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News inserted on 22/09/2012

Reflection given by Sr Virginia Fornasa smsm during Jubilee Mass

SMSM SistersSisters, you have chosen such wonderful scripture readings for the celebration of your jubilee!

In the Gospel, we have a passage that goes right to the heart of our missionary vocation: that in union with Jesus we “bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk414-21) - a year of jubilee… Some in this group have taken “the year of jubilee” very seriously, and began celebrating months ago and will continue, no doubt… But this is very appropriate, for the Lord has done great things through you, as the first reading says “more than we could ever ask for or imagine.”

“…far more than we could ever ask for or imagine”…In our Constitutions we have the advice that “like Mary, we are to move forward in faith, welcoming the unexpected.” We sometimes joke about this when we talk about a day when we planned one thing and ended up doing something quite different. (What did you do today? Oh, I was busy welcoming the unexpected!)

SMSM SistersBut these Sisters - especially those celebrating 50 years as SMSM – Anne, Mary Anne, Christina, Mary Cletus and Mary Jane - have faced “the unexpected” in a much larger context than just the everyday.

You may have heard of an ancient Chinese curse that says: “May you live in a time of great change!”

Well our golden Jubilarians entered the Marist Missionary Sisters in1959! They made their novitiate in the idyllic quiet of the beautiful woods of Bedford. Little did they know that in pursuing their dream to become missionaries they had stepped into a canoe headed for a waterfall – the turbulent rapids of the 1960’s and the 70’s, when North American culture was turned upside down and every institution began to be mistrusted, when the Church would begin to try to face the challenge of “aggiornamento” – adapting to modern times – that was called for by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council; also when some of the newly independent 3rd world countries began to close the doors to missionaries in one way or another…

SMSM SistersIn 1962 when these Sisters made their first vows in Bedford, they could not have foreseen all that lay ahead. But they committed themselves wholeheartedly – in words that you will soon hear them repeat - to “the Most Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to share in the mission of Jesus, “in the manner of Mary”, wherever that would lead.

I am sure that when you were given your first mission “destination” – whether to Peru or Fiji, or Bougainville – you would have thought, based on the experience of so many Sisters before you, that this would be “your mission” for the rest of your life. In the mid 1960’s you were told that you would be permitted to visit home “every 10 years!” but you would have expected to return time and again to the same mission area.
SMSM Sisters
Now, from the perspective of 2012, when we look back and see where these Sisters have actually been we know that, though they may have started out in Peru or Fiji or Jamaica or Papua New Guinea, they were called again and again to many other places over the years: including Rwanda, Kiribati, the Chatham Islands, the Virgin Islands, Tennessee, Massachusetts, Florida, and now California. Several Sisters in this group have also spent many years in leadership and formation roles here in the USA, in Australia, and in Rome.

SMSM SistersSr Palepa, who is celebrating her silver jubilee, is from American Samoa and entered the SMSM in New Zealand 25 years after these others. Perhaps at that time she would have expected more changes in her life than the golden Jubilarians did. But even Palepa on the day of her first vows, would not have foreseen that some day, instead of learning a language like Tagalog or Swahili, as she might have imagined, she would find herself learning German and being missioned to the former East Germany. This was a mission unlike all the previous ones we knew – to an area where a Communist government had attempted to drive out all religion. She gave herself wholeheartedly, as did the other sisters there, to the challenges of this new evangelization. But after a number of years, the congregation withdrew from Germany and Palepa was asked to accept yet another unexpected assignment – this time to the USA to prepare for Vocation ministry here.
SMSM Sisters
All of our Jubilarians have been compelled – often by circumstances beyond their control – to change their country of residence and the kind of work they do. Some of these changes have been welcome and life giving; others have been very difficult and painful. Meanwhile the congregation as a whole continues to discern what the meaning of mission is for us SMSM today. “Mission” is at the heart of our vocation – so much so that one general chapter in Rome in the 1980’s debated its meaning for 3 months in order to try to give it adequate expression in our new Constitutions. And we continue to discern the meaning of mission for us to this day – right up to the latest questionnaire that we found in our mailboxes last week!
SMSM Sisters
But while as a congregation we struggle with words and priorities and decisions, you can rest assured, Sisters, that you have been living the mission of God’s presence and action in the world on a daily basis. Whether teaching, caring for the sick, training health care or pastoral workers, founding a home for women victims of trafficking, advocating on behalf of juvenile offenders, counseling people suffering from addictions, working with others to get better housing for the poor, helping immigrants to adapt to a new country, caring for the elderly, or working “behind the scenes” in administration, financial and other services that keep our congregation going, you have by your presence, your care and your work, become “instruments of divine mercy” in the lives of so many people.

Amid all the changes, we have to ask, what is the constant, what has led them to persevere in this way of life for 25 and 50 years? In the face of their energy, their adaptability, their zeal for mission, we have to ask what is the source of their strength and courage?
SMSM Sisters
Today we are graced with the presence of Sr Maria Dara as a visible reminder to us of what that is. Sr Maria Dara also made her first vows with this group of Marist Missionary Sisters 50 years ago in Bedford, and she served for some time as a missionary in Peru. But she came to realize that her vocation was really to the cloistered contemplative life, and she left us (in body but not in spirit) many years ago to join the Poor Clares in Sauk Rapids MN. Later she became a hermit, consecrating her life to prayer in solitude.

I remember when I first met Sr Dara many years ago, I asked her – as I did several others sisters who had left us to join the Poor Clares or the Carmelites – “Did you feel that you could not be a contemplative as a Marist?” She – and all the others- answered, emphatically “no” – a Marist must be a contemplative – but they were called to live it in a different way – in a monastic setting or as a hermit.

For us SMSM, prayer is the “still point” amid the swirl of activities. More than that, it is the true source of our activities. We read in our Constitutions that
“…prayer flows into action,
where we remain united with Him who has overwhelmed us with His love
and in whom we find or joy.
Action sends us back to prayer
Which completes our activity,
Broadens its scope, and directs it towards the glory of God
And the salvation of the world

In our Marist tradition it is expressed in this way: We are called to “intimate and constant union with God and deep love for others.” I think that as we grow into this way of life, we become more and more aware, that if our works, great or small, are not the visible expressions of a life “hidden with Christ in God” – an inner life of love – then they can become just “tinkling brass and sounding gongs” (as St Paul said).

The gift we have been given in being called to be Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary is “far greater than anything we could ever ask for or imagine.” There is not one of us worthy of it. This is a gratuitous gift, a “gracious choice” made by a loving God and, we believe by Mary the Mother of Jesus, who has inspired us to follow her way.

We are amazed, Sisters, at all that you have done, at all that you have accomplished, not without suffering – but even deeper than that is the transformation that has taken place in your lives as a result of trying each day to faithfully follow this way, humbly acknowledging faults and failures, and accepting and rejoicing in the love of a prodigal Father who is always waiting to welcome us home with a great and joyful celebration!

As our Constitutions puts it so well,

23. So that the congregation may fulfill its mandate,
each sister contributes
[not only] by what she does
but by gradually becoming
the person she is called to be:
joyfully given to God
for the Kingdom
in the spirit of Mary.

We rejoice with you today, Sisters, because “The Lord has done great things in you and through you”…”far more than we could ever ask or imagine”… To Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus”. Amen.

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