The following homily was preached by Fr John Harris OP at Sr M Cathy’s Solemn Profession:

In the old vocations booklet for the Irish province from the 1950s the photographs go through the various stages of the formation of novices and students. By the second last page one arrives at pictures of the priest’s ordination and first Mass, turning the page, the final picture on the last page was of the graveyard in Tallaght. As if to say once you were ordained then the next major moment in one’s life was the grave. I am not saying today is the last big day in the life of Sr. Mary Cathy and the next stop is the community graveyard on the Chord Road. Or am I? For today you will use those stark words: I promise obedience until death.

At the end of today’s Gospel, we read: When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to their own town where the child grew to maturity and he was filled with wisdom: and God’s favour was with him.

And we hear nothing more of him for 30 years, except for the episode in the Temple when he was 12 –  the hidden years of prayer and silent work. We call them the hidden years but also from a human standpoint formative years, years in which in his sacred humanity he grew in maturity.

Today marks a phenomenal flowering, a maturing of Sr. Mary Cathy’s journey of faith. Today Sr. Cathy offers herself totally to Christ. This one sentence of eight words sums up the Thomistic understanding of solemn profession. Today Sr. Cathy offers herself totally to Christ. Today is the triumph of grace in the life of our sister. She is giving herself, consecrating herself in a public act of worship in the Church, for the Church, to Christ.

The prayers of the blessing of the veil and the blessing of the profession ring focus us on the interior reality of today’s solemn profession.

The prayer of blessing of the veil says that the veil is a public sign of her consecration, her giving of herself totally to Christ making her a house of prayer and a temple of intercession for all people. The ring is said also to be a sign of consecration and fidelity pledged to God.  Both are signs of her consecration.

The ring she receives today is a gift to her from her friends, a sign that religious vocations are truly ecclesial, they are never simply between the person making profession and her God, it is the activity of God’s grace in the midst of the Christian community. At her simple profession I spoke of how Cathy’s journey had begun on the day Imelda and John brought her to the church to be baptised, today we all hold Cathy’s beloved mother Imelda in our hearts, we all know how proud she was of Cathy’s decision to become a nun, how often during the months of her final illness did Imelda say she was delighted for Cathy.  Cathy was nourished both spiritually and humanly by her friends in the Legion of Mary, friends who today give her the ring of profession, a faith that has grown and matured here in this community of Siena. We are all part of the story of Cathy’s consecration.

But as Dominicans how do we understand this act of consecration – for us it is always to be consecrated to the truth. This is made concrete in the inscription in the ring she will receive: “Do whatever he tells you” – These words come from the last words spoken by Our Blessed Lady in St. John’s Gospel, at the wedding feast of Cana. These words speak to Cathy of what her consecration as a Dominican means. To be consecrated in the truth means that one will always endeavour to do whatever he tells you, in a word obedience. It commits you to a life of listening, lived in silence in the enclosure always striving to do his will. Knowing that in his will is our peace. This is what you are consecrating yourself to today Sr. Mary Cathy. You are giving yourself over freely to do whatever the Lord tells you.

In the formula of our Dominican profession there is none of the flowery language of other profession formulae, there is the simple giving of yourself to God, to Blessed Mary and to Blessed Dominic and to this religious community in obedience.

For us Dominicans, obedience is not a giving away of our intelligence, it is not a fight between two opposing wills, you and the prioress, or the community or your spiritual directors. – I am sure that Fr. Eamon McCarthy will agree with me, he who was the first priest to help her on her spiritual journey, that our lives would have been a lot easier if someone had told her “do whatever he tells you”, that’s not our Cathy. Cathy may be obedient but never subservient.

Obedience for us Dominicans is not a servile struggle between my freedom and someone else’s authority. It is not a stunting of our giftedness from God rather it is an openness to the truth of the Lord in the midst of the Church, in this community, spoken through the voice of the prioress and the community and indeed the Order with its long history. It is not a subjection of the intellect – rather it is a loving embracing of the truth discovered in Christ. All of us are at the service of this truth, the Master of the Order, his vicar, the prioress, the conventual chapter, the individual obedient religious, all of us are consecrated to the truth, to doing whatever Our Blessed Lord asks of us. Religious Obedience for us Dominicans is not a struggle of wills but an acceptance of God’s truth in ones’ life. A truth that challenges us to mature and grow in wisdom as did the Lord when he went back to Galilee, to his own town of Nazareth.

For the rest of your life Sr. Mary Cathy, until death, you, by your act of profession, give yourself over to doing whatever he tells you, in this community. You together with your community will endeavour to listen deeply to the voice of the Lord in order to do whatever he tells you, as a community and each of us in her own personal responses.  This common search for the truth is what marks our Dominican obedience out from other forms of obedience. Ours is always a searching after the truth, the truth in this particular situation in the life of the individual religious in the midst of a religious community which together search for the truth. Obedience can never be reduced to a war of wills but a common listening to the promptings of the Spirit after the model of Our Blessed Mother, to whom you also make profession, to do whatever the tells you.

This beautiful image of our Heavenly Mother encouraging you to do whatever he tells us should always be the atmosphere in which we Dominicans live out our lives of obedience with creative resourcefulness. It challenges us to a new maturity, not a childish wanting of my own way. Cardinal Ratzinger explains to us what this mature faith entails: An “adult” faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth… as this friendship with Jesus matures the more our true freedom develops and our joy in being redeemed flourishes[1].

Today Sr. Mary Cathy you consecrate yourself to a life of Obedience lived as a mature woman. Your offering of yourself in obedience to the truth doesn’t reduce you in an act of humiliation but rather allows you to flourish into a mature Christian during these years of your life hidden, here in Siena Monastery.

The words of St. Paul to the Ephesians sum up my prayer for today Sr. Mary Cathy: that you grow in maturity to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… speaking the truth in love, that you grow up in every way into him, who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.

What you do today will be worked out in the years ahead, these hidden years, until they come to light in the fullness of time. Until then may you grow to maturity and be filled with wisdom and may God’s favour be with you.

[1] From the homily at the election of a pope in 2005