Given on the occasion of the Solemn Profession of Sister Martina Teresa, at Poor Clare Convent, Arkley, on Sunday 1 February 2015
This ceremony is already so rich in words, images and actions that it hardly requires a homily. And there is more to come, when we enter into the solemn rite which is to follow. Listen to every word with your heart. Watch every action with the eyes of your minds. Let not a word, or a gesture, or an intention escape your grasp so that you may indeed feast on the riches of this ceremony for a long time to come.
I had a kind of daydream the other day. In the Diocese we had been talking about the time, when it comes, at which a priest must lay down public duties. There was a meeting for all our priests who are approaching that time, so that we – yes, I have to include myself – can begin to think about that moment. It is called advanced preparation!
In my daydream I was at the point of stepping down and I was being interviewed about it by John Humphreys. He asked me what I was looking forward to most of all. I said, a bit pompously, that I was looking forward to being able to concentrate on the important things: growing closer to our Blessed Lord, focussing much more directly on him, trying to get my daily life more in line with his heart, preparing to meet him face to face: the important things.
These are the things that this moment is all about, the important things: how the good Lord wants to draw us to himself: ‘I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart; how he wants to hold us close: ‘I will betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love.’
He wants to do this because he knows me through and through, from my resting to my rising for he created me and shaped me, gave me life within my mother’s womb. In his eyes each one of us is beautiful. And he wants his joy in us to be complete and our joy, also, to be complete.
But in our eyes we do not find it to be so. We know our waywardness and ambiguities. We carry our bitterness and disappointments every day. We know how much we have spoilt that loveliness by our sin. So this is our life’s journey, step by step, to open ourselves to his forgiveness, his love and his promise and thereby, step by step, to find our true selves for all eternity.
So we pray in song: ‘Come down O love divine, visit this soul of mine’ and kindle there a holy flame that can burn the dross out of me – and there is much – ‘till it become the place wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.’
These are the important things, and here, in this Poor Clare convent we have stepped onto one of the main roads of this journey which we all share.
And so we come here today, all of us, not simply to rejoice with Sr Martina Teresa in this wonderful moment of her solemn profession; not simply to promise her our support in love and prayers, but to be touched deeply by the radical clarity and truth of this moment: a truth about Sr Martina, but a truth about each one of us too.
That is why the words and actions of this ceremony are so important: they teach us the essential things of life. In her prostration, we see the truth in action that we are actually made for God and will find ourselves only when we give ourselves, radically and totally, to him. In her acceptance of a crown of thorns we learn that the way we must go in pursuit of this fulfilment is over the hill of Calvary, whatever shape that may take in our lives. In her acceptance of her ring, we see that fidelity is what is asked of us, not success nor fame, just loving fidelity in every circumstance. This is truly a ceremony of the whole Church and for the whole Church, just as the life of this community, a hidden life perhaps, but a life of the whole Church and for the whole Church, a life on the main road of our human pilgrimage.
Here, in this community, we also find the finest of teachers: St Clare and St Francis. Please do take this booklet home and ponder at your will the wonderful words on the inside of the front cover. They speak of the transforming love of Jesus, who can do things in our lives that we can never achieve for ourselves. This is the joy of knowing him. This is the joy felt by Sr Martina today in finding her pathway to him. It is a real and living joy, refreshed in his embrace every day. And it is so for us all.
At this time, the whole Church is focussing on the beauty and importance of Religious Life and Consecrated Life. It is a great encouragement that we celebrate this solemn profession today. And tomorrow, in the Cathedral, so many of the religious of this Diocese will gather for a solemn Mass in which we thank God for all these gifts. The newly professed Sr Martina Teresa will be among them.
I hope that during this special Year, every parish will have an opportunity to listen to the story of our Religious, especially the story of the Religious present in their parish. These are stories of quiet heroism, great service, joyful living and prayerful gaze on the Lord and his creation, constantly enriching the Church in so many ways. Today we see it in action. Tomorrow and in the future let us rejoice to support and tell this story that others, especially young women, will walk this same, rich path, this main road of all that is truly important in life.
As Sr Martina approaches the solemn declaration of her profession, these words are sung. May they always be in our hearts, for her, for our families, for our loved ones, for ourselves:
‘Uphold me Lord, according to your promise and I shall live; Let my hope in you not be in vain.’
Cardinal Vincent Nichols