August 15, 2013

A Talk for the Feast of the Assumption

The following Chapter talk was given by M. Rebecca on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  At Chapter Mary Hastie, postulant, received the habit and became Sr. Mary Therese.    

"Mary, What do you ask?"… "May the Lord help you"                                                                                    M. Rebecca

St Bernard explains to us in his first sermon for the Assumption, why we should rejoice this day…it is because today Mary is received at the entrance of heaven by Him who was received by her at His entrance into the world. Both receptions are full of joy: that of her son being received by His mother; and now today, His mother, being received by her son…and that joy is joined with all the angels and saints in heaven and on earth.

But, Mary, there is another reason why we rejoice this day. It is because today you receive the Cistercian habit and your entrance into monastic life. Today, you are expressing your desire to receive Christ into your heart more fully by living our Cistercian life as it is lived at Our Lady of the Mississippi. This day you follow in those initial footsteps of Mary who gave her whole self totally to God in her simple and humble fiat. You are following Mary who is our pattern and our Mother. Yet it is important to always remember that Mary was received into heaven not by her own strength and will but by surrender to God’s attractive love and tender power. Her ‘falling asleep’ is really a ‘raising up’. We enter with her in this movement upward to Christ every time we let go. Very much like the ladder St Benedict portrays in his holy Rule. Mary’s death was really an ecstasy of transcendence.

Since this is a day in which both heaven and earth rejoice together, let us ‘pull down’ from heaven, so to speak, some of the saints to give us some advice for your reception of the habit! We can, of course, start with Our Blessed Mother who spoke mostly by her humble example and through her faithful pondering of the Word of God in lectio divina – carrying Jesus always, if not in her arms, then in her heart. Christ tells us we too can be his mother if we listen to God’s word and obey it. I think Mary would want to repeat to you what she said at the wedding feast of Cana, “Do whatever he tells you”.

And then there is St Therese who made an “Oblation to Love” – it was not a onetime offering of herself to God but it was a daily living…a tireless movement to go outside of herself and a constant giving of herself to God in small acts of hidden love. I think Therese would tell you, Mary, that your vocation is Love - And to remember that “Everything (that happens to you in your monastic life) is Grace”. Find Christ in every person, event, and experience…and most essentially…within yourself. He will never abandon you and is always there. And lastly, I think her words to her own novices would be appropriate as well: “Jesus does not demand great deeds from you but simply surrender and gratitude…he has no need of our works but only of our love.”

Then there is St Benedict, whose whole Rule is one of fatherly advice. St Benedict explains what it means to receive the habit.   He tells us the main task and the criterion for a sincere novice is that she truly seek God.   This must be the main goal of all we do. Ch 4 “the love of Christ must come before all else”; Ch 5 “cherish Christ above all things”; Ch 72 “prefer nothing to the love of Christ”.

In ch 58, Benedict says the novitiate is a time of living the life with devotion and the only commitment that is made during the novitiate is a promise to stability. A promise to work at fidelity to our monastic practices, to work to understand the monastic values we chose, to be of service to the community, to be faithful in the search and desire for God.

However, in order to seek God one must have already found Him to some degree or capacity.   We have to know God before we can desire or search for Him. What else is this seeking and turning; this climbing and descending, then a life of conversion – a life of humility where we come to know our self and know God more deeply. This constant and ceaseless effort to discover God requires a radical honesty, self-revelation, and self-knowledge.

So Mary, these are just a few guides in your life. The Blessed Mother and St Therese have guided and taught you much in your life thus far and they will continue to walk with you. (So much so that Mary has asked that Therese be added to her religious name so that she can carry both of these great saints not only interiorly but exteriorly. And so your name will now be Sr Mary Therese.) And as we said earlier, St Benedict has also been recently added to the line of guardians! But another obvious guide and supporter in your spiritual journey is this community. It is important you know the love and care we have for you and yet it is only a drop of the infinite love and tenderness Christ showers on you. If we hold on to this richness, one can never lose their way!

Our entire Order is under the patronage of OL of the Assumption and as you receive the habit today, you are adding yourself among those under her patronage and protection. She is here to receive you into Our Order, in this first step, and to always love you and guide you to her son, Jesus Christ. So Mary, let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ because He will bring us all together to everlasting life (ch 72:11-12) And thru Mary’s own pattern of faith we will find one day that heaven is not only a Vision, but our Home.

….And so Mary, are you ready to take on the obligations of a Cistercian novice?...

Solemnity of Our Lady of the Assumption, 2013
Mary’s reception of the Habit