Solemn Profession 2012 Homily
August 13, 2012
Below is the homily preached by the Very Rev. John Langlois, O.P., Socius and Vicar of the Provincial, at the Solemn Profession Mass at the Dominican House of Studies on August 11th. The readings for the Mass were 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and Matthew 19:3-12.
Homily for Solemn Profession Mass
Priory of the Immaculate Conception Dominican House of Studies
August 11, 2012
The gospel we just heard, containing Jesus’ teaching on the beauty and indissolubility of marriage, might at first glance seem more appropriate for a wedding Mass than for a Solemn Profession Mass. And yet there are many similarities between the two ceremonies, are there not? Both are centered on the public pronouncement of vows and the embrace of a commitment for life. The main difference is that in marriage, a man and woman promise fidelity for life one to the other, whereas in solemn profession the religious commits him- or herself for life to God, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Nevertheless, the vow of chastity which our brothers will today embrace for life can only be properly understood within the context of God’s plan for man and woman: that a man should eventually leave his mother and father, be joined to a wife becoming one flesh with her, and that this union is meant to be fruitful in the generation of children. Marriage is without question the normal state of life that God intends for a man and woman. The celibate or consecrated life, then, can in no way be seen as a rejection of or disdain for the marriage bond. And although our four brothers are effectively renouncing today the possibility of taking a wife and fathering children, they are doing so only in order to enter into a higher bond that has been proposed to them. The Lord Jesus has called them to bind themselves to Him. Then, bound to Him, they are to embrace His spouse, the Church, as their spouse. This is the marriage bond that Christ has offered them, and they have accepted. It is first of all important to note here that the vowed life is a gift. One does not choose this bond for oneself. It is the Lord who chooses whom he wills. In the first reading for today’s Mass, we heard of the call of young Samuel. God calls him by name in the middle of the night. At first Samuel does not understand that it is the Lord calling. But as the Lord persists, Samuel eventually becomes attuned to his voice, and is led to respond “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” In a similar way, our brothers heard the Lord calling them in their hearts many years ago. At first, they were unsure that it was he speaking—if I am not mistaken, each one of them spent several years discerning and in some instances even trying to evade the call for awhile before finally answering. But the Lord persisted, because he had chosen them! How else, then, can we see the vowed life than as a gift from God who calls, pursues, and even patiently waits for the ones he has chosen to respond? Of course accepting this gift does entail “a giving up”. Vowed chastity most definitely has a sacrificial dimension, for each of us has a built-in desire for finding completion in a soul-mate. That desire does not disappear with the profession of vows. That is why we religious must see our commitment to the Lord within the context of love. In renouncing the good of marriage, we are not renouncing love. That would be both inhuman and impossible! If God has called us to this life it is precisely because he wants to fulfill the deepest desires of our heart. And his love will more than satisfy us, but only if we seek our fulfillment in him, in daily prayer and communion with him. So many marriages today breakdown because of a lack of communication between the spouses, because they do not spend quality time with one another. The same can happen in religious life when we fail to spend quality time with the Lord each day. It is then that we begin to feel the burden of chastity because we are no longer drinking from the source of love that satisfies and sustains us. There are also times when we attempt to satisfy our need for love in other relationships. Chastity does not mean that we cannot enjoy the good of friendship, even very close friendship. But if other relationships become our primary focus, displacing the primacy of God in our lives, we are setting ourselves up not only for disappointment but we are again failing to appreciate the gift of intimacy with the Lord that is ours through the gift of chastity. Now, when our brothers pronounce their vows today, we will not actually hear them say that they commit themselves for life to chastity, or even to poverty for that matter. In the Dominican profession formula, obedience is the only one of the three traditional religious vows explicitly mentioned. That is because in the Dominican understanding, obedience embraces both chastity and poverty since it is the dedication of one’s entire self to the Lord—mind, will, and body. This complete dedication is fundamentally an act of love in response to the Lord who first loves us. As with chastity, the vow of obedience must be understood and lived within the context of love, if it is to be fruitful and life-giving. Obedience involves much more than mere external conformity to the Constitutions or the direction of a superior. Obedience should be seen as the way we prove the authenticity of our love for God. Because we love him, we submit to, we accept, and we even willingly embrace what is asked of us in our religious life, knowing that in this way we please him. Obedience that is grudging, resentful or half-hearted, is far from the ideal of true obedience that we embrace by vow. For ultimately we are called to follow the pattern of obedience set by Jesus himself, who embraced the will of his Father in all things, not as a slave grudgingly carrying out the orders of a master, but as a loving son, trusting in his Father’s love and wishing to prove his own love in return. Trust in God’s love—this is what makes obedience easy, light, and joyful, even when something difficult and burdensome, or something not to our liking, is asked of us. In order to live out obedience in the proper spirit, it is essential that we come to believe that in all things, God desires only our good and our sanctification. When we truly believe that, we see the demands of obedience in a new light, the light of a love that wants us to grow, to flourish, to be fruitful. Yes, obedience leads to great fruitfulness in the spiritual realm. For again, the vowed life is really the marriage bond on a higher level. We, as religious, are meant to bring forth spiritual progeny, to save souls. But we do so only when we do the Lord’s will under obedience. It is he who knows and determines how we are to serve him and win souls for him. The obedient life then is a fruitful life. What can be difficult for us to accept, of course, is that God chooses to make his will regarding the apostolate known to us through other human beings, our superiors. It is a mystery that he chooses weak and fallible men to make his will known to other weak and fallible men! We turn once again to our first reading to see a perfect example of this. The young Samuel discovers God’s will for him through the priest Eli. It is Eli who figures out that God is the one calling Samuel in the night. And then he tells Samuel what to respond, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” But the interesting thing is that Eli is a priest who is displeasing to God for acts of disobedience. Nevertheless, God uses him to direct and guide Samuel. And Samuel discovers God’s will for him by following the advice of Eli! With the vow of obedience, God asks us to look beyond the failings and fallibility of our superiors and to nevertheless trust that he is at work on our behalf through them. Love of God, again, will help us in this regard. In just a few moments, Thomas More, Gabriel, John, and Sebastian, you will publicly promise obedience to God and to your religious superiors for life. Receive this moment as a gift, a tremendous grace, for the only reason you are here today is because God has first called you. He has chosen you to be bound closely to him, to discover in Him the fulfillment of all your deepest desires. And he wishes to make you fruitful, through your preaching and your future priestly ministry. All he asks is that you accept this great gift by professing obedience, dedicating your entire life, mind, heart, and soul to him and allowing him to use you as he wishes. May your obedience today, and every day of your religious life, be motivated by a desire to love the one who first loved you. Love for love—that is what the vowed life is ultimately all about.