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348 Years
Jubilee Mass for Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon
26 July 2015
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Chapel, Beaverton, Oregon
348 years.
That’s 60 for Sr. Elma, Sr. Marie Bernadette, Sr. Marilyn, and Sr.
Marcella, and 50 for Sr. Sara.
And 58 for Sr. Anna Hertel, who ended her earthly ministry
in 2013 just shy of six decades of consecrated life.
348 years of classes in art and science and math and auto mechanics, of
educational administration, of vacation bible school and service to the
homeless and social justice trips to Haiti.
348 years spent in humble service of a Jewish carpenter.
348 years of asking not, “What’s in it for me?” but “How can I be of service to
348 years of finding joy in poverty, chastity, and obedience not for what they
take away, but for what they allow through single-hearted devotion to Jesus.
348 years of making the world more beautiful;
Through Sr. Marie Bernadette’s calligraphy and Sr. Elma’s cake
Sr. Marcella’s table fountains and icons,
and Sr. Marilyn’s lifetime of opening children’s imaginations in her art
classes (I bet they made some glorious creations along the way!)
348 years of courageously preaching the Gospel to high schoolers and
challenging them to see Christ in the homeless, in the immigrant, and—
especially for Sr. Sara—in those who suffer from natural disasters.
348 years of rustling young Christians in Grand Ronde and Spokane, Sublimity
and Stayton, Everett and San Fernando, Beaverton and Forest Grove.
348 years of seeing the face of Christ so especially in the eyes of the poor:
The child with the patched school uniform,
The parents out of work and without a home for their family,
The lonely elder whose family has nearly forgotten her.
348 years of spiritual motherhood in their families,
Being the rock when death calls for a parent or a sibling,
Showing up with carloads of groceries when a loved one has been
struggling to find work,
Keeping vigil late into the night and with so many early morning
prayers for family members in distress.
348 years of service as godmothers and confirmation sponsors and final vows
witnesses, giving birth to new generations of disciples for God’s church.
348 years of rosaries offered for brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces,
parents and friends and even people they never knew.
348 years in the most comfortable of clothing,
The rich, velvety, luxurious serge of a custom-tailored habit, promised
to keep young sisters prudent in their thoughts and actions.
One would never, for instance, drink beer, or ride motorcycle
wheelies through an orchard, or go four wheeling with her
brothers whilst wearing the holy habit, would they Sr.
Marcella. . .?
348 years of inspiring students and former students and even a niece or nephew
now and then to forego worldly success and offer her or his life in service to
Jesus, even as a religious or priest?
348 years of putting others before herself, serving her community as Sr. Elma
did as sacristan, driver, and cook.
348 years of foregoing manicures and pedicures, fancy hairdos and expensive
makeup, designer clothing and name brand accessories, and what do you get?
Only the most ravishingly beautiful women around,
Women who radiate the love of God with every smile,
Who wash away sin and regret and fear with a simple understanding
Women whose lives shout the glorious love of Christ for every
woman, man, and child.
348 years.
That’s a lotta years.
And a lotta service.
And a lotta love—more love than we could easily imagine.
When these six holy women were just babes in their mothers’ arms, do you
think anyone could have guessed at the graces they would bring into the world?
Do you think their relatives and friends—even their parents
themselves—ever guessed that their baby girl born in a log cabin on
the Little North Fork; or in Butte or Townsend, Montana; or in Forest
Grove or Astoria would ever become one of the most formidable
vessels of God’s love around?!
But when Jesus first looked at these baby girls, he saw much more than infants.
He saw their grace and goodness and power and potential.
He looked into their hearts and claimed them as his own, to be taken,
blessed, broken, and shared.
He called these women to become the loaves and fish he would use to
feed the multitude of his people.
Because God sees not the insatiable hunger of the 5000, but the abundance
hidden in five loaves of bread and a few fish.
God sees not just the doubts and fears that hold most of us back most
of the time, but the grace of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives and
the tremendous goodness we can accomplish as a result.
When Jesus gazed into those six cradles decades ago, he saw six hearts that
belonged to him and he stole them away and entrusted them to his Mother,
where they would be formed for his prophetic and transformational work,
sharing his Good News wherever they would go.
But the thing about 348 years is this:
If we gather here only to celebrate six inspiring women today, we have
entirely missed the point of their religious lives and ministries.
For these impassioned women have served faithfully not so they could be
lauded and praised, but that our hearts might be inspired and our thoughts lifted
to heaven and our gazes raised to the Cross and our sleeves rolled up in service
of the poorest among us.
If we allow ourselves to be transformed;
If we allow our priorities to be realigned,
And our goals to be reconsidered;
If we let Jesus, through the intercession of his Mother, into our hearts
and into our lives to inspire us to preach the gospel in all that we do;
Then, and only then, will we begin to appreciate the profound love
that has inspired the 348 years of ministry and sacrifice and service
offered by these women before us.