Solemn Profession of Sr. Myra Hill
[Scripture Readings: Num 21:4b-9; Phil. 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17]
One time when Fr. Lawrence Bouget of Spencer Abbey was visiting I took him to the airport when he was leaving. He told me we had two books in our library he was tempted to take because he knew we did not know how valuable they were. He would not tell me what they were, so I figured the next time he comes he will steal them. I fretted about this for some years until one time I was visiting Spencer and asked him about the books. I guess his conscience was bothering him because he told me we have the two rare volumes of the Usages and Regulations of Dom Augustine de Lastrange! When I returned home sure enough there they were in our library, published in 1794 identified as belonging to the Carmelites of Orleans, which is a story in itself, but not for now. The two volumes were in pristine shape because no one every opened them in the last 100 years I am sure. In my expert French I breezed through volume one and kept running into the phrase, “State of life,” the exiled monks and nuns following de Lastrange wanted to preserve at all cost their “state of life,” or way of life. During their journey through Europe and Russia they kept referring to defending their way of life from all attacks from outsiders who did not understand the way they lived. Under no circumstances would they change it. They would get up for Vigils as they crossed the Alps; they would sing the office on barges going down the river and much more. This zeal for their way of life translated down to us who entered in the 50's and 60's as zeal for the observances.
Where did all this zeal go and where did it come from? Have we modern Cistercians lost our way? Never! I ran across a homily by St. Aelred where he writes, “persevere in your order,” and “persevering in the order,” and “do not knowingly do anything contrary to that order” (Tenth Sermon for Palm Sunday). Order here sounds like state of life but then Aelred says something that brings us into the present and helps us understand our ancestors' love for their state of life, he says “Our order is Christ's cross… we not only adore the cross of Christ but have also made profession on it. In the cross of Christ there is nothing weak, nothing soft, nothing delicate…” These last words became a hallmark of Trappist life. So our Order, our way of life, our Cistercian Conversatio as we call it is the cross of Christ.
Sr. Myra, in choosing the feast of the Holy Cross for your profession day you are entering a tradition that goes back a thousand years to our founders and drinking in the same fountain as the monks and nuns who followed de Lastrange and who suffered so much in the French Revolution. You are a witness to the Church that the Cross is still at the heart of our faith.
In one of his sermons St. Bernard writes, “God has spoken once, once indeed, because forever. His is a single uninterrupted utterance, because it is continuous and unending” (Breviary Tue. 23rd Week of the Year). Sr. Myra, you have heard that utterance, the Word, Jesus echoes in your heart. You no doubt made a decision to enter here and made a free decision to make solemn vows here but this is not the whole picture. You were responding to a Word uttered in your heart. It began at Baptism and grew stronger and stronger as you grew stronger. In a few moments you will publicly pronounce your vows and they will be, like God's words, a single, uninterrupted and unending because you will be living them each day now for the rest of your life. Your vows will be like an intimate conversation, God speaking to you and you're responding just by the way you live.
Why does St. Aelred say we make profession on the cross of Christ? He also writes, “Let the cross of Christ itself be as it were a mirror… in the light of the cross let each person examine his life, whether the way they live conforms to the cross of Christ”. I think our ancestors in the life stood before this mirror and we must do the same but times have changed and we can be tempted to measure our love of the cross by making sure there is nothing weak, nothing soft, nothing delicate in our lives. Let's face it we do not measure up to our ancestors in this regard. But look deeper into the mirror and understand what happened on the cross. The Gospel of John describes the moment of death as Jesus bowing his head and handing over his spirit. Luke says at the moment of death Jesus cried out, “Father into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk. 23:46). This is an unending act, an utterance that is continuous and forever. Sr. Myra, in pronouncing and living your vows you are doing exactly what Jesus did on the cross, you are handing over your life to the Father through Jesus. It is your personal Eucharist as it were, a Eucharist within the Eucharist because each day we continue in sacramental form the actual event of the cross. Here is where our zeal resides; it is in handing over our spirit in union with Christ to the Father in everything we do. We may be weak and soft compared to past ages but these are only appearances. What matters is the heart and only God sees the heart.