Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel - the homily of the Holy Mass of the Carmelite Rite of the Perpetual Profession at Monastery of the Queen of Carmel in Bunda - Tanzania

The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel today. A day of utmost importance to the Monastery of the Queen of Carmel in Bunda (some 35 km from Kiabakari). For the very first time in the short - just fourteen year long history of the monastery two sisters of Discalded Carmelite Congregation made their perpetual profession. I had a priviledge to be a main celebrant and the preacher (on behalf of Bishop Renatus Nkwande of the diocese of Bunda who got sick and asked me to stand in) in this unique solemnity. Let us pray for the newly professed sisters!


Homily of the Holy Mass of the Carmelite Rite of Solemn Profession
Monastery of the Queen of Carmel, Bunda, 16/7/2015

Beloved and Most Reverend Mother Prioress,
Beloved Sisters Jyothi Maria of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and Mary Fides of the Holy Trinity,
Beloved Sisters of this Monastery,
Reverend Fathers and Sisters,
Distinguished Relatives of our professing Sisters and all invited Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

When the completion of the time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law, so that we could receive adoption as sons”. (Gal 4:4-5)

How old was that woman, chosen by the Almighty God for such an incredible task in divine and human history? Bible scholars dispute and differ on the exact age of Our Lady, but they are in broad consensus that she was very young at the time of Annunciation, perhaps as young as fourteen.

Fourteen sounds familiar to many of us here. Fourteen is the number of years that has passed since your feet, beloved Sisters, touched this holy mountain on November 21, 2001, when we met for the very first time - you led by beloved Mother Gemma, and me in the capacity of the bishop’s vicar for religious - led by my late bishop Justin Samba of Diocese of Musoma. On that unforgettable day we sung ‘Te Deum!’ And today - fourteen long, eventful, challenging yet somehow seemingly short years later - we gather here together again to sing ‘Te Deum!’ as we acknowledge the importance of this day. The completion of time comes in the history of the very first Discalded Carmelite Nuns monastery in Tanzania, right here in Bunda - when we witness today the very first rite of the solemn perpetual profession of our two Sisters - Jyothi and Mary Fides.

Yes, the Lord keeps his Word and fullfils his promises to his people always. Who would have thought back then in 2001 that one day your dreams of having this celebration will actually ever happen? The beginnings were so daring, so incredibly difficult. There was no thought whatsover about the perpetual professions here at that time. The survival of the Carmelite community was endangered from the day one. Seven Carmelite Nuns crammed in the small old rectory by the old parochial church without practically any sort of clausura for how many years? With permanent lack of water and resources, celebrating Holy Mass in the former sitting room, behind a curtain, right next to the dining table. Very basic life conditions and few little moments of achievemnts like enjoying your very first loaf of bread baked in a simple machine. Then slowly starting the service of baking hosts for the diocese, mending old vestments, making new ones. Facing so many challenges that threatened the very existence of your community. Sicknesses and diseases that troubled you as you tried bravely to cope with the situation and establish somewhat more normal ways of life you have been accustomed to back home in India… I remember that many times you were longing for the turn - the object so intrinsically associated with your colistered way of life - you mentioned the lack of it now and then often. Some of us here are witnesses though how the invisible hand of God was always extended over this place, in a constant act of divine blessings and heavenly assurance to you, Daughters of God, that one day you will sail through the troubled waters safely and will see calm sees and bright sun eventually.

Today your community becomes a mother of a new life. No longer a barren woman who cries for a day when she can raise her child to heaven and bless the name of the Lord. To the contrary!

Today this Carmel in Bunda becomes a happy mother of two. At the age of fourteen, just like Our Lady in Nazareth, this monastery receives a sacred touch of the Living God which turns the barren land into a flourishing garden, death to life, sadness to happiness, expectation into jubilation, and apprehension to celebration…

We have come here today - grateful for you kind invitation - to join you in this miracle of God’s Mercy and Generosity. The day when God fulfills his Promise. The day when your hope turns into the fact and grateful joy!

Yet we ask ourselves? Why them? Why Jyothi? Why Mary Fides? What makes them so special that the Lord has fallen in love with them first in this land of Kilimanjaro, Serengeti, Lake Victoria, Indian Ocean, Zanzibar, Mara Region, amongst the great people of Tanzania, and made them first to respond with unconditional love and a total gift of themselves with their undivided hearts? 

