Solemn Profession of Dom Paul Lyons
29th September 2011
Dear Br. Paul, you have just asked for God’s merciful love and to share in the monastic way of life in this community. What a beautiful prayer this it, to ask for God’s merciful love and that you might share in the monastic way of live in this, the monastic community in which your Benedictine vocation has been fostered and nurtured. What a lovely way in which to ask the good Lord for all that is dearest to your heart. I hope you will repeat it every day of your life and on your deathbed, for most surely the purpose and goal of your solemn profession today is to live a holy life in order to die a holy death. That really says it all, though I am sure that you would like me to say just a bit more this morning.
Today we are celebrating the feast of St Michael and All Angels, which is the dedication of our monastery and abbey church. The readings from the Book of Daniel, the Apocalypse and the Gospel of John spoke to us in distinctive ways about visions of angels, visions which are reflected wherever you look in this church. I doubt there are “ten thousand times ten thousand” but there’s a goodly number. Wherever you look there are angels. The verse from Psalm 137 we sang as the response, “In the presence of the angels I will bless you, O Lord,” is an excellent description of our life at Belmont.
Central to our life, and the life of any Benedictine monastery, is prayer, liturgical prayer celebrated together in community and contemplative or mental prayer alone and in the silence of your cell. In all forms of prayer it is the angels who accompany and encourage us: at times they even help us to sing in tune! In fact, the Church’s liturgy is a real participation in the liturgy of heaven, that divine praise which the angels share with the saints for all eternity. In the monastic life God invites us to catch a glimpse of heaven, just as Peter, James and John did when they were taken up by the Lord to the mountain of the Transfiguration. If the thought of joining the select company of the inner Three is too daunting, then why not join the peasant shepherd boys, who heard the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” and ran to see the Christ Child in the manger.
This is the great mystery of our faith, that almighty God, who is the source and sustainer of all that is, opens his arms and takes us to himself and allows us to see the light of heaven even as we journey through this vale of tears. As you stand on the brink and prepare to take the plunge, think of two wonderful scenes from the Gospel:
According to John, at the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” These words are directed to you, dear Paul, in a very special way. Your coming to the monastery and persevering in the monastic life has been an act of love and an act of obedience. It will not go unrewarded. And if you are faithful unto death, your reward will be much greater. In this life it is faith and hope that tell you, “God is with you. He is in you.” In heaven you will see God face to face and you will, at last, know and love yourself, even as he knows and loves you. You, Paul, are the home of the Holy Trinity, your heart God’s throne, you live in the presence of the angels. May your life become and remain a sacrifice of praise, a sacrifice that will make you holy even as God your Father is holy.
In the Gospel of Luke, Cleopas and his companion, two of the many followers of Jesus, meet an unknown traveller on the road to Emmaus. They talk about recent events in Jerusalem and about the death of Jesus, who, they thought, might be the Messiah. The stranger begins to explain the scriptures to them. So enthralled are they that when they arrive home they invite him in, “Stay with us. It is almost evening and the day nearly over.” When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognised him, but he was gone. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us, while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Paul, do you not recognise the Lord Jesus every time we celebrate Mass? And does your heart not burn within you every time you hear his word and in your daily Lectio Divina meet with Jesus who opens the scriptures to you? What an enormous privilege it is for us to be monks. What an extraordinary opportunity he has given us to walk with him in the Easter light.
Today your strongest feeling must be that of gratitude. Who am I, Lord, that you have deigned to look on me and call me to this life? Is it any wonder that you ask for God’s merciful love and to share in the monastic way of life in this community? But there is something more.
Among the first monks in the Egyptian Desert one of the many ways they used to describe their life was “angelicos bios”, the Angelic Life. Not only did they compare themselves to the early Christian Church in Jerusalem by describing their way of life as the Apostolic Life, by which they understood life in community, having all things in common, koinonia, hence the Coenobitic Life. An important aspect of this life in common was work, for they lived by the work of their hands, sharing the proceeds. They tried to serve one another with loving patience, and not only their fellow monks but also guests and those in need, seeking to serve Christ alone and in their neighbour see his face.
