Proclaim Jubilee! When I worked as RENEW 2000 Coordinator for the Diocese of Birmingham over 25 years ago, I read a book by Maria Harris by that title, Proclaim Jubilee: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. I became thoroughly fascinated by the Jubilee tradition in the Scriptures, especially as it is set forth in Leviticus chapter 25 and also from Jesus’ proclamation of the Jubilee tradition in Luke 4: 18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” In his very being, Jesus proclaimed Jubilee. Preparing myself and others to celebrate the new millennium, I felt it important to understand the deeper roots of the Jubilee tradition, and Jesus’ embodiment of it.
I discovered the word “jubilee” is derived from Hebrew (yovēl), which means ram’s horn, presumably because a ram’s horn trumpet was originally used to proclaim the event. The Latin word jūbilaeus is from iūbilō, meaning “I shout for joy,” So Jubilee is “a time for rejoicing.” The Jubilee Year, occurring after every seventh Sabbath year in ancient Israel—thus every 50 years—was to be an economic, environmental, and communal “reset” for the people, to ensure that they lived in ways that reflected right relationships with God, with each other, and with creation.
During the Jubilee Year, not only did the land rest, but all Hebrew slaves were set free, debts were forgiven, and all land was returned to its original owners. The two main ideas of Jubilee Year were that the land belongs to the Lord who determines its proper use, and that God’s people are to be free. Redemption was always possible. Ultimately, the Jubilee tradition was to remind ancient Israel, and by extension to remind all of us, that God’s work is to set humanity and all creation free, and God’s people have a part to play in setting things right. Jubilee is an expression of God’s desire that all people and all creation flourish.
I have been pondering the Jubilee tradition in Scripture many times over this year as I celebrated my own Golden Jubilee of Profession in July. This Jubilee year has been a time to reset my relationship with God, with the Community, with all the relationships in my life. It has indeed been a time of rejoicing, of re-connecting, of cherishing memories, of being set free to enjoy the blessings of a life seeking God. It has been a special time of flourishing for me, a time for giving thanks.
Choosing Mary’s Magnificat for the Gospel of my Jubilee Mass, I can say with our Blessed Mother, my Spirit truly rejoices in God my Savior! This Jubilee year has given me the opportunity to look back over my fifty years of Benedictine life, and all the marvelous things the Lord has done.
First and foremost, I thank God for my parents, Paul and Virginia, who gave me the gift of life and taught me about the faithfulness of God in their 67 years of marriage. I was truly blessed to have my dear mom (95 years old) with me for the Jubilee Mass, and I felt the close presence of my dad who shared the joy of the day in heaven. My brothers, Michael and Sammy, and my sister-in-law, Jenny, have always been a great source of support, encouragement, and love. Paul and Samuel, my nephews, carry my heart with them wherever they go.
My extended family—my uncles, aunts, and cousins on both sides of my family— taught me from my earliest years about what it means to be community, being present to one another in times of joy and sorrow, in sickness and in trials, in wonderful celebrations and in simple meals.
As a Benedictine Sister, my life and my family roots have been grafted onto a larger Benedictine family tree whose roots extend across centuries. I have sunk my roots deep into “the good ground” here at Sacred Heart Monastery where my Sisters have taught me what it means to “prefer nothing whatever to the love of Christ” (RB 72:11). I am proud to be a Cullman Benedictine, and so grateful for the witness each Sister of the Community has given me over these fifty years. At this time of Jubilee, I thank God for each and every Sister, both living and deceased, whose love and devotion have watered the seed of God’s love in my soul.
Wherever I have ministered in the last fifty years, I have found holy people whose lives radiated Christ’s love in remarkable ways. I have come to recognize that the people whom God has placed in my life are a part of the “hundredfold” God has promised me. God has exceeded all my expectations!
Very much a Carole King fan in the ‘70’s, I have recalled her song “Tapestry” as an apt metaphor for this Jubilee year. God has been the Master Weaver of my life, and has woven a wondrous tapestry of people and experiences “in bits of blue and gold, a tapestry to feel and see, but impossible to hold.” This Jubilee year has allowed me to feel and see the splendor in the strands of God’s weavings.
I can identify with St. John when he speaks of his authentic experience of God, “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, we proclaim now to you, the Word of Life” (1 John 1:1-3). This Word of Life has been made amazingly visible to me in my 50 years of monastic life. May my life and yours always proclaim Jubilee!
By Sister Madeline Contorno, OSB