Preparing for the World Meeting of Families

Preparing for WMOF
Photo by Brenda Drumm
The following is a talk that I gave in March as part of the Novena of Grace which had as its focus this year, preparation for the World Meeting of Families.
Novena of Grace
Halston Street
10th of March 2018

 “Preparing in faith for the World Meeting of Families”

Good evening. My name is Sr. M. Louise O’Rourke, a sister from the Congregation, Disciples of the Divine Master. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, well I think the fact I’m here this evening is proof of that. A chance meeting with Fr. Bryan in the corridor in the Diocesan Offices a few weeks ago has brought me here this evening. When I asked him, what I should talk about, he simply said, ‘just tell the people that God loves them.’ So, if you remember anything from what I’m going to say, remember that God loves you. That’s really the essence of the whole Bible and in particular the Gospel we heard tonight.  As well as telling you, that God loves you, I hope to share some thoughts on the theme of the novena: “ Preparing in faith for the World Meeting of Families”. 

The World Meeting is not an event for us Catholics to gather in a holy huddle and pat ourselves on the back; or on the other end of the spectrum, to beat ourselves down and forget to celebrate the gift of our faith, and the family of faith.  It’s a time to deepen our faith, acknowledge our history, for good and for bad, but importantly to look forward to a future of hope. It won’t be the Church of yesteryear, not even a Church comparable to the times of the visit of Pope John Paul II, but a Church that reflects the people of today, with the joys, hopes, sufferings and challenges of today. It will be a Church that is based on people having a living and life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ and who are so enthused that they can’t help but share it with others. A Church that is catechised and not just sacramentalised.

The measure of success, if we want to use such a word, of the World Meeting of Families, is really the legacy that it will leave to our country and the seed ground which we are preparing now in our parishes, our communities. From there, as a quiet but effective presence, like the yeast in the dough, we bring this fervour and experience to our homes and families. The World Meeting won’t be just about the amount of people who travelled from abroad to be here next August or how many people turned out to see the Pope, God willing, that he comes. The grace that we reap as a country is the change it brings, not at an institutional level but a local level, down to the level of your family and mine.

Preparing for the WMOF, we need to look to our own families. We are all too well aware of the different struggles that families face on a daily basis. In our families, we may be the only one or one of the only ones practicing our faith and this might be a source of worry and concern.  So often, people come to talk to us as Sisters, concerned that a child, grandchild, a sibling is far from the Church or not practicing. Remember God alone knows the heart. Perhaps some of you are here to make this Novena to pray for a particular member, for a particular intention. And we remember them this evening. There is a cliche which is often quoted: "You can choose your friends but you can't choose your family!" but Archbishop Desmond Tutu goes one further saying: "You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them."  It’s true. One of the greatest gifts which we have is our family and too often we wait for an obituary to tell them that.

All families have their struggles and can seem broken beyond repair. Throughout the years, I have come to understand more and more that life is a gift. A fragile gift, a gift which we carry in clay vessels. St. Paul reminds us: “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Cor 4:7). Clay jars can break easily too and we can break easily. In this regard, I like to remember a quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “Broken things are precious. During Eucharist, we eat broken bread because we share in the depth of our Lord and His broken life. Broken flowers are used to make and give perfume. Broken incense is used in adoration. Paradoxically sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them."  -(Archbishop Fulton Sheen).

Yes, we all have cracks but that doesn’t mean we are uselessly broken. Those cracks are the hairline fractures of life which remind us that we are fragile and that we can break. The cracks make us who we are and God loves us in our brokenness. It’s when we are crushed and broken and disappointed, our dreams shattered, that we begin to rely more on the Lord. In China, when a precious vase breaks,the vase is put together, the cracks are painted over in gold paint, indicating that the cracks are precious and are now part of the vase. So in some sense we are and will be always cracked, until we reach that perfection in Heaven. In life we carry our scars and we are reminded that even Jesus, after his Resurrection, kept the marks of his battle with death, He shows the disciples the wounds on his hands and feet.

We can prepare for the World Meeting of Families by rediscovering the essential elements of family life and how to ‘repair’ the cracks. Pope Francis sums this up very well: He says: Living together is an art, a patient, beautiful, fascinating journey… . This journey of every day has a few rules that can be summed up in three phrases:Please, thank you, and I’m sorry.” It may seem simplistic but it’s not always easy. To ask is to acknowledge that I am in need. To thank is to recognize that I appreciate the effort and the other’s generosity, to say sorry is to acknowledge that we are not perfect, that we make mistakes but that we can start anew. This is a basic itinerary that all families can try to adapt. We love each other as we are, but we don’t leave each other as we are. We try to help each other discover that fullness of life which God wants to offer us so freely.

To rediscover family means
taking time to talk to our children, about life, about God, about faith. To tell them that they are loved. Now more than ever, children need real families and not virtual ones! Children are getting their life advice from a Google search browser, thus cutting off relationships with parents and establishing an independency which more than often descends into rebellion. People are looking for love in the wrong places because the basic family nucleus is not offering it.

As families, we need to realise that whilst life can be hard, it is a gift. Life is messy and families are messy, love isn’t always pretty but there is goodness in it. The hidden truth in our communities and parishes is that people are living all kinds of damaged dreams in their families. And the reality is that some of it can’t be fixed. Life doesn’t turn out the way we planned, but if we look and are open to receiving it, we will see graces and blessings that God has sent our way. Grace covers the gap between the spirit and the flesh, our willingness and our weakness. Truth be told, Jesus came from a dysfunctional family too! In the Scriptures we see how Mary and Joseph even lost Jesus when they were going up to Jerusalem, and for three days! The story before Jesus was one of a mixture of saints and sinners, so also is the story since Jesus.

In the promotion leaflet for the novena which explains the origins of the Novena, there is a beautiful explanation of what grace is: “Grace can be seen as the power within us that gives us the strength to reach out to others in generosity, care and love.” This is what family is about. This reaching out is often seen in the most difficult and challenging situations of our journey, a time of grief, sickness, disappointment, betrayal.

However, it can be hard to accept that suffering is part of life.  
Each last Friday of the month we have a special holy hour to pray and intercede for particular and general needs of families, including our own. People sometimes forget that sisters and priests come from families which have their struggles and difficulties too. Growing up and even today, when my own family is visited by different problems and challenges, I see love in action. Often I saw and I see tough love in action too.  I see brokenness and how the Lord used broken things to show the humanity of life and the power of grace. And we see that in our readings that we heard this evening:” God loved us with so much love that he was generous with his mercy.” The mercy of God is a healing balm that gives us the grace to carry on even when it would be easier to stay down when we fall.

To prepare in faith for the World Meeting, we must cultivate faith in the family. How do we do this? In a simple way. Creating and cultivating a culture of life and respect. If in our families, we don’t love and respect each other as created as children of God, how can we expect our children, our teenagers to grow up to respect life, especially the smallest and the most vulnerable. Life is really a gift. That is why it was important for me today to go out and walk for life, to join the thousands of people who gathered to give a message to the world that life should be respected from its natural beginning to its natural end. It was a powerful witness to the sacredness of life and we pray that the efforts pay off in these coming weeks.

Tomorrow we celebrate Mothers Day. We live in times in which much has been said about woman, her dignity and her role in the family and the world. It’s fitting to say a few words about the importance of the motherhood of religious women. One of the saddest things I sometimes hear a sister say is that they enter religious life because they don’t feel called or have the vocation to be a mother. Every religious sister should be able to say: ‘I would have been a good mother or a good wife’. The same can be said of every priest or brother. First of all, a vocation is a call that the Lord places in the heart of the human person. A vocation is a human reality, since the human person was created for love, and only the human heart can experience a call to love and respond to it with love (MD, 29). Women realise this call to self-donation, which is engraved in her nature as a woman, by being spouses and mothers. These are the two interconnected channels by which a woman expresses her call to a generous and sacrificial love, a compassionate love that is capable of giving life. Compassion which is not wishy-washy, seeking to ‘make things better’ but compassion which empowers and brings forth life, born and purified in the crucible of love, often tough love.

Last year Pope Francis raised eyebrows around the world when he told a group of 800 nuns they must be spiritual mothers and not 'old maids.' What is the Pope trying to say here? I don’t physically have children so how can I be a mother? Chastity is not just not having sex.  Consecrated chastity is actually a vow to love, not one person as in marriage, but to love God and all that flows from God. I get to be spiritual mother to 7 billion people!  To be as Mary was to Jesus. Just recently the Pope gave us a new Marian celebration: “Mary Mother of the Church” to be celebrated the day after Pentecost. He explained saying that just as Mary could not be understood without recognizing her role as being Jesus' mother, the church cannot be understood without recognizing its role as being the mother of all believers. Too often we don’t see the Church in this way, we see it as oppressive or just telling us what to do, like a nagging mother telling us to eat our vegetables. We don’t see the Church as a mother who nurtures and helps us to grow.

Yet each day we need to grow. And religious life is a daily journey of growth, just like in a family. It requires daily leaps of faith. It’s a daily surrender, handing it over.  There is always more fear, more control, more selfishness, more loyalty and more love that God is calling me to hand over to Him. Fear. Despair. Anxiety. Doubt. Distress. Worry. These words describe feelings that rob us of joy, comfort, confidence, protection, and purpose. My journey so far in religious life has brought me immense happiness and satisfaction alongside times of sadness and challenges. It’s not always easy to embrace the challenges which religious consecration presents but during these years I have come to understand that whilst it is possible to give without loving, I cannot love without giving. Concepts like obedience, celibacy, chastity and long-term commitment are often looked upon as frightening.

Coming into religious life was an act of faith and love, both on my part and God’s part. People often ask me: “Are you sure?” One hundred percent surety doesn’t enter into the equation here but what I am sure of is that God has a unique plan for me. If I reach the point where I am 100 percent sure, I feel I have deleted that space for the Holy Spirit to work because God is a God of surprises. Any commitment must be renewed daily because it is a relationship built on unconditional love. Love matures, it is never finished and complete.

It may seem that religious life and other sectors of our Church are on a journey without a map. At times it might even seem that the preparations and the momentum for the World Meeting of Families are struggling to take off. But that’s okay! Moses didn’t have a map yet he let the people on a journey of exodus, out of themselves and into the desert where they had to look at what was really essential and to look deep down into ourselves and find the wellspring of faith. Maybe that is what is being asked of religious life and of the Catholic Church at this time. We don’t know where God is leading us, by offering us the opportunity to host this great event in August, our little country of Ireland. But we embark upon this journey as the people of God: maybe in the desert, on the periphery, at the frontier but always as beloved sons and daughters of a God who loves us, personally, unconditionally and forever.

Sr. M. Louise O’ Rourke pddm