HOMILY FOR SIMPLE PROFESSION OF BR EDMUND WALES
15 AUGUST 2020
I am Fr Gabriel and I welcome you all on behalf of Fr Abbot and the community to this Mass of Profession of Vows of Br Edmund. I welcome in particular his family and friends, joining us by live or video streaming. This is a moment with a long history and preparation and I thank you all for your part in it. It is also a moment of joy and of hope for Br Edmund and for our monastic community.
Brother Edmund, you have just been addressed and asked a question and you have given an answer. This question and your answer, they are at the heart of what we are doing today. Both question and answer are simple and direct, if searching and even indeed somewhat terrifying.
The question was ‘what do you ask of God and his Church’ and your answer ‘I ask for God’s merciful love and to share in the monastic way of life in your community’. It is a searching question: what do you ask, what do you seek, what do you want, what do you want most truly and honestly? What lies at the heart of your being? And you have said, a wonderful answer, that you want mercy; goodness knows that we all need that and every day. And you have said that you want love; goodness knows too that we all want that, a desire that we seek often desperately and that often enough we miss.
Our lives seem, with their twists and turns, with their highways and byways, with their successes and failures, to be defined by what it is that we truly search for: true life, a forgiving mercy, a fulfilling love, these are good and beautiful things for which truly to search. More important still though is that God seeks us out to give us this mercy, this love, this life of his; what we most deeply seek, is what God deeply seeks to give. We seek God, our work, but it turns out more importantly that God seeks us; it has been his work.
In the third verse of the prologue of the Rule of St Benedict a voice makes an address: this message of mine, it says, is for you: you, the Latin is ‘quisquis’, whoever you are, whatever your story, whatever the twists and turns it has taken. And for you, Br Edmund, through a searching of thirty years and more this brings you back, a homecoming in its way, yet knowing the place for the first time, to the monastic way of life in this community; this is God’s message for you.
What is this monastic life in this community? It is a way of life approved by the Church, hallowed and venerable, handed down over many centuries. It like you has had its ups and downs, but it is still here and so now are you. None of us quite as young as once we were, but still here and ready to answer the Lord’s call and to do his will.
Today’s gospel comes from St John chapter 17. This is Jesus’ long prayer immediately before his passion and death. Jesus speaks to God about his apostles and about those who will come after them in the Church down to our own day; it is not exclusively about religious and monastic life but it does apply to, it does fit, the monastic life in our community. Jesus prays that you, that we, be kept in the truth, that we be dedicated and consecrated in his name. It is a consecrated life. Jesus prays that we live in unity with one another: ‘may they be one’. It is a life of communion. Jesus prays that the world may be helped to believe through us. It is a life of commission. This monastic way of life, in which you ask to share, is one of consecration, communion and commission.
And then there is another little phrase in Jesus’ prayer. It is ‘I want those you have given me to be with me where I am’. We are to be with Jesus, where he is. This is a challenge and a promise; a challenge, because he prays this as he is about to undergo his passion and death; no Christian life can be lived without this share in the passion and death of Christ, taking up his cross and following him. You will not be spared, Br Edmund, because none of us are. These words are though also a most wonderful promise, because to be with Jesus where he is, is to be with him in eternal life, in his glory. It is to share in the love that he has with God the Father, the deeper meaning of the suffering endured and undergone.
This is possible because love, according to today’s first reading from the Song of Songs, is as strong as death, it is a flash of fire, a flame of the Lord himself. For St Paul in the second reading from his letter to the Philippians, this love is worth the loss of everything ‘I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him’. Paul is ready to share in the sufferings of Christ, reproducing the pattern of his death in order to share in the power of his resurrection. He then says that he is not perfect yet, not a claim, Br Edmund that you would make either, nor for that matter would I nor any of your monastic brethren. Then St Paul uses the image of running: ‘But I am still running, trying to capture the prize, for which Christ Jesus captured me’ and ‘All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls me upwards to receive in Christ Jesus’.
So too St Benedict, again from the Prologue of the Rule, with this same image of running, says ‘we must run and do now what will profit us for ever’ and ‘let us run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts expanding with the inexpressible delight of love.’ Br Edmund, living the monastic life is a great adventure and it needs a great grace as we all know, a great energy. So we pray for you now on the day of your profession and in the time ahead.
We bring our prayers to God our Father as Br Edmund makes here his simple Profession
We pray for Br Edmund that he may be strengthened and encouraged in the gift of himself that he has made today in his profession of vows.
Lord in your mercy
We pray for the family and friends of Br Edmund, thanking God for them and for their part in his journey and we ask that they be blessed through their share in his self-offering.
Lord in your mercy
We pray for vocations to this monastic community and for all of us the grace of perseverance and of fidelity to our monastic vows
Lord in your mercy
We ask the prayers of St Laurence, St Benedict, St Edmund king and martyr and of Mary mother of monks as we say
God our Father, as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, may our hearts expand and may we run in the way of God’s commandments with a delight of love that cannot be described through Christ our Lord.