CELEBRATION OF PERPETUAL VOWS AND SILVER JUBILEE OF HANDMAIDS OF THE DIVINE REDEEMER (HDR) SISTERS ON 25TH MARCH, 2021, AT ST. BAKHITA CATHOLIC CHURCH AT COMMUNITY 20, LASHIBI, ACCRA
HOMILY BY REV. FR. JOHN KOBINA LOUIS
THEME: MY SPIRIT REJOICES IN GOD MY SAVIOUR
On behalf of our Archbishop, Most Rev. John Bonaventure Kwofie, CSSp., the priests, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese, I wish to congratulate our five sisters, Sr. Martha Awubawuni, Sr. Magdalene Arkor Kpogoh, Sr. Bernadette Ninsin, Sr. Wilhelmina Essel and Sr. Gloria Gregoria Yeboah, who are professing their perpetual vows today, as well as Sr. Francisca Sosu who is celebrating her silver jubilee in religious life.
Beloved in Christ, of these six HDR Sisters, two are involved in administration, one in teaching, one in healthcare (anesthetics), one in fashion designing and the sixth in catering service. By their religious commitments, five of the Sisters have been rendering their professional services selflessly since 2012 and the sixth Sister has been doing likewise since 1996. They do so to the glory of God, for the advancement of the mission of the Church and for the good of society.
As customarily with the Sisters of the Handmaids of the Divine Redeemer, today’s celebration is taking place on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 1:26-38). And at the core of this Solemnity is the great mystery of the incarnation – namely, that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).
The incarnation first rejoiced God, then the angels and the Blessed Virgin Mary. She would express her great joy in these words: “My Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47). This is the theme we wish to reflect on in this homily.
This theme has been broken down into three main points:
- My Spirit Rejoices
- God, Source of our Joy
- The Joy of the Lord is our Strength
MY SPIRIT REJOICES
The Blessed Virgin Mary exclaimed: “My spirit rejoices”. To rejoice is to feel or show great joy or delight. Furthermore, in saying that it is her spirit that rejoiced, it means that she experienced an inner – and not a mere external – joy. That is, she experienced true joy.
That the angelic message truly excited the Blessed Virgin Mary could be seen from the fact that not long after the angel Gabriel had departed, she went in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). True joy being infections, there would be an instant explosion of joy in the house of Zachariah; for at the hearing of the greeting of Mother Mary, not only Elizabeth rejoiced but the unborn John the Baptist joyfully leapt in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:40-42). Then Mother Mary would excitedly respond: “My soul glories the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46-47).
Today, Sr. Bernadette, Sr. Gloria, Sr. Magdalene, Sr. Wilhelmina, Sr. Martha and Sr. Francisca, who have been inspired by the Blessed Virgin Mary to become handmaids of the Lord, are also rejoicing in God our Saviour. We too have gathered to join them to rejoice in God our Saviour.
GOD, SOURCE OF OUR JOY
The Blessed Virgin Mary exclaimed that her spirit rejoiced in God her Saviour. That is, her great joy originated from God. Hence, our second point is that God is the source of our joy. Permit me to illustrate this point with a story. Once upon a time, there lived a great king who had a son to succeed him. When this crown prince (heir apparent) was of marriageable age, he took a while to decide to marry. Thus, the great king and his subjects were kept in suspense for a while. Eventually, the crown prince spotted a beautiful princess of a smaller kingdom. When he informed his parents of his decision to marry, they rejoiced greatly; and when the news reached the subjects that a delegation was on its way to seek the hand of the princess in marriage, the whole great kingdom rejoiced.
The princess joyfully accepted the marriage proposal. It is obvious, then, that before she rejoiced, the crown prince, the great king and their subjects had rejoiced. In fact, her rejoicing originated from the decision of the prince to marry her. Similarly, even before Mother Mary rejoiced at the news of becoming the Mother of our Saviour, God the Father, God the Son, the Holy Spirit, and the angels of heaven who had become aware of the mission of the Archangel Gabriel had rejoiced. Moreover, it was God’s decision of making Mary the Mother of our Saviour that brought her great joy. She would gratefully acknowledge this in her joyful song: “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.… for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name” (Luke 1:47-49). In short, God was the source of her exceeding joy.
