IF YOU BELONG TO CHRIST THEN YOU ARE HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE (Galatians 3:29). Just before he wrote these words St. Paul had stated that ‘you have clothed yourselves with Christ’. He addresses this message to all the baptized faithful in the Church of Galatia. Before long this letter was being read in other communities for it contains a fundamental message for all of the faithful. In a particular way, my sister, it is addressed to you today. For by making your perpetual vows in the course of this mass, you renew the commitment made at your baptism. In fact monastic profession has been considered to be a second baptism. Symeon the New Theologian even held it is a sacrament in the full sense of the word. This opinion never found favor in the Roman Church, yet there are sound reasons for holding that profession does confer essentially the same graces as baptism, namely the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of all past sins.

The primitive Church elaborated a striking ritual for the newly baptized at Easter. They were given a while robe to wear during the Easter octave as a sign of newly bestowed innocence and of the new life in Christ. They took off this robe on the Sunday after that Feast which was accordingly known as Dominica in Albis. The white cowl you put on today will not be put aside throughout the whole of your life. It is a more than a choir garment; it too is a sign that you are indeed clothed with Christ and belong to him. As a result you are destined to share eternal life with the saints in glory. In this ceremony there is a prayer that you chant three times as is prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict for this occasion. ‘Receive me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live; let me not be thwarted of my hope.’ St. Paul’s words to the Galatians cited at the head of this talk, refer to this promise. He proclaims that to belong to Christ is to have hope of eternal life, for God himself guarantees his promise to Abraham of which we are heirs. ‘IF YOU BELONG TO CHRIST THEN YOU ARE HEIRS ACCORDING TO THE PROMISE.’ The promise on which you base your hope of receiving God’s mercy is nothing less than the solemn engagement God himself made to our father in faith. The original promise consists in assurance that Abraham will, in spite of all human obstacles, have an heir and be, as it were, immortalized through him. Paul, in the same chapter of this epistle, underlines that the heir really intended by God is Jesus, of whom Isaac is but the figure. And through belonging to Christ you too are to inherit the promise which is now directed to you personally..

When you pray then ‘Receive me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live; let me not be thwarted of my hope.’ what you ask for is that you might inherit Christ himself and in him life eternal with the Father. Christ, who in his own person belongs totally to the Father, is the fulfillment of your hope and the pledge of your glory. Moreover, implicit in this prayer is the petition for all the divine helps required to prove faithful to the Lord Jesus to whom you bind yourself by your vows. Such fidelity requires a daily striving to penetrate ever deeper into your own heart so that you might remove all obstacles to encountering the all holy Lord who abides in the depths of your soul. He who made you in his image will assist you in this task so that you might be conformed to him.

This prayer to which St. Benedict gives such importance is an explicit request for God’s favorable acceptance of your offering of your very self: ‘Receive me, O Lord’. By pronouncing your vows you not only take on the obligations of monastic life, you also make a gift to him of your own self, body, soul and spirit, to God. At the same time you express confidence that you will in turn have a still greater gift from him- the gift of life. Of course, this refers not to the life we known in this world which is so fragile and subject to all kinds of vicissitudes and dangers; rather, you pray for the unending life that accompanies intimate sharing in the glory of God.

The fact is that to belong to the Lord is to begin to participate already in the true life of eternity. For this Lord to whom you make your vows is the Savior. The Syriac word for Savior, ‘machyana’, means ‘the one who gives life’. Our Savior not only delivers you from the extinction of death; he causes you to life a higher, truer existence by enabling you to participate in his divine life. This then is what you pray for as you sing three times ‘Receive me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live’. Attaining to this true life in Christ that is the essential purpose of the vows you are about to pronounce.

To realize this goal it does not suffice to make your vows today, no matter how pure your intention and how fervent your devotedness in yielding yourself to God. You, like the rest of us who have committed ourselves to the Lord in this monastic profession, will find that you have resistances to certain of their demands. Fidelity to these promises will be accompanied at times by demands for sacrifice and acceptance of suffering. Probably you will encounter trials that will test your faith and your endurance in ways that you cannot at present foresee. But you have assurance that our Lord will be with you to sustain you and your chief strength will be your firm conviction that he has chosen you for himself. That you belong to him in a special manner by virtue of the promises you make to him today is your strength.

The step you take in making profession of your lifelong vows, my sister, marks a new stage in your life. It terminates a lengthy period of preparation and so is a kind of arrival at a measure of maturity. Maturity brings with it new possibilities for growth and fruitfulness and our prayer for you today is that you might take full advantage of the opportunities that you will encounter to advance further along the path that takes you to union with the Lord. Our Cistercian fathers have traced out the general outlines of this way and described its features in considerable detail. Traveling this course entails nothing less than a radical transformation of your deepest self. That is the glory and the agony awaiting all of us who undertake this divine task of restoring the true self in the image of God.

Realizing this great work of the heart so as to achieve the restoration of the new creature created in the likeness of our God defines the meaning and the worth of our life. We are to observe the Rule and to act in keeping with the demands of our vows in such a manner that our way of doing so effects a real change in our manner of being. Our most intimate dispositions and affects require to be altered in such a way that we spontaneously conform to the will of God in all events and circumstances. In this way we recover the likeness to God that permits us to be united with him. In calling you to make the profession of your vows he gives you assurance that he will accompany you on this way until you attain to that life which he shares with the Father for all eternity.

  Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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