Homily from Sr. Frances Marie’s Mass of Religious Profession
Our celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was made especially magnificent this year as Sr. Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus made her first profession of the five holy Passionist vows. There are many pictures yet to come, but first we’ll share with you the homily preached by Fr. Brad Milunski, OFM, Conv. at the Mass of Religious Profession.
Sr. Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, CP
First Profession of Vows
August 15, 2017
Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary
Almost twenty-two years ago Matt and Mary and little Manny Wenke braved the colder temperatures of Western New York as they brought their new daughter and sister to church for Baptism and heard the questions put to them: “What name have you given your child?” And, “What do you ask of God’s Church for Nora Kathleen?” Who would have imagined that almost twenty-two years later, Matt and Mary would be at this altar surrounded by their family, friends, and a new Passionist family–not to mention some of their Franciscan family!–as Nora Kathleen is now Sister Frances Marie of the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus?!
Enabled by divine grace, Sister Frances Marie now responds with her heart and soul to a beautiful vocation and in her own voice to similar questions whose answers are meant to lead to a profound deepening of her baptismal rebirth through the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, enclosure, and the Passionist vow to be steeped in and offer her own unique and powerful contemplative witness to the Passion of Jesus Christ.
The most life-changing responses of the graced human person are perhaps the shortest: I am… I do… Behold, I come… Fiat–let it be done to me…. The answers you offer today, Sister Frances Marie, will now be woven together into the rich tapestry of a vowed life lived in union with Jesus Christ. These responses, which must be given again every morning, will expand into your own living Magnificat as our merciful Lord takes hold of you more and more, until one day you share with your sisters and brothers, body and soul, in the glory of heaven.
Sometimes the shortest prayers we offer may also be the most life-altering ones. When I was a friar-priest beginning parish ministry, I was fortunate to have been stationed near a monastery of Poor Clare nuns in New Jersey who had known me since I entered the Conventual Franciscans as a postulant. At the time of my new assignment, the abbess became my spiritual director and shared with me one day that as of late her one prayer to God had become simply this: “Make me yours.” I must confess that I went back to the friary a bit frightened by that prayer. I was also a bit upset with myself that I couldn’t yet offer that same prayer without offering God my own list of footnotes. “Make me yours,” I could say, “but here are my suggestions, Lord, as to how you might go about that.” Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I suspect not. The abbess, I’m sure, knew well that those three words would keep echoing in my own heart for the rest of my life and keep slowly bringing to light any ideas, sins, and weaknesses that work to make me not his. To belong totally to Jesus, to be totally his–“make me yours”–is the powerful antidote, the daily medicine, that conquers the forces of sin and death upon which Our Lady places her feet in triumph.
To share in that triumph with our Blessed Mother, it is of course necessary to carry and to stand beneath the Cross. One of my favorite spiritual writers, an old and wise Discalced Carmelite nun named Ruth Burrows, has this to say about the Cross: “The Cross is the mysterious design of God for our glorification. We must not identify it with pain as such. Its significance lies, not in the physical and mental torment of him who hung upon it, but in his obedience, his passionate surrender to God; and it is these we must make our own.” (Essence of Prayer)
What is our gracious Lord, his Church, your Passionist community asking of you today, Sr. Frances Marie, but this obedience to the Father’s ever-merciful and loving will for you, and your passionate surrender to the One Who you know and believe has loved you from even before you were born?!
A large part of this standing beneath the Cross will involve being gathered there in that difficult place with your suffering brothers and sisters, many of whom will visit this monastery or write with their intentions and prayers. You know them well already: ask the Lord to give me work so I can support my family; help my son who is addicted to drugs and pornography; pray that my daughter will be healed of her cancer; pray for my family so they return to the practice of the faith; pray for peace and an end to terror and all forms of hatred; pray for my daughter who is thinking about a vocation to religious life. These sisters and brothers in Christ are hungering for you to share with them the fruits of your own intimacy with our Crucified and Risen Lord. They long to share in a world in which God’s mercy is tangible, the lowly are lifted up, and the hungry filled with good things. The Lord Jesus and his Blessed Mother give you bigger shoulders today to help carry your brothers and sisters to Him and so enable them to experience God’s promises and find healing and salvation.
Of course, Sr. Frances Marie, you do not respond to your call alone but always in the company of your Passionist brothers and sisters throughout the world, and most especially here in this Monastery of St. Joseph in the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky. It is certainly true that community life can bring you into the mystery of the Cross. St. Francis of Assisi, in his Spirit-filled way of looking at life and the world, used to say–if we could paraphrase him for today–that our true friends are all those who push our buttons. Why? Because when these friends of ours push our buttons, our reactions reveal to us how we still need God and His mercy. We will have eternal life because of such friends, St. Francis says. (I’m sure he had his brother friars in mind when he said that.) But we also know that in the rich monastic tradition we share as the Church, the cloister is also meant to be paradise. Why? Because here you have a group of sisters united, focused in the Lord. Even with all their shortcomings and weaknesses, you all are willing one thing–passionate surrender of yourselves to God.
The Eucharistic Heart of Jesus gathers us today around the altar of his ultimate sacrifice. And yet the way we celebrate Jesus Christ sacramentally is done in hidden, humble, ordinary signs that are filled with extraordinary power and grace because of Jesus’ total response to the Father’s will and His passionate surrender for the salvation of the world.
Sr. Frances Marie, may you always draw your daily strength from the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus and the remembrance of all of us, your sisters and brothers gathered here with you in praise and worship. May you carry and hold this memory until we are all one day taken up to be where the Mother of God is–sharing body and soul in the glory of heaven.
Stay tuned for more photos from the glorious day…including everyone’s favorite, the moment of the Great Veil Swap!
***Photos by Larena Lawson – thank you!