Behold your mother

As per a tradition started by St Madeleine Sophie, at the end of each programme of preparation for perpetual vows the Superior General gives each group a name and a devise (motto), which will accompany them individually and as a group of professed religious. This, in a sense, is their new call and identity in the congregation; one which, as far as possible, reflects the experience, process and insights of each one and of their time together. Many of us love and cherish our new name and devise from the moment we hear them; others, though, may be less ecstatic or initially prefer their devise, and take years or even decades to truly 'own' and welcome their name.

Yesterday we buried the ashes of one of our sisters, Joan, who died in June. Two years ago, when she celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of her profession Joan wrote a short reflection for our website about how she gradually grew into her name - 'Behold your Mother' - and devise - 'Do whatever he tells you' - both of them phrases said by or about Mary the Mother of Jesus:

It took me a long time before I tuned into the significance of our name and could begin to feel at ease with a special relationship with Mary. Perhaps this was because of the way I felt some people practised a very sentimental devotion which seemed to place Mary above the Lord himself.

Mary however said words that mean so much, "What ever he says to you, do ye", and gradually she became for me a woman from whose contemplative attitude I too can become committed to live as Jesus lived. All our learning is from the close union of the hearts of Jesus and Mary. It is heart knowledge that teaches us how to look at the world, how to listen to what we are told about its realities and so be enabled to approach it in a human and friendly manner. In welcoming God's word Mary gives life to the world.  (Constitutions #22)

I was reminded of this reflection during the Mass preceding the burial, as we heard Jesus in the Gospel saying that his mother and brothers and sisters are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice. (Luke 8: 21) This was the ordinary Gospel for the day, and yet it was as if it had been chosen specially for Joan. She, certainly, was a woman who heard the word of God and lived it as faithfully, generously and congruently as she could, in a daily gift of herself, even when it cost her greatly.

When someone as unstintingly hardworking as Joan dies, we fondly imagine them being welcomed into heaven with the words Well done, good and faithful servant, now come and take your rest (cf Matthew 25: 21). But Jesus did not call those who live the word of God servants; he called them his family - his mother, brother, sister. And so now I can well imagine Joan being ushered into heaven and presented to Jesus, rejoicing to hear and recognise her name, reluctantly accepted in 1954, struggled with and lived for six decades, now gloriously announcing... Behold your mother...

And may we all live our lives in such a way that one day we too may hear something similar being said of us...