Fr. Roger J. Landry
Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, Summit, NJ
Mass of Thanksgiving for the Silver Jubilee of Profession of
Sr. Mary Catharine of Jesus, OP
November 10, 2018
Is 61:9-11, Ps 34, 1 Pet 1:3-9, Jn 15:9-17
To listen to an audio copy of today’s homily, please click below:
The following text guided the homily:
Beloved Dominican Nuns,
Friends and Family of Sr. Mary Catharine of Jesus,
Members of the Dominican Family,
Friends of the Monastery,
Brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Convened in Thanksgiving
What a great joy it is to join you today in thanking God for the gift of this monastery and for the 100 years of praise it has offered him unceasingly since its foundation October 2, 1919.
We thank him for drawing to himself here so many nuns over the past century to seek his face, to petition for God’s mercy and the community’s, to contemplate the truth and share the fruits of their prayerful study with us, to praise, bless and preach God by their vocation and very presence.
And we thank and praise him in a particular way for the grace and favor he has showered upon Sr. Mary Catharine Perry, not only during the past quarter century, but stretching back to her conception and birth, her baptismal spiritual adoption and consecration at two months old, her formation in the school of Christian faith, hope and love at home and by the Sister Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at IHM school, and so many other of the seeds he planted over the course of her life that have germinated and flourished in the garden of this monastery.
“It is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere” to give God thanks, we pray in the heart of every Mass, but today we do so with special fervor, joy and additional gratitude, asking him to continue to bless Sr. Mary Catharine and all the nuns of this monastery and to bring to completion the good work he has begun in them to the praise of his glory.
Passionate Love for the Lord and for Humanity
“The consecrated life,” Pope Francis wrote two years ago in his Apostolic Constitution on women’s contemplative life, Vultum Dei Quaerere,“is a history of passionate lovefor the Lord and for humanity.” The contemplative nun seeks to fulfill to the highest degree the command to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength (Lk 10:27), to seek him as the “one thing necessary” (Lk 10:42), to choose him as the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:45-46) and to envelope herself within the mystery of a total and exclusive love.
That love is the only thing that can explain what happens when a young woman crosses the threshold of the enclosure. She does so not just in response to the Lord’s calling her, but because she has fallen totally, head over heels in love with God, the Bridegroom of the Church, the mystical Bridegroom of her soul, who loves her despite all her weaknesses and failings and seeks to cleanse her by water and the Word and adorn her with his own virtue.
For a Dominican nun, following the Rule of St. Augustine, this passionate love is front and center. “Before all else, dear Sisters,” St. Augustine says in the very first words of the rule, “love God and then your neighbor, because these are the chief commandments given to us.”
This is the love that Sr. Mary Catharine mentioned as the essence of her contemplative life in a vocational reflection published in Visionmagazine, when she wrote, “Acceptance of my cloistered vocation was not easy but in saying ‘yes’ to the Lord, I slowly became filled with a quiet joy. I was in love and the One I with whom I was in love would never abandon me.”
This love was what she thanked God for most abundantly in the introduction of her appropriately entitled beautiful little book on life within the monastery, Amata Means Beloved, when she said, “I thank God … most especially for the gift of being a spouse of Christ Jesus as a Dominican contemplative nun.”
This is the love in which she has, with God’s help and her sisters’, sought to grow in here, since she entered as a postulant on the Solemnity of the Epiphany in 1991.
“I was in love in my first days in the monastery,” she wrote candidly in the Visionarticle, “but it was more infatuation and self-centeredness. Now, as thecommunity became my community, I realized that the expression of the love for my Beloved was to be measured by my love for my sisters in Christ. I began to see that fidelity was not in one grand pronouncement of vows but in choosing every day to surrender to Christ and approach each day, doing everything with love.”
A passionate love in response to Christ’s love
That’s why the texts chosen for this Mass are so fitting.
In the Gospel, Jesus says to every nun and every disciple, “Just as the Father loves me, so I love you.” Jesus loves us with a personal love, the type of personal love that would make St. Paul exclaim in his letter to the Galatians, “The Son of God …loved me and gave his life for me” (Gal 2:20).
