To be of One Heart and One Mind: an encounter with the Fifth Gospel of Jesus Christ…Continued..

  This post is a continuation of the previous reflection (click here to read it!).

Now back to the task at hand: living in unity as one heart and one mind on the way into God so that we may fully love God and our neighbor.

This is no small feat. It is a challenge indeed to grow in holiness and love of God and neighbor through our love of and unity with one another. Does that mean good Norbertines following this path come to think and feel alike? Is that our unity of heart and mind? I wish it were that easy. Just because it is a challenge that surpases simply holding the same opinions or preferences does not mean it is not very effective. In fact the steep climb to the realization of such a longing may speak to the importance and vitality of such a practice once one embarks on this journey. It is the desire to fulfill the greatest commandment that has brought us to this challenge of unity. For as St. John the Evangelist tell us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (I John 4:20). We come together to strive toward unity because we all desire to hold Christ as the apex of our lives and recognize we cannot do so alone.

Are we there yet?”

Again our call to unity comes from the statement by St. Augustine that, “The first purpose for which we have come together is to live in unity and to be of one mind and one heart on the way into God.” What I have come to believe is the center of this desire for unity, the key as it were, is the last part of the phrase, In Deum or into God/toward God (depending on the translation). This phrase both provides a great challenge and offers some comfort and perspective. We are not yet in God (or at least full conscious of it), we have not yet arrived at God. We are on the journey of faith and ever deepening discovery. Given that we have not yet arrived at our salvation, we have not yet come to love God as profoundly as we can, we are challenged day by day, moment by moment to continue on that journey through all its highs and lows, joys and sorrows. Given that we are not yet there we can take comfort in realizing that we, and our brothers, do and will have faults and failings, do and will have struggles and can still grow toward perfection in God. A stumbling now only means there is the possibility of hope tomorrow.

Still I often asked, “where is the unity in all the mess of the human journey of faith?” The unity, as I currently understand it, is in that same phrase. It is in the destination. Even if the car filled with children on the family vacation has yet to come to Disney Land, surely the minds and hearts of the children are already set upon it. It doesn’t mean they still wont bicker and fight in the back seat, but they hold a hope in their future destination. This metaphor breaks down when we recognize that our journey of faith requires much effort and work on our part unlike the children going to Disneyland who can passively sit in the car. It does provide a good foundation to remember the active work of grace and the bountiful goodness of God present in our lives even as we do what we can through our will to strive toward that destination. As St. Augustine said, “pray as though everything depended on God, work as though everything depended on you.”

Our unity is derived from the fact that all of us who come together to live this life of community, contemplation and compassionate service in the nearly 900 year long tradition of the Order of Premontre recognize that we are journeying together with the hopes of the same destination.   We may perceive our paths differently, we may understand our emphasis in the manifestation of our charism differently, but with our hearts and minds jointly set on God and on the mysteries of Christ desiring to love and serve God through our neighbor we grow in unity of mind and heart. We must never loose track of the fact that our first neighbors are those with whom we live in community, and our first teachers are often our neighbors.

This reflection is continued in the next post (click here to read it!)

An adventure deep into the roots of our tradition…

Our formation community attended the Yom Kippur service at our neighborhood synagogue (KAM Isaiah Israel) last week. The structure itself is an imposing and impressive brick byzantine style temple distinguished in scale and appearance including an impressive, heavy, souring central dome, massive chandeliers, stained glass windows and ornate plasterwork.

The celebration was characterized by a mixture of English and Hebrew in fully gender-inclusive language and presided over by a female rabbi and female cantor. One confrère remarked to me that it was more like being at an opera than a prayer service. They had an amazing eight member choir, organist, cellist and of course the resident cantor. The service was almost entirely sung and consisted of complicated 19th and early 20th century compositions based on traditional Jewish themes and definitively representative of the Jewish diaspora.

The service emphasized something that I feel is often overlooked in our own Christian liturgical practices. That is the reverence showed to Holy Scripture. At several points throughout the service the ark would be opened and the multitude of beautiful, and generations-old scrolls would be removed and reverenced. This brought to light for me the need to more fully see God’s presence in his own revelation to us through the Word not only in the Eucharist.

