This past week I enjoyed several vimeos sent by one of our sisters in our archives department in Cincinnati. All were very enjoyable and I confess that I learn a lot of my community history whenever she sends these gems. Most photos pre-date digitized pictures. They have been retrieved from photo albums submitted by sisters or taken by community members assigned to document special days like entrance days, first vows, final vows, jubilees, celebrations of achievements in ministry—you name it. Many are from Brownie cameras and later the Polaroids, that clicked away recording the events. When video cameras showed up, we got into that act as well.
Watching these grainy and blurry-colored pictures is a real treat. I try to identify women I may know and I get perplexed when I can’t identify someone due to the ravages of years and the loss of their lives. But for the most part, I find this a very enjoyable experience.
But then I came to a section for the jubilarians of a certain year—way past. The pictures were entirely black and white and composed of mostly parents with their daughter, a Sister of Charity who was either entering on that day or celebrating an occasion like becoming a novice or a professed sister. The music accompanying the vimeo was vintage dance band selections of the 30’s and 40’s. It should have been thrilling for me but it became reflective and meditative. (Who would have thought Glenn Miller could have such an effect?) In the pictures we see mothers in flower-print dresses with long sleeves; their hair tied back and tucked under large hats. Fathers wore white shirts with the sleeves rolled up. Most of the parents, barely managing a wan smile, looked stiff standing with their daughter between them.
The seriousness of the parents in these photos struck me. They realized they were giving up someone, giving her as gift to the Church. To them it was a mystery and probably a worry as well. Will she be cared for when ill? Who will look after her for her needs? I’m sure these were some of their thoughts as they stood facing a camera that captured the intensity and the mystery of the moment. However, the daughter is always beaming in these photos; she is anticipating a new life, an adventure of a sort. Both make a beautiful gift: the mystery and love of giving a gift and the excitement and joy of being the gift!
I meet many people in my ministry who never think of themselves as gifts. But we are. Each one of us. We might come tied with tattered ribbons and used wrapping paper, but what is inside is beautiful. We have to believe this because God created each of us in God’s own image and likeness. What’s not to love my friends? What’s not to love? Those parents who gave their daughters to a religious community yielded an extraordinary gift. Their own flesh and blood placed in a context they did not understand but they did it out of faith even if reluctantly. And the daughters? Ever the thrill seekers, they became the gifts to many people who needed their love, wisdom, skills, dedication. Those daughters thrived and like all meaningful gifts: they meant something to those they ministered and loved. The parents showed us that this is how we give gifts and the daughters showed us this is how we use them.
Aware of gift and giving, of parents and child, I could not help but think and meditate on Mary as she accepted God’s invitation to be the Mother of Jesus. Here was a teenage woman full of doubt and anxiety asking herself if she is worthy to carry and give birth to a gift for the world. I’m sure Mary spent her life trying to understand the gift she was giving and the deep generosity it required of her to give it.
Our next step in the advent quest for deeper spirituality might be to reflect on what gift-giving actually means, especially when we don’t have any assurances about the gift we are offering. Like the parents in the photos I mentioned above. Just give it. Just give that gift and live the mystery. And how about the gift? You? You, the gift you are and can be for so many others? The gift your parents gave to the world no matter what your vocation is. Praise God that you are a gift and then live like it. Be for others. Let others be thrilled at the colors, joy, and music you bring to life proving that God loves them and we are all gifts in God’s image.
Reflect this week on St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation, 1:1-38. This beautiful story illuminates Mary’s worries but the angel assures her, “nothing is impossible with God.” She is preparing to give a gift to the world.
Remember that. You are a gift and nothing is impossible with God!
I wish all of you, continued blessings of this wonderful season of anticipation and hope and gift-giving.