Jesus’ offering of his life on the cross was the supreme expression of his love for the Father, made in perfect freedom through the Spirit. “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” This free self-offering is expressed anew in our lives when, abiding in Christ, we find in him the power to surrender ourselves entirely to God, by taking the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience for life. When a brother vows to abide in our community until death, the whole brotherhood rejoices in the gift of freedom that enables him to make this commitment after years of testing.
Father Benson has taught us that the call of God in the religious life is continuous, abiding and progressive. Continuous, because in the communion we enjoy with God in prayer and worship day by day, the voice of the Spirit never ceases to call us into deeper union. Abiding, because the wisdom of God, communicated to us in our prayer and life, is absorbed into our hearts never to perish. Progressive, because God’s voice will come to us in the future ever new, calling us to fresh opportunities, and bringing gifts beyond what we know now. As profession brings to an end the period of probation, so it inaugurates a lifetime of developing response. As a community we are responsible for making sure that each brother has the encouragement to grow and change in response to the life-giving Spirit through whom we are born again. Periodically the Superior will invite each brother in life vows to take part in a day of assessment with him. This provides an opportunity for the brother to reflect deeply on the call of God and his response to it. The Superior will invite one or two other brothers to take part in the discussions.
The life profession of a brother inspires us with awe as well as joy; we wonder at the risk of such an irrevocable choice. For a time may come when his steadfastness could be tried to the limits of endurance. Then he may long to take back his promise, and leave us. Setbacks and disappointments will shake his constancy. He may be tempted to use changes that have taken place in the Society, in the Church, or in himself as pretexts for canceling his commitment. Only by depending on God for the grace of perseverance, fixing ourselves by faith in God’s unwavering commitment to us, can we risk taking vows which bind us forever. A life profession will be a special opportunity to renew our confidence that grace will not fail us. “If what you have heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.”
The grace to surrender our lives to God through our vows has been given to us in Baptism whereby we die with Christ and are raised with him. It is the same grace that gives strength to martyrs to submit gladly to death as witnesses of the resurrection. From the beginning monks and nuns have been encouraged to understand their own commitment in the light of the freedom and trust that enables martyrs to give up their lives to the glory of God. The witness of the martyrs should never be far from our minds as we go forward in the vowed life day by day.