Matt. 5:1-16 Blessed are the poor in spirit.…your light must shine before others (5:3,16).
Exactly 25 years ago this evening, to the day, God sent a new light to the city and Church of Denver, and into our Franciscan and Capuchin lives. That gift of light is our Capuchin sisters, with whom we celebrate this silver jubilee and give thanks to God for loving and blessing us with his paternal care. We proclaim God’s goodness with and through the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Lady of the Light, who has shown her maternal care to these sisters for 25 years.
I remember well that night at the airport, as many of you do. Joy and gratitude filled the hearts of us brothers and other people who awaited our sisters’ arrival. For our ten Capuchin sisters, accompanied by their beloved Padre Tom and two other sisters from Mexico, it was a night filled with faith and hope and some nervous anticipation as their Aero Mexicana neared Denver.
Earlier that day they had said their tear-filled adiós to their beloved community and family in Irapuato, and now they embraced an unknown future with a stark and confident faith in God. Their names had been kept in a holy urn in the chapel in Irapuato for a number of weeks, as they and the whole community begged God to confirm their discernment of going forth as missionaries to a new land. God confirmed his call both in the monastery and in the sisters’ hearts, and now their plane was now landing.
That night of November 17, 1988, we gave a hearty welcome to our sisters as we saw their faces for the first time at the Stapleton terminal: Sisters Josefina, Carmen, Isabél, Consolación, Margarita, María de Jesús, María de Cristo, Teresa, Clara and Gabriela. They were accompanied by Sister Guadalupe the Abbess from Irapuato and Sister Inez the Federation President Inez who travelled with them.
When the sisters arrived here at our Lady of Light Monastery that night, they found Br. Benignus still working on their stove to get it lit and running. He must have been successful, because the sisters remember the delicious hot apple cider they enjoyed before going to bed, and they also recall a cider-related event about an hour later that night. It seems that several sisters surprised each other at the cider bowl, thinking that everyone else had gone to bed, and now they both had to feign needing some liquid to take their pills for the night.
Over these 25 years, Sisters Josefina and Carmen and Isabel have passed on to God. They are with us at this heavenly banquet table of the Eucharist. One other sister of the original ten, Gabriella, returned to Mexico. Several other sisters and candidates shared some time and life with this community over the years, and two new sisters have joined them: Sr. Adriana now studying in Rome and Sr. Cristina with us this evening.
It seems to me that two key virtues connect today, November 17, 2013 with the same date in 1998. They are GRATITUDE and CONFIDENCE.
First, GRATITUDE. As I met with the sisters a few weeks ago to recall some highlights of their mission and life among us in Denver, they were and are grateful for many brothers. At the top of the list is Padre Tom, chaplain and English teacher and gardener and pie-baker and overall spiritual father for 20 years. They are also very grateful for the two Carlitos, one who brought the sisters here and is now Archbishop of Philadelphia, the other with us this evening who as our minister provincial for so many years showed wonderful fraternal and maternal care for the sisters. They give thanks for Br. Felix who among many other acts of love honored the sisters with food or flowers or some expression of affection on the 17th of every month for the sisters’ first year here. And they remember fondly all the friars who provided beer and pizza and ice cream and prime rib for a special American flavor on feasts.
The sisters easily and happily recalled dozens and of other friars and Franciscans and friends and benefactors with gratitude for their spiritual and material care of these our sisters and this monastery of our Lady of the Light.
They wanted me especially to thank all the brothers and others who have celebrated Mass, preached the Word of God, heard confessions, given conferences and days of recollection, offered Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and in whatever way have led or assisted at prayer in this oratory and the sisters’ chapel. In the sisters’ hearts, this is our greatest gift to and union with them these 25 years.
Sisters, on our part, we want to thank you also for your prayer, your intercession for us and our intentions, your Hours of Divine Office and your hours of adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Through this you give witness to us of the primacy of God in your lives and ours. Thanks too for sharing with your brothers over the years some wonderful and joyful moments of song and guitar, of volleyball, of working and laughing and relaxing. Thank you for cookies and garden parties, and above all thank you for your yes to your mission and your life in the Church and Order of Denver.
Gratitude, and now CONFIDENCE.
Our confidence is in the Lord, not in ourselves, as the Word of God in this Eucharist clearly proclaims. In fact, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, our trust in God grows more steadily and firmly precisely when we know we cannot confide in ourselves, in the poor and fragile earthen vessels in which we carry the love and treasures He bestows upon us. When we are poor of spirit, we are pure of heart. When we suffer for the Kingdom on earth, we are children of heaven. It is then that our light shines before others, so that they can see God and sing his praises.
The lovely Scripture from the prophet Isaiah reminds the people of God, Israel, in the darkest moment of her exile, that God looks on her with love, rejoices with her, and calls her “Espoused” and “Beloved.” God will not, he cannot, forget his beloved. His virgin-bride the Church, and his virgin-brides whom these consecrated women have committed their lives to be, are always and forever the apple of His eye, the joy of His heart, and the secure inheritors of His eternal promise.
In the Word of God we place our confidence.
Sisters, you have known joys and also sorrows over this quarter of a century, you have known blessings and poverty too, you have wondered sometimes in your lack of resources and health and vocations: is my poor vessel, is our poor vessel, enough to carry all that God asks of us? You have prayed with the groans and tears of the Psalmist: “How long, O Lord? Why do you hide your face? When will we see your countenance once again?” And God has answered you in so many ways and so many blessings: “I will never forget you, I am at work transforming you into my beloved ones through the Cross, the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus.”
Mis hermanos, esta tarde les dice Dios a ustedes: “A través de estos 25 años, estoy trabajando en ustedes, individual y comunalmente, transformándoles en mis vírgenes puras y mis esposas amadas, por el misterio pascual de Jesús. Entonces, como su Madre Clara y en comunión con Santa Isabel de Hungría y la Venerable María Lorenza Longo: fijen sus mentes en el espejo de la eternidad, pongan sus almas en el esplendor de la gloria, pongan sus corazones en la efigie de la divina sustancia, y transfórmense todas, por la contemplación, en imágenes de su misma divinidad, para que también ustedes sientan lo que sienten los amigos cuando gustan la dulzura escondida que el mismo Dios ha reservada desde el principio a sus amadores (III Carta 12-14).”
Sisters and Brothers, I know this homily is already long, but I do want to conclude with one important reminder for us all in this silver anniversary celebration. Whenever we remember, we also renew our commitment, our covenant, with God and with one another. On this date 25 years ago the Capuchin Province of Mid-America, along with the Church of Denver, received our Capuchin Sisters and promised them in the words of St. Francis to have a loving care and solicitude for them. The Sisters for their part promised to pray for us and keep their lamps burning brightly to illuminate for us the face of God.
Let us all renew that mutual promise and covenant this evening, as we continue to celebrate this holy Eucharist and witness the Sisters´ renewal of vows on the occasion of this jubilee.