It is an honor and joy to welcome all the affiliates who are with us today. Let me congratulate you on your 20th anniversary in the name of all Maryknoll Sisters. As we look towards the future, I can confidently say that you ARE the future! We are proud and happy to have been your founding mothers and we promise you that we will remain your lifelong partners.
June 24th, the feast of John the Baptist, has special meaning for me since it’s the anniversary of my first vows in 1964. This feast takes on added meaning today as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Maryknoll Affiliate Movement.
John the Baptist is an appropriate role model for the affiliates – indeed, for all missionaries. John was a messenger, proclaiming a new moment in history, a new hope for the world. He called for radical transformation as a precondition for an encounter with Jesus and used the symbol of water in baptism to signify the demands of a new life in Christ. With his coming, the world would never be the same.
As the newest members of the Maryknoll family, affiliates, like John, are also messengers, proclaiming the values of the Gospel that contrast sharply with the values of the world in which we live. You also, with the witness of your lives, call for radical transformation, a new way of seeing that clashes with what we see and are told in our mass media and in our success-driven societies.
Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa has a wonderful way of expressing what this new vision means. “How would it be to turn with God’s loving gaze and see those we name as enemies?”, he asks. “How would we treat them?…. The pimps, prostitutes, and prisoners, the drug-dealers and the deranged, the illegal immigrants, the terrorists, the race baiters, the homophobes and haters – all are held in God’s loving gaze….” Tutu concludes: “With God’s eyes we see our enemies as they are – a bundle of incomprehensible hurts and hatreds, anger sheathed in human form. And we see them as they truly are – people made in God’s own image, with hopes, loves, laughter, blood and tears like ours….” (Desmond Tutu, Made For Goodness, Rider, Johannesburg, 2010, p. 199.)
What a radical message! Like John’s, it calls for transformation, for a new way of seeing. The readings that you have chosen today are all about seeing.
The Gospel story of the two travelers on the road to Emmaus is a powerful example of what this kind of seeing means and what happens when our eyes are opened to God’s presence in our lives and in our world.
The story of this encounter with Jesus is sometimes called “The Gospel of the U-Turn.” We know the story and just heard it read to refresh our memories. The two travelers, perhaps a husband and wife, recount the shocking news of the death of Jesus to a stranger, who has joined them on the road. They are obviously disappointed, confused and discouraged. Their hopes have been dashed.
But this is not the end of the story. When they break bread together on arriving home, we are told that “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…” With this new awareness, they now turn around and go back to Jerusalem, at night, seven miles without any rest. They want to share their experience with the other followers of Jesus. They have become messengers of the Good News – missionaries.
In a reflection on this reading, Sr. Gilmary Beagle IHM writes: “Each of us can probably recall Emmaus moments in our lives – times when Jesus, recognized or not, came to us to share our journey, to remove our confusion or lack of understanding, to share a Eucharistic experience with us. Did we, in turn, share our heightened awareness of Jesus in our lives with others?” (Gilmary Beagle, IHM, God is Listening, Daily Reflections for Lent and Easter, IHM Sisters, Scranton, PA, 2011.)
This is a good question for us as we reflect on our Maryknoll history during these two centennial years, on 20 years of the affiliate history and the 35 years of our lay missioner’s history. We know that our founders also met disappointment and discouragement on the road they traveled. They set out on a journey that was new and risky. The road ahead was full of unknowns. Mary Josephine Rogers, James Anthony Walsh and Thomas Frederick Price started out with little but a shared dream of spreading the Good News of God’s kingdom of peace, justice and love to the whole world. It was a new undertaking in the U.S. Church and they had to convince others that it was do-able. And then they had to raise the funds, recruit the members, find a site for the headquarters, spread the message and determine where and how to assign their members. Imagine what a huge task this was and they were few – only a handful at the beginning.
There were many setbacks along the way. It took eight years and three tries before the Maryknoll Sisters received the approval from Rome for their undertaking. Fr. Price died in China in September 1919, only eight years after the founding of Maryknoll and a year after arriving in China. Imagine what a setback that was! And there were many more.
In the history of your own movement, I’m certain that there were setbacks, detours and wrong turns as well. Perhaps your founders and pioneers, most of whom are with us today, can help fill in the blanks of your history. During these anniversaries, it’s important that we recall not only our successes and achievements, impressive as they are, but that we also acknowledge the problems, hardships and different points of view that were present. We need to see our own history rightly in order to act authentically.
The four pillars of your movement are a means of opening your eyes to see rightly. Community, spirituality, global vision and action help you to filter out the false and misleading visions that are held out by the world. When you join with others in prayer and action, you will bring change and you will be changed. This is the gift of our missionary vocation.
The Emmaus story and the Maryknoll story teach us the need to persevere in our journey, even if there are difficulties along the way; to make that U-turn to share the Good News with others even when we are tired, discouraged and ready to give up. At the end of the road, our eyes will be opened to see that we were not alone. God was with us all the time.
As we walk into the future together, let us trust in the vision of our founders, be willing to take risks, and have the courage to challenge the values of the world. As Bishop Tutu reminds us, with his characteristic message of hope: “With God’s eyes we can see ourselves as we are, with all of our pride, every lack, all our limitations, and each prejudice. And we can see ourselves as we truly are – not sinners in need of saving but saints in need of seeing.” With this vision, we can change the world!
— Sister Janice McLaughlin, MM