December 15, 2002

Homily for Paula Anamani's Final Profession

What a feast of Readings! What a banquet!

What a wonderful occasion we are celebrating today!

We are privileged to glimpse a peak moment. It's a peak moment in the life of Paula, in the life of her family, of this parish, of the Sisters of Mercy. It's a peak moment, a moment of great joy. How fitting then that we should celebrate it today of all days. For today is a peak moment liturgically. It's the third Sunday of Advent, traditionally called the Sunday of Joy, Gaudete Sunday. Today we have so much to be joyful about. The Messiah is coming! We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.

We have just heard Isaiah call out to us in profound joy, exultant, transforming joy, his response to God's spirit within him. He senses what our lush, early summer landscape shouts at us, that God is bringing about something new, something fresh, something that will grow -such expectancy and urgency in his voice!

Isaiah feels that God has clothed him in a garment of salvation, in a cloak of integrity. We have just witnessed Paula too, being clothed in a garment of salvation, in a cloak of integrity. And we have just heard the haunting sound of the conch, calling us like John the Baptist in the wilderness, calling us to witness something new and different about to happen. What striking symbolism today these Readings and this ceremony hold.

How privileged we are to be here and to participate! And many others, far way from this place, are part of this celebration too. Paula, there are 11,000 Sisters of Mercy throughout the world who know what you are doing today, who are standing with you, before you, behind you and around you, supporting you with prayer and joyful love.

We've just heard Paul say to the Thessalonians and to you especially, Paula,:

E faamaoni lava le Atua, o le ua valaauina oe

God has called you, God will NOT fail you

But what has God called you to? What is God calling us all to?

Today's Readings suggest that we are called to see with God's eyes like Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist; to hear with God's ears and feel with God's heart like Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist.

Our baptism calls us all -and you, Paula, are especially called through the religious consecration you are about to make -to be passionately and personally involved in God's work. You are called as a Sister of Mercy, a daughter of Catherine McAuley, to be the embodiment of God's mercy in the world. You are to witness to, to participate in, the coming of the Reign of God. Like Isaiah, John the Baptist and Catherine McAuley, you are to be where the cry of the poor meets the ear of God.

The people in these rich Advent Readings are incredibly passionate, on fire, truly convinced about who they are and what they are doing. How different they are from the timid "creep mouse" Catherine McAuley despaired over! Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist are ablaze with confidence, with the power of God's Spirit to proclaim liberty, to speak a message, to bear witness. Are we brimming with such confidence? Are we as convinced about our mission?

Imagine having have Isaiah's utter conviction of being anointed, of being sent to bring good news! Imagine being bearers of good news! What good news will we bring today when we leave this Church and this celebration? And who will we bring it to?

Imagine having Paul's self-assurance, his incredible trust in God!

Imagine being able to speak publicly about it, in our families, our work places! How will our faith and our trust in God inspire others today?

Imagine having John the Baptist's certainty: about his identity, about being a witness, about speaking for the light, about knowing who he was in relation to Christ! Imagine being able to claim our identity as a voice! Whose voice will we be today? Whose voice will you be, Paula, in the years ahead?

Remember, Paula :

E faamaoni lava le Atua, o le ua valaauina oe

God has called you, God will NOT fail you

We must remember though, that there is another side to the picture. Experience tells us that we seldom live at the level of confidence, at the level of conviction and certainty expressed in today's Readings. We don't live, day in and day out, with the energy and passion of Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist. The relentless imperatives tumbling out of the mouth of Paul - be happy at all times, pray constantly, give thanks for everything, hold onto what is good, avoid every form of evil, think before you do anything - how incredibly daunting! They leave us trembling and quivering before such a torrent of idealism.

In today's Readings we don't hear about what you and I experience: the doubts, the questions, the fears, the hesitancy, the failures, the need for reassurance. But that is how it should be, for today is Laetare Sunday, the Sunday of Joy. So today the liturgy focuses on the highs, not the lows; on the joys, not the sorrows; and on the ideals to which we are all called. But our life experience tells us that along with the highs and the joys, are the lows and the sorrows. And along with the confidence, conviction and certainty -Paula as a daughter of Catherine McAuley, a Mercy woman -will at times experience the doubts, questions and hesitancy.

