September 15, 2012 Jubilee Reflections

September 15, 2012 Jubilee Reflections

Good afternoon. I am Sister Anne Wambach, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, and on behalf of all the sisters of our community, I welcome you to Mount Saint Benedict as you celebrate this very special occasion with us. I know that all of you‒the brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, friends and co-workers of the sisters celebrating today, have had a special role in enriching the lives of these sisters, and, in turn, enriching the life of our community through them. Thank you for joining us today.

In the reading we just heard, from the Gospel of St. Mark, we are presented with one of the most intriguing questions Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” This is asked of disciples that have been with Jesus for quite some time. They have seen the good works and wonders that he has performed. They have probably discussed among themselves what all of this has meant and who and what he is, as they have experienced everything as they accompanied Jesus in his journeys.

Surely he is an observant Jew, surely a miracle worker, surely a prophet of some kind. But now, Jesus asks them this question directly. And when Peter answers and says, “You are the Messiah” he is stating that Jesus is much more than what others have already responded. He is “the anointed one,” the long-awaited, the one who they all hope will make of Israel the most glorious of all nations. Jesus’ response, of course, dispels the standard definition of an empire of power and domination. He replaces it with the image of the suffering servant, one who lays down his life in love, the one who brings power and glory from God, not from human empires and kingdoms.

But that question, “Who do you say that I am?” continues to enchant religious seekers long after Jesus’ physical appearance on earth. In our reading we heard answers from some outstanding religious figures: St. Benedict, founder of monasticism in the Western world, speaks of God as a ray of light in a darkened world; his sister St. Scholastica, the first Benedictine woman, uses the image of a feast of love open to all.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, uses the analogy of an eagle sweeping into her heart to describe her relationship with God; Julian of Norwich, a Benedictine mystic of 14th c. England calls God, “our true Mother;” and our soon-to-be fourth female Doctor of the Church and another Benedictine, this time of the 12th century in Germany, Hildegard of Bingen, answers the question by describing a God with a maternal love who nourishes us to life.

Sojourner Truth, from the 1800s in our own country, was born a slave and, once free, became a public figure and leader for human rights and freedom for all people. She sees God as a shield and protector from suffering and struggle. Finally, in our own time, Catholic Worker founder, pacifist and forerunner of the philosophy of nonviolence, Dorothy Day finds God in all people as her brothers and sisters….in love.

All of these models of Catholic witness, all of these followers of Jesus came to their answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” within a life of seeking and following the gospel life shown to us by Jesus.

Now, this brings us directly to this moment this afternoon: the Jubilee celebration of our sisters, Theresa, Anne and Beth‒who, for a combined 100 years, have studied and prayed, searched and struggled, wondered and watched, listened and pondered this very same question, asked of them by the God to whom they have so generously given their lives: “Who do you say that I am?”

I propose that we indeed know their answers: Sister Theresa’s answer is wrapped up in her profession title, “Theresa of the Humanity of Christ.” She has seen Christ’s presence everywhere she has ministered throughout her 50 years of monastic profession: teaching in elementary schools throughout the Erie diocese, in the people and families of Our Lady of Mercy parish here in Harborcreek and especially in her 20 years in the Mission Office of the Diocese of Erie and in her many trips to our diocesan Mission of Friendship in Merida, Mexico on the Yucatan peninsula. Wherever she has been Theresa has brought Christ’s presence to that place. And that includes into our community as an active and enthusiastic member of committees, music ministry, as community chronicler and in all in which she has been involved. As Theresa herself quotes, “She is the hands with which Christ blesses people now,” and has been those hands her entire monastic life.

Sister Anne McCarthy began answering the question long before she came to community. Anne was involved as an emergency room nurse and in her peace and justice work with our Pax Center first, and then continued and enhanced these ministries when she entered the community. Today her passion for nonviolence and monastic spirituality extends into every minute of her days‒from her commitment to the Catholic Worker house in which she lives, to her leading of retreats and workshops on monasticism, Benedictine spirituality and non-violence, to her administration at Benetvision Publications and in our Monastery of the Heart spirituality movement. In all of these Anne brings her quiet presence, her deep compassion and wholehearted dedication to the spiritual journey and her unwavering commitment to peaceful relations among all peoples. Within our Benedictine community we are the recipients of her gifts of music, liturgical expression and monastic wisdom.

Sister Beth Adams, also, did not enter the community right out of high school. Beth first experienced a strong commitment to Christian good works with her ministry in Washington, D.C. at a senior citizen center. Since joining the community she has been faithful to her dedication there through the organization SOME, So Others May Eat, by continuing to volunteer each summer at their senior citizen summer camp in Washington. Today, and for the past 17 years, you’ll find Beth at the site where our first sisters came to the Erie area, East Ninth Street between Parade and German Streets, as she ministers at our St. Benedict Child Development Center as a teacher. Here she brings to migrant and minority pre-school children, the important skills and social interactions necessary before their formal school years begin.

Beth is also a weekly volunteer-teacher to the refugees at St. Benedict Education Center. Beth sees all of these as an extension of Benedictine hospitality‒bringing Christ and Christ’s welcoming spirit to all‒wherever they may be met. We see her spirit of hospitality continued within all of our community endeavors, as Beth is present to everyone, welcoming to guests and in her own words, striving daily to “live in the present moment.”

I conclude in the only way possible: Thank you sisters—Theresa, Anne and Beth. Thank you for your years of dedication, service, vision and generosity to this community, to all the people whom you have touched, cared for, helped, taught and from whom you have learned. Thank you for what you have brought to each of us who share this special celebration with you. We are blessed to have you with us‒in your lifetime of “seeking God” as a Benedictine Sister of Erie. May God’s graces be with you for many years to come!

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.