Reflection by Sister Carol Crater – October 27, 2014
Before I begin, I’d like to ask a little trivia question. At the beginning of Mass, we had a young woman from the Navy take part in a Military Honors Service. Can anybody guess what her baptismal name is? (Joan of Arc)
And there was a young man who was part of that Honors Service as well. He has a connection with Xena, Warrior Princess, which he didn’t specify to me. (Later I learned that he served in the Navy with Captain Lawless, the uncle of Lucy Lawless who played Xena on television.) We’ll get to that later.
As I started to prepare this celebration of Sister Joan of Arc’s life, I realized that I was going to have to be the one to do the reflection, because no one else would have a clue why I put together the elements I did. Then I started thinking of what happens when we put things together, and I was off and running.
Putting together a liturgy is in some ways similar to putting together a recipe. There are some items that are large and are part of most recipes (for baked goods, anyway), just as liturgies contain some elements that are common from one to another. In a recipe, you usually use sugar, flour, eggs and shortening, and this makes up the bulk of the batch. Then you add a little vanilla, a little salt, a little lemon zest – but not half a cup of vanilla or a pound of salt or the zest of twenty-five lemons – unless you’re cooking for an army – or a navy! A little of these flavorings goes a long way.
Putting together a liturgy is similar. In the case of Sister Joan of Arc, we have a little bit of Navy, some Christmas, a bit of Xena, but the rest is the substance from our Christian faith – the liturgy of the word, the liturgy of the Eucharist, the Communion rite, the final commendation, all that provides the substance of the celebration.
Putting together a life is in some ways the same: you have some years of this, some years of that, and when we come to the end, we look back and see what we have made of it. And as with a recipe or a liturgy, what is present in the greatest quantity may be the least noticed – the flour and eggs that hold the whole works together but don’t come through with the flavor so much; the long prayers of the Mass or the Communion ritual which we don’t notice so much because they’re always there.
The substance of the liturgy is the same from day to day and week to week and year to year – but today you will go out muttering, “That’s the first time we ever sang Christmas carols in October; it’s getting just as bad as the stores!” Or you will be asking, “Wasn’t that the Navy Hymn we sang after Communion?” What we notice is the unique flavor; and that is what stands out in a life as well.
We sisters frequently walked down the halls of the Motherhouse and heard Christmas carols – not only from Halloween to Christmas as Sister Gladys mentioned during her welcome, but at any time of year – and we saw the twinkling Christmas lights – and we always knew then that we were near Sister Joan of Arc’s room. She was born on Christmas day, and she never forgot it, and never let us forget it either. Sister Joan was a veteran, and she was proud of her service in the Navy. And she was a shameless fan of Xena the Princess Warrior (or Warrior Princess, I could never remember which); she had photos and posters and dvds—every dvd Xena ever made, I think — and even a framed autographed picture of Lucy Lawless, the show’s star. That photo has a prime place in the display out in the lobby.
In the end, it may be that we don’t even know the deeper substance of a person’s life because we get so caught up in the outer trappings, the flavorings, so to speak. We think we know someone because we know some things about them. In some cases, though, and I think Sister Joan of Arc is one of them, if we scratched deeper, these flavorings would be very good guides to revealing the foundation underneath them, the substance of Sister’s life. Under the Christmas carols, Navy uniform, and Xena pictures, I see a life of faithfulness, a life of fidelity – faithfulness to God who called her into life on Christmas day, faithfulness to her community centered on the Holy Family, faithfulness to her country through her pride in service, and faithfulness to her friends, the Xenas and others among us.
Whether or not we see the inner substance of Sister Joan’s life – or of anyone else’s life, for that matter – our loving God knows our substance and our uniqueness, and God has the final word, which is:
Do not be afraid, I am with you;
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me;
I will bring you home;
I love you and you are mine.