“The Contemplative Vocation: A Life of Service to the Church”

Homily, 4th Sunday of Lent, Year “A”
Mass of Temporary Profession of Vows of Sr. María Grace de la Dolorosa, A.P.

Introduction: Sources of Joy in the Middle of Lent

We gather today on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, in the midst of this penitential season, a time marked by repentance and fasting, somewhat of a somber tone as we prepare for the glory of Easter. And yet, here in the middle of this penitential season, our ceremony today is marked by great joy in so many ways.

First of all, as every year during Lent on this Fourth Sunday the Church gives us a reminder of the joy that lies ahead, at the end of this forty days of penance, as a way to encourage us to persevere and not give up at this half-way point: it is referred to as “Laetare Sunday,” which comes from the opening antiphon of the Mass, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.” Which is also the significance of the more festive color of rose as the liturgical color for Mass this Sunday. And on top of that, we have the great joy of celebrating the temporary profession of Sister María Grace de la Dolorosa. And if that were not enough, we also have the very unusual coincidence of this Sunday occurring on March 19th, the Solemnity of St. Joseph (although, because it occurs on Sunday, this year will be transferred to tomorrow, March 20th).

Since I’m naturally curious about these kinds of things, I did a little bit of online searching. The next time the Fourth Sunday of Lent will fall on March 19th is 2034; after that, it will happen again in 2045; and that will be the last time for the rest of this century. I’ll look forward to returning here in those two years for more professions of vows; God willing, many more professions of vows!

Jesus’ Modus Operandi

There is, though, something even more liturgically significant on this Sunday, and that is that on these three Sundays in the middle of the Lenten season, the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent, the Gospel readings treat of different aspects of the meaning of Baptism in Christ’s ministry of healing, especially in this Year A of the three-year Lectionary cycle. As Easter approaches, when the initiation sacraments will be celebrated at the great Easter Vigil for those who are preparing to be received into the communion of the Church, the Church has us reflect on the deep meaning of Baptism. And so this Sunday we hear the story of the healing of the man born blind, Baptism being the sacrament of enlightenment – or, as it was called in the ancient Church, the sacrament of “Illumination” – because, giving the gift of faith, it enables one to see things one could not see before, because now one can see with the eyes of faith.

Notice how the Pharisees react to the healed blind man who affirms his belief that Jesus is a prophet: they rebuke him by saying, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Their reaction reflects the belief of people in the ancient world that physical infirmity was the result of sin, not only one’s own sin but it could also be a sin that was inherited from one’s ancestors.

So now think about what it must have been like for this man who was born blind: he was believed to be a manifestation of sin, somehow cursed, and so left out of the polite circles of society. Notice how there is not even any mention of his name in this story. He was a nobody, reduced to begging his whole life. Notice, too, how Jesus works his miracle of love for this no-name nobody to whom he pours out his love and attention: he begins with the physical, in order to move to the deeper spiritual healing the man needs. He recognizes that there is goodness in the man, there is an unconscious disposition to belief: “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’”; “‘Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’” So we see that Jesus is bringing out what was already within him in order to transform him. And then Jesus brings him to faith: “‘You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘I do believe, Lord.’” And then the healing is complete: “… and he worshiped him.”

The Works of God’s Light

The example of the man who was healed from blindness at birth sharply contrasts with that of the Pharisees, marked as they are by spiritual blindness: “… some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.’… They … said to [the man born blind], ‘You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?’ Then they threw him out.”

In this way, Jesus brings out into the light what was already present but hidden in secret, both within the man born blind and in the Pharisees, exposing their spiritual blindness. This is what St. Paul is speaking about in his letter to the Ephesians when he refers to light that produces “every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Darkness, on the other hand, is to be avoided: “Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret.”

As the great Scripture scholar William Barclay explains in his commentary on this passage:

… in the [marketplaces] of the east the shops are often simply little covered enclosures with no windows. A man might wish to buy a piece of silk or an article of beaten brass. Before he buys it he takes it out to the street and holds it up to the sun, so that the light might reveal any flaws which happen to be in it. It is the Christian’s duty to expose every action, every decision, every motive to the light of Christ.

