Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation
As per tradition, this morning we held Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation in our Chapter Hall after Mass. Ordinarily the prioress will ask another sister to prepare the homily for Solemn Chapter. No one knows who has been asked until someone stands up when the prioress says, "Will the sister who is to give the homily please come forward." This year we all sat down after the chanting of the Prologue of John by Sr. Mary Catharine and the Dominican prostration called the venia...but no one was called forward.
This year's homilist was our Sr. Mary Elizabeth, chosen posthumously, who passed away in mid-January. Sister had been asked to write the homily for the Solemn Chapter in 2013, and it was this that Sr. Mary Martin read. The full text is below.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. Luke 1:38
These momentous words spoken by the humblest maid of all time, many centuries ago in a little hill country of Galilee bring us great joy for they are the beginning of our redemption. Mary acquiescing to Almighty God brings Heaven to earth and unites Divinity with humanity. Since these words are so very important, let us dwell upon them for a few minutes and see just what they do mean to Mary, our Mother, and to us.Behold the handmaid of the Lord. First of all, what is a handmaid? A handmaid is said to be one who exerts herself for her master, or one who has no freedom of action but who is under the control of another. This was Mary, truly exerting herself for her Master. Her will was in perfect harmony with the Divine Will. Nothing she did was ever against His wish. Her waking, her sleeping, her working, her praying all this gave Him pleasure, because all was for His honor and glory. In pronouncing these words, Mary betrayed the depth of her faith, the profundity of her humility and the extremity of her love for God and men.
Let us go on. Be it done unto me according to thy word. Could any other words be more complete, more resolute? Could there be any other words that would portray such absolute obedience and perfect trust? Mary had spoken them and knew the impact of them, and she would not go back on her word. With these words, Mary surrendered her body and her soul unconditionally to God, and expressing her Fiat she became His mother. However, her life would change little, for she would continue to live her ordinary life, doing ordinary household chores day in and day out for many more years. She would begin to live the ordinary life of being a devoted wife and a loving mother. Yet with all this conformity to a very regular life, Mary became the greatest saint that ever lived.
Now let us see, how do these words affect us? We, too, on our entrance into the monastery say with Mary: Behold the handmaid of the Lord, for we have given up our freedom of action and we desire to exert ourselves for our Divine Master. We have answered our Lord’s invitation to be His handmaid, to be at His beck and call night and day. We, too, were anxious to do all to please just Him. We wished to serve and praise Him with our every action. All that we did…eat, sleep, work, play or pray was to give Him pleasure—to do His Holy Will. What a privilege it is for us to live solely for Him: to think, to pray, to live and adore just Him, our Master, our God and our Lord!
Be it done to me according to thy word. In crossing the threshold of the enclosure, we have interiorly said: Here I am Lord. Do with me what Thou wilt; and in so doing, we, too, have given all the faculties of our bodies and souls to God. Now whether He sees fit to use our abilities or not, whether He wishes to give us health or not, a long life or a short one, all is for Him to decide. We have nothing to say for we no longer belong to ourselves. We are His to do His work, His wish, His will. What is His will: What is it that He asks of us? Nothing extraordinary! He asks us all to live an ordinary life, like many; doing the ordinary chores of everyday living by being devoted spouses of the Lord and loving Sisters. He, in turn, is to care for us, love us and cherish us. He, in turn, is to tell us what to do with every minute of our lives. Is there any surer way of reaching sanctity than to always say Yes to Him?
God asked Mary to be His Mother. She said Yes. God asked us to be His spouses. We, too, have said Yes. May we with Mary, our Mother, live these words to the fullest of our capacity and in so doing we will obtain a pure joy and a true peace which will abound in our hearts beyond all understanding.
Sr. Mary Elizabeth of St. Joseph, O.P.