(Some of you may enjoy my reminiscence on this Feast of the Annunciation.)
March 25th, fifty-five years ago, was a pleasantly warm day in Philly, with a strong hint of spring in the air. I remember the day as clearly as if it dawned just this morning.
I sat in 2nd period senior year math class, glancing at the greening cherry tree at the window, and yearning for graduation. Sister Helen Mary, IHM ( I still remember her even though she thought I was pretty forgettable in math) decided to set the formulas aside and talk about Mary and the feast of the Annunciation.
For several years, I had been toying with the thought of a religious vocation – but I hadn’t really given my heart to it. But, just three days before, while meeting up with one of my friends in her home room, I had noticed the Centenary Book of the Sisters of Mercy on Sister Mary Giovanni’s desk. I liked the pictures in it so I asked if I could borrow the book for a night or two.
It had never crossed my mind to consider becoming a Sister of Mercy. I hadn’t really known any until high school. But as soon as I met them I liked them. They were friendly, joyful people with a beautiful mix of humanity and spirituality.
Blissfully reading that book on the evening of March 24th, I opened to the magnificent center page. It is hard to decipher it in the picture, but the motto written above the painting of the Crucifixion deeply touched me, “Love One Another”.
Another page offered a phrase that grabbed my heart and, to this day, has never let it go:
The Sisters of Mercy take a fourth vow
of service of the poor, sick and ignorant.
I suppose that, during trig class the next morning, I was already primed for Sister Helen Mary’s talk. She said that Mary responded fully and joyfully when God called her. In a flash as quick as an Angel-wing, I decided to do the same.
I left class, found Sister Giovanni and, before 3rd period, I had committed to become a Sister of Mercy.
Now I look back over those fifty-five glorious years, and my heart sings in thanksgiving for my vocation, my beloved Sisters and the precious people I have served. I turn the ring, given at my profession, and read the cherished motto, “Love One Another “. Our God is a faithful God. He took a young girl’s gossamer promise and turned it into a divine love story.
This year, as I anticipated this special feast, it gave me such tremendous joy to read that, in June, four young women will profess their final vows in this Community. I hope and pray for each of them that, fifty-five years from now, they will tell their joy-filled stories with a graced reminiscence too.
I love this powerful poem about Annunciation by Denise Levertov. May it enrich us on this sacred feast. Great song after.
by Denise Levertov
‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, Sixth Century
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
From: The Stream & the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Theme
Music: To God Be the Glory – Sandi Patty