[Editor’s note: Sister Joyce Lehman, president, offered this spoken reflection during Sister Bela Mis’ entrance to the novitiate on Jan. 15, 2016, at Salem Heights.]
Tonight’s Gospel tells of the call of Peter and Andrew, James and John. Each one heard Jesus call him as he was engaged in daily work. It probably seemed an unusual invitation for men who fished for a living and it must have offered something that earning a living in the company of family members did not. It was an invitation to an uncertain life: leaving home and family, following someone who was probably nearly a complete stranger, starting out on a road that had no assurances of success or prosperity or anything else that constituted what they thought life would be like.
This call is the same as we whom you are choosing to join have heard. Jesus no longer physically walks by and calls us, but we know the call and recognize the caller as clearly as if we heard his actual voice. He has called each of us to leave all and follow, to trust and to hope, to be joyful and to reach out, and to companion – each other as well as those we evangelize and to and with whom we minister.
You are looking at joining a congregation dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus. The Precious Blood is an efficacious sign of the absolute and inexhaustible love of God for us. God loved humanity into being, and then in a further extraordinary gift of love, incarnated divinity in the person of Jesus. Jesus in turn shows us how to live and move and have our being here on earth. To show us how much God loves us and wants us, Jesus gave himself in the Eucharistic act of self-donation and then sealed the new covenant with his blood on the cross. The Precious Blood then, for us, is an icon that draws us to contemplation of God’s gift of love in which we are nourished and challenged at the same time to live that same kind of self-giving love. Our Mother Maria Anna Brunner embraced wholly and was wholly embraced by this mystery. When we retell her story, we sense her urging each of her daughters to do the same.
Each Sister here tonight has walked the novitiate journey you are now embarking on. But none of us has done it in this time and place, in these circumstances and situations. We can share our journey with you, but we cannot tell you what your journey will be like. Your experience of consecrated life, of living the vows of obedience, chastity and poverty in community and for the people of God will be unique, as you are unique and as this time in history is unique.
The Novitiate will take you into an alien land. You are no longer who you were: a beautiful, talented, young single woman living in the world. But you are also not yet what you will be: a consecrated religious leaving all because you know that all that you have is gift pure and simple, not something you have earned or have the right to give away. You are not yet vowed in obedience to the whisper of God’s will that comes not only through Scripture, the wisdom of the Church and of those you serve, but also through your Sisters who walk this path with you. You are not yet fully consecrated to God in celibate chastity, using all your energies that could be given to spouse and children to loving God with single-mindedness and giving loving service to God’s people.
This novitiate experience is much less about where you live or with whom you live, it is not really about what the Congregation offers you or asks you to do or not do during your novitiate formation. It is much more about you and what you want from this sacred time. You probably will never have an opportunity like this again to reflect on the life you feel you are called to: to study it, to have the opportunity to speak with others who are living the life, to read and reflect and contemplate on what the vows mean, what our spirituality means, what communal living and community life mean, and ultimately what it means to be a Sister of the Precious Blood.
But as you say yes to the call of Jesus to follow him, know that you will have us as your companions and mentors. You are not alone. We will encourage you in the difficult times, and urge you to keep going if you become disillusioned or disappointed; we will support or challenge you in the decisions you make along the way; we will rejoice with you in both the little and big victories of life and living and we will hold you in prayer at all times.
The early Christians were filled with the joy of following Jesus, of supporting and encouraging each other, of living day to day knowing that together they could count on each other, but their focus was on sharing the Good News that Jesus shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins that we might live freely and fully. Jesus showed us to what extent we are called to love one another, and how this concrete daily love leads us back to the Father.
You are on your way in this new land. God comes to meet you from your future as you take each day’s steps forward. You will glimpse more and more of your future as God’s call to you becomes more and more concrete in daily life. You will recognize the possibilities of who you can become as you rub shoulders with your Sisters and with those you serve. You will come to be at peace knowing the rightness of the letting go of one kind of future in order to be open-handed in accepting what God gives you in both absence and presence, loss and gain.
Tonight you are saying “yes” in a long line of “yeses” you have already spoken. And in the words of the poet T.S. Eliott, “yes is a world and in this world of yes lies skillfully curled all other worlds.” What you are giving up pales in comparison to what you have opened yourself to receive.