But Paula :

E faamaoni lava le Atua, o le ua valaauina oe

God has called you, God will NOT fail you

Our task as a Christian community is to embody God's commitment to you, to make real for you the promise that God will not fail you. It is our responsibility as members of your family, as your Mercy family, your friends, your teaching colleagues, your parish community to ensure that you will experience, always and everywhere, God's fidelity in real and tangible ways. Isaiah, Paul, and John the Baptist didn't give up -they were in it for the long haul. And the "long haul" part, the "forever" part of your vows is a very long time.

And so I invite you all to listen for the word "forever" when Paula pronounces her vows. What a risk! What a seemingly outrageous claim to make today!

To pronounce vows of poverty, consecrated celibacy and obedience, not just for today, not just for tomorrow but forever, is an incredibly radical statement to make in today's world, where we know how difficult it is to commit permanently to any kind of relationship.

Choosing to live by a vow of poverty, means choosing a life of material simplicity: not owning anything as an individual, not accumulating wealth and possessions; sharing resources. Above all, choosing to live this way in the very midst of today's market economy of greed and consumerism, is a very prophetic position to take.

But Paula :

E faamaoni lava le Atua, o le ua valaauina oe

God has called you, God will NOT fail you

Choosing to live by a vow of consecrated celibacy means choosing to find fulfilment in God rather than in another person - an outrageous choice. Paula is about to profess publicly through a vow of consecrated celibacy, that not only does God exist but God is personal, God can be counted on absolutely, and what's more, God can fulfil the longings of the human heart. This is an irrational claim to make today. Living as a vowed celibate, permanently and publicly, makes for a very radical approach to life at the beginning of the 21st century.

But Paula :

E faamaoni lava le Atua, o le ua valaauina oe

God has called you, God will NOT fail you

Choosing to live by a vow of obedience means choosing to claim publicly that cooperation and listening are better ways to face issues than competition and bullying; choosing such a way, is in complete contrast to the aggressive tactics we see around us today. Choosing publicly a way of genuine dialogue as a means to solve problems rather than conflict, is a truly prophetic position to take in a world of so much violence and intolerance today.

Isaiah, Paul, and John the Baptist were prophetic. They upset the status quo and they suffered in the process. But the message they proclaimed did not come off the top of their heads or by the seat of their pants. No, their message came out of their immersion in the world around them and out of their relationship with God -out of a friendship developed and an intimacy fostered by long hours spent in prayer, long hours of attentive listening to God.

Paula knows that the lifelong search, the permanent quest for God that Religious Life is about, unlike the quest for the Louis Vuitton Cup, unlike the quest for the America's Cup here in this City of Sails, unlike the quest for victory over India in cricket, demands commitment and fidelity to a life of prayer.

There is another demand too. The baptism of all of us here in this Church, and the particular quest for God that defines Religious Life, demand that we all be prophets. Prophecy does not mean foretelling the future. Prophecy is about hope for the coming of the Reign of God and action to bring that about. Prophecy has to do with reminding people of God's promises. One of the functions of the biblical prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist was to propose a new vision; to help people imagine new ways of being: the poor could be rich, the captives could be free, the broken hearted could be healed.

We too, are all called to bring about change in people's imaginations, to be bearers of hope.

Paula, your role as a teacher is privileged, influential and vital. Your ministry allows you to contribute to the shaping of children's imagination. You can help them experience the Reign of God in the here and now. You can give them concrete experiences of justice and peace, of freedom and joy, of love and forgiveness, of tolerance and hope, of holiness and grace in your classroom. You can provide them with a storehouse of memories and values from which they can draw later in life. They will remember when they meet situations of poverty, injustice and oppression that "this is not as good as it gets"; that they too can be agents of change like Isaiah and John the Baptist and work towards the coming of God's Reign.

In a few moments from now Paula will vow herself to God forever in the service of the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable as a Sister of Mercy: the same poor that Isaiah spoke about; the same poor to whose cries we are called to listen. For you, Paula, the cries of the poor will be in your classroom, in your staffroom, in your community, in your neighbourhood. Catherine McAuley listened to the cries of the poor; as a Sister of Mercy following in her footsteps, you can do no less.

Because, Paula :

E faamaoni lava le Atua, o le ua valaauina oe

God has called you, God will NOT fail you

Elizabeth Julian rsm

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