Date: Saturday, April 03, 2021
She stepped off the elevator and took one look at all the people with cameras and quipped: “I don’t want to be a celebrity.” But the spotlight was on Sister Ursuline Hilinski. She was entering a waiting room in Immaculate Heart of Mary Convent at Villa Maria Convent where her religious sisters were watching “I Love Lucy” and waiting for their 2nd dose of covid vaccination. What made Sister Ursuline special is that it happened to be her 100th birthday, April 1st, and Holy Thursday. With dry humor she said: “this is no April Fool’s Day joke.” Sr. Ursuline was born in Erie, Pa. in 1921 and remembers her parents kept chickens in the yard for eggs and meals. She left home at the age of 13 to become an “aspirant’ with the Felician Sisters and staying for 87 years with a long teaching and administrative career. Her original purpose in becoming a sister was to “serve the Lord.” She comments “I don’t know if I’m serving him right. But I’m trying.” One of the Sisters remarked: “She is so with it, and she always does everything she can.” Sr. Ursuline uses an iPad to speak with Leo her younger brother who is now in his nineties. With remarkable whit and energy Sr. Ursuline continues “to serve the Lord” by following Jesus.
We are all disciples, followers of Jesus. “Following Jesus” is a promise made at our baptism. In the Gospel according to St. Mark, there is a curious incident in the Garden of Gethsemane. “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” Scholars suggest that Mark, the evangelist, with this reference in the passion narrative, is inviting his faith community to imagine themselves in the Garden of Gethsemane. The clue is in the Greek. The Greek word for “linen cloth” is the same word used in the early church to describe the “white garment” that covers the newly baptized after they immerge from the water. St. Mark is making a point. Following Jesus is a dangerous proposition. As Bishop Robert Barron reflects in Word on Fire: “The shame of this young man – running away from the Lord at the moment of crisis – is the shame of all of us fearful disciples of Jesus who, more often than not, leave behind, in the hands of our enemies, our baptismal identities.”
This mysterious figure makes a comeback before the Gospel of Mark ends. When the Sabbath was over, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Salome come to the tomb carrying spices and fretting about who will roll back the stone. But they discover the large stone has been rolled back. On entering the tomb, they see “a young man … clothed in white.” The heavenly messenger calms and explains: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.’” The Greek words for “young man” and “white robe” are same words used to describe the disciple in the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Mark is now inviting his listeners long ago and all of us today to imagine that we are wearing once more our white baptism gown and announcing to the world the Good News that Jesus, the crucified, has been raised and goes before us.
When we read the passion narrative and the closing of Mark’s Gospel together, we see the connection between the “young man in white” in the Garden of Gethsemane and in the empty tomb. The shamed disciple who runs away from Jesus at the time of his arrest returns as an angel of the Resurrection. Sr. Ursuline never ran away. She is still following Jesus with humility and joy. She is an older woman with a youthful heart, wearing her habit, her baptismal garment, and still aspiring to “serve the Lord.” The “aspirant” is an inspiration. Sr. Ursuline invites us to renew our promise to follow Jesus and to experience the joy and peace of Easter.