Golden Jubilee of Sr. Nettie Gamble at Mississippi Abbey
We really didn’t need Einstein theory of relativity to tell us about time. We already knew it was relative. For instance, if you are a novice looking forward, 50 years is a long time. If you are a jubilarian looking back, 50 years is like yesterday – just so Einstein!
Some things get better with age like whisky and fruitcake – more mellow and favorable whereas bread and milk get worse with age, stale and sour. We could apply these descriptive adjectives to ourselves if we want but I have a better self – test. Both are from a saint. The first is from St. Ann Seaton the founder of our Catholic School system. She is giving a talk to her community and she says, “though weak in ourselves God gives us the grace to carry us through. But we lack the courage to keep continual watch over nature and therefore year after year with our thousands of graces, multiplied resolutions and fair promises we run around in a circle of misery and imperfections. After a long time in the service of God we come nearly to the point from whence we set out and perhaps with even less ardor for penance than when we began our religious life” (Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seaton Jan 4. In the breviary)
The second description is by St. Benedict and he says, “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love”. Pro. 48 – 49.
Do you find yourself in any of these quotations? I think we do and its not exclusive, sometimes we are in Ann Seaton’s camp and sometimes in St. Benedict’s. There is always an in between with us – in between what we are and what we should be.
Now, Sr. Nettie is telling us on this her jubilee day what she aspires to. She is not telling us she has arrived but what she wants for her life and is trying to live day after day. She tells us by her choice of readings. The first reading from the prophet Isiah has the phrase, “my whole being shall exult in my God” Is. 61: 10 This is just another way of saying what St. Benedict said about our hearts expanding with the inexpressible delights of love. The word being is so powerful it refers to the essence of who we are. Proverbs uses the word when it says the teachings of Sacred Scripture are health for our being. Other types of health are important but go only so far – Physical health is great but does not last forever, mental health likewise, but health for our being is eternal and only God and his words can give us that type of health.
Then there are the words from the letter to the Philippians telling us Jesus emptied himself. What is this about? Looking at the general message Sr. Nettie is conveying to us in her choices such as a bride in jewels, and Jesus saying, “As the Father loves me so do I love you”. This love between Christ and the soul is what our life is all about. So, the thought came to me that when St. Paul says Jesus did not cling to being God but emptied himself, he meant that God loved human life so much he empties himself of Divinity to become human. He loved the human existence so much that he became human with us and is so doing redeemed us.
One-time St. Basil was talking about the love between God and people and he says, “I experience the love of God in a completely inexpressible way. It is to be experienced rather than expressed.”
Sr. Nettie by her choice of reading but more so by the way she lives and the way she renews her vows is giving us a great witness to what our Cistercian life is all about. The love of God is expressed more by the way we live than by the words we use. Psalm 18 says It well: “No speech. No word, no voice is heard yet their sound goes forth through all the earth, their message to the utmost bounds of the world”.