I cannot resist beginning these reflections with some thoughts first about the person we celebrate today. Sister Mary Alice Setnicar has spent more than a 100 years on this earth (or 101 if one counts in another way!) and 80 of those years officially a member of this community of Benedictine women (actually more than that if one counts her teenage years as an aspirant high school student here prior to that!).
Mary Alice points out that due to her birthday being on December 25th and to the fact that she was held back due to serious sickness when she was in third grade, she was older than most of her classmates. From her childhood, and all those subsequent years, it is absolutely clear that she loves children and that she is utterly responsive to any call for service or any request to help another person.
I have never really looked at Mary Alice’s hands to see how long the “lifeline” on her palm might be but the way she approaches daily tasks, makes her a front runner in most things. Rumor has it that she wore out someone my age making dozens and dozens of cookies just before Christmas this year. She moves so quickly some times that she might forget her walker or her cane in some later undetermined spot. I don’t think it has ever totally disappeared!
The readings for today are so perfect for this occasion that you would think that she, or we, chose them. We did not. We, together, chose this date. The Church - the Spirit? - chose the readings.
So, taking a closer look at them, we find themes reflective of Sister Mary Alice’s life and, we hope, of our own lives.
What I want to suggest is that behind each story and behind each life, there is always a wealth of other realities. Scriptural stories and each of our lives are but invitations to probe more deeply into the wonder of the God who made us and who is revealed to us and in us each day.
The story of Samuel is an endearing one! Here is a child of older parents, given over to the service of God in the temple in thanksgiving. He apparently knew little of the ways of God from previous periods of history and he certainly did not imagine how life would unfold for him.
I am sure that you can hear similar themes in the life of Sister Mary Alice. What this selection from the book of Samuel does not tell us is what it was that Samuel was being asked to tell Eli…and you will need to go back to your bible to find that out. My point here is that one can reflect on what is told or on what one sees in another person’s life but there is always so much more to tell.
The story is familiar. He goes to the old priest who is training him when he is awakened – once, twice …. On the third time, the priest, Eli, believes him and finally Eli acknowledges that this child is being addressed by God. Samuel responds with that familiar “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Sister Mary Alice has responded over and over again to that same call.
The second selection we heard is taken from that rich letter which Paul wrote to the people of Corinth in Greece. They were a group of people facing many challenges to their newly found faith in Christ. Paul is telling them that in many ways, as Christians, they no longer belong to themselves. True believers, Paul says, become “holy places of encounter where others can meet and come into personal contact with God.” (from Patricia Sanchez’ article in Celebration’s Preaching Resources for January 15, 2012.)
Paul goes on to use that wonderful image that our bodies are, indeed, temples of the Holy Spirit.
Sister Mary Alice, our centenary (a new word for most of us!), is an example of a life lived in awareness of this reality. The Spirit shines through in the service she has continually given to others and the ongoing relationships she maintains even to this day. Recently she has re-connected with relatives in Slovenia via Skype (thanks to the technological skills of Sister Judith Zonsius…)! You also will find a basket down stairs, full of birthday cards and greetings from her many friends – another testimony to the countless people that keep in touch with her.
The gospel selection from John gives us another very vivid and concrete tale. The disciples ask: “Where are you staying?” Jesus responds: “Come and you will see.”
In the fourth gospel, written long after the other three, the author uses words very carefully to reflect theological concepts he is trying to make explicit. In this case, he uses the word “follow” to connote “Come, make a total commitment to me”. That is the theology of discipleship as taught through the gospel. “Come and see” is an invitation to make a life commitment. It echoes phrases from the Wisdom literature (cf Proverbs 1:20-28).
When Sister Mary Alice tells her vocation story, she speaks about her first grade teacher, Mother Adelaide, who always kept in touch with her. When we were talking about this recently, I shared with her that, my first grade teacher also keeps in touch with me. The difference is that she followed hers and I did not. Mary Alice also speaks of her 4th grade teacher, Sister Eusebia, who happens to be the only other one of us who ever reached 100 years of age in my lifetime in this community. She was the one who really encouraged Mary Alice to come to this community.
She heard that call and she “followed” in the Johannine sense of that word! We celebrate the 80 faithful years of that commitment – lived out in the company of the women of this community.
Books are being written these days on the way in which each of us composes our own lives. As we reflect on these readings in light of the life we celebrate today, we recognize that any musical or verbal composition is a mélange of internal and external realities.
- We each make choices;
- we each respond to invitations to the call we hear;
- we each develop in relation to the external realities of the world around us.
The music, the poetry of our own unique lives is the result.
Mary Alice’s life is one that is lived in the rhythms of these scripture readings. She heard the call as Samuel did. She followed in a life commitment as the disciples did. She lived as a temple of the Spirit in her love of Children, her service to others, and in her eagerness to do what is needed.
As in all scripture stories and in all human lives, there is always more to tell. Later, we will have time to hear more of these past 100 years as we share a meal together downstairs.
These are all but invitations to probe more deeply into the wonder of the God who made us and who is revealed to us and in us each day.