Brother Placidus, Brother Benedict, Father Jay, and Brother Karel, in your letters of petition for vows you shared with the community what you have found here in our common life during your novitiate year, and why you feel God is calling you to this community today to profess vows.
One of you wrote that of all the places, moments, and situations in which you have found yourself in life, there was an acute knowledge that it was in this place, St. Benedict’s Abbey, that you have come to know Christ in a very personal way through your prayer and the common life with your confreres.
You noted that you have experienced growth in Christ like at no other place or time in your life.
As we gather this afternoon on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception as witnesses to your vows to God in this monastic community, this is a question that should be prominent you go forward: Am I growing in my relationship with Christ and in my relationship with those whom I am called to journey?
As monks, we each need to ask ourselves this question because in our life with Christ, here in this place, it will be these same people who challenge us when we need to be challenged, and who will support us when we need to be supported, and it is in the context of the monastic life that we seek holiness.
In professing your vows of Obedience, Stability, and Conversion through the monastic way of life, you see in the monastic, consecrated way of life, in this community, a path to holiness to which God is calling you, and this will mean not only growing in your own holiness, but also the community growing in holiness through your participation in it.
Your profession of vows on this particular day has a unique significance in this understanding that the community contributes to your holiness, and you, in turn, contribute to the holiness of the community.
When we think of all the possible ways in which God could have redeemed mankind, what more surprising way could there have been than choosing to send his Son to suffer and die for us.
What more surprising way could there have been than God choosing to make his Word take flesh in the Blessed Virgin Mary?
And what more surprising way than for God to accomplish this than to form Mary into a pure vessel free from the stain of original sin.
As you will soon come and kneel to profess your vows before God and this community, think about this: What more surprising way could God have called you to holiness than by asking you to lay down your lives for him in this monastic community?
This great Solemnity which honors Mary in the gift of her Immaculate Conception, celebrates how God worked in her life, and it shows us that in whatever God has planned for us, he will always supply us with the graces needed to follow that plan, whether that plan is a complete and utter surprise or not.
We see in this great gift given to Mary, that God has chosen to participate in our lives in a unique way, yet we also see, through his providence, how we are allowed to participate in his life, in the life of the Trinity.
As the monastic community heard in our second reading at Vigils this morning from Blessed John Henry Newman, Mary’s Immaculate Conception was a great gift to her, but it also allowed her to give the gift of herself to God.
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, “[Mary] was not merely the mother of our Lord’s… body, but she is to be considered the mother of the Word himself, the Word incarnate… she gave birth to the Creator, and what recompense shall be made her? What shall be done to her, who had this relationship to the Most High… Let her be clad in the king’s apparel.”
Brother Placidus, Brother Benedict, Father Jay, and Brother Karel, God has given you the gift of your call to the consecrated, monastic life, and brought you here to this point. This novitiate year has been a time of preparation. It was God’s way of allowing the Word Incarnate to take deeper root in you. And having received this gift, God’s providence now allows you to give the gift of yourself back to him in your vows.
The Word will take flesh in you as you put on Christ through your profession. The Word takes flesh in your obedience, it takes flesh in your stability, and it takes flesh in your conversion to the monastic way of life. And for this, what recompense, what reward will be yours? You will be clad in the apparel of our Lord. And what is this apparel in which you are to be clothed?
As St. Benedict tells us, it is the garment of our dying to self and rising in the life of Christ, it is the belt of purity and obedience, it is the scapular that is the yoke of the Rule and the Divine Office, it is the hood of justice and charity.
In short, this garment is your search for Christ.
As you continue your monastic journey, this search for Christ begins in your time here in chapel each and every day, praying over the psalms of the Divine Office together in community.
It begins in the sacraments as we together ponder Christ in the Eucharist, much the same way Mary did.
It journeys through the challenges and struggles, the joys and surprises of our common life together as monks in this house.
And this is the context in which we live our vocation as monks, and it is in this, within these monastery walls, within the structure of our community life, that we search for God and in which we allow Christ to dwell within us and work through us.
Mary was given the gift of her Immaculate Conception, and in turn, offered herself so that the Word could take flesh.
You, Brother Placidus, Brother Benedict, Father Jay, and Brother Karel, have been given the gift of our call to the monastic life, and in turn, you now offer yourselves through profession of vows to allow that same Word to take flesh in you.
As monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey, “running to do now what will profit us forever,” we recognize along with you how surprising it is that of all the places, moments, and situations in which we could find ourselves in life, we have an acute knowledge that it is in this place, St. Benedict’s Abbey, that we have come to know Christ, and it is here that we have experienced growth in Christ like in no other place or at no other point in our lives.
With this knowledge, let us therefore prefer nothing whatever to Christ, so that he might bring us all together to everlasting life.