Senior jubilarians – 80 years and counting
Editor’s note: Reflection from Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior, given on Dec. 8 during Eucharistic Liturgy to sisters, associates and visitors. While this message is specifically for the sisters celebrating their senior jubilee, the message resonates universally to all God’s people living out the Gospel message. Congratulations to these ever-faithful sisters who continue to serve in ministry.
Happy Jubilee! The years 1932, 1937, 1942 and 1952 treated the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence very generously – gifting us with our 19 senior jubilarians who celebrate today! For 80, 75, 70 and 60 years, you sisters have been faithful to the vows you first professed many years ago!
The reading from Paul reminds us that “God chose us” – chose you – “before the foundations of the world.” What a mystery to ponder – your being chosen by God more than 13.7 billion years ago, the estimated time of the original creative event, the great “flaring forth” of God’s energy that brought all creation into being.
Why were we, and you, jubilarians specifically, chosen? Paul maintains that we are “destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of God’s will.”
And how do we know God’s will? We’ve learned so many ways haven’t we? Of recent years we’ve become more and more familiar with the teachings of the primary scriptures, that is with the Universe Story and what the cosmos itself teaches of God’s intentions, design.
From the natural world we’ve begun to see that God wills, has created a cosmos of interrelationship not of dominance, of infinite variety, of all that variety and uniqueness working in communion with all other created things.
We have learned from the deep well of our sacred scriptures. Certainly we know God’s will as we continue to know Jesus through the Scriptures. His insistence on inclusivity, of care of the most marginalized, and of servant leadership as hallmarks of the kin-dom of God lay out a clear plan of action for us to follow should we wish to be friends of God.
Jesus also makes abundantly clear that suffering will attend the one who follows Him. When you originally chose to consent to being chosen, jubilarians, you chose not a life of complacency but a life lived as being the servant of all, of being willing to be the last and to identify with the least – because that is the life of one who follows Jesus who is our Way, our Truth, our Life. You have chosen this over and over again during your lives as Sisters of Providence.
And how many times have we heard proclaimed, have we prayed today’s gospel of Mary? Will we ever feel we’ve plumbed the depths of her encounter with God? She found being chosen, being singled out by God greatly troubling. She must have been afraid for the spirit sent by God counsels her against fear of both messenger and message.
I imagine all of us can identify with her feelings of being troubled and afraid of what God asks of us. I imagine you jubilarians have known those feelings more than once in your 80, 75, 70, 60 years as Sisters of Providence. Yet Mary’s story, her experience of God, strengthens and fortifies you and us.
As Sisters of Providence, we discern God’s will through prayer and dialogue with one another when we make decisions about ministry and living, when we gather in our Local Governing Units, when we prepare for and engage in General Chapter, when we make our annual retreats. Our Constitutions require all of these of us – yet aren’t we blessed to be chosen to live a life that “requires” us to do that which will most assist us in becoming and remaining “holy and blameless in God’s sight?”
Jubilarians, speaking of communal discernment, you know we’ve called ourselves to “refounding.” I would like to suggest to you that you have been chosen to be part of this effort in a special way, in a unique manner.
You are at that time of life that social psychologists label “generative” – that is, it is your special gift to encourage and bring forth the gifts of others. Your gift to offer is that of wisdom, wisdom acquired by your having met life’s challenges, by years of fidelity to prayer and fidelity to the responsibilities of membership, to communal living, to lives of meaningful ministry.
Yours is the gift of patient endurance – of creating the paths that led us through the changes – we could even say the upheaval – of Vatican II. Through all the adaptation and renewal of the past 50 years, you have been engaged and creative in responding to the call of God, to reading the signs of the times, to living lives as apostolic ministerial women, as prayerful women, as Providence women.
We, your sisters, need your continuing engagement in the process of refounding ourselves. You have the capacity to bring to this process your lived experience of beginning anew, of changing structures and practices to fit a new time, of finding new ways to respond to the Gospel call of our day.
You have acquired, I sense, the gifts of hope, humor, and a sense of perspective, a sense of “nothing ventured, nothing gained” that will be invaluable gifts to us, to our future.
Bold as I am, I do not dare to say that your continued engagement in the refounding of the Sisters of Providence is God’s will for you; but I do dare to say that your lively and continuing participation in that process is my hope for and expectation of you.
Why would I expect anything else of you jubilarians who have – for 60, 70, 75 and 80 years – been enthusiastically and effectively involved in the life and mission of our Congregation?
Thank you, sisters! We do indeed celebrate you today. And we look forward to shaping our future with you in the days ahead.
Sister Denise Wilkinson