September 8th, 2015
“Jesus said to Peter, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you are mature in years you will stretch out your hands, and someone will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
And likewise, Marie, Jesus says to you this day, “Follow me. Let your Abbess clothe you in the Novice habit of the Cistercian Order, signifying an even deeper commitment to the death and resurrection of Christ, to dying daily in and through and with him.” In practice, of what does this daily dying and rising consist? St. Benedict is instructive here when he says, “The first concern for novices should be to see whether it is God himself that they truly seek, whether they have a real love for the work of God combined with a willing acceptance of obedience and of any demands on their humility and patience that monastic life may make on them.”
Eagerness for the work of God is eagerness for the prayer of the Church, the prayer of the whole Christ. We know how this is a daily rising into the thoughts of God but how is it also a daily dying to self? In all my years in the religious life, there is only one quote I carried around in my pocket, for it always brought me back to my center and carried me beyond myself to my ultimate destiny in a powerful way. It’s from “The Waters of Siloe” by Thomas Merton where he speaks of the Chinese martyrs of our Order. He writes concerning the growth of Cistercian houses in the United States in the 1960’s, “But such things as these have been dearly paid for in blood and lives. They are the fruit of martyrdoms. As such, they have only one destiny: to bear the same kind of witness to God that is borne by martyrs: to praise Him at no less cost than that of the wild, perfect, supreme love that transcends every other love, every other work, every other desire, to lose itself entirely from the eyes of men in that profound abyss which is known as adoration.”
“To bear the same kind of witness to God that is borne by martyrs: to praise him at no less cost…” How? When we go back day after day, Vigils through Compline, enduring whatever comes: distractions aridity, tiredness, sickness, difficulties with the music, difficulties with the neighbor, difficulties within, difficulties without; and when we commit ourselves to this all the days of our life in order to become pure praise for God, in order to intercede for people in the farthest reaches of our world through this prayer from the heart of Christ, then we have truly forgotten ourselves and our own interests. This is where true eagerness for the work of God leads us.
Eagerness for obedience is an eagerness to hear God’s voice instructing us, guiding us, loving us. It has everything to do with his voice, both hearing it and heeding it and, first of all, believing it; believing that he speaks through those he has chosen to guide us. The death here is so obvious—death to our false autonomy, life to our total dependence upon God and upon his voice without which we would die of hunger and thirst. Religious obedience is a living out of the obedience of Jesus who said, “My food is to do the will of the One who sent me.”
Eagerness for trials, that is for the demands on our humility and patience that come our way in the course of a day, does not mean that we seek trials but that when we truly obey we will inevitably find them intertwined with obedience in some circumstances. Then with Jesus we not only humble ourselves and become obedient, but we also become obedient even unto death. This blessed death to ourselves, to our self-centered selves, who can live without it? St. Peter couldn’t and neither can a true Cistercian. And so I pray, Marie, that you will begin your Novitiate with the eagerness of which St. Benedict speaks. May Mary be you constant model and guide every step of the way. You have asked for a new name full of the fragrance of Mary, and so Sister Rosemarie, come to be clothed in these precious robes.
The Clothing Day of Sister Rosemarie Ouellette
September 8, 2015