15. Outward Signs of Our Common Life

Read by Br. Keith Nelson

From the day of our clothing to the day of our burial, the habit acts as a powerful sign of our common life and identity that we should cherish.  It manifests not only our membership in this Society but our solidarity with men and women following the monastic way the world over.  It expresses a precious continuity linking us through the centuries to the beginning of the monastic movement in the Church of Christ.

This clothing, dense with meaning, is a source of joy.  We have put on Christ in Baptism and the habit can remind us of our present union with him.  The triple-cord round our waists is an ancient sign of readiness that can summon us to be prepared to meet Christ whenever he should come.  The knots tied in the cord at profession are signs to the hand and eye of the vows we have made to abide faithfully until he comes.

Each house of the Society shall have its own guidelines about when the habit will be worn at home.  Sometimes when we are away on mission wearing our habits may be a valuable witness to our calling, but whenever the habit is likely to be a barrier in our dealings with others we should wear ordinary clothing.  The habit loses its spiritual value if it is used for ostentation or to imply a false distinction between ourselves and other Christians.

The cross of the Society is an emblem of our common life to be worn with ordinary clothing whenever we choose.  It enables us to bear close to our heart a sign of the lifting up of Christ from the earth that he might draw all people to himself.

When we make our life profession, we are given as a further sign of our entire dedication to Christ a ring to be worn thereafter at all times.  This ring is a sign of our espousal as lovers of God. It shows our solidarity with those who have made vows to meet the demands of love and faithfulness in marriage and dedicated partnership.

It is a joyful thing to have our lives enriched by these and other symbols, but their power will fade if we fail to renew our appreciation of their depths.  The occasions when a brother is given the habit and cross, or puts on the ring, are opportunities when we can all re-experience the richness of these symbols, and from time to time we should meditate on them in our prayer.  Our hallowing of these outward signs involves taking care of them, particularly making sure that our habits are clean and in good repair.


  1. Steve Finnell on May 7, 2015 at 04:54


    Is water baptism an outward sign of an inward grace? Yes, in order to accept God’s free gift of salvation men must be immersed in water.

    Acts 2:38 Peter said to them, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    The outward sign is the immersion in water. The inward grace is the forgiveness of sins we receive by following the command of Jesus to be baptized in water. There is no inward grace granted until men are immersed in water baptism. Baptism is not a sign that we have already been saved. Baptism is a sign that believers in Christ are being saved.

    1 Peter 3:20-21 ….safely through the water. 21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

    The outward sign is water baptism. The inward grace is that baptism saves through an appeal to God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If men do not confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, believe that He is the Son of God and believe that God raised Him from the dead, and make the commitment to turn from sin and turn to God, then, of course your baptism will not save you. Baptism is the final step before receiving forgiveness of sins. Water baptism is the point that the blood of Jesus washes away your sins.

    Colossians 2:12-13 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your transgression and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

    The outward sign is being buried with Jesus in the watery grave of baptism. The inward grace is being made spiritually alive with Christ, having our transgressions forgiven. We are dead in our transgression before we are buried with Christ in water baptism. We are made alive and have our transgressions forgiven after baptism, not before.

    Galatians 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

    The outward sign is water baptism. The inward grace is being clothed with Christ. You are not baptized into Christ because you have already been clothed with Christ. The clothing does not precede, being baptized into Christ.

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

    The outward sign is water baptism. The inward grace of salvation follows believing and being baptized in water.


    1. CONFESSION: Romans 10:9-10 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

    The outward sign is confession. The inward grace is salvation.

    2. WATER IMMERSION: Mark 16:16….has been baptized shall be saved…

    The outward sign is baptism. The inward grace is salvation.


    What must I do to be saved? FAITH John 3:16 REPENTANCE Acts 2:38 CONFESSION Romans 10:9-10 BAPTISM Mark 16:16

    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

  2. Polly Henninger on March 11, 2009 at 23:49

    Here we are offered wisdom about outward signs. Like St. Paul who advises not to follow dietary restriction rules if they create a barrier, this reading clarifies that relationship is more important than a rule. The chapter ends with practical advice that hallowing outward signs involves taking care of them. I am reminded of a beloved cross from Solesmes that I lost because I didn’t attend to its unreliable clasp. I meant to get it fixed but wore the cross anyway until it fell off and was lost. It’s often the practical aspect of our faith that’s easy to overlook.

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