Saturday, March 15, 2008

Personal Transformation in Christ

[This is the text of my homily at the initiation of four new postulants this morning: Br. Luke Asbury, Br. Ezekiel Brennan, Br. Cassian Torchedlo and Br. Damian Quesada. Please remember them in your prayers as they begin the novitiate.]

If we ask St. Benedict why he has written his Rule, he responds, in Chapter 73, “ut hanc observantes in monasteriis aliquatenus vel honestatem morum aut inititum conversationis.” “That by observing it in monasteries, we can show that we have some degree of a worthy way of life and the beginnings of conversatio. As one who has not yet mastered even this "little rule for beginners," I speak to you as one novice to another. ‘Monastic formation’ is not something that we enter into for a time and then finish when we make vows. In fact, one of our vows is conversatio morum, a term used in the sentence I quoted above. We promise to continue being formed by God’s grace into the image and likeness of God after the pattern of Jesus Christ. And so, as the four of you enter today into the novitiate, bear some things in mind about what the novitiate is and is not.

First of all, we are not training you for an apostolate, at which point, you will receive certification and go off on mission. This is rather a testing period, to learn first of all more deeply the mysteries of God, kept and guarded in heaven for us; to learn more deeply God’s abiding love for you, and to discover his purposes for you. These purposes include coming to know Him as He truly is, but also coming to know yourself as loved by Him, as needing Him, and as sent to accomplish His task for you. This task, as I said above, is not an ‘apostolate’ in the current sense of the word, but we hope is simply to be a monk: to be called to a life hidden with Christ in God, interceding for the world, praising God day and night so as to bring about by the Holy Spirit the hidden Kingdom of God.

This testing period is again something that does not end with temporary profession. As all of us in vows can attest, the way to God is hard and rugged, and all of us with you have persevered through many crises, and in doing so, I believe, have come to a personal experience of God’s fidelity and salvation. The only way to persevere in these times is to do so by clinging to Jesus Christ, to know Him and to trust Him, to take His life within us as our strength.

This will come about by practicing the Incarnational spirituality of the monastic tradition, in imitation of Christ’s own trials and faith. To be conformed to Him, I suggest to you on today’s feast, will require that you meditate on His two natures: always holding them together without confusing them.

Pope John Paul II, in his exhortation Vita Consecrata, uses the Transfiguration as a central focus of religious life in the Church. We are called apart, as were Peter, John and James, to be with Christ alone, and we are called to a recognition of His divine majesty and splendor. Our constant praise and attentive celebration of the liturgy and our faithfulness to lectio divina will help us to see in Jesus Christ the love of the Creator God drawing near to us, ‘What we have seen with our own eyes and touched with our hands’. This vision of Christ’s glory and power will strengthen us to battle temptation, to endure trials, to carry our own Crosses next to Christ.

But in order to see and touch Him, we must also appreciate His human nature. On today’s feast day, we see two example of Christ Incarnate, showing us the disposition of faith with regard to God’s providence. First of all, we see Christ in the temple, listening to the rabbis and asking them questions. Why would God the Son need to learn from these teachers of the Jews? Could He not simply have learned all things in prayer with His Father? Perhaps. But in becoming man with us, in adopting our human nature, He shows us that our Christian lives are not abstracted from relations with our fellow human beings, and as novices, especially our teachers. Similarly, when we read that Jesus went up to Nazareth and was obedient to Mary and Joseph, we see the necessity of obedience to the human instruments God has placed in our lives. In Mary, we see a model of the Church as our Virgin Mother, who gives us birth and nourishes us daily. In Joseph, we see a model of our religious superiors and spiritual fathers, who guard us against dangerous errors in our own inclinations. This is not to say that the Holy Spirit does not speak to you directly; only that we cannot go wrong if we subject our thoughts to the discernment of the community that mediates God’s Incarnate presence to us.

Let us then take as our own the simplicity of the child Jesus, novices and advanced novices as we are, and with a pure trust in God’s promises, embark anew on the process of personal transformation by grace into bearers of God’s Holy Spirit, for our salvation and for the salvation of souls throughout the world.

1 comment:

omnibussanctis said...

You say Christ was asking the rabbis questions to learn, but I have always thought of him asking the rabbis questions to teach (i.e. the Socratic method)....

Congratulate the new notices and I will be praying for them.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.


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