On 28 February and 3 March this year, many people had the honour of attending and serving at Masses to celebrate several anniversaries for the Sisters, Daughters of Divine Zeal, in Australia. These celebrations of the Eucharist were extra special because they commemorated the 60th Foundation of the FDZ Sisters in Australia, the Diamond Jubilee of Religious Profession of Sr M. Floriana Lapolla, and the Silver Jubilee of Religious Profession of Sr M. Florentina Lubong.
I would like to reflect on this occasion from a layperson’s perspective, as a lifelong parishioner at my church, and as a simple Catholic person in the Church today.
Sixty years is a long time. Eighty-five years of professed religious commitment for both Sisters combined is a very long time. When we hear about husbands and wives who have been married for such long periods, we sigh and marvel at their fidelity to each other. It is the same with Christ and His Church.
To devote and sacrifice oneself to God in this way – to the invisible and Almighty Creator – demonstrates an extraordinary dedication to His love. Out of this love and confidence in God is born a love made manifest for others through service. In other words, God becomes visible to us through the actions of His servants.
This kind of love endures throughout a lifetime on earth, through many years of humility and complete abandonment. It is also a love which will continue in Heaven. As a lay person from the outside looking in, this is a marvellous gift which we are fortunate to have around us, especially as we laity also have many different callings and challenges of our own in everyday life. We are therefore companions on the journey to Heaven. I give thanks to God for the presence of the Sisters in my suburb and my Church. To know that they, and many others like them, exist in our chaotic world is a comforting thought. Holy clergy, religious and lay people are especially needed at this time.
We need the habit of the Sisters and all religious. Their literal habits – as in the clothing they wear – is a noticeable and much-needed sign of God on our streets and in our community. We also need to be aware of their daily habits – to observe the way they live, speak, act, share their joy, and especially how they pray for us. For this I say thank you to the Sisters for your sixty years of service in Australia and Richmond, not only for caring for the many children who have crossed your threshold, but for people of all ages in our community.
Just a few days before these celebrations were to take place in our parish, an explosion of news regarding further alleged misconduct by high-ranking clergy in the Catholic Church in our own city – and a legal ruling in particular – saturated our media. This was fresh, raw, and shocking news. It added to what has already been a sorrowful and dark time in our Church. This is the reality of the Cross. The heaviness of the beams, the pain of Christ’s Passion, was and is being felt by decent Catholics everywhere.
So how does one cope with the gravity of evil in our Church and society? How do we still find and celebrate what is right and good in our Church? Do we forget about celebrating at all, and turn out the lights, close the doors, leave, and shut down? No! There are many good and holy people still left in the Church. We often do not hear about these people and their acts of goodness. They are the hidden ones – humbly and quietly doing the deeds of Christ in the Church. They are people who live without fanfare, fame, or fortune. But God sees what they do for Him. It is worth celebrating that.
While I was concerned about the immediate impact of the latest news and how people would react in our church come Sunday, every single day of our lives belongs to God. We look for healing, we ask for God’s mercy, we absorb His words in the Bible readings, we listen to the reflections of the priests, and we continue to sing with the energy of life which He gives us. Most importantly, we share in the Eucharist – Christ Himself. And so the Mass was celebrated with an atmosphere of thanksgiving, joy, music, and prayer, as it should be, and this will endure. The psalm of the day was “It Is Good to Give Thanks to You” (Psalm 92:2-3, 13-16) , and so it was.
Standing from my choir position, looking out at the pews of Sisters in their habits who had come from their convent across the road from our church, or all the way from Italy, the Philippines and elsewhere, I felt at ease and exactly where I am meant to be. I felt at peace with all the priests, religious, and laity there. Why? Because even if darkness has infiltrated the Catholic Church, the light of Christ will defeat every evil in the end. We Catholics are called to be His light. There is goodness in the sacrifice of many holy clergy, religious and lay people who give their service for the sake of Christ and His love. The Good News is that nothing can stop the power of this love which conquers all.
Sixty years of God’s truth in service is a victory of goodness through His grace. It is the testimony of an order of Sisters who have held onto Christ’s love throughout many decades of change in the world around them. Sisters I never knew from before I was born, Sisters I knew while I was growing up as a child and youth in my parish, Sisters I now know as an adult, and the Sisters to come. And so for this, we give thanks.
Soon after these celebrations, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent began. The church – which had been filled with exultant music and prayer only a few days before – was now silent and peaceful. As I sat with the congregation in the pews, I looked at the presiding priests during a moment of quiet reflection as we prepared to receive the ashes on our forehead. The priests looked tired and slightly bent over in their seats. I felt compassion for them. It can be hard to be a priest or religious in our times. It is difficult ministering in a country that is becoming largely secular and in which the faith appears to be quickly diminishing, but even the presence of one faithful religious order or one holy priest, religious or lay person, does make all the difference.
And so we must support and pray for the good ones who are still with us in our Church. We must also pray for more vocations. We need you all. You are the hands and feet of Christ.
Send, O Lord, Holy Apostles into Your Church!
(Stay tuned for more about the anniversary Masses on the Daughters of Divine Zeal Australia Facebook page.)