Sr. Cleopatra Nakweenda recently made her First Profession as a Religious Sister of Charity. There was much joy and a great celebration in Roma Convent Chapel on 11th May 2013 in the Zambian Region.
Fr. Jim McGloin SJ gave the following homily at the Mass:
Today is a day of celebration and thanksgiving. It’s also a day to congratulate Cleopatra who has finished her novitiate. I think she took Isaiah’s dictum to herself at the beginning of her novitiate: Do not be afraid. She is obviously a young woman who has a strong character, not only surviving but even prospering during the two years of novitiate, mostly on her own, without peer support, until recently when the novices from Nigeria arrived. I looked up the name Cleopatra the other day since the only Cleopatra I was familiar with was the famous queen of Egypt. I found out that Cleopatra means ‘glory of the father’ and that there is a St Cleopatra, a 4th century widow in Syria who was noted for burying the martyrs. Obviously she was a woman with real strength of character who was not afraid. Maybe our Cleopatra picked up some of that strength from her patron.
There is a Mass going on right now at the cathedral in thanksgiving for the election of Pope Francis. Earlier during the week, Pope Francis spoke to 800 superior generals of women religious; Sister Mary Christian told me that she had been at that gathering before she came to Lusaka. She also told me that since the Pope spoke in Italian, she hadn’t understood what he was telling them. However, I will give her a few hints now. Although he spoke to them as superior generals, he also highlighted some essentials of religious life. I would like to go through those essentials.
In our Gospel today Jesus reminds us that we did not choose him but he has chosen us. It is Christ who called us, who called Cleopatra, to follow him. Pope Francis told the superiors that to respond to that call is to set oneself on the path of adoration and service. The gospel puts it in slightly different terms but I believe with essentially the same meaning. Jesus says he wants us to remain in his love and to bear fruit. Or as he says in the gospel of Mark, he wants his disciples to be with him and then to send them out. To adore means to stay with the Lord, to abide in his love. Jesus who calls you has to remain central to your life. It is he who then sends you out in service of your brothers and sisters. If Jesus is not central, religious life is meaningless. Other organizations and NGOs are doing wonderful works of service. But religious life has more than service; it also has Christ at its centre.
The Holy Father reminds you and all of us of the three foundations of our existence as religious, the vows: Obedience, poverty, chastity. Let us look briefly at each of them.
Obedience depends on listening, for the word obey in Latin is closely associated with the word to hear. You are called to be attentive to the interior movements of the Spirit, to hear how the Spirit is leading you. However your hearing has to be confirmed and your sending is done through human mediation, through your superiors. In obedience you do not put your personal interests and ambition to the fore. Instead your obedience reflects that of Christ, one of humility and service: “I came not to do my own will… I came to serve and not to be served.” I have a Jesuit friend who reminds our younger Jesuits that he did not enter the Jesuits to do what he wanted to do. He would have found another way of life, it he wanted to fulfil his own ambitions. Pope Francis warns religious not to use others ‘as trampolines to get ahead’! That would be a contradiction to the vow of obedience.
Poverty is ultimately meant to lead you to trust in the Providence of God. Poverty reminds us of our emptiness before God. It reminds us that the Kingdom is God’s work. We are not the ones who build the Kingdom of God; the Kingdom is brought about by God’s grace. Therefore we don’t put our reliance on what we have; we don’t make material things into idols; we don’t create our kingdoms. But we make ourselves available in solidarity, sharing, charity with and for others, especially the poor. Pope Francis says the vow of poverty cannot be theoretical poverty, for theoretical poverty is of no use. Rather poverty is “learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ” in the humble, the outcast, the sick, children.
The vow of Chastity allows you to be a gift to God and others without clinging. Lived honestly and maturely, chastity becomes a sign of the Kingdom of God. However, mature chastity should be characterized by tenderness and compassion and mercy. Chastity should not do away with your humanity. Although chaste, you are still called to be fruitful. Chastity must be fruitful, as Jesus says: “I want you to bear fruit.” But it is like the fruitfulness of Mary who was both virgin and mother, bringing forth Christ to others. Pope Francis said: “The consecrated woman is ‘mother’; she must be a mother and not a ‘spinster’.”
In his address to the superior generals Pope Francis does not speak of community, but obviously community is essential for religious life. You are joining a community today. The community can be a source of support and strength for you to live your vocation, to observe your vows and carry out your mission. You need to receive support but you are also called to give support. Jesus says in the Gospel, “Love one another as I have loved you… By this way will people know you are my disciples.” Community should bear witness that we are disciples of Jesus.
Pope Francis ended his address inviting the Sisters to be joyful because it is beautiful to follow Christ. Christ’s wants those who follow him to be full of joy. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” We are entrusted with Christ’s joy. What a beautiful gift! The Holy Father also invited the Sisters to be joyful because it is beautiful to be a living icon of Mary, virgin and mother.
Sr. Cleopatra, here are two reasons to be joyful. Be joyful because it is beautiful to follow Christ. Be joyful because you are a living image of Holy Mary.
For photos click HERE.