Words on the Word
Solemn Profession of Br Bernard John Tantiado
Genesis 3:9-20 Adam, where are you?
Ephesians 1:3-12 God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing
Luke 1:26-38 Let it be to me according to your word
Dear Brother Bernard John, there are three particular reasons why it is fitting for you to make your solemn profession on this feast of the Annunciation, transferred to the first available date after Easter. First, this solemnity marks the secret beginning of the incarnation of our Lord. That is should be secret, is remarkable. The Psalms, which we sing every day, are full of invocations asking God to come with majesty and might, riding on the heavens, with flashes of fire. When he did come, however – when he was incarnate -, it happened differently, in an immense silence, unperceived. To describe what took place, the Advent liturgy uses the image of the morning dew. It is worth reflecting upon. We have all had the experience of going out into a late summer morning to gasp at the sight of a universe adorned with precious diamonds. Their perfect arrangement is spectacular and imposing, but who could claim to have seen it take form? It is the work of the quiet of the night, revealed only when the sun rises.
In the same way, God enters our world, our lives. He prefers it to happen invisibly. He does not impose himself; he is born from within, submitting to the mystery of nine months’ gestation in Mary’s womb. For us monks this fact offers, not only a truth of faith, but a parable of our whole existence. We would likewise offer our lives to the Lord as soil in which the Spirit’s seed may grow. We ask nothing better than to be ploughed, harrowed, weeded, in the hope that, at the end, we may have allowed the seed to grow, to produce a good harvest. Our Constitutions speak of the ‘hidden fruitfulness’ of our Cistercian life. We may never see any concrete result of our consecration. That unknowing can sometimes be hard to bear. It is all the more important, then, to keep renewing the purpose we made in our first good zeal: to put our lives at the Lord’s disposal with simplicity and love, to let him dispose of it at his good pleasure, as seems best to him in view of a wider picture only he can see. Dear Brother Bernard John, the profession you make today is, in a sense, the end of a journey; but it is the beginning of another. Renew the vows you make today each day. You know what gardening is like. Make of your life a garden the Lord can plant, arrange, and harvest as he pleases. Thus your life will not only be radiantly faithful. It will be amply productive, whether you are aware of it or not.
The second aspect of the feast that commands our attention is no less astonishing. To enter our race, God, Maker of heaven and earth, did not issue a command the way a potentate would, instructing his underlings to make all things comfortably ready. He humbly asks leave to come. The realisation of his plan depended on the Yes of the woman invited to be the world-within-a-world where our Redeemer could assume our nature as his own. The Yes of Mary, a Yes with no strings attached, should be our constant meditation, as it is each time we say the rosary or pray the Angelus. By making your commitment to live and strive as a monk until death, you commit yourself today, dear Brother Bernard John, to making the Blessed Virgin’s Yes your own. Your life is now totally in God’s hands. That would sound a little scary, were it not for the fact that our God consistently presents himself to us as a Father to his children, as a Lover to his beloved. He showers us, St Paul says in our second reading, with ‘glorious grace’, forgiving our sins, preparing us to rise to our full stature in Christ, that we may play our part in his purpose, which is nothing less than ‘to unite all things in him’. Yo
ur life is to be a place where heaven and earth meet, a place where Christ can find a foothold in our world. Practise that big Yes by devotion to every little Yes each day calls for, in the service of the brethren, in the patient bearing of the heat of the day, in invisible kindnesses performed for Christ’s sake. If you do, you will know a peace that passes understanding. And, what is more, you will be a source of peace to others. It is a high calling!
A third level of significance attaches to today by virtue of your personal history. Today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of your first clothing with the novice’s habit at the abbey of Our Lady of the Philippines in Guimaras. St Benedict enjoins that no aspirant to monastic life should be admitted too easily, too quickly. In your case, I think we can say that his exhortation has been followed to the letter! Your pilgrimage has not always been easy. It has taken unexpected, tortuous turns, something leading you through waterless places and uneven terrains. You have learnt what it is to be lost, then found, what it means to walk ‘by faith, not by sight’. What matters is that you have kept walking – walking and praying, sometimes walking and weeping – but never sitting down in a ditch saying ‘Enough!’ Thereby your personal exodus journey has acquired a nobility and beauty all its own. Like the Israelites in the desert, you have learnt something precious about who God is, and about who you are yourself. You have learnt the meaning of fidelity given and received. And today, in this church, this community, God leads you into Canaan. It is a promised land with a few dry patches, as you know; life within it is not always song and dance. Yet it is a land of deep joy. For us whom the Lord, in his providence, has called to this place, it does offer a foretaste of heaven. That our monastery may really be an image of the heavenly Jerusalem is something for which each of us is personally responsible. The Lord provides all the graces we need, if we do but accept them. In a moment, during the solemn Prayer of Consecration, I shall ask the Lord to set you ‘on fire with his love’ that your life may be a credible sign ‘that there is one true God who loves all mankind with an infinite and tender mercy’. Rise to that call! Have faith in God, trust the grace of your profession, be open to the blessings that await you in our community, which is formed around Christ, who presides in our midst. We, your brothers, rejoice to receive you forever among us. May the Lord keep you always faithful, peaceful, joyful. Amen.