How fitting it is that you petition to enter the monastery as a novice during this holy season of Advent, the time of the year during which, more than others, we are focused on the coming of Our Lord, waiting anxiously for His arrival, beseeching Him to return without delay, to save us and bring us into His Kingdom.
What is monastic life if it is not the peaceful, laborious anticipation of the Lord’s coming? The monk leaves the world behind, renouncing all that it has to offer; he hands over His life, in faith, to the Son of God. Henceforth, his only hope is in God, and the rest of his days will be a vigilant exercise in making way for the Saviour when He returns at the end of time to judge the living and dead.
Our supreme model in this expectation is Mary Immaculate, the wise and prudent Virgin who epitomises the entire Old Testament as the type of the just and holy soul who longs for the Messiah and by her prayers in some way hastens the hour of his arrival.
Today we honour her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The words of great tenderness she spoke to St Juan Diego in 1531 on the hill of Tepeyac are addressed to you today: “Listen and understand, my little son. There is nothing to frighten and distress you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who am here? Are you not under my mantle? Are you not in the fold of my arms?” Today, dear Brother, you don her white habit for the first time, and proclaim by your entrance into this community that you entrust your vocation to her maternal care.
This time of Advent is also marked by other figures who help us prepare for the coming of the Lord: the prophets, especially Isaiah, are continually referred to by the Church in her liturgy. Isaiah tells us of the special call he received from God even before he was born: From my mother’s womb he hath been mindful of my name. And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword: in the shadow of his hand he hath protected me, and hath made me as a chosen arrow: in his quiver he hath hidden me (Is 49:1-2). He too it is who tells us in such dramatic terms of the renewal that will be brought to the earth in the days of the Messiah: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the wilderness the paths of our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough ways plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh together shall see, that the mouth of the Lord hath spoken” (Is 40:3-5).
Centuries later, the voice crying out these words in the desert of Judea would take flesh in the man who bring to an end the long line of prophets, and to whom it would be given to not only announce the Messiah, but also to point him out and show Him to the people. Though born into a priestly family, John, from his tenderest years, retires to the desert. He lives a life of the strictest penance, hidden from the world. He thus proves himself worthy of the vocation he has received from divine providence of being both prophet and martyr, shedding His blood for the truth that was coming into the world.
The Baptist has always been a great inspiration to monks, who have looked to him as the model of the secluded, penitential life. But apostles and preachers have also placed themselves under the patronage of this hero who did not refrain, at the cost of his own life, from reproaching even the king for his vices. His long preparation in the desert is the model for all those whom God calls to share the Word with others: one must first practice silence before preaching; one must first mortify the flesh before teaching others the moral law.
John leads souls to Christ and then steps aside. Once the Lord of all has come into the world, he disappears from the scene, and he does so with joy: He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase: but I must decrease (Jn 3:29-30).
As you knock at the door of the monastery today, let these pre-eminent figures inspire you. With Our Lady, Isaiah, John the Baptist, without forgetting the touching example of the virgin martyr St Lucy, whose very name evokes the eternal light which enlightens every man who comes into the world, let your only passion be to imitate Christ in the sacrifice of self, in serving the designs of the Eternal Father and putting yourself at His disposal, in asking for the grace of the Holy Spirit to have penetrating insight into the mysteries of Holy Scripture, so that you may always find there the path that opens the way to the Blessed Trinity, for you and for all the souls you might help along the way.b