One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was sending me to Catholic elementary school. During my five years at St. Philip Neri, fifty percent of my teachers were the Sisters of Saint Joseph. In the 1960’s our nuns were in full habit from wimple to the large rosary beads cascading down the front of their long black skirts. One of the greatest honors a second-grade girl could experience was being invited to visit the sisters in their convent and returning to the class wearing a child sized habit. You felt pretty special parading in front of your classmates the clack of your rosary beads in unison with that of Sister Sebastian’s.
But nun for a day was nothing compared to the true sacrifices of Sister Sebastian and the other nuns. In the present age it’s hard to believe that at one time Hollywood even chose to make films about nuns and priests such as “The Bells of St. Mary’s, “Going My Way”, or my personal favorite “The Trouble with Angels”. Although the films were engaging, they barely hinted at the radical life choices of real priests and nuns. Today the American Catholic Church has a true vocational crisis. The average age of the American nun is eighty years old while the average age of the American priest is sixty-three years old.
Lives of Praise
Today’s readings from Sirach, the Responsorial Psalm and St. Mark’s Gospel remind us of how the vows of the religious give praise and glory to God.
The first reading from Sirach paints a beautiful image of the way God longs for praise: “The just one’s offering enriches the altar and rises as a sweet odor before the Most High. The just one’s sacrifice is most pleasing, nor will it ever be forgotten. In a generous spirit pay homage to the Lord, be not sparing of freewill gifts. With each contribution show a cheerful countenance and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy.” Our priests and nuns are truly those just ones described by Sirach.
The Responsorial Psalm, Psalm 50, defines the acceptable sacrifice: “Offer to God praise as your sacrifice and fulfill your vows to the Most High. He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
The gospel reading from Mark calls us to reflect on how God treasures those who have given up much in order to focus on following Christ and the rewards that await them in eternity. Jesus’ words come on the heels of the rich young man who sadly walks away when asked to give up his comfortable life to follow Jesus. “Children how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Mk10: 24-25)
We don’t consider ourselves part of America’s one percent but certainly we are rich in family, in owning our own home, and compared to three quarters of the rest of the world we are extremely wealthy. Still, we long for the abundant heavenly wealth God has promised my dear Sisters of St Joseph, the Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns who taught at our parish school and our parish priest, Fr. Pat and all the nuns and priests of this world.
We can offer God our time, talent, and treasure since we made the choice for the vocation of married life rather than choosing the life of a priest or a nun. Along with those, we need to offer endless praise and thanksgiving for our priests and nuns. Let us also add prayers that more young people today will respond to their baptismal call and choose to consecrate their lives to God. Our whole world needs more Sister Sebastians praising God by their lives and not the images of the religious life found in old Hollywood films.