Isaiah 40:27 – end
Today is a day we have been hoping for and praying for, for a very long time. A day of rejoicing. Our dear brother Nicholas is to make the vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, as a professed brother of our Society.
Gosh, what a long journey this has been Nicholas, to come to this day! After all the years of seeking, the Lord has found you – and I pray, he has brought you home – a home where you are loved and cherished by your brothers, and by the many men and women whom you serve in your ministries.
Who could have imagined that God would have brought you to this place. Probably not your family, when you were growing up in Brooklyn. When you were little you absolutely hated going to church! I know your mom and dad and sisters Annmarie and Lisa used to joke that you so didn’t want to go to church, that if you put your hand into the holy water stoup, the water would smoke!
And yet something was stirring in your heart and soul – and you began the long search for the one who was calling you. That adventure became the love of your life. For some 40 years you travelled all over the country and all over the world, led by your restless heart.
You loved computer science and math, and everyone thought you’d have a successful career at IBM. But instead, something drew you to join the Peace Corps, which took you to Fiji. Then a deep love for creation led you to take an M.A. in environmental sciences, and to a job with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC. During the 13 years in DC you felt more and more drawn to the healing professions, which brought you to Boulder, CO, to train as a psychotherapist.
It was this experience which finally brought you to the threshold of that greatest of all adventures – the source of all your searching. You fell in love with God and became a Christian. St. Augustine said this, “To fall in love with God is the greatest of romances. To seek him, the greatest adventure, to find him the greatest human achievement.”
We give thanks today that after all the years of seeking – God finally found you, and brought you home. We are also thankful that your love for God has drawn you to this monastery, to this monastic community, to be our brother in Christ.
Our Gospel today is about two men who were also seeking – seeking meaning and purpose for their lives. They are standing with John the Baptist, and suddenly Jesus walks by. “Look,” says John, “there, that’s the One.” And so they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned round and saw them following. He said, “What are you looking for?” They said, “Where are you staying?” Jesus said, “Come and see.” (Jn 1:38-39)
“Where are you staying?” They didn’t want to know his address! The Greek word translated as ‘staying’ is the great Johannine word ‘menein,’ which is usually translated as abide. “Where are you abiding?” Abide in me and I in you! They wanted to know Jesus. “We long to deeply know you.” “Come and see.”
The profound desire to know and love and abide in Jesus, this greatest of adventures, draws some men to monastic life. When Nicholas you came to faith it was literally life-changing. I know that you were soon drawn to a radical simplicity of life, to celibacy, and to a single-minded focus on God. When someone suggested that maybe you might have a monastic vocation – well it seemed crazy! But thanks to the advice and wisdom of friends – notably your and our good friend Jason Hayes – who I am delighted is here today, you came to visit us here in Cambridge. Praise God!
What is monastic life, this life to which Nicholas is committing himself today? Well, I could describe what we do: we live together as brothers, we worship, we preach, teach, lead retreats, do spiritual direction. But none of that is really what monasticism is about. So what is it about? What is a monk? The best description, the one I recognize in my own personal experience, was offered by an old man – a solitary living in the 4th century desert of Egypt. A young brother asked him the same question: “What is a monk? The old man took off his habit, girded his loins and raised his hands to heaven, saying, ‘So should the monk be: denuded of all the things of this world, and crucified. In the contest, the athlete fights with his fists; in his thoughts, the monk stands, his arms stretched out in the form of a cross to heaven, calling on God’.”
Being a monk is going out into the desert and standing there, naked before God, facing our demons, but strong in our crucified Lord. So it is probably apt that this profession is taking place in the middle of Lent. Monks love Lent. There’s no messing around, playing religious games in Lent. It’s the real thing. Standing alone, with our arms outstretched in the form of a cross, waiting on God.
It is what the prophet Isaiah discovered, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.” (Isa. 40:31)
It is what St. Paul discovered. “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8)
When Nicholas makes the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience it will not be a vow of denial but of affirmation. When we as Christians renounce something, deny ourselves, give something up, it is an act of dignity, a deep desire to accept loss, as St. Paul did, “in order to gain Christ.” The 3rd century bishop Cyprian wrote, “Christians are a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a 1,000 times better than the pleasures of our sinful life.”
On this day Nicholas as you make your vows, you stand before the Living God, to witness to this secret joy. You stand with Isaiah, St. Paul, and the first disciples of Jesus. You stand with the whole company of saints, strengthened in particular by the prayers of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi. And you stand, surrounded by the love and prayers of your family, your friends – and all of us here today.
So you do not stand alone. And you stand with 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 be grounded, and by God’s grace continue to grow, day by day, into the full stature of Christ.
Those years ago in Bolder, 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.
Dear Nicholas, our brother and our friend, we bless our faithful and loving God, who has brought you to this day. We thank God for all that has been in your life, and we commend you to God’s future, in the belief that the best is yet to come.
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