Solemn Profession 2011

August 13, 2011

On August 13, 2011, Fr. John Langlois, O.P., Vicar Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph, received the solemn vows of nine brothers in the chapel of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC. Below is his homily from the Mass:

In just a few minutes, nine of our brothers will promise obedience for life to God, to Blessed Mary, to Blessed Dominic, and to me, standing in place of Br. Bruno Cadoré, Master of the Order.  They will make this solemn vow through a very meaningful gesture, kneeling in front of me and holding the Book of Constitutions while I hold their hands.  This ceremony of profession goes all the way back to the time of St. Dominic himself, and it is the way the early friars promised obedience to him as founder of the Order of Preachers, placing their hands in his.

As a product of the Middle Ages, the Dominican profession ceremony in many ways bears striking resemblance to the Oath of Fealty that was at the heart of the feudal system in the medieval period.  This oath was a way of cementing the political and social relationship between a king or lord and his knights or vassals.  The basic understanding was that the oath would serve as a kind of binding contract whereby the knight would offer military service to the lord in exchange for the lord granting him land or the spoils of war.  But more than that, the oath bound the knight to the lord in a permanent relationship of faithful obedience.  In the ceremony, the knight would appear before the lord bareheaded and without any weapons. The knight would then kneel before the lord, putting his hands together as in prayer which he would stretch outward towards his lord. This position signified his total submission. The knight then swore the Oath of Fealty or obedience. Finally, the lord would take the hands of the knight and announce his acceptance of the oath.    

Now obviously, for a knight to make such an act of submission to the lord, he had first to have a basic trust that the lord was trustworthy, that he would be faithful to his promises.  Otherwise, the knight would be a fool to give up his independence and to bind himself to obey an unreliable master.  Similarly, the vow of obedience that our brothers will profess today is first and foremost a profound act of trust, not in another human being, but in God, that He will be faithful to His promises.  We cannot freely choose to submit our will to another without this foundation of trust.   Otherwise, obedience is either a folly of the highest order or worse, a kind of voluntary slavery.  

It goes without saying that some people today do see the religious vow of obedience in these terms: an act of folly, a restrictive and humanly diminishing type of servitude that is ultimately opposed to one’s happiness because it inhibits the exercise of self-determination.  However, this is precisely the “losing of one’s life” that leads to the “finding of one’s life,” which Jesus speaks about in the Gospel—“whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  After all, of what good is self-determination if I choose for myself a way that ultimately leads to unhappiness and death?  Is this really true freedom?  Or is true freedom rather the power to submit my will to a Master who offers me love, happiness, and eternal life in exchange for my trust and obedience?  St. Paul came to consider all things as rubbish in light of the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ and was willing to lose everything else in order to gain him.  That is ultimately what the vow of obedience comes down to, freely renouncing that which the world holds as the most precious faculty, the power of self-determination, because one has discovered a greater treasure, the love of Christ.  And I can give over my power of self-determination to Christ Jesus because he is most worthy of trust.  I can trust Him, I can trust His love for me.  I can trust that He will always choose what is for my good, what is best for me.  Herein lies perfect freedom!

Of course, there is always a struggle to obey—the self does not want to die and it will struggle mightily to assert itself!  And so the vow of obedience that is made today must be renewed over and over again in the face of very real temptations to reclaim the power to determine one’s future.  I have heard countless stories from older friars who have said that at one point or another in their lives, they were asked to take on a ministry or mission that they did not feel attracted to or did not feel qualified to do.  They struggled with the decision and were tempted to find some way out.  But ultimately they came back to the vow they made on the day of their profession.  They obeyed, they accepted God’s will.  And in doing so, they often discovered that this particular ministry was precisely where they needed to be.  In freely submitting their will once again, they discovered peace and fulfillment, a peace that would have eluded them had they given in to the temptation to “do their own thing.”  Yes, God can be trusted; God who knows us better than we know ourselves, God who loves us more than we love ourselves, God who seeks our good more than we seek it ourselves.  

Brothers, as you prepare now to vow obedience to God for life by placing your hands in my hands in a gesture of complete submission, realize that you are not really giving up your freedom—rather you are assuring that your free choice will always be directed to that which is good, true, and holy.  Today, you are saying that you will choose God’s will over your own.  You are offering your life in service to the Lord of lords, giving him permission to use you as he wishes for the extension of his kingdom and the salvation of souls.  And you are doing all this because you have experienced His love in your life and you trust Him.  You are choosing Him because He first chose you.  Know that he will be faithful to you and faithful to his promises.  In all that He asks of you, He will be seeking your good, your happiness, and your growth in holiness.  Yes, He will ask you to do difficult things, things that you would rather not do, things that might even seem overwhelming and contrary to His promises.  He will most definitely put your trust in Him to the test.  When He does so, remember this day.  Think back to the day of your solemn profession and do not seek to take back the obedience you have freely offered Him.  The illusion of happiness being achieved through self-determination is precisely that—an illusion!  In God’s will alone is your peace!

May Our Lady, Queen of Preachers, and our Holy Father St. Dominic obtain for you the grace of perseverance in your vow of obedience usque ad mortem, until death.

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