By Connie Berry
SUN editor
& Sister Rose Bill, MFIC
SUN contributing writer

The Feast of the Presentation was an appropriate liturgy for those who spend their lives in service to the rest of the church.

In anticipation of World Day for Consecrated Life, held Feb. 2, a Mass celebrating the 2009 jubilarians and all religious of the diocese, took place Saturday, Jan. 30 at St. Cecilia’s Church. The men were somewhat outnumbered by the many women religious who came to the Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Robert Cunningham. Chancellor Father Clifford Auth and St. Cecilia’s Father Paul Machira concelebrated.

Women religious took part in the Mass as well. They proclaimed the readings and during the prayers of the faithful, they brought up smoking bowls of incense signifying the prayers being lifted up to God.

The bishop’s homily was a poignant reminder of the outward sign reflected by the consecrated men and women in the church. Bishop Cunningham told those gathered about St. James’ feast day celebration in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. He explained that when the saint’s feast day falls on a Sunday, it signifies a holy Year of Jubilee in Compostela. Hundreds of thousands have made the pilgrimage to a shrine there climbing formidable hills in the process.

He said when they get to the final hill, the other pilgrims cheer them on with words of encouragement, crying out, “Se puede!” — it is possible. Likewise, once the pilgrims get to the top, they shout words of encouragement to those still struggling behind them.

“It’s a difficult path and we are pilgrim people today,” Bishop Cunningham said. “Thousands of people, especially young people with knapsacks on their backs, continue this custom. They are an inspiration for all of us. Life is a pilgrimage and we are a pilgrim people.”

The path of a pilgrim today, he said has many obstacles. “There are mountains to be climbed in our attempt to reach the summit,” Bishop Cunningham said. “On a daily basis there are events that try to keep us from God.”

The bishop said men and women religious have a profound impact on lives and that they teach everyone lessons “wordlessly” by the way they live their lives.

“They show us that it is possible to follow Christ and they radiate Christ in our midst,” Bishop Cunningham said. “They are signs and symbols in our midst and we are grateful to them.”

The bishop said that occasionally some well-meaning person attempts to count the numbers of students taught, patients tended, people counseled and poor helped. But, he said, anyone can teach, nurse the sick, counsel people and help the poor. The difference with the man or woman religious is that they do so with an added dimension — they do all this as a sign of the living Christ.

“The pope said recently that people today are more concerned about having than about being,” Bishop Cunningham said. “Today’s religious and those who want to enter religious life face so many obstacles, but obstacles are meant to be overcome. I hope the cry of the pilgrims rings in our ears. It is possible.”

Before the liturgy ended, the bishop read aloud the names of all the religious celebrating jubilees. They came forward and were given a lit candle and they joined the bishop on the altar while the choir sang “We are Summoned.” Father James Smith, SJ, also joined the sisters on the altar as he was celebrating his jubilee as well.

St. Cecilia’s Choir, directed by Betty Hommell, the parish organist, provided the music for the liturgy. The music was particularly beautiful because of the added voices of the many sisters at the Mass.

Among the women religious honored were Sister Eloise Emm, OSF, celebrating 70 years as a sister, and also from her Franciscan community, Sister Celine Angelo, OSF, who celebrates 80 years.

Sister Lucy Flaherty, MFIC, is a parish minister at St. Cecilia’s. She has been the driving force behind the special liturgy for consecrated life. This was the third annual celebration. She used excerpts from one of her favorite books, “Walking with Wisdom’s Daughters,” by Gloria Ulterino for some of the spoken portions at the end of the Mass. Sister Lucy said that she first attended a Mass celebrating those who have consecrated their life to God when she was serving in New Jersey.

“The bishop invited us to Newark for the celebration,” Sister Lucy said. “And it was so beautiful. I asked the liturgy committee here a few years ago and they said, ‘Let’s do it.’“

The liturgy and parish life committees, as well as the Missionary Franicscan Associates, helped Sister Lucy organize the Mass.

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