Jubilarian Mass for Sister Lillian Marie Reiter, OSB

Published: July 11, 2018

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at Holy Angels Convent in Jonesboro on Wednesday, July 11, 2018. It is based on the Gospel of Matthew 16:24-27.

Bishop Taylor

The passage we have that was chosen for today's Gospel reading was preceded by a very peculiar interaction between Jesus and Peter. Jesus had just declared that Peter is the rock on which he will build his Church. And then in the next breath calls him a satan and accuses him of trying to make him trip and fall. What gives?

Well Peter was OK with believing that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, but he couldn’t handle the thought of Jesus' death. But this is the course he is on and so Peter's opposition to the cross is not helpful. Indeed, his concern for Jesus' physical well being is an obstacle and a temptation.

Earlier the real Satan had tempted Jesus in the desert and at that time he refused to use his miraculous powers to relieve his hunger, or to impress unbelievers or take a short-cut to establishing his kingdom. Now Peter tempts him as he begins to face the cross, and here Jesus steps over the trip hazard of Peter's misplaced concern: He will go to the cross.

Naturally none of us wants any of our loved ones to suffer, but God's plan for that loved one may be beyond our capacity to understand. The cross they have to bear may be what saves their soul.

Every one of us has to face hurdles in this life, but as high as some of these hurdles are, it is the trip hazards that are the bigger threat. We see hurdles coming and we prepare ourselves for the extra effort, but trip hazards catch us unprepared.

One moment we're on our feet, the next moment we're flat on the ground and don't know what happened. Most trip hazards are, in a way, small; that's why they're so dangerous. Naturally Peter didn't want Jesus to suffer, but if that was God's will, if that was the price of our salvation, then to push for anything else was a trip hazard.

Naturally none of us wants any of our loved ones to suffer, but God's plan for that loved one may be beyond our capacity to understand. The cross they have to bear may be what saves their soul.

I once had a parishioner who came to faith as a result of being arrested. His whole world had come crashing down and in his despair he turned to his wife’s religion for comfort. He attended RCIA here while his case was awaiting trial and later I received him into the Church in jail.

One day he said something to me that I'll never forget. He said: "This is the most horrible thing I've ever had to go through, but you know, if I had not been arrested, I may never have come to faith. If this is the price of my salvation, then I guess it's worth it."

That's what Jesus is telling us. The cross is the price of our salvation — Jesus' cross, of course. But also the crosses that we have to bear. Sixty years ago Sister Lillian Marie professed her first vows as an Olivetan Benedictine Sister — vows that formalized her commitment to embrace their cross and follow Christ, vows that required her to die to this world so as to live already in some measure the greater and more demanding — and at the same time, freer — life of the Kingdom of God.

No one reaches their 60th anniversary of religious profession without having to face some obstacles and stumbling blocks along the way, because these are always present on the path of Jesus, indeed that is how it was for him on his path 2,000 years, as we see in today’s Gospel.

And it was the same in the life of his mother Mary, who is the model for how to live the religious vows that Sister Lillian Marie professed 60 years ago: Mary’s poverty, living in Nazareth and also for a time in a foreign country, as a refugee in Egypt; and Mary’s chastity, her virginity in view of the Son of God to whom she gave birth for the salvation of all; and her obedience of God’s will — and not only that day when she said: “Let it be done in me according to thy word!” but rather all the days of her life.

Sister Lillian Marie, 60 years ago you made your own with the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself (herself), take up his cross (her cross), and follow me.”

And I know there have been crosses as well as joys. Sister, I am convinced that in the plan of God, the crosses you have already borne during the last 60 years have served to save the souls of many people who have benefitted from your selfless and generous service. And for that, I and all of us are profoundly grateful.