Jesus gives us a two-fold command in response to that gift.
The first is, “Remain in my love.” So often we can try to run away from a love so pure, because we know we’re unworthy of it, just like St. Peter, at his initial call, begged Jesus, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus doesn’t want us to flee from, but to abide in and believe in the love that he has for us. “Remain in my love.” Then he tells us how: “You will remain in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” And his commandments can be summarized, as Jesus himself told us, in the command to love God with all we have and to love one another as he has loved us first. He didn’t say, “Love me as I have loved you,” but, what is his second command, “Love one another as I have loved you.” When he asked St. Peter three times after the Resurrection whether he loved him, and three times Peter replied that he did, Jesus told him, “Feed my sheep. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep.” Peter’s love for the Lord would be shown in his love for others. So will a nun’s. So will each of ours.
That’s why the family is so important. That’s why the Church is so important. That’s why the monastery is so important. Each is meant to be a school in which this type of love is mutually practiced as it takes on the characteristics St. Paul famously describes in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
The fruit of being loved and becoming love
And when we remain in Jesus’ love and love others as he has loved us, with the characteristics St. Paul just described, Jesus says there is a clear and unmistakable fruit: joy. “I have told you this,” the Lord states, “so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” Joy is the fruit of love. It’s what happens when we know we’re loved infinitely by God and live for others with that overflowing love.
This is the joy produced by this two-fold love that Isaiah sings about in the first reading, “I will rejoice heartily in the Lord, my being exults in my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation and wrapped me in a robe of justice like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem.” Christ envelopes us in the habit of his love and we can’t but exult.
This is the joy St. Peter mentions in today’s epistle, when he says, “In this you rejoice,” with the “this” being the Lord’s giving us new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus, to an imperishable, undefiled, and unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us by God, a living hope based on love that can help us persevere through various trials as our faith is tested in fire, because we know, with St. Paul, that nothing in all of creation — not even death or the sword —can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:31-39).
This is the joy we all referred to in the Entrance Antiphon, “Laetetur cor quaerentium Dominum,” “Let the heart of those seeking the Lord rejoice,” because those who seek the Lord will not just find him but find him loving them and giving them all the help them need to remain in that love, live in it, and love others with it.
The spousal dimension of this passionate love
This is the passionate love for the Lord and humanity that characterizes the monastic life and is the alpha and the omega of the vocation and mission of contemplative nuns, each of whom seeks, as the words from Pope Benedict printed in the program express so powerfully, to be “on fire with [God’s] incandescent love” and thereby “transformed into the splendor of his beauty.” That transformation happens as each nun becomes yoked, literally con-jugumor spousally bound, to the obedient, poor, chaste, prayerful Christ, who unites them inwardly to his incandescent heart.
This spousal dimension is very important to every nun and to Sr. Mary Catharine in particular. She wrote in one of her vocational reflections that she seeks with God’s mercy to live her whole life as a response to Christ the Bridegroom’s marriage proposal, to be a perpetual “I do!,” a “fiat!”, a “yes.”
“I have struggled with my vocation and sometimes wanted to say, ‘No!,’ she said, “but also I knew I’d never be happy unless my life was a continual ‘YES!’ My profession ring is engraved with ‘+forever yes+’ as my way of reflecting my desire to live the mystery of the Annunciation.”
Forever yes, within the mystery of the Cross, as a Bride of the Crucified Christ, whose life was a yes.
She described in one of her vocational reflections, “At Solemn Profession, much to my surprise, I experienced what I can only describe as an ontological change in myself. It happened when I was prostrate during the Litany of the Saints. When I got up from the floor I was not the same person. It was the sense that I belonged to Jesus as spouse. Before it was ‘bride’ and after that I became spouse.”
St. John Paul II appositely wrote, “To the gift of Christ the Bridegroom, who on the Cross offered his body unreservedly, the nun responds in like terms with the gift of the ‘body,’ offering herself with Jesus Christ to the Father and cooperating with him in the work of redemption.”
