“And why has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” Lk. 1:43
Today we celebrate two visits of Mary
One visit, tradition says, was here in this place of Ein Karem: the young Mary was coming in haste on the energy of her recent experience of God’s call and her own total YES, to visit her older kinswoman Elizabeth who was known to be barren and whom she had learned was also going to have a child.
The other visit of Mary was in Rome on this day, Jan. 20th in 1842 to a wealthy young French Jew Alphonse Ratisbonne engaged to be married. This visit would change his life completely.
We are gathered here today in this amazing place because of the 2nd visit, which brought about the birth of this family of Notre Dame de Sion: Two religious congregations and numerous friends and associates who live out of the same spirit.
And today we are here with these 6 young women to celebrate with them their first commitment by vows in the Congregation of the sisters of Notre Dame de Sion.
What do these 2 visits of Mary have to do with you 6, and with all of us who celebrate with you? Let’s go back to the words of Elizabeth that we heard in the Gospel.
“And why has it happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”
In this Jubilee year of Mercy, Elizabeth’s words strike me as an expression of wonder and gratitude for God’s mercy in taking notice of her as God did for other barren women before her in the biblical tradition: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel,… and others.
Realizing this connection with mercy in Elizabeth’s words, I went back to see if the idea of mercy was evident also in Fr. Mary Alphonse’s story. In fact I found it everywhere – especially in link with January 20th. “Enough, enough O my God”, he writes to his brother Theodore on Jan. 20, 1846, feeling almost crushed by the weight of God’s mercies.
Elizabeth’s words have this same feeling of “enough! too much!” “How could God be so good to me?” Not only had God taken away from her the stigma of being barren, but in Mary, “the mother of my Lord” as she says, God has visited her. And the proof of this extraordinary visit is that the child in her womb is jumping for joy!
The celebration of January 20th is a commemoration of an experience of God’s mercy, an experience of God’s presence and love in the life of Fr. Mary.
A powerful and deep experience of God’s presence and mercy cannot but give rise to a response of commitment and gift of self.
Fr. Mary’s life gives witness to this – his life was no longer his own – it was given.
Today the 6 of you, Alejandra, Arlyne, Clara, Joey, Rozeni and Victoria, will make your first commitment by vows as sisters of the congregation of Notre Dame de Sion. Your commitment today is also the result of an experience of God’s presence and mercy in your lives. Each of you has a unique experience of God’s call. Return often to this experience in your lives. Sr. Carmelle writes that “Fr. Mary’s whole life was lived in the radiance of the event of January 20th.
Each of us must return also to the “January 20th” of our lives, or in the words of Pope Francis, to our “Galilee” moment, “the origin of our journey with Jesus”, in order to hear again the call, to experience again the depth of God’s love and mercy that we once felt so powerfully. We cannot allow ourselves to forget. Here in this encounter we will find the source of our joy and our gratitude and the desire to keep growing and recommit ourselves day after day, year after year.
May it be said of each of you and each of us here today, as Elizabeth said to Mary also in our Gospel of today: “Blessed is she who believed that the promises made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Sr. Darlene DeMong NDS
Congregational Novitiate Formation Team