Br Juan Edgar’s First Profession
Dear Br Juan Edgar, all of us are gathered here this morning for your First Profession. We had hoped to be back in the abbey church by now, but, as you have seen, British workers are a wee bit slower than their Peruvian counterparts: they knock off by four in the afternoon and don’t appear on Saturdays. So things take a long time and cost far too much.
Even so, the monastic refectory isn’t a bad place for you to make your Profession. At least it brings home to us the important fact that monastic vows refer to the whole of one’s life and that no aspect of our lives can be excluded from the vows we make the day of our profession. Now traditionally in monastic architecture, the refectory is the reflection of the church: we sit in the same order as in choir, we even take our meals in a liturgical way, prayer and reading being the main condiments of the food we eat.
In professing monastic vows, the vows St Benedict describes in the Holy Rule, we commit our whole life to Christ in a specific monastic community. St Benedict tells us that from the day of our profession, not even our body is our own. We give everything away and our whole being belongs to God and to the community of brothers among whom we work and pray as we strive ahead towards the heavenly Kingdom, our hearts overflowing with love and joy. Monks are chaste but not really celibate: we are not single like hermits but live in community.
St Benedict uses many images for a monastery, mostly taken from the Bible, in his “little rule for beginners”. It is a School for the Lord’s Service, the word school being used both in the sense of a place of learning and in the sense of a team of players or singers. Using the powerful arms of obedience we are like soldiers setting out for war and battling against the forces of evil: the monastery is like an army. Some monasteries, though not Belmont, even look like an army barracks. In that the Abbot is called to be the shepherd of his flock, the monastery is like a farm. All abbots should keep border collies! St Benedict tells him that he has been given the care of weak and sickly men, of men who are sinners like himself, so a monastery is also like a hospital where the infirm are healed. He is also given Christ’s name, Abba, and holds the place of Christ in the Community, so the monastic community is like a family. In this we reflect the early Church in Jerusalem and the very first Christian community. The key word in the Rule is coenobitic. We are that strong kind of monk, coenobites, who live under a Rule and an Abbot and who follow the Gospel as guide and teacher.
One of the biblical images St Benedict does not use to describe his monastery is the one found in today’s Gospel, a net. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.” That’s a good way of describing a monastic community, for the Abbot, taking the place of Christ, is also a fisher of men. Some fish are easily caught, others less so and some just slip away: not even a strong net can hang on to them. But we monks are also fish of every kind, no two of us are the same, we don’t always get on, at times we tend to flap around a bit, and yet each one of us has been caught by Christ and it is his will that we should live in community and together come to be part of his Body, which is the Church. The Belmont Community is rich in fish of every kind and your presence among us makes the catch even richer.
A monastery, then, is an image, an icon, of the Church or, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, a domestic Church. As monks we are aware that it is Christ who has called us to the monastic life, Christ who called us to be monks of Belmont and only Christ who can make us what he truly wants us to be. So, Br Juan Edgar, as you take your First Vows today, we pray that, in the depths of your heart, you will always be open to the saving work of Christ, the true Opus Dei. We pray that you will always allow the Holy Spirit to form and transform you and that you, together with all your brethren, will one day come rejoicing to our heavenly home, whither we run together, placing all our hope and trust in God. As we go forward with our eyes ever fixed upon Jesus, may we all find true happiness and fulfilment on the journey, the pilgrimage we make together as monks of Belmont and the Incarnation. May we remain faithful to our calling and so, our hearts filled with gratitude and enthusiasm, keep firmly to the way that God has chosen for us and that St Benedict writes about so eloquently in the Holy Rule.
We also pray for your parents and all the members of your family. May they come to appreciate the beauty of your life and vocation and may you support them always with your prayers. Amen
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