Jubilee Mass - Sisters of St Joseph

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Religious life is a gift to the Church. You are a gift to the Church. You have been a gift to the Church here in Tasmania.

I have been reflecting in recent times about the place of religious in the Church. This has been motivated by my experience here of the ageing of religious and the steady withdrawal of the sisters from active ministry – though as a sister you never cease being an instrument of God.
However, the reality is that, for example, the Sisters of St Joseph here are reduced in their active presence within the Church. We, as the Church, are impoverished by this development.

Religious sisters have been integral to the life and mission of the Church here in Tasmania. It is not only the extraordinary works that the sisters have undertaken and the great legacy that they have left us particularly in our school system, but it is the loss of the witness of women who have given up all for Christ. What we now miss are the sisters able to engage with people in all sorts of situations and influence them towards spiritual things and the Kingdom of God.

Sisters have not only influenced the children they have taught, but their parents as well. They have been a good influence on all sorts of people that have come into their ambit: the local tradesman, the butcher, the battler looking for a handout.

It has always impressed me that support for the sisters particularly in early days has come not just from Catholics, but from people of all faiths, even the occasional freemason. In the past when sectarianism was a fact of life, we see people not of the Catholic faith, willing to help the sisters. Such was the esteem in which they were held.

In your seventy or sixty or fifty years of religious life this is what you have known. Your consecration to God has been the vehicle of touching and inspiring the lives of countless numbers of people. Many have been so influenced by you and your example that they have changed their lives – in great and in small ways.

This is what we celebrate today: the spiritual influence you have been through your consecrated life.

The Church here in Tasmania is indebted to you. You have made a singular contribution.

At the heart of your consecrated life has been the desire to live out the Gospel teaching. Jesus taught in the Gospel reading today: “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends”. You have laid down your lives. It was motivated by love – firstly your love for God. Through this love of God your lives have been poured out in love for those who have been given to you. It has taken on daily expression. You have just done it – been instruments of love. You do it unconsciously and think nothing of it. But others have noticed and have been touched by who you are and what you have instinctively done.

You were commissioned at the time of your profession to go out and bear fruit, fruit, as the Lord said in the Gospel, “that will last”. This you have done. The fruit is currently hidden with Christ in God. You will see the fruitfulness of your consecrated life when all is revealed at the end of time. 

According to Vatican statistics, there are nearly one million people living religious, consecrated life within the church. The Catholic faith is unique when compared to other Christian denominations because it invites people to live as monks, nuns, and priests, under vows of celibacy, chastity, poverty, and obedience. No other Christian denomination asks such lifetime devotion.

You have been a unique presence within Tasmania. You have been a prophetic witness. You have testified according to your vows of chastity, poverty and obedience to a higher order of things. You have shown that the Gospel is worth given one’s all for. You have been salt and light, just by being who you are.

Last November the Holy Father announced that 2015 will a year devoted to consecrated life. This will provide an opportunity for the Church to appreciate what a treasure consecrated life is for the Church. It will offer the opportunity for the Church to express its profound gratitude to those who have walked this path of a life given in consecration.

Today I want to express my personal gratitude to you: to Sr Valerie for 70 years of consecrated life; for Sr Maria Goretti  for 60 years of consecrated life; and for Sr Joan and Sr Helen for 50 years of consecrated life.

Thank you. May God give you years of happiness as you continue to live out your consecration.

Archbishop Julian Porteous