Religious women have embraced Jesus’ call to ‘come, follow me’

Sunday, January 2, 2017

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Glen Argan

Jesus’ call to Simon and Andrew who were fishing in the Sea of Galilee to “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of people,” is one of the Gospels’ most evocative scenes. “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” So too did the sons of Zebedee, who were mending their nets, respond immediately to Jesus.

You can feel the wind blowing in off the sea and almost hear Jesus’ voice in your imagination as you observe young men leaving their nets to follow him.

Homilists often take this Gospel as an opportunity to preach about religious vocations, that is, vocations to the priesthood, religious life and other forms of consecrated life. It’s a good story for that purpose, for calling upon young people to consider filling what were once highly respected positions in Church and society.

Some more progressive preachers even include marriage among the acceptable vocational choices. The net could be cast wider still for we are all called in many ways. For example, I regard my “career” as a journalist as a response to God’s call, not an enticing idea that I stumbled upon at a high school Careers Day.

Upon hearing the Gospel call to “Come, follow me,” I think of the many seminarians with whom I have had classes over the years and the priests and bishops who have blessed my life with their presence and wisdom.

As well, I think of those in religious orders, the almost forgotten part of the Church. Religious orders, female and male, are rapidly dwindling in numbers. Many congregations, mostly women’s orders, will shutter their doors in the coming years, and it will be a huge loss for the Church.

In 1983, a young woman with whom I worked left our newspaper to join the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception. At the time, I only had an inkling what a courageous decision she had made. She is, I am quite sure, the last woman to enter the order and make final vows.

A couple of years later, I had the privilege to work with the Sisters of Sion and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in Winnipeg’s inner city. Again, these were courageous women who immersed themselves in the lives of the inner-city poor.

The rapid decline in the number of religious women has brought a corresponding decline in the prophetic witness of our local Church. It was these women who advocated for those on the margins of society and who brought a healing touch to those in many situations of suffering. Even though few wore the habit, their Christian witness was unmistakable.

A crying need exists for young women of Catholic faith to come forward to serve God’s people. Increasingly rare is to see Catholics who associate their faith with bringing good news to the poor, who hear Jesus’ voice in those eternal words: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25.35-36).

Sunday’s reading from First Corinthians says, “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

This is something to ponder. In a society where comfort and ease are often the highest values, the cross does appear to be foolishness. But to those aware of the powerlessness of the all-powerful God, the cross is the one source of life.

Sacrifice does not come easily to us pampered ones. But if the cross of Christ is to be held high, it will be because some forsake “the good life” to nurture life in the midst of a culture of death.

The Church awaits the arrival of women of great courage who realize poverty, chastity and obedience can be the path to newness of life – for themselves, yes, but also for those who have been cast to the margins of society. May God send his Holy Spirit to encourage them to come forth and embrace this “foolishness.”

 [Readings: Isaiah 9.1-4; Psalm 27; 1 Corinthians 1.10-13, 17-18; Matthew 4.12-23]

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