Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
First Profession of the Monastic Vow- Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Colossians 3:12 – 17
Matthew 16:24 – 27
|The Benedictine vow:Obedience, Stability and Conversatio Morum |
(Conversion of my way to the monastic way).
Reinaldo, this is an important day for you and for our community. Your desire and request to take this step into deeper commitment and discernment is a movement of the heart as well as the mind. Having had the privilege of accompanying you these last two years I’ve witnessed what has informed, inflamed, and challenged your desire. Your novitiate has been a time of unlearning as much as learning, especially learning to see what is already there.
Our journey to union with God requires self-knowledge, and self-knowledge never ends. It draws us deeper into the mystery that is God and ourselves. The ultimate desire of God is to be incarnated in us. Spiritual transformation demands incarnation. The inner work of formation, at it’s best, is to help us let go of our illusions and pretense so that we can be awake and present to what actually is. As we gradually learn to let go, we slowly unfold to love, grace, and freedom.
The vow is a commitment to the ongoing stripping away of illusions. The world—the system we construct around security, status, pleasure, and power, often become our gods. Thomas Merton wrote: “We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves. . . . “ Wisdom teachers from many traditions have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see: we have to be taught how to see. The vow is meant to be a path to decrease ego, which blocks us seeing what is there, in order to increase our access to God, our brothers, and ourselves. As ego shrinks we become more our true self because we become more Christ.
The Benedictine vow came about not as some theoretical construct, but from practical, lived experience. The vow is three-fold: Obedience, Stability, and Conversatio Morum (Conversion of my way to the monastic way). The vow names, and is essentially, our core values as Benedictines.
It‘s not about negation, restriction, or limitation. It’s an invitation to face a number of very basic demands: the need to listen, the need not to run away, and the need to be open to change
Living a vow is quite a different invitation to keeping it. Keeping it implies holding on to something that never changes. Living it involves fidelity, first and foremost to God, and second to those with whom we share the commitment. Each component of the vow is an evolving surrender of emotion, body, and spirit---the whole person--- to a God who is powerfully experienced. We do well to consider Profession not so much as an event or a fixed point, but as a spiral, as an evolving, deepening love affair.
In the cenobitic life obedience extends beyond the superior and the Rule to the other members of the community. It’s a vow of mutual collaboration. Obedience is a risky business, which is far easier to talk about than to live. It means being prepared to take our life in our hands and place it in the hands of God. It’s not about compliance and conformity. It’s grounded in listening. At the root of obedience is the free, humble, loving surrender to the will of God as we discern it through prayer, the community, and the Superior. It’s an acknowledgement that we don’t have all the answers. We need to be open to hearing the voice of God in others, especially those whose monastic experience will benefit us.
In our reading from the First Book of Samuel we see the difference between hearing and listening. Listening doesn’t come easy. That’s why we vow to keep working at it. In the reading, and in our life, there’s lots of repetition requiring perseverance and patience. We strive to listen to the deepest voice because the loudest is usually not God’s. Listening opens the door to presence. When listening and presence come together, a new reality emerges---often nothing like we initially imagined.
Monastic stability means accepting this particular community and Order as the way to God. The genius of Benedict was to situate the individual search for God within the communal context that shaped as well as supported the quest. For him, community was not simply the place where one seeks God, but the very vehicle to achieve it. To Benedict, the key to monastic life was accountability to God and the community. Accountability galvanizes community, making the difference between cohabitation and genuine common purpose. Community is about the desire to connect and be connected. It involves growth and challenge. The heart of the community is forgiveness, which is the greatest factor of growth in any person. Forgiveness is an act of letting go, which opens our closed hearts to give and receive love.
Stability is not about idealism but realism. We all need roots. Without them we cannot discover who we are. Stability does not allow us to evade our inner truth. We vow to not run away from ourselves. Stability of place and relationship are the means toward stability of heart. This helps us to see others as they really are, and allow them to be themselves rather than the selves we would prefer them to be. Only then do we discover that all God wants of us, is us.
Benedict knew that the only people who grow in truth are those who are humble. A humble person is simply someone who is honest about his own truth. The vow is intended to help grow in that truth. Growth in the spiritual life takes place not by acquisition of something new, but by the release of our defensive postures, by letting go of fear and our attachment to self-image. Only then is truth allowed to show itself.
If stability is recognition and resting in God's complete faithfulness and dependability, then Conversatio Morum is recognition of God's unpredictability, which confronts our love of safety. It demands continuous change. The goal in changing is not self-fulfillment. The goal is Christ. There is no security, no clinging to past certainties. Our chosen idols are successively broken. We vow a commitment to openness and total inner transformation. This includes and is facilitated by common ownership and celibacy. We can only come to know and love Christ to the degree that we realize that we are known and loved. Our primary relationship is with Christ. Through him we forge our link with others, and grow toward maturity in the giving and receiving of love.
Our Epistle reminded us that in our baptism we are “chosen, holy, and beloved.“ Our old life is dead; our new life is with Christ in God.
As a result we should clothe ourselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other as we have been forgiven so that love might bind all together in harmony, letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts.” This was Benedict’s vision for his community and what the living of his Gospel-based Rule would look like. If we are serious about living this new resurrection life we must act like it. As James, our Founder wrote: “Love must act, as light must shine, and fire must burn.”
Reinaldo, as you have already discovered, conversion does not happen overnight or with the profession of a vow. Take heart from Jesus’ words, “If anyone wants to become my follower…” We are never finished; we are always in a state of becoming. We will keep running into our need for conversion at deeper and deeper levels. But God is present, and maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. We are not on this journey alone. We are all in this together. The longer we are on this path, the more we realize, and come to trust, and to surrender to the fact that we don’t really know anything. All is mystery and grace. Only such not knowing is spacious enough to hold the God we seek.