A missionary life
Well, I’d say there was a great tumult in heaven last Sunday morning when all the musicians, singers and choirs heard of the immanent arrival of Sister Mary Cecilia – queen of choirs and musicians. And we can be sure that the Delany saints, in full voice, were on hand to form the welcoming committee. The last of a generation had arrived to be with her family in the abiding beauty of God’s presence.
As God welcomes Sister Cecilia home, we reflect briefly upon the harvest which this bold-hearted missionary offers back to him. And we begin with what the psalmist reminds us: ‘They go out …full of tears, carrying seeds for the sowing.’
The seed of Sister Mary Cecilia’s missionary religious vocation was well-nurtured, if not fully recognised, within the deep and daring faith of the Delany family on the broad plains of Co Meath. However, when this treasured daughter, Teresa, spoke of her dream of joining the Sisters of a fledgling congregation – the Missionary Sisters of St Columban – in Co. Clare, and of going as one of them to the mission fields China, the family’s faith was severely tested. Teresa’s going to China might mean that they would never see her again – that being the understanding within the Congregation at the time of its foundation. And although Teresa went forth from Meath ‘with tears’, carrying her seeds for sowing, she was soon swept into the vision and zeal of her companions in Cahiracon.
Shanghai, the scene of her first missionary assignment abroad, both challenged and enriched her. In addition to her responsibility as a classroom teacher, she became caught up in the magnificent Russian-toned chant of Byzantine liturgy as celebrated by the Russian émigrés whom she served. This music was to have a lasting influence on further music studies.
Having left Shanghai for political reasons, and spending a short time in Hong Kong, she was welcomed warmly by the Filipino people, and here in her much loved Land of the Morning Calm she had ample scope for sharing her musical and teaching talents, as well as her remarkable gift of wisdom in advising others. Many a lifelong friend was made in both Shanghai and the Philippines.
Sister’s devotion to her patron, St Therese, patron of the missions, was the lifeline which supported her missionary efforts to be what Isaiah tells us in our first reading: ‘a light to the nations, to carry God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.’ Like St Therese, she gave herself to the easing the thirst of her Lord – his thirst to have all peoples experience the love of his Father, and eventually live as one in his Kingdom. This I believe explains the motto which she took on the day of her final Profession. Her motto was: ‘I thirst.
Cecilia was no idler, and when circumstances in her life required that she return to Ireland permanently, her zeal for God’s Kingdom was in no way diminished. Through her gift for one-on-one music teaching, she availed of every opportunity to guide her pupils, not only towards excellence in musicianship, but also, and for her more importantly, to steadfastness in their faith. To her companions in the school faculty she gave witness to the great generosity of God and his compassion towards those who suffer.
And of course, for Cecilia, there were no people on earth like the Delany family. She glowed in their every success, and we can only imagine how radiant that glow was when Ronnie won his Olympic gold. She shared all their worries and prayed for each one, while at the same time keeping a close eye on how they behaved themselves.
Our readings today reflect the origin and agenda of missionary vocation, and offer the means by which this vocation is fulfilled, namely:
The family environment as origin;
Membership in a Congregation as guide, means and support,
Unremitting trust in the Lord of love, Lord of all peoples and nations, as guarantee of fruitfulness.
Cecilia may have left Co. Meath full of the tears of which the psalmist spoke, but she has come back to her Lord, ‘full of song’ carrying the grain-laden sheaves of her sowing:
– the peoples whose lives she touched and graced,
– the communities she enriched with her gifts and generosity,
– the sacrifices she made in the course of her missionary life, and
– the peace with which God eased the final steps of her journey Home – that peace which
is guarantee of the greeting: ‘Well-done, Cecilia!’
May she bask in the joy of heaven forever!