The Assumption of Mary and the Perpetual Vows
of Sister Marie Veronica
of the Poor Sisters of Saint Clare
Solemnity of the Assumption – Mass of Perpetual Profession of Vows of Sister Marie Veronica (August 15, 2016)
Today, in union with the whole Church, we celebrate the Assumption of Our Lady, body and soul, into the glory of heaven. Mary’s Assumption shows us our destiny as adopted children of God and members of the Body of Christ. Like Mary our Mother, we are called to share fully in the Lord’s victory over sin and death, and to reign with Him in His eternal Kingdom. This is our vocation.
Mary’s journey to heaven began with the great “yes” spoken in Nazareth to the angel Gabriel’s announcement of God’s will to her. Throughout her life, Mary always said yes to the Lord. Her obedient faith is an outstanding example for us. Every yes to God is a step toward heaven. Every time we say yes to God, every time we are open to His grace, we take a step toward heaven. Every time we say no to the temptation to sin and yes to God’s grace, we take a step toward heaven. Every time we say no to God’s grace, every time we sin, we are going backwards and can even find ourselves off the road that leads to heaven. Thankfully, as Mary teaches us in the Magnificat, God is rich in mercy: “He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.” He remembers “His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and His children forever.”
Mary never said no to the Lord. As Elizabeth proclaimed, Mary is blessed among women. She is the outstanding model for us of doing God’s will. Every yes to God is a step toward eternal life. This is what the Lord wants: that all of us, all His children, have life in abundance. God wants to bring all of us to life in His Son, as Saint Paul teaches. He wants us all to be with Him, in His house where Jesus His Son has prepared a place for us. Today we celebrate that His mother, who followed her Son faithfully throughout her life, who followed Him with all her heart, has entered with Him into the house of His Father. I’ve mentioned that Mary always said yes to God. Well today, we celebrate God’s yes to Mary – He assumed her body and soul into heaven.
Every yes to God, as I also mentioned, is a step toward heaven, toward eternal life. At our Baptism, we or our parents and godparents said a great yes to God. We were consecrated to the Lord and began the journey to heaven. Today, Sister Marie Veronica pronounces another great yes to God. She says yes to live the consecrated life as a response to God’s call. She makes perpetual vows, promising to follow the Lord in the manner of Saint Clare of Assisi, as a cloistered, contemplative nun. There’s an echo of Mary’s yes, her fiat, today as Sister Marie Veronica makes her perpetual profession in response to God’s call. In making these vows, Sister Marie Veronica, like Mary, proclaims not herself, but the greatness of the Lord. Her spirit rejoices in God our Savior. And the Lord looks with favor upon Sister Marie Veronica who recognizes as Mary did, that she is His lowly servant. Truly God looks with favor on all His children who say yes to His holy will.
Sister Marie Veronica says yes today to the contemplative life, a life of prayer in the cloister as a Poor Sister of Saint Clare. She says yes to follow Christ’s life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Touched by God’s love, like Mary, like Saint Clare and Saint Francis, and like Saint Veronica Emiliani, Sister Marie Veronica is saying yes to that love, the love that gives meaning and joy to our lives. Her yes today, a yes to be repeated every day, is a step toward heaven.
The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare, like our Franciscan Friars Minor, take a fourth vow of consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sister Marie Veronica, how beautiful to make this vow today on the feast of Mary’s Assumption! In taking this fourth vow, you are saying yes to Mary’s command at the wedding feast of Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” And you are saying yes to the beautiful gift Jesus gave us from the cross when He said to Saint John “Behold your mother.” You are responding with faith to Our Lord’s gift of love, the gift of His Mother, and to our Mother’s love. I pray we all say yes to this gift today: the gift of our spiritual Mother.
We should not think that the great yes of Christian discipleship or the yes to the vocation of the consecrated life is always easy. Today’s reading from the book of Revelation reminds us of the struggle of the Christian life. We heard Saint John’s description of his vision of the struggle between the woman and the dragon. The figure of the woman, representing both the Church and Mary, is, on the one hand, glorious and triumphant and yet, on the other, still in travail.
The Church is like that. In heaven, Mary and the Church are already in the glory of the Lord. But on earth, in history, she is still in travail. We live amidst the trials and challenges which the conflict between God and the evil one brings. As disciples, we must face this struggle and confront it. Mary, the woman clothed with the sun, is with us in this struggle. Though she lives in heavenly glory, she is not distant or detached from us, as Pope Francis often reminds us. He says: “Mary accompanies us, struggles with us, and sustains Christians in their fight against the forces of evil.”
Our Holy Father emphasizes that prayer with Mary, especially the rosary, helps to sustain us in the battle against the evil one and his accomplices. The dragon failed to destroy the child of the woman clothed with the sun. So he is angry at the woman, at the Church, and continues to wage war against the rest of her offspring, against us, against the disciples and witnesses of Jesus. Yet, we must not forget that Christ has conquered the evil one. As the loud voice in heaven said: “Now have salvation and power come, and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed One.” Satan’s dominion continues to be overthrown in the lives of those who say no to him and yes to God. The powers of darkness are confounded by those who live in the light of Christ. I imagine the devil is furious today and whenever a person embraces the consecrated life.
As I mentioned, the woman clothed with the sun represents the Church, as well as Mary. The Poor Sisters of Saint Clare are vital members of Christ’s Body, the Church. They help to sustain the Church through their prayers and sacrifices. At their Mass of enclosure four years ago, I spoke about the fruits of their contemplative life, the fruits of love that build up the Church. I wish to repeat today what I said then: “Dear sisters, your role as cloistered sisters is so necessary for the life and spiritual vitality of the Church. In your lives of prayer, you will constantly sing the praises of God and intercede for the Church. In doing so, you will be living, not apart from the Church, but in the very heart of the Church, like Saint Clare.”
May the Lord strengthen Sister Marie Veronica and all our Poor Sisters of Saint Clare with His grace! As they strive to live according to the perfection of the holy Gospel, may the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Clare intercede for them! May they continue, with Mary, to magnify the Lord and always find joy in God our Savior! May the Sisters’ prayers and example help all of us to say yes to God and to take a step toward heaven today!
--Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades