Only a handful of us were there 25 years ago when Sister Agnes pronounced her vows as a religious sister. I am sure like all novices ready to make vows, it started the fire with much combustion almost like a bonfire.
But in the past 25 years, as I can guess as it has also been in mine, that bonfire started to flicker but it was never snuffed out. There were times when the fire was only good for cooking or barbecue but not enough to light others.
There were times when the light started to flicker and the doubt started to set in. And the fears were overwhelming but it was sustained by the fire of the Lord. So, what we celebrate this morning is not just the fire of 25 years that was in the heart of Sister Agnes when she pronounced her vows. It is rather the fire that the Lord continued to give her when the fire was flickering, when the fire was almost like amber, it was the Lord who sustained that fire. For the past 25 years, that fire had varying warmth and heat but the fire of the Lord for Sister Agnes was constant and consistent, never flickered, never resulted in combustion. It was steadily a love, a commitment that the Lord gave her not just 25 years ago but even before she was conceived. So how do you sustain the fire how do you light a fire and how can you share the fire.
The first key from the life of Saint Joseph is interior life.
The apostolic zeal, the religious fire is impossible to keep without an interior life. It is true that Sister Agnes is an active sister but religious life cannot be only activity and activity and activity. Religious life cannot just be mission and mission and mission. Religious life cannot just be work and work and work. While we honor Saint Joseph the Worker, we must not forget that this worker knew the value of interior life. That is why he is also noted for his silence.
Sister Agnes has taught us through her catechetical classes, her formation modules but the best lessons we learned from her life are lessons learned in silence, in a life of interior prayer, in a life of listening to God, in a life of sitting in the presence of the Lord, as it were wasting time from the apostolate. How do you sustain the fire? How do you start a fire and how can you share the fire?
The second is integral obedience.
Integral meaning whole. Integral meaning to say not just but the body but also for the soul. Integral meaning to say not just in public but even in secret. Integral meaning to say not just by words but even more by action. It is integral obedience because hypocrisy is very stressful. It is integral obedience because a divided heart, a divided life is stressful and it can make us sick. If you want to keep the fire the obedience – the yes to the Lord…the discipleship – must be integral, must be whole. There is no difference between the public and the hidden. There is no difference between the spoken and the action. There is no difference between the private life and the public life. There is no difference because it is totally for the Lord. Is that all?
How do you sustain the fire? The third “I” is imaginative leadership.
In the context of the church, a religious is essentially a leader in the church. Our religious sisters occupy positions of leadership in the church. But what kind of leadership? It is not just a status quo leadership. It is an imaginative leadership. It is a visionary leadership. It is a leadership that sees dreams. It is a leadership that points to dreams that others cannot see. It is a leadership that is full of hope and sets the vision, sets the dreams clearly so that the others may pursue the same direction. My dear brothers and sisters, in these days of the quarantine, in these days of the pandemic when many of our freedoms are restricted, we need creativity. We need imagination. We need to allow the Holy Spirit who is always fresh and always new to empower us, to ignite us, to set our hearts constantly on fire. The interior life of Joseph, our integral obedience – these virtues we learn from the man whom Jesus Himself called father. But he also implanted in the heart of Jesus the vision for the future. Imaginative fatherhood. Visionary paternity and that is the way to keep the fire!
Thank you, Sister Agnes for the fire. Now it is no longer the fire of Agnes that we celebrate. It is the fire of the Lord that you have allowed to burn in your life. Because now after 25 years it is clearly not human effort. It is clearly not just willpower. It is clearly not just your work. It is clearly the work of God. For the times when the fire flickered or for the times when the fire was a combustion, we say thank you Lord. But for those times when the Lord added to our fire because the Lord wanted us to be always on fire for Him – we say thank you, Lord. But it is not enough to live the fire, Sister Agnes. The fire that the Lord has given you must be shared. We look forward to 30 to 40 to 50. May the fire of Jesus continue to glow, in the life of hidden prayer, in your interior life, in the life of total integral obedience, in the life of creative imaginative discipleship, may we see you and see the fire of Jesus glowing in your life. Amen.