Below is the homily preached by His Excellency Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted on the Occasion of the Installation and Abbatial Blessing of our First Abbess, Mother Marie Andre
March 19, 2016
In the desert I will speak to her heart
Abbatial Blessing of Mother Marie Andre
I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. Hosea 2:16
In Ben Clevenger’s book on Padre Kino, the great Jesuit missionary to this part of the world says this about the Sonoran desert:
“There is nothing easy about this land… There’s nothing soft or dainty about it, or even comfortable. It juts and stabs and trips and bites, and the summer sun is so harsh it sears your eyes and broils your flesh… The animals and insects and reptiles are openly hostile. Even the vegetation is against us. The plants are forever jabbing and sticking and stinging us, as if they wished to discourage all human contact… Still, as harsh as the desert is, I love it here. I can hardly imagine living anywhere else.” –THE FARSIDE OF THE SEA, pp 129-130
“I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.”
When God created the desert of Arizona, He was painting a parable of what it’s like to love Jesus faithfully. To each of us He says, “If anyone wishes to be a disciple of mine, he must take up his cross each day and follow after me.”
St. Joseph certainly found this to be the case in his vocation of being the foster father of the Messiah. Joseph’s identity and mission were caught up with fatherhood. And yet, God asked Joseph to sacrifice “fathering” in the usual sense for the sake of bringing up a “son” whom he did not “beget” and being husband to a Virgin, the mother of the only Begotten Son of the Father.
Moreover, God asked Joseph to protect this Child in a country which was far from safe for children, where the political leader, King Herod, felt so threatened by the birth of this Child that he slaughtered many innocent children in an effort to kill Jesus.
Having been warned by an Angel that appeared to him in a dream, Joseph took Mary and the Child Jesus and fled into Egypt by way of the desert. As he safeguarded Mary and Jesus in Egypt, Joseph was acting like a true father. He did it gladly and with love, but like the desert it was not easy.
Joseph was also acting as a father when he labored as a carpenter in Nazareth to provide for the needs of the Holy Family. He did it willingly, and probably with a sense of awe as He saw the Child Jesus (Luke 2:52) “grow in wisdom and age and grace before God and men.” But the daily labor of the carpenter’s shop and the political instability of the country weighed on the mind and heart of Joseph. It took a great deal of sacrifice and courage for Joseph to fulfill his mission from the Lord. The same will be true for you, Mother Marie Andre.
The gracious decision of the Holy See to canonically appoint you as the first Abbess of this Monastery of Our Lady of Solitude comes from a conviction of the Church that it is God’s will to give the gift of stability to this consecrated community of Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, here in the Diocese of Phoenix. It is also the Church’s conviction that God has given to you, Mother Marie Andre, the charisms and personal gifts needed to be a servant of stability here in the desert, to be a spiritual mother for the women whom He has already called here and for those whom He will call in the months and years ahead, and to be a spiritual mother also for many beyond this monastery, here in the Arizona desert and far beyond.
The motherhood of an Abbess is for the sake of spiritual stability. In Benedictine monasteries, monks and nuns make a fourth vow, in addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience: the vow of stability. Stability: what does that mean? Well, as the saying goes, “if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Stability comes from obeying God’s plans, now our own.
Later in this Sacred Liturgy, just before receiving the Abbatial Blessing, Mother Marie Andre, you will be handed the crosier of St. Clare, a symbol of the authority entrusted to you by God for the sake of His Kingdom. Let this crosier remind you that authority in Jesus’ Name serves the stability of this community and requires of you the intention to surrender always to God’s plans.
The stability that Christ the King offers to you as Abbess and through you to this monastery is not “of this world.” It is “in this world and for the sake of this world” but not of it. It is the stability of a mother’s love: a love like that of St. Clair of Assisi and of Mary the Mother of God.
A mother knows the dignity and value of each of her children, and indeed of every human person. A mother, whose whole purpose is to lead others to Christ, helps each one to come to appreciate the words of the Catechism #478:
“Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life, His agony, and His Passion and gave Himself up for each one of us…He has loved us all with a human heart.”
In his insightful book FATHERLESS AMERICA, David Blankenhorn writes, “Fatherhood is… society’s most important role for men… fatherhood, more than any other male activity, helps men to become good men: more likely to obey the law, to be good citizens, and to think about the needs of others.”
Motherhood is also the most important role for women, enabling them to make an irreplaceable contribution to society and to play a pivotal role in the mission of the Church. But, perhaps at no time in our nation’s history have fatherhood and motherhood been so poorly understood and yet so badly needed.
Genuine motherhood, like authentic fatherhood, helps others to become more like Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve, and to lay down His life as a ransom for many.” And so it is for an Abbess. Thus, always be full of confidence in God’s grace at work in you, Mother Marie Andre. Know that St. Joseph, will be interceding for you. And Mother Clare of Assisi and the Blessed Virgin Mary will constantly be praying for you.
Trust our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, the Lord Jesus, to teach you and through you to teach others not to seek the easy way but to take up each day the royal road of the Cross, the way to fullness of life and love in God’s presence. Remember God’s promise: “I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.” Hosea 2:16