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Reflection

The 2011 installation of the General Officers

From left to right: Sisters Dawn Tomaszewski, Denise Wilkinson, Lisa Stallings, Mary Beth Klingel and Jeneen Howard.

When the General Councilors and I planned this liturgy, we quickly chose as its theme the Mother Theodore quotation that appears on the cover of your worship aid:

“Perfect abandonment of ourselves in all things for the future requires great courage, but we ought to aspire to it.” — Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

For the five of us, and I believe for all the Sisters of Providence who participated in our General Chapter this past summer, these words of our foundress capture the spirit we carried into our Chapter and that shaped our decisions during that time. Without a doubt, these words of hers express the joy and determination we carry into our immediate, shared SP future.

But what Scriptures to proclaim today to reflect that theme of hers? I was hard pressed to find any – so I wrote a note to one of our Scripture scholars, Sister Alexa Suelzer, asking for help.

I thought I’d get a short note back from her giving me a reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the Christian – and maybe a suggestion for a Psalm.

What was I thinking? I had asked Sister Alexa Suelzer!

From this thoughtful and wise woman scholar, I received not a list but a remarkable, crystal clear summary of her search. Best of all, she concluded her response with a classic Alexa one-sentence wisdom-saying.

Thanks, Alexa, for doing the research and prayerful thinking that wrote this reflection.

And this is what she (Alexa) wrote!

“How glad I would be to report ‘mission accomplished’ for the task of tracing Scriptural links to Mother Theodore’s sentiment. Not that it isn’t Biblical. In fact it is of the essence, so to speak. But I could find no specific passages, and only an occasional verse.”

“Oh oh!” I sez to myself upon reading this opening paragraph! And it seemed to get worse.

Alexa next shared that “abandonment” in the Bible always refers to some form of desertion. Certainly Mother Theodore understood the French classic about abandonment to Providence, even if she didn’t read it, but the word does not occur Biblically in that sense.”

Great – another nail in the coffin.

Then Alexa tells me “the word courage does not occur often;” but she did direct me to a verse in Psalm 27 – “Take courage and be stouthearted, all you who hope in the Lord.” A glimmer of hope flamed within me! (And I hope you noticed we sang Psalm 27 as our response to the first reading!)

Things continued to look better when I next read that “Jeremiah is probably the only one who mentions the future.” Voilà! We have today’s incredibly encouraging first reading – in fact, the very same first reading from the liturgy that opened July’s General Chapter. What a sweet Providence! We were clearly on roll here! Almost…

Mother Theodore’s point – the heart of her message – is we have to aspire to the abandonment of ourselves for the sake of the future. So what about aspire? What scriptural insight will guide us here?

At this point in reading Alexa’s response, I wasn’t surprised by what followed: “The word does not appear. In some cases the word desire may have some of the connotations of aspire but nothing stands out.”

Great…

So end the research results – and I’m asking myself now what? What Gospel can we proclaim that seems to express Mother Theodore’s admonition to us?

Alexa’s response concludes with what is classic Alexa – pithy wisdom.

“All in all, a feast of bits and pieces. But for me, the quote from Mother Theodore is a prime example of how our living with Scripture can lead us to observations that echo Scripture faithfully in our vernacular.”

“…how living with Scripture can lead us to observations that echo Scripture faithfully in our vernacular.” Wow!

So the five of us have chosen the Scriptures we’d like to encourage all of us here – all of us together – to “live with” and to echo in our vernacular.

The readings from Jeremiah, Psalm 27, Mother Theodore and Mark – each in its own way – make clear the absolute fidelity of Providence and the soul work it takes for us to remain faithful to the plans Providence has for each of us, for all of us as a faithful people and as citizens of Earth community.

Let’s aspire to completely abandon ourselves, give ourselves over to the mission of Providence – for the sake of a future with hope.

Let us aspire to “deliver into the hands of our Jesus all the care of the future, as well as all anxiety about the past.” Why? For the sake of the future imagined by God and shown to us by Jesus. We live for the sake of the kin-dom of God – the kin-dom recognized by its inclusivity, forgiveness and reconciliation, and all those puzzling paradoxes – the last shall be first; the weak will be powerful; the master will be servant; the foolish are wise; we die to live.

Who will bring about this kin-dom of God, this better future for Earth and Earth’s people? Who will perform the tiny, daily acts of kindness and courtesy that make all the difference tone another? Who will take on systemic civil and ecclesial injustices? To echo Scripture, who will see to it that the blind see, the lame walk, the prisoners are released, the poor have the good news preached to them?

These urgent needs sound as impossible to accomplish as feeding the hundreds of people who followed Jesus and his disciples to that “deserted place.”

The disciples wanted those hungry people to go away and take care of themselves.

But Jesus? Not so much. “You give them something to eat.” And each one of us here knows Jesus is looking right at us and saying ‘You do it.’

Will I? Will we? Will we care enough about the future to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the work of Providence? I imagine those of us here have already made that commitment and want to continue to do so.

And it’s so much easier to do it together, isn’t it?

So in this Eucharist, let us ask for the courage we need to be Providence wherever we find ourselves. Let us draw strength and inspiration from all those here who, like us, want to be God’s positive energy in and for creation.

Yes – to care about the future so much that we give all of ourselves into the loving hands of Providence requires great courage – but we ought to aspire to it.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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