Mass for Jubilees of the Sisters of Saint Joseph
Celebrated by Archbishop Denis Hart
at Our Lady of Victories' Basilica, Camberwell,
on Saturday, 13th April, 2002, at 2.00pm
My dear Sisters and Brothers,
Each of us is deeply honoured in being asked to gather with ten Sisters of Saint Joseph as they thank God for seventy-five, seventy, sixty, fifty or twenty-five years of religious profession according to the charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
The invitation to poverty, chastity and obedience is a mysterious calling from the Lord which is fruitful in the gifts used to draw people to Christ. The personal search for holiness in the Sisters of Saint Joseph is indeed an act of total self-giving, of response to the invitation of Jesus Christ, and of leadership of others to know and love God.
Rejoicing with Bishop Noel Daly, my brother priests, sisters and faithful, I ask you to join with me in thanking God for these many blessings with a gratitude that goes beyond words in the perfect sacrifice of praise in this celebration of the Mass.
To prepare our hearts worthily, let us call to mind our sins.
My dear Friends,
With humble thankfulness and openness to God we ponder the mystery of the invitation of the Lord responded to so generously by these ten Sisters so many years ago.
Using Saint Matthew's words, Jesus says, "No one can be a slave to two masters". If we go back to the ancient world a slave was not regarded as a person but a thing and had absolutely no rights of their own. Every moment of their life belonged to their master. Under modern conditions we have certain hours a week of work and outside those hours our time is our own. Sometimes people these days may find their real interest outside the work which gives them their living. It may be outside work time that we find our real expression and yet the slave had no moment of time that belonged to himself. Every moment was at his owner's disposal.
Here then is the mystery of the religious Vocation. In regard to God we cannot claim rights of our own. He is the undisputed master of our lives. We cannot ask what do I wish to do; we are called to ask, what does God wish of us? The invitation to serve God in religious life is indeed an imperative, but it is a far more loving and wonderful imperative than the first words of this Gospel might suggest. It is an invitation from the Lord who gave himself in sacrifice upon the cross and rose to newness of life.
Your foundress, Blessed Mary MacKillop, was known as Mother Mary of the Cross precisely because she wished the Sisters of Saint Joseph to distinguish themselves by total self-giving, abandonment to the providence of God, and testified to the birth to new life which that abandonment brings for the Sisters as it did for Jesus Christ in his resurrection.
To me the Sisters of Saint Joseph have always been remarkable members of two communities. The call to communal religious life, albeit in small communities, has always been at the essence of their common service, nourished as it is by prayer and sacrifice and giving to and for others. It is a public commitment in the Church. Secondly, I believe also that a particular grace of the charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph is their link with the parish community and with the people of the Church and of the town in which they have lived and worked. Truly, these Sisters have walked with people where they are. These Sisters have shown that Christ comes to people where they are and today as people with whom they have shared their exemplary gifts they and we come to thank God for the gift of religious life.
We are aware not only of the gift of an invitation responded to with generosity, but of the perseverance in often arduous circumstances. Their faithfulness seeks to mirror the faithfulness and commitment, which our God himself has shown to us. We can say with these Sisters, "everything I have belongs to God". He has given me the use of it. He calls me to thank him. That thanksgiving is linked to the public gifts of chastity, poverty and obedience manifested with joy in the midst of the Church, as a witness and challenge to God's people.
To be celibate as Jesus Christ was, to be a victim given for life of others, so that all possessions are held in common and placed at the disposal of the community. In the gift of obedience these Sisters have placed their will at the service of the Church, through their legitimate Superiors and according to the remarkable charism with which our own Blessed Mary MacKillop has graced our Church and our country.
We know that religious profession is a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration given in baptism, which is not given to everyone. Likewise, it is a development of the grace of Confirmation and it is an invitation now, as much as in previous years, to show forth the Church's holiness in following Christ's own way. It anticipates the future age when those who are children of the resurrection will be in the fullness of the kingdom of heaven.
These Sisters joyfully thank God for their perseverance in religious consecration. They realise that their present state in consecrated life is intended to foster in all of the people of God an awareness of the need to respond with holiness of life to the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. These Sisters are called to show us that we need to pass from the holiness communicated in the Sacraments to the holiness of daily life.
My dear Sisters, I congratulate and thank you for your witness in the midst of the Church; gifted with chastity, poverty and obedience, drawn by the light of holiness, consecrated by your public dedication, accepted by your Superiors in the name of the Church. This consecration is always in union with the Holy Father, with your Superiors and the Bishops and Priests of the Church, as a living witness of the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
We praise you and thank you for all you have been and are to us, for all you have done to spread the Gospel and we pray that your witness will long shine among us as a reminder of the power of the love of Jesus and of his cross as the gift of life to the world.
Truly, many years ago you have laid down an individual life to be totally given to Christ. He has consecrated you and, in the earthen vessels surrounded with weakness which we are, has demonstrated a remarkable light, strength and perseverance. The signal service, which you have given, has always been demonstrated in the lives of the people with whom you have walked.
Together, dear Sisters and friends, we thank God for his power manifest among you. It is the power of the sacrifice of the Cross and the resurrection to new life manifest first in Christ, constantly in the Mass, and in your own personal consecration of life which shines out to the present. May the Lord bless you, keep you close to him and enable the specific charism of the Sisters of Saint Joseph to be vibrant and life-giving now and always.
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.