They also spoke of the Angelic Life because they saw themselves as living like the angels in several ways. To begin with and most obviously, like the angels in heaven they sang God’s praises day and night, practising ceaseless prayer. Then there was the prophetic aspect of their lives. They saw themselves as a sign to the world of the reality of God and of the spiritual world. By the integrity and austerity of their lives, by living according to Gospel values and the evangelical counsels they were a sign of contradiction not only to the world but to a Church which had lost its initial fervour, fidelity and bite. The call to the Angelic Life would also manifest itself in the mission of the Church to go out and preach the Good News, the word of God, for they alone were free from family ties and obligations. In fact, right up to the advent of the Mendicant Orders in the Middle Ages, it was monks and even nuns who were the Church’s missionaries, and this is true all over the monastic world from Ireland to Armenia. Mission, of course, is integral to the Benedictine vocation and has marked much of the history of Belmont and the English Benedictine Congregation, not to mention our present day commitment to pastoral and missionary work. Finally, the angels are pure and chaste and live for God alone. He is their only love in whom alone can all else be truly loved. In spite of our weaknesses and infidelities, we seek, through God’s grace, to conform our lives to the simplicity, beauty and chastity of the angels. So it is every aspect of the Angelic Life to which we adhere by the vows we take in imitation of Christ our Lord, who was obedient even unto death and death on a cross.
Dear Paul, to conclude: Let the cross be the sign of your stability, rooted as your life is in the Passion of Christ. Let your guardian angel guide you along the pathway of daily conversion, as your life is conformed by conversation morum to Christ our Saviour. Let obedience be the beginning and the end of your life’s commitment to God in the monastic life. And may we, your brethren, join with you, through the intercession of the Angels and the Saints, in praying for God’s loving mercy and the grace to share fully in the monastic life of this wonderful community at Belmont. Amen
[Irenikon] Nice, from Garrison Keillor, here thanks to Rdr James
This from todays' Keillor's "Writer's Almanac" might be of interest to some:
In the Christian world, today is Michaelmas, feast day of the archangel Michael, which was a very important day in times past, falling near the equinox and so marking the fast darkening of the days in the northern world, the boundary of what was and what is to be. Today was the end of the harvest and the time for farm folk to calculate how many animals they could afford to feed through the winter and which would be sold or slaughtered. It was the end of the fishing season, the beginning of hunting, the time to pick apples and make cider. Today was a day for settling rents and accounts, which farmers often paid for with a brace of birds from the flocks hatched that spring. Geese were given to the poor and their plucked down sold for the filling of mattresses and pillows.
Michaelmas was the time of the traditional printer's celebration, the wayzgoose, the day on which printers broke from their work to form the last of their pulp into paper with which to cover their open windows against the coming cold — the original solution for those who could not afford glass yet had more than nothing — and the advent of days spent working by candlelight. In the past, the traditional Michaelmas meal would have been a roast stubble goose — the large gray geese that many of us only get to admire at our local state and county fairs. Today, when most poultry comes from the grocery store in parts and wrapped in plastic, a roast goose can be a difficult luxury to obtain, but any homey, unfussy meal is a fine substitute — especially with a posy of Michaelmas daisies or purple asters on the table.
In folklore, it is said that when Michael cast the Devil from Heaven, the fallen angel landed on a patch of blackberry brambles and so returns this day every year to spit upon the plant that tortured him. For this reason, blackberries would not be eaten after today, and so folks would gather them in masses on Michaelmas to put into pies and crumbles and preserves. And they would bake St. Michael's bannocks, a large, flat scone of oats and barley and rye, baked on a hot griddle and then eaten with butter or honey or a pot of blackberry preserves. Whether you recognize Michaelmas or not, you can still greet what comes with the symbols of today: gloves, for open-handedness and generosity; and ginger to keep you warm and well in the coming cold. © 2011 American Public Media 480 Cedar Street, Saint Paul, MN 55101 USA