I wish you continued Christmas joy, and prayerful best wishes for the New Year!
Just last Sunday, on the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, we heard again proclaimed at Mass the moving story of the Visitation (Luke 1:39-56): Mary, immediately upon accepting the angel’s invitation to be the Mother of the Savior, traveled to visit her relative, Elizabeth, pregnant (with John the Baptist) at an advanced age.
So starts what I would call the blessed cycle of evangelization: once you “get Jesus,” as did Mary, you want to “give Him” to others. Mary brought the glad tidings of the coming of Jesus to her cousin, Elizabeth. She was an evangelist.
The shepherds at Bethlehem that first Christmas had the same experience, as the Gospel tells us that, once they “saw the child” they “repeated what they had been told about Him” (Luke 2:16). How about those three wise men? Same thing: their lives were changed so much so that “they went home by another route,” and, legend has it, became early followers of Jesus.
This sacred experience, this blessed cycle of evangelization—that once we are given faith in Jesus, we are then inspired to give this faith to others—is at the heart of the Church, and has gone on since the events we celebrate with joy and reverence this Christmas season.
In my own life, my own parents, Bob and Shirley Dolan, passed on to me and their other four children the faith they had received. I’m trying my best to “hand it on” to and share it with my spiritual family—you! That it continues in my own clan is evident every time I have the joy of baptizing a new grandniece or grandnephew.
The faith given me by God, at Baptism, through my parents, was enhanced mightily by Sisters of Mercy who came from Saint Mary’s Convent in Drogheda, Ireland, to teach at Holy Infant School, Ballwin, Missouri, in August 1957. These women did for me what Mary did for Elizabeth, and brought to me the saving message that Jesus was our Savior, that faith in Him within His Church leads to salvation and eternal life. They were women of joy, learning, wisdom, prayer, and love. They taught me well about history, literature, geography, art, poetry, music, math, and science. But most of all they taught me that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that we could not know of Him without “her”—the Church.
Second only to my family was the impact those sisters had upon me. For decades, I have wanted to “pay them back.” Long have I prayed for vocations to the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland, hoping that, through additional members of that great religious order, more would benefit from this blessed cycle of evangelization, as I did. So far, that prayer has remained unanswered, at least in a way my limited brain can detect, because this wonderful community has dramatically dwindled in numbers, both in Ireland and here in the United States.
So much so that, a year-and-a-half ago, the Convent of Mercy in Drogheda, Ireland, from where the sisters came to Missouri in 1957, had to close. You can imagine how sad I was. Never will I forget calling Sister Bosco, who had come to Ballwin in 1957, taught me in second grade, and then had retired back in Drogheda, to speak to her on the day the convent closed. “We’ve just finished Mass, and blew out the sanctuary lamp,” she sobbed. For the first time since 1858, Drogheda’s Convent of Mercy had no Mercy Sisters.
How could I continue the blessed cycle of evangelization now? How could I pay back this sacred debt?
Well, it just so happens that here, in the Archdiocese of New York, we have a bright, vibrant, young group of devoted women religious, a relatively new order called the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. God has blessed them with vocations, and they, like our Blessed Mother, have a drive to tell others, especially the poor, about the real wealth found in Jesus and His Gospel. They are beloved in Harlem and the South Bronx, where they welcome the homeless, embrace struggling children, feed the poor, visit homes, and catechize the young.
In other words, they do on the streets of New York what Mother Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy long did in Ireland, and in Ballwin, Missouri.
And these Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal aspire to imitate Mary in her visitation by “moving on” to other places, bringing and strengthening the faith.
Are you catching my drift here? So, when I saw the Bishop of Meath, Most Reverend Michael Smith (whose diocese includes the part of Drogheda where the sisters came from), I asked him, “If I could send sisters from New York to Drogheda, would they have a home?” he beamed a yes! When I asked the pastor of St. Mary’s parish, Drogheda, Father Denis Nulty, if he would welcome sisters, he shouted his assurances of an open door!
And when I asked Sister Lucille, the superior of the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, if the community would go to Ireland, her smile and radiant eyes were all I needed to see.
I haven’t stopped smiling, either. Please God, thanks to Sister Lucille and her community, to Bishop Smith and Father Denis Nulty, American sisters will arrive in Drogheda, next summer, 56 years after four Sisters of Mercy from there arrived at Holy Infant parish, in Ballwin, Missouri, to strengthen the faith of, among others, one 7-year old Timmy Dolan.
The blessed cycle of evangelization remains unbroken. What we receive as a gift, we give as a gift.
Ask Mary and Elizabeth, they’ll tell you...
Ask the shepherds at Bethlehem...
Ask the three wise men...
Ask my parents, and now my nieces and nephews...
Ask the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland...
Ask Bishop Smith and Father Nulty...
Ask Sister Lucille and the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal...
You don’t have to ask me, because I’ve just told you...
And, if you’re not part of this blessed cycle of evangelization, this coming 2013 might be a good time to start.
A blessed New Year!