Homily given by Fr. Peter Burke PP Drumshanbo on the occasion of the First Profession of Sr. Clare O’Donovan in the Convent of the Poor Clare Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim
11th August 2014
The late Seamus Heaney has given to the world a wonderful line that has been used to capture the essence of occasions of special significance. He spoke of moments when ‘hope and history rhyme’. I believe that this joyful ceremony of the First Profession of Sr. Clare O’Donovan is one such moment. It’s a ‘gathering time’ when Sr. Clare’s hopes and history merge with the noble hopes and history of the Poor Clare Sisters, and it is good for us to be here.
It all began so simply when the young Clare of Assisi made her solemn vows before St. Francis on Palm Sunday 1212, committing herself totally to a life of poverty, penance and prayer in the service of the Lord. It was no easy choice for Clare, coming as she did from a wealthy family, who wished her to take a very different path in life. But the Master’s voice proved the stronger, and, today she must be smiling down on this happy scene. She could scarcely have imagined that her humble gesture just over eight hundred years ago would find echoes one day in the town of Drumshanbo.
This celebration occurs, appropriately, on the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the sisters in this place. It’s a happy coincidence. We gather in. and salute Mother St. Clare Law, Mother St. Joseph Horne and Sr. Catherine Francis Hayes, those valiant, pioneering women who made the remarkable journey that took them from Islington to Eden Grove in London and from there to Gorey, Co. Wexford, to Goresbridge, Co. Kilkenny, to Sherlockstown, Co. Kildare, and, finally, to this little haven of peace and tranquillity, where hundreds gathered for the laying of the foundation stone by Bishop John Kilduff on the Feast of the Epiphany 1864. We give thanks for all that this monastery has offered to so many down the years.
The God who whispered to the heart of Clare continues to beckon to this generation. Our celebration today is a welcome reminder of His continuous reaching out to His children. Sr. Clare gives thanks for all who made it possible for her to hear that gentle invitation of the Lord. His call, according to St. Paul, in today’s Second Reading (Eph. 3:14-21), is a call to enter the length, breadth, height and depth of the mystery of the Creator. It is an invitation to look into the heart of things, to glimpse the immortal in the mortal every day. It is a call to find that delicate balance between work and contemplation, represented in the persons of Martha and Mary in that extract from St. Luke’s Gospel (Lk.10 38-3-42). It’s a call, as the First Reading from the Prophet Hosea (2:16-17, 21-22) reminds us, that is more easily heard in the quiet place. It is extraordinary how frequently in the Scriptures, that we find God reaching the hearts of people, in the wilderness, by the lake shore, at the seas’ edge, in the shadow of the mountains. Today, it is difficult to find that stillness, and, hence, the invitation may pass unnoticed.
Those who do hear and respond are promised true joy and fulfilment. They will lose nothing in the giving, for, Christ takes nothing, but gives everything. They will be repaid a hundredfold. They will find the pearl of great price. Pope Emeritus Benedict, speaking on the Feast of St Clare some years ago, proclaimed that the contemplative life is more relevant today than ever before. “It is an invitation to reflect on the meaning of life, and the secret of true joy in Christ”. “The young”, according to the Holy Father, “live in an age of illusions, delusions and artificial paradises, where everything seems to be possible and permissible”. Something else is needed. The contemplative life offers a different way, and, that is why it is such a gift deep down in the heart of the Church.
This way has made a rich and precious contribution, not only to the Church, but, to the broader human family down the centuries. The rhythm, routine and regularity of the monastic day, affords the space, wherein the work of intercession and reparation is carried on continuously. Intercession involves the carrying in one’s heart of the cares, fears and joys of the world into God’s presence, while the work of reparation involves bending the knee for the many, who, for one reason or another, don’t or won’t. These two rich concepts have been at the centre of life in this powerhouse of prayer since its foundation. It’s the life that you, Sr. Clare, now embrace in a deeper way. May your hopes and history continue to rhyme with the wonderful hopes and history of the Poor Clare family, and may you find here the peace and fulfilment, that is the desire and goal of every human heart.