Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Homily for Sr. Susanne’s First Profession — September 23, 2014

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus says to Matthew, “Follow me”. And he did — just like that. I have often wondered or tried to imagine what might have preceded this exchange of words. Had Jesus seen Matthew hovering on the edge of a crowd of spectators at some point? Was Matthew already feeling discontented or disconnected from his work or perhaps even feeling guilty about working for the Roman occupation knowing the effect of the taxation system on his fellow Jews? What enabled him to let go of everything when Jesus said, “Follow me!” What enabled each of the sisters here to answer God’s call to enter this community? When I look back on my own call, there were little signs that I had ignored or not even been aware of consciously before I came to the Women at a Crossroads program in 1996. So it is with each of us.

My journey with Sr. Susanne began quite a while ago. Not long after the Sisters moved into this convent, early in 2005, Susanne came to see me about becoming an Associate of the Sisterhood. When she came to my office, she immediately noticed the two figures that I had on the window sill — called “Sisters”.  They represented for Susanne the close relationship she had and has with her sister Linda. It was as if these figures formed an invisible bond between us during this first meeting. We had a fairly lengthy visit during which we talked about what it meant to be an Associate and what had brought her to this point in her life. She had been working in the field of bankruptcy for 18 years and been involved in taxation all that time having filed many a tax return for her clients — an interesting connection with St. Matthew, the tax collector. She told me she was from the Roman Catholic tradition but had recently joined the Anglican Church. It seemed to me as if she might be at a crossroads of some kind.  I even wondered if she were feeling somewhat burned out?

In her sharing with me I sensed a deep desire for something more in her life; but what I remember most about this visit was this inexplicable desire growing in me to ask her if she had ever considered a call to the religious life. But that seemed such an inappropriate question to ask someone who was enquiring about being an Associate.

So I kept pushing this thought to the back of my mind trying to ignore it. But the question was so insistent that I finally blurted out, “Susanne, have you ever considered becoming a Sister?” I’m sure she was as surprised as I was. Her answer?  “But I’m divorced.”  I think I probably responded, “And... your point being?”   I’m sure I went on to say that that was not a problem, that we had other Sisters who had been divorced or widowed. Until that moment Susanne had never considered that the religious life was an option for her, but the Holy Spirit had now planted the seed in both of us.

Susanne started the process of becoming an Associate but she also applied for the Women at a Crossroads program for the summer of 2005. We had so many applicants that year that we asked 4 of them who lived in or near Toronto if they would be willing to come to a second Crossroads program we would offer in November, 2005. Susanne was one of those four (along with Anne Day who is also here today).

Susanne made the decision to enter our community in October, 2006, but left just under a year later for reasons that are no longer relevant. The church she then started attending was St. Matthew’s, Islington, another connection to this feast day. We were sorry to see Susanne leave but delighted when she enquired about returning; in 2011 she began again to test her vocation to the Religious Life. And so we are now celebrating Susanne’s First Profession on the Feast of St. Matthew.

Very little is known about St. Matthew, but in St. Mark’s Gospel, Matthew, or Levi as he is also known, is described as taking Jesus to his home after Jesus called him from the tax booth. Matthew invited many other sinners and tax-collectors to eat with him. It was on that occasion that some of the Pharisees asked Jesus why he ate with tax-collectors and sinners, and Jesus replied, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’   It suddenly occurred to me that Sr. Susanne has been in the Guest House ministry almost her entire time in SSJD and is now the Guest House coordinator, so there seems to be  another link between St. Matthew and Susanne.

Today’s reading from Proverbs calls us to “trust in the Lord with all our heart” and not rely on our own insight. We are called to acknowledge God in all our ways and not let go of loyalty and faithfulness. Life has not always been easy for Susanne, a French speaking Canadian brought up in Niagara Falls, but I believe she has never wavered in her faithfulness to God. In the hymn based on Psalm 42 the psalmist describes his longing for God, a longing that is similar to a deer which is so thirsty that it is panting for water. The psalm also echoes the theme of trusting in God:
You alone are my strength, my shield, to you alone may my spirit yield,
you alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you!
This longing for God, which I think we all feel but may not understand, does not take away from the love we have for our friends and family. Susanne has a deep love for her sister Linda, her two daughters, Melissa and Chrissy, her granddaughters Lauren and Catherine, and her extended family. One can see the joy in her whenever her family comes to visit or she talks about her family, but underneath all of that is her deep longing for God, to know God at a deeper level, to worship God, and to serve God to the best of her ability. It is that longing which has has drawn her to the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine.

She longs for that fullness of life that is described in the Gospel of John when Jesus said,  “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  What is that abundant life? For me it is

! the life that fills us with the joy of living or as the French say: that joie de vivre;
! the life that inspires us to give generously of ourselves to others;
! the life that fills us with deep gratitude;
! the life that pushes us to seek the Kingdom of God now and help to bring it about in the world.

Our first hymn chosen by Sr. Susanne seems to be based on a prayer of St. Ignatius:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace.
That is enough for me.

This is not an easy prayer to say but it is what Sr. Susanne is proclaiming today in the words of the first hymn:

Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart;
Your love to inspire me, your counsel to guide,
Your presence to cheer me, whatever betide.

Love of all being, I give you my all;

If e’er I disown you I stumble and fall;
But, sworn in glad service your word to obey,
I walk in your freedom to the end of the way.

And so today, Sr. Susanne promises to keep the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for the next three years. Many  people see these vows as “bad news”: no freedom; no money; no sex. But as Br. Clark, a Franciscan, writes in The Vows Book (P. 36 & 37), to us these vows are “special blessings” nor burdens. They free us to serve God with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves. “The vows are how we, as religious, say ‘Yes’ to God. They are our ‘Yes’ to the fullness of life.”

And so, Sr. Susanne, I pray that you may find your heart’s desire as you continue on this journey with the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine.

Homily for Sr. Susanne’s First Profession — September 23, 2014 by Sr. Elizabeth SSJD