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Wednesday, 13 November 2019 12:44

Ellen's Homily - A Singular Moment in Maryknoll Affiliate History

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At the Celebration Mass on Sunday (11/10/19) of the Affiliate Joint Meeting of the Board and Regional Coordinators, Co-founder of the Affiliate movement, Sister Ellen McDonald MM gave the homily. Those of us who were lucky enough to be there couldn't help but feel that this was a special moment in our history.  Ellen's homily follows: 

  When I was invited to give today’s reflection, I mistakenly thought it was for the closing liturgy of the Affiliate Board and Regionals Meeting this weekend, that is, with Fr. Russ and the Affiliates who are here.  Only later did I understand that this Sunday’s community liturgy was the “closing liturgy” being referred to.  However, I had agreed because of the reference to the Affiliates and that had not changed.  The Affiliates have been and are a great learning vehicle in my life.  Struggling with a homily for and with them was sure to be another learning experience.  I also express my gratitude to them by taking seriously my prayer ministry assignment which is the Affiliates. 

             Going now to today’s readings, it is safe to say that the pre-Advent scripture texts  we just heard are all about eschatology – the last things, as we say.  Not an easy topic to talk about!  So I began by looking for connections among the readings.  Certainly in both the texts from 2nd Maccabees and from Luke’s Gospel, the theme of resurrection is prominent.  While I hold a firm belief in the resurrection, I am not sure I can say much more about it.  The question put to Jesus about the resurrection highlights the fact that it is not easy to get our mind around this topic.   Jesus’ response that God is the God of the living, not of the dead, is not an immediate help for a questioning mind.  No doubt a spiritual director would tell me to let go of my human way of thinking and let God be God. 

            The theme of afterlife continues in the psalm, beginning with the words, “when your glory comes, Lord.”  And part of the reason Paul was writing to the Thessalonians was because some of the believers there were not working because they thought the Lord’s coming was imminent.  They were distorting the normal development of Christian life.

             My preference in all this was to recognize the pre-Advent texts as calling us, among other things, to go back to thinking about our personal “bigger” vision:  what are we willing to live for?  perhaps willing to die for? (as our own Sister-martyr, Ita Ford, wrote to her niece.)   I felt myself drawn to this letter of Paul’s, said to be the oldest writing of the Christian Testament.  Paul had been rejected by the Jews in Philippi when he dared to direct his preaching to the so-called “pagans” in Thessalonia.  There he succeeds in forming a community.  However, after three months a riot breaks out and Paul is forced again to flee the area.  His big concern now is what is going to happen to these recent converts to whom he had taught the mere basics of Christian life?  With this background, I discovered an interest in reading both letters to the Thessalonians and wondering why they are given such prominence at this time in our Liturgical year.  (Last week we heard from 2 Thess l, this week from 2:2, and next week will be 2:3.) I also had the unholy thought that neither Jim Madden nor I ever had three months to spend with any newly founded Affiliate Chapter! 

             It certainly was/is a puzzle!  How did all the messy beginnings of preaching a Christian vision of life and of end times lead to the extraordinary network that is the Church today?   Or, how did the Maryknoll Affiliates go from one-meeting introductions, where no one could even say what an Affiliate was, to grow, change, meet challenges, experience turn-overs, and still be here thirty years later?  Studying these letters of Paul, two things stood out for me.  First, Paul says “God called you through the gospel we preach, willing you to share the glory of Christ Jesus.”  Then secondly, he goes on to admonish the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that we taught you.” (2 Thess 2:14-15)

            In the early months of starting the Affiliates and perhaps for the whole first year, our method was to bring together small groups of interested persons in an area for a first meeting.  There would be prayer and introductions where all took turns saying who they were and mentioning any previous relationships with Maryknoll or in general what they knew about Maryknoll.  The next question then was:  what draws you to want to be affiliated with Maryknoll?  We had countless sheets of newsprint paper with the recorded responses.    Jim studied those sheets until he found the key of organizing them all under four headings.  As we know, those four headings became the four pillars of the Affiliate movement:  Global Vision, Community, Spirituality and Action.

            For Jim and I, participating in those meetings and hearing the responses was an exceptional experience of feedback for Maryknoll.  It was like hearing our tradition named and affirmed.  Cardinal Cushing once told us Maryknoll Sisters that “one of you staying at home and doing good, will never have the impact on the world that your coming together has had.”  In those early meetings the Affiliates reflected back to us something of the corporate impact of Maryknoll, of how Maryknoll and we Maryknollers are seen by others.  These people really “got the picture.”  I don’t remember all those early statements, but I would like to mention two or three that have remained with me.  In my mind’s eye I can still see faces and remember enthusiasms as would-be Affiliates tried to explain the “why” of affiliation.

            One said, “Maryknoll recognizes God’s love for every person everywhere and anywhere in our world and works for justice and dignity for every person and every people.”

            Another, “Maryknoll has given the Church a whole new spirituality, right up there with the big ones, and it’s a whole new way of being Church.”

            Yet another, “The volunteer things I do in my home area are inspired by Maryknoll, but I think they would have greater value if they were connected to Maryknoll in some way.”

            In the sidebar of the bible I used for this reflection it says “traditions are the customs, rites and teachings which people pass down from one generation to another.”  For example, while Jesus was with his disciples, he taught them a certain way of praying, of seeing, doing and living in fellowship.  At this point in preparing my reflection, I found myself stuck.  I had done my homework so I knew the meaning of these texts for us was here.  I stopped trying to sift it out, however, and went to the Affiliate social last evening.  In the few short conversations I had there – with Hugh, Lee, Russ, Santa, and Manny, I once again learned so much!  There was also a sketch or outline of some sort on the chalk board there that kept calling my attention.  I found myself thinking that Jim Madden and I would have a great round about that one!

            I went back to my room to sleep on this and woke with a start early this morning.  I had been dreaming about giving this homily and it was a nightmare!  However, the words that came to me were “go back to the words of Paul’s that first called my attention: ‘God called us, willing us to share the glory of Christ Jesus;’ and ‘stand firm and hold to the traditions that we taught you.’”  It struck me that for us Catholics, “tradition” is not a fundamentalist term, but a living experience.  Paul had given the new community “the traditions,” that is, the basics, and it was enough to change their lives forever.  They could no longer go back to living as they had before, even if they didn’t have a manual on how to go forward, and even if it meant persecution and death for what and in whom they believed.

            So, how are we “standing firm and holding to the Maryknoll tradition today?”  In what way would Walsh, Rogers, Price, McCann and Madden recognize us if they came on today’s scene?  In a recent homily in our Chapel, Fr. Ray Finch said “mission is relationships.”  We need only look at our world today in its need of mission as relationships among ourselves, with a whole agonizing human community, with the earth and all its creatures, and with the God who has called us. Then in these pre-Advent weeks we can ask ourselves:  What is the Maryknoll tradition that we as a corporate body want to pass on to a new generation?     


Addendum:  Too late to include in my homily, I came across a quote from Sr. Claudette LaVerdiere’s book, On the Threshold of the Future, that captures so well my feeling in this reflection.  On p. 11 she writes:  “From the beginning of Maryknoll there existed three branches – the priests, the brothers, and the women . . . .  All shared the same founders with their ideals, aspirations, and spiritual motivation, growing together as one family with a common history and identity.”        Ellen

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