Homily for the 2017 Simple Profession Mass
Homily preached by the Provincial, Fr Martin Ganeri at the Simple Profession of brothers Cuthbert, Isaac, Thomas, and Vincent in Blackfriars Cambridge on 23 September 2017.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
This passage from the letter of St Paul to the Colossians has been chosen well for this profession of Isaac, Cuthbert, Thomas and Vincent in the Dominican Order. If nothing else the four of you should memorize it and keep it in your hearts and minds as a guide and a resource in the years ahead.
‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.’ The fundamental characteristic of a Dominican vocation is to be a servant of the Word, the Word that is Christ. And this service of the Word has the two aspects found in our Dominican motto: ‘contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere’ ‘to contemplate and to hand over the fruits of that contemplation to others.’
Only by a life of continuous contemplation of the Word can it dwell in you richly. That contemplation takes different forms. First, there is the contemplation of the Word in the sacred liturgy, the common celebration of that sacred liturgy to which you have been introduced in the course of the last year and which is a central feature of every Dominican community. We encounter the Word in the Divine Office, in which we sing above all the Psalms, which we understand to be songs about Christ and about ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. We encounter the Word in the sacraments, in which Christ makes himself and the effects of his Passion present and effective within us. Second, there is the contemplation of the Word in study, study of the Scriptures, study of the official teaching of the Church, study of the theological traditions, study of the spiritual traditions, of the Church as a whole, but particularly of the Order. Study is not a duty or a chore for us as Dominicans, but a delight. And a Dominican who had either no inclination to study or no time to study will diminish in his vocation. And thirdly, there is the contemplation of the Word in our encounter with each other, both the fellow members of the Order and of the Dominican family, and all those whom we serve in our teaching, parish and chaplaincy ministries, the Word as it is lived out in their lives.
The contemplation of the Word in these different encounters is the bread and butter of our Dominican lives, the essential resources by which our Dominican vocations are nourished. Only by contemplation of the Word in these contexts can the word of Christ come to dwell in you richly.
And only by such contemplation can you become equipped to carry out the second aspect of our Dominican vocation to be servants of the Word – our mission to preach the Word to others, handing over the fruits of that contemplation to others, as we ‘teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.’ The work of our preaching is to instruct those we serve in our ministries, to encourage them and to reconcile them with the Word found in Christ, with the Truth found in Christ. That preaching takes many forms – teaching in formal educational institutions, giving talks or retreats, preaching in the Mass, guidance in Confession, spiritual instruction or friendly advice to others. All these ways of preaching should also be a source of delight, in which we enable others to have the word of Christ come to dwell more richly in their lives.
Cuthbert, Isaac, Thomas and Vincent. In the last year you have come to experience the Dominican life which we live in our communities. Religious life is not an easy thing, not an escape from the stresses and demands of ordinary life. In religious life there are the challenges of living with each other, experiencing the faults and failings of each other, dealing with the different characters and temperaments others have, dealing with the difficulties others are having with living out their own Dominican vocations. To sustain a religious vocation requires a strength within each of others, a strength that comes from the word of Christ dwelling richly within us. The words found in the passage from Colossians are words you will have much need of: ‘Put on them…compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each another.’ You will have much need of these things, as you live in other communities, as you take on forms of responsibility in those communities. By holding fast to these things you will find a strength within you and by showing them you will also enable the word of Christ to dwell more richly in the communities in which you live.
‘And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ You have also chosen a passage from St John’s Gospel, a passage that takes us to the very heart of the Farewell Discourse in that Gospel, in which Christ, the Word, reveals to his disciples the deepest truth about himself and about the life we can have in Christ. Christ, the Word, reveals the nature of God as unconditional love, the truth which Christ manifests in freely laying down his life out of love for us. And he reveals the fundamental dynamic of human life as being to respond to that love, to allow it to become alive within ourselves, as we love each other. ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you, abide in my love.’ ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another.’
The Dominican vocation is to seek the perfection of charity. This is not something we have before we enter religious life and it is not something that will be given to you in an instant when you make religious profession today. The perfection of charity is something all of us are called to strive to realise to the extent we can throughout the course of the whole of our lives as Dominicans. And, as you go on in your religious lives, you can measure how well or how badly your religious vocation is going by looking at whether the love of Christ, the Word, is growing or diminishing within you, and whether the love of others is growing or diminishing within you. By honestly reflecting on whether the love of Christ and love of each other is growing or declining within us we can see how our vocation is doing and either strive to grow more fully in love or take the time to renew our vocation.
So, let us all pray for these four men, Cuthbert, Isaac, Thomas and Vincent – pray that the word of Christ will dwell in them richly as they contemplate that Word and as they hand it over to others. Let us pray that they will be sustained by compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, and forbearance – but above all by love, putting all these things on, just as they put on the white habit of our Order each day of the Dominican lives.
Photograph by Br Joseph Bailham OP of the blessing of the scapulars of the newly-professed brothers.