Words on the Word

Annunciation Tautra

Homily given at a Mass to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the monastery’s foundation.

Isaiah 7.10-14: The Lord will give you a sign.
Hebrews 10.4-10: Here I am, come to do your will.
Luke 1.26-38: Nothing is impossible for God.

The Annunciation is the incarnation’s feast. We wonder at this mystery of unity; the deeper our insight, the greater our wonder. The feast is based on an event. There is a categorical before and after Mary’s conception. Before humankind was surrendered to itself, surrounded by God’s mercy, yet without hope that its deepest longings might be satisfied; after our nature is marked by divinity. The union effected through Mary’s Yes — the union of dust and eternity, heaven and earth, our being and God’s — is definitive. It is not a passing state. Henceforth God is present in our condition. We are present in his. Christ’s Ascension testifies that our humanity is mystically grafted into the life of the Trinity. In a way that surpasses thought (but is accessible to faith) humanity has acquired eternal status. The image of God that Adam received is, by the incarnation, anchored in God himself. Our life here and now is endowed with sublime potential. We are responsible for it. Will we let God’s purpose for us be realised? 

The monk or nun would answer this question with a resounding Yes! The monastic vocation is not just a proposition of alternative lifestyle for eccentrics. It represents a pedagogy of transformation. If we turn to our Magna Carta, St Benedict’s Rule, this may not be immediately obvious. The Rule can seem downright unmystical. It is concerned with shoes, bedtimes, measures of meals, harvests, and liturgical diagrams. By all means, our Holy Father was practically minded; that is why the Rule has kept such force for life through the centuries. But Benedict’s empirical pragmatism is but matter for his real, theological intention. He indicates this intention with a few carefully chosen words. Genuine mystics tend to be taciturn; it’s the charlatans who cannot stop talking. Odd glimpses of supernatural clarity give meaning and form to the Rule’s worldly prescriptions. Benedict speaks of the divinising light that, in Christ, allows our participation in God’s being (cf. 2 Pet 1.14); he bids us have ‘thunderstruck’ ears like the disciples’ when they heard the Father proclaim Christ’s sacrifice as glorification (cf. Jn 12.27ff.); he assures us we can experience Christ’s love; and he invites us to participate by patience in Christ’s Passion for the saving of the world. 

Go be a monk, a nun is to give all unconditionally, that Jesus’s life may be ours. Thus the annunciation acquires a personal aspect. The incarnation has happened once for all. The grace shown Mary has no parallel. But Mary’s Yes is a paradigm for us. The heritage of Cîteaux stresses this. Our Fathers were enchanted by the incarnation. We hear their most characteristic utterances when they expound the Annunciation, Advent, and Christmas. They nurture in us an audacious hope: God wishes to dwell in us, he wants to be known. We are called to be burning coal to let his divinity burn with cleansing, blessing power in the world. Are we wholly surrendered to this hope?

God’s grace builds on what is. To receive grace, to be filled with it, presupposes realism. The truth about who we are, about who God is, liberates. To live in truth is to learn humility. It is wonderful to see how God, in this way, lets Jesus recognisably live in a multitude of lives, the way Hopkins indicates in his Kingfisher Sonnet: ‘Christ plays in ten thousand places/Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/To the Father through the features of men’s faces.’ God’s gift in Christ is inexhaustible, an everlasting source of beauty, strength and joy for those who utterly receive it.

The call pertaining to individuals pertains to the community, too. It is telling that Benedict refers to it as corpus monasterii. To enter a monastery is to become ‘one body’ with my brothers, my sisters. That is why Benedict is stern regarding centrifugal behaviour. The true monk or nun seeks to be where the community is. A sign of monastic authenticity is the readiness and will to be incorporated. Today we thank God for the community here on Tautra, a quarter-century after it was founded. You have rooted yourselves perseveringly, dear sisters, out here by the fjord, in this fruitful but weather-beaten soil. Day and night you present your worship and your lives to God’s praise and for the blessing of humankind. Your presence is a point of crucial reference for our diocese. You are held in affection and esteem. We love you very much. 

It is said that youth matures more slowly now than before. Still, at 25 one is reckoned an adult willy-nilly. We, your friends, wish you well for the time ahead. May the monastic be lived in this place without compromise, so that Jesus may be revealed with the features of this land, this region. In that respect is is important that Norwegian becomes, as last, your common language. You have lovingly embraced the landscape here; now it it the language’s turn. In that way you will become ever more fully what you already are: a sign of God’s kingdom’s real presence. Today’s collect expresses a daring intention: ‘Shape us in the likeness of the divine nature of our Redeemer, whom we believe to be true God and true man.’ Live, Sisters, in such a way that all can learn from you what these words mean, that they are credible. Thank you for your fidelity thus far! May God, at the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, richly bless the way ahead.