These words comprised the opening clause in a handwritten document that I read aloud during Lauds yesterday morning. Not only was I the one who read the document, I was also the one who wrote it. As I wrote, I rendered each word with careful precision. I used permanent ink on linen paper. I aimed for lines as straight as a compass needle. I was very, very careful. And prayerful.
The words on the linen page comprised the text of the renewal of my vows, and I read them aloud in our monastic chapel before God, the Saints, my Prioress, and my monastic Sisters. With these words, I renewed my temporary Monastic Profession to this Benedictine Community. With them, I marked one of the final steps toward Perpetual Monastic Profession.
Slowly making one’s way toward perpetual profession (often called ‘final vows’) involves a lengthy period of discernment and formation. I am six years into what, in our Community, is typically a seven year process. During the final two years, one annually renews the temporary vows that were made some years earlier after completion of the Novitiate.
It’s serious business. It’s serious for the Community as they help a person discern a call and assess the individual’s readiness for a lifetime commitment to the monastic way of life. It’s serious for the individual who seeks to hear God’s call and respond in faith. And it is serious for the Church, because our vocations are not our own, they are in service to the People of God.
It was also serious for St. Benedict over 1500 years ago. Here’s what he had to say about receiving new members into his 6th century monastery for men: “When he is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience. This is done in the presence of God and his saints…He states his promise in a document drawn up in the name of the saints whose relics are there, and of the abbot, who is present. The novice writes out this document himself, or if he is illiterate, then he asks someone else to write it for him, but himself puts his mark to it and with his own hand lays it on the altar.” (Rule of Benedict 58,17-20)
For centuries, monastic men and women have been drawing up documents of profession – hand written, carefully rendered, read aloud before God, the Saints, and the Community, and then placed upon the altar with one’s own hand where it is signed with the unique contours of one’s own name.
The search for God through the monastic way of life is serious, and joyful. The road is winding, yet the Rule points us straight toward our goal. The words of profession are ancient, but the contours of my name are uniquely my own. Through my monastic profession, and with praise and thanksgiving, I join the unique contours of my life to those of my Sisters – and Benedictines of every time and place – as together we sing a song of praise to God through our fidelity to the monastic way of life.
Postscript: Our song of praise continues tomorrow as we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Sister Bernadette and the Silver Jubilee of Sister Karen Ann. Though perpetually professed, they, too, will sign renewal documents as this is traditionally done at these milestone points. Photos from the Jubilee Mass and the luncheon can be found on our Community News page.