Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily June 12 at the transfer of vows of Sister Johanna Marie Melnyk, OSB, who is now also the prioress of the community at Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro.
The Gospel you just heard is the last section of the four-part story of the Rich Young Man in the Gospel of Mark.
In the first section the rich young man runs to speak with Jesus because he sincerely wants to know God and thereby attain eternal life.
In the second section Jesus reminds him of the commandments about how we should treat others and the good things that these commandments seek to protect: life, sexual morality, property, honor and the care of our parents. Then he looks at the young man with love and invites him to go beyond the minimum and instead let loose of his material goods, give them to the poor and marginalized.
In the third section we have the response of the rich young man, who unlike the children in the immediately preceding passage, goes away sad because instead of allowing himself to be embraced by the Messiah, he continues to embrace his material possessions. Notice that the love of Jesus is supposed to lead to communion with him and others, as well as service of the poor.
This leads to the last section, which is the Gospel you just heard. Here Peter and his companions are held up as an example of persons who have left everything to follow Jesus. Moreover, they are a living example of what we gain when we do respond generously to the call of the Lord. As Sister Johanna Marie has done. Isn’t this what the Benedictine Conversion of Life is all about?
Sister Johanna Marie is comes to your community rich in many non-monetary ways. She brings with her a wealth of education and many talents, many gifts of personality and spirituality. She already knows God and therefore eternal life. She has left behind many good things in order to follow where the Lord has led her in the various chapters of her life, most recently the Priory of Our Lady of Peace at Turvey Abbey, from which she is now transferring her stability in the Benedictine way of life. And as always, she is doing this in the right way as the Lord Jesus leads her.
If you were to view Sister Johanna’s response to the Lord’s call through a merely secular lens, you might react with astonishment like the disciples in today’s Gospel. But what does Jesus say?
“For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” This is in response to the logion that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.
So I think you sisters are pretty much in the clear here, except that this misses the point. Not even a nun can pass through the eye of a needle. Jesus’ point is that the achievement of salvation is beyond human capability even for the best of us — no one merits salvation, none of us can put God in our debt!
Rather, our salvation depends solely on the goodness of God, who in Jesus offers it to us as a gift. Hence Jesus’ great reassurance in our Gospel that all things are possible for God.
Sister Johanna Marie, you are a rich young woman who has left all to follow Jesus in this monastic community. May the Lord bless you abundantly in this new chapter of your life and may he bless all of us — and especially this community — through you!
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