Sunday, March 22, 2009

More Newness

Last week was about the Clothing of Charles, our new novice. This week we skipped forward to what happens after a novice has been with us for 2 years and we had the First Profession of Vows of our Br James.

Jim has been attracted to the Religious Life for a long time - most of his life, actually. He started out in another community years ago, but he needed some other things first. So he got education and experience - much experience. He spent years in the theater - he even directed the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, if you can imagine. And wherever he was he got involved in ministry, too, usually with the poor and marginalized. His history has been well used here. He has directed some very creative modifications and revisions of our liturgical life, especially our Holy Week services. And those who follow this column regularly will also know that he was responsible for the founding of St Rafael's Place, our ministry to poor people with AIDS.

He feels like he's found his place. He's a man of prayer. He's a man of ministry. And he's found a place where both of these are priorities and where they can mingle and leaven his life - and ours. He is already the director of our outreach ministries. And if we know Jim, there will be more to come.

So on Thursday, the Feast of St Joseph, Br James Michael knelt before our altar and made his promise of Stability, Conversion to the Monastic Way of Life and Obedience. He had written his vow out in his own hand, and when he signed his promise he went to the altar and laid it there and then came back down from the altar to receive his Cowl - the long loose robe with large sleeves that professed Benedictines wear in choir.

This initial vow is for one year, after which it can be renewed. After renewing the vow somewhere between 2 and 5 times, he may decide to make his vow for life. The service is simple, much more so than the clothing which I described last week. There are - of course - the questions: "What do you desire?", and "Do you believe that God has called you?" Then those who are present promise to pray for him and uphold him, he reads and signs his vow, he gets his new clothes, and we hug him. That's it.

Simple or not, it was both deep and moving. There was no missing the fact that here was a man giving his life to God and to us, and that is truly major.

Our Church was packed with James' family and his friends, and with friends and supporters of Holy Cross. The affection for him and the love for us were so deep that you couldn't miss it. They sang their hearts out. They took multitudes of pictures afterwards. And, of course, there was one of Edward's superb meals, with everyone spread all over the house, because there were many more people here than we can accommodate in our refectory. I ended up with a group of community and friends in the Porter's Office, across from the Guesthouse Office, and it was lovely.

Other than the moment that James' cowl was slipped over his head, I have two principal memories of the day:

The first is the hymn that was sung while we got the altar ready for the consecration of the bread and wine. It nearly undoes me whenever we sing it, and this time it was so perfect for the profession of this particular man.

".... I who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright,
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart."

The other thing about this occasion is much more solemn and dark. One of the women who works on our house cleaning staff has a 21 year-old son whom we have known for quite a while and who has helped out here from time to time. He recently finished his education and went off to California to seek his fortune in the movie industry. A great young guy, with his life just beginning. Then, 2 weeks ago, his mother got the awful news that he had died. It was very sudden. No one knows why at this point. It just happened.

And as it also happened, his funeral was taking place at St Augustine's Church in Highland, about 10 miles from here, as Jim was making his vows. It didn't diminish the joy, but neither did the joy diminish the sorrow. You just have to carry both at the same time. And it was hard, not being able to go to the funeral.

And of course there's even one more thing. Mark, a friend and Associate of some years, has found that he's gotten to the point where he needs to ask if he belongs here, with us. So he's here for 2 weeks, living as one of the community, so that he - and we - can take a look and see what we think. If it seems well, he may apply to enter the Order.

It's been quite a time these past 2 weeks. A man just beginning to ask the question: "Is this where I belong?", and a man formally beginning the journey, and a man - a brother - saying for all to hear that this is where he belongs. All of it wrapped in the joys and sorrows of those who we journey with and for whom we care.

And we haven't even gotten to Holy Week yet!

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