Similarly, even before God’s messenger, i.e., the then HDR Superior General, informed Sr. Francisca that she was to take her first vows in 1996, heaven had rejoiced. Likewise, even before God’s messenger, the present HDR Superior General, announced to Sr. Wilhelmina, Sr. Magdalene, Sr. Martha, Sr. Gloria and Sr. Bernadette that they would take their perpetual vows today, heaven had rejoiced. Indeed, like the prophet Jeremiah, even before any of these Sisters was formed in her mother’s womb, God knew her, and before she was born, God joyfully consecrated and appointed her as a Sister of the Handmaid of Divine Redeemer of Accra (cf. Jer. 1:5).
Beloved, God is the source of the inner or true joy of not only Mother Mary and these six Sisters, but of all religious, priests and, indeed, of all the lay faithful.
THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH
Having become aware of the fact God rejoiced in choosing her to become the Mother of our Saviour, having been assured that with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37), and knowing that the meaning of the name of God’s messenger, Gabriel, is “God is my Strength”, the joy of God always inspired strength in Mary. That is, the joy of the Lord gave her constant strength in good and bad times (cf. Neh. 8:10). Permit me to mention only some instances of the bad times in which the joy of the Lord gave strength to Mother Mary: the tension between her and Blessed Joseph when the latter discovered that she was pregnant, the prophecy of the old Simeon that a sword would pierce her soul, the attempt of King Herod to kill her Child Jesus, the flight to Egypt, and when Simeon’s prophecy was fulfilled as she stood sorrowfully at the foot of the cross of her dying only Son.
Dear Sisters, like Mother Mary, the joy of the Lord should be your strength in good and bad times. On the one hand, in good times (e.g., when you attain great heights in your respective careers) do not forget the joy the Lord had in consecrating you as religious. If you allow the joy of your career achievements to overshadow the joy of the Lord you may be tempted to quit the religious life as some have done.
On the other hand, in bad times as well, don’t contemplate quitting but regain strength from the fact even before you were conceived God rejoiced in consecrating you as a Sister. Let me give a few instances of the difficult times. Firstly, as there was once a tension between Mother Mary and blessed Joseph, so you may experience tensions in your religious family (community or Congregation). However, as the joy of the Lord kept Mother Mary going in the right direction, so let the joy of the Lord strengthen you to remain a true religious in such times.
Secondly, the old Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul. Similarly, you may have a personal difficulty, e.g., sickness, doubt about your vocation, etc. In such times, like Mother Mary, let the joy of the Lord strengthen you.
Thirdly, as King Herod attempted to kill the Child Jesus, so you may have some difficulties caused by outsiders (e.g. colleagues at workplace, neighbours, etc.). Like Mother Mary, believe that this too pass because God rejoiced in calling you.
Fourthly, as the hasty flight to Egypt was a great inconvenience to the nursing Mother Mary, and yet she believed that that too would pass, so bear with the inconveniences (e.g., inadequate pocket money) of religious life, for they too shall pass.
Fifthly, Mother Mary stood sorrowfully at the foot of the cross of her dying only Son and yet her faith remained steadfast, because she believed that God rejoiced in choosing her. Similarly, when you lose a dear mother, father, sibling or relative, or any of them is in serious suffering, remained steadfast in your calling.
Beloved, not only these Sisters, but all of us should make the joy of the Lord our strength in bad and good times.
Dear religious Sisters, Brothers, priests and lay faithful, the spirit of Mother Mary rejoiced in God our Saviour. That is, she had a great inner joy because God was the source of her great joy. She believed that God rejoiced in choosing her for the singular mission of becoming the Mother of our Saviour; and this strengthened her in the good and bad times of her life. Similarly, may our deep conviction that even before we were conceived God had rejoiced in consecrating us as religious, priests and lay faithful (through baptism and confirmation) always strengthen us, especially in difficult times.
Once again, I congratulate our six Sisters and wish them in the years ahead the strengthening power of God’s grace of joy. Amen!