The profession of Br Patrick Mary Hobbs
Dear Brother Patrick, Dear Brothers, All Dear Friends who are joining us by digital means.
Today, on this third day of the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, the tone is set by the Saviour Himself who, when He greets His apostles on the evening of that first Easter Sunday, speaks to them the words: Peace be to you. Our Lord’s words achieve what they signify, and so when He wishes peace, He creates peace, unlike us who often make wishes for others that will never be realised. Peace be to you.
By prefacing His discourse with this greeting, Our Blessed Lord gives us to understand that peace is a fruit of His passion and death. St Paul, at whose basilica today’s stational Mass takes place and who speaks to us in the epistle, tells us that Christ made peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth and the things that are in heaven (Col 1:20). The apostle’s meaning is that Jesus’ sacrificial death obtains for all of humanity the grace to discover the gift of divine peace.
But what is peace? The philosophers tell us that peace is the tranquillity of order. It is when things are in their place that peace ensues. It is when the human soul has rediscovered its place in the Heart of God that it finds peace. St Benedict, in the prologue to the Holy Rule, quotes a passage from Psalm 33: Seek after peace and pursue it. And it is well known the PAX is the best known of Benedictine mottoes. We can therefore say that a Benedictine monk should be a man who radiates true and lasting peace. But that of course can happen only if he has peace to begin with.
Now the question arises: what in monastic life can be the source of that peace? Clearly, the monastic life as a whole, with its well ordered days, its punctual celebration of a beautiful liturgy, its wisely administered activities, its doors closed to the commotion of the world, is going to favour the acquisition and retention of peace.
Today, however we are gathered to witness an act of monastic profession of vows, and so we can ask ourselves how exactly monastic vows are conducive to creating peace. The answer is quite simple, for the first cause of man’s inner turmoil is not so much the events that happen to be rocking the world. The initial and main cause of man’s strife is the triple concupiscence: concupiscence of the flesh, concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life. It is precisely to strike a fatal blow at the roots of this triple enemy that the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience were given to us by Our Lord.
The vow of poverty, by which the monk hands over his own possessions and gives up all material goods, is a most powerful means of overcoming the concupiscence of the eyes, that insatiable desire for more things and novel things that distract and distend the heart. For what is it that causes strife and wars if not the pursuit of material goods? The monk not only possesses nothing, but by his profession, he makes it clear that he wants nothing. God alone suffices.
The vow of chastity not only frees the monk from the passions of the flesh, but more than that, frees his heart and fixes it in the heart of God: no other love is to be pursued by the monk who effectively takes God alone for spouse, confident that the sacrifice of all human loves actually opens his heart to all, and brings an immense fruit of invisible but real, spiritual paternity.
The vow of obedience frees the monk from the fruitless pursuit of a thousand ambitions that can never satisfy. It gives him the certainty of doing at all times the will of God; it suffuses his every deed with that divine immutable peace which the Lord brought to the world.
But, it might be asked, that is all very beautiful, and no doubt the young professed monk revels in it for a time, but will it last? Is it possible to devote oneself for a lifetime to such a lofty ideal that surpasses the strength of a frail human being? The answer is quite simple. No, it is not possible if we rely on our strength, for we have none. We monks are as weak as anyone else. We have the same frailties, we battle the same passions, we are enticed by the same ambitions. We rely not on any strength of our own, but on the power of God. And so, the answer was given to us in today’s introit: He gave them the water of wisdom to drink; it shall be made strong in them, and shall not be moved, and it shall exalt them forever (Sir 15:3-4). The water of wisdom, that is, divine grace, will never fail the monk who, every day of his life, asks for the grace of perseverance in a calling which does indeed surpass the capacities of nature. That is why we need the divine strength which makes strong and shall not be moved. As St Paul put it: I can do all things through the One who empowers me (Ph 4:13).
All this of course is not realised without effort, for the monk is nothing less than a sacrificial offering made over to God. This is why the profession is made during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; this is the reason the newly professed monk signs his vows on the altar and leaves them under the corporal on which the sacrifice of the New Covenant will be renewed. With Christ and in Christ the monk’s life is made over to God, and that means he can expect to be configured to the mystery of the Lord’s passion and death. The monk himself becomes an altar on which he sacrifices himself in untold ways, most of which are visible only to the eye of his heavenly spouse, and will be revealed only at the end of time. At the end of his life, a monk should resemble the paschal candle: luminous, enlightening many, but stamped with the five wounds, those wounds which while they are being inflicted are excruciatingly painful, but which will shine brightly on the day of the resurrection.
Br Patrick, for many of your family and friends, you are and will remain a mystery. As we sang in the introit for Easter Sunday, the Lord has laid His hand upon you and His ways are become marvellous (Ps 138). As we heard in today’s Gospel, the Lord has opened your mind that you may understand (Lk 24:45). So many see the marvel, they admire it, but they do not understand it; it remains an indecipherable enigma. And that is why, quite understandably, people who are sympathetic to the monks will find a variety of ways of justifying their existence. For some, we are useful because we give retreats or sing well; for others because we cultivate the land or produce wine or cheese; for some we are considered to be an interesting part of the landscape, reminiscent of past ages for which we can sometimes feel a certain nostalgia. But we know that when the Lord has opened the mind to understand what is really taking place here, then there is no need for any other justification than that of spending your life with and for God. To return to the image of the paschal candle, the life of the monk consumes itself slowly, silently, with hardly anyone noticing but God; aflame with divine love, his heart is at peace, for he knows the one in whom he has put his trust, and he is certain (cf. 2 Tim 1:12) with a certitude that surpasses any human certitude.
Brother Patrick, at the end of the prologue, our holy Father St Benedict tells us that by sharing in the passion of Christ through patience in the monastery, we will merit to be made partakers of His risen glory in His eternal kingdom. My wish for you on this day of your first triennial vows is that the opening of your mind to understanding the ways of God may continue, that you will retain in your daily life and allow to grow the effect of this second baptism, as the Fathers called the grace of monastic profession.
That is exactly what will happen if you remain close to Our Blessed Mother, Mary Immaculate, to whom you have consecrated yourself. From the joyful mystery of the Annunciation to the sorrow mystery of Calvary and then on to the glorious mysteries of the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, she is present, and through it all she is the model of the one who listens attentively, who acquiesces to God’s plan, who lets herself be consumed in His service, and who in the end is glorified with Him in His kingdom. Peace be to you.