This homily was written by Sister Cathy Waldron, one of the eight Sisters celebrating her Jubilee year, and shared at the Jubilee Mass.
So what is a Jubilee? Scripture defines Jubilee as a special year of universal pardon and remission of sins. A Jubilee year occurs every fiftieth year, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest.
Fifty years sounds like a very long time. It is a long time. Looking back, it has passed quickly. Imagine yourself as you were 50 years ago: maybe you weren’t even alive yet, maybe you were making important life decisions, maybe there are events you remember well, like the assassination of JFK. What path were you on? What were your desires, your goals, your questions?
As I look back to who I was as a high school senior, I see myself struggling with what path I would follow after graduation. My older sister had entered the community two years prior. Being stubborn, independent and immature, and the third girl in my family who had spent her life following her two older sisters, I wanted to venture out on my own. As the call grew in my heart, I knew the only choice I could peacefully make was to “come and see” where God lives within the Sisters of Notre Dame.
When we entered, a religious vocation was viewed as the way to become holy. We prayed in the chapel morning, noon, evening and night time. We kept silence as a way to be open to God’s bidding. We lived in a large convent, had visiting Sundays once a month, couldn’t visit our family homes, ate only in the privacy of our refectory and wore habits made from yards and yards of black wool serge. We prayed. We studied. We worked in our quest to become holy.
Our primary ministry as SNDs was education. So many parish schools has sprung up that we were sent from our sheltered novitiate into classrooms crowded with Catholic students. We taught as best we could for a year (if we were lucky!) until being sent to a new school and maybe a new grade. In our convents, we still gathered for morning and evening prayer, Mass, meals and recreation. Being educators was our path.
We entered Notre Dame as the Vatican Council was ending. The “re-founding of Catholicism” was just beginning. Pope John XXIII threw the “windows of the church wide open.” As our eyes and hearts blinked and grew accustomed to the bright light, and our vision broadened and deepened. We expanded our ministries beyond classroom walls: to parishes, community centers, shelters for the homeless, retreat centers, homes for AIDS babies, counseling offices. We withdrew from many schools. We placed stronger energy on forming our co-workers in the Spirit of St. Julie and Franciose Blin de Bourdon. We began to visit homes and to invite others into our homes. We invited many to become our Associates, people living the charism of Julie and remaining in their path of life. We joined with U.S. Americorps to form Notre Dame – Americorps – a mushrooming path for people to join us for periods of temporary service to the poor. In re-discovering and re-newing the spirit of our foundresses, we responded to the call to be more immersed in our modern world. We discarded the black wool habits from another era. We wrote new Constitutions – a new rule of life – which named as essential proclaiming God’s goodness by the way we live, living in right relationship, transforming unjust structures, doing social analysis, striving to fulfill the call to serve the cause of teaching people what they need to know for life. We found God’s dwelling place in countless neighborhoods here and in developing countries. We realized such a fuller scope to Julie’s refrain: Ah qui’le bon de bon Dieu!
When we made our first religious vows, we did so in a spirit of sacrifice, of leaving the world, the daily rhythms we knew. We now see that giving up our lives for Jesus’ sake brought us much more than we ever imagined. We have been enriched by formal education, by the leadership positions we have held, by the travel opportunities we gained as we gathered with SNDs from all over the world, by the people we have worked with, by being prophets to our church.
The renewal sparked by the Holy Spirit through the Second Vatican Council has opened our hearts to the flaming truth that all are called to holiness: what used to be seen as reserved to priests and religious, is offered in abundance to all who accept the invitation to “come and see” where Jesus lives, to lose themselves for Jesus’ sake. When we live our lives in giving selflessly to others, each and every one of us proclaims God’s love and goodness to our world.
Hopefully today as you reflect on the way you have lived your lives, you can see how you have given up your life for Jesus’ sake and how you have found ever so much more.
Glory be to the One whose power, working in us,
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Glory be to our Creator from generation to generation
in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever.