Sunday, June 9, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Sister Jeannette!

When I met Sister Jeannette almost 30 years ago, I had several nuns in my life, all of them good women, so the title Sister told me that she was someone special, someone I could trust... and that has been the truth. My friend celebrated her 50th anniversary as one of the Filles de Jesus yesterday. She is a small woman with a big laugh, a wonderful sense of humour, and a heart as big as the world. Unfortunately, she and her kind are becoming really rare.

My youngest daughter, Julia, has always had a special friendship with Sister Jeannette, so we kind of invited ourselves to the Golden Jubilee mass, and once we were there, the woman being celebrated was so happy to see us that we got invited downstairs to the banquet, too. It was a lovely celebration of Sister Jeannette and Sister Frances, whom I didn't know. The two joined the fjs at the same time, and their celebration touched me deeply. I've known Sister Jeannette since I was a teenager, and thinking about all the young people she has touched (including my own daughters) and all the good work she's accomplished because she gave her life as a gift to God made me happy... and sad. Happy for her successful ministry over the last 50 years and the fact that I know her, and sad that my kids and grandkids may not have my many memories of good women like her, simply because there are so few women choosing religious life anymore.

But perhaps there's good reason for that. Perhaps people are finally waking up to the fact that it's not just sisters, priests, monks and ministers who are called by God. Every single one of us has a special call, and though I used to be one of those brainwashed Catholics who felt that those who were called to the priesthood or religious life were super-special in God's eyes and I was off the hook, now I know that's just not true. We are all called to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. So thinking one vocation more special than another is wrong-headed, and certainly not helpful in a world that needs every single person on the planet to use their gifts and to pull together to make God's love real. None of us are off the hook!

And I'm also sure that it's time for women in particular who want to commit themselves to God to have more than one way to do it. Women who felt called by God in Sister Jeannette's day had no choice except the convent... because the men in Rome who tightened up the rules about priesthood back in the Middle Ages were afraid to share the Church's power with anyone who wasn't a celibate male. These days, it would make more sense to me if women who hear God's call to ministry have the choice of deciding whether they want to join a religious community of women and/or to serve as a priest, like many Roman Catholic Women Priests do now.

Of course, none of this is to say that Sister Jeannette is not special. She definitely is, and I have always appreciated her faith and love and joy -- joy above all -- in my encounters with her. She's the kind of woman whose love for God makes everyone who meets her want to know God, too, and she's easier to talk with than many priests I know. The fact that she has been a faithful Fille de Jesus for 50 years when the institutional Church has done so little for religious women only impresses me with her perseverance in staying close to God (though I suspect she'd like to be a more radical feminist, she won't abandon her community).

I fully expect the Holy Spirit will see to it that there will always be good, faithful people like Sister Jeannette who will do the kinds of things she has done with her life, though perhaps someday, they will be free to live their vocations as they see fit. Perhaps they won't even need titles like Sister or Father.

But then my question is, when I first meet them, how will I know that the person I'm meeting is a Sister Jeannette kind of person??? I guess I'll know them by their actions and their love; St. Francis' saying will be my proof -- "Preach the Gospel; use words if necessary."

Sister Jeannette definitely doesn't need to use words.

Here's the song that ended her celebration -- one of my favourite hymns.

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