Yesterday evening I renewed my vows. It has been three years since I made my first profession at the end of Novitiate. To be honest, I didn't think much about it in the run up to the renewal and I am happy I didn't. As I sat and waited for us to begin evening prayer (the renewal took place as part of our regular evening prayer) I could relax and be stilled. I expected it to be just like any other evening prayer with the addition of the renewal.... It was to be much more!As I sat and listened to the words of the psalms some of them stood out to me and I 'heard' them, maybe even for the first time...' Let my prayer rise before you like incense' ' You are my refuge Lord..' 'How great are God's riches! How deep are his Wisdom and Knowledge!' . To the standard readings from the Office of Vespers was added a reading from the life of St Francis, in which Francis hears the words from the Gospel to leave behind his possessions and to follow Christ, to which he responds ' This is what I wish, this is what I seek, this is what I long for'.
Following the reading Brother Adrian, our Provincial Minister, gave the following homily. It is powerful in it's clarity, honesty, support and challenge...I thank him for it. It gives a wonderful insight into why we take vows and what they mean for us as Capuchin Franciscans. These are his words....
Co-incidence, serendipity, providence, blessing: 34 years ago tomorrow, I knelt on these same steps and made my Final vows as a Capuchin friar (perhaps some of you were here that day and remember it?). And today Br. Martin renews the vows he made here 3 years ago for a year until we hope he makes his final vows next year or soon after. Serendipity, providence, blessing. Incidentally, I should share with you that it is 40 years ago today that I entered the Capuchin Order as a Postulant in the friary in Kilkenny. Providence, blessing. It is good for us to be here this evening.
For a Capuchin Franciscan, while the words of the formula of vows that we use has changed over the years, the meaning is essentially the same. We vow and promise to observe the Rule of the Friars Minor which is to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in obedience, in poverty (without property) and in chastity and to live that life in the context of a community of brothers, a fraternity, the individuals of which have dreamed the same dreams, profess the same Rule and have made the same vows, in most of our cases many years before. Capuchin friars are men who like Francis have heard the Gospel of Jesus and have been captured and inspired by it. On the day of our profession, we like Francis are saying about the Gospel: "This is what I wish, this is what I seek, this is what I long to do with all my heart." And like Francis we promise that we will not be deaf hearers of the Gospel, but commit ourselves to living it as best we can.
As I was preparing for Martin’s renewal of profession this evening (and indeed the day that’s in it for myself), I found myself thinking about how powerful and moving the profession formula actually is. After some of the prayers of Francis himself, I don't think there is a prayer, within the Franciscan tradition, that is as significant, influential and challenging. Why? Because, it contains a richness and beauty that bespeaks the desire one has, to follow, in the footsteps of Francis of Assisi, in living the Gospel, keeping always in mind and making a priority the fraternal dimension of our way of life in the world. More than once the brotherhood, the rest of the friar-community is named in the words of profession. Note the words: “In the presence of my brothers here assembled….I commit myself to this fraternity”…(and addressing the friars gathered for the event:) “with you helping me in brotherhood” – or as the older translation put it, perhaps even more beautifully in its utter simplicity: “with the help of my brothers.”
This is as strong a reminder as one can have, of what our way of life is all about: prayer, ministry, service, all that we are about — and in community, in fraternity (brotherhood). In many ways it was the community dimension that first drew me to religious life and to the friars. And, in many ways, it is what continues to nourish and sustain my own vocation and I hope Martin’s too.
Like Baptism, religious profession is about relationship. We are joined together in a unique way. In Baptism, we are united to one another and to Christ, in the Spirit; in religious profession, we are united in Franciscan brotherhood to live the Holy Gospel.
Just as with the Baptismal vocation we all share and at most times live imperfectly, striving ever more to live who it is we are called to be, and find in the Communion of Saints, the Body of Christ the strength to follow Christ and become who we are called to be; so too in religious life, the intercession of those who have gone before us, as well as our brothers in community around the globe and more locally, provide us with the strength and support to follow Francis's model of following Jesus Christ.
Martin, you remember that at our recent Provincial Chapter in Gormanstown 2 months ago, we adopted the following as our Mission Statement:
“Called to live the Gospel in the Capuchin way, by following St Francis, who is himself a door of faith, and meeting all (people) as brothers and sisters, we affirm that our fraternities will be places of prayer, hospitality and outreach to all, so as to make present the Kingdom of God. We will do this by journeying together as lesser brothers which is itself our privileged way of evangelization.”
As you renew your vows in our brotherhood this evening, we ask you to embody this vision; to enflesh it by the way you live your life here in this fraternity. There are, and always will be, many calls on you: on your time, your gifts, your talents, your service but one of the most important things you can do, to live out your profession is to be a brother, to those who share your life here and in the Province and indeed to extend your brotherhood/ your brotherliness to all you meet.
We thank you today for your continuing generosity in responding in this way to the Lord’s invitation to you. We pray for you and bless you as you continue your Franciscan journey in this life. May the Lord, who began this good work in you, bring it to fulfillment in the day of the Lord Jesus. Amen.
May the Lord give you peace! Amen.