By Sr. Annette Namugambe- Regional Superior-Uganda/Kenya/Congo on the occasion of the Silver jubilee and Perpetual profession at Entebbe.
This is the theme which we are reflecting upon this year, as we are preparing for the General Chapter 2013. We are having a particular reflection on this theme which is derived from the letter to the Philippians 2:6:“Jesus emptied himself and takes the form of a servant.” This year we had a region chapter in view of the General chapter which will take place in Spain 2013. The theme as stated above is “Called to enter the Kenosis of Jesus, with Mary and with creation and Humanity”. With this theme, we are looking at Christ with a particular gaze and attention. Christ emptied himself of all the heavenly glory and became like human beings. But his self-emptying was at the same time the first stage of his glorification in the heavenly realm. St. Paul says “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9).
The word Kenosis sounds so exotic. It is not familiar to our ears. In its Greek roots, it simply means “self-emptying.” In religious language, it also means total surrender; nothing is left for the self. Everything is given up. As Christ surrendered his heavenly glory, we too, in religious life surrender all that constitutes our life: we surrender our freedom, and we surrender our life. And strictly, we are left with nothing personal. Our constitution confirms this: “everything that we own... belongs to the congregation” (cf. Const. N0. 52).
Today we have witnessed the taking of final vows; but also the celebration of the 25 years of religious life. These sisters have surrendered everything. In general terms, there is no more personal choice as to where to stay, what to eat or what to dress. In the vows which the sisters take, they surrender their freedom. None can decide where to live, or what colour of dress to put on. On an individual level, a person empties herself and she accepts everything that is suggested on her behalf. By doing this, the sisters are a living example of that quality of faith which changes life and saves the world with its problems and hopes, questions and certainties, aspirations and the desire for a better life. By taking the vows, the sisters say: Lord, we have followed you. For your sake, we have renounced all things, we have been made poor, but because you are rich, we have followed you that you might make us rich. As Mary Reparatrix sisters, we have no private homes, we have no private life, and we have no private choices. Where we stay is decided on our behalf. What we eat is decided on our behalf. Our personal timetable and programs are compliant to the general community program. That is what is meant by kenosis.
However, by making ourselves empty and totally surrender to God, we gain everything that we have surrendered. We surrender our homes, but we get more homes and become global citizens. Our sisters can travel and live happily in any Mary Reparatrix convent in the world without any problem. We have no children of our own, but we have a lot of children under our care. We have no choice in the colour and design of our habits, but we lose the anonymity that the variety of colours bring and get a clear and distinct identity. We can be recognized in a multitude because of the colour of our habit. We lose all the comfort of a private home, but we gain the warmth of living together in a community.
We have witnessed two sisters: Apolline and Jane making their perpetual vows. They have committed themselves to leave all things and follow Christ observing the three vows. They have listened to the voice of Christ who urged them to follow him and abandon themselves to his will. It must be noted that she, who follows another on the way, looks up not to oneself but to the other, whom she has established as leader of her life. To abandon oneself is not to confide in oneself, but in Christ! In the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity, despite our human frailty we model our life after Christ. Christ is our standard and we follow his example. What is fascinating is that these vows are a freeing experience. We experience a lot of freedom in witnessing to Christ. By taking the vow of poverty, we are not committing ourselves to a life of deprivation and destitution. It rather means owning everything abundantly in common. With chastity, we disentangle ourselves and surrender our love to God and all humanity. Obedience grants us the gift of being at the disposal of the gospel. So, kenosis is a God given grace. It is not given to many. It is challenging and frightening! It can only be sustained by prayer and listening to the word of God. That is why adoration is our perpetual activity. Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is our holy recreation! All the time we set ourselves at interceding before God for our own failures and for the failures of the whole world. In adoration, we pray as people who are conscious of our need to speak with God, while lifting up all those others who have neither the time nor the ability to pray in this way.
This feast of the vows, therefore, suggests that we are here to witness how the grace of God works in our frailty, in our weakness, in our imperfect state as human beings. Someone could ask: how comes that a person remains single all through life and be happy? How comes that a person surrenders her will to make life decisions and be happy? Some people may even point to those religious who may be unfaithful in their religious commitment! Despite such challenges, we still stand resolute. We are aware that God is far more aware than we are of our human weakness, yet he allows us weak and fallible human beings to stand for him and before him and act in his name. This is the real splendour of the religious life. It is a power made perfect in weakness. We feel that there is no way that God will fail to manifest his love and his presence to his people. God has never written-off our human potential! The power of God’s revelation cannot be resisted. And the power of the voice of God cannot be silenced. We always humbly respond like Mary: Let your will be done (Luke 2:30).
As for our Jubilarians, you are now at a time of life when you can look back on the past, and see how your life has been refined in the pot of interior and exterior trials. Now, you are like a flower after the storm! This is the image St. Therese of the Child Jesus applied to her life. She said that “If a little flower could speak, it seems that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.” In such a mood, you can raise your heads and see that the words of the Psalm are realized in your life: “The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing. He has set me in a place of pasture. He has brought me up on the water of refreshment. He has converted my soul. He has led me on the paths of justice for His own Name’s sake. For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils for you are with me” (Psalm 23:1-7).