St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
It is wonderful that people in the city and much further afield have been able to share in this festival of faith here in the beautiful spring weather. After all, Easter is a Springtime feast, celebrating new life in Christ after the cold death of the tomb. In Sr Clare's life we have all heard about the Good Friday experience of in Spain on April 21st 2000 and this week we remember her death in Ecuador on April 16th 2016. All of this celebration of God's grace in a local girl, concluding on Vocations Sunday, calls us to model the generosity of the Good Shepherd who says that he is prepared to lay down his life for his flock, each one of which he knows by name.
In this year of St Joseph, Pope Francis has asked us to approach Vocations Sunday, walking with St Joseph and with what was beautiful in his vocations story. Pope Francis suggest three themes for today which can apply to holiness in every generation – and be seen in the life of Sr Clare.
The first theme is 'dream'. Joseph had his own dreams for his marriage to Mary and they were all taken away from him. We have no recorded words of St Joseph – but we know of four dreams which led him along his unimaginable vocational path. The message to take Mary as his wife or to go to Egypt and then to come back to Nazareth – all of these forced him to change his plans and priorities. Thus, strong, gentle Joseph was someone with a listening ear, prepared to take seriously the God who could intervene in his life. We live in a one-dimensional world which thinks it is self-contained and self-sufficient. We are encouraged to think that my decisions should be all about me, my pain and my plans. Faith calls us to believe in God's outrageous dreams for each of us and for all of us together as a Church. Being a disciple of Jesus means – as Pope Francis writes – abandoning ourselves confidently to grace, setting aside our own programmes and comforts (so that) can we truly say "yes" to God. Sr Clare showed us that joy comes, not from obeying our thirst or superficially feeling good but from following the divine dream, wherever it may lead us. St Joseph did not know what would follow from accepting Mary and the child that she was carrying. He did not know – and did not need to know – the big picture. Thus, Pope Francis writes about Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church - May he help everyone, especially young people who are discerning, to make God's dreams for them come true. May he inspire in them the courage to say "yes" to the Lord who always surprises and never disappoints. That is why holy people know how to be at peace, to smile and to share their joy with others. God is in charge. We give what we have, and he does great things with us if we are open to accept the divine dream for each of us. With a smile and a twinkle in her eye, Sr Clare would remind us of that.
Secondly, there is a second word that characterises St Joseph's acceptance of his vocation. That word is 'service'. Joseph faithfully served Mary and Jesus in love. His was not an easy life nor did he believe that he was entitled to an easy life. As Jesus would show, service costs everything, fighting sin costs everything, speaking the truth costs everything. In our Gospel today, Jesus says that the Good Shepherd gives everything to protect his flock. He is prepared to give up his life and to go in search of the others who are outside the flock. Jesu weas never one for pulling up the drawbridge to keep the lost outside. He went in search of them. Joseph was the Guardian of Jesus – and it is not surprising that he was declared Patron of the Universal Church, for the Church is the Body of Christ. Pope Francis concludes this section of his message by writing What a beautiful example of Christian life we give when we refuse to pursue our ambitions or indulge in our illusions, but instead care for what the Lord has entrusted to us through the Church! God then pours out his Spirit and creativity upon us; he works wonders in us, as he did in Joseph. Sr Clare gave her all in service. I can see nodding and smiling again.
Finally, St Joseph suggests a third characteristic of every Christian calling – fidelity. He remained faithful to his call, whatever the cost would be. That faithfulness meant sticking with the repetitive labour of each day. His vocation matured through daily acts of fidelity. It meant refusing to wonder whether the dreams were just a fake and whether he was wasting his life. Accepting the call of God involves stepping out in trust that God will be faithful to his amazing dream, whatever happens. The first words spoken in his dreams were Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid" (Mt 1:20). Don't be afraid to trust the faithfulness of God to us. Our stuttering fidelity to the call of God means facing many fears and doubts with trust that the Good Shepherd will not abandon you. For so many saints – famous and unknown – that trust and fidelity has been nourished by the sacramental gifts of Confessions and the Eucharist. Jesus is faithful to us, even when we fall and feel far from him. Jesus gives us himself in the Eucharist as we share in his sacrifice. After all, the Mass is the sacrament of Calvary, of his all-giving death on the Cross.Adoration is not sitting in the soothing presence of a clean risen Jesus but of adoring the faithful Jesus who still bears the scars of Calvary that he bore for us. The Eucharist is the sacrament of him giving his body and shedding his blood for us. Sr Clare was quietly overwhelmed when she kissed the feet of Jesus on the Cross on Good Friday 21 years ago. She put it simply – "I had to do something for Him who had given his life for me". Vocations come from encountering the suffering Jesus who loved the world to the end. The faithful loving generosity of God in Jesus lies at the heart of every vocation. Sr Clare would remind us that she tried to be faithful to those in her charge right up till her last breath.
This springtime, we celebrate the fact that God is always life-giving. We are a springtime people. Our job is to pull up the weeds, prepare the ground, sow the seeds and put in the fertiliser. We do that in trust. Many of us may not see the harvest. But if we are not a Spring-time people now, the harvest will be delayed. If generous young hearts do not hear the call or are discouraged from taking it seriously, we are not the Church of Christ.
Today we learn from St Joseph and from Sr Clare that every vocation means being open to God's dream, having hearts ready to give all in service and staying faithful to the God who is always faithful to us. Pope Francis finishes his message for Vocations Sunday by writing to all those who are discerning a vocation to the priesthood or consecrated life, I pray that you will experience… joy, dear brothers and sisters who have generously made God the dream of your lives, serving him in your brothers and sisters through a fidelity that is a powerful testimony in an age of ephemeral choices and emotions that bring no lasting joy. May Saint Joseph, protector of vocations, accompany you with his fatherly heart! This beautiful spring day, we give thanks for all who have taken Christ seriously.
+ Donal McKeown
 Alone with Christ Alone, p59