The Marian dimension of this passionate love
So her response aspires to be “+forever yes+” with regard to the Cross. It also seeks to be a perpetual fiat in imitation of the one whom the Church calls the summa contemplatrix, the exemplar of the contemplative heart of a nun, Mary. Like all the nuns, Sr. Mary Catharine wants to echo with her life the Blessed Virgin’s, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” which she and the sisters have meditated on for a century not just in the first mystery of the Rosary, but in all of the mysteries, including on Calvary.
The Eucharistic dimension of this passionate love
That “+forever yes+” as a spouse of Christ also has a special Eucharistic meaning. It’s through the reception of Holy Communion that a nun, and in fact every disciple, participates in the consummation of the spousal union between Christ and his Bride the Church. The baldachin over the main altar is a representation of the Jewish chuppah, the canopy that was placed over the couple as they expressed matrimonial consent and then was placed over their marriage bed later as they who had been joined in one flesh by God consummated that one flesh union. The baldachin is placed over the altar to give witness that the altar is the marriage bed of the union between Christ and his Bride the Church, as we, the Bride of Christ, receive the Body of the Bridegroom within in Holy Communion become one flesh with Him and made capable of bearing fruit with him in acts of love.
This spousal, Eucharistic communion led St. John Paul II to write that the cloister is a “response to the absolute love of God for his creature and the fulfillment of his eternal desire to welcome the creature into the mystery of intimacy with the Word, who gave himself as Bridegroom in the Eucharist and remains in the tabernacle as the heart of full communion with him, drawing to himself the entire life of the cloistered nun in order to offer it constantly to the Father (cf.Heb7:25).”
That’s what gives “a Eucharistic quality to the whole of cloistered life,” he continued, because it’s not just “sacrifice and expiation but thanksgiving to the Father, sharing in the thanksgiving [eucharistein] of Christ himself.”
That Eucharistic Thanksgiving is what characterizes the life of every nun in this Monastery in the perpetual adoration of Jesus in the Monstrance, a thanksgiving in which each of us have been privileged to share, adoring the Lord with them, and benefitting from the constant stream of prayers the nuns offer before him for us and the world, with loving hearts and praying hands.
Knowing the Lord’s love through vigilant, persevering faith
When Sr. Mary Catharine entered this monastery, the most difficult thing for her to adjust to was to getting up early in the morning before 5 am for adoration and to stay awake and prayerfully vigilant before the Lord. One day, however, the verse from the liturgy of the hours, “In the morning let me know your love, for I put my trust in you” (Ps 143:8), leaped off the page and into her heart. She soon would make these words the last prayer she would say at night as she drifted off to sleep: “Make me know your love,” expressing her trust that the Lord would give her the grace to keep up the struggle!
Today, we thank the Lord for having given her that grace for 25 years, the grace to keep fighting the good fight, running the race — if even on a bad ankle! —and keeping the faith with the help of his mercy and the monastery’s.
We thank the Lord for helping her to know his love and to share that love with us.
We ask him, through the intercession of her holy father St. Dominic, to bless her not just by renewing in her the love she had at first (Rev 2:4) in all its holy freshness, but granting her an even greater knowledge of the way he loves her as the Father loves him, so that she might become more and more a living witness of the passionate, incandescent, Marian, virginal, spousal, Eucharistic love that characterizes the contemplative life, as she continues to conform her life to the “+forever yes+” that has bound her to Christ’s yes now and into eternity.
Praised be Jesus Christ!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah
Their descendants shall be renowned among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; All who see them shall acknowledge them as a race the LORD has blessed. I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; For he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, So will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.
Responsorial Psalm — “I will bless the Lord at all times”
I will bless the LORD at all times;
praise shall be always in my mouth
My soul will glory in the LORD
that the poor may hear and be glad.
Magnify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, who answered me,
delivered me from all my fears.
Look to God that you may be radiant with joy
and your faces may not blush for shame.
In my misfortune I called,
the LORD heard and saved me from all distress.
The angel of the LORD, who encamps with them,
delivers all who fear God.
Learn to savor how good the LORD is;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
A reading from the FirstLetter of St. Peter
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls.
I am the Vine, you are the branches, says the Lord: whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.
To download a copy of the program for today’s special Mass, please click below:
SMC JUBILEE BOOKLET