We will find the correct answer to this question in the First Letter of St. Paul to Corinthians: ‘God chose those…who count for nothing’ (1 Cor 1:27-28) He chose Jyothi and Mary Fides because they count for nothing. They are nothing. They are zero. Are your surprised? Do you feel offended somehow with this answer?

Do not be! God does this always since the beginning of times, since the beginning of the history of salvation. He picked that difficult and stubborn and despised nation of Israel to be his Chosen One. He chose David, the youngest one who will become eventually an adulterer, murderer and a man going against God’s Will on and on. He chose Jacob, not Esau, even though Jacob was mummy’s little son and Esau a strong and a fearless man. He chose Joseph who was a youngest of all sons of Israel, a guy who apparently delight in fancy clothes and liked to show them off. He chose fishermen, not pharisees or Bible scholars. He chose Bethlehem, not Jerusalem nor Rome, to be born there. He chose Jyolhi and Mary Fide, he chose me, he chose you - although there are millions of other people who are thousand times better than us and way way better equipped in knowledge, good characters, morals and faith to be his closest allies and followers.

Why does he do it? Do you wish to know why?

First of all he acts this way because God is our Mother. And one of the most important virtues of a good mother is that she always takes care most and gives most of her attention, love and time to the weakest child. This is how our God is by his very nature. He has a special soft spot in his heart for the least important, the most feeble, the excluded. It would be appropriate to reflect in this point and ask ourselves - as we have been created in the image and likeness of God - do we act like God who takes special interest in and loving care of the little ones, the weak and rejected? This is what Holy Father Francis tells us on and on and on - because perhaps he discovered by himself, in his own life, that our God is our caring Mother.

The second reason for the God’s preferential option of the little ones can be found in the story of Gideon from the Book of Judges. God has chosen Gideon as a chief commander of Israeli troops in the war with the might of Canaan military power. Gideon - using his own skills and based on his human natural judgement - has gathered a formidable army to go to war with enemies. Yet God ordered him to sent all of them home. Gideon was left with three hundred soldiers only and defeated the enemy army of several thousand of fierce warriors. All this happened to prove to Gideon that it was not him who achieved this, but God himself. That is why he has chosen you and me, he has chosen Jyothi and Mary Fides so we always keep in mind that what matters in our lives is his grace and his power only.

Yes, what matters in our lives is first and foremost his grace. Jesus said once: ‘Come to me, all of you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28) Did we ever got curious about those people Jesus spoke to - what actually they were overburned with? Was i work? No! They were overburned with their religion! This sound awful, yet this is true. We can overburden people with our religion and this is precisely what has happened in the times of Jesus. Jewish law consists of 365 regulations. During sabbath a Jew was not allowed to do more than 2,000 steps. No cooking, no work, no gathering firewood, no nothing. And you are supposed to enjoy this religion and be happy. This is a nightmare! And at the same time Jesus tells us: ‘Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’ (Mt 11:30). Dear Sisters who make perpetual profession today, please, remember that what matters is Jesus and his love, grace, light and power. Serve him. Do not stop in your religious lives serving the law and regulations of your congregation only. You are not for the sake of the congregation’s constitution here. The congregation’s constitution is here for your sake and for the sake of your permament unity with Jesus and through Jesus - with his people.

We are all here because we are nothing. And let’s thank God with all our hearts for this. Because each one of us has an empty vast space inside of us inviting God to come and take over us completely, totally and unconditionally.

My dearly beloved Sisters and Brothers gathered here today,

In today’s Gospel we read about the women who were present at the feet of the Cross. How many were they actually there? Most of us think that there were three - Mother of Jesus, her sister and Maria Magdalena. We are wrong. You will be surprised to learn that the sister of Maria, Mother of Jesus, was not the wife of Cleophace, but in fact - Salome - the mother of John and Jacob! Salome was the one who came to Jesus to ask him to make her sons prime minister and chief advisor in the future government of Jesus’ kingdom. Back then Jesus told her - ‘You don’t know what you are asking for’. It was of paramount importance for Salome to understand what Jesus meant - that is why she was there at the feet of the Cross. She understood that the closest allies in Jesus Passover, in Jesus’ reign were in fact two bandits - crucified with him to his right and left. These were the places chosen by God the Father for them. Not for John, not for Jacob. There is no other way of reigning in our lives but reigning with Jesus on the Cross.

