2017 Golden Jubilee Homily

Sister Esther Fangman, OSB | July 30, 2017

My community and I welcome you here today to celebrate the 50th Jubilee of Sisters Anne Shepard, Rita Killackey, Sharon Hamsa, and Rose Marie Stallbaumer.

Sister Rose Marie, we are blessed to have your family and friends here with you today on this special occasion. They may think they came because of all the wonderful things you have done—like having been a principal for many years or working with our community in our business office helping us to be financially sound and stable. But that's not the reason we celebrate you today.

Sister Sharon, your family and friends who have come to wish you well may think they are doing so because they know how you have successfully contributed to society for the past 50 years as a quality high school and college math teacher, imparting not only math but also care to students. But that's not why we celebrate you today.

Sister Rita, your friends and family may think they have come to celebrate with you the contributions you have made as a canon lawyer, aiding people to negotiate a better life within the Catholic Church, or even the many years you worked in parish ministry to help people love God. But that is not what we celebrate today.

Sister Anne, your family and friends may think we have come to celebrate your gifts and your ministry as prioress or the time you served as superintendent of schools in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese in Missouri, but that's not what we celebrate today.

All four of you have done wonderful service within this community and within the larger church. We thank you for that, but that's still not what we celebrate today. Today our focus is on something even more important. The reason for this celebration is captured in today’s Gospel story that Jesus tells of the merchant who was searching for fine pearls and discovers one of great price and sells everything to obtain it. Today's celebration is about four people who made a decision 50 years ago to search for that fine pearl and then did so each day for 50 years, giving their entire lives to keep that precious pearl. As Saint Benedict says in the Rule, we are here to seek God—that is the pearl of a great price you have dedicated your life to for these fifty years. You came to hold that pearl of great price in your hearts.

This kind of seeking of the pearl of great price is done in very specific ways in a Benedictine community. It is in how we see the face of God in each other in our community, in how we do our ministries and in our prayer life together. I will speak of our prayer life as an example. Rhythms of prayer punctuate the entire life of a monastic every day. Twice a day a monastic woman continues to search for her God by praying morning and evening prayer. Take Sister Anne for example. For over 50 years she has come to morning and evening prayer. That it is over 18,250 times that she has come in the morning and 18,250 times that she has come in the evening to pray, or 36,500 times she sat down to pray with the community. Each of these sisters has done this day after day, year after year. To put it another way, if we add up all four of these sisters’ times of praying morning and evening prayers, praise of God has occurred 146,000 times this past 50 years. In other words, they have chosen to be shaped daily by the readings of scripture and the Psalms (in the Liturgy of the Hours) in order to seek that priceless pearl in their hearts. That is worth celebrating.

There is a story about a people who live high in the Himalayas. Studies show that living in this high altitude has resulted in modification of their bodies. Even their genetic makeup has adapted so that the cold is not damaging to them. This kind of change is what we are celebrating today. These four women—Anne, Sharon, Rita and Rose Marie—are representatives of 50 years of prayer. Praying has influenced their minds and changed their emotions. They are different today. The pearl of great price has gotten into their very bones and their hearts so that they are different people. They have a different identity. They have a different DNA. In a sense, they have become what they have searched for—a pearl of great price.

This is the reason we celebrate today. This is the reason we sang the psalm refrain today: "Your steadfast love is my delight." "Your steadfast love is my delight."