Shameful acts are always performed in darkness. Thieves operate under cover of night. But there is also often goodness hidden deep within people where one might not expect it. With Christ, all is brought out into the light, and without his light there is no healing.

God’s Way

This is God’s consistent pattern of acting, as is abundantly clear from the Bible. We see another example in the calling of David to be the king of Israel as recounted for us in the first reading for Mass today. Notice how David was not even among the seven sons of Jesse whom Jesse presented to the prophet Samuel. The number seven in the Bible represents perfection, or completion, as if to say that Jesse did not have any other son to present to Samuel. David was not even present there at the sacrifice, he was out tending the sheep. And yet, he was the one whom God chose to be king of his people at the time of their greatest strength and unity, he whom Israel thenceforth would always hold up as the ideal king because he never wavered in his loyalty to the God of Israel, despite all of his defects and shortcomings.

And as our attention today and tomorrow turns toward the great St. Joseph, foster-father of our Lord and protector of the universal Church, we see how this pattern unfolds even in the life of the Holy Family. A simple, working class family, a lowly virgin and a quiet hard-working man, with his Son who is God but unnoticed by all, living as they do in an insignificant village.

We cannot help but notice, too, how God continues to work this way in our own time. On this happy occasion of the temporal professional of vows of Sr. María Grace, we see how God has worked this way in her own life, a life marked by its own challenges and hardship: her mother being widowed when Sister was still an infant, left with two daughters to raise as a young now single mother; the hardships of struggling with the threats of poverty; family separation due to the necessities of working to support the family, and all of the heartache which that involves. And yet, it was precisely this experience of suffering that has led Sr. María Grace to discern her call, and make such a beautiful gift of her life to God.

Service to the Church

It is necessary to point out one more important detail of today’s Mass that is very pertinent to what we are about today. St. John takes care to tell us that the name “Siloam” means “Sent.” Jesus ordered the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, symbolic of baptism, which gives the sight of faith. The point of baptism is not to live one’s life for oneself, or even one’s faith for oneself. Christianity is not simply a private affair, but it is meant to be shared, to be spread, to proclaim the Good News by the witness of holiness of life. That is to say, we are to live in Christ’s light, according to the truth that he teaches us, living out the full demands of the Gospel, so that we may be a light for others.

This applies to all vocations in the Church, and in a particular way to that of the contemplative vocation. It is a living out of our baptismal call in a very visible way exclusively focused on life in Christ, as the first question in the Rite of Interrogation makes clear: “Dear Sister: You have already been consecrated to God through water and the Holy Spirit. Do you truly want to unite yourself more intimately with the Lord through Religious profession?”

The rite later makes clear that the consecration of a contemplative religious is one of service to the Church, a privileged way of living the baptismal consecration, as is brought out in the instruction during the Distribution of Emblems, when the newly professed sister is given her veil: “Receive this veil, sign of your consecration to Christ, the Lord and of your handing yourself over to the service of the Church.”

Conclusion: Eucharistic Revival

The service of the consecrated contemplative is above all one of prayer for the Church, a life dedicated exclusively to intercession for God’s holy people, that they might truly be holy and live their own baptismal consecration in their particular vocations in life. The contemplative vocation also serves as a living witness and inspiration to all the faithful, a constant reminder of the centrality of Christ in every disciple’s life, marked as her vocation is by a visible, public profession of the evangelical counsels and binding herself to life in Christ lived out according to the rule of her community.

This call of the consecrated contemplative takes on a particular urgency at this point in the Church’s history, and one for which this community of Perpetual Adorers is providentially suited. As you may know, we are in the first year of a three-year Eucharistic Revival process proclaimed by the bishops of our country, with the vision of renewing Eucharistic faith in our Catholic people. This core Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, truly at the heart of our Catholic identity, is now in sharp decline among self-professed Catholics, due in large part, no doubt, to the secularizing culture in which we live, characterized as it is by the disparaging of the power and relevance of sacred symbols, and of the practice of religion in general.

The vocation of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration is a much needed to gift to the Church at this time, and your presence here in our Archdiocese is a source of abundant grace for us. Thank you for the gift that you are, and may God continue to multiply you with many holy and fervent vocations in the years and decades to come, for the flourishing of your community, the sanctification of our Archdiocese, and the renewal of the Church throughout the world.