We share with you here the homily preached by Fr John Harris OP at Sr Regina’s Golden Jubilee celebration with her family on the 24th May 2014 – a most joyful celebration.  (In the Dominican calendar we commemorate on this day the translation of the relics of St Dominic)  We had already celebrated with her as a community on the 9th of April – the actual anniversary.

Today, 24 May, we mark the anniversary of the beginning of the canonization process of St. Dominic. As part of the process, as it remains to this day, his relics had to be inspected. This all took place in 1233, 12 years after Our Holy Father had died. We know from contemporary accounts that the brethren feared that the body of St. Dominic, which had lain in a mean tomb exposed to the elements, would be found eaten by worms and giving off a foul odour. They were concerned that the faithful would be scandalized by this and that their piety towards St. Dominic and support of the Order he founded would be adversely affected. But as the accounts tell us, their fears were unfounded for as soon as the stone was taken away a wonderful odour poured out from the opening and its fragrance caused astonishment among all present.

Today as we gather here we are not opening a tomb that has been closed for twelve years but in a sense we are opening a hidden life that has been lived in this monastic community for 50 years and more. For some people the hidden life of a monastic cloister is the same thing as been buried away and left to rot. For many in our materialistic and secularised world the life that Sr. Regina has lived these fifty years has been a waste of a life, locked up here she has missed so much of what life has to offer.

But as we open the mystery of this place, we are not afraid of the stench of a wasted life but rather let us today rejoice in the sweetness of a life lived for love. This community where Reginahas remained these 50 years, is not a tomb but a monastery. It takes it names from the Greek word “monos” meaning “alone” but not simply alone as in the sense of being by one’s self but alone in the sense of focus, of attention. The one who enters here is focused one God alone and over the years much pruning has to take place, so that as one’s life takes on the intentional desire for conversion, bit by bit all false loves are stripped away and one rests only, alone, in God. In this place there is no place to hide from oneself or from God. A living monastic community is at once a place of prayer and meditation, but also of struggle and temptation, a place of joy and peace but also of tears and turmoil, a place which is both a foretaste of heaven and a desert of sweet desire. This hidden life, grafted unto Christ in which much pruning takes place so that it becomes a life hidden with Christ in God. 

Here is not a place of death but rather a place that has chosen life, a life that is lived to its fullness. Fullness – for the Lord has promised us that he has come that we may have life and have it to the full. This place is no more a place of death than is Christianity itself, which is a religion not of a grave but an empty tomb. It is a religion that offers us life in the midst of death, love in the face of hatred, peace instead of war, mercy when we sin. Christ brings us life, for he lives and it is his living that makes a tomb not a place of rot and stench but a place of hope and new life. This life of an enclosed nun is the living reality of our Christian hope, the faith of the Church subsists in this place. As we celebrate this jubilee in the midst of the Easter season it is a living reminder, dare I say it shares something in the nature of a sacrament, of the faith we all share at Easter.

This story of choosing God alone did not begin for Regina when she entered the Chord Road, but it was a journey which began back home when as a young child she saw her parents at prayer. Anyone who has listened to Regina speak of her parents’ faith and devotional life knows that it was their example which first set her on her way to this monastery. It wasn’t in the halls of a cloister that her heart began to be open to God Alone, but in the family kitchen, when mystery was so easily intermingled with the ordinary events of life. In that home Regina learned or should I say began to learn, for we must wait until we see God face to face to fully comprehend the words spoken by God to each of us in today’s first reading: “I have called you by your name, you are mine… you are precious in my eyes… and I love you”.

Let these sweet words permeate into your deepest heart this day and the odour from the relics of St. Dominic permeated all those who stood by his grace on 24 May 1233. The life hidden in this place, is a life permeated by the spiritual truths of our faith; truths that prune us as we become more at one with the vine of Christ’s Body. This pruning takes place in this monastery as our sisters remain faithful for better for worse, in sickness and in health, through fire and through danger, remaining grafted unto Christ and clinging to him Alone all the days of their lives. Today the Church gives praised and thanksgiving to God for our sisters and for their hidden lives, encouraging us all to remain in Christ and to come to full joy.

Alas, for so many of us, our lives have become so boring in our modern age when the world of the spirit has been expelled to the fringes of what is commonly called living. The spirit of God and the things of God permeated her family life and atmosphere in which she grew up. We live in a world that see the things of the spirit as unreal, foolish and lost in a bygone age. Such a world view sees the spirit as being dead. But like those who stood around the tomb of St. Dominic on that May date in 1233 as we stand here today in Siena monastery and share for a brief moment the life lived here by the nuns, we are reminded that far from being dead, God and the things of God are alive and the only real source of true joy and life.

As I stand here today my heart is filled with a deep sense of gratitude, for the life lived here by this community of nuns. For it is here that one can smell not the sheep but the presence of the Shepherd. In a world that has forgotten God a monastery of living faith, as this place is, reminds us that the Good Shepherd continues to care for his sheep and is filled with love for them. In a world filled with so much noise we need the silence of the enclosed life to remind us of a different world, a world, hidden from the naked eye but fully visible to the eye of the heart filled with faith.  In a world of the absence of God we need to be reminded forcefully, as does the life of a nun, offered for 50 years, to be open to the mystery which lies in each of our lives. The life of a cloistered nun challenges us all to be open to wonder, to mystery, to God.

Has Regina wasted her life? Are we here standing around a grave or are we standing in the sweet smelling presence of a community of good women who have discovered the sweet-smelling source of true love, a love worth giving everything away so that they can have it Alone.

It is amazing to think that for 12 years the body of St. Dominic was buried but on 24 May its sweet smelling fragrance was discovered. It is my hope and prayer this day that today’s celebration will help each of us to be open to the life of Christ which lies hidden in each of us from the moment of our baptism and to discover the sweet smell of the presence of the Good Shepherd asking us to remain in his love.

“Alone with none but thee my God I journey on my way, what need I fear when thou art near oh king of night and day, more safe am I within thy hand, that if a host did round me stand.”
Fr John pictured here with Fr Gregory Carroll OP (Provincial) at Sr Regina’s Golden Jubilee.