P UT INTO YOUR HEARTS, THEN, AS THE CHOSEN OF GOD, HOLY AND BELOVED, SENTIMENTS OF MERCY... SUPPORTING ONE ANOTHER AND FORGIVING ANY QUARREL.
We as a community have come together in the Abbey church to witness to a public act of religious dedication to God, the pronouncing of simple monastic vows. We do so in the course of the Office of morning praise when we acknowledge the goodness and wisdom and power of God who brings forth light from darkness and gives renewed strength to his children that we might the better serve him this day. Your making of simple monastic vows, Brother Stephen, is an integral portion of this act of worship offered for the good of this community, of all those united with us by bonds of friendship and faith, for the needs of the whole Church, and, not least of all, for the benefit of all peoples, even those who do not know God. For we are all members of a single family in God's great plan, and we do not live for our self, nor do we die for our self, but we belong to the Father who created us and who saves us in his beloved son, Jesus Christ.
This is our firm faith and this, too, is the basis of our hope. One of the vows you are about to pronounce is stability in this community of Our Lady of the Genesee Abbey. In making a vow that binds you to a single group where you live, pray and work you insert yourself in a long series of men and women who have similarly undertaken to serve God in a particular monastic community. To those who do not have such a call such a step can appear to be unduly restricting, eliminating possibilities from your life for broader, more varied activities and labors that might enlarge the scope of your impact on the world. At one level, of course, there is truth in this view; indeed, one of the purposes of stability is to eliminate all kinds of involvements, interesting and influential though they might be for good, in order to focus on a goal that is even better. More, to give full attention and invest all one's powers and energies in the highest possible cause- union with the eternal and transcendent God.
Far from restricting the horizons of life the monastic way opens out to the broadest of perspectives. The monk who enters fully into his vocation from the very beginning of his cloistered existence is intrinsically related to the infinite horizon that is established by God himself. The art of monastic living requires a discipline of mind and body that trains the senses and the powers of the soul to sensitivity to the beauty and truth present in creation and manifesting something of the attributes of God. The concerns of the monk who allows himself to be formed in the spirit of the Gospel are universal, even cosmic.
Living according to the Rule in the community frees you from many cares that otherwise would require a great deal of time and energy. This freedom and the leisure that accompanies a balanced monastic life place upon the monk the responsibility to direct his attention and interests to the one thing necessary, that is the service of God and attaining to the fullest union with Him possible in this life. The one who is thus centered on God will, in a variety of ways, soon discover different manners to be of service to those he lives with and to many others. In prayer, no concern for the spiritual and material well-being of people is foreign to him; his pastoral concern is for the whole of humanity. The fourth century desert father, Evagrius, grasped this universal perspective attaching to the monastic vocation. He stated the case in his typically lapidary form: "The monk is a man who is separated from all and united with all." The monk has many helps that assist his formation to such an exalted contemplative life, helps that facilitate, or at least render more possible, some measure of realization of this high purpose. At the same time, we need to remember that every Christian vocation, in fact, has the same ultimate purpose of purifying the heart in view of seeing God, and thus contributing to the good of the whole of creation. St. Paul, in the same Epistle to the Colossians that you have just read to us, makes it clear that God's plan, manifested in the Church through his son, extends to the whole world and beyond to the entire cosmos. He states that it is the Lord Jesus
in whom we have the redemption from sin through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the icon of th unseen God, the first born of every creature. For in him all are created, the things in the heavens and those upon earth, the seen and the unseen... the entirety of things are created through him and for him (1: 14-16).
W e as monks are called to live in the presence of this infinite God, creator of all, and to strive so to submit to the discipline of monastic life and the revelations made to us in the word of God and in prayer that we become citizens of heaven, even here in the monastery. This is the reason for the stability and other monastic vows that you are about to promise to God. We achieve this goal by receiving the grace brought us by the Lord Jesus whose birth in the flesh we celebrated just yesterday. It is by adhering to Christ that we are inwardly transformed and raised to such heights. Our Cistercian Father, the Blessed Guerric, abbot of Igny, made this the central doctrine of his monastic spirituality. He stated his teaching in these terms.
And so do you, brothers, in whom faith working through love is born of the Holy Spirit, hold on to this faith, feed and nourish it as if it were the infant Jesus, until there is formed in you the child who is born for us. He gave to us the form to which we are to be conformed not only by being born, but by living and dying. Remember always that he, who had nothing for himself, was not born except for us. Nor did he wish to live nor to die save for us so that we might be reborn through him and might live according him and die in him who lives and reigns forever and ever (De Nativitate Sermo IV.5 PL 184: 38).
Do not allow lesser horizons to limit your aspirations or your vision. Arduous is the climb to such heights, but you do not travel alone. You are assisted by your brothers here and all and each of us has the assured help of the Spirit of Jesus himself. In the rite of Solemn profession the monk chants three times the verse: "Receive me, O Lord, according to your promise and I shall live. Do not let my hope be disappointed." The community repeats these words after him each time. The very fact that your vows and ours are received by the Lord through his Church, here present in the members of this monastic community, is assurance that He is with you, that He does receive you. You can be confident that, if you are faithful to your call day by day, you will not be disappointed for He who calls you is faithful and can effect what He has promised, the salvation of your soul and the gift of life everlasting in Christ Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Mary.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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