Furthermore, the real purpose for the celebration, that being the day of atonement, was beautifully manifest. The sung and recited evaluation of conscience and the emphasis put on not only asking for forgiveness but correcting past wrongs was very moving. It was a fascinating experience to be able to sit and pray with members of a faith tradition from which my own has grown. Despite the variety of foundational theological disagreements, difficult history and complex cultural and political relationships we could all express a mutual love for a merciful and life-giving God. The liturgical framework and context of our own tradition, the singing of psalms (i.e. during vespers in our own Holy Spirit House of Studies), was also evident in the service. Despite a rainy journey back to our home, and extra security as President Obama’s Chicago residence is across from the synagogue, all in all it was a thought-provoking, prayerful and moving event.

Walking in the footsteps of history…

abbot pennings lambert broens servatius heesakkersIn 1893 Fr. Bernard H. Pennings and two confrères from Berne Abbey came to the United States. After traveling by sea and train, plunging into a cultural, technological and societal reality far beyond their familiar European surroundings they found themselves in the midst of the newly settled, diverse, unruly and rural areas of North Eastern Wisconsin.

Stephen, Graham and Matt at the Birthplace of the Norbertine Fathers in the USLast weekend our novice director, Fr. David, and the three novices (myself, Matt and Stephen) went up to visit these first Norbertine foundations, the first parishes given to these early Norbertine missionaries. The Norbertines came not as missionaries to convert the unbaptized to Christianity but rather to minister to existing populations of Christians; calling them to continued conversion within their own lives as settlers in a foreign land.

First Long-Standing Norbertine Foundation in the USTo walk in the footsteps of these first brave men, men who left all they knew for a life unknown, a foreign continent, a foreign people, a foreign tongue and an often challenging way of life was profoundly moving. They challenged difficulties unimagined to provide sacramental and ministerial services, manifesting the love of God for humanity to a severely under-served population and to plant their ancient way of life in a new and growing nation. We witnessed small churches dotting the rolling hills of Door County and the petite rooms in which these men lived out their first winter.

Early Norbertine Parish in Door County We, of course, have the priveledge of driving the long distances from parish to parish. That was not the case for these early settling Norbertines. The landscape, farmland and forests, glimpses of Lake Michigan and Green Bay appearing around bends, simple wood and brick farm houses—all remain much the same as these men had come to see it over a century ago.

St. Norbert AbbeyWhile in Wisconsin we spent several nights at St. Norbert Abbey, a structure standing as a monumental testament to the fruits of the labors of these earliest white canons. A property distinguished by its immense scale, opulent chapel, and lush grounds stands in testimony not only to the glory of God, as a sign and symbol to manifest the invisible to our humble frail human forms, but also as a temple to the power of hope, faith and love. Its walls, and the men that inhabit the and the ministries that it has fostered (many high schools, the only Norbertine institution of higher education—St. Norbert College, parishes, one independent daughter house, two dependent daughter houses, foreign missions, and the list goes on…) all express the vision of Abbot Pennings, and that of St. Norbert in centuries past. Who could have imagined that this way of life, this prophetic vision of Christian community, would have come to root itself in the United States? Let alone the success and blessings that have fallen upon it and the people it serves in such an unassuming location…

For me, though technology and culture has changed, the ability to walk in the footsteps of this journey of faith has deep meaning. My own community in New Mexico is one that was missioned with little more than a dream, faith and hope for the future building on a heritage of the past. As I read the letters of the earliest north American Norbertines I cant help but notice how, despite being centuries and cultures apart, similar challenges exist in setting up any new foundation. But, it also gives me great hope to see the work of the Spirit in this context, and to believe that the same Spirit is at work in our own humble community striving to witness the reality of a simple Christian community in a new place.

For me, New Mexico is not a new place. It is the land of my birth. However, from this small but vibrant community I can be a missionary in my own context serving those whom I love and who have given me so much and demonstrating the potential for the dream of Premontré to become a reality—that a simple Christian life striving to find unity amidst trials and diversity and hope in a broken world is indeed possible.

