The Profession in Initial Vows of Br. James Martin Woodrum, SSJE – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Ezekiel 34:11-16 / Psalm 87 / 2 Timothy 4:1-8 / John 21:15-19

Today is a day which we have been hoping for, and praying for, for a very long time.  A day of rejoicing.  Our dear brother Jim is to make the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, as a professed brother of our community.  And what a wonderful day, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, for the profession.

When these two great apostles first met Jesus: Simon the fisherman by the Sea of Galilee, and Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, neither of them could have imagined how Jesus would change their lives.  When they said yes to Jesus’ invitation, “Come follow me,” their lives would never be the same again.

Jim, when you first said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation to “Come follow me” as a twelve year old at Abingdon Baptist Church, Virginia, could you ever have imagined the adventures that lay ahead, and that eventually would lead you to this day – this day, when you will become a full member of this community, and our brother?

It is especially moving for me today to be receiving your vows because on this day I was ordained priest.  And this Feast of Peter and Paul is always one on which I reflect on the vows I made, and on the mystery of vocation.  What is it that gives us, all of us who have made vows – baptism, marriage, ordination, monastic vows – what is it that gives us the freedom and courage to make these vows?

Our Rule says that “the foundation of this courage is a profound gratitude for salvation.”  The Rule quotes the Psalmist: “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?  I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (Ps 116:12-14)  It is gratitude, thankfulness to God, which draws us to worship, and which enables us to make vows  which deepen the intimacy of our relationship with God and with each other.

Gratitude, Jim, for the Lord, who has always been with you, all through your life.  When life was very difficult for you, he was always with you, and never abandoned you.  Like the good shepherd in those beautiful versus from Ezekiel: “I will be your shepherd, says the Lord.  I will make you lie down – I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak.”

Gratitude for all those “apparent” coincidences which led you to this community.  Way back in 2003 you happened to come upon our website and as you read about our life, something touched your heart.  And then a few months later, two days before Christmas, driving home from work in Columbia, South Carolina, and listening to NPR on the radio, you heard a report about a Christmas CD recorded by 20 monks in distant Cambridge, Massachusetts.  As you heard us sing, something, someone, was calling you home.  I remember you writing to me soon after that when I was Novice Guardian.  You came on many visits and finally arrived to test your vocation as a monk.  And we rejoice that all these years later you are standing here before God, and before this congregation, to publically say YES to that call: Yes to the Good Shepherd, the Lord who continues to invite you with such love and grace, to “Follow me.”

Living life as a professed monk will be many things, but one thing I can guarantee, Jim, is that it will be a life of adventure.  Just as for those first apostles, giving your life to Christ, every day, means that nothing can be guaranteed, there’s no knowing where God will lead you!  Living that radical life of faith can be pretty scary at times.  It means every morning recommitting yourself to this life.  Every morning, saying Yes.  Yes to the Lord who first called you all those years ago, yes to the one who is faithful, and whom you can trust with your life.

It won’t be dull, but that’s all right.  In those words of that remarkable deaf-blind author, Helen Keller, “Life is a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all.”

Welcome, Jim, to the adventure of a lifetime!  I cannot predict what God has in store for you here, but I suspect that you will face challenges which seem beyond your strength and your abilities.  But in these challenges, God will call out from you strengths and gifts which you never knew you had.  And you will not be on your own.  You will continue to be surrounded by the love and prayers of your mother and father, your family and friends, and all those who from your earliest days have taught and encouraged you in the Christian faith, and helped to nurture your vocation to the religious life.

And then, you have us – your brothers.  In a moment we will pledge to support you as you go forward in this life, with our prayers – and to love you as a brother, given to us by Christ.  For it is in community that you will find the strength and courage for this life.  It is in community that you will, by God’s grace, continue to grow day by day into the full stature of a child of God.

Many centuries ago the great bishop and teacher, St. Augustine of Hippo, wrote these beautiful words:

“To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances.

To seek him, the greatest adventure.

To find him, the greatest human achievement.”

As a child, you fell in love with God, and the adventure began.  And now, as you become a professed brother of this community, continue to seek God and allow yourself to be found by God, every day of your life.

Jim, we bless our faithful and merciful God who has brought you to this day, and who promises that he will be with you always, even to the end of the age, and to whom we give glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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  1. Tudy Hill on September 4, 2019 at 11:07

    I like reading about Br Jim to find out more about his calling. I find him very likable, and I think some of that appeal comes from his vulnerability and honesty, which comes through in Br Geoffrey’s sermon. I give thanks to God for the brothers.

  2. Freddie McNabb on September 4, 2019 at 03:16

    Such a beautiful story! God led him to you through music and gratitude. Bless the Lord who lives and reigns forever!

    • Marilyn Bergen on September 16, 2020 at 12:01

      Many thanks to you, Geoffrey for wording so beautifully the essence of a call from God. Br Jim has been finally professed by now and living out the mystery of this call. And Br Sean makes his first profession on 9/19. May he be blessed as he joins the Society and searches out his call more intently. Blessings to all of the Brothers at this of Covid. Marilyn Bergen

  3. Sally Baynton on September 3, 2019 at 08:47

    This is such a beautiful story! It is now 2019 and my prayer for you, Brother Jim, is that you still have the love and fervor that you had starting as a child, in 2003, and in 2014 when you became one of the Brothers. I enjoy your messages; always, I do. May God bless you always and the work you do in His kingdom on Earth.

  4. Robert Shotton on July 4, 2014 at 05:31

    Jim, I feel the JOY you are most likely be feeling at this time. I have met you, but I am sure you are resolute in the step you have taken, and I will keep you in my prayers so as to support you.
    May God Bless you.


  5. Scott Lambert on July 2, 2014 at 16:12

    I’ve known you since you were 4. This is your greatest achievement!!! I am so very proud to be your Godfather. I love you and support your profession of obeidience and faith with pride and joy. Congratulations, Jim. What a ride it will be. God bless you.

  6. Ralph Andrews on July 1, 2014 at 23:31

    Congratulations. God Bless You.

  7. Ruth West on June 30, 2014 at 21:38

    What wonderful words for this new monk! I hope and pray that his experiences there will all be
    “Yes” to the Holy Spirit. I think of so many Biblical
    heroes who served obediently to the call– The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Paul, Job, etc. surrendering to God. Your words of encouragement are so significant for Jim. Thank

  8. Tinka Dawson on June 30, 2014 at 18:49

    Blessing to you, Jim!

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