Golden Jubilee of Profession of Sr Mary Teresa OP 2nd Oct. 2021
By Fr Martin Ganeri o.p
Today we celebrate and give thanks for the fifty years of professed religious life that Sr Mary Teresa (Terry) has lived. And in doing so, we celebrate and give thanks for the commitment and perseverance in religious life – in our Dominican religious life – that this represents. A commitment and perseverance that encourages us to celebrate that Dominican life itself – our Dominican mission – as we have all lived it – and as we commit ourselves to continue to live it in the years to come. Although there are many and very great challenges that face us in the present, our Dominican life is a wonderful thing – it’s wonderful because by its nature it remains every vital and ever necessary – because preaching and living out the truth of the Gospel remains every vital and ever necessary – and because those of us who have given our lives to this can realize what it means to preach and live out the truth of the Gospel in so many ways.
In the Summa Theologiae, St Thomas Aquinas starts that great work of theology with a discussion of sacra doctrina, sacred teaching (ST 1.1). This is the subject matter of the Summa, the subject matter of Dominican study and the basis for Dominican life and mission.
Sacra doctrina, sacred teaching, is in the first place the revelation given to us by God – the Word or Truth revealed to us by God and embodied in Christ. And then, by extension, sacra doctrina is the reflection on and application of that revealed Word and Truth – in the intellectual apostolate of theology and preaching, and then the practical application of that in all the other forms of apostolate in which we seek to manifest that saving Word and Truth to others in showing charity or merciful love to them.
Sacra doctrina – sacred teaching – which for Aquinas is also sana doctrina or healthy teaching (ST 1.1.8). For the goal of this teaching is salus humana, which we usually translate as human salvation, but bears the wider meaning of human health in all its fullness. The sacred revelation of God’s Word, embodied in Jesus Christ, and which we give to other men and women, is directed to their human health and wellbeing. That is the goal – human health, human wellbeing, human flourishing in mind and body in whatever form that takes and whatever form of help is demanded to enable it to come to be.
This wider and deeper sense of salus humana is re-enforced when Aquinas talks about the work of a teacher – the one who communicates sacra or sana doctrina to others. Aquinas likens the work of a teacher to that of a doctor ST 1.117.1). Just as a doctor heals others by applying medicine to them, bringing them to physical health, so a teacher applies his or her learning to others, so that they can grow intellectually – come, as it were, to a greater health of mind.
Salus humana – human health – in mind and body. And our Dominican vocation – whether as brothers or sisters or lay Dominican men and women – is to be servants of that Word and to bring that human health to others as they need to receive it. And it makes the possibilities of our mission very varied and very rich. It can take the form of the intellectual apostolate, as realized in the academic work or universities and schools or catechetics. It can take the form of the pastoral apostolate, as realized in service of the elderly or young, or sick. In all these ways we serve others in love for them, as their teachers and their doctors. (Sometimes even as their doctor in the ordinary sense of that word.)
A Dominican mission which can and has, then, taken many forms. But present in any form of that mission is the realization and commitment on our part as Dominicans that human health is always a combination of mind and body. This is something that is very valuable, very precious in our Dominican mission. We know that we cannot detach our minds from our bodies nor our bodies from our minds. And so, when we teach others as Dominicans, we are also concerned with their wider well-being, and we know that a health mind will help bring about a health body. And when we minister to their physical health, we know we need also to minister to their mental health, and that bringing them to have healthy bodies will help them have healthy minds.
This holistic vision of human salvation is what we are committed to. It is what the sisters of the Stone Congregation have in the last over 150 years committed themselves to – it is what the individuals who have celebrated their jubilees in the congregation have committed themselves to. And it is something we can celebrate with joy and thanksgiving.
Today we celebrate also the feast of the guardian angels. Those beings who are part of God’s wider truth, the wider products of God’s creative Word. The guardian angels who are assigned to each of us by God to help us as we journey through this life, with all its dangers, and pitfalls and temptations – all the ways in which our human health can be compromised. The guardian angels are part of the abundance of ways in God helps us – as they protect us from these dangers and guide us and our minds and bodies to be healthy and be saved – to help us as we journey on to our final goal of human blessedness in the vision of and fellowship with the divine Trinity.
‘The Lord says this: I myself will send an angel before you to guard you as you go and to bring you to the place that I have prepared for you.’
We have much need of this help of our guardian angels. And it is part of the joy and privilege of our Dominican vocation that we can share with them in this work as we strive to guard others from sickness of mind and body and guide them to health of mind and body – so that they can live better in the present and come more easily to their final goal of blessedness. In whatever way we bring others to health of mind and body, we make them flourish as human beings and so share in that same work that the guardian angels have.
When we look back to 50 years ago, we look back to a very different society and to a very different place the Church had in that society. We see of course the full manifestation of that great shift of belief that has occurred, as belief in Christianity in Western Europe has declined so fundamentally, and as active membership of the Church has declined so fundamentally. We cannot hide from this. We cannot ignore it or deny it. And along with this, there has of course also been a great decline in the number of vocations to the religious life. This is a reality – a challenging reality of all religious congregations – a challenging reality for the Stone Congregation itself.
This shift and this challenging reality make it all the more important to recognize the value of any commitment to life in the Church and especially a commitment to religious life that has endured for these last fifty years. It’s a commitment that guards and guides the commitment and hope of all of us, as we look to our future as Dominican brothers and sisters, as we work now and, in the years, to come to continue to bring salus humana, human health to others, who still have need of it. As we commit ourselves to facing the challenges that are so manifest to us. As we explore old and new ways of preaching the Word in our society so that the sacred and healthy teaching of God’ salvation may enrich the minds and bodies of others. The truth and value of that sacred and healthy teaching remains, whether or not the churches are full, or whether or not our Dominican religious congregations have hundreds or just tens of brothers and sisters in them.
So, we ask our guardian angels to be with us, to protect and encourage us all, as we look to the next ten years, or for some even fifty years, of our life and mission.
And we give thanks to your guardian angel, Terry, for having been with you these last fifty, and we pray that that angel will continue to protect and encourage you as you face the challenges you have in protecting and guiding the Stone congregation in the years to come.