Solemn Profession of Vows by Sister Grace Remington
[Scripture Readings: Hos 2:16-18, 21-23; Col 2:6-7, 3:12-17; Jn 15:1-12]
If I am not mistaken a “Freudian Slip” is the slip of the tongue or pen that reveals a deep dark secret about what you are really thinking but don’t want anyone to know. Something you have been repressing. Like, if I started out by saying “Dear servants and fiends” instead of “Dear Sisters and friends.” The Sisters might say, “I knew it all along he thinks we are his servants,” and the guests, “He thinks we are fiends.” It can work the other way too, more toward the light than the dark. As I was starting this homily I wrote at the top of the page, “Solemn Profession of St. Grace” instead of “Sr. Grace.” There is only a one letter difference between “Sr.” and “St.” — but there is a life time before a Sister becomes a Saint! It reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s famous words, “In my end is my beginning.” Beginnings are important but how we end is the clincher. No one is a saint until the end. So I guess it is a little premature, Sr. Grace, to cross the “t” just yet.
“In my end is my beginning” is one of those great lines that can be used on many occasions. Poets have a gift for this. Turning out phrases that can be taken out of context and shine a little light on our human experiences. One of my favorites is from Rilke. “We live our life forever taking leave.” I think of this often in that space of nostalgia after a friend leaves or even after a group meeting such as a General Chapter and everyone is gathering their suitcases to leave. After an intense three weeks you depart perhaps never to meet again. In a way, friends of Sr. Grace might feel a bit of this today. Sr. Grace is making a definitive decision to live a monastic way of life that removes her from certain family gatherings or vacations with friends. We are forever taking leave of things in this life until we are filled with life eternal.
Then there is the line from Yeats poem, The Second Coming: “The center cannot hold.” I think the original context was a poem about modern society, but the phrase fits all kinds of occasions. These little poetic insights turn up in your mind when you least expect and shed light on your experiences.
As I was looking over the readings Sr. Grace chose so carefully for her Solemn Profession one of these poetic phrases jumped out at me. It is a phrase that can be taken out of context and applied to everyone’s life. It is from the second reading in today’s liturgy from Paul: “There must be love.” How true. There must be love. To be truly human our life must have love. St. Paul says it binds everything together and completes the whole. Elsewhere he writes, “Without love I am nothing.”
If you look at the booklet Sr. Grace put together and the readings she chose to express herself at this most important time of her life you would have to say, “Here is a woman in love.” Nothing more needs be said. I probably should end the homily here, but we must ask the question, what is love? St. Paul said it binds everything together. It completes our life. Without it our life is incomplete, not held together. “The center cannot hold”. Love is the center of our life. At the core of our being is Love. God is love and that is how we are the image and likeness of God. We must enter into the center of our own being to find the source of love. This cannot be forced, no more than we can force someone to love us. We must wait in patience for the door to open. As we wait we serve the Lord with devotion. Sr. Grace tells us she chose the example of the two women in the Gospel who did what they could by anointing Jesus with precious oil. Some saw this as a waste, Jesus saw it as an act of love. These women followed their heart. They did what they could not what they couldn’t. These two acts of devotion are the background of Sr. Grace’s profession ceremony. St. Francis De Sales tells us that devotion is to love what luster is to a diamond. It is the brilliance of life. All the little ceremonies of solemn profession are shinnings from the heart of the professed expressing her love.
Love however, is not always glowing. Love means to care and if we care we are vulnerable, open to pain, open to having our hearts broken at times.
Sr. Grace chose as her fist reading the beautiful words of the prophet Hosea. It is about the Exodus. The prophets saw the Exodus as a time of intimacy with the Lord. Sort of a golden period that formed the thinking of Israel for all times. “I will bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” Yet, if you look at the book of Deuteronomy you see that the authors saw the exodus as a time of testing, “God led you for forty years in the desert, to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart,”. Monastic life has both of these elements. Intimacy with the Lord and testing by the Lord to reveal the inmost heart. This fits in with today’s Gospel about pruning the vine to produce more fruit. St. Benedict warns anyone taking up the monastic life that they must pass through many “hard and difficult things” before arriving at the type of love that casts out fear. And so it is for us and so it will be for Sr. Grace.
So what is love? It is many things. It is like the facets of a diamond that bring out the beauty of the gem. Love is service, love is intimacy, love is fidelity under testing, love does not give up, love is surrender, love is caring. But these are facets of love. The facets of a diamond bring out its luster but are not the essence. It seems to me a diamond has something to do with light. It receives light and reflects light. Light is transformed into its many colors inside the diamond. So a human being. At the heart of a person is love. She receives love and gives love. All the facets of love reflect the center of the person. There we find love. Our human love is transformed into Divine love as we journey toward the end that is our beginning.
Commenting on words similar to Our Lord’s in today’s Gospel where he says, “Abide in me as I abide in you,” St. John of the Cross writes, “In the transformation of love each gives possession of self to the other, and each leaves and exchanges self for the other. Thus each one lives in the other and is the other, and both are one in the transformation of love,”. What is love? God is love.