Dedicated To The Lord (1 Sa 1:28)

Dedicated To The Lord (1 Sa 1:28)

Immaculate Conception

Solemn Profession of Br Bede Mary

Dear Brother Bede Mary,

In a few moments, the ritual prescribes that we ask you a few question concerning your intentions. But really those intentions have already been made known. The desire to leave all things, to belong completely to God, to spend your days enveloped in the praise of the Divine Majesty and the service of the community, its guests and retreatants, has long been sown in your heart. Fourteen years ago almost to the day we had our first conversation, twelve years ago you made your first retreat. It’s been almost ten years since you decided to complete your university studies in France which gave you the opportunity of getting to know more about the French monastic tradition. It also put you into contact with Flavigny, which led you to discerning a calling with what was slowly coming together as the Australian Traditional Benedictine foundation. If your involvement goes back to long before the foundation actually began, and if for nearly five years now you have been closely associated with all the burdens of its founder, today you become in turn a foundation stone of this community. Stones are solid, but they also get stepped on. They bear the weight of the edifice, but they are forgotten. Without them the building could not stand, but rarely do they get any recognition. So it is in nature; so it is in the Church in which the chief cornerstone, Our Lord Himself so took that last place that no one can ever ravish it from Him.

Four years ago you were placed under the heavenly patronage of one of the most illustrious members of our order, St Bede the Venerable, whose erudition and austerity remain monumental achievements of our Benedictine tradition. But you also look up to Archbishop John Bede Polding, the first Archbishop of Sydney, another great monk whose dream was to evangelise Australia by means of Benedictine monks. We know that history did not allow that to play itself out, but at the same time his ideal inspires us. As dark clouds amass on the horizon of our world, and as we look back to the historical circumstances in which St Benedict himself started this adventure, we know that monasteries have always played a role in the evangelisation of the countries they find themselves in. This they do in multiple ways, first of all by their life of dedication to Divine Worship, but also by their preaching, their teaching, their writing, and their multiple undertakings in the realm of agriculture and practical skills. And so we are allowed to nurture the hope that in time this small community may make a substantial contribution to the spreading of all that is truly good and holy throughout Tasmania, but also throughout all of Australia.  Indeed, if we are here on this island, it is thanks to the fatherly welcome and support of Archbishop Julian, but we remain an essentially Australian community, dedicated to renewing the face of this land, lifting up its mind and heart towards eternity, calling it to the realisation of its dignity and responsibility. There is much work to do, but Benedictines have never been afraid of work.

At the same time, we are fully conscious that the step you are about to take is one which the world has great difficulty understanding. The chant of the Divine Office, the building of a beautiful monastery, the helping of guests find God, the development of many other talents: people appreciate these, but all of them can be accomplished without the extreme form of consecration that is religious profession, and that is typified by the living out of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience within the context of a specific community. Mind you, most of our faithful people have esteem for sharing with the poor, living a simple life without luxury. But when it comes to being dispossessed of all things, even to the point of not being able to possess anything personal, that is a radical choice, one that cannot fail to challenge. Our people have a certain esteem for chastity. However, the total renunciation of the love of a spouse and the founding of a family forces us to consider that when God tells us that He espouses us to Himself in fidelity, He is not just saying nice words, but revealing an actual state, a desire of His Sacred Heart. The vow of chastity in a world given over to hedonism is a statement that the love of God is greater and better and more fulfilling than even the most natural of human desires. It also points everyone to the eternal nuptials to which we are called and destined. Our people also understand that obedience is necessary for life in common. But when it is a question of signing over all personal autonomy and accepting, as St Benedict says in the Rule, to “walk according to the judgment and decision of another”, eyes and mouths open wide, one has difficulty in understanding. That Christ was obedient to death on a cross is incomprehensible to most. Nor should we try to explain away the radical nature of the religious life. It is radical. It was God’s choice, when He became incarnate, to inaugurate a way of life that takes us poor humans beyond the realm of our nature and already in some way makes present the life of the world to come. It is not by chance that the most atheistic regimes who seek to impose an earthly utopia have no room for the consecrated life. All signs of God must disappear from a godless world. At one time, Australia had numerous religious vocations. There are several large, but empty convents around the country bearing witness to its vitality in inspiring young men and women to consecrate their lives to God. Today we find ourselves in a spiritual desert. And yet, flowers can grow in the desert. Oases can be created there. The desert can flourish, as the Prophet Isaiah reminds us during this season of Advent: The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song… Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water (Is 35). These inspired words give us hope. The hope that the definitive victory does not belong to evil; it is not on the side of oppression, of those who delude themselves with imagining a world without God. No, a world without God is a world of slavery and darkness. We pray that you, dear Brother, may truly be a light in the present darkness, a flower in the desert, an oasis in which first God and then men may come to refresh themselves.

On this day, with the universal Church we turn our eyes to Mary Immaculate, God’s masterpiece, the true Ark of the Covenant in which God became incarnate, and who for that reason was preserved from the stain of original sin. We sang in the introit words which, also from Isaiah, no doubt spoke to your heart:  I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God, for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels (Is 61). Today you will be clothed with the white monastic cuculla, this ample choir habit worn by solemnly professed monks. It is white because we place ourselves under the special protection of our spotless Mother. It is ample because, contrary to appearances, we know that monastic consecration is the path to true freedom. The day is fast coming, wrote a French author from the last century, when one will have to go behind cloistered walls to find men who are truly free. We know how true that it, when we see the enslavement worldly ideologies lead to. St Benedict told us so, but it was already there in Psalm 118: By running in the way of God’s commandments, our heart becomes enlarged and freed from itself, from its vices, from its obsessions, from its follies. Men consecrated to God, because they take their stand on the eternal shore, are able to cast this world in its true light. That is why a man like St Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the greatest bards of Our Lady, was counsellor to kings and popes, an inextinguishable light for all of Europe.

Finally, we also turn to St Joseph. And we are delighted that His Grace has decided to dedicate the archdiocese to him as a fitting conclusion to this very special year dedicated to the Spouse of Mary and the Foster Father of Our Lord. Already Fr Julian Tennyson Woods had called Tasmania St Joseph’s Isle. St Joseph is inseparable from his immaculate spouse, and he keeps watch over his monastery, inspiring us with his virtues of humility, silence, and hard-working dedication to making sure God’s paths through this valley of tears are kept open for His grace.

In a few moments, my Son, you will pronounce your vows before God and His people. You will sing the triple Suscipe prescribed by St Benedict himself and concluded with the Gloria Patri, witnessing to the fact that monastic consecration is first and foremost an act of latria, an act of adoration, a total gift of self to the God who made you. And that is why just afterwards you will lie prostrate on the sanctuary floor, placing yourself on the altar as it were, asking the Lord to consume you as a holocaust, while the priest chants over you the consecratory preface that will dedicate you for life to the Most Holy Trinity. That prostration is like a mystical death, by which you profess that the world, with all its beauty, is not big enough for your heart, for God alone can fill it.

Not only on this day, but evermore, dear Brother, may you experience the truth of those inspired words of Our Lady in her Magnificat: esurientes implevit bonis He hath filled the hungry with good things. And may she say as she offers you up, as did Anna offering Samuel in the temple:  “Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD” (1 Sa 1:28).