Homily for Jubilee Mass, June 21, 2014 by Sr. Carol J. Crater
Isaiah 60:1-5; “Magnificat to the God of Dawn” by Joyce Rupp; Matthew 5:13-16
Today we are celebrating jubilee for seven women who happen to include the oldest in religion (80 years) and the youngest in religion (25 years) among the sisters of the Holy Family. The celebration begins months before the date of the eucharistic service and festive luncheon; they begin with meetings, endless meetings to choose colors, music, readings, ideas about every aspect of the celebration, and to choose a theme. Their chosen theme for this celebration is light and salt.
How many of you are even eighty years old? And yet Sister Joanna is celebrating 80 years in religious life; presumably she did not enter as an infant, nor was she born in the convent, so that puts her age well over 80 years; even Sister Diana, celebrating 25 years with the sisters, was not — shall we say — a sweet young thing when she entered.
It might appear to our guests from outside the convent that our Jubilarians are the retired sisters, but that would be far from the truth. You can retire easily from being a librarian or a CEO of a multinational corporation, or even from teaching school or house painting. Yet the truth is that some of our jubilarians have not even retired from their active ministry. I remember years ago one of our sisters at 84 was still busily engaged in “ministry with the elderly.” No one dared to tell her that she was one of them!
But beyond the question of retirement from active ministry, there is another truth about our sisters here. And I think that is where they came up with this idea of salt and light as their theme for the day. You can’t really do something for 80 years without being passionate about it, and it’s difficult to sustain a passion for 80 years unless it goes deeper than a job, deeper even than a ministry.
At some point in time, each of these seven women was grabbed by a mission, heard a call from God to follow Christ as a Sister of the Holy Family. This was more than a call to “do something” — this was a call to “be something,” to be salt and light in the world.
I don’t need to tell you about salt — but you know I’m going to. We have huge boxes of little packets of saltine crackers (show crackers and rustle packets near microphone), and if you read the tiny print on the cellophane wrappers, they have “unsalted tops.” Now to me, saltines with unsalted tops are a contradiction in terms (I was an English major), but beyond words, saltines with unsalted tops taste like library paste. Without salt, they are flour and water. And eggs without salt taste like, well, eggs — why bother? If you have to control your salt intake because of blood pressure or other issues, you know how difficult it is.
I spent some time in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer many years ago, and on the far distant island where I was assigned, there was a very gentle tribe of people called the Batak; the small group I saw were like the original flower children, with bougainvillea flowers in their hair and in bands on their arms. They had once inhabited the lowlands of northern Palawan, but increasing immigration from other islands had gradually forced them up into the mountains, where they lived on the forest products and rarely ventured down into the towns of the outsiders. The one exception? They would come down the mountains to trade their forest products for salt. Salt was the only thing that was worth the risk.
Salt enhances the flavor of food, preserves food, makes foods more savory. Salt is necessary for life, in limited amounts — but you can read all about it on the Internet. Salt even used to be part of the ritual of baptism.
And then there is light — light by which we see everything else. Light reveals color. Light both creates and reveals beauty. Light mixes with darkness in infinite patterns and designs. Light helps prevent stumbling and drives the power of darkness away. Light protects shins from low-lying furniture and foreheads from slim intrusive doors. Light shows us what clothes match and which are better kept apart. And light in our lives guides us along the path to the Light of the World.
These women before us today are celebrating life — long life, full life, life poured out in loving service. You can add up the years, you can multiply the years and find the number of days — but you can never measure the salt and light you find in these women. And there is no need to measure it, because your presence here indicates that you have already experienced it.
They flavor your lives, they tell stories, their eyes twinkle with light, they stand for something beyond the here and now while at the same time relishing the here and now as a gift from God. They see diamonds in palm trees sparkling in the sunlight, they pray for the children of the world who are victims of violence, they care for friends and family members, they work at ministries in the church and in the world, they serve their sisters by driving and by assisting in countless ways.
And in every action, in every breath, their invitation to you, the ones whom they encounter, is the invitation of salt and light, taste (salt) and see (light), taste and see: Taste and see how good the Lord is. Because always they point to the Lord.