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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Feast of Saint Clare of Assisi - 11 August 2014

Shared Homily Starter

Please keep the Dominican Sisters in Iraq and Jordan and women religious in conflict areas around the globe in your prayers. I'm sure St. Clare is also holding them close to her heart. The Leadership Conference of Women Religious or LCWR is starting their annual assembly tomorrow (August 12, 2014) and I think the feast of St. Clare is an appropriate occasion to honour women religious. And so, today's homily explores the Gospel themes, “If the salt loses its saltiness... It is no longer good for anything” and, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.” In other words, we are meant to flavour faith and practice, that is, to keep it meaningful and relevant. We are not to hide the divine light that God has placed within us. But In order to be salt and to be light to others, we need knowledge and understanding-- and the willingness to grow in both.

Now, a little story.

Long, long ago, a great holy man became the leader of a monastery. His cat was his constant companion. He started the tradition of an annual procession on their feast day. On the day of the first procession the holy man's cat followed him grabbing at the hem his robes as we walked. He gently kicked the cat. It ran back to the holy man's hut and the procession carried on. This happened each year for many years. Death came for the holy man and his cat followed him in death soon after. For the procession the next year, one of the monks brought a stray cat. During the procession, the monk put it down, kicked it, and it ran away. Every year for years, a cat was brought, then kicked. No one knew why kicking a cat was part of the procession. It began because of the affectionate relationship between a particular cat and her master, the deceased holy man; but became a meaningless ritual with no significance in their teachings, the feast day, or in the procession.

One of the Vatican II directives for religious congregations urged each community to revisit the life of their founder and their foundational charism. A charism is the particular gift that the community brings to the church and the world. The object of this exercise was for congregations to rediscover why they were kicking the cat, so to speak, and if it was of any significance. The women religious of the United States and Canada took this directive seriously. They went out of their convents and assessed the needs of the local people and reflected on ways their congregational charism could address those needs.

Unfortunately, today the LCWR is under sanctions for following and acting on the Vatican II directive. It seems that today's Church leaders want the women religious to keep kicking the cat, which has no meaning, rather than focus on the feast day, the reason for the procession. Put in today's terms, for the Church leadership, denouncing gay marriage is more important than working towards God's justice and peace or reflecting God's compassion and love. Somewhere along the line, knowledge of the reason for a rule or practice, as well as the need to understand people's lives got lost.

Jesus, and later the disciples, were able to gather people to them because they understood their own religious traditions and also understood the lives of everyday working people: fishermen, tax collectors, dyers and sellers of purple. The listened to and addressed people's needs even as they taught and modelled a new way to live out their faith tradition.

The Sisters understand this. From the time of Vatican II to the present, Sisters go to the prisons and the inner-cities. They go to the barrios and Indian Reserves or Reservations. They go to the suburbs and the well-to-do communities. They continue in the universities as students and professors in a wide range of disciplines, including but not limited to, theology and science.

They go out to the people and find ways to serve. Often, they even broker collaboration between communities on different points of the socio-ecomomic ladder. They put their lives and freedom on the line at home and around the world to live the Gospel. These women religious, present company included, understand that to follow the Gospel, to bring the Good News, requires a knowledge of your neighbour and a deeper and wider understanding of the Gospel and what it means to follow Christ. In her blog post, Old Monk's Journal, Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki, wrote:

Dearest Sisters, you have done nothing wrong. It is your obligation as religious to ask the questions that need to be voiced. It is the holy responsibility of religious to stand with those who are most bereft. Be proud of the questions you have asked, the speakers you invited to your assemblies, the statements you issued, the liturgies you celebrated. Go to the microphone and say: We believe in feminist theology and in women’s ordination; we believe in the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender population and we will continue to speak aloud on these issues. Respectfully, we will not comply with the order to submit names of speakers to our annual assembly to Vatican representatives for approval. If this means that the LCWR is no longer recognized by church authorities, so be it. Though we have given our lives to the church, we have not given our consciences to anyone but God. Though we recognize the legitimacy of church law, we believe it sometimes conflicts with the Gospel. And our hearts—since we were young women--have been afire with the radical message and life of Jesus of Nazareth. To act otherwise would barter our integrity. As members of LCWR, we stand with our sister, Catherine of Siena in reminding the faithful, “We’ve had enough of exhortations to be silent. Cry out with a thousand tongues. I see the world is rotten because of silence.1

I, for one, am thankful for these Sister role models. They are not going to kick that cat, just because its been done that way for a long time. That's how they keep the salt from losing its flavour. That's how they let the light and love of God flow through them, and their works, to others.

My journey of healing, my journey to service, would not have been possible without the women religious God places in my life. Pax et bonum vobis sorores! (Peace and all good to you, Sisters!).

Now, I ask you to think a moment, then please share an experience when a Sister was a light in your life?

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