We are celebrating Benedictine spirituality this weekend, beginning with our summer Oblate retreat which is usually scheduled close to the Feast of Benedict and Scholastica on July 11th. And we are culminating the weekend with Paz Vital’s first profession into the Sisters’ community at Holy Wisdom.
Paz grew up in Mexico City with her parents, who are here today, along with six of her brothers and families from Los Angeles, CA. Paz is the third youngest of nine children. She liked to study and earned her doctorate in Biomedical Sciences from the National University of Mexico. She moved to Houston, Texas in 2009 and worked in a lab. Joining a friend to attend an evening spirituality course at the local Methodist church, Paz listened attentively to the pastor explaining the Rule of Benedict and its adaptation to many life-styles, denominations, and Benedictine communities. He said he had heard of a Benedictine community of sisters that were ecumenical somewhere in WI. When Paz returned to her apartment, she googled ecumenical Benedictine communities and found Holy Wisdom. She talked with Lynne, came to visit, made a retreat here and in conversation with others, decided to become a Sojourner for six months. Instead of leaving after six months, she asked to stay for three more months to mutually discern with the sisters if God was calling her to live the Christian life as a Benedictine sister. Well, here she is, ready to make her promises of obedience, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and stability.
I’ll begin with the meaning and purpose of monastic profession. Monastic profession closely mirrors the pascal mystery of our baptismal commitment, the immersion into the death and resurrection of Christ. Profession, like other vocations, is the continuation of our transformation process, of becoming who God has called us to be in this world. Catherine of Siena said: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze.” Let’s look at the particular vows or promises of the monastic profession. Our promise of stability anchors us in relationship to a particular community and place. The community becomes like a sacrament of divine mercy in our asking for forgiveness and in forgiving one another. Sister Joan Chittister says that “the antithesis of stability is not mobility, but alienation.” It is stability in relationships that binds us together in the community’s common and lifelong pursuit of God. Stability of place helps bring about stability of the heart where we stay in dialogue with one another and learn to accept the truth about oneself and the human condition.
Our promise of obedience is a promise to listen to God, to one another and to the prioress. I remember a retreat leader, Eugene Trester, drawing a huge ear on the blackboard and saying this is the image of a Christian. Accepting the invitation to listen carefully to the voice of God in our hearts, in nature, and in one another requires courage to be open to change.
A community comprised of mutual listeners is a community hospitable to peace and charity. When each member is open and responsive to the guidance and wisdom of the prioress and community, she participates in a mission larger than herself. Because of the willingness of members to move beyond their own vision, the community can make long-term commitments to ministries and sisters can join with one another in common ministries that none of us could accomplish alone.
Our first reading reflects a parent’s concern for their child’s safe passage into responsible adulthood. One can easily pick out the expected behavior with verbs like: turn, incline, call for, seek, listen, or search out. So it is for the student of wisdom, and for Paz, as she enters deeply into her vocation. One must go after it, call for it, turn towards, incline the ear of your heart, for it is not a given in the monastery or elsewhere. Only through persistent work and prayer will the seeker of wisdom gain understanding of God’s ways.
In our reading from the Rule of Benedict, God is named as the ultimate seeker of hearts and souls. God calls to the multitudes, is there anyone here who longs for life, who seeks for wisdom of the heart? If we say, “I do”; Jesus responds too. Keep your tongue from vicious talk, don’t tell lies, turn away from evil and do good; let peace be in your heart and purpose. Then God, who is never outdone in generosity, says: “I have my eyes on your and my ears attuned to your prayers, and even before you ask me, I will say: here I am.”
And Jesus says, come to me, for my yoke is easy and burden is light.