Several weeks ago, Sister Marge Kulage, M.M., died. I was with Sister Marge. She was 107 years old.
Shortly before her gentle departure from this world, I said the words of our vow form to help her renew her promise of faithfulness to God, hoping she could still hear. With a few other Sisters, we sang the Salve Regina. Later a larger number of Sisters came to her bedside when they heard of her death. I’m filled with the wonder of life…the Mystery of Life.
With each person’s opportunity to live, we choose how we want to live. Marge chose to give herself wholeheartedly to continuing the mission of Jesus as a Maryknoll Sister.
I knew her best from her work in the Philippines, where I, too, had the privilege of working. Her enthusiasm and joy of living was catching. We know that in death, “life is changed, not taken away,” so we rejoice with Sister Marge on the gift of eternal life.
May all of us grow in our appreciation of the gift of life, that will lead us into eternal life.
It is a very special weekend, beginning with Sr. Marie Patrice Kehoe’s entrance into her new life (in heaven) on August 9 to Mara Rutten’s entrance into canonical year yesterday evening, and now this celebration of Juana Encalada and Susan Wanzagi’s First Vows commitment. We are grateful for all these events that speak of new life – as do today’s readings that were chosen by Juana and Susan.
The first reading from Jeremiah is an apt description of their call – and ours as well. Even before they were born, we are told, they were set apart and appointed as prophets, as messengers, to the nations.
Yes, Susan and Juana surely fit this description. Their lives and the connections with Maryknoll could be a homily in itself. Sister Bitrina has already named some of these connections in her introduction. I will name a few more because we know that relationships are at the heart of mission.
Both of Susan’s parents were taught by Maryknoll Sisters in Tanzania. (These include Srs. Josephine Lucker, Noreen McCarthy, Pat Hafey, Ann Klaus and Marion Hughes.) Her family of 13 belonged to a Maryknoll parish (Zanaki). Susan was baptized by a Maryknoll priest – none other than our celebrant today, Fr. Ed Dougherty! When Sr. Connie Krautkremer spoke at her high school in Mwanza, Susan felt called to join us. How could she ignore all those connections to Maryknoll and to global mission!
Truly, God has been with you, Susan, preparing you for this moment, nurturing and strengthening the vocation that was planted in you even before you were born.
Juana also received the call long before she was born. Her ancestors from generations past were among the early converts to Catholicism in Peru. Her parents nurtured the faith in Juana and her nine brothers and sisters. Juana also grew up in a Maryknoll parish (Arequipa) and was taught by Maryknoll Sisters, among them Srs. Jeremy Crowley, Louise Notaro and Teresita Perez. Sister Helen Phillips was the principal of the secondary school that she attended. Juana joined a lay mission group founded by Maryknollers (none other than our very own Sr. Peg Hennessey and Fr. Tom Garrity, our Sr. Rosemary’s brother). Juana worked with the poor as a lay missioner in Tacna, Peru, for four years, and there she met Sr. Marie Lynch who planted the seed of a cross-cultural vocation in her. Her call then took her several continents away to Cambodia where she shared her life with women and children living with AIDS and with children with special needs for the next 12 years.
We rejoice, Juana, that your journey has come full circle as you return to Maryknoll and renew your commitment to mission with us.
The reassuring words of Jeremiah ring so true in both of your lives: “Do not be afraid for I am with you and will rescue you.”
In the second reading, the wise and prophetic words of Mother Mary Joseph remind us what should be uppermost in our lives.
“Whether we are working, praying, sleeping or at recreation,” she tells us, “we must be aware of God’s presence.” In other words, everything is holy, everything is touched by God. These words can guide us as we prepare for our General Assembly of Maryknoll Sisters in a few weeks – aware of the presence of God in all that we do.
Pope Francis puts it this way: “A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with her, speaks to her, breathes with her, works with her. She senses Jesus alive with her in the midst of the missionary enterprise.”
Today’s Gospel reading is another way of saying the same thing. (We heard the same reading last night and Mara’s moving reflection.) The treasure in the field, the pearl of great price – these are none other than the awareness of God’s presence in our lives and in our world. This awareness we are told is worth more than all worldly possessions and we give up all else to obtain it as Mara, Susan and Juana have done. They left careers, homes, language, culture and even their families because they have found the treasure and don’t want to lose it. What makes this treasure so different is that we don’t want to hide it and hoard it for ourselves. Our call to mission is a call to share this treasure with others.
This urge to share the treasure reminds me of a recent reflection by Brother Bill Firmin, Director of Solidarity with South Sudan, about mission to South Sudan. He begins by quoting a commercial – “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Brother Bill comments: “A person in his or her home place can feel very safe, especially if the home country appears nowhere on any list of most fragile states.” (South Sudan now heads that list, overtaking Somalia.)
He tells us: “Religious men and women who have committed to give their lives to help others, live out that commitment by leaving the safety of the harbor – that is what they are for.”
Juana and Susan, you chose to join Maryknoll because you are ready to leave the safety of the harbor – whether it be Tanzania, Peru or the United States. Today you proclaim by this public witness that you will seek and share the treasure in whichever fragile state it may take you because that is what we Maryknoll Sisters are for. You will not fear because you trust the words of the prophets Mother Mary Joseph Rogers and Jeremiah. God is with you and with all of us as we celebrate this sacred call!
— Sister Janice McLaughlin, MM
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