Exhortation At The Clothing Ceremony For Brother Augustine Mary Withoos

Exhortation At The Clothing Ceremony For Brother Augustine Mary Withoos

My Dear Brother,

“Let it be done to me according to Thy word”. Those beloved words of Our Blessed Lady resound in our ears on this feast of the Annunciation. Once again we go in spirit to the humble house of Nazareth where we hear the discourse of the angel, and wait in awe for the consent of the Virgin upon which hangs the entirety of human salvation. We kneel in adoration as the Word takes flesh in the silence of her virginal womb, unknown to man. Today our salvation begins, today the power of hell is curbed until it is crushed by the Resurrection of the Victor Rex, the King who triumphs over death and lives forever.

As we contemplate the mystery of this day, we are moved to consider the relevance it has for for you, dear Brother, as you take this new step in the Lord’s service. In your younger days, you heard the call to the priesthood; configured to Christ the High Priest, and marked by the Holy Spirit, you mounted with joy the steps to the altar of God. That vocation led you to serve the Church in various ways over the past 18 years, including service to the Holy See and the Universal Church.

But today, another page opens in your life. For several years now, a void has been growing in your heart, a well has been dug, that only God can fill. The Lord seems to be beckoning you, calling you to something more. You have come to perceive the depth, the radical depth of a new call. And so, in a way, you can make yours those words of the great bishop of Hippo who applied them to his search for the true faith, but which apply to you in your search for the specific path in which He is calling you to serve Him now: “Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace” (Confessions, B. 10, ch. 27).

Today, dear Brother, you burn for that peace, you long to die to the world. Up to now, you have appeared to the world in black, testifying thereby to your desire to die to the ways of the world. Today, Our Lady clothes you with her mantle, making death to the world sweet, for denying the darkness of creatures you are called to live in the sweet light of Mary’s fiat and become a light, an example of all the virtues to those you live with and meet. If black symbolises death, white symbolises the new life of holiness you are called to. Yesterday we celebrated the Dominica in albis deponendis when the neophytes were admonished, in taking off their white baptismal robes, to put on Christ and never let the old man regain place in their hearts. Today, you will don the shining white of Our Lady’s habit, placing yourself in a very special way under her Immaculate mantle.

In the Rule, Our Holy Father St Benedict warns the abbot not to readily receive a priest into the community. He admonishes the priest that he must not imagine his priesthood will avail him any special treatment. On the contrary, in the mind of our Holy Father, the priesthood holds with it the greater burden of responsibility for giving examples of humility, obedience and strict discipline, for the clerical life is already a step on the way to perfection. When you received the priesthood, the bishop prayed over you, asking the Holy Spirit to make you the model of a holy life. Today you seek to go further in the demands of that sacerdotal grace. If it is true, as St Thomas teaches, that the preaching of the priest ought to proceed from the fullness of contemplation (cf. IIa, IIae, 188,6), and if the priest truly takes to heart his role in the Eucharistic sacrifice and strives to imitate the One in whose Person he acts each day, the words of the Imitation of Christ take on all their momentum as you seek to add to the priesthood the monastic consecration: “Thou has not lightened thy burden, but art now bound by a stricter bond of discipline and obliged to greater perfection of sanctity. A priest ought to be adorned with all virtues and set the example of a good life to others. His conversation should not be with the popular and common ways of man, but with the angels in heaven, or with perfect men upon earth” (Bk 4, ch. 5).

A major part of that perfect life which we strive to live as monks is to sing the praises of the Divine Majesty. Seven times a day and once in the night, we come before the throne of the Almighty and offer, in the name of sinful and ungrateful humanity, the sacrifice of praise. We know that this is possible only if we love. To quote the Doctor of Divine Love: “Ament et cantabunt: let them love, and they will sing!”

But the program may seem immense, and it is. There may be days on which you think it impossible, but on those days, I entreat you to remember those other words of the Doctor of Divine Grace: “My whole hope is in thy exceeding great mercy and that alone. Give what thou commandest and command what thou wilt” (Confessions, B. 10, ch. 29).

That reliance on Divine Mercy must always lead you deeper into the ways of prayer, for the monk, if he is anything, must be a man of prayer. It is in prayer that he finds himself, it is in prayer that he finds God. As the greatest of the Latin doctors prays: “Let me no longer be distracted by many things, but gather me together to myself, and from myself to Thee, in such a way that my heart may always say to Thee: My face seeks Thee, Thy face, O Lord, I will seek” (Soliloquium 36, 5).

On this day, Mary conceives in her womb the Incarnate Son of God whom she will bring forth to the world on Christmas. Today you are, as it were, conceived in monastic life. May She give you to persevere and be born as a monk through monastic profession for the glory of Her Son and for the salvation of many souls.

And so my dear Brother and now also, in St Benedict, my Son, I say to you: “Stand with him and you shall stand fast. Rest in him and you shall be at rest” (Confessions, B 4, ch. 12).