Hong Kong, China – 29 April 2012
Proverbs 8:35 “Those who find me find life” (from the 1st Reading of the Mass)
Sr. Joan O’Connor whose Golden Jubilee we are celebrating today found life and has received God’s blessing and for the last 50 years she has in her own way tried to share that life and God’s blessing with the weakest in Society.
So is a great joy and honor to be here to celebrate with you the Golden Jubilee of Sr. Joan O’Connor. Fifty years of religious life is not to be sneezed at. It is a wonderful thing and we thank God and we thank Joan for her service to God and the Missionary Sisters of St Columban. I first met Joan in 1983 when I passed through Hong Kong on my way to Taiwan for the first time as and OTP student. I was with her cousin Mick Goulding. She saved my life as having stopped in India and Thailand on the way I was badly dehydrated and very sick. And here we are 29 years later still alive
I had a lunch meeting with Joan in preparation for today and I would like to share with you 5 quotes from that meeting…”No, no you can’t say that.” x 5…
The actual date of Joan’s profession was April 26th. It was after stints in Magheramore, training to be a nurse and promotion work in Ireland and England with Mary Mortell, that she came to Hong Kong. I got the impression that she really enjoyed the promotion work as she said to me: “It was great I was able to let my imagination have free reign about the missions as I had never been there”.
When I met with Joan during the week to discuss this celebration I was struck with how grateful she was. Joan Is grateful for the life and the mission that she is living in God. Gratitude is the ultimate and original virtue and its opposite is the original sin. There is a Jewish folk tale that runs something like this:
There was a young man who aspired to great holiness. After some time at working to achieve it he went to see his rabbi. “Rabbi”, he announced, “I think I have achieved sanctity.”
“Why do you think that?” asked the Rabbi. “Well”, responded the young man, “I’ve been practicing virtue and discipline for some time now and I have grown quite proficient at them. From the time the sun rises until it sets, I take not food or water. All day long I do all kinds of hard work for others and I never expect to be thanked. If I have temptations of the flesh, I roll in the snow or in thorn bushes until they go away, and then at night, before I go to bed, I practice the ancient monastic discipline of and administer lashes to my bare back. I have disciplined myself so as to become holy.
The rabbi was silent for a time. Then he took the young man by the arm and led him to a window and pointed to an old horse, which was just being led away by its master.
“I have been observing that horse for some time,” the rabbi said, “and I’ve noticed that it doesn’t get fed or watered from morning to night. All day long it has to do work for people and it never gets thanked. I often see it rolling in the snow or in bushes, as horses are prone to do, and frequently I see it get whipped. But, I ask you: Is that a saint or a horse?”
In popular thought there is a common spiritual equation: saint = horse. The more difficult something is the better and the closer to God. That is not necessarily true and is often simply wrong.
To be a saint is to be motivated, not by a desire to suffer and have a really difficult life, but by gratitude. Everything is gift nothing is mine by right. The sin of Adam and Eve was first and foremost the sin of not receiving in gratitude. God gives them everything and only asks them to receive it in gratitude. But instead they took the apple as if it were theirs by right rather than the gratuitous gift of God.
Joan has received everything with gratitude and her faith is incarnational. There is a story of a young girl who is in her room in bed and she is a little afraid of being alone in the dark. Her mother comes into the room to comfort her. “there, there she says you are not alone…God is in the room with you,” her mother said. “I know God is in the room,” says the little girl,” but I want someone with skin.” Her work with the spastic association and her involvement in rehabilitation and training program has meant that directly and indirectly Joan has been God’s skin in the world and touched the lives of countless people.
I think, for Joan, Columban life and spirituality is summed up in the Gospel she choose from John. She has remained in God’s love and she has tried to love as God Loves. She has in a real way laid down her life for her friends, the weakest and most vulnerable in China.
When I asked you what was your greatest joy you didn’t mention setting up training programs or training many doctors and nurses in China, You mentioned helping a little boy Lee Mer to walk and gain some measure of independence in his life. On behalf of all the Lee Mer’s in whose life you made a difference we say thank you. May you grow deeper into the mystery of God’s Love as you begin the next phase of your missionary journey.
Fr Eamon Sheridan SSC