Presentation of the Lord and Profession of Two Nuns
Homily by Bishop Kevin Rhoades, February 2, 2016, St. Andrew's Church, Fort Wayne IN
Today Sister Karolyn Grace and Sister Rose Caritas will present themselves in this temple of the Lord as they make their vows (Sister Karolyn Grace, perpetual vows, and Sister Rose Caritas, temporary vows). As Jesus was presented by Mary and Joseph to God the Father, it was also a consecration because that was the meaning of the obligation to present the first born to God. As the law said: “Consecrate to me every firstborn that opens the womb among the Israelites, both of man and beast, for it belongs to me.” That’s what consecration means: to belong to the Lord! The word “consecrated” means made holy. It means set apart as belonging to God and dedicated to His service. Of course, our consecration to God happened at our Baptism. That’s the foundation for all of our vocations. What takes place today in the profession of vows of Sister Karolyn Grace and Sister Rose Caritas is what Saint John Paul II called “a special and fruitful deepening of the consecration received in Baptism.” This special consecration is expressed in the profession of vows, the promise to live a life of chastity, poverty, and obedience. The evangelical counsels are special gifts so that you who are consecrated can make your own the way of life practiced by Jesus, the way practiced by our mother Mary, to whom you make a special vow, and the way practiced so beautifully by your mother, Saint Clare.
Today we celebrate the joyful feast of the Presentation of the Lord. On this day, forty days after Christmas, the Church celebrates the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. Obedient to the Jewish law, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to God’s house. They offered the required sacrifice: a two young turtle doves or pigeons since they could not afford a lamb. When we think more deeply about this, we realize that they were actually bringing a lamb, the true lamb, since Jesus is the Lamb of God who will redeem humanity through His sacrifice on the cross.
I was thinking about today’s Gospel’s repeated mention of “Mary and Joseph’s obedience to the law of the Lord.” In your vow of obedience, you are following their example. Pope Francis has said the following in a homily on this day last year: “All those who follow Jesus must set out on the path of obedience, imitating as it were the Lord’s ‘condescension’ by humbling themselves and making their own the will of the Father, even to self-emptying and abasement (cf. Phil 2:7-8). For a religious, to advance on the path of obedience means to abse oneself in service, that is, to take the same path as Jesus, who ‘did not deem equality with God a thing to be grasped’ (Phil 2:6). By emptying himself he made himself a servant in order to serve. For us (the Pope said) as consecration persons, this path takes the form of the rule, marked by the charism of the founder. For all of us, the essential rule remains the Gospel, yet the Holy Spirit, in his infinite creativity, also gives it expression in the various rules of the consecrated life which are born of the sequela Christi, and thus from this journey of abasing oneself by serving.” I think today of Saint Clare and her rule, which you as her Poor Sisters seek to follow and obey. It really is about emptying oneself, abasing oneself. This is seen quite dramatically in this ceremony when the crown of thorns is placed on your heads. As Pope Francis, said: “the essential rule remains the Gospel,” something Saint Clare and Saint Francis knew well and believed with all their heart.
We also reflect today on that marvelous encounter of Mary and Joseph with Simeon and Anna. Simeon was inspired by God when he foretells that the Messiah of the Lord will carry out his mission “as a sign of contradiction.” As for Mary, Simeon foretells that she will personally participate in the Passion of her divine Son: a sword will pierce her heart. Sisters, to the extent that your lives are conformed to Jesus, you are or become a “sign of contradiction.” Living chaste, obedient, and poor lives, with love, you live lives that contradict today’s culture’s exaltation of sexual pleasure, freedom as license, and accumulation of wealth and riches. The Church needs your witness, needs you to help all of us to be signs of contradiction, witnesses of Jesus. You remind us in your following Jesus in the consecrated life that our Lord is not just a historical or abstract figure, but a living person, whom you follow without compromise. Through your witness of prayer, your life of contemplation, you also remind us of the priority that God should have in our lives.
It is good today to contemplate Mary and Simeon’s prophecy about her. It points to Calvary. The Blessed Virgin took part with her Son in the eternal plan of salvation. She shared in His suffering. Her heart was indeed pierced as she stood at the foot of the cross. Mary unconditionally accepted God’s will at the moment of the Annunciation and lived that acceptance her entire life: at the Presentation in the temple and at the foot of the cross. In these various moments, she was repeated in her life the words she said at the Annunciation: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” These are the words that Sister Karolyn Grace and Sister Rose Caritas say in their hearts today. You are called to imitate Mary’s faith and docility, in both the joyful and the sorrowful mysteries of life. In doing so, we will arrive at the glorious mysteries.
The Blessed Virgin Mary is the first and most exalted model for every consecrated person. Sisters, may you always be close to her and allow her to guide you. May you turn to Our Lady for help, especially in moments of trial. May Mary, Our Lady of the Presentation, watch over you, her daughters, and lead you to her Son who is the glory of Israel and the light of the peoples!