My dear friends in Christ.
It’s so wonderfully appropriate, isn’t it, for a monk to profess his vows on a feast of Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God… Last month it was on the solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption that I received the first vows of three fine young monks by the names of Gregorio, Oscar and Mauro at our priory in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and today here at Mount Angel Abbey we have the honor and pleasure of witnessing the first vows of two of our own beloved monks in formation, whose new religious names will have to remain a classified secret until the actual rite of profession in just a few minutes from now!
As I suggested a moment ago, there is something special, something appropriate, for a monk to profess his vows on a feast of Mary; one can’t really be closely connected with Jesus without caring for—and being cared for by—the Mother of Jesus. Abbot Marmion’s prayer of Consecration to the Holy Trinity ends by invoking Mary, with these words:
O Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of fair love, form us according to the heart of your Son. Amen. (Bl. Columba Marmion, O.S.B.)
How could we expect anything less from this “Mother of fair love” than that she would wish to draw the mantle of her spiritual motherhood over all those in whom she beholds the image of her beloved Jesus? Must it not be her greatest desire to draw hearts into loving correspondence with the heart of her Son?! And today, in the midst of the Church’s rejoicing over Mary’s birth, when our two brothers Joseph and Marvin step forward in the sight of God and in the sight of Mary herself and all the angels and saints… and publicly turn their lives over to her Son Jesus… how the heart of Mary must be moved with joy!!
But still, what connection, what inspiration, what “word” might we derive from this feast of Mary that we could offer to our two confreres in this important hour of their monastic profession? For one thing, the Gospels don’t tell us about Mary’s birth or early childhood or about her family. Those details—including that of her parents having the names of Joachim and Anne—are traditions deriving from an apocryphal work of the second century called the Book of James, and icons of the Birth of Mary generally correspond to that source. So when we turn to the lectionary to reflect on the readings for today’s feast of the Birth of Mary, what we find are Scriptures not about her birth but rather about what her birth led to, or made possible, namely the birth of her Son Jesus as source of peace and of salvation from sin. Thus that wonderful first reading from the prophet Micah, who writes so powerfully of the Messiah as man of peace:
He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; … his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; HE SHALL BE PEACE. (Micah 5:3-4a)
And in the Gospel for the feast of the Birth of Mary, taken from the first chapter of Matthew, the righteous Joseph is reassured concerning Mary’s pregnancy and is told that the son to be born of Mary was to be named “JESUS, because he will SAVE his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). In fact, according to a prophecy, this virgin-born son would also be named “EMMANUEL, which means ‘GOD IS WITH US’” (Mt 1:23)
My brothers and sisters, holding these two beautiful Scriptures in mind, I looked also at the famous infancy narrative in St. Luke’s Gospel, and here I found that “word” that I was looking for, that inspiration, that Marian connection that I wanted to share with Br. Joseph and Br. Marvin for their monastic profession on this feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. The announcement of the birth of Jesus in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospels says that the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was
MARY. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! THE LORD IS WITH YOU.” (Lk 1:26-28)
That’s what I was looking for; that’s what I want to say to Br. Joseph and to Br. Marvin today: DOMINUS TECUM—THE LORD IS WITH YOU! For Mary, those words “The Lord is with you” were the very definition of her blessedness! “Hail, favored one,” said the angel to Mary; and then he said why—because THE LORD IS WITH YOU! Br. Joseph, Dominus tecum—The Lord be with you! Br. Marvin, Dominus tecum—The Lord be with you! Although those words had a particularly unique meaning and realization for Mary, they remain strikingly true for you today, too, as you profess the Lord Jesus to be your Pearl of Great Price, that One to whom you prefer nothing else, that One, in fact, who is the very reason for your monastic profession this afternoon!
Dominus tecum—The Lord be with you… Let the truth of your profession—the truth that the Lord is with you as your one great Love—be unfolded day by day and year by year as you journey homeward… as a monk of Mount Angel and disciple of our holy father Benedict… and beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ. In accord with the promise of the prophet Micah in the first reading for this feast of Mary’s Birth, may this JESUS be your PEACE… And in accord with the angel’s word to Joseph in the Gospel, may you open your lives all the more surely to the power and saving grace of JESUS, Son of Mary… Yes, DOMINUS TECUM—THE LORD BE WITH YOU…! And in the end, may he himself be your greatest reward…!