‘Like Mary, you have given birth’
A reflection for our 2023 Senior Jubilarians
Note: General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski offered this reflection during the 2023 Senior Jubilee Mass on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023.
At a time when our world seems to have turned upside down, I am grateful, Jubilarians, for this opportunity to celebrate YOU! Your steadfast commitment as Sisters of Providence, as faithful women of the Gospel, is a sign that the message we heard the Angel Gabriel deliver to Mary is true, “Do not be afraid … you have found favor with God.”
As I reflected upon your lives, as I know them, and explored your ministry records and the joys and sorrows represented in the listings there, I heard Gabriel say again, “Nothing is impossible with God.” Like Mary, you have stayed the course. In the face of all the ups and downs a life can bring, you have let it be done according to God’s word.
We all thank you for that. Like Mary, you have given birth.
You have given birth in the way Christine Valters Paintner describes in her book, “Birthing the Holy.” Christine shares the wisdom that can be learned from reflecting on the various titles Mary has been given. She suggests that these titles are archetypes and signposts for our own lives.
In all, Paintner presents 30 titles of Mary. At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of titles. Then, it occurred to me that each of us, and our Jubilarians, like Mary, have carried many titles. In fact, when I added up all the titles listed on each of the ministry records of our 19 Jubilarians — everything from postulant to volunteer and all things in between — I counted 470 titles. Like Mary, Jubilarians, you have embodied many different ways of being in the world. You have followed various pathways in meeting the needs of people.
If we put together a litany of your lives, it might sound something like this:
O Jubilarians, teachers of children … thank you from us.
(And honestly, all but about two of you have taught first or second graders at some point in your lives.)
O Jubilarians, directors and/or administrators of — you name i t— religious education, formation, liturgy, advancement, archives, pastoral care, mission development, activities, vocations, offices of women religious, of research and planning, immigration and revitalization programs …thank you from us.
I could go on…
What I love best about what Paintner writes about Mary’s titles is that they should be seen as living encounters right now with sacred aspects of ourselves.
So, in reflecting on our Jubilarians, I would like to raise up three of the titles Christine breaks open about Mary. I hope to honor both what you have done, Jubilarians, and the sacred aspects of that doing that have made the lives of those you have touched better for that encounter.
Untier of knots
The first title I have selected is Mary, Untier of Knots — she who loosens constriction. I was not familiar with Mary as the Untier of Knots, even though Christine lists Sept. 28 as the Feast Day for Mary under this title. It is based on a painting dated 1700, done in Bavaria. In it Mary stands on a crescent moon surrounded by angels, suspended between heaven and earth. She holds a long white ribbon with a series of knots that she is patiently untying. Two angels assist her in her task. One presents the knots of our lives to Mary, and the other presents us with the untied ribbon.
I immediately remembered an incident in which I presented my six-year-old self to my teacher. My coat was off but my hat still on. I could not undo the knot that had formed between the two velvet ribbons holding my hat in place on my head. I can still feel myself in that moment fighting back tears as the facile and tender hands of that kindly teacher came to my rescue.
How many knots have you helped untie, Jubilarians? Both literally and figuratively, in your ministry as teachers, in your work as principals, caregivers for your parents, as the general superior or provincial councilor, as a translator, music professor, registered nurse or hospital chaplain, as the attendance officer or as a home health aid? How many knots have you helped untie?
Paintner suggests that the more we knot things, the harder they become to undo them. She urges us to ask for Mary’s support in undoing whatever issues in our lives have become intractable. Those could include any struggles or challenges for which we are at an impasse and have no solution. This process of asking for help, she says, often softens our own hearts and makes us more available to provide this kind of compassionate care for others.
We thank you, Jubilarians, for the many times you have helped loosen the bonds of others. The times you offered compassion and thus made healing possible. We pray for you, for all of us, that we might call out for the assistance of Mary and of each other to untie whatever knot or knots we might be carrying right now.
Mirror of Justice
The second title of Mary, and, quite an appropriate choice for this group of Jubilarians, is Mirror of Justice: she who lifts up all those on the margins. This title comes from the Litany of Loretto. Mary’s commitment to justice is perhaps most clearly expressed in the Magnificat, the beautiful prayer that Mary utters after being recognized by her cousin Elizabeth as “the mother of her Lord.” In it, Mary reminds us that God has lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty handed.
According to Paintner, Mary, one of the lowly herself, asks us to access our inner prophet in order to ask questions of justice. The archetype of the prophet helps us to imagine the world as it might be and to consider how we can get from here to there.
How many times have you mirrored justice, Jubilarians? In your work at such places as 8th Day Center for Justice, Feeding Empty Little Tummies, St. Ann’s Health Clinic? At the Hispanic Education Center, various branches of Catholic Charities? At Providence Self-Sufficiency Ministries, at Anna’s House, Project Light or Providence Food Pantry? How many times have you have reached out to those on the margins through immigration assistance or by providing tenant services? You have accompanied. You have advocated.
We thank you, Jubilarians, for this action on behalf of justice. And for the times your work and your words have inspired us and reminded us to be in solidarity with those in need. We pray that all of us will bring those marginalized to the center of our concern.
She who shows the way
And finally, the third title I have chosen to share is Hodegetria (Hoe de je-tria): she who shows the way. This title comes from the icons of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. In these Mary holds Jesus as a child at her side while pointing to him as the way. I suspect my attraction to this title is because of my own fondness for Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland. She is one of the Black Madonnas who is depicted in this style with Mary pointing to Jesus.
Christine uses this title to point out the need to embrace our inner pilgrim, to let go of our maps and walk by trust. She describes this as showing up in this moment rather than being attached to how we want things to be. In other words, let the Holy One show the way.
I would like to think that this is the journey to which each of our Jubilarians committed herself some 60, 70 and 75 years ago — to follow the path marked out by Providence. This path has, no doubt, shaped your outward journey through these years. But perhaps more importantly, trust in Providence has effected an inner transformation.
We thank you, Jubilarians, for showing us the way through the witness of your lives. For sharing your inner selves as well as your outer selves. By being true to what was planted deep within you, the self God has intended you to be from all eternity. We pray that especially during this season of Advent, your lives, our lives will be directed anew toward the Christ. The Christ who shows us the way to the fullness of life.
Cause for joy
And now, of course, I’d like to sneak in an additional title offered by Paintner. Mary, the Cause of our Joy. Jubilarians, you are the cause of our joy this day. Your lives show us the way to walk by trust. You mirror justice and challenge us to answer our own call to care for those on the margins. You have untied the knots of many lives freeing them and us to live in joy.
What Gabriel said to Mary, we say to you today, “Rejoice, oh highly favored ones, the Most High is with you, you have found favor with God.”
And to let Mary have the last word, may you continue to say with her, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Most High. Let it be done to me according to your word.”