Golden Jubilee Mass of Sr. Kathleen Marie Lyzotte at Mississippi Abbey
We all know from our own experience that when you are deep into contemplative prayer time stands still – you are sort of out of time and into eternity so the time to get up for vigils or the time to go to work are irrelevant to the contemplative. Since I am addressing contemplative monks and nuns just to make sure we are all on the same page we are now in the year 2023. If we go back 50 years, we are at Sr. Kathy first profession on June 22, 1973. As long as we are at it if we go back 1100 years, we are at the death bed of St. Bernard. Saint that he is he is not feeling sorry for himself or gasping for breath, he is finishing the last of five letters to Eugene Paganelli a monk of Saint Vincent’s and Anastasius Ad Aqua Salvus, who was recently elected Pope. This 5th letter is over 40 pages long so he is in no hurry to die, and one section is dedicated to something Sr. Kathy has been doing for 50 years and some of us even longer. The section is entitled “What it is to contemplate the essence of God,“ Okay, we can all do that, but then Bernard throws this in, “And the heresy of those who say God is God in his divinity but the Divinity itself is not God”. For the last 50 years, Sr. Kathy, like the rest of us has been fighting against this heresy!! “God is God in his divinity but the divinity itself is not God,” we all know that’s a heresy, no big deal. But that is not why I mentioned these letters.
I mention St. Bernard’s letters because a homily for a 50th anniversary should have some weight to it and who better to borrow from than St. Bernard. He structures his advice to Eugene around four questions: the self, what is above the self, what is below it and what is around it. To adapt these questions to our modern day and to Sr. Kathy we can say Heaven is above her and the whole universe. I read somewhere that we know only 7% of our universe. What is below her is the earth, the land, the ecological reality, our common home, and what is around Sr. Kathy and us are our friends and relatives and all the people we know, especially our community. On the last page of her booklet Sr. Kathy moves into this area and thanks all who helped her through the last 50 years. I noticed she left out Sammy [the dog] but that was just a slip not a statement.
Bernard directs his first letter as a consideration of the self – the famous “Know thyself”. In her choice of reading for this Jubilee Mass Sr. Kathy is telling us who she is and what her ideals are. First of all, she chose the readings from the Mass for the Dedication of a Church. The Temple theme weaves its way through the readings. What appears in the first reading re-appears in the Gospel. For instance, the prophet Ezekiel had a vision of God on the banks of the river Chebar. This river is in Babylon and the people were there in exile in what is known as the Babylonian Captivity. The fact that God appears in Babylon means he is always present to his people. God is not confined to the temple in Jerusalem and Jesus repeats this when he speaks to the women at the well, when he tells her the worship of God is not restricted to a place but whenever someone worships in spirit and truth there is the temple. The temple of the self, the dwelling place of God.
In choosing the Gospel of the women at the well Kathy is telling us she is that women – not the one with 5 husbands but the one who is engaged in a dialogue with Jesus. For fifty years Kathy has been in an intimate conversation with Jesus. The pattern of the original conversation with the Samaritan women is the pattern of our prayer life. Jesus slowly reveals himself to the women and at the same time he tells the women who she really is. He knows everything about her and yet accepts her as she is and even awakens herself to her real identity. Sr. Kathy chose a life of worship in a community. For the past 50 years Jesus has slowly been revealing himself to her and at the same time disclosing to Kathy who she really is. In worship we give our life totally to the object of our worship. It is not something we do at certain intervals, it is a way of life. I remember Joe Boyle telling me about his vocation, He said he and his parents were visiting his older brother who was a monk at Spencer. They went to Vespers and when Joe saw the monks bowing at the Gloria Patri he said to himself this is what he wants to do with his life, bowing in worship of God. It does sum up our life.
The second reading furthers the theme of each person being a dwelling place for God, a temple of God. I ran across two quotes that help us understand something of this mystery. Helen Keller who died in June of 1968 remarked, “I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the color and fragrance of the flower, the light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence”. Without the sun there is no flower. Another feature of the temple is that it cannot be cluttered. It has to be empty of all but God. Just as Benedict says the oratory should not be used for anything else. Just so, our life should have a certain emptiness to it, a place for God alone. This is called a place of nowhere and the light of reason will not lead us to it, only darkness, as John of the Cross says, “I went with no other light/except for that which in my heart was burning/it lit and led me through/ more certain than the noonday clear/ to where one waited near/whose presence well I knew/there where no other presence might appear.”