17th August, 2018

Renewal of Vows

Ampleforth Abbey Choir

HOMILY FOR THE MASS FOR THE RENEWAL OF VOWS

14 AUGUST 2018

Here we are, Lord, for the renewal of our vows. Not ‘ecce nos’: look at us in the sense of Ozymandius king of kings, who said look on my works you mighty and despair, the ruined wind swept statue in a desert of a long gone king in Shelley’s poem. Not the boastful ‘ecce nos’ which will but turn to ruined wind swept dust, trodden underfoot.

But rather ‘here we are’ the ‘ecce venio’ of Psalm 39, of Matins in the Wednesday of Week Two: ‘Here I am’ and ‘I come to do your will’. And how do we come? We come often enough in our weakness and our fragility, a muddled jumbled prayer, an offering never fully living up to the measure of our desire and ambition, falling short, so prone to discouragement, in Eliot’s phrase the ‘ridiculous sad waste time’. We come as we are, because how else can we come?

In our helplessness we pray ‘Lead me Lord’, ‘Dirige me Domine’ as in Psalm 5 of Matins in the Monday of Week One and the Antiphon and Psalm of the Dirge at our funerals. Lead me as the farmer leads the dumb ox, because ‘I am no better than a beast in your sight’ as in Psalm 72, Matins in the Saturday of Week Two and St Benedict’s Sixth Step of Humility, that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards himself as a poor and worthless workman.

‘I am no better than a beast in your sight’ but the psalm goes on ‘yet I am always in your presence’ ‘ego semper tecum’. This is the secret buried treasure of these vows of ours, which meant it was worth giving up everything to buy the field. We seek the stability of the treasure in this field because Christ is deep in it and always there and we can say I am always with you – semper tecum. We seek the conversatio morum of this treasure in the field because in the living day by day of this way of life, we can be with him, we can say I am always with you – semper tecum. We seek the obedience in the treasure in this field because in it for the love of God, we can imitate the Lord of whom the Apostle says ‘He became obedient even to death’. We say to him ‘here I find you and I am always with you, no better than a beast in your sight but semper tecum. We can always be with Christ, this is the secret of our monastic lives, the buried treasure.

Here we are; here I am, in the scroll of the book it stands written I come to do your will: ecce venio. This is the scroll, not so appetizing to the eye as Ezekiel said in the first reading, because it has written on it ‘lamentations, wailings, moanings’ – oh yes our many grumbles with ourselves, with one another, with our monastery, with our life, the drawing back and turning away from the yoke of the vows – but the scroll of the book turns sweet in the mouth. As Ezekiel says ‘it tasted sweet as honey’. Let us renew our taste for the sweetness of the life in which we come to do his will.

Here we are, we come as the lost sheep of today’s gospel but who the Lord loves, loves enough to search for and find and to bring home. At the end of chapter 27 of his Rule, on the abbot’s concern for the excommunicated, St Benedict refers to today’s gospel (actually the version in St Luke) but he does not quite quote it correctly. It is a passage on which he has clearly done lectio many times and he adds in phrases from that lectio, from his own reading and rereading of the passage, he reads it from his own need of mercy and his own experience as father, as a minister of the forgiveness of God: ‘He is to imitate the loving example of the Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep in the mountains and went in search of the one sheep that had strayed. So great was his compassion for its weakness that he mercifully placed it on his sacred shoulders and so carried it back to the flock’. So we, who are no better than a beast in his sight, can still say ‘semper tecum’ and he replies to us the selfsame words, yes indeed ‘semper tecum’ I too am with you always.

 

Let us bring our prayers to God our Father as we here renew our vows

Let us pray for our Abbot and for one another and for ourselves that today and every day we may renew our taste for the sweetness of the vows by which we come to do his will.

Lord in your mercy

Let us pray for all of our absent brethren who whatever reason cannot be with us today that they all, as God wills, may be heartened and strengthened in the call they share with us

Lord in your mercy

Let us pray for Gerard our postulant and for all those who now are considering their vocation to this way of life of ours in this place

Lord in your mercy

Let us pray for the oblates of our community who seek in their own way to share with us in our life, that they may be encouraged in their promises and that we may draw strength from one another

Lord in your mercy

Let us ask for the prayers of Mary, Mother of Monks, and of all Benedictine saints that together with them we may come joyfully to eternal life

Hail Mary

God our Father, as we progress in our monastic life and 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.