Our dear Sisters Jyothi and Mary Fides,

is this a kind of reigning you look for, you desire and ask for? This is a reigning in the kingdom of God where to him everyone is number one. There is no number two. There is no better or worse, privileged or excluded.

The way of life you ask today to live forever through your perpetual profession is the way of life of constant conversion, life of ‘no return’ attitude, life of total submission to God’s will. Jesus told Saul in the vicinity of Damascus: ‘It is hard for you, kicking against the goad.’ (Acts 26:14) Not everyone of us knows in fact what that goad was! That is why we miss the point and its gravity Jesus makes to Saul. A goad was a sharpened stick which was fastened behind the horse. Whenever he wanted to kick back with his hind legs aiming for the person driving the cart or chariot, he would hurt or injure himself instead. By saying so, Jesus tells Saul - don’t be stubborn, don’t fight back with me, you will only hurt yourself.

Dearest Jyothi and Mary Fides, 

do not kick against the goad! For most of time in your life as obedient professed nuns in this monastery, in this congregation, it won’t be downhill ride, it won’t be easy, it won’t be holidays. Indeed, you will be doing things that you do not want or feel to do, or you think you are not capable or talented enough of doing (like singing in the choir where your voice to God and his Angels is considered an angelic one, but to the suffering ears of your sisters left and right in the choir it rather sounds like a voice of an unhappy donkey!), things or responsibilities that your soul, mind or body dislikes or refuses to do out of tiredness, weariness, routine of life and so forth. Yet, you will be surprised how much you hurt yourselves and the community, whenever you grow an idea of kicking back against this goad.

Inspite of this sometimes rocky path that lies ahead of you in your life as a professed nun in this community, in due time you will understand that - same as St. Paul, the Apostle did - that God who has chosen you and sets you today through the perpetual profession on this lifelong path, will not remove those sharp rocks from under your feet but instead, he will provide you with tough boots to keep you going. These boots are - Living Person of Risen Jesus in the community and the Eucharist, the Word of God which finds its fulfillment in Jesus, Maternal caring love or Our Lady of Mount Carmel and the Promise / Hope.

What Promise? And what Hope?

The same promise he gave through the Archangel Gabriel to Our Lady, fourteen year old girl from ill-famed Nazareth: ‘Nothing is impossible to God!’ (Lk 1:37) Our Lady answered simply with absolute faith and trust - ‘Ok! Do as you have promised! Not because I believe in myself and my wonderful abilities, but because I believe in you who have told me this!’ This is a faith that has always double movement - abandoning and resigning of ourselves and our complicated ways - which always is very very difficult and can cost us a lot. And at the same time - the strong will and desire to cooperate with God along the paths he sets for us inspite of us and our shortcomings. In his statement to Our Lady that nothing is impossible to him, God does not demand of us impossible things, but only that we believe that He is capable of doing impossible things with us and our lives and doing miracles in our lives. The Lord who sets you today on the challenging and rocky path of your perpetual profession with hope in your hearts, tells you today that he is right here with you and for you and that he for sure without slightes doubt will deliver his promise.

My dear Sisters Jyothi and Mary Fides, 

this path leads you straight away from here back to your community and the reality of life in Carmel, among these sisters and helpers. This community is given back to you today as a gift and as a homework. There are two major tasks ahead of you: 

First, make sure you are always hot or cold in your daily life as a cloistered nun. Jesus says to the bishop of the Church in Laodicea: ‘I know about your activities: how you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other, but since you are neither hot nor cold, but only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.’ (Rev 3:15-16) This warning has a very strong historical context. Jesus spoke to the bishop of the city of Laodicea. Near the town of Laodicea (today this place is called Pamukkale) there are springs of hot water (just like in Majimoto in our Mara Region) who people consider as having healing powers of arthretism and other bodily ailments. That water is captured at the springs into aquaducts and brought through the pipes system to the town. When it reaches the town the water is neither hot nor cold, it is just lukewarm. You cannot drink it. It will just make you nauseatic. This picture taken from a real geographical situation, used by Jesus himself to describe spiritual human condition, speaks volumes to us. Be hot - meaning - be a source of healing power to others. Or be cold - be a source of refreshment and the thirst quenching factor to others. Lukewarm person is good for nothing.

