Sister Denise reflection: 2008 Rite of Commitment
On Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008, 32 candidate-associates made their first commitment as Providence Associates during the Rite of Commitment in the Church of the Immaculate Conception. During the Eucharistic Liturgy, 43 Providence Associates renewed their commitments. The following reflection was given by General Superior Sister Denise Wilkinson.
I remember when Sister Mary Alice Zander and the Providence Associate Advisory Group were in the beginning stages of planning for the incorporation of associates into the life and mission of the Sisters of Providence.
One sure way, at that time, to get Sister Mary Alice’s dander up was to call what they were planning the “associate program.” How many times we heard her remind us, “This is not a program. It is a relationship.”
No wonder – given the relationship at the heart of today’s celebration –we heard proclaimed in the Scriptures chosen for this liturgy.
From Philippians: “I thank my God every time on your behalf…I hold all of you dear. … I long for each of you with all the affection of Christ Jesus.” This letter of Paul’s is often called the “letter of joy” – joy at being in a meaningful relationship, a tried and true partnership in spreading the Good News.
And from the Gospel of John we heard: “As God has loved me, so I have loved you. … No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends.”
Scripture scholars remind us that the gift of being called friends of Jesus, friends of God is no small thing. After all, the scholars say, Moses, David and Joshua were all called servants of Yahweh. In the Hebrew testament, only Abraham is called the friend of God. What an amazing door Jesus opens in his followers’ understanding of how God sees them – sees us.
Yes, how perfectly these Scriptures capture the essence of what we celebrate today – our relationship with one another and the source of that relationship – the mystery of Providence.
Perhaps it is our response to that attractive power of the mystery of Providence to which Jesus refers when he tells us: “You did not choose me, but I chose you. …” Perhaps it is our common experience of God understood as Providence, our understanding of Jesus as the incarnation of Providence that best explains the seemingly instant depth of our kinship, our affection for, our understanding of one another and our desire to commit to being in a formal relationship with one another.
It seems to me that this depth of understanding – mutually enjoyed by associates, candidate-associates, sister-companions and the Congregation-at-large – testifies to the power of God active in us, transforming and strengthening us to incarnate Providence in our lives. What a joy to be in this mystery together as friends, as women and men of Providence!
To build this relationship, each candidate-associate receives at the beginning of her-his journey, a notebook containing Spiritual Integration Units. These units form the basis of the conversations between candidate-associates and their Sister of Providence companions.
The mutual sharing has brought clarity and new depth regarding each one’s vocation not only to the candidate-associates but also to their Sister of Providence companions.
I cannot tell you, candidate-associates and associates renewing your commitment, how many times I’ve listened to one of your sister companions enthuse about how her relationship with you has strengthened and renewed her commitment to her life as a vowed woman religious; how, in conversation with you and the mutual sharing of life’s ups and downs, she has come to a renewed appreciation of how God works in all life to achieve the loving designs of Providence.
No matter how good we all feel about this wonderful association with one another, we also all know that we’re not in this to just to feel good. We’re in this follow the commandment of Jesus: “Love one another.”
Being women and men of Providence, we believe that we are commanded not just to love humankind but all creation. Our acts of love, mercy and justice are directed to the building up, the sustaining of all creation.
It was clear to me and the general officers when we read your letters asking to be accepted as associates that you each live and breathe the mystery of God’s Providence. It is, as the expression goes, “in your bones” – as it is in ours.
It was very clear and very humbling to me, as I read your commitment statements, to experience how you, like the Sisters of Providence, live the spirit and hope of one of our 2006 Acts of Chapter.
With us, you are sincerely committed to “continue our ongoing conversion of heart and mind, opening ourselves ever more fully to the transforming action of Providence in our lives and our relationships; and to live as citizens of Earth community with a common future.”
Know, as you commit and re-commit yourself to living the associate relationship, that we welcome you warmly and sincerely. We recognize that living out our mutual relationship will change all of us. I believe you will continue to reveal the ever-new and yet always recognizable face of Providence to us, your sisters in Providence. And those revelations will alter the course of our shared future – for the better.
We Sisters of Providence can and do enthusiastically echo the words of St. Paul: “we thank our God for you; we hold each of you dear.”
Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior