August 20, 2013

A Talk for Sister Annas Simple Profession

The following Chapter talk was given by M. Rebecca for Sr Anna’s simple profession/St Bernard’s Feast Day, August 20, 2013

Anna, what do you ask?... Sr. Anna’s response “the mercy of God and of the order” Community response: Thanks be to God.
                                                                                                                                                                                               M. Rebecca
A few days ago, on the Assumption, we sought the advice of a few saints for Mary’s clothing. So it would seem fitting today that we would look to St Bernard for some advice on your simple profession. St Bernard called the monastery ‘a School of Love’. He felt the main object of monastic life was to restore our true nature which was created in the image and likeness of God. In other words, we are created for love and for self-surrender.

God is Love and therefore Love is the way to know God. Love is the way to Love God…and this love entails self-sacrifice. So we see love and the cross as one.

In monastic life, Anna, your desire is to be at the foot of the cross – to hold the suffering Christ.   The School of Love is at the place of the cross. What better place to learn how deep love can go! “Why should God be loved?...because of God himself.   How is He to be loved?… immeasurably, and our gratitude is unending.” (On Loving God)

You have been a professor at Clark University and have taught at other schools, but in the one you enter today you will be a life-time student - in the School of the Lord’s Service. Our formation never ceases because Love is limitless, the mysteries of God immeasurable.

 But as we kneel before the cross we are not alone. John’s gospel tells us that we have company, a community. John himself is there, along with Mary, Jesus’ mother, as well as Mary Magdalene. Three pillars to help us stay steady, focused, and renewed. Today we can see these 3 pillars as symbols of the 3 vows that you will be making in a few minutes – the 3 vows that will help you stay steady, focused and renewed.

Mary symbolizes the vow of stability – Jesus’ mother was a stable figure – always there with Jesus, by Jesus and for Him. Jesus always knew he could go to her and she would love him unconditionally – even when he got in trouble with the Church authorities or the neighbors and towns people. Dependable and devoted; she persevered to the end.   Mary never left the cross, never left His presence, and remained faithful no matter the cost. She is a model for us of the vow of stability.

Mary Magdalene symbolizes the vow of conversion. Who better than the repentant sinner who thru love of God was transformed into Jesus’ intimate friend and apostle! Through her conversion, which was sparked by God’s mercy and burst into flame by God’s love, left behind the world’s ways - and its thinking - to live a life in Christ. She renounced her self-will, self-love, and self-importance in favor of making Christ the center of her life.   MM is a model for the vow of conversion of manners.

John symbolizes the vow of obedience – for the beloved disciple watched Jesus “learn obedience thru suffering” – an obedience unto death – death on a cross. After Christ’s Resurrection, John says for those who listen and “keep His Word, the love of God is perfected in them”. (1Jn2:5)   How do we remain in God and abide in His love? John answers, “by keeping God’s commandments”… by obedience.

Jesus, out of obedience, served his brothers and sisters, became a servant to all, and surrendered his life as a ransom for many. When we vow obedience and unite our wills with Christ and also to this community’s way of living Cistercian life, we enter into a mission bigger than ourselves…for Christ shows us that it is a fruit that will last…and will produce 100-fold if we remain on the Vine.

 St Benedict speaks of obedience more than any other virtue, and equal to humility.   In the Prologue the 1st thing spoken of is obedience –it is what “will bring us back to God”. An unhesitating obedience must be learned and matched with a willing heart, a peaceful and enthusiastic mind, and a cheerful face. All of this will come natural to those “who cherish Christ above all”.

But these vows do not stand on their own. On the cross Jesus arches over us with 2 outstretched arms. Each of those arms represents two aspects needed if our vows are to have any value at all. These arms that stretch out over us are Humility and Love. So we are not alone at the foot of the cross (as a faithful lover and disciple) but we have a community to encourage and strengthen us. We have our vows and monastic practices to keep us steady, focused and renewed. And we have a model of Christ’s love and humility that if we imitate, will cause our small and humble efforts at love to transcend all space and time. 

This image reminds me of that famous painting by Rialta of Jesus on the cross embracing St Bernard.   We can see that it is through Bernard’s intense devotion and Christ’s immense love that Jesus is drawn down to embrace his disciple. As Bernard said in this morning’s Vigil reading: “Happy the soul who has been allowed to experience the embrace of such bliss! For it is nothing other than love…a love that joins two, not in flesh, but in spirit.”   In the painting is looks as though Jesus tenderly takes a moment from the cross to embrace Bernard before returning to His saving act. But it is here that we see that this self-surrendering embrace is not an interruption but one act of love…and that truly the School of Love is at the place of the cross. So let us follow St Bernard’s example and “prefer nothing whatever to the love of Christ”.

And so, Anna, are you ready to enter into this School of the Lord’s Service, into this School of Love, faithfully observing the Rule of St Benedict and the Cistercian way of life lived in this monastery, in order to follow Christ completely? (I am)

May God bring to perfection what he has begun in you.