Dearest Sisters Jyothi and Mary Fides, be hot and cold to your community always! And you will make Jesus happy.

The second task is this. Do not withhold for yourselves gifts and charismas the Lord has given to you. They are not meant for you and you only. They are always meant for the entire community. Do not be afraid to handover yourselves and your treasuries to Jesus.

Do you remember the parable of the pounds from Luke’s Gospel (Lk 19:11-27)? A pound as we know it is about half a kilo, little bit less, some 450 grams. The market value of a pound of gold in Tanzania (I checked out of curiosity yesterday on internet as I had no idea about these things) is about Tshs. 37,5000,000/=. Quite a lot of money. It can easily build you a decent house here in Bunda.

Now, the guy who brought back a pound of gold intact, is described in the parable as the worst enemy of the Kingdom of God. He did not steal, he just kept king’s property safe, yet he resisted the most God’s kingdom! He gives back to the king the pound of gold wrapped in the cloth. The word used in original text of this passage of the Gospel comes from Greek - sudarion. Sudarion means in English language - a shroud. In kiswahili - sanda. Sudarion was a cloth designed solely to wrap a dead body. A burial cloth. This guy keeps half a kilo of gold of his master in a burial cloth because he is convinced that there is no life, no hope, no power, no perspective in this piece of lifeless metal. And this is precisely what separates him from the other two servants. Listen carefully to what they say to the king upon his return: ‘Your one pound has brought in ten!’ (Lk 19:16) They do not say that they themselves worked so hard and they do not give themselves a merit that their work gave them profit. No, everyone of them says that: ‘In this one pound of gold you gave me, master, there was a potential, the power, the explosion which made ten out of one pound!’ But the third guy did not see it the same way, that is why, resigned, he wrapped his pound in the burial cloth. Hopeless attitude.

What does this parable teaches you, our dear professing Sisters, and all of us gathered here? It warns us that there is a power of resistance in us, rooted in our life of sin, rebellion and suspicion towards God, fed by the Evil One. The Evil One whispers into our ears - there is no profit, there is no fun serving God, who is jelous of your gifts and wants to make you slaves of his ruthless will and rob you of your freedom and creativity! We must be aware of this power and that at any given time in our life and vocation, we may become like that third servant who gave up hope on God and the treasure entrusted to him for free, treasure which in its own nature designed by God has so much potential to explode into something fantastic, something truly miraculous, something revealing God’s creativity, fantasy and endless power - and we will simply wrap it in the burial cloth. Game over.

There is nothing more scary, more terryfing, more devilish in our Christian lives than to lose hope and to give up long before we have even started or tried.

Dearest Sisters Jyothi and Mary Fides,

Think about the miracle of the multiplication of bread and fish in the wilderness. Jesus took the little that was available from the people. This bread and fish was their property. But they gave this all freely to Jesus. Do you think that he took it and ate himself? And left them empty handed and hungry? No way! He took what was theirs, blessed it and gave it back to them in such a manner that it was plenty for all and still baskets of food were left over.

Think about this picture. Perhaps those who had food in their bags or pockets were afraid to eat in the presence of other so thay can avoid sharing with them. When Jesus asked them to give it to him, they gained and they won.

Same with you and your sisters. Do not be afraid to let go! Do not be afraid to give yourselves totally and unconditionally to Jesus. Let go your person, your time, your charismas, your talents, your weaknesses, your hobbies, your dreams, your brains. Let it all go to Jesus! He will not steal them from you. He will not get hold of all this jelously. He will take your treasuries in his hands, bless them, make them worthy to serve you and others in much better way and then he will give them back to you and your community for sharing with others, so everybody has plenty.

This is your lifelong homework Jesus entrusts you both today with. Take courage. He promised you and he will deliver on his promise. You will win. Always with him. And your community will win with you. And the entire ecclesial community will win.

We all pray for this to happen. And it will happen. For nothing is impossible to God. Amen.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Meet Sr. Jyothi of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
and Sr. Maria Fides of the Holy Trinity

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