Once upon a time……
in the year 1474 a girl named Angela Merici was born in the tiny farming village of Dezenzano situated on the shores of Lake Garda in Italy.
Now, today, the 26th May 2017, 543 years later we gather to celebrate Angela’s life and to give thanks to God for the extraordinary person she was… but Angela Merici would be quick to say “no more wonderful than each of you – the students, staff, parents and friends of Merici College, Braddon.”
The three scripture readings we have just listened to speak to us of Angela Merici’s life and our lives connected and woven together by the seeds of God’s love planted deeply in Angela’s heart and each of our hearts as we heard in the First Reading:
“Before you were born, I knew you. Before you came to birth I consecrated you. I have appointed you as prophet to the nations.” Jer 4:5
This understanding and awareness of God’s unconditional love for her prompted Angela, at a very early age, to respond to the ordinary, everyday needs she saw around her.
Together with a growing group of friends these young women
- Nursed the sick
- Supported family life
- Protected young children whose needs were being overlooked
- Educated girls and young women at a time when only the wealthy were educated.
It was not until Angels Merici was 65 years old that she and her groups of friends formed “The Company of St Ursula”. They were recognised as strong, independent wisdom women. Together, they promised to devote their lives to being open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, reflecting daily on the scriptures and responding to needs they saw around them in their everyday lives.
You, the 2017 students, staff, parents and friends of Merici College are part of that tradition, that stretches back to the first day this school began…… a tradition that embraces the contribution of all the Religious Sisters who have been part of the life of this college. I can remember, as a young nun, listening to one of the Ursuline Sisters who was teaching here at the time. She described to me how the 'then' school community worked together on the theme of world peace. One day every student was asked to write a peace message. These messages were put into helium balloons and released into the skies above this school. Remarkably, the school received “thank you” messages from as far away as the Hunter Valley, north of Newcastle. People promised to join with the efforts of this school to pray and work for world peace.
Continuing this tradition………
Some of you will remember just 3 years ago how the students and staff of this college sent a Gospel justice message to the wider community at the time of the kidnapping by Boko Haram of 300 Nigerian girls.By hanging ribbons on your trees you were standing in solidarity with these young women who had no voice and no one to support them. You were doing what Angela Merici did 500 years ago, when she stood in solidarity with women and children in her country who were at risk.
Your actions drew attention, in a public and creative way, to the plight of these girls. As a result, the Canberra Media took up the story and many schools followed your example with similar calls to community awareness. The ribbons draped on the branches of your school’s trees spoke to me and the Canberra community of young Merici women connecting with and standing with kidnapped women across the world. It was a Gospel justice message. It was something St Angela would have done in her day.
Now today we hear of the ongoing release of some of these captive girls. So let us continue what this college started and pray for the release of the rest of these kidnapped girls.
From a very young age historians tell us that Angela loved to listen to her father as he read the scripture stories.
Our Gospel story today of a poor widow would have been familiar to Angela.
St Mark tells us that Jesus was sitting opposite the Temple treasury watching and listening with the ears and eyes of his heart, not to the sound of the size of the money gift being dropped into the container by the rich, but to what was in the hearts of the people who were giving……
Along comes a poor widow. Jesus listens to the whisper of her two small coins dropped unnoticed into the collection box.
BUT, the generosity of this giver does not go unnoticed as Jesus points out to his disciples and to us, that she has given more than anyone else because she gave all she had.
Angela would have understood as we also understand that this Gospel parable is NOT about money. Jesus is showing us that our gift, our sharing of ourselves with those in need is not measured by appearance. What is important is the intention that is in our heart when we give.
For this widow, and for Angela Merici, God was their point of reference…… their focus. They did not compare themselves with what others were doing.
Love of God and care for their neighbour were the guiding light for their lives.
Angela understood and we understand too that if this widow can share her small gift to building up the Kingdom of God then EVERYONE CAN.
So we hear now in the Second Reading
“There are a variety of gifts but always the same Spirit working in us all for a good purpose.”
Just think of the thousands of people who have shared in the life of Merici College since it began in 1959.
Down through the years to this day countless gifts of the Holy Spirit have been poured into all our hearts for a good purpose.
This year, that good purpose is reflected through your school theme “United in Hope”.
And expressed through such actions as your coin collection and the Vinnies Doorknock appeal.
And the participation in the Donate Life walk to raise awareness of the importance of Organ Donation.
Just recently some Year 7 and Year 10 students here at Merici College were introduced to the program Seedling of Hope in Cambodia. This organisation, supported by Caritas Australia, and run by the Maryknoll Sisters supports children and adults affected by HIV/Aids. It aims to improve their quality of life by fulfilling their basic human rights.
These are school activities. Yet each one of you shares the Spirit of Hope through your relationships with one another EVERY DAY.
A few weeks ago I asked a Merici Student how her studies were progressing. She replied, “Great, except for one subject………………BUT MY FRIEND is helping me.”
Yes, the Holy Spirit is being poured out into your hearts here at Merici College for a good purpose.
Today, I think Angela Merici would say to us all, the students, staff, parents and friends of this amazing college -
I quote from Angela’s writings
“Have faith and strong hope. God will provide for you wonderfully well.”
“Know that I am always in your midst lending aid to your prayers.”
So we ask Angela Merici to pray for you all, but especially to pray for the students of this college, that, trusting in God’s love and relying on the presence of the Holy Spirit, you may all continue to grow as strong, independent, wisdom women, United in Hope, and ready to share your gifts with all those you meet in your everyday lives.
Sr Genny Ryan osu