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The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Thursday, 30 July 2009

Br Juan Edgar's Profession: Abbot's Conference at the Blessing of the Cowl, July 29th


Br Juan Edgar and me at Belmont.


BR juan Edgar is kneeling, second from the left, in this old photo of the community as it was before we left Piura. It has shrunk since. The abbot and the abbot president of the English Benedictine Congregation are alo in the photo.

Conference 29th July

Dear Br Juan, tomorrow you will make your Temporary Profession during Conventual Mass. Your brethren in Peru and the Community here at Belmont are filled with joy as we share with you in this act of faith in God’s mercy and love. For surely a monastic profession is an act of faith, in which we publicly declare our trust in God’s merciful love towards us, his sinful and unworthy children. We trust in God and in the grace monastic profession bestows on us, because we know that it is He who has called us to the monastic life and specifically to be monks of Belmont and of the Incarnation. No monastic community can come into being and survive without God’s help and no man can come to a monastery and persevere in his vows unless it be God’s will and unless he rely entirely on God’s grace and the help of his brethren.

Part of this Preliminary Rite involves the blessing of the cowl. Now your own cowl awaits you at Pachacamac and it’s so cold and damp there at the moment that you will need it! So tomorrow you will receive a borrowed cowl. Cowls are such expensive items of monastic clothing that normally the cowl of our profession is the cowl we will wear until we die. Cowls are often inherited from a monk who has died and we will probably leave our cowls to those who come after us. That in itself is a sobering thought and a sign of perseverance.

There are two prayers, which the Abbot has to choose from, for the blessing of a cowl. The first speaks of it as a sign of a monk’s renunciation of the world and of his innocence and humility. The second sees it as a symbol of the Incarnation, by which God clothed himself in human flesh in the womb of our Blessed Lady, the very flesh that was raised from the dead, transfigured and glorified at the Resurrection. These are indeed powerful images for a humble, black garment, which we normally snuggle into as we sing the Divine Office on a cold, dark winter’s morning or wear to accompany a dead brother to his last resting place on a bleak, stormy afternoon.

As you prepare, then, to make your profession tomorrow morning, let us take a close look at these ideas. The first prayer reminds us of our mortality. On Ash Wednesday we are told, “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust shalt thou return.” St Benedict tells us that a monk’s life should always be Lenten in character. Now the monastic life forces us to see and to accept that we are frail sinners who are pretty much helpless without the help of God and that our only hope lies in his loving mercy and forgiveness. It’s not easy to come to terms with being a sinner and it takes real humility to confess our sins over and over and over again. A monk’s greatest enemy is pride and it’s easy to be proud. Our salvation lies in climbing up the rungs of the ladder of humility. Only at the top will we discover and experience that perfect love which casts out all fear.

Some advice, then, for what it’s worth. Go to confession frequently and don’t let your sins accumulate. There’s nothing more disheartening, no burden heavier to bear than the weight of our own sins. So don’t hang on to them, but confess them regularly, handing them over to God. Just as he did with the publican in the temple, the Lord looks at our humility and not at any false perfection we might think we have. Each time we go to confession, we recover our innocence and the beauty of God’s image and likeness. That really is a cause for great joy, even if it doesn’t last very long! So the cowl reminds us: you are mortal, you are sinful, but ask for forgiveness and life is yours.

St Benedict also tells us that the goal of our Lenten observance is the joy of Easter and that the goal of our monastic life, the fruit of perseverance, is the glory of eternal life. It is towards the glory of the Kingdom that we run with a joyful heart as we do our best to fulfil our vows in the monastery until death. Now you, Juan, have a naturally happy disposition. What a gift of God that is and a gift not only for yourself but for your community as well. It is a joy that springs from faith and from forgiveness. As you progress each day in the monastic life and grow in virtue, may that joy come to be more and more spiritual, the fruit of prayer and the fruit of suffering, in other words, that patience St Benedict speaks about in the Prologue which is a sharing in the passion of Christ so as to share in the glory of his Resurrection. So the cowl must become for you a sign of joy and a sign of your assimilation into the Body of Christ, of which the monastery is but a cell, a sign of your intimate union with God.

Another word of advice. It’s an ancient monastic tradition to kiss the habit as you put it on each morning and to kiss the cowl as you prepare for Divine Office or for Mass. That kiss can become the kiss of Judas, so beware! Let it be for you a kiss of love, of reverence and of peace, a kiss that says, “Lord, I am yours.” May that kiss remind you that it’s not the habit that makes the monk, but rather the monk, through his personal and God-given holiness, who makes the habit.

Dear Br Juan, we, your brethren and your community, wish you God’s blessing on the eve of your Profession and a lifetime of God-given joy among us in the monastic life. Amen.
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