July 16, 2005
A Homily by Abbot Francis Benedict, O.S.B.
Texts for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A): Wisdom 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8: 26-27; Mattthew 12: 24-43)
THE LEADING of the monastic life is a journey of faith. In the pilgrimage of this life our brother Vincent has heard the voice of the Lord calling him since his early youth, first to become a Christian within the Catholic Church. The person of Christ, his saving words and deeds, his Gospel of love for all people-these were your attractions, Brother Vincent. And then you traveled from Hong Kong to Venezuela and found yourself attracted to the charism of St. Vincent de Paul, his love for the poor, his straightforward and immediate charity to every living person. The God of Jesus Christ you have experienced as a God who has “care for all”; one who is “the source of justice” to those intimate with God who know him as full of “clemency”, “lenient” and “kind” (Wisdom 12). That religious vocation in your twenties was not allowed to mature for various reasons and, in deference to the needs and requirements of your natural family, your call to a consecrated life was postponed.
In your journey through early adulthood, you eventually moved to California Then in the year 2000, you continued your search for a new way to fulfill your desire to love Christ above all else. You found this monastery on the internet and Fr. Luke’s website pulled you this direction. Fortunately or unfortunately, your first visit was on the Valyermo Fall Festival weekend. That was not the ideal monastic experience! You came again at a quieter moment and decided to enter into the discernment of the monastic formation process. Through ups and downs, schooling, wellness and debilitating allergies, quandaries and certitudes, you have come to this day when you and your brothers have made a covenant to serve the Lord together until the end.
The Spirit has come to your aid and taught you how to pray even when your human spirit was weak or confused. Your natural groanings (cf. Romans 8:26) have been united with the Holy Spirit interceding for you with unutterable clarity. The God who searches hearts has shown you the intention of God for your life and you have come to know it in this way of life, in this monastery, with these brothers. The will of God is truly God’s desire for you to progress in this way of life and in faith, running “on the path of God’s commandments, with your heart overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (RB: Prologue 49).
Today you promise to faithfully observe God’s teaching in this monastery until death, knowing that the paschal mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising will be the pattern of your monastic life. Through patience you have shared and will share in the sufferings of Christ that you may also deserve to share in his kingdom. (cf. RB: Prologue 50)
You are a lover of the land, of the ranch, of living things large and small. You shared memories of your grandfather’s farm, where you learned to trim trees and cultivate living things. You related to me today, that you and Klondike (one of the monastery dogs) arrived at the monastery together: you on Palm Sunday and he on the Tuesday of Holy Week. You have grown up in the monastery together! He was excessively shy as you were reserved and, slowly, by Pentecost Sunday, after feeding him by hand as often as he would draw close to you, he entered the enclosure of the monastery so as to be safe from the marauding coyotes in the dark and danger of the night. As you tamed Klondike through much patient nurturing, God has tamed your spirit and has drawn you into the inner recesses of monastic life.
You have come into a monastic world, a monastery, a life and a brotherhood which is far from perfect. The parables of the Gospel speak to this reality. The good seed of the Spirit has been sown within you since your baptism and has drawn you to the consecrated life as legislated by St. Benedict and the Benedictine monastic tradition. In your time of formation, the weeds of life have sought to discourage and stifle your enthusiasm and your idealism. The character defects of this community and of the abbot have made you wonder: is this for me? As St. Benedict once remarked, part of the monk’s life is to learn how to bear false brothers (RB 7:43). But let me assure you, that false brothers can be converted by the Holy Spirit into lasting friends as we progress in this way of life together. And I speak from personal experience.
When I was a novice, I was very discouraged by the lack of zeal in some of my brothers, by their bad example, by their not seeing things the way I saw them. Prior Philippe (Verhaegen, O.S.B.) was my novice master and the 2nd superior of this monastery. I sat with him unloading my disillusionment and my bitterness and he simply listened. At the end of that conversation, he reminded me of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. God intends us to live together in great desire for all that is holy and best, but in the fragility of human imperfection. There are wheat and weeds within each human heart. This monastery is the field when the good seed of your faith will grow alongside the weeds of others sins…and of your own as well. St. Benedict says so wisely that God is patient. He “waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings. Therefore our life has been lengthened by way of a truce, that we may amend our misdeeds” (RB: Prologue 35-36). This monastic life and your vows are about a love of your brothers that is sacrificial, that costs you much, that is united with the sacrificial obedience of Jesus Himself.
The Abbot and indeed all the brothers are to have a love for the wayward, for the sick, for the lonely, for the difficult in our midst. This is so difficult but it is the road to salvation, which cannot be easy. It is the narrow way of love. It is not the healthy but the sick that Jesus tends to seek out.
While the monk comes here seeking God, it becomes more and more evident that God has sought us out, sought you out. The tiny mustard seed of your monastic vocation planted long ago in Hong Kong, in Venezuela, in Long Beach, and is bearing its fruit in Valyermo– a tree has grown and continues to grow so that the “birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches” Matthew 13: 32). You have grown in the Spirit; your branches have welcomed many of God’s creatures, not just Klondike. Your friendships have deepened and grown and God has said in the depths of your heart: Abide with me, in this place, for my people; be a servant of all, including the guest and the poor; tend my land and my sheep; be all you can to show that the preferential love of Christ is the surest path to holiness—to happiness—and to heaven.
We pray that as you advance in this way of life and in faith, you will strengthen your brothers to become what God has intended for us: men of fervent prayer and dignified work, of gracious hospitality, of humble service for the many who come here seeking God.
Your solemn commitment to God is indeed a new beginning and a sign that you, with God’s enduring assistance, will be able to live the good zeal St. Benedict encourages in all of us which leads to everlasting life. This wheat counteracts the weeds of that evil zeal of bitterness that separates from God and leads to hell. (cf. RB: 72)
Your monastic life is the call to extensive, all-inclusive love of God, for your neighbor, your brother, even your abbot. You are called with us to have a profound respect and show it in all you do. You are invited to be patient, not with the patience of Job, but of God Himself. You are to be compassionate with the weaknesses of your brothers and obedient in service toward each and all. Your pursuits will include your own happiness but will always be measured by the needs of others and the generosity of spirit with which Jesus and your heavenly patron, St. Vincent de Paul, were imbued. Your love and dedication, having been tried as gold in the furnace, have been an inspiration to me and to us. Your love has been purified and deepened by the trials you have experienced. Your love for God is filled with holy fear and awe. You have been loving to your abbot and he expects of you great things, in humble striving, so that together with all your brothers, we may prefer nothing whatever to Christ, knowing that God’s desire is to bring us all together to everlasting life.
You are embarking on another stage of your life pilgrimage. Your faith in God is imperative. Your love, to be like Christ’s, must be filled with courage and tenacity. You must be fervent in prayer, gracious in hospitality, and open to all your brothers including the abbot who serves you. May God lead you joyfully and graciously from this day until the end—unto everlasting life.
Brother Vincent, may you become one of those righteous who shine like the sun in the kingdom of your Father (cf. Matthew 13: 43).