“The most difficult part of being a disciple is accepting that we are loved, wholly, completely and tenderly by God,” Sr. Elissa Rinere, CP, told participants at the 11th Diocesan Women’s Conference that focused on the theme of Women as disciples. “God’s love is given to each of us; it is unending…never wavering.”
“Even when we sin, even when we turn our back on God, God is not angry with us. God is better than us. God loves us and waits for our return to that love,” Sr. Elissa emphasized to participants attending the virtual conference. “God loves you whether you like it or not…whether you think it or not, whether you are aware of it or not, whether you can understand and accept it or not…Being loved and accepted by God means we are holy, wholly, holy, head to toe, whether we like it or not.” The proof of this love, she says, is in our very existence and the life and death of Jesus.
In her talk entitled "Holy, Wholly, Holy: The Path of Discipleship," Sr. Elissa told the women that discipleship will ‘rise up out of your soul’ when you come to know, with utter confidence, of God’s love for you. Experiencing God’s love in this way, she said, will spur you to feelings of gratitude and it is gratitude that will lead you to service and discipleship.
Holiness begins with the Sacrament of Baptism, when we are anointed, head to toe with Chrism, an oil of consecration, and we become dedicated to God. She told the women that the fact that they were attending a women’s conference sponsored by the Diocese of Norwich on a beautiful Saturday on the edge of spring was evidence that their baptism was not a minor factor in their life choices. “You are holy in God’s eyes, precious, loved and valued…Holy doesn’t mean perfect. It means to keep on keeping on in your daily dedication to your marriages, your families, your parish, and your neighborhoods, always moving forward. That’s holiness,” she said.
“When something happens and we fall short of our goal, we do what we have preferred not to do,” she continued. “When we sin, we get up, we make amends and we keep on keeping on always striving to do the right thing for the right reason, over and over again, maybe not always succeeding, but always striving. That’s discipleship. That’s holiness.”
Sr. Elissa, the former chancellor for the diocese, explained that beginning in the 3rd century and continuing through most of the 20th century, the concept of holiness was thought to be reserved only for those who followed a vocation to priesthood or religious life. It wasn’t until after the Second Vatican Council that there was a shift in understanding that holiness is rooted, not in a person’s vocation, but in his or her baptism.
“Everyone who is baptized has a mission, is consecrated to God, and called to be disciples,” she stressed. “Will all of us accept the responsibility of discipleship or not? Will the path of holiness be left to a minority of the chosen few, or will the whole people of God rise up and walk the path of holiness together? If that teaching about baptism is received…and lived out as you are being called to live it out, then the whole church will be alive, and vibrant and filled with the spirit of the love of God in ways we have never seen before.”
Some theologians refer to the laity as the sleeping giant of the church, she said. “Is the sleeping giant going to rise up and claim holiness and discipleship and mission? We are on the road to this now. You are doing your part because you are hearing and absorbing these teachings.”
By Mary-Jo McLaughlin