31 May 2012 – Magheramore, Wicklow
When Srs. Valery and Eileen asked me to give the Homily for their Diamond Jubilee, I immediately said, “Why me?” I don’t have that calibre like Sisters so and so… But as they stated the reasons why, I began to mellow down and said, “Well, it is a big challenge for me but I accept that challenge”.
As I initially reflected on what to say today, I was brought back to the memory on how I first met Srs.Valery and Eileen. I met Sr.Valery before I entered when I was working as a Private Nurse with the Columban Fathers in Singalong in the Philippines. We were introduced informally at the hospital because my patient, Fr. Vinny Lyons, was admitted that time. I did not realize then that Sr. Valery was already eyeing on me to become a Columban! So, when I entered, I had the chance to get to know her and witness this hardworking pastoral minister working in the squatter’s area of San Juan. I, a young novice, personally found it quite inspiring, seeing this foreigner walking along in the inner world of my poor Filipino brothers and sisters living in the slum area. Her youthful energy and enthusiasm gained friendship among the poor and rich alike. Even until now many people ask for her.
I lived with Sr.Eileen in Canto Grande during my early years in Peru. I had the privilege of witnessing her Golden Jubilee celebration which was celebrated in a real Peruvian style. The many friends she had forged among the people, clergy and religious communities spoke a lot of what a missionary is all about. She gave her all and she was loved in return. That celebration which lasted for a week was quite an inspiration for me as I witnessed for the first time a missionary moving on after so many years of dedicated service.
The motto of Sr. Valery which is “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Jesus and Mary” and Sr. Eileen,” Jesus meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine”, show their unconditional commitment and YES to Jesus as they bring people closer to God and to His good news. The many places that these two brave women, who are also nurses, have trod in the different mission places (Dalgan, Dublin, Hong Kong, Philippines, Stevenston, Ashford, Hyde Park and the Shanty towns of Lima) have certainly been blessed by their gentle presence and dedicated service for the poor and the sick. Certainly, Jesus has been their companion and strength in all those times when their faith was tried and tested, as well as in times of joy, and in events where they experienced God’s love and care unfolding.
Today, we joyfully share with them as they celebrate their Diamond Jubilee. It’s a time to give thanks and recall all the graces they received. It’s a moment to celebrate the happiness of two women whose lives speak of God’s love. And maybe we can also look back on our own missionary journeys and renew our commitment to God as we face the challenges before us in today’s context.
There is certainly a call to re-focus what we are about as followers of Jesus. Saying this, maybe we need to revisit who Jesus was and is for us in this present time. A Jesus who manifested his humanity ordinarily at the heart of people’s lives and has a distinctive style of loving. He grappled with them in their quest for justice, freedom from oppression, illnesses, and was very sensitive to their suffering. Jesus’ aim was to create a sense of communion while respecting diversity. Unless we renew our sense of focus and our commitment, we will continue to be divided as a church in our views, values and in our way of looking at things. There is a need to reflect on our personal call which demands a re-commitment on our part. Of course there is no easy way out but by doing this hopefully; we can revive something that will truly hold us together in faith as we address the on-going challenges of our religious commitment. There is no doubt that this is the poverty that we are all facing as part of God’s flock at this time.
As Fr. Jose Antonio Pagola, a Spanish priest from the Voice of the margins of the Catholics in Latin America said, “The Gospel of Jesus in the light of the questions, problems, sufferings and hopes of our time is the most important pastoral tool for renewing the Church today, since it contains the most powerful force and energy to regain our identity”. As Missionaries we are continually invited to strengthen that identity of being at the heart of where the poor and marginalized in our society are. And this is what we are witnessing and celebrating at this moment- a life of complete dedication given for the Kingdom of God.
As you, Sisters Valery and Eileen, celebrate your 60 years of faithful service on this feast of the Visitation of Our Lady, I am sure that both of you are also uttering the words of Our Lady that we hear from today’s Gospel:
“MY SOUL PROCLAIMS THE GREATNESS OF THE LORD.
MY SPIRIT EXULTS IN GOD MY SAVIOUR.
THE MIGHTY ONE HAS DONE GREAT THINGS FOR ME.
HOLY IS HIS NAME!”
So, Sr. Valery, MALIGAYANG ANIBERSARYO and Sr. Eileen, FELIZ ANIVERSARIO!
You are certainly part of the remarkable legacy of women religious in our congregation and an inspiration to all of us.
God bless you both.