The three verses in the first reading from Prophet Hosea 2: 14, 19 and 20 sound as if we are here for a wedding ceremony. It says in part: “I will betroth you to myself forever”, “I will betroth you in faithfulness”. Yes, why not?A sort of wedding ceremony is going on here. We have the brides: Elizabeth and Judith, their parents are here offering them in marriage, the FMDM are the sponsors, you the congregation are the witnesses and the Archbishop is presiding over the Mass of marriage, except that the bridegroom is nowhere to be found! But don’t worry, you will soon hear from him. He is Jesus.

Prophet Hosea uses the imagery of marriage to explain therelationship between the Lord and Israel. Israel as a wife has been unfaithful and has forgotten her true husband and benefactor the Lord. Despite this bad relationship, the Lord offers the incentive of a fresh love. He woos Israel, speaking tenderly to her and seeking to re-establish acovenant relationship with her. He will care for her. He says, “I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord” (2:20). Their new relationship will be characterized by righteousness, justice, love, compassion and faithfulness.

The lesson here is that we should live in right relationship with God, with each other and with the environment. Due to human weakness such a relationship is however often broken, but God does not give up on us. He lavishes us with graces and opens new doors only if we are prepared to start all over again. In Ez. 36:25 the Lord promises that “I shall pour pure water over you, and you shall be made clean….” And in verse 26 he adds:  “I shall give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you”. The point here is that the Lord can restore us to himself and we can have a harmonious relationship with him again.  Prophet Hosea teaches us that our relationship with God is like that of marriage which must be constantly renewed, reviewed and always kept under repairs.

The brides today (Judith and Elizabeth) are going to declare clearly and openly their unflinching love for Jesus; that they are henceforth intrinsically united to Jesus and that NOTHING can separate them from the love of Jesus. It is a lifelong commitment; an inseparable bond with Jesus; they are clothed with Jesus, in a manner that like St. Paul each of them can say “I live now not I but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:19).

Last Monday when Elizabeth and Judith visited me in the office, I asked them what attracted them to the religious life in the Congregation of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood. They responded that it is the simplicity of life style, the Gospel way of life, the spirit of peace according to the way of St. Francis, etc. Of course, the place of peace-making and reconciliation should be the burning desire in the heart of every Franciscan. It should be in their DNA. Little wonder that the Damietta Peace Initiative, a brain child of the Franciscans is dedicated to spreading peace ad intra and ad extra. The peace activities engaged in by Damietta in Jos Plateau State have contributed to the peace in Jos. From my interaction withSr. Elizabeth and Sr. Judith I understand that they knowabout living together in community as the place to draw strength and courage to witness to the Gospel. Community living is living the Gospel to the full. It is from communityyou  go out. They also told me that as religious, they aspire to make heaven. May you see the Lord face to face at the end of your faithful service on earth.

These aspirations of theirs will be met more easily if they adopt the disposition of

Mary. In the gospel, Mary instead of engaging in an argument with the Angel simply acknowledged that “I am the handmaid of the Lord” and submitted herself unconditionally to God.

Religious life is a call to a happy service, a pouring of self, a total self giving. It is not a privileged place to get something for oneself, but to give out lavishly, just like Mary who did not seek to take but to give instead. She gave herself to become the mother of Jesus by giving up the social life of a girl her age and above all, she gave up her will to allow God’s will to dominate in her life. She could no longer say “I want this to be done”. It was always “let the will of God be done”.

Religious life is about living a gospel life, centered on Christ, living through Him, with Him and in Him. The Third Order Regular Franciscan Rule spells out the four values Franciscans are called to live each moment of each day:

  1.  Conversion: always turning towards God, towards good.
  2. Poverty: without anything of one’s own, totaldependence on God to supply one’s needs
  3. Contemplation: pausing every day before God, freely in prayer.
  4. To live without power.

Being a Rev. Sister is more than having a title; it is rather a relationship that is both vertical and horizontal. It is a callas Phil. 2:15 says, “to become blameless and pure, children of God without reproach in a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like stars in the universe”. There are many external signs that will show whether a religious is serious about his or her relationship with God. How do you behave in community, are you open when someone calls you to reflect on certain aspects of your life, how do you treat others? Is it like Jesus would do? Do you insist on getting what you want, insisting on “my rights” while forgetting your responsibilities and who you have committed your life to follow? When you have a position of authority does it mean that no one can tell you what to do? You buy for yourself what you like not what is necessary, others must respect you? Authority is a call to be a servant leader, a call straight from the Gospel, from Jesus himself.

Pope Francis in his message for the opening of the Year of consecrated Life, 30 November 2014 provided three programmatic attitudes for a consecrated person:

Be joyful! “Show everyone that you follow Christ and put his Gospel into practice, filling your heart with happiness. Infect those who are near you with this joy; and then many people will ask you for the reason and feel the desire to share with you your splendid and enthusing Gospel adventure”.

Be brave! “Those who feel loved by the Lord know how to place full trust in Him, as your Founders and Foundresses did, opening new ways of service to the Kingdom of God. With the power of the Holy Spirit that accompanies you, go out into the streets of the world and show the innovative power of the Gospel which, when put into practice, works wonders today too and can answer to all the questions of mankind”.

Be men and women of communion! “Firmly rooted in personal communion with God, whom you have chosen as the porro  unum [good portion] (cf. Lk 10:42) of your existence, be tireless builders of fraternity, above all practicing among yourselves the Gospel law of mutual love, and then with all, especially the poorest. Demonstrate that universal fraternity is not a utopia but Jesus’ very dream for the whole of humanity”.

The early Franciscan Sisters in Nigeria were happy and successful missionaries because they tried to be faithful to the programmes mentioned above by the Holy Father. The sisters rode on horses, bicycles, trekked on foot, drove inramshackle trucks. They worked with enthusiasm, dedication and joy. Some have gone to join the Lord. May they rest in perfect peace. They laid a solid foundation from which now a new crop of Nigerian Franciscans has sprung up. We commend the heroic witness of those FMDM Sisters who served in Nigeria under sometimes difficult conditions and are now back to their countries and feeling fulfilled that they came and served in Nigeria and gave hope to many. Sr. Celsus present here came to Nigeria when she was in her early twenties and has spent all her youth here and is still here.  What a loving/sacrificial witness! I urge you our Nigerian FMDMs to continue the Franciscan tradition of kenotic service: selfless and joyful giving, without counting the cost.

Let me conclude by asking all of us to pray for and support the apostolate of the FMDM Sisters. We hope that more young girls will join them. I understand that with this profession, the number of finally professed Sisters of  Nigerian origin becomes ten, while there are three doing their novitiate and four who are temporary professed. May the Lord of the harvest continue to increase the number of the FMDM Sisters and their Associates.

I pray that these young, dynamic and promising Nigerian FMDMs and indeed all the FMDM sisters will continue to allow the Gospel to be their anchor; that Francis and Clare will be the guiding light and you will whole-heartedly embrace God who is calling you into a loving relationship, be it through the cross or resurrection experiences.

Congratulations to Sr. Judith and Sr. Elizabeth and indeed the global FMDM family.


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