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Monday, 5 August 2013

THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION 2013 & SOLEMN PROFESSION OF DOM JONATHAN

The Icon of the Transfiguration
 in the Benedictine chapel of Pachacamac Monastery
August 2013






(click on title)


THE SOLEMN PROFESSION OF DOM JONATHAN
BELMONT ABBEY, AUGUST 6th, 2013.


Conference for the Preliminaries to Br Jonathan’s Solemn Profession, August 5th

            Dear Br Jonathan, you have just stated publically that you have carefully considered the duties and obligations of the monastic life as expressed in the Benedictine vows and the Constitutions of the English Benedictine Congregation and that you have freely chosen to make your Solemn Profession tomorrow as a monk of this conventus. You have said with your own lips what we hope is the deepest desire of your heart, that, with the help of God’s grace, you wish to live and die in the habit of our Holy Father Benedict in this community of St Michael and All Angels. Now the formula you used and the words you pronounced are the same ones that each one of us in solemn vows read out either recently or long ago. I hope and pray that our heart’s desire remains the same and has never changed despite the difficulties we encountered on the way.

            Of course, when St Benedict wrote the Holy Rule, things were much simpler. You hung around at the gate of the monastery for a few days, giving the porter a hard time, and once you were admitted into the novitiate, you were tried and tested as a novice for just a year before you took your vows and that was that. But then it was the whole of your monastic life, not just the first year, that was spent in the School for the Lord’s Service. It was through the life itself, the coenobitic life, under a rule and an abbot, with the celebration of the Opus Dei, the daily Lectio, the relentless round of manual work and weekly duties, never alone and always in the company of your brethren, that you grew in virtue and in the love of God. Life was tough then: in comparison, we are let off lightly today. Even so, in our present world, it’s no easy task taking up the Lord’s invitation to serve him in the monastic life. The rewards might be great, but the sacrifices, too, are many.

            Let us look briefly at the hardships and obligations of the monastic life. My intention isn’t to put you off at the last minute, but simply to remind you of what you are called to and promise to do. In the first place, today you made your final will and testament, as we all did on the eve of our Solemn Profession. This reminds us that nothing, absolutely nothing at all, is ours. No matter what we might accrue, by accident or design, in the course of our life is actually ours. St Benedict tells us that we should be “well aware that from that day he will not have even his body at his disposal.” Nothing is yours, yet as a community, a brotherhood, everything is ours, or rather everything is the Lord’s but for our shared use. The model for this communal form of ownership was, of course, the primitive Church in Jerusalem.

            There are two fundamental ills, which often afflict a monk, that St Benedict wishes to cure us of by monastic profession and the authentic and transparent living of the monastic life: private property and self-will. The two are obviously closely related and impede both our ability to live peacefully in the heart of a monastic community and our total dedication to a life of discipline, self-giving and prayer. Instead, we become selfish and self-centred, focussed neither on God nor on our brethren. We become like the sarabaites and gyrovagues, so loathed by St Benedict, a law unto ourselves and totally independent. Now St Benedict doesn’t say that we shouldn’t have what we need for our legitimate use, far from it, but it’s easy nowadays, with so much freedom and abundance, to abandon the essentials of monastic observance while retaining appearances. Austerity and moderation are the hallmarks of the Benedictine life, and together with these the virtue of obedience and of doing and having things with permission. Let it be said that practising obedience and asking permission do not turn us back into children, though an unscrupulous or tyrannical superior can misuse them, rather they should make us more responsible and mature in our daily life.

            Obedience, the first and fundamental vow, commits us not simply to discerning the will of God, but to discerning the divine will within the context of the community and under the direction of the abbot. This involves not only listening deeply to the voice of God as he speaks to you in the silence of your heart, but also an act of the will, your will, to do exactly what the Lord asks of you. In conforming your will to the Lord’s you can be sure that God will not ask you to do what is not permitted by the Gospel and the law of the Church or by the Holy Rule and our Constitutions that are approved by the Holy See. Beware of your whims and personal likes and dislikes.

            Conversatio morum essentially means that you give up the ways of the world and all worldly forms of thinking, saying or doing. In the words of St Paul. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” I’ll admit that’s difficult today, where the world can easily take hold of us, even in a monastery or on a parish. We are so bombarded by the media in all its forms that we hardly recognise what we are being turned into, images not of Christ but of his enemies. Hence the importance of silence, of humility and of a spirit of prayer. Never leave conscious prayer for more than you have to. No matter what you’re doing, keep your inner eye fixed on God and never leave his presence. He will be with you through thick and thin, in every storm and tempest, not only when the going is easy and you are calm and peaceful.

            Finally, there is stability, which alone can keep things together and make it possible to practise obedience and conversatio. Stability keeps us anchored in God in and through a specific community, which in our case is Belmont. However, there is no guarantee that you will live all your life physically here at Belmont. You might be asked to go to Whitehaven or another parish or to take up a chaplaincy somewhere. Who knows what you’ll be asked to do over the next 50 years, only God knows. But you will be keeping your vow of stability, not if you refuse to go but if you obey and faithfully do what is asked of you in the name of Belmont. And that is the secret of true happiness in the monastic life: knowing that you have done your duty, putting God and the community first.

            Well, Jonathan, there’s a lot more I could said, but you’re probably too nervous or excited to take anything in at the moment. Be assured of the love, prayers and support of your brethren as you prepare for tomorrow and the rest of your life. Amen



 Feast of the Transfiguration 2013 
Solemn Profession of Dom Jonathan Rollinson
 “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and went up the mountain to pray.”

 Dear Br Jonathan, were you a monk of Mount Athos, you would have climbed the 6,660 feet to the summit of the Holy Mountain, to the Chapel of the Transfiguration, to celebrate today’s feast, a breathtaking experience in every way. In fact, you would have set out yesterday morning to be there in time for the 17 hour long service of Vespers, Vigils, Matins and Mass, taking in all the Little Hours as well. By now you would have devoured your meagre supply of food and drink and be making ready to descend back home to your monastery or skete. A warning, it’s much easier going up than coming down.

 It strikes me that Peter, James and John probably felt the same as the good monks of Athos do right now. Little wonder “they kept silence and told no one what they had seen.” In a few moments you will make your Solemn Vows. There can be no better day on which to do this but the Feast of the Transfiguration, that most monastic of all feasts. What is the monastic life all about if not the climb up Mount Tabor with the Lord Jesus, so as to witness his Transfiguration in the presence of Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, and to catch a glimpse, however briefly, the glory of the Uncreated Light, to see and hear the Mystery of the Holy Trinity, One God, and so recognise the true identity of God made Man, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 

 The disciples are taken up the mountain to pray, but by the time they reach the top they are heavy with sleep. Nevertheless, through God’s grace, they keep awake and see the vision of Jesus totally transfigured and the two men talking with him. Moses had seen and spoken with God on Mount Sinai and Elijah on Mount Horeb. Their visions could not have been more different, yet here they are together now as they stand in the glory of the Lord, speaking with Jesus. As they fade from view, so Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here.” Then he spoils it by saying that he wants to make three tents to commemorate what he has seen, as though a vision of eternity could be confined in time. Jesus doesn’t reply for suddenly a cloud appears and covers them with its shadow. Now it is fear that the disciples feel. Yet from the cloud the Father’s voice is heard, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.” After which, “Jesus was found alone.” In Matthew and Mark the text is somewhat different, “When they looked around, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.” “Only Jesus,” because in Jesus not only is there found the fullness and the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets, but God wholly present, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all,” as St Paul writes to the Ephesians (Eph 1:23). And so it is that they come down from the mountain in silence, no comments, no questions. No more talk of tents for now they see “only Jesus.” They realise that he is the answer to all their questions, the source and goal of their deepest longings. 

 We know that the Transfiguration takes place at a pivotal moment in the Gospel story. Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem and there he will be arrested, tried, found guilty, and crucified. Peter, who on Tabor wants to set up three tents, will deny him three times and run scared when Jesus is raised up on a cross and there dies to save us from our sins. But death opens out into glory and on the third day, Jesus rises from the dead and it is Peter who runs to the tomb with the Beloved Disciple. Then, on the shores of the lake, he is asked by Jesus three times, “Do you love me?” The Transfiguration prepares the disciples for what is to come and they are able to withstand persecution knowing that the way of the Cross can alone lead to the empty tomb and the light of Easter glory. They will always look back on the Transfiguration, knowing that they have been granted a glimpse of heaven and that is what they can look forward to if they take up their own cross every day and follow Jesus. They have seen God’s truth and can now cope with the devil’s lies; they have seen the true Light and so can face the valley of the shadow of death. 

The Rite of Monastic Profession points to the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection: you will lie on a funeral pall while the Paschal candle burns brightly above you. This is your Transfiguration. Dear Jonathan, you have been called by God to the monastic life in order to follow Christ and to live your Christian vocation to the full, because God knows that this is the best way for you be transfigured into the image of Christ. For your parents it was marriage and family life; for you it is to be a Benedictine monk. You have been called, “to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.” That is how St Benedict describes our vocation in the Prologue to the Rule. “Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.” That, according to St Benedict, is the way we do things, by prayer, relying on God’s grace and mercy. Your salvation will be God’s work, not yours, but you, by an act of the will, must place yourself confidently in God’s hands.

 That is what you are doing today, by making your Solemn Profession. You are saying a definitive “Yes” to God’s invitation to follow him faithfully in this way of life. These are your marriage vows. And so, you “will run on the path of God’s commandments, your heart overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” “Faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, you will through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that you deserve also to share in his kingdom.” This is what you are committing yourself to this afternoon and it is a life-long commitment that will lead often to Mount Tabor, if not always to the vision, at least into the cloud. 

 It’s time to bring this brief reflexion to an end. I assure you of the prayers and affection of the Belmont Community now and all the days of your life. May you flourish and grow among us and may we, your brethren, learn from your patience, humility and obedience. Amen.
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