DSCN2851On our way back to Chicago we stopped at Holy Hill.  A magificent shrine atop one of the highest points in the state of wisconsin.  This moving structure, drawing flocks of pilgrims from around the world, stands as a testament to the feats humaniy will undertake in order to honor an ideal–and in reality something greater than an ideal, the foundations of truth and faith. 


The first liturgical adventure…

This past Sunday, as most Sundays, we went on what I have come to lovingly call our weekly “liturgical adventure.” As part of our formation program we try to gain the greatest exposure possible to the richness that the Catholic population in Chicago has to offer. We go to various Roman Catholic Churches, some very traditional, some very ethnically tied (Polish, Latino, African American) parishes, those that champion the Tridentine rite liturgy, others that see themselves as competing with the evangelical mega-church movement. We also attend a variety of eastern rite liturgies, be it Byzantine, Ukranian, or this past Sunday, Syro-Malabar rite liturgies.

This was my second visit the Syro-Malabar cathedral outside of Chicago. Fr. John gave us a presentation on the Syro-Malabar traditions prior to our liturgical adventure. It is the cathedral for all of North America. Though in communion with the Roman Church, like many eastern church the Syro-Malabar Church has its own hierarchical and governing structure. This is a rite with particular importance to our community because our own Fr. John is a priest from this rich tradition. As are Fr. Bijoy, Binu and George who live and work in my community in Albuquerque.

This particular rite draws its history all the way to the Apostle Thomas. For this reason those Christians who participate in the Syro-Malabar expression of Christianity are sometimes called “Thomas Christians.” This is a Church that has experienced a fair bit of persecution even at the hands of other Catholics. However, despite centuries of marginalization in the Christian world they remain strong in faith and in many of their ancient traditions from the coastal state of Kerala in south western India.

Today the population of Syro-Malabar Christians is great enough in North America for the Church to have recognized the need for a Cathedral. That is where we attended a beautiful liturgical celebration. We went to the liturgy said in Malayalam so of course we did not understand a single word. However, the general flow and ordering of the celebration is much like that of the Roman Mass. Their liturgy is known as the Holy Qurbana. It is taken from the anaphora of Mari and Adai, two figures understood to be disciples of St. Thomas.

The music was akin to that of a Bollyood movie. The sanctuary space is hidden for the beginning part of the liturgy by a large red curtain or “vail.” as the liturgy progresses the curtain is pulled open revealing the high altar and central tabernacle. It is a beautiful dramatic and spiritual moving event as the heavy vail opens to heightened musical excitement and the most sacred space of this ancient liturgical tradition becomes visible for all to see. The liturgical drama then progresses up several steps to enter the large raised sanctuary space.

All in all it was a lovely liturgy and inspiring to see a way in which one of the fastest growing and most vibrant norbertine communities in the world manifests our sacramental life (that is the community of Mananthavady from where all our Indian confrères mentioned in this entry come).

Me in my habit, my habit in the world…

DSCN2744Those who know me have surely become accustomed to my traditional nondescript business casual sense of fashion. That, as of August 27, has been altered slightly. As of late I have been sporting a more eye catching wardrobe, one that is a little more twelfth-century chic! And the designer you might ask? Well, the Virgin Mary. Now you are all thinking I have certainly lost my mind, which may be the case…but at least according to legend, St. Norbert was given the norbertine habit by the BVM. She certainly has a eye for style, proportion and the flow of fabric but she is definitely lacking in the area of functional design. Full length white tunics are not conducive to the out of doors.

The Norbertine habit (should any of you not caught on yet) is what I have been wearing. I do not like to draw attention to myself, so it is only fitting that I go about my day in flowing layers of cream colored linen, a cape and large hood (cough, cough!). So you may be thinking, why have I taken on this task of wearing such an odd garment, me of all people, at home and out into the world?

For me, I have come to love the idea of the habit, but the practice (the habitual wearing of a habit as it were) has been quite a different experience. As it is something that makes me remarkably self conscious (not to mention, to feel more anachronistic than those who reenact medieval battlefields in neighborhood parks) it has difficult for me to wear. However, realizing that it is a part of my religious tradition and heritage I have set out to make myself more comfortable, to feel more natural through extended habit wearing, both in our house and in public.

I write these reflections in an attempt to further come to and clarify my own understandings of what the habit is, how it functions as sign and symbol and what it means to me as one who now wears one and by virtue of that right, has by proxy found himself in the midst of a fashion war much deeper than if one can wear white after labor day…. (for those of you who may be wondering, as our habit is white, we have no choice BUT to wear white after labor day!)

At this point in the history of the Church and society the habit has become an increasingly controversial lightning rod of opinions, strong polarized opinions. My own community and indeed my own house of formation are not immune to such conflicts surrounding fashion of religious. Why is it that a simple article of clothing has managed to become such a hot-button issue in our current age?


And the debate begins…

We find on one extreme those who see the habit (all religious habits) as outdated, demonstrative of an era of hierarchical clericalism, of a symbol of oppression, of pompous religious who sought to not only set themselves apart but above those around them. These sentiments I have heard expressed in the classroom, by professors, by friends, family, and some members of my religious community. Those who wear the habit outside of ceremonial contexts (and to some those who would wear a habit at all) are embodying these ideals, ideals that many had hoped the church had overcome. Young seminarians who find a fascination with their religious garb of old are often viewed with suspicion, with the assumption that they are closed-minded, yearning for an era in the past that never existed, a distilled glorified vestige of a Catholic Christian culture represented by sacramentals and inwardly directed toward ritual and devotions more than living an outwardly prophetic life of gospel values (such a distinction I find to be false in my own life, though it is certainly made by some in the Church and in society).

Yes, it is true, many of my peers (young members of religious communities) do find a fascination with their religious garb. But I find it an unfair bias to assume that the habit, and their use of it, is indicative of a litany of positions (theological and political) or worldviews. However, there exists a reciprocal prejudice. Many young religious demonstrate a suspicion of their older habit-weary counterparts who are often perceived as having lost a sense of the mystery and the sacred within the Church, who have aligned themselves too whole-heartedly with the secular world and who are thoroughly profane people living a life that is “religious” in name only. Again we find false dichotomies that exist in stereotype but not in practice.

Like in any situation there are the various perspectives and somewhere within all of them lies some truth. Many accusations are made over the use or lack-there-of of habits, strong opinions. One thing is for sure, we are witnessing a decisive surge in habit wearing young religious, and have seen for decades religious who have distanced themselves from such garments. Communities who wear habits are experiencing growth and those who don’t are shrinking with age. That, however, does not demonstrate a causality and there are a myriad of other factors that would play into such scenarios, all other aspects of community life, worldview, understandaing of the church etc. Again, we find ourselves back to the very issues that the habit has come to represent.

But why is it that an over-tailored pile of fabric can become such a point of contention? Obviously any clear thinking person should be able to come to the conclusion that the habit itself does not posses any ontological power beyond its function as a garment. The habit does not itself oppress anyone. The habit does not free us from sin or bring grace upon us. It is not a sacrament, though it is most distinctly a sacramental. It is not the habit itself but what it is seen to represent, how it functions as a sign and symbol that brings such tension into our midst.

In the generational divide that is a reality of religious life (and my community is no exception) there is a disconnected between the systems of symbolic communications being used to send and receive perceptions and expressions. It is no different than generational shifts in society at large, but in a small isolated group these appear to become remarkably pronounced. In the end, I feel that the signals being sent by the young habit-obsessed religious by their dawning of such a garment are being strongly misunderstood by those pseudo anti-habit older religious and visa versa. Both sides of the camp (and I stress that there are many other positions between the two extremes) are interpreting the others actions in light of their own bias towards the habit and what it represents, not through the context of the other.

One aspect that seems rarely to be taken into consideration in such debates is what the habit actually signifies or facilitates for the person wearing it, not just to the person viewing it. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that infrequently does anyone seem interested in how such articles are actually perceived by the general public, and not simply those within religious communities who share a strong, emotional relationship with this article of clothing. It is, after all, a sacramental and as such we should try to more closely understand and empathize, from all sides of the debate, with the “other” to realize that any appreciation or skepticism of the habit is fundamentally centered on the experience of it and how it has helped or hindered our relationships with ourselves, others, the community, and God.

So, that brings me now to what was the point of this whole exercise. What are my views and understandings of my new twelfth century item of clothing? Or, should I say more importantly, not how I understand it but how do I experience it and thus how does it functions in my life as the sacramental it was intended to be?


The great habit wearing experiment…

Norbertine Habit in the Park For me personally, through extensive wearing of my habit, I have come to a greater appreciation of this multi-part cream-colored linen gown. It reminds me of who I am, it helps to keep my mind clear and focused on my spiritual growth in these early stages of formation. It functions much the same way a cross necklace does for some. By enveloping myself, literally, in something that, while not being holy, speaks of the holy to me, centering my actions, thoughts and decisions around the ultimate goal of living an authentic, intentional, contemplative life in the witness of God to myself and God’s love to others. It is a reflection and a reminder of what is a part of my identity as a norbertine. Although as I grow in my own self-understanding, spiritual journey and understanding of who I am as a norbertine I may wear it less, at this point in time I have come to find it quite conducive to my formation in this spiritual tradition.

Within my community the wearing of the habit has come to represent a unity that we find as brethren. It is a symbol of our connectedness, how we share in one greater goal of growing as in one heart and mind on the way to God, not in spite of but because of our many unique differences. It demonstrates to me visually, aesthetically and sentimentally this fundamental unity I share not only with the seven other men with whom I live, the many men and women in my community back in Albuquerque, but with Norbertines world-wide. It connects me in some unspeakable way to those generations of norbertine men and women who have walked before me for nearly nine centuries. We have all worn this garment while being very different people and doing very different things in different epochs and places but sharing one goal to live out communio as a witness to the prophetic vision of a communal apostolic life in a world wrought by turmoil.

Norbertine Habit on the Streets of Hyde ParkNow, in public I did not initially feel the same level of comfort. One day I walked to CTU for spiritual direction and liturgy. I did so in my habit. I certainly received many funny stares. I must admit, walking around all in white in a heavily African American neighborhood certainly heightened my level of self consciousness. However, to my surprise, more often than not (and this was the case by far) I was greeted with smiles and hellos by passers by. I always try to greet people on the street, but in Chicago this is rather difficult as few people acknowledge one another as they pass. However, while in habit I had the opportunity to smile at and greet almost all those whom I saw. Several times I was stopped for short conversations. Everything from a “what are you?” to small talk to a fascinating extended discussion about religious life. Some even thanked me for wearing it.

When arriving at CTU this general aura of “friendliness” dampened. Not that people were unwelcoming (many knew me as I started graduate school there last semester), but I could certainly sense that suspicion of who I was, how I thought etc. by how people looked at me. Not to mention what several people said to me, trying to feel out why it was I was in such a silly outfit. Now, habits aren’t unknown to CTU, many students wear theirs to class, but it was odd to see me in one and a norbertine in one for that matter.

Matt and Graham at the University of Chicago I also took a walk out one day with Matt, a fellow novice. Together we experienced the same general warmth and interest by those around us on the streets. We were carrying a camera and a professor at the University of Chicago stopped us and asked us if we wanted our picture taken. We spoke with a man in front of a grocery store about different parishes and orders within the diocese and his research in Europe regarding cistercian baroque aesthetics. We were stopped by a middle school aged boy who asked who we were.

Now, this seems to say that the habit succeeds in one thing, and that is getting attention. This could certainly play into all the concerns of self indulgent hierarchically minded tendencies that can be dangerous for religious to embody in the Church. It can be seen as a spectacle for sure. However, it can also connect people, bring people together. I take a walk every day. I have run into several of the same people I had passed while wearing my habit. They recognize me despite being habit free, and we stop and chat for a bit. This has happened on several occasions. That has been my experience. When I asked these individuals what they thought of seeing someone in a habit they simply reply “we just thought it meant you were a monk or something. It just reminded us of religion and what you do. Its like seeing a police man in his uniform or a doctor in a lab coat.” This reply, having received several times, I find compelling. It seems (and this is no official poll or sociological study) that the habit, to the general public, signifies “religious” and not the baggage that so many express towards the garment itself (of course I understand that to be a lrage generalization and each individual has their own response, but by in large that has been what I have heard from those who have seen me in it).

Another experience I have had with habits in public was while living at St. Norbert Abbey in DePere, Wisconsin in the fall of 2008. Fr. Marek of Strahov Abbey in Prague and I were walking along the Fox River. He, living a life of radical simplicity, only wears his habit. A woman passing by on her bicycle came to a screeching halt. I was worried that she was going to be upset by seeing a man dressed as a canon. On the contrary, she said “Father, I have to tell you that I haven’t been inside a Church for thirty years but I am so glad to see that the Church is alive and that God is not dead.” For me, a young affiliate (postulant) at that time, this was a moving event. His garment spoke to her, not necessarily as a tool of evangelization, but simply as a witness to the holy. That being a broader more generic holy. It did not mean that Marek was expressing himself to be a holy person (that would be far out of his very humble character, though I do believe he is a deeply spiritual man) . Rather, as a sacramental it simply symbolized “holy” to that woman on the bike. It reminded her of God. Will she remember Marek? Probably not. Will that moment of recognizing that there is something greater to life and a meaning more profound impact her in a small way, I certainly hope so.

Does this mean I believe that all religious should wear their habit? No. Does this mean I will wear it to go to the drug store? Probably not. These conclusions do mean, however, that maybe all of us involved in the wars of the habits should step outside ourselves and realize that whether someone is in a habit or not is not indicative of anything in particular. Rather, the experience of wearing a habit is deeply personal and the reasons we share for doing so or not doing so vary hugely from person to person. We should support and edify one another in our choices in this regard in understanding how something as outward appearance can so greatly impact and reflect ones spiritual life. Also keeping in mind that how we see others, be it a fellow religious or a person on the street, in many ways reflects more upon our own personal biases than it does the actual nature of that individual whom we may feel compelled to judge.

Medieval Habit in Medieval American... For me, the habit is a sign and a symbol. It represents my identity as a norbertine, (though obviously not the most significant sign of identity) it reminds me of my striving to live an integrated, authentic and spirit lead life, and to those around me it can have the potential to remind them of the same. It signifies the unity I share both temporally, geographically and historically with others in my own tradition within the Roman Catholic Church, and even with all those whose faith inspires unique and distinguishing garments be it Thai Buddhist monks in orange robes, hasidic Jews in their characteristic black garb or Mormon missionaries with their white shirts and ties. It is not my desire to express a deep seated clericalism, it is not because I feel I am better than those with whom I share the sidewalk. It is not because I somehow believe I am a holier person in the garment than out of it. It is something I do a as a spiritual practice for myself, and as a way to hopefully witness, not to my own holiness, but to the Holy in our midst.

Entering the urban cloister…

I arrived in Chicago and was greeted, as usual, by Fr. David Komatz, my formation director. Matt, a fellow novice, drove the car, a Toyota Prius, to the Midway Airport with David to pick me up. When we arrived home I moved back into my room in which I had lived the previous spring semester while attending Catholic Theological Union. The beautiful deep green walls, stately fine woodwork, bay window, antique furniture and fireplace greeted me and I felt immediately at home. Though, I must say I was already begin to miss my beloved New Mexico and my family and friends.

As I always travel with too much stuff, I had more than enough unpacking to keep me occupied. In addition to all my clothes, I managed to cram in a small library of books on theology, music, linguistics, art and art history and spirituality into my bags. Not to mention a small collection of artwork, CDs, musical instruments I came upon while in Bolivia this summer, my clarinet, a small library of sheet music and my habit. In fact, I was five pounds over my suitcase limit at the airport in Albuquerque. I was almost inspired to put on my habit to save the weight, but couldn’t bring myself to draw so much attention in a public space—maybe never, but certainly not just yet! Instead I just crammed several shirts into my carry ons.

That evening at dinner, as we sat around eating a pleasant meal prepared by Br. Terry, it really hit me. For the next year of my life, almost every dinner I eat will be at this very table with these seven men. I must, for better or for worse, learn to understand and respect who they are, love them and appreciate them. Otherwise, I will never survive this “experiment” into religious life. It was at this moment the intensity of what was to be undertaken and the truest nature of Norbertine Communio came into sight. Such an experiment of religious life was really an experiment for Christian living on the whole, a full expression, with all its bumps and bruises,of the human condition and human experience that to thrive would need to be nurtured by an intentional and mutual love. The theory then being that from this experience, the experience in a long-term community, I can then go out into the world taking our new-found capacity to be heralds of the peace and reconciliation that St. Norbert himself had so valiantly carried across Europe.

That is no small task, however, and it is one that should I not choose to enter into fully I could easily fail at. I pray that through my own efforts and a a grace greater than myself I can come to fully embody that which we all seek through mutual fraternal companionship on our journey towards God. May I survive this period of “hermitage” cloistered away with my brothers!

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Vestition, a time to start anew…

vesition-2009-2After over three years of formal discernment I took the plunge, I jumped in and entered a religious order. Now, as of the first vespers of the Feast of St. Augustine I am a Norbertine Novice of Santa Maria de la Vid Priory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Despite having been so long in planning, having been preparing myself mentally, emotionally and spiritually for this event I don’t think it was possible to fully comprehend what it would signify. 

Of course, the ceremony was a beautiful liturgy in true Norbertine fashion. It was marked by chant, incense, pauses of contemplative silence, an inspirational, thought provoking and challenging homily by Fr. Joel, the prior. Present with me were my beloved family, some friends and of course my entire Norbertine Community of Santa Maria de la Vid—both lay and religious members and Stephen Gaertner who was vested a novice along side me.

vesition-2009-14When my prior asked what I sought from the community, I responded to try their way of life and to be tested myself. As I knelt on the cold brick floors he handed me my folded habit, the constitutions of this nearly 900 year old institution and way of life, the rule of Augustine that dates to the early church, the Holy Scriptures. It was at this moment, sharing a remarkably short but intimate moment with a man three times my age it hit me: I am making the first serious commitment of my life.

Now, I have the freedom to leave at any time, and the community has the freedom to dispense with me as they see fit. However, although not contractually binding, the words of response that I spoke signified the desire to whole-heartedly investigate, discern and live a way of life that has the potential to be a model for the rest of my own life. That is quite the undertaking holding with it a deep responsibility, to determine with the assistance of God how I should live my life to most fully become who I am.

Entering religious formation requires many changes in my life. One of the most significant is moving away from New Mexico for a time. I will be living in the Holy Spirit House of Studies in Chicago. I have lived away from home before. Both away form my parents home in Albuquerque, and out of the city for a year. But this time, for some reason I have the sense of more closely coming to manifest my own autonomy as a person. This is a great irony as I begin to deepen my affiliation with a particular group of people (namely my own Norbertine community, and the order as a whole world-wide). It was a decision I had made for myself, and one that I was going to have to live up to. Of course, I have plenty of nets to catch me if I fall, but to make a decision like this was in many ways a leap of faith and assuredly a decision guided by something beyond myself.

I said “yes” to a profound inner longing that has been stirring within me for longer than I care to remember, took hold of the capacity to take my own life into my hands and (while taking into account the opinions and advice of those close to me) speaking for myself fully, completely and with confidence I acted in a way that could shape my destiny and stepped forward. Now I am hoping to see what will happen and am praying that the Spirit might indeed lead me where I am meant to be through this process of intensive discernment and formation.

vesition-2009-12Though there was a time in my discernment when I looked forward to this event, being vested in the Norbertine habit, as the beginning of the rest of my life I think I have come to a much more realistic understanding of my own journey, vocation and walk with God. At this point, all I can say is that I am taking it a day at a time. I know I am where I am meant to be right now, where I can grow into and more fully discover my true self and deepen and strengthen my relationship with the All Mighty. That is, after all, one of the purposes of this year. From that point, who knows where I will end up. Maybe I will spend my life as a Norbertine maybe I wont. Right now the future is too far beyond my grasp to predict and there is still much time to discern such decisions. Until then I shall continue through life as the person that I currently am, robed in white as Norbertines since the early twelfth century have done and yet still fully myself.

Published in: on September 8, 2009 at 3:58 pm  Comments (2)  
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