Today on this Solemnity of All Saints we have many things to be grateful for and to ponder. We celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of this monastery and honor our two sisters, Godelieve and Veronique, who were part of the beginning of this monastery and continue to be faithful witnesses through their monastic calling, an inspiration for all of us. And today also is an important moment for Redwoods as you Sr. Gertrude begin your probationary period….not a small step but one clearly of faith and of following the Divine calling in your life.
All Saints: we honor today not the known saints but all the unknown ones, unknown yet they have paved a way before us….and what is this way? They were human, just like us….they were seekers and they aspired to serve God…to serve God in and through their humanity, their broken humanity…just like us. In my view sainthood is no extraordinary thing, although perhaps we could say it is ‘exceptional’. Exceptional in this sense: it is living one’s call to the end, offering each day the gift of one’s self, ready to take up one’s cross, carrying it with joy and not being pulled down by it or resentful of the personal baggage one is asked to bear and carry into life! These unknown saints were faithful in carrying their cross, they were open to conversion…open to learning, learning especially how to love, like Christ, no matter their existential circumstances. I use the word ‘exceptional’ because it parallels the message of Jesus: “Enter by the narrow gate for it is a narrow way that leads to life and few follow it”. Let me stress this: the narrow way need not be exceptional, meaning only for a few, because with God all things are possible. And ALL the saints today are bringing this message to us.
Sr Kathy with Sr Gertrude at today’s ritual.
Now dear Gertrude: I offer first this text from Therese of Liseaux: “Leaning with nothing to lean onWithout light and in darknessI go burning with love.Of Love, I have had experienceOf the good, of the bad that it finds in meIt knows how to benefit (what power)It changes my soul into itself” (A Life of Love, p.208).Both the good and the bad that Love finds in us…it knows how to benefit! Love uses whatever it finds in us, even the stuff that we label ‘bad’, that needs healing and transformation. All this Love uses and changes our soul into itself. What hope this is for all of us! To lean on nothing takes me back to Abbot Gerard’s conference at the General Chapter…leaning on nothing but Christ’s love….leaning on nothing paradoxically reveals the glory of God….And, it builds within us, over time, an inner strength capable to go forward, not afraid but assured that one is held by the power of God, which is God’s love….there is NO power greater than Love….this is evidenced in Jesus, through his death and resurrection…it is this Love that raised him from the dead, this Love that has brought his presence so close to us to sustain us on our pilgrimage.
Gertrude, you shared with me a text from Br. Christophe’s journal that was especially speaking to you during your retreat. The context of Christophe’s words is that the brothers were gathered at chapter in the evening and discussing an appeal from the bishops to form small groups in times of trial, and Christophe poses the question ‘Who is available’? (Born From the Gaze of God, p.116). Then his prayer reflection turns deep into these words: “I re-read Ruth’s promise to Naomi, and I would love to be able to live it in truth, in poverty: ‘Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God’. To follow God: here” (p.116). These words are powerful and very direct. They express a commitment, they could well be part of a profession formula! They are total in their offering: ‘Wherever you go I will go….wherever you live I will live…to follow God here…Gertrude, it is my sense that you are ready and willing to make this offering today as you respond to the flow of grace calling you!
We heard at First Vespers last evening the magnificent text from St. Symeon the New Theologian who tells us that these unknown saints form a single chain, a chain united by faith, works and love and this chain, so strong, it quickly can not be broken. Is this not what this solemnity invites us to, to be part of this living chain of witnesses? So let us not run away from this way of life, which needs be narrow, for only then can it expand into the sweetness of love, into the freedom of spirit to which our God calls each one of us. Amen.