Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC, Superior
First Profession of the Benedictine Vow of Br. Julian - Wednesday April 06, 2011
Br. Julian Mizelle was previously known as Charles
In just over two weeks we will celebrate Easter. There are, of course, many ways to celebrate that great feast, from sunrise services at the Hollywood Bowl to ancient and competing liturgies in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Here at Holy Cross we will celebrate it, as we always do, with the traditional Western liturgical rites. It will begin in darkness with the kindling of a new fire and the lighting of the Paschal candle.
Just before that great wax pillar is lit, the celebrant inscribes a cross on the candle and says the following words:
Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age forever. Amen.It is, for me, a deeply moving moment, the very sum and substance of the Easter proclamation.
Our lives, our vocations are each written out over a brief period of years, but it is a time, a period, inscribed in a larger drama, in that eternal span of time that goes from everlasting to everlasting and which belongs wholly and entirely to Jesus Christ. It is with the proclamation of this truth that we begin our Easter observance.
Timothy Radcliffe, OP, once commented that:
The religious life [the monastic life] is perhaps in the first place a living Amen to that longer span of time. It is within the stretch of the story from Alpha and Omega, from Creation to Kingdom, that every human life must find its meaning. We are those who live for the Kingdom when, as Julian of Norwich says, ‘All will be well, all manner of thing will be well.’And so it is for you today, Charles. Today, this day, this event, this hour finds all its meaning within that greater time and that greater story that is Jesus Christ’s and Jesus Christ’s alone.
And what a wonderful day it is. It is a day when so much of your fifty-four years comes together in a new and exciting way, in a way wherein nothing is lost and all is redeemed and set upon a yet firmer foundation and a renewed path. It is a day when all those graced choices and experiences that make up your life, that are you, are now offered to God to be transformed yet more: that experience as a young man welcoming Christ into your heart as Lord and Savior, that day where you were plunged into the cleansing waters of baptism, that day when you first fed on the Bread of Life, when you were confirmed, when you claimed the truth about your adult self, when you reached out to others in ways that went beyond your accustomed ways… and found God reaching back.
And these are only the public moments. How many more hidden, private, graced events do you bring with you to this ceremony? Each is an Easter moment, each a little resurrection. Indeed, the God who chose you long ago has done great things in you, and he is again doing something new in you… and through you, in us as well. In you, each of us is reminded of similar graced moments in our own lives, similar eastering times of resurrection and new birth. Today is a feast day for all of us.
But as we know, Easter comes only after Good Friday with its focus of the mystery of the holy and life-giving Cross. It is an event that is too little understood today, yet it is a reality that is widespread, indeed one that is everywhere.
Even as a symbol, the power of the cross is easily lost on us. Because it is everywhere around us, on our walls and towers and necks, it often becomes invisible. We get used to it. We fail to see it for what it is. We lose out on its power to shock, to challenge, and to convert.
One example. Just a few weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights ruled that crucifixes are acceptable in public school classrooms throughout the forty-seven countries that comprise the Council of Europe (an international organization with a broader membership than the European Union). The reasoning they gave for this decision is, to say the least, troubling. Quoting from the Guardian:
The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that crucifixes are acceptable in the continent’s state school classrooms, describing them as an ‘essentially passive symbol’ with no obvious religious influence. In its judgment… the court found that while the crucifix was ‘above all a religious symbol’ there was no evidence that its display on classroom walls might have an influence on pupils.One is left breathless or despairing—or both—at this claim. But the sad thing is: it may be true.
I think of the story that circulated a few years of the English girl who went into a jeweler’s shop seeking to buy a cross for her necklace, at that time an essential element of punk rock couture. She was shown some very simple crosses in gold and silver. But she demurred. She wanted one, as she put it, “with the little man on it.” That little man… Jesus.
We have in many places and in many ways entered into the post-Christian era.
And yet the cross of suffering is everywhere, and it is everyone’s lot. It has been yours, Charles, as you well know, as it has been mine, and it has been and is that of every person present here today. And yet we know that our Lord Jesus accepted the cross—his cross and ours—so that he might taste most deeply our human pain and bear the shame, and take away the sin and redeem the suffering. How he does this is, of course, the great mystery of our faith. That he does it is the great hope on which all our other hopes are founded.
In the intersection of those arms of the cross, all contradictions meet and are reconciled: time and eternity, the vertical and the horizontal, here and everywhere, past and future, now and eternity. But it is a reconciliation that is bought at great price, where the old is sometimes gently, but no less often vigorously, refashioned and sometimes yanked out, where our many defenses are disarmed and the heart is opened to the endless work of reformation. It is frequently dirty work, hard work, humbling work, amazing work. It is God’s work in us and through us. It is the precious fruit of our obedience and surrender to that eternal story that stretches from Alpha to Omega.
In his Rule written in 1900 for the Order of the Holy Cross and referencing the story of Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, our Founder says:
The ladder of the cross is planted firmly within the walls of a religious house and angels pass up and down that stairway. Our house is a house of God; let us strive to make it for ourselves the gate of heaven.What a wonderful image. The cross as ladder, as stairway, as bridge, as passageway, as a royal road, indeed the royal road. Angels are indeed on it, but oh, in what strange and often disturbing disguises. And there too is God, waiting expectantly and patiently and joyfully for you and me and each of us here today to climb that ladder. Let us climb it together. Let us climb it as brothers and sisters.
One more thing. Charles, you have elected to adopt a new name. In the community from now on you will be known as Br. Julian, at least after we get the hang of it… though I imagine you will always be Charles to your family and old friends. Taking a new name is a sign, a sacrament, and a reminder of the change and growth that God is working in you and through you, a sign of a new emerging identity. Many cultures and societies and faith traditions do this. But always remember: this is not your final name or even your true name. Hold dear the words of Revelation 2:17: “To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” God, and God alone, knows your true name, and in God’s good time that too will be revealed to you.
So we receive today your solemn vow to follow the monastic way of life for one year. But of course your intention—like ours—is that, unless it becomes strikingly clear over the next several years that this is in fact not your path, we are headed together for life. Bound for life. Life with Christ. Life in Christ. Life through Christ.
Charles/Julian… God is with you in this adventure. Your family is here with you. Your friends are with you. Your brothers are with you.
Come, let us climb that ladder. Let us together embrace that cross. Let our faces and our hearts be turned toward life… fullness of life, life lived in faith and joy and courage and peace and risk.
The Father delights in such a life. So do we all. May it be yours and ours, each of us here today. Always.