Congratulations to all. Happy Jubilee! Happy Anniversary! We are celebrating about 1350 cumulative years of commitment, service, and kinship. That is a lot of years. Congratulations!
And what are we celebrating? We are celebrating the “Yes” of responding to the invitation – the many invitations of our God to be incarnational people.
Our celebration today calls to mind the Annunciation Gospel, the “yes” of Mary.
When you entered today, you received a card with a different artistic rendering of that scene. It is a reproduction of the painting of Henry Ossawa Tanner which hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I first received a copy of this scene from my director Gaynell Cronin on retreat a few years ago. With all due deference to our brother Fra Angelico, this portrayal seems so much more real to me.
Tanner, an African American artist who lived from 1859 to 1937, belonged to the realist school of painting. Most of his painting career was spent in Paris so he could escape the reality of racism in the US. Before painting the Annunciation, he traveled to the Middle East to absorb the context and the look of the people. In this portrayal, from skin tone to dress, Mary is a poor Jewish girl. The room reflects her humble status. I love that the bed is unmade and the rug a bit rumpled. There are few possessions and even the stone floor is a bit cracked. Less than perfection. And Gabriel is a ray of light, not a being with multicolored wings.
And in this scene, this young Jewish girl looks puzzled yet attentive as she responds to the invitation from the light, from the messenger. In this scene Mary says ‘yes’ to a very difficult and earth-shattering request: “Will you birth God?” The seriousness and depth of this request was brought home to me in a second grade religion class. Barbara Hamilton was teaching the gospel and, after she dramatically read the story for second graders, she asked, “What would you have said to the angel Gabriel?” Immediately, Lorinda Rios shot up her hand. Barbara called on her, ”Lorinda what would you have said?”And with full confidence, Lorinda said, “I’d tell him I’d have to sleep on it because it is a big question.” Wasn’t it though? An invitation to a poor young girl to bear the Godhead. Maybe some of us would have had to sleep on it before answering. But Mary didn’t. And, at times, we haven’t hesitated to say that yes. What was the scene of your “YES” that we are celebrating today. Mine was on the beach at Seaside Park sitting in the sand on a dark moonless summer night. What amazes me is how calm I was and how right it felt. I marvel about the firmness of the ‘yes’ at 17 years old. As an aside, I now marvel that then I could sit in the sand and get up so easily.
Sister Catherine Walsh delivers the reflection at the 2023 jubilee celebration
But incarnational invitations came and come often, don’t they? Karl Rahner in his poem “I Am There” has God saying: “I am there. I am with you. I am your life. I am your time. I am the gloom of your daily routine. Why will you not hear it?” Like Mary sitting on unmade bed, God’s invitation comes in the gloom of the everyday. It comes in the face of a neighbor a colleague, in the street or from a caregiver, in the poor we meet, the simple things that can be done for care of the Earth. The invitation to incarnate the Christ in the setting of our everyday comes every day. In that everyday, we have annunciation invitations to borrow the eyes and voice of God. To incarnate God in the everyday of others wherever that is and whatever our circumstances. As Pope Francis has said, “Our life is not given to us like an opera libretto, in which all is written down; but it means going, walking, doing, searching, seeing…. God is encountered walking along the path.” God is encountered and invites along the path of the gloominess or the brightness of our everyday.
Dorothy Day understood this, for as Robert Ellsberg wrote of her “She made you believe it was possible to start building a better world, right here where you were. She made you believe, as St. Francis did, that the Beatitudes were for living.
She was much less interested in abstract ideas than in how such ideas were lived out, especially in practical examples of love, solidarity, and community. It is something expressed not only in great and heroic deeds but in the everyday occasions for forgiveness, patience and gratitude.” And living the beatitudes, as Greg Boyle would say, is not a spirituality but a geography. It is where you stand in meekness, mercifulness, thirst for righteousness, peace etc. It was the everyday place of Dorothy Day and the invitational place for each of us.
These are the incarnational moments we are called to each day. For our call is the call from Micah that the Shepherd, the caregiver of the sheep shall reach to the end of the world. That is our call to reach our God to the ends of our world finite as it is. And in Rahner’s poem God says “I am in the prison of your finiteness. For my love has made me your prisoner.” God is confined to our custody. Think of that God chooses to be confined to our custody through infinite love. So, each day we can release God to others. We can shepherd the people in the gloom of the everyday.
And so, sitting with the Mary in this painting, let us celebrate each day with a ‘yes’ to the invitation of light that comes, and with her let the power of the Holy Spirit engulf us so that what is born in the hearts of those we encounter is the Christ whose kindom has no end. And from the struggle of our finiteness, let us release God into all we encounter. Let us announce the good news by the ‘yeses’ of each day. Happy Jubilee and Happy Anniversary.