Listening, loving, letting go: reflection for profession of vows
The Scripture readings given to us for this Sunday of our Church year make several references to whispering. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus come right out and make a demand about those whispers —
“What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light;
and what you hear whispered,
proclaim upon the housetops.”
I believe Dina, Tracey and Anna come to this Church today to do just that — to proclaim what they have heard whispered deep inside of themselves and to answer that call by choosing to live a vowed life as a Sister of Providence.
By their presence here today they declare that living the vowed life as a Sister of Providence is God’s answer for how best to spend the energy of their lives.
Their public witness today is made more sacred by the fact that they could have done otherwise. Each of them was on a path for life that didn’t necessarily lead to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Dina was working diligently as a businesswoman in the Newport News Virginia area. A chance meeting with a Sister of Providence in the parking lot of the parish church where Dina was volunteering led to a spiritual relationship between the two. Ultimately, that sister, Carolyn Bouchard, helped Dina embrace God’s whispers for her life and invited Dina to a Come & See weekend at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Dina came …. and now nine+ years later, she is ready to say that she will join herself forever to this community and to our Provident God.
In requesting perpetual vows, Dina wrote, “The Love I have experienced in our community has truly taught me how to love myself and to love others in return …. I know that growing in Love as a Sister of Providence is a life-long journey, but it is one that I desire to embrace with my whole heart, more now than ever before.”
Anna was, in her own words, living a comfortable life in Taiwan, working alongside our sisters at Miracle Home, when the whispers came. Though, knowing the sisters there, the whispers probably became a dull roar. Today, she professes first vows in response to (and I quote) “Jesus’ call to surrender and trust God who planted me in the garden of the Sisters of Providence and [who] will make a miracle in my life. All [God] needs is my Amen.”
Tracey was on her way to joining the Sisters of Charity when our Saint Mother Theodore and her daughters of the Woods intercepted her. She, too, will profess first vows because: “As I continue to live into the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and witness with gratitude how they invite me to be my fullest self, I desire this accountability and level of commitment. For all these reasons and mysterious ones I’ll probably never fully grasp, I request support in taking vows.”
We call all of this — Providence.
Taking up the challenge
I’m not really sure how it happens myself, but we rejoice today that it has happened and that you, Dina, Anna and Tracey are here ready to take up:
- the challenge of living the Gospel with all your heart;
- the challenge of spending your whole life in the generous service of all of creation;
- the challenge to further God’s Providence through works of love, mercy and justice.
You will tell us in a few minutes that you are so resolved to do this.
And how will professing the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience make a difference in how you take up those challenges?
I believe the vows can make all the difference — for your life surely, but more importantly for the life of the world.
To say out loud that you will be obedient in a world where power is prized and individual achievement rewarded WILL be challenging. Your profession today says you are willing to listen to the whispers of God and those of your sisters, the larger community, the poor, the wounded. Not what I want to do — what would Providence have me do?
Our Constitutions say that obedience is a matter of ever greater surrender to the creative action of love. Not what I want to do — what does the community need me to do? What is the loving thing to do? Until what I want to do is the loving thing to do.
To profess publicly that you choose chastity, that because of your single-hearted dedication to God, you will love all of God’s creation. That this communion you seek with God will bring you into greater communion with others. That you will, in fact, love whoever shows up in your life. This WILL be challenging especially in a world where violence and domination of others, especially women and children, is part of the fabric of life.
As Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister has said, “The passionate religious falls in love with soup kitchen people, and dirty kids. And grieving widows, and dying AIDS patients and dull and dour veterans of life who have been loved so little they themselves love not at all.”
Our Constitutions say this kind of loving “brings about a transformation … and I am able to proclaim: the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me.” Not what I want to do — what would Christ living in me have me do? Until what I want to do is the Christ thing to do.
To vow poverty in a world where amassment of wealth is a measure of success and having our every need met is something we often feel entitled to — well, you know where I am going by now — vowing poverty is challenging. How will you let go and open yourselves instead to what comes?
The words used in our Constitutions to define poverty are among my favorite and the most difficult to live:
“Only those are truly free who confess a fundamental dependence on God, who attest to eternal values by detachment from material possessions and unreasonable adherence to personal opinions, and who are self-giving in their use of time and energy.”
Not what I want — but what must I do to live in a way that enables everyone to have enough? Until enoughness is what I want.
Obedience, chastity, poverty — listening, loving, letting go. These are set before you today in a deeper way. And to return to the scripture for today — God is with you every step of the way.
Jeremiah proclaims, “God is with me, my persecutors will not overcome me … because to God I have committed my cause.”
Jesus tells us to have no fear — even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Everyone who acknowledges Jesus before others, Jesus also will acknowledge before God.
Even, Paul in the letter to the Romans, in the midst of all that talk about sin and death, reminds us of the free gift of grace that abounds in Jesus Christ.
Grace of community
You, Dina, Anna and Tracey have the grace of this community of Providence —your Sisters, Providence Associates and this extended Providence of family and friends. How awesome is this that we have Dina and Tracey’s parents with us today — and Anna’s Mother and Sister have come from Taiwan. Truly their love, support and prayer have helped bring you to this moment.
In a very special and tangible way you also have the bonds that unite us as Sisters of Providence to give you courage and hope for the future. We share a Common Heritage, a Common Call, a Common Life, a Common Mission and, of course, these Common Vows. Your sisters join you Dina, Anna and Tracey in living into these vows, these expressions of how we are to be Providence for our world.
Your very own presence gives us hope for the future. We are counting on the giftedness each of you brings to help shape a future full of hope for all of us. The world needs us for this.
As our Common Mother Saint Mother Theodore said:
“…Very great hopes are founded upon this house.”
May we who dwell in this house today—be that hope and healing for our world.
It is now my privilege to call you forth to your profession of vows.