The Simple Profession of Sister Mary Grace Rambin, O.P.
Those of us with more than a few grey hairs on our heads will remember when a Simple Profession of Vows used to be a ‘simple’ affair. I made mine quietly and without much fuss during Morning Prayer. And yet a temporary profession of vows implies that you’re really going to carry on for the rest of your life. The time limit of three years is there to protect both the candidate and the community. If all goes well and the community and Sister Mary Grace are happy in three years’ time, then she will profess vows for life. And yet in years to come when Sister celebrates her Silver Jubilee, the years will be counted from today. And so it’s right and proper that a temporary profession of religious vows is celebrated within the context of Mass, because in a few minutes Sister Mary Grace will consecrate her whole life to God.
A profession is always a day of great joy in a religious community, and those of us who are religious will no doubt, during the course of today, cast our minds back to our own day of simple profession. When faced with the choice of how to follow God’s will for us, we all found ourselves in a similar situation to Saint Peter who declared: ‘LORD TO WHOM SHALL WE GO? YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF EVERLASTING LIFE.’ (John 6:68)
These words that were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are so filled with life, have been passed on to us so that we too might live by them in the 21st century. They were first spoken by Saint Peter, two thousand years ago, when he and the other disciples were challenged to believe that Our Lord’s Body and Blood were food given to assure spiritual life. That his words might have their full effect in us we must take them into our heart by faith, we must accept them with trusting surrender to the one who spoke them. Our Lord tells us to keep his words, and to live by them is the way we are to show our love for him. Throughout the gospels these words of life speak of, and point us to, the Holy Eucharist, which itself is a promise of eternal life and of sharing in the love that unites us to the Father through his glorified Son. God gives his own person to us through the ministry of his priests who pronounce his words over the bread and wine that changes them into his Body and Blood.
God expects us to believe in his words, and also to make them our own by taking them into our hearts and to live from them. By lives of prayer and worship and by active charity and service to the members of our community, and all those with whom we come into contact, we give back to God, in homage to his glory, what He has lovingly given us.
With certain words we can do still more. There are words into which we can hand over our very life and our whole being to Him. We can surrender our self back to Him who made us and who gave Himself for our salvation. These words can be so filled with the Holy Spirit that they give a fresh meaning to all who follow them. For this to take place we must enter into the deep and hidden places of our inner self and there face our secret desires and fears, our hopes and longings, and confront them in the light of the purifying words of Christ. Then we shall learn what Our Lord intended when he told his Apostles ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’(John 15.3). And once we have been purified, then our words too, in some measure, will become life-giving. Our words will be the fruit of the Holy Spirit who inspires them and who dwells in them. The grace of the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us so to engage our freedom with his will, that we might be effectively joined to Him in the great work of salvation and sanctification.
This is the homage that Sister Mary Grace is about to offer to God today, by professing the evangelical vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for three years. These vows represent a commitment to live the religious life as it is practiced by the Order of Preachers and in this community. But more profoundly, your promise is a consecration of your whole person to God so that the whole of your life is a witness to Him. By virtue of the promises you make today you choose to belong to Him body and soul more than you belong to yourself, and you do this by a free choice and by a public act that we call religious profession. From this day on the worth of your life will be measured by your fidelity to your commitment, and by the fervour with which you pursue this way of life for the next three years and, God willing, for the rest of your life.
As you are aware, it is a great gift of God’s grace that enables you to make such promises; it carries with it the responsibility that will engage you day by day to carry out from the heart what you undertake with this commitment. And remember that you are not left to your own resources in this undertaking; the Lord will never leave you alone. He is faithful and he has promised to be with you to the end. His Mother Mary, help of Christians, and Mother of the Order, will also accompany you, as will Our Holy Father Dominic and all the Dominicans who have gone before you during the last 800 years. God also gives you a community of Sisters to assist and sustain you as you live out your vows. Finally, in the Holy Eucharist, which is the context in which you make these vows, God gives you himself as a pledge that you are to be united with him in an intimate bond of love. This union of charity will never be broken if you remain faithful, and it will endure not only throughout your life here, but will continue for all eternity in the heavenly kingdom.
May these signs of God’s love be your strength and always be a source of great confidence and of joy.
And finally, be assured of our poor prayers as we support and encourage you today.
May God bring to completion the good work he has begun in you.