The year was 1963. Vatican Council II was in session, Pope John XXIII issued his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” the world was introduced to “The Beatles,” and in Alhambra, California, on a Friday afternoon, seven young women and I crossed the threshold of Carmelite Sisters for we were “entering the convent.”
God’s call comes to people at different ages and mine came early. It was clear, total, entirely spiritual, personal and loving. I knew then, and I know now, just as certainly as I know my name, address, that God exists, that He is Pure Love, and that He invited me to a life of prayer and service to His People.
Within the depths of my soul, I replied “yes.”
That was fifty years ago and 2013 is the year of my 50th Anniversary as a Carmelite Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles. This is my Golden Jubilee year. I am still in shock. I can hardly believe that so many years have gone by. It is a mystery to where time goes. Maybe back into eternity?
Today the sisters in the archdiocese of Los Angeles who are celebrating anniversaries in 2013 were honored at a special Jubilee Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. Plumes of incense rose from the censor, swinging rhythmically at the beginning of the entrance procession. Catholic sisters converged at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Hymns rang out loud and clear across the sanctuary and into the main nave of the Cathedral, as we walked in procession toward the altar. This year was the year of our jubilees.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles hosts this annual Jubilee Mass and Reception at the cathedral. Each year I kneel there and meditate on the faithfulness of God as I watch each year’s group of jubilee sisters walk in procession. I think about our throw-away culture and the craziness of the speed with which we feel impelled to live and work. I think about the times in which we live and what kind of people we are becoming in this technological paradise of the 21st century.
When I see the sisters, with their years of toil etched into their faces, I can’t help but wonder the stories hidden behind each veil, each habit, each expressive face. Where did these sisters come from? Where were they born? Why did they enter the convent? And what made them stay? I don’t know all of their stories, but I do know mine.
My personal story is not about me at all. It is about God and His merciful and faithful love. If I were a flower my story would tell of the gentle hand that plucked me from the soil and held me close to His heart. If I were a bird, I would sing of the incredible Person who unlatched the cage, and freed me to fly to heaven. Or if I were a blade of grass, I would bend and sway in the breath of the Holy Spirit, dancing in the wind. But I am none of the above. I am just me…myself, and I can only speak the silent language of love and praise as He pleases to give it to me.
My call, my vocation, my life is real. It can be seen in photos, and home videos, and in the hearts of God’s people, whom I am privileged to serve and call my friends. Life seems to carry us along, minute by minute, day by day, year by year until a milestone is reached, and we look back and say “Where did the years go?”
Today, I held a lighted candle in my hand and renewed my vows to God. As far as time goes, it took about a minute and a half. In Kairos time, or God-time, it remains ever-new, my timeless declaration of love and fidelity. Vows are very solemn things. Vows are sacred and absolutely binding, a total commitment of mind, body, and spirit.
Yes, that’s what I thought about during the Mass, the reception which followed and all the way back home. Yet the impact of the day wasn’t felt until I slipped back into the convent, one of the last ones to return home, because I stayed to almost the very end of the reception. My Carmelite Sisters were having supper, and when I opened the door from the kitchen to the dining room (which we call our refectory), I wasn’t prepared for such a pure outpouring of love from my Carmelite Sisters. They stopped eating, smiled, and clapped and clapped. I was totally unprepared for it.
Yes, they clapped for me, for my vocation, for our life together in His service. I stopped and allowed my eyes to drink in their presence, their love, their supporting applause. What joy! What utter, sweet joy I experienced. No, I didn’t expect that. It came as a complete surprise.
I have a lot of things to think about tonight. It has been a full day and my eyes are closing. Yes, when I lay down and close my eyes, I want to reflect in the silence of the night in the cloister of my little room. I want to savor the deep understanding that softly came to me during the Jubilee Mass. It was my biggest surprise of all. “Ah, Sister Timothy” I told myself, “it’s true. This 50th Anniversary isn’t so much about me…my vocation…my call, my life of service. That is a part of it certainly, but not the main part. For this jubilee most of all celebrates Him, His call, His faithfulness, His mercy, which as I so very well know, has been the anchor of my religious life, my magnet ever drawing me closer to God, my compass setting my life and all that goes into it in perspective. Yes, this has been a long and very fruitful day. It’s time to sleep. After all, I’ve been a Carmelite Sister for over 50 years and today was a very filled day. I can only pray in the silence of my soul, “To You, Lord, be the honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Good night and God bless us, every one.