THE PRIORESS' CHAPTER HOMILY
My dear Sisters,
Once again we gather in chapter to ponder the Incarnation of the Son of God and his birth as a baby in Bethlehem. This year I would like to contemplate the nativity scene from the point of view of our three vows, since we have already begun to consider these in regular chapter.
What a charming scene, which Christians throughout the world love to depict: Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (although most modern creches have the poor, naked baby freezing to death in just a diaper)! We can easily see chastity, poverty and obedience mirrored in this vignette of the Holy Family.
Chastity shines forth, not just in the obvious sense that Mary conceived Christ virginally and remained ever a virgin, her virginity being cherished and protected by Joseph. It also radiates in the more profound sense proclaimed in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." Mary’s whole heart was fastened on God and his will for her; Joseph was a "just man" who lived the Law with quintessential gentleness and delicacy. Together, they merited to see in Jesus the face of the living God. Their whole life and all their affections, even for one another, were centered in the Holy Child and nothing was too difficult to do for Him.
Poverty also radiates from this scene, again not just in the obvious sense of the penniless couple forced to take refuge in an animal barn and surrounded by dirty, smelly shepherds. Mary and Joseph did not have the money to buy comfort and security; they could not hire servants, bribe officials, get their own way in any sense. They were totally dependent on God and what he might provide for them, and they lovingly accepted whatever he did provide for them. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Mary and Joseph held Heaven’s King in their arms and they neither wanted nor needed anything else.
Most of all we can see obedience made manifest in the stable at Bethlehem. According to the Letter to the Hebrews, even before the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Trinity said, "Behold, I come to do your will, O God... You have prepared a body for me." This embodiment became possible because Mary said, "I am the maidservant of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word." And Joseph steadfastly "did as the angel bade him." He did not even have to speak! "Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways." Our eternal salvation hinges on the obedience of the Holy Family.
How can we enter into this wonderful scene? Surely by imitating Mary and Joseph! As we all know, this is not as easy as it sounds. We need to recognize who or what we have enthroned in our hearts instead of Christ before we can dethrone it. There are other means besides money of "purchasing" what we want, of exercising power and influence over others to our own advantage. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that our plans and our will are God’s will. Always we stand in need of God’s grace.
But, if we fasten our whole heart on God alone, if we depend on him for everything, both material and spiritual, if we are open to his will in everything, we too will hold Jesus in our hearts and have him dwelling in our lives, imparting to us his Spirit and leading us to the Father.