HOMILY AT SR. SABINE’S PROFESSION
Today we are all praying with and for Sabine as she crosses this important threshold in her life. We can hardly do better than the prayer of Paul for the Ephesians. We pray that ‘according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that she be strengthened in her inner being . with power through the Spirit. We pray ‘that Christ may dwell in her heart through faith as she is being rooted and grounded in love W e pray that she may have the power through the Spirit to comprehend the incomprehensible love of Christ which surpasses all human knowledge so that she may come to be filled with all the fullness of God.
Paul prays for his converts – for their growth, development and maturity as Christians –that they may appreciate and desire the power in their lives of the Spirit which is God’s gift to them. The source of power in the believer’s life is the Holy Spirit and that power can accomplish miracles – outwardly, but especially inwardly, invisibly.. It is only through this strengthening that they/we can provide a dwelling place for Christ in our hearts and finally be filled up with all the fullness of God. Elsewhere, Paul has described Christ as the One ‘in whom the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell’. Now, amazingly, this can be said of us too.
That word ‘dwell’ is somewhat archaic and has become a bit ‘special’ since we practically never use it now except in this kind of religious context of ‘indwelling’. But it seems that the Greek word used here is a very ordinary everyday word meaning ‘to be at home’ to be able to settle down and be comfortable. So we are praying that, with the aid of the Spirit, the hospitality of our hearts may be such that our Guest can settle in comfortably and be completely at home with us – and we with him.
The addendum to Paul’s prayer is surely one of the most wonderfully encouraging verses in all of scripture – that by the power at work within us God can – and will – accomplish abundantly not only far more than we can achieve but far more than we can imagine or hope for. At least a part of us tends to think we have to do it ourselves. Perhaps though a kind of pride we want to do it ourselves. But I find myself saying: ‘Of course you can’t do it but the growth, the spiritual maturing, the transformation, will gradually be accomplished.. The creative word of God, who saw the possibility of you in the first place, is going forth continually to create you and will not return without accomplishing what it set out to do – and that’s beyond your wildest dreams. I think of the lovely saying of John O’Donoghue:
You have a special destiny here.
And behind the façade of your life there is something
beautiful, good and eternal happening.
Mary Oliver says: We live with mysteries too marvellous to be understood. And these are everyday, ordinary-life mysteries..
Our ordinary, everyday lives are not ordinary. That’s where we find God, where God finds us and works in us. Our human life is very precious – God’s first and greatest gift to us. Our best response to the gift is to live it – as fully as possible. The other day I came across a proposed ‘Rule of Life’ for someone desiring to live a contemplative, spiritual life. The first item was: ‘Each day should include a commitment to live life to the hilt – deliberately, creatively, passionately and naturally’ . We are called always to choose life – what promotes, enhances, enriches life for ourselves and others.. It is sin to choose what denies, diminishes or destroys life. Many people would see what Sabine is doing today as life-denying or life-diminishing in some way..
Of course, it isn’t. Rowan Williams highlights the distinction between rejection and renunciation. Renunciation doesn’t reject anything but
deliberately chooses to limit one’s choices for the future in order to channel one’s energies and gifts in a particular direction.. Every major
decision in any life involves renunciation, which is not impoverishment
but quite the opposite.
When I think of the power at work beneath the surface of our lives, I think of the Irish idea of neart De, the power, the creative energy of God. In Glendalough we see it everywhere but we seem to reflect on it especially in Trinity church, built a thousand years ago of stones formed 500.000.000 years ago. Its massive stones hold and radiate strength, stability. You often see a tiny seedling emerging from a microscopic space between stones or a wagtail swoops unerringly into a tiny hole where she has discovered space to rear her nestlings. On a bank beside the church there is an ash tree – many roots exposed and visible, clinging precariously to rocks and crumbling stony soil. The original old tree is a rotting stump (alive with insect and other life) but from the roots spring six or seven vigorous young trees now 30 ft. tall. And out at the extremities of the spreading roots tiny new shoots are appearing. You have all seen the same phenonomen at home where fragile seedlings come through inches of tarmac or hairline cracks in a cement pavement. That amazing thrust towards life is awesome. It is in us, too, on a spiritual level and will not be thwarted.
Today, February 1st, is the ancient Irish festival of Imbolg – one of the four great yearly festivals. It is often referred to as a celebration of spring – but we know it’s not yet spring, it’s still very much winter! There may be some snowdrops or crocuses but a snowdrop doesn’t make a spring. What we celebrate rather is the first intimations and promise of spring to come – the renewal of life and the growth that we know is taking place underground and still unseen.
Imbolg became the feast of St.. Brigid, which Sabine has noted on the liturgy booklet. The legendary Brigid is a threshold person, always between two worlds. A major theme of her legends – deriving from goddess myths – is nourishment and fertile life in abundance, even over-the-top superabundance, and generosity to match. But apart from the goddess-derived stories we get glimpses of the holy woman. She travelled a lot and we see her deep in prayer and contemplation as she rides along in her chariot. (She wasn’t driving, she had a charioteer – don’t try it in the car unless you have a chauffeur!) Her obituary in the Annals tells us simply that she never turned her mind or attention from God for the space of one hour but was constantly meditating or thinking of him in her heart and mind. And this contemplation was evident in her life of service. (She sounds like a good Dominican – one thinks of Dominic never speaking except to or about God.
I don’t know whether it’s in honour of Brigid that Sabine has included traditional Irish material in the liturgy or maybe this would have been there anyway. She has chosen very well – all are authentic and representative ancient Irish texts, beautifully expressing Irish spirituality. The Trinitarian and Christ-centred prayer (of the tenth century) from the most famous of the ‘Breastplate’ prayers catches perfectly the character and spirit of this beautiful prayer –and the majority of traditional Irish prayers. The lovely 900-year-old hymn Deus meus also is typically Irish in form and content. It is one of a number of macaronic hymns, i.e. alternating two languages; in this case Latin and Irish. The form is simple, direct, repetitive; the content a repeated, insistent, passionate plea for the gift of the love of God.. The Columba blessing, with its poetic rhythm brings in the favourite metaphor of path and journey, so often found in Irish blessings.
I find myself recently exchanging this metaphor for an even more dynamic one – that of streams. Rather than setting out on a path- in response to a call, we embark on a particular stream. Choosing this stream we commit our energies and gifts to shaping and deepening this channel so that its waters can flow abundantly and unimpeded – directly towards the sea. Having embarked we must row – and row hard – while knowing that rowing wouldn’t get us far were it not for the strong current beneath our bow and the wind of the Spirit in our sails., which will carry us forward until eventually we reach that immense ocean of Love which is our destination and our destiny, and where we will finally be filled with all the fullness of God.
I wish Sabine – and all of us – FAIR SAILING!
Sr Genevieve Mooney O.P