Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Memorial of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face

Blessing of Blessed Imelda Convent

October 1, 2022
Fort Worth, TX

Nehemiah 8:1-6, 8-10
Psalm 19B
Ephesians 2:19-22
John 2:13-22

“Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.”

Fifty-seven years ago, Perfectae Caritatis, the Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life of the Second Vatican Council, advocated for “the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.” In so doing, the Council enumerated five principals for the advancement of the authentic renewal of religious life.

The fifth and final principal articulated is as follows: “The purpose of the religious life is to help the members follow Christ and be united to God through the profession of the evangelical counsels. It should be constantly kept in mind, therefore, that even the best adjustments made in accordance with the needs of our age will be ineffectual unless they are animated by a renewal of spirit. This must take precedence over even the active ministry.”

It is this fifth principal that came to my mind as the architects, the Advancement Foundation, the Diocese of Fort Worth, and the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province of Houston collaborated in the planning, preparation, and construction of this Convent of Blessed Imelda. We have not simply built a domicile in which teachers might be housed safely and comfortably, but a convent in which vowed religious sisters, Dominican sisters, might live out the most essential aspects of their consecrated life that extends even beyond the beautiful ministry of the education and formation of children in the saving Catholic faith for which we are grateful, and which is always in my prayers as the bishop of Fort Worth.

In our first reading from Nehemiah, we hear of how the Chosen People of the Old Covenant wept when hearing for the first time in seventy years the words of the Law as read by Ezra and Nehemiah. They wept for two reasons. First, they wept because of the beauty of the Covenant that had remained in their hearts where God had placed it and they again recognized it through faith. Secondly, they wept because during their time in captivity they had grown accustomed to a life lived without attention to the Covenant and their faith prompted them now to grieve for their sins. We hear the words of Ezra again addressed to us in this liturgy with ears of living faith: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.”

We might be tempted to weep like those who listened to Ezra and Nehemiah because so many times in the life of the Church in the United States adjustments made in religious life have been ineffectual because the Evangelical Counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience primary to the vocation of religious life in assisting its members to follow the Lord Jesus were subordinated sadly to a life more attuned to the inconsistency of the modern and now postmodern age — with community life being supplanted by the individualism of apartment living and communal charism ignored in favor of self-actualization in secular careerism.

Yet, we see not only in this building but most especially in the community of sisters who live in community here, the right order articulate by the Second Vatican Council, desired by Christ and His Mother, and sought by Saint Dominic in establishing the Order of Preachers to assist its members and the whole Church to follow Christ, the Word Incarnate and to enflesh through charity His Presence in their own lives and the life of the Church. “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.”

As Saint Paul reminded the Ephesians in his Epistle written to them and from which we read, “Through Him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” The centrality of this chapel manifests Christ who is the Capstone. Yet, also in Dominican life, the library is essential to come to understand Christ better, and to preach eloquently through your lives in community the Word that is not only a spiritual ideal or value but is truly the Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate through the humble, free, and complete “yes” of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the will of God. To come to know and to understand, to live and to preach, and in all things to love, these are the core and marrow of your Dominican vocation.

The reading by Ezra and Nehemiah of the Law in the assembly of the Chosen People is not simply the recitation of a list of rules or the evoking of nostalgia for a happier time. It is the renewal of the intimate Covenant between the Lord and His Chosen People, the people He has called to make His own. This is key. We read in the Scripture of those who throughout salvation history, including religious leaders, who will try to live within the Law without accepting it as a Covenant that involves personal conversion and confident trust in the Lord; they want the Law but without God Who has revealed the Law and who has revealed Himself in the Law. They want the Law of self-sufficiency without the sacrifice of authentic love. Jesus encountered this in the Pharisees and Scribes. It is what He drives from the Temple in His actions described in today’s Gospel. Sadly, He encounters it too frequently today in the life of the Church. May He save us from that path.

As we celebrate and offer this Mass and seek God’s blessing and protection upon this convent and the sisters who will follow Christ here, let us ask not only for the intercession of Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine, of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Blessed Imelda, but also of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, whose feast we celebrate today. This greatest saint of modern times exemplifies the confidence and singlehearted love for Jesus and Mary needed by the Church in religious life today.

Saint Therese is fierce and courageous in her loving vulnerability — the vulnerability of the Cross — on which Christ is first wounded for love. It is the love of Christ that gives her the confidence to assist Jesus in cleansing His Church as He cleansed the Temple. She writes, “My whole strength lies in prayer and sacrifice, these are my invincible arms, they can move hearts far better than words, I know it by experience.”  Later, she promises to die “with these weapons in her hands.”

The weapons of spiritual abandonment in trust in the unconditional love of God — trust that God loves each of us unconditionally; trust that is tenacious in the face of a spirituality of self-will and arrogant denial of reality that more often than not — passively colludes with evil through cowardice and sins of omission. The weapon of loving trust will not surrender to self-sufficiency and isolation from God or from Saint Therese’s brothers and sisters in the Church. The weapon that loves God for God’s sake and not because of what I seek to receive from Him. “Today is holy to the LORD our God. Let us not be sad and let us not weep.”

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