Homily for the Concluding Mass of the 27th General Chapter of the Sisters of St Joseph – Baulkham Hills

“Christ is alive! He is our hope, and in a wonderful way he brings youth to our world, and everything he touches becomes young, new, full of life.”[1] So does Pope Francis begin his recent letter to the young people of the world. Yes, “Christ is alive! . . . The one who fills us with his grace, the one who liberates us, transforms us, heals and consoles us is someone fully alive. He is the Christ, risen from the dead, filled with supernatural life and energy, and robed in boundless light . . . Because he did not only come in the past, but he comes to you today and every day, inviting you to set out towards ever new horizons.”[2]

Christus Vivit, of course, is not just a letter addressed to youth; it is addressed to that part of our hearts that longs for renewal, for something new.  Francis goes on to write, Christ “is the true youthfulness of a world grown old, the youthfulness of a universe waiting “in travail” (Rom 8:22) to be clothed with his light and to live his life, With him at our side, we can drink from the true wellspring that keeps alive all our dreams, our projects, our great ideals, while impelling us to proclaim what makes life truly worthwhile.”[3]

At the end of an event such as the Chapter you have been celebrating you stand on the edge of something new. Alive in your hearts have been the words of the prophet Isaiah: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Is 43:19). For it is always the work of the Spirit to open up new horizons for our journey. The Spirit is always the bearer of Spirit of possibility. Enspirited, we are called to be people of possibility, offering to others the possibility that is God. We cannot but consider Kierkegaard’s prayer, “If I were to wish for something, I would wish not for wealth or power but for the passion of possibility, for the eye, eternally young, eternally ardent, that sees possibility everywhere.  Pleasure disappoints; possibility does not.”[4]  

Yet possibility is always forged in the delicate intersection between fidelity and creativity. As the Irish theologian, Anne Kelly once commented, “we are a people born of memory and dreaming hope. The tradition within which we find ourselves as theologians comes as the bearer both of memory and possibility.  As theologians we share the task of sharing our story and vision with the next generation so that hope and history may rhyme.”[5] As this might be the task of theology, it is also the challenge for each ecclesial community – the rhyme between history and hope. The rhyme finds its key because it never loses sight of its source, Christ alive. Therefore, turning back to Francis, “The Church is young when she is herself, when she receives ever anew the strength born of God’s word, the Eucharist, and the daily presence of Christ and the power of his Spirit in our lives. The Church is young when she shows herself capable of constantly returning to her source.”[6] It is this source, that frees, “the Church from those who would make her grow old, encase her in the past, hold her back or keep her at a standstill. But let us also ask him to free her from another temptation: that of thinking she is young because she accepts everything the world offers her, thinking that she is renewed because she sets her message aside and acts like everybody else. No!”[7]

Therefore, the future is always received with reference. The Gospel speaks of new wine and new wineskins. This, however, is not simply about possibility without memory, hope without history. It is an injunction given us in the context of the larger discussion about stewardship.  It speaks of the care determined by the good steward, the good housekeeper- those who know the responsibility with which they have been entrusted, and who can put this into practice always with both knowledge and care, never one without the other. The linguistic root of the word ‘steward’ has the connotation of intent watchfulness or awareness, of guarding or keeping something with awe and respect, of treasuring it.  So, stewardship is about becoming fully aware that we have received something that does not belong to us, the care we exercise so that what we have received is not diminished by our responsibility. Norvene Vest calls stewardship “Tender Competence” in which we bring a radical attitude of care in all that we do[8]  She takes this from Esther deWaal:  the idea of stewardship as doing ordinary things “tenderly and competently.”[9] Robert Bellah talks of “careful power.”[10]

Stewardship breathes a further intersection of neither being firmly in control or completely helpless.  For you, gathered this week, it has surely meant discerning with the heart of Mary Mackillop where the next new stepping-stone might be in the horizon that the Spirit opens before you, and not being fearful of treading there. You stand with the character in Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook:

“Anna knew she had to cross the desert. Over it, on the far side, were mountains – purple and orange and grey. The colours of the dream were extraordinarily beautiful and vivid . . . The dream marked a change in Anna, in her knowledge of herself. In the desert she was alone, and there was no water, and she was a long way from the springs. She woke knowing that if she was to cross the desert she must shed burdens.”11]

Tender competence at the edge of something new therefore recognises what might need to be left behind, and what might need to be taken forward. Might you practice this tender competency in all that you now embark upon. Then, the eternal youthfulness of Christ Jesus himself will shine forth again through you in our Church and in our world.

[1] Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, “Christ Lives,” Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation to the Youth of the World, (25 March 2019), n.1

[2] Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, nn. 124-125.

[3] Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.32.

[4] Søren Kierkegaard, “Either/Or, A Fragment of Life,” in The Essential Kierkegaard, edited by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, (Princeton, New Jersey:  Princeton University Press), 45.

[5] Anne Kelly, “The Agenda for Theology in Ireland Today II,” The Furrow 42 (1991), 699.

[6] Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.35.

[7] Pope Francis, Christus Vivit, n.35.

[8] Norvene Vest, Friend of the Soul: A Benedictine Spirituality of Work (Cambridge, MA:  Cowley Publications, 1997), 73.

[9] Esther de Waal, Seeking God (Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, 1984), 106.  

[10] Robert Bellah, Sermons that Work (Cincinnati:  Forward Movement Publications, 1991), 73.

[11] Cited in Robyn Davidson, Tracks (London: Picador, 1980) i.

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