Oblate Commitment Ceremony 2015

Oblate Commitment Ceremony 2015

I want to share with you today my reflections on a chapter in Elizabeth Johnson’s latest book, Abounding in Kindness, writings for the people of God.

It is a collection of articles, homilies and presentations that she has given over the last decade or so, all centered around, as she says, “the compassionate love of God.”

The chapter is titled, “Friends of God and Prophets: waking up a sleeping symbol.”

I presume it was a summary or beginning premise for the book she published with the same name. The sleeping symbol she references is the “Communion of Saints.” She defines it as a term that unites all living people who seek the face of God.

She believes that all those who, in responding to the grace of God, try to live with truth and love, are therefore holy people themselves and are what the title notes: Friends of God and prophets.

In typical Elizabeth-Johnson fashion and understandable for a person who has been a dedicated theologian since she was an undergraduate, she takes us through the history of the terms “saint” and “holiness” beginning with the psalms and proceeding through the early Church, particularly as read by us in the Epistles.

She teaches that before the Catholic Church organized and legalized sainthood in the Middle Ages local communities knew well how to recognize witnesses to the Gospel and those who mediated God’s presence through their lives. They were proclaimed “saint” by the people.

Vatican II, she reminds us, reasserted that through baptism all people are joined to God and the whole church is therefore called to such holiness. In other words, she states, “the church is not divided into saints and non-saints.”

Of the traditional “Communion of Saints” that was primarily used for those who have died, Johnson writes that their lives are very significant, even after death, for “The light of their memory encourages the creative witness of others: one fire kindles another.” And therefore, we, as a group‒living and deceased‒are still one in our spiritual journey.

This is prelude to her re-defining the “Communion of Saints” term, as not one that should apply only to the deceased, but as one that encompasses the living and the dead together.

She has a beautiful passage where she again reaches back to the Age of Martyrs and notes how their sacrifices encouraged and inspired the early Christians. Making the leap through centuries, she asks, “Do we not draw strength, too, from the memories of those who came before us, their sufferings and their holiness?” The answer, of course, is yes.

When I read that her Communion of Saints is a solidarity among God-seekers, I recognized that we are celebrating something that is of the communion of saints today‒a community of God-seekers‒seeking truth, goodness of life, life with God, through the Gospel messages of Jesus, the Rule of Benedict and the history, traditions and customs of this monastic community.

The sisters and the oblates of this monastery form our own “Communion of Saints” here and now. Elizabeth calls such a common path, “links of graced kinship.”

I warmly welcome our new initiates to this kinship. I am grateful to see so many oblates here today and to have heard from those who can’t be with us through their annual commitment papers which are always inspiring and encouraging.

I would like to end this reflection the same way, Elizabeth Johnson ends her article, by quoting from the novel The Bone People, which she believes captures the result of such “Friends of God and Prophets”:

“They were nothing more than people, by themselves. Even paired, any pairing, they would have been nothing more than people. But all together, they have become the heart and muscles and mind of something perilous and new, something strange and growing and great. Together, all together, they are the instruments of change.”

Thank you all for your commitment to this community.

Sister Anne Wambach, OSB, the twenty-first prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania is a native of Philadelphia. She moved to Mount St. Benedict Monastery in 1992 to respond to a desire to experience the monastic way of life. Previously a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill, Sister Anne began the formal transfer process to the Erie Benedictines in 1993 and made her monastic profession in 1997.

Sister Anne has served the people of the Diocese of Erie as a teacher at St. Gregory's School in North East, Pa., from 1992-1995, and at the Neighborhood Art House in Erie, beginning as program director in 1995 and as executive director since 2005. She served on the Monastic Council from 2006-2010.