment for Providence Associates: Nov. 17, 2007:
What a moment! Let’s revel in the celebration of this first in the 167 year history of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods!
How wonderful that today all Sisters of Providence, wherever they may be, welcome you, our first Providence Associates!
Of course, the heart of what we celebrate is our mutual and profound experience of God as Providence. It is this shared recognition of God as Providence that draws us into relationship with one another. Because we share the gift of the charism of Providence, we experience a deep unity even as we remain faithful to our different vocations as single, married or religious persons.
So here we are on this feast day of Our Lady of Providence to do something we’ve never done before — to receive the formal commitments of women and men Providence Associates.
Why choose this feast? Certainly, devotion to Mary has been central to the spirituality of the Sisters of Providence since the time of Saint Mother Theodore. Like many Catholics of her time, Mother Theodore found in Mary strength, support and inspiration.
Though the expression of the Congregation’s honoring of Mary has changed through the years, it has never disappeared or lost its importance.
In the “Book of Practices of the Sisters of Providence,” the author of the essay Honoring Mary has this to say: “Our honoring of Mary is a powerful way of being [people] of Providence who say ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to all that is not of God in a world that cries out for healing and right relationships.”
Today’s Scriptures give us a wonderful sense of Mary as healer and as a woman of right relationship.
Consider the striking image of Wisdom, God’s self, wandering the heights and depths of creation seeking a dwelling place and then sinking her roots in humankind. Who more perfectly than Mary, Seat of Wisdom, allowed God to root God’s self in her? Literally God became human in the dwelling place of Mary’s womb.
Consider the behavior of Mary at the wedding feast in Cana. She sees the need of a friend and neighbor before Jesus recognizes it. In fact, it seems Jesus feels no obligation to act on behalf of his mother’s concern for their neighbor. The timing isn’t right, he tells her.
But Mary knows that God’s loving care, Providence, “mist-like hovers over the earth” at all times longing to find a place to enter. With a mother’s love and knowledge of her child’s heart, in very few words, she invites Jesus to act out of that deeper self who she knows he is. “Do whatever he tells you.” With this gentle and firm prodding, Jesus acts “and so revealed his glory.”
What better feast then for your celebration of commitment as Providence Associates? If we acknowledge Mary as Theotokos, God-bearer, then we can as accurately acknowledge her as Providence-bearer. We can, like Mother Theodore, look to her for strength, support and inspiration.
Providence Candidate-Associates, I know from your letters requesting acceptance as associates and from your statements of commitment that you desire to continue carrying the loving designs of Providence into all the nooks and crannies of your daily lives.
I know you desire to keep deepening your prayer lives and doing the works of love, mercy and justice in your personal, professional and spiritual lives.
I know that you know it may be easier to change water into wine than to effect all the changes that our vision of Providence inspires and requires.
Each of you sees the need of the neighbor, hears the cries of our suffering Earth and, in response, wishes to unite yourself in a new way with the Congregation and our mission.
In the name of the Congregation then, let me extend to you our welcome and our desire to unite with you in this widening of our Providence circle.
In the name of the Congregation, let me assure you that we look forward to the support and challenge we will encounter as we create — together — a new way of being in relationship with one another.
In the name Mother Theodore Guerin, Saint of God, let me ask all of us to see in this new experience another opportunity to help one another be saints.