The following is the homily Cardinal Dolan delivered at the Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving for the 25th anniversary of the Sisters of Life in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on June 1.
St. Paul has great advice for us in our first reading from God’s Holy Word this Jubilee Mass this morning:
“...be thankful...sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God...do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
As proud archbishop of this local church that is home to our beloved Sisters of Life, and that most benefits from their celebrated apostolate; as the unworthy successor of a true confessor of the faith, Cardinal John O’Connor, whose inspiration sparked this providential charism of life; I happily accept the imperative of the apostle this jubilee morning and thank God for our Sisters of Life!
Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop Henry Mansell, brother bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated women and men religious, so many friends of the sisters who have been loyally with them this seminal quarter century—how welcome you are, and how confident I am that you are right next to me in this sublime act of praise to God for the Sisters of Life.
The sisters will insist that to God alone goes the glory, agreeing with Jesus as recorded in this morning’s gospel, that,
“It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”
Using the yardstick of Gamaliel from the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear to all of us that their loving service of life has indeed come from the Lord. So, the sisters are, as usual, right, as we first thank God for this still new and fresh religious institute.
A word of thanks most appropriately to Cardinal John O’Connor, whose historic dare, thrown out there with his characteristic apostolic swagger, for devoted women to come forward to protect life in a new religious order, led to the formal canonical act of establishment twenty-five years ago, and to the flowering of trust and love that is now renowned throughout North America.
Thanks as well, as much as I risk earning her ire in expressing it, to a courageous and prophetic woman, who took the cardinal’s dare in the same spirit with which that humble woman of Nazareth gave her fiat to an invitation, not from a prince of the Church, but from a prince of the heavenly host, St. Gabriel the Archangel, at the Annunciation: Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, who, along with Sister Margaret Ruth Mary, Sister Mary Kolbe, Sister Josamarie Perpetua and Sister Lucy Marie were there at the start. Thanks to all of your Sisters, as we share your joy and gratitude today. How much we love, admire, and appreciate you.
The Church historian in me kicks in here. Not only do we appreciate you sisters for your sacred service in behalf of life, but for the renewal you have given consecrated religious life in the Church.
Last September, many of us were in this venerable cathedral to hear Pope Francis ask, “What would the Church in America be were it not for the sisters?” This archdiocese, which basks in the radiant holiness of women religious such as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, knows the answer to the Holy Father’s question.
But, a quarter century ago, we worried that consecrated religious life was in trouble, with towering challenges, and some were even wondering if the witness of religious women that had been the heart and muscle of Catholic America would become but a memory. The advent of the Sisters of Life became a booster shot for all of us, as if the Lord were reminding us that “renewal and rebirth” were important words in His dictionary. For that breath of hope, we praise God for the Sisters of Life.
Those Sisters are constant in their refrain of gratitude to supporters and benefactors who have not let them down. With Jesus in today’s gospel, they call you friends, as does the whole Church, as we realize that much of their growth and progress has been because of your solicitude.
Yesterday, we celebrated the Feast of the Visitation; today, we commence the month dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, with the day after tomorrow, the first Friday of June, the actual Feast of the Sacred Heart.
Might I propose that these two glorious feasts provide a most fitting frame for our jubilee event, bookends, as it were, to the founding, message, mission and ministry of the Sisters of Life!
The Visitation: a humble virgin, first aware by faith of her rather unique pregnancy, conscious of the fragile divine and human life within her, sets out on a long and arduous journey to encourage and support yet another woman with what today we would call “a problem pregnancy,” her kinswoman, St. Elizabeth. The Visitation, a biblical icon of trust, joy, charity; two women who rally around the two tiny gifts of life bouncing within, two babies the history of salvation will hail as the Son of God, Jesus, and the precursor of the savior, St. John the Baptist.
On the sidewalks of New York, the streets of Toronto, Denver and Washington, D.C., we see the visitation go on, as our Sisters of Life, with trust, joy, and charity, continue to support and encourage women who are afraid and alone, ever conscious of their babies, new life, in the wombs of vulnerable women.
Mary and Joseph
Elizabeth and Zechariah, and John the Baptist,
...special patrons of the sisters as they keep the visitation going!
Driven by love! “Remain in my love!” exhorts Jesus in this morning’s gospel, a love so effectively on display in the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!
“All for Thee, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!” as we acknowledge that our celebration today is all about Him, He who came “that we may have life, life in abundance, life everlasting,” who renewed His Father’s original intent that His creation be united in a civilization of love, a culture of life.
“Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in Thee!” as we acclaim that the trust placed in the most noble cause of life by the Sisters of Life two-and-a-half decades ago has been validated beyond belief; a trust so refreshing in a world of doubt, suspicion, cynicism, and negation of life itself; a trust so secure that Mother Agnes, the sisters, and I invite you now to the 50th anniversary of the Sisters of Life on June 1, 2041, to be held not at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but at Yankee Stadium, filled with hundreds of the sisters, with women, and babies, by then adults, ever so grateful for the gift of life fostered by the Sisters of Life, an energy that flows from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary!
“All for Thee, Most Sacred Heart of Jesus! Sacred Heart of Jesus, we place all our trust in Thee.”