Written on: December 15, 2015
Bishop LaValley’s homily
for the Mass of Thanksgiving & Farewell
for The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart
First Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29
It’s no secret that we live in a fast-moving society that has little patience with delay. What would we do without fast food and instant communication? Most people seem to be always in a hurry, including me. Watch me squirm in the checkout line as the person ahead of me takes forever, fumbling deep in his pockets to find that one nickel. It is constant activity, going somewhere, needing to get things done, and done quickly, that’s important.
Given this reality, how do we approach the season of Advent that proposes four weeks of waiting in preparation for Christmas?
These days we are all being bombarded with messages telling us to hurry because there are only so many shopping days left to Christmas. After all, every year we only have 364 days of shopping and we’ve just got to open the doors of the stores on Thanksgiving Day. We can’t wait for Black Friday.
How do you convince people, who are under great pressure from the powerful and persuasive modern media, of the redemptive value of waiting?
Advent is one of those times when it can seem that what we hear and experience within these sacred walls makes Church a totally different place from where we live our daily lives. If we think about it, Advent brings home to us the fact that most of us have divided loyalties—one foot in the world, so to speak, and one foot in the realm of the Spirit. Are we supposed to go through life trying to balance this tension, with sometimes the values of the world winning out, and occasionally the values of our faith?
I don’t think so. The Church is in the world. The truth of the Gospel is meant to shed light on the meaning of our experience. The values of the Gospel are meant to provide a guideline for our daily living in the world. Our faith should not make us schizophrenic, divided persons, but should be a source of inner unity that brings together what we experience and what we believe.
And that is a lesson about which we are reminded on this special occasion when we reflect upon how the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart have taught us for generations how to live in this world with our eyes and hearts fixed on the world to come.
With their focus ever on the Christ, they helped educate and form our young, cared for our orphans, the sick and the elderly, the bereaved. They’ve established Hospice centers and founded and run hospitals and nursing homes; they’ve headed and taught in our Catholic schools, taught in our prisons, cared for us in our emergency rooms and clinics, and served our parishioners in a broad array of faith-filled ministries.
Yes, through the years these nuns have helped us connect what we believe with how we live in the real world.
In her inspiring book, Paths of Compassion, Sister Patricia Geary, GNSH tells us that the Grey Nuns have counted among their community 34 graduates of St. Mary’s Academy here in Ogdensburg—that’s in addition to those who entered other religious congregations.
Just recently, Sr. Catherine Mary Cummings, RSM, a 60 year Jubilarian this year, wrote in the North Country Catholic of her vocation being “developed by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart who were my teachers for 12 years at Bishop Conroy School and St. Mary’s Academy.”
In addition to the hundreds of Grey Nuns who served here in the St. Lawrence Valley, we have all those who served in the Champlain Valley, including those over at Champlain Valley Hospital before it merged with Physician’s Hospital.
How do you say “thank you” to a community of holy women who, for generations, has so faithfully served our loved ones?
How do you say “thank you” to women whose faith have inspired countless others to grow in holiness?
How does one thank these women whose faith sees them sacrifice material things, forsaking time with family and loved ones, married life and children of their own for the sake of the Kingdom?
How do you say ‘thank you’ to a community of holy women who, for generations, has so faithfully served
our loved ones?
Perhaps during this Advent time of preparation and waiting, we might be inclined to ask, why can’t the Grey Nuns just wait, why leave us now? Hold your horses! What’s the hurry?
I know that, under Sr. Julia’s leadership, these nuns, through much prayer and discernment, have been preparing well for this day.
I know from my own pastoral experience that times come when moves, when change becomes necessary and hearts become so heavy. But these can become hope-filled occasions to look ahead to the possibilities yet to be born.
I’m reminded of an image I’ve mentioned on other occasions that we might find helpful today. We must always, always keep our eyes focused on what lies in front of us as we seek to follow Jesus.
For instance, when we are driving a vehicle, we keep our eyes ahead of us. Yes, from time to time, we check out the rear view mirror to see where we’ve been, but our attention should be on what we see through the windshield in front of us. There’s a reason why the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror. We want to look at all the possibilities that lay in the future horizons ahead.
If we spend too much time looking at the past, focused on the rearview window, of how things used to be, we end up in the ditch, or worse. So, while we fondly remember and learn from the blessings of yesterday, we anticipate with much hope and joy what the Lord has in store for us and for the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart in the years to come.
I’m reminded of a prayer by St. Francis de Sales: “Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life; rather, look to them with full hope that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms. Do not fear what may happen tomorrow; the same understanding Father who cares for you today will take care of you then and every day. He will either shield you from suffering or will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.”
And this is where we get to the nub of what Advent is really all about. Advent is an invitation to listen to the Gospel’s challenge to reorient the direction of our lives—to make a new beginning as we begin a new Church year.
With gratitude and much love in our hearts for the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, we say thank you and promise our prayers, particularly at the altar, as we know that the Lord has much good in store for you, who love Him.
St. Marguerite D’Youville pray for us all!