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Sister Denise reflection: 2012 Rite of Commitment

How wonderful to gather today to celebrate lives knit together in a profound way by the charism of the providence of God, by the conviction that God’s design for us and for Earth, for all creation is a compassionate and loving design!

How wonderful to know ourselves called to be agents of “works of love, mercy and justice in service among God’s people.”

How wonderful to celebrate that – day after day – we do indeed unite with “all who share the charism of Providence.”

Both of the Scriptures proclaimed for us moments ago capture the essence of our celebration today – the variety of gifts given by God’s Holy Spirit for the building up of the Body of God and the community of Christ to which we are called.

For whatever reason, I find myself very drawn to the word abide in the reading from John’s gospel. Jesus speaks the word four times in this passage: abide in my love, abide in my love, abide in God’s love, and that your fruit should abide.

If, as my high school Latin teacher maintained, “repetition is the key to learning” then it seems Jesus is teaching something important here.

When Jesus first uses the word, he assures his followers – ourselves included – he has loved them with the same love God has for him. We know that God loves us unconditionally, passionately we can even say. So then does Jesus love those who follow him – unconditionally and passionately.

Abide in my love. What warm, embracing, comforting, feelings of security this connotes for me. Abide in my love; rest in my love; live safely and freely in my love.

But, then, as we know he will, Jesus adds a challenge when he repeats the word two more times.

If “you keep my commandments, you abide in my love, just as I have kept God’s commandments and abide in God’s love.” Ah – to abide in Jesus’ love requires something of us. And what is that?

Jesus is very specific about what is required: “To love one another as I have loved you.”

Not just loving generically, tepidly but loving one another so much that we lay down our lives for one another.

I prefer to think of as Jesus speaking metaphorically when I hear these words. Certainly he couldn’t possibly mean that we should die for the sake of the other!

But we know he means precisely what he says. Just as he means it when he tells us we must lose our lives to find them. Or when he points out that the seed must fall into the ground and die or it bears no fruit. Or if we wish to be first in the kin-dom of God we must take the last place, be the servant of all.

Only as we grow in embracing all the paradoxes Jesus so boldly and baldy proclaimed and lived, do we become his friends, not his slavish followers. Then, in lives of service, we find ourselves abiding in God’s love.

Of course, it would be a lot more satisfying if we lived out these annoying paradoxes in colorful and dramatic circumstances –acting with a lot of flair and drama. But most of us live ordinary lives, surrounded by others living ordinary lives. So it’s easy to forget or ignore that we are called to live lives of all-inclusive love, of widening circles of community.

Don’t know about you, but I can easily get off the track of “laying down my life” Sometimes all it takes is being annoyed at the way a person sneezes or washes the dishes. Never mind what serious differences in ideas about theology, spirituality or politics can do to distract me!

It is in those times when we allow our diversity to become an obstacle to our unity, to our community that we may need to remember that we have been chosen, we have been called into being and into friendship with God.

Jesus also assures us that, chosen and appointed to be his presence and his people, whatever we ask of God in Jesus’ name will be given us.

So let us ask to abide in God’s love, in Jesus’ love for us. Let us ask for the gift of loving one another into communion, into community. Let us ask for the grace to die so that we may live; to bear the fruit of promoting the loving design of God in service among God’s people.

As we abide God‘s love for us, we will find the motivation, the gifts and talents, the strength to allow ourselves to be always drawn back into communion with one another. The love God has for us, Jesus assures us, is the power behind the call to “go and bear fruit” in service with others.

The fruit of our labors of love will abide, will last, will remain, and will bring

about the communion that is the design of God. This communion is what we celebrate today. We are drawn by the sure knowledge that the Providence of God unites us one with the other.

If we immerse ourselves, trust ourselves to truly abide in the love God for us, we will “find ourselves well supported.”

For what is the abiding love of God for us but “that Providence that thus far has never failed us?”

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

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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