Homily for the Final Profession of Sisters
Provincial Leader Sister Anna, Sisters Trish and My, Canossian Sisters, all my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I studied in Stanthorpe for the dreaded scholarship exam in 1950. There were six students in my class, three girls and three boys. Two of those girls joined religious orders, one the Sisters of Mercy, the other the Carmelites. I went on to become a Priest. In that era when religion was important and Church attendance the norm rather than the exception, those numbers were not unusual. Today matters are different for a variety of reasons that we cannot easily identify. We can guess at the reasons and probably would not be too far wrong if we talked about the materialism of our age, its post modern emphasis, and its secular nature. Ultimately however we would come up against the sheer mystery of faith and appeal to scripture noting that ďOur ways are not Godís waysĒ and that ďour God is a God for whom a thousand years is as a dayĒ. Our one certainty is that the Holy Spirit is with us always, leading us to recognise Godís will and reminding us that we must always listen to Godís voice, in the very same manner that Sisters Trish and My have done over the years, a fact that we gather to celebrate today.
But allow me to dip back into nostalgia just one more time. When I left St Josephís School, Stanthorpe, to continue my studies at another St Josephís School, Nudgee College in Brisbane, the normal mode of transport from Stanthorpe to Brisbane was what was then called the Mail Train. It ran daily between Stanthorpe and Brisbane. After holidays it carried a number of secondary school students who at the beginning of each semester travelled back to a variety of colleges in Brisbane, Warwick and Toowoomba. One of those students was a pretty Lourdes Hill girl much admired by the Nudgee boys. Her name was Patricia Murray. She was destined, after her studies at school, to marry Patrick Surawski and become the mother of five children, the second of whom is Trish whose final profession we celebrate today. The ways of God are certainly mysterious. Sister My, whose decision we also celebrate today, is not as well known to me, nevertheless she too together with her family as I understand from her biography, has also been tested in the loving fire of God and like Trish before her has also responded to Godís love and Godís call. Together they will serve God and promote Godís kingdom as Canossian Sisters. In one sense the heroic generosity of these two young women will hardly raise an eyebrow. They will not be feted as we in the scholarship class of 1950 were. In another sense their decision in the midst of our very secular society is counter-cultural, desperately needed, and in Godís own mysterious plans, bound to do much good. Recently we celebrated the great feast of Christmas. For so many people it too might have been described as insignificant Ė a child born in a manger in the small village named Bethlehem on the other side of the world. It probably hardly raised a ripple. Yet because it was filled with the inspiration and power of God it changed the world. None of us will ever know the good that we do when we try to follow Godís will. God alone knows, but when Godís power is added to our humble actions great things usually happen. I am sure that the two young women, who have given their lives to God in the work of the Canossian Sisters here in Brisbane, will have a similar effect on all those around them as they devote their lives to the work of Godís Kingdom. What they need from us more than anything else is not only our admiration which is certainly given, but our prayerful support for the marvellous and heroic step they are taking today.
Scripture uses two beautiful vineyard images. The first from the Old Testament shows God watering a vineyard that is his chosen people. The vineyard may be the world, it might also be the Church, or it might be ourselves as individuals. We must always be open to the rain or the grace that God sends into our lives. The second image shows us Christ as the vine in the midst of the vineyard and ourselves as the branches attached to that vine. Christ gives us life provided that we remain attached to the vine. Sometimes God prunes us in his own loving way to give us even more life. All of us including Patricia and My know only too well what Godís pruning is all about. We may not like it at the time, we may even resent it, but in Godís own good time we will come to recognise Godís presence in our lives. Only last year I read a small book by Bishop Thomas Wright on the ďOur FatherĒ in which he quoted Archbishop William Temple about the power of prayer. A hundred years ago Archbishop Temple wrote, ďWhen I pray coincidences happen, when I cease praying they stop.Ē How often those coincidences, in reality Godís gentle shaping of our lives happen, often moving us, as these two young women have been moved, ever closer to God and to Godís Love.
Today could I congratulate the parents and families of these two young women whom they have educated in the faith long before they ever received formal education. The influence of their parents has brought them to this significant step in their lives about which their parents have every reason to feel very proud today. Could I congratulate Sister Anna and the Canossian Sisters for inspiring these young women and leading them along the pathway of service to God. May God bless and reward them for their response to Godís gentle bidding, and may Mary the Mother of God in her powerful simplicity be their inspiration and guide. May Magdalen of Canossa, particularly in her love for the poor, be their model as she intercedes before God for the life that lies ahead of them. As we now continue with the Eucharist, the great prayer of the Church, may we journey into the life death and resurrection of Christ and pray that God may open us ever more deeply to the grace of God that enables us always to draw abundant life from Christ into whom we all were grafted at baptism.
Archbishop John Bathersby D.D.
Jan 27, 2007