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Sister Cecilia Joseph OP: Saying Yes to God

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Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia makes a perpetual vow of obedience, along with poverty and chastity. at he profession in 2006. Photo: Supplied
Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia makes a perpetual vow of obedience, along with poverty and chastity. at a profession in 2006. Photo: Supplied

By Sister Cecilia Joseph, OP

Seventeen years ago, as a member of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia,  I made a perpetual vow of obedience, along with poverty and chastity. In a culture that holds autonomy and personal choice as god-like values, I (and others like myself) have forever submitted our will to God through the hands of our religious superior. My students are always shocked when I tell them that I will never own my own mobile phone, that I don’t have personal money to spend as I choose, and that I receive an assignment from the community each year telling me where I will serve. Despite what seems like limitations in the eyes of the world, I have everything I could ever dream of and desire. This lifestyle seems like sufficient grounds for cancellation.

You’ve heard the saying ‘tell God your plans and He laughs.’ I’d like to think of this laughter as His delight in the possibility of opening our eyes to experience our life from His perspective. I never planned to leave the small town in Ohio where I grew up; my vow of obedience has since taken me across North America, Europe, the Holy Land, and now the South Pacific. I dreamed of swimming in the 2000 Olympics; now I live in a suburb that is ‘home to the 2000 Olympic Games.’ When contemplating what to study at university, I firmly told my mum that I didn’t want to be a teacher; now I find myself with over 20 years experience in Catholic education. Tell God your plans and He delights in His possibilities.

“when contemplating what to study at university, i firmly told my mum that i didn’t want to be a teacher; now i find myself with over 20 years experience in catholic education. tell god your plans and he delights in his possibilities”.

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The root of the word obedience means ‘to listen’ or ‘pay attention’. For many reasons this deep listening (obedience) is becoming increasingly difficult today. Sometimes, it is even rejected as outdated. It is always disturbing to witness a child or adult give an outright ‘no’ when something is asked of them in obedience. And yet this tension summarises the story of our salvation. In freedom, our first parents gave their deafening ‘no’ with its shattering consequences. Thousands of years later, a young girl from Nazareth freely gave her ‘yes’ to a divine proposal, surrendering her plans to those of the One whom she loved above all else. We know how the story ends. We can now become who we were meant to be from all eternity as adopted children of the Father.

This lesson of deep listening, surrender, and obedience is one of the great lessons we can pass on to the staff, students and families in our Catholic schools.  As God shows time and again, He is worthy of our trust. We may not see the great plans He has for our life, but He does. We may bump up against the knots in our life, but He knows the beautiful connections He is making for our future. As St. John Henry Newman writes, “​​He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.” Our small ‘yeses’ of each day, as they come through the requests of a superior, friend, enemy, or stranger, conform us more closely to Jesus, increasing our capacity to give a greater ‘yes’ when it is asked of us. In Catholic education, we have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to explicitly teach and model in our own life this foundational spiritual lesson.


In the homily for his installation as Pope, Benedict XVI challenged us in this regard: “If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? … If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. … Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”

Open wide the doors of your heart to Christ and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Sister Cecilia Joseph, OP is the principal of St. Peter Chanel Catholic Primary School in Regents Park.

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