A Reflection for Reception into the Novitiate
On Saturday, the Congregation welcomed Sister Jessica Vitente into the Novitiate. Here is the reflection General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski prepared for the occasion.
One of the last items I placed in my special retreat bag before leaving home a few weeks ago for my annual retreat was Jessica’s invitation for the (Saturday, August 3) reception into the novitiate. I tucked it between the pages of my journal right next to the reading we just heard from Luke’s Gospel. I thought I might give some retreat time to reflect on these readings in preparation for today.
Despite the fact that I began my retreat on a Sunday afternoon, I never looked at that invitation – never really noticed it sitting where I had propped it up on the desk in my bedroom – until Thursday of that week. As Providence would have it, the retreat theme for Thursday was Holy Waiting. Early in the day, the retreat director emphasized that God is always waiting for us.
As I journaled that morning trying to sort out my own sense of Holy Waiting, I looked up and there was that line from Jessica’s invitation staring me in the face: “Even if it’s blurry keep following the light because I’ve been saving this seat for you.”
God has been waiting for you, Jessica. In fact, the God we know as Providence has been saving the very seat in which you are seated right here, right now. God has simply been waiting for you to sit down – to cast your cares on Providence, to rest in God’s arms of trust, to lean with all your weight on Providence.
So, I would like to declare this next year of your life, this canonical novitiate adventure on which you are about to embark, a year of Holy Waiting. Let it be a year of Holy Waiting to see and hear what the God whom you call “Beloved,” has to teach you on your journey to discovering your truest self. And I trust, that in that waiting, like the events that took place in the Emmaus story, your eyes will be opened and you will recognize if your truest self has a home here as a Sister of Providence.
Like our friends on the road to Emmaus, you do not have to travel nor wait alone during this coming year. Among others, Sister Janice Smith, your novice director, will be searching with you as well, as the two of you transplant yourself in St. Louis and begin a new venture living, working and praying alongside the Dominican sisters there.
Together you will break open the scriptures and interpret what it means to live the Gospel. You will continue to explore what it means to be a religious today and what it has meant in the history of our Congregation and how that meaning has shaped our past and will help determine our future. Your theological studies will continue, as will the opportunities to get to know the Providence Community ever more deeply. There is lots of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods time built into this next year, including reconnecting with so many of the people who have supported you and helped shape your postulant year.
And perhaps most importantly, there will be time for just sitting in that seat God has been saving for you. The canonical hour was created for just such sitting, offering you the opportunity to fulfill your desire to deepen your relationship with God. Maybe we should call this a year of Holy Sitting.
I’m sure it is because of Jessica’s invitation that I noticed the sitting portion of the Emmaus story more than ever as I thought about this reception today.
We are told that he/Jesus went to stay with the two he had encountered on the road. And when he had seated himself with them – “he took bread, pronounced the blessing, then broke the bread and began to distribute it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him; whereupon he vanished from their sight.”
Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen offers a beautiful reflection on this moment. He says that Jesus vanished from their sight because they recognized that Jesus the Christ now lives in them … that they had become Christ-bearers. Therefore, Jesus no longer sits across the table from them as the stranger, the guest, the friend. He has become one with them. He has given them his own Spirit of Love. Their companion on the journey has become the companion of their souls. Christ lives in them.
Is not your heart burning inside to know this Christ, Jessica, to welcome this Christ as the core of your truest self? To become more fully a Christ-bearer?
Are not our hearts burning inside seeking to recognize what being a Christ-bearer asks of each of us? What is God waiting for from each of us? How are we to bear Christ to this crazy world of ours? We – the Novice? Sister? Associate? All who share the charism of Providence? Young? Old? In between?
Perhaps we all need to take some sitting time this coming year – to cast our cares on Providence, to rest in God’s arms of trust, to lean with all our weight on Providence. And to renew our YES to the God who is waiting for us; who needs us to be passionate about our lives of prayer, education, service and advocacy; who has given us the mission to bring love, mercy and justice to those we meet, especially those who might otherwise be forgotten.
Today, Jessica, we will witness your yes. We will affirm your desire to keep following the light, to continue seeking the path of Providence that God has waiting for you.
And so, I say to you now what Mother Theodore said to one of her daughters some 170 years ago:
“If … you are quite determined to belong entirely to God, to work with all your strength … I say to you with assurance, Come.”
Come, Jessica. With assurance I say to you, Come.