Words on the Word
Solemn Profession of Br Francis and Br Moses
Dear Brother Francis,
Dear Brother Moses,
Today you seal the gift you have made of your lives. It is a day of joy not just for yourselves and for your brethren. The whole Church is enriched. To witness people solemnly committing their future is an awesome thing. Nothing better displays the dignity we have as human beings than our freedom to give ourselves definitively. It is beautiful to see a man and a woman give themselves to each other in marriage; then to see them, after a lifetime, having really become one, re-made, as it were, by their mutual love and by God’s blessing. It is beautiful to see people give themselves fully to some great task of learning or teaching, of science or art, of charitable work. And it is beautiful to witness the dedication of a monk. ‘Let your word’, the Lord tells us, ‘be Yes, yes or No, no.’ Today you proclaim a Yes that will define the rest of your life. You promise never to withdraw it. By the commitment you make, you encourage us all. You remind us of the choices we have made. By your radical response in faith, you exhort us to be faithful. Underlying every serious dedication of self is a sense of destiny. We know there’s something we must do to become who we’re meant to be, to prosper, to be happy, to give life. As Christians, we think of this experience in terms of God’s call. For this solemn liturgy, you have chosen readings that speak of what it means to be called. Let us consider what they teach us.
The account of Samuel roused by God in the night is a striking vocation story. It seems simple, almost frighteningly absolute. The call of God erupts of a sudden and changes a young man’s life for ever. On reflection, though, we find it is a many-layered drama. First of all, what was Samuel doing in the sanctuary? He was there because he had, even before he was conceived, been pledged to God by his mother. Hannah had been barren. When she made supplication to God for a child, she struck a bargain: Give me a son, and I will give him back to you! The Lord heard her. Samuel was a child born of prayer, predestined to be a man of prayer, to be God’s entirely. In a similar way, brothers, your monastic vocation is in part a fruit of prayers others have made on your behalf. Both of you were blessed to grow up in Christian homes. You have known about the things of God from childhood. Your faith was kindled by that of your family, teachers, and friends. When today you make your vows before the altar, you carry with you all these people, living and dead. Their prayer has carried you this far. It is your privilege and duty, now, to carry them.
A second feature of Samuel’s call seems to me important: ‘In those days’, we read, ‘it was rare for the Lord to speak; visions were uncommon.’ Why? It is a melancholy story. The Lord spoke rarely because people were unwilling to listen to his voice. Even consecrated priests had turned away. Old Eli adopted Samuel partly because his own sons, Hophni and Phineas, were unworthy of their priesthood. They were greedy men who claimed every fat portion for themselves. The call of Samuel represents a new beginning. God calls this youth to be a mouthpiece for his oracles, to call wayward folk back to his covenant and grace. Though mainly, thank God, in less dire circumstances, each of us, likewise, is called to carry God’s word into the world: to show it forth in pristine splendour, to make it credible, to show by whole and holy lives that truth is true. Your call, brothers, is not only for yourselves. You are to be living words, for the up-building and comfort of your community, of the Church. Keep listening, then, keep responding!
When St Paul speaks of God’s call, he does so in terms of wisdom. What were you, he asks the Corinthians, when you were called? Were you wise? Paul is not glorifying lack of human wisdom; he does not tell us to be stupid. You know his letters; you know he was not one to suffer fools gladly! What matters to Paul is the contrast between one kind of wisdom and another. To one who knows the wisdom of God, the wisdom of this world is just inadequate. It is not invalidated; but it no longer satisfies. What is the wisdom of God? It is the message of ‘a crucified Christ’. It is the Gospel of a God who, for love, assumes the guilt and pain of human lives. Our God does not stand aloof. He is with us, Emmanuel. He is tainted by the dust of our sin. He does not appear to us apparelled in glory; he appears to us nailed to the Cross for our redemption. Brothers, by responding to God’s call, you have chosen to live by this superior wisdom of the Cross. That is why you’ve chosen a hidden, unspectacular life, a life that, to many, seems a waste of time and talents. You know it is not so. Because it is humble and hidden, because it helps us see how poor we are, monastic life is a wonderful school of Christian wisdom. Strive daily to advance in it. If at times you feel discouraged, think of this: it is in weakness that God’s power is most perfectly displayed. The most absurd situations are sometimes the ones in which wisdom shines forth with greatest evidence.
‘Give everything away and follow me!’ The Lord’s words to the rich young man make us tremble. His emphasis on ‘all’ frightens us. We like to keep a little stock of something for hard times. Jesus says, No, give it away! Do not bother with that extra pair of sandals, the spare tunic, with the stash of CFA in your belt! Give all, and you will have treasure in heaven. Of course, these words are not a universal summons. They’re not addressed to everyone. The young man pressed the Good Master. He wasn’t satisfied with ordinary devotion. He wanted all, so he had to face the stakes involved: to get all, all must first be given. Francis and Moses, you, like him, are men of unquiet hearts, men hungry for the absolute. You wish to receive the greatest gift of which human beings are capable, the very life of God. Therefore you have not counted the costs. Your face has not fallen. You have not turned away. You have said, ‘I’ll leave everything and follow!’ Have no doubt that on seeing this readiness of yours, the Lord looks on you with love. If life at times is hard, if you’re tempted to look over your shoulder, at what you’ve left behind, remember that gaze of love. Take strength from it. Let it rekindle the flame of your love.
The Lord cannot be outdone in generosity. For every little gift we give, we are repaid a hundredfold. Dear Brother Francis, dear Brother Moses: you have already tasted the truth of that promise. You know the joy of living for God, of serving your brethren, of finding with astonishment that all is gift, given freely. God wills our flourishing. We have been speaking of vocation. St Benedict begins his Rule for Monks with a passage that evokes God’s call, telling us what it involves. He imagines the Lord setting up a little stall in a marketplace. From there he calls out to passers-by: ‘Who is the man who desires life and loves to see good days?’ If he truly seeks God, says our Father, such a one has the makings of a monk. Brothers, the Lord has called you to be monks to make you happy; also, I may add, that others may find happiness through you. He has asked you to give all because there is no limit to the gifts he wants to give. He would have you embrace the fullness of life, never settling for less. Your monastic profession is not a one-sided transaction. Even as today you pledge your troth, God pledges his. He is faithful. Be like him! Then your monastic life will be happy. It will be a school of love. It will bring wonderful gifts of communion and friendship. It will make your hearts expand. It will help you attain, by grace, the full stature of Christ. It will bear fruit for the flourishing of the Church. Let your Yes always be Yes. Then you will have good days here below and in the world to come, eternal life. Such is my wish, my prayer for you today. May God grant it. Amen.