Homily – Celebration of Renewal of Spirit – Mount Saint Vincent Wellesley
By Mary Ann Connolly, SC
Good morning! It is a humbling privilege to stand here before you, especially on this beautiful and meaningful Feast of Mary, which the church will celebrate tomorrow… and especially on the feast of another Mary in my life, my mom, who passed away 16 years ago today. Blessed are we who have had wonderful moms!!!
We gather today to do something so near and dear to our hearts… to renew our vows and commitment! It is so right that we do this in the context of Eucharist, that which is also near and dear to our hearts as women and men religious… we who are ever seeking that deeper communion with Christ. Communion with Christ… the simple definition of what it means to live contemplatively and the fourth step in the monastic prayer practice, Lectio Divina or Divine Reading. Lectio Divina has four steps; reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation. The focus of this prayer is simply communion with Christ. Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest and colleague to Richard Rohr, makes a very entertaining yet deeply memorable comparison of these four steps to the four stomachs of a cow!!! She says when praying with scripture we can initially take in the Word of God… sometimes swallowing it whole and not tasting it at all… but then you begin to “chew” on it, letting it begin to break into pieces, then “chewing” on it even more as you savor its meaning… until finally the Word is absorbed into you, offering you sustenance and life, bringing you into communion with the Divine! This analogy came to me as I began ruminating with Christ through today’s readings, asking God to use me to break open today’s Word with you with the hope of offering you a path to deeper communion with Christ!
Today’s readings abound with wonder! They are “Wow” readings… full of desire, longing, hope and challenge…beginning with Psalm 72, sung so beautifully by Sr. Esther! We are not sure who authored this psalm but we do know it is attributed to Solomon. We know from the second book of Chronicles, that Solomon, in his initial aspirations as king, renounced any desire for wealth, fame and glory and prayed to God only for wisdom so as to lead with integrity. It was originally written as an ancient prayer for the improvement of government. Imagine??? If there has ever been a time to pray for improvement of government and integrity in leaders in our country and in our world, now is the time! This desire for “justice to flourish” and “fullness of peace forever” is at the heart of this ancient prayer we know as psalm 72!
This desire for justice and peace permeate our readings this second Sunday of Advent. The first reading expresses the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah… the coming of the Messiah as a shoot from the stump of Jesse… one who the Holy Spirit will rest upon, one who, endowed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, will bring justice and peace into our world. The stump of Jesse reminds us of the lineage of Jesus… but isn’t that our lineage too? Isn’t this the Mission we too have inherited from Jesus, to bring justice and peace to the world? Isaiah reminds us that the spirit of God rests upon Him… which also means it rests upon us… each one of us…. endowing us, through Christ, with those beloved gifts of the Holy Spirit. As I read and reflected on these words from Isaiah I couldn’t help but think this is what those of us who embrace a charism have been doing for generations… “speaking out against the ruthless with the rod of our mouths”… using “the breath of our lips” to denounce the evils in our world… wearing the “bands of justice around our waists” to support those whom the world oppresses… and ever relying on that “belt of faithfulness that adorns our hips.” Individually and collectively, this is the DNA of all who believe in, and strive for a world where the wolf will be the guest of the lamb! In light of all the violence, destruction and seismic shifts going on in our world we must do our part and hold fast to the hope that “justice shall flourish” and “fullness of peace forever.”
So, what sustains this hope of ours for this justice and peace? Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans reveals our secret…” endurance and the encouragement of scripture.” Don’t you love that? With endurance and the encouragement of scripture God “grants us to think in harmony with one another” and that “with one accord we may with one voice glorify God.” Let us hold fast to the extraordinary gift the scriptures are in our lives. Endurance and the encouragement of scripture keep us on the narrow path of our God quest… and that narrow path requires us to continually heed the Gospel message today…. John the Baptist, telling us to “Repent!”
Repentance, as we know, is a deep sorrow or regret for wrongdoing. The daily examination of conscience, which helps us to detect God’s presence in our lives, aids us in recognizing any regrets we may have for past actions. St. Ignatius of Loyola considered The Examen the single most important spiritual exercise! I need to put in a plug for those of you who listen to podcasts. Fr. James Martin, SJ has a wonderful daily podcast called The Examen. This spiritual practice is meant to wake us up, to raise our awareness, to move us to change, to a turning… to a metanoia! I love this word and all that it implies. Metanoia is a profound spiritual transformation; a conversion. It comes from the Greek “meta” meaning higher level and “noia” meaning thought… so in fact, it is a higher level of thinking, an evolution of consciousness which impels us to turn away from wrongdoing and turn toward the light. Margaret Silf, an extraordinary retreat director, writer and speaker gives a wonderful example of metanoia. She invites you to envision standing directly in front of a light, with your back toward the light. Your shadow is cast before you. As you walk forward the shadow continues to grow. She says too often this is how we live our lives… constantly walking into our own shadow, our own stuff… our hurts, our losses, our diminishment, our fears, our wrongdoings. But… if we repent… if we turn ourselves around, the shadow is now behind us – leaving us free to walk into the light…the light of Christ in our lives. This turning away from wrong doing and turning toward the light is metanoia. This is what John the Baptist is calling us to in the Gospel of Matthew today.
So here, on the Second Sunday of Advent, in this beautiful chapel and in the presence of Almighty God, we re-member, gather again, to renew our vows and commitment…
…called, like Solomon to renounce all that keeps us from communion with Christ.
…called to embrace and share those gifts of the Holy Spirit which will bring us into greater communion with Christ.
…called to endurance and encouragement from the scriptures so as to be grounded in communion with Christ.
…called to repent, to a turning, a spiritual conversion, a metanoia.
To our friends and guests in the chapel, traditionally we renew our vows and commitment each year on, or near, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which, as I mentioned, the Church will celebrate tomorrow. Mary has been a model and a guiding light in our lives from time and all eternity. Let our hearts burn within as we enter into this renewal, inspired to live more fully and faithfully the Mission of Jesus Christ… and the Mission of our beloved Mary, to birth Jesus wherever we go!
Wow! Now that’s something to “chew” on!