Sr Mechtilde

Resurrectio et Vita

Solemn Profession of Sr Mechtilde

Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, 2018

We choose a motto and an emblem at final Profession, and Sister Mechtilde’s was “Resurrectio et Vita” as a motto and the sun as emblem. In her conference, Mother has explored these in terms of the spiritual journey and the monastic life.

“As a light upon a lampstand He was extinguished on the Cross and like the sun He rose from the tomb … the day darkened when Christ was crucified and at His resurrection night shone like the day” (Asterius of Amasenus).

This text from Easter Tuesday Vigils tells us that something totally new happened on Easter morning.  The invisible world broke in upon the visible; a man conquered death; light dawned in darkness and shone brilliantly, toto solo clarior.  We subscribe, however, not to an idea but to a Person, Jesus Christ, who is forever alive at the right hand of His Father, but who lives also with us and in us through His Holy Spirit.  He is this sun of righteousness, with “healing in his wings” (Mal 4:2), transcendent, yet infusing his life and joy and warmth into our hearts.  By water and the word, by the Bread of life, we become sharers in His substance.  We lay aside the old and become conformed to Him in newness of life.  By the gift of our self, the doing of which is itself gift, we hope with confidence to become one with the prayer Christ makes to His Father in the Spirit.

Newness is a source of wonder, even amazement.  “Fear and great joy” seized the women, who ran from the tomb on Easter morning, only to meet Jesus on the way and to fall at His feet and worship Him (Mt 28:8).  The disciples in Luke (24:41) “disbelieved for joy and wondered.”  We can think that even Jesus was astonished at His Resurrection and had to adapt to joy.  The Resurrection appearances, however, are quiet, mysterious events, often taking place at the break of day.  The Gospels place the encounter of Mary Magdalene with Jesus just before or at sunrise: Matthew (28:1), “toward the dawn”, Luke, “at early dawn” (24:1), John, “while it was still dark”, (20:1) and Mark (16:2), “very early on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb when the sun had risen.”  The Magdalen is recognised before she recognises.  His recognition brings her knowledge of her own identity, that she is, in fact, alive after numbing grief.  All her powers of love come to life and focus on Him whom she knows with the heart to be the Risen Lord.

Although the fact of the Resurrection made no sense to the disciples at first, there was no denying it.  The Risen Christ was overwhelmingly present to them, palpable and warm, their friend and still desirous of their friendship.  Under His guidance, they sought fresh insight from Scripture and began to understand.  They grasped that a new covenant had been inaugurated.  Luke, writing in Acts (1:3-4) speaks of the Risen Lord “eating salt” with His followers after the Resurrection.  In the Old Testament, explains Pope Benedict, eating salt served to establish lasting covenants.  He writes: “The eating of salt by Jesus after the Resurrection, which we encounter as a sign of new and everlasting life, points to the Risen Lord’s banquet with His followers.  It is a covenant event … eating salt expresses an inner bond between the meal on the eve of Jesus’ Passion and the Risen Lord’s new table fellowship: He gives Himself to His followers as food and this makes them sharers in His life, in Life itself.”  Salt also purifies, preserves and adds spice to food.  “So the different meanings come together here: covenant renewal, the gift of life and the purification of one’s being for self-offering for God.”

Such things, such a new relationship with Christ, imply a new direction which is first of all interior.  Closeness to God in Christ is no longer an inaccessible reality.  “If I go away”, He promised, “I will come to you” (Jn 14:28).  And He does.  He has not gone into outer space or to some material place, but into the mystery of God; and that communion with the living God has become open to all humanity, of all times and all places (cf Pope Benedict: Jesus of Nazareth, vol 2).  His continuing presence is available and mediated to us, primarily in the Sacraments, whereby He still touches us and enters into the centre of our being.  From another perspective, He draws us into the centre of His Heart.  Cor Jesu, rex et centrum omnium cordium, as we sing in the Litany of the Sacred Heart.  He is the love which attracts us.

New direction interiorly, but always given outward expression.  Renewed moral vision certainly, exteriorised perhaps only in simple ways: a new charity, a new renunciation, but also a testimony.  For the early disciples, this often meant proclamation of the new event, a witness to the point of death.  Peter received his commission by the Sea of Tiberias after a night of toil and failure, as the sun was coming up: “just as the day was breaking” (Jn 21:4).  “Follow me” (v 22).

It is possible to see Profession, that is, not only the blessed day of public commitment but the whole monastic conversatio, in the light of the Resurrection event.  The monk, the nun lives the paschal mystery.  St Bernard writes: “By this holy intention, which is a second regeneration, we pass from the darkness of all our actual sins into the light of the virtues and we renew in ourselves the words of the Apostle: The night is advanced, the day is at hand” (On Precept and Dispensation, Ch 17).

The grain of self-love is sown in the dark.  The dying takes a lifetime, so that the nun must know how to remain, in stability of intent, waiting for the slow transformation into the One who called her.  She trusts her expectations, with a holy instinct; her eyes are trained on the dawning light.  Even if, as in the psalm, the sun in full vigour will stride across the sky from rising to setting (Ps 18), its origins are small.  Although the Woman of the Apocalypse is clothed splendidly with the sun, Our Lord at the Incarnation comes silently sicut sol et descendet in uterum Virginis sicut imber super gramen, “like the sun and descends into the Virgin’s womb, like rain upon the grass.”

He came in response to Mary’s fiat.  In pronouncing her own fiat on her profession day, the nun is recognised and accepted by Christ, the Church and the community.  A new dimension to existence comes into being, in which she finds deeper interior silence and a further call to praise and worship.

Worship belongs to sacrifice.  The nun lays her chart on the altar.  Since He gives her very being to her, she returns it to Him, as her rational service.  She chooses life, gives a life for Life, has thankfulness in her heart for the beloved people who brought her to life.  The sacrifice is thus given with joy, seems like nothing at all, so great is the prize.  The covenant is renewed, the self given, the purification embraced.

She renews her pledge of obedience, ready for whatever it may ask of her.  Already obedient in purpose, there is a fresh impulse at Profession, just as a new obedience was asked even of the Son to the Father at the moment of Resurrection.  Christ has a different attitude to her from now on.  He no longer needs to pay suit for her obedience; He knows that she sees it as a bonum.  He understands our sensibilities and does not ask what we cannot as yet give, but it is true to say that, at our Profession, He allows Himself a new freedom in using us.  We are henceforth disponible, trusting in the Person who commands.

As a result, a new relationship, a new nearness emerges with the divine Spouse of the Profession ceremony.  The gift she makes of herself is opened, so to speak, in front of her eyes.  The sacrifice, the fruit of her choice, is accepted and will bear further fruit in fidelity.  Other noble loves are not diminished by this central love but are ordered in charity.  There arises the possibility of a friendship with Christ, since we have sought to follow the commandment of love, not only in a single, generous gesture, but in the sanctum propositumof a daily service.  Since, in the case of Christ, we cannot aspire to the usual equality between friends, we believe in His desire to cross the infinite distance to exercise His right of friendship over us.  We, for our part, understand the need for complete donation of the will, the merging of our poor, human love with His perfect love for us.  He rejoices at this friendship.  “His heart,” writes Augustine Roberts, “is the first to overflow with the inexpressible sweetness of love” (Centred on Christ).  Through this shared friendship, we come to resemble Him.  Our desire to become spiritually and morally beautiful is being fulfilled day by day, so that we can claim for ourselves the astonishing text from 2Cor 3:18, used as a lectio brevis at Vigils for monks and nuns: “And we all, with unveiled face, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  A claritate in claritatem.  It is not our own beauty, but His.  We know that, when we contemplate our faults, but we may rejoice even in them.  St Mechtilde ascribes these words to the Lord: “Even if thou were perfectly faithful to me, thou shouldst infinitely prefer that my love should repair thy negligences rather than that thou shouldst do it, so that my love may have all the honour.”

The Risen Christ is being formed in us, we are being conformed to Him.  He begins to live His own life more completely in us, which is the life of the Blessed Trinity.  Put differently we embody, in our own life in the Risen Christ, the nature of Trinitarian love (cf Roberts op cit).  It is already here and now, though the awareness of the reality is often obscured.  We are forever being recalled from reverie to ready charity and constant prayer, to embrace dura et aspera with a “quiet consciousness”, tacite conscientia (RB 7).  In other words, we have to give effect to what has happened in our resurrected life.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, nonetheless, we begin to see with the eyes of the Beloved and to understand with His mind.  Our prayer to Him and in Him is increasingly drawn into the movement of the Holy Spirit towards the Father.  Thus, the nun who is “brought over” into the substance of the Risen Lord, reflects Him more and more.  This is her joy and her mission on earth, yet her goal is heaven, where the reflection becomes the fullness of reality.  Cardinal Journet writes: “It is in heaven, in the world beyond time, that our Saviour’s prayer … will be fully heard.  Having been completely conformed to the Christ of glory, interiorly and ontologically transformed by the light of glory … the blessed will see reflected in themselves, as in a pure and living mirror, the infinite and limitless unity that the Father, Son and Spirit together eternally form.  They will be one, not only by the transformation of grace and glory, but still more … because they will see reflected in the most hidden depths of their being, completely in each one of them and completely in the entire ensemble – as the sun is completely reflected in a mirror and completely in each of its fragments – the inexpressible adorable super-unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Jesus says again, ‘The glory which you have given me, I have given to them, that they may become perfectly one’ (Jn 17:22-23)” (Theology of the Church).