“It is Christ’s fidelity that is most beautiful.” - Fr. Boniface Hicks, O.S.B.

Almost every woman, either as a girl or a young lady, has dreamed about her wedding day and honeymoon.  In the midst of the details of the perfect dress, color schemes and romantic destinations, is a fundamental desire to be romanced and know that she is loved.

I would be remiss if I said I have not had some of these same musings.  My ideal honeymoon included a cabin in the woods in the mountains of Colorado.  Forget about the tourist attractions and being on the “go, go, go”; I wanted a place where I could just “be” with my spouse.

About a week before my pre-vow retreat (a time set aside to prepare for professing final vows) I followed a last-minute inspiration of the Holy Spirit and signed out a hermitage on our property.  Early on in the retreat, I was sitting on the porch of this small cabin that is nestled down in the woods.  As I sat there sipping hot water (Franciscan tea), listening to the birds, and watching the sun rise, Jesus reminded me of my dreams.  The rest of the week he fulfilled my deepest desires. 

As Jesus and I spent time “being” together on strolls
through the woods, watching the fireflies and listening to thunder roll through the hills, he spoke deeply to my heart that he will always be with me and that he is never going to leave.  His words telling me that I would not be alone were a healing balm poured on a wound in my heart.  In the midst of my quirks, mistakes, limitations, brokenness, and sinfulness, Jesus desires to be with me and wishes to espouse himself to me forever. 

“He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn. 13:1).  Throughout the week of retreat, Jesus revealed to me his deeply personal, romantic, passionate love for me.  But what he really showed me was that his love is so much more than just the sweetness of romantic love—he LIVES his passion.  By embracing and carrying the cross, being beaten, mocked and spit upon, nailed to a tree, and finally handing over his spirit in death, he fully expresses his  passionate love for me. He chose to love me beyond consoling feelings that come and go.  By living out his words, “This is my body given up for you,” and dying a death that I deserve, I KNOW, in the deepest part of my heart, that I am loved.

And what is the response that I can give to the totality of his self-gift?  For me, there is only one—my entire life.  Through professing the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, I freely choose him.

And that is all he desires.  He knows my weaknesses and how easily I turn away from him and yet he longs only for me and my “yes”.  As our retreat director, Fr. Boniface, told us, “It is Christ’s fidelity that is most beautiful.”  I don’t have to have it all together. That’s not what he is asking.  He only wants me to remain with him, as I am able.  And together we will bring about the Kingdom of God.

In our profession ceremony for solemn vows, we receive a ring.  As I wear it, I will recall Jesus’ words to me, “Take this ring as a sign of my love and fidelity” and his vows to me to love me to the end, into eternity.  And I will also recall our Reverend Mother’s words as she places it on my finger, “…keep faith with your Bridegroom so that you may come to the wedding feast of eternal joy.”
I remember receiving the complete works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for Christmas when I was in my early teen years. I devoured his poetry, and one of my favorite poems at that time was “The Builders”, which includes these stanzas:
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

I loved the challenge of these words, the way that they called me out to do whatever it was I was doing to the very best of my ability and how they encouraged me to remember that “nothing useless is or low”.

This poem still goes through my head at times, and recently I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. Not long ago, my Mom said something on the phone that startled me. She was sharing with me about a weekend retreat she and my Dad had made, and said that one of the things that she realized on retreat was that my “yes” to the Lord in my life made her more ready, more available to say “yes” to him in her own life.

Surprised as I was by this revelation, I took it to prayer. And as I dialogued with the Lord about it, I saw something very beautiful. It was, perhaps, true that my “yes” to my vocation as a religious sister enabled my Mom to say a deeper “yes” to the Lord’s work in her life. But it was also true that I was able to receive a vocation to this life because my Mom had first said “yes” to entering the Catholic Church (a courageous choice for her, given her family’s response to it). Her “yes” to the Lord’s invitation to enter the Church made possible my “yes” a few years later, when, on July 6, 2002, I was received into the Catholic Church and initiated into the sacramental life of the Church.

But the picture is so much more complex
even than this! My Dad’s “yes” to support my Mom in a decision he did not fully understand certainly figures in to the equation, as does my Grandmother’s deep “yes” to following Jesus in her own life and teaching my Mom to love and serve him. What is really mindboggling about this is that my Grandmother’s fidelity to the Lord supported in a very real way a decision that she would later resist! God used her “yes” to ballast a “yes” she would not have chosen!

No choice for the Lord is ever wasted in the Divine economy. Our tiny, apparently unseen efforts to be faithful to Christ are bricks and mortar, building materials with which the Lord is building the New Jerusalem. This sounds grandiose, but it’s true. The “yes” you say today to be steadfast to the people and the daily tasks entrusted to you by the Lord are being used in manifold (though often hidden!) ways to build up the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which is built of the interlocking “yeses” of his sons and daughters.

Rejoice with me as I celebrate 13 years in the Catholic Church – and thank God, too, for the many “yeses” that have brought you to him in the course of your life. 
I’ve always wondered about why things are the way they are and why people do the things they do. I think that’s what made me study philosophy in college. Unsurprisingly, this penchant for pondering has followed me into the convent. Most recently, I have been asking myself a few “whys”, the heart of which is this set of questions: why do I work in downtown Steubenville? Why do I serve others, “the poor”? Why do I spend my days sorting through used (and often dirty) clothes and shoes, knick-knacks and cookware? Why do I listen to story after heartbreaking story of loss, disappointment, crime, tragedy, abuse, and vice? Why do I risk exposure to bedbugs, lice, and heaven-only-knows what else? Why do I do it? Why am I so happy doing it?

When I bracket out the obvious motive (religious obedience!), I find some motives that are surprising or embarrassing, and others that are certainly the work of grace. Part of my work is tied up in a compulsive need to help people and try to fix their problems (Messiah complex? You bet!). There’s a strain of needing-to-be-needed still active in my heart. This is old news for me – these motives have stained most of the apparently generous actions in my life. I also want to do good, to be good, and I know that doing the works of mercy is a straightforward way of “being good”. Jesus also indicated that we would be judged on our actions to those in need (see Matthew 25), so it seems prudent to help others as I can.

But I am becoming aware of another, more lasting motive for my work and service: the love of Christ compels me! Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 5, where he explains the reason for his ministry:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view […]if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us (2 Cor 5:16-20).

I used to think about this passage only in terms of myself: I am a new creation in Christ. But there’s more to it than that! As Christ makes me new, I come awake to the potential for newness present in everything and everyone else. Everything is colored by Christ, and “the love of Christ controls me” – which doesn’t mean that my love for the Eucharistic Christ or Christ enthroned in heaven enables me to tolerate or put up with my brothers and sisters. No! In the new world I enter by my membership in Christ, each person is a member of Christ’s body, and is loveable.

We walk around in the society of hundreds and thousands of “little Christs” – shouldn’t we be in love with each of them? As Christ’s ambassadors, we really must be! How else will we communicate to others his spousal love for the human race? How can we be a part of his ministry of reconciliation if we do not desperately desire that reconciliation ourselves? The things we do for “service projects”, “volunteering”, and whatnot really must be “the things we do for love.”

Otherwise, we risk doing them, ultimately, for ourselves. Let us allow ourselves to be captivated by the Christs we serve in the daily grind, and extend his love and the offer of reconciliation to all.

-Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, TOR

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