That Little White Book

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

March 20, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, I’m going to tell you a story. But first …

In our first reading, the passionate prophet Hosea offers us this quintessential Lenten advice:

Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD

In our Gospel, Jesus is giving advice too. A sincere scribe seeks out Jesus’ wisdom:

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
“Which is the greatest of all the commandments?”

Jesus instructs the scribe:

The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

Then Jesus goes on to tell him the second greatest commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Assessing the scribe’s sincerity, Jesus promises him:

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”


Praying with these passages on this particular date took me back to March 20, 1963, Wednesday of the 3rd week of Lent that year. I was almost 18 years old and, while not wise as a scribe, I too sought answers to guide my faith.

One place I found that  wisdom was at the desk of a wonderful Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Giovanni. Like many high school girls back then, I hung around Sister’s homeroom after school. Her good humor, gentle interest, and kind encouragement nourished all of us still slightly silly but ever-so-earnest young women.

On that particular afternoon, an unusual white book sat on Sister’s desk. Its gold letters attracted me and I asked what it was. Sister said it was her community’s centenary book and that, if I wanted, I could borrow it to read.

That little book changed my life. Well, I guess what it actually did was to capture many loose threads running through my mind and heart, and to tie them into a conviction.

I had been toying with a religious vocation ever since third grade. I did love God with my whole heart, just like the young scribe in today’s Gospel. And I loved the nuns and I always wanted to be like them. But actually becoming like them was another story. 

That little white book gave me the courage and will to make that commitment. Here’s what it said:

The Sisters of Mercy,
in addition to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience,
take a fourth vow of service of the poor, sick, and ignorant.

That was it! That short sentence opened my understanding to see that loving God had to be demonstrated in love of neighbor. The two great commandments are always interdependent.

So I decided to “take my words”, as Hosea encourages, and to ask God if He would have me as a Sister of Mercy.
follow

Less than a week after reading that book, I signed up to become a Sister of Mercy. And I have continued to become one every day for almost 60 years. Because just as Jesus said to the scribe, I believe I am “not far from the Kingdom of Heaven”. But I’m not there yet. Everyday is a chance to grow deeper into the glorious gift that was opened to me back in March 1963.

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As you pray with these passages today, take a long view of God’s continuing call in your life. You may have been called to marriage and parenthood, priesthood, a generous single life, a profession which allowed you to serve others. 

In each individual call, we are invited to love God with all our hearts and to love others as God loves them. Let’s pray for one another’s continuing deepening in our particular call.

Music: The Call – written by Vaughn Williams from the poetry of George Herbert
(Lyrics below)

 

the call

2 thoughts on “That Little White Book

  1. Thank you for your presence in my life. I would probably have missed out on meeting you, had you not read “The Little White Book” How blessed I am! ❤️🙏

    Like

  2. We share many things in common …. Sister Giovanni taught me in sixth grade and I just happen to have that book sitting on my desk now…United in Mercy!

